Last year, from January 2016 up until August, I worked at Universal studios, and specifically the Wizarding World of harry Potter. It was all rather unexpected, and you can see a video blog about how the interview happened here:
The job interview was fun, being a MAJOR Harry Potter fan, it was a pleasant surprise to be asked some serious Potter questions by a manger Paul, who later hired me, and became my favourite Manager. It was the first time in my life that my exstensive knowledge of Harry Potter (which is usually useless) actually proved USEFUL!
There were two stages, I was interviewed in a room with several other people being interviewed at the same time. The guy who interviewed me asked me basic questions and made me fill out an availability form. Universal set store on those forms, and try to get you to stick to them. Then he just asked me if I liked Harry Potter, and I started crying. Seriously. If you saw the video, you know the whole thing. Secondly, I had to wait a little bit, then I was brought back in to speak with the manager, who asked me some questions like, – Do you have any conflicts, or planned holidays? – Are you okay taking out your nose piercing? -Do you know a lot about Harry Potter? Then asked; Who are Harry’s best friends. I rolled my eyes at him, and he laughed and hit me with: Which department does Arthur Weasley work in? Who found Harry on the train in the Half Blood Prince? And I squealed and answered, ‘Misuse of Muggle Artefact office ! And In the book Tonks, but in the movie Luna!’ He giggled and turned to a second manager and said; ‘She’s good.’ And I was hired as a retail clerk.
There were two types of training, because I was hired specifically for WWOHP. First we started with enrolling, measurements for uniform, two days of long large group lessons, with other departments about company values etc. Then we got split up into our retail group.
Then the first type of training started, Harry Potter knowledge! YAY! We sat down in a room that was decorated thematically, and three leads came in, wearing uniform, and educated us about the magical world. From each important character, history, dark magic, and creatures and and to each and every object we were going to sell in the shops. Then theming, which was crucial. You are in character in the world, so we had to do several roleplaying situations, and group contests that really taught everybody, even the FREAKS who didn’t know Anything about the magical world. I raised my hand quickly at every question, and finally really felt like; Hermione.
The second part, is the general part that all Universal employees go through. Touring the park, the offices, facilities, and getting our uniforms, and learning how to go and check in, in the mornings. Then, all the very strict guidelines of guest service, saying the right things the right way, covering the floor correctly, retail stuff and learning the cash register and money handling. At this stage, the World hadn’t opened, and we were taking in for a tour before anyone had seen it. I cried and laughed and cried. We trained in the shops, for days and days with fake money, then real money, preparing for the crazy opening of the world.
There also was some guest speakers that I was NOT impressed with. There was clearly two messages that were being slammed into us, Making money, and not being late. They introduced us to the point system, which I will get more into later. And I felt that one of the speakers said some things that made me think that if J.K. Rowling had heard it, she would’ve torn up the contract.
THE GRAND OPENING
This was the second WWOHP to open in the US, Orlando had been there a fair few years, but there was a lot of excitement for the opening, especially for Universal. The park is moderately popular, but there is no doubt Disney rules this kingdom. And Harry Potter was always going to rake in the money for them. And however evil that sounds, it also did create thousands of jobs.
There was a press opening that I attended before the park opening, that I will do a separate blog about, as it was the most magical thing ever, then there was the day of the park opening.
We all got there early in the morning around 5am, it was dark, we were all in our uniforms, and it was chilly and misty, absolutely PERFECT. The opening was sealed by a wall that was taken down and replaced by a large canvas that would fall down. We were choreographed and placed around in the shops, then the actors came. The usual, Tom, the Twins, Warwick and Evanna. They did fantastic speeches, then they cast the spell, fireworks, music and REVEAL! That was our cue, we started walking around with purpose, acting like wizards. (pretty much my whole life)
It was insane, of course, it was super crowded and busy for two days, then it slowed down, but was still busy, Every day.
A DAY AT WORK
You get there first thing, passing throuhg security, who check your bag, then you scan your card. You enter in the famous 5511 building, where you take the elevator (if your lazy like me) to get into wardrobe. Everything is themed, it’s Hollywood, it’s the movies, so things are called like ‘Wardrobe’ and ‘Backstage’ and ‘Greenroom’. You already know your sizes, so you go into wardrobe and pick out your uniforms that you have to wear for the specific shop you are working in,
and check them out at the counter, then go into the locker room and find a locker (after a year you can get your own). Get changed, then go to location, which is given to you on your schedule. You could be working in any of the shops, if you are in the WWOHP. Let’s say you are in Gladrags, my favourite. You go to the backroom for Dervish and Banges, and say hi to all the cool leads in there, and go to the Kronos machine and clock in. You are on time. In fact you are 5 minutes early because of Kronos clocking stuff. A lead reads of a clipboard in a little one-minute-meeting, telling you projected attendance, how much we are aiming to make that day, what the item of the day is and what the add-on of the day is. You get an empty till, and go to MIMO, which is Money In Money Out, and you get your coins and notes. You count it, make sure it’s correct, fill out a form, then you go to your post. Which today is Gladrags. Sometimes you are alone, sometimes you are together. Lets say this is early morning, so you are just standing there waiting for the park to open. You go around checking that the shop looks great, the robes and scarves and everything looks perfect, then see the guests all running past, to get to the ride. Then 15 minutes later, some people wander in, and your leads keep circling the shop making sure you are doing everything you are supposed to do. I Gladrags Wizardwear, you great the guests, then ask if they need assistance, and help young witches and wizard try on and purchase a Robe. These are crazy expensive, and sometimes you gotta do a little convincing on the parents. However if they are parents themselves, they are getting it no matter what, because they have always wanted it. But if they are Japanese tourists, they only want to try them on so they can take photos. *Lunch. 45 minutes.* Things get dischevelled here and there, and you roll ties, fold scarves put robes back and sell, sell sell sell and try to push the item of the day, which is a tie. You have to give them a line like, “since you are getting your robe, you might need another essential to the uniform, like a tie?” Then when you are ringing them up, you pick up a small item like a sock, which is the add-on of the day, and say, “Since you are a Ravenclaw, would you also like some Ravenclaw socks, it’s a great way to show housepride!” At the end of the day, you go back to MIMO, and return the money. It prints out receipts, and you better pray everything is there. Then you go back to the backroom, calculate from the receipt and from the card machine receipt, and make sure you didn’t loose any money or return too little change so that you are over. Then if you’re not over or under, you sign a bunch of stuff, clock out and go back to 5511, where you go to your locker room, get changed, put your uniform in the laundry and go home.
Pro’s & Cons.
- Universal Studios feels like a safe environment, where you are taken care of and there are routines, and always someone above you that can assist and help and give advice.
- The leads are present, they try their best at ALL times to circle the floors and at least have one lead out in the shop, ready to assist, answer questions or help with emergencies and complaining guests. They take the fall.
- The Wizarding World is beautiful, with good food and drink, the atmosphere is fantastic and the ride is AMAZING.
- You get in for free. And you get two free passes for friends and sometimes preview passes to new rides etc.
- You get employee discount on merch and food.
- 45 minute lunch, at firs I thought it was bad, and have since worked elsewhere where I only get 30 minutes.
- Walk time, you get paid for the time you walk from your car, get changed and walk to your location.
- Universal show their employees that they appreciate them in several ways, they have a program where you can get a ‘High Five’ from you manager, ie. if you do something great, like excellent guest service, or recovering a bad situation, they give you a high five, which gives you points. Other managers can boost it and add points. Points add up and can be used to purchase things, if you have worked there 15 years, you couldve made enough to buy a trip to Thailand! There are awesome prizes like cameras and all sorts of stuff. I had enough points for a $25 dollar giftcard to Sephora when I left. Also The leads and Managers REALLY notice your hard work and initiative. They give you a pat on the back, and make sure to tell you when you’ve done good work.
- A lot of people are really happy there, and stay for a long time. When you become a lead, you are a full-time employer, and reap the benefits from the union, with healthcare etc.
- You can climb the ladder, there is room to grow.
- The point system. If you are late by ONE minute. You get a point. If you are later, you get more points. When you call in sick, you get points, unless you get a doctors note. If you clock out ONE minute too early, you get points. If you are $10 under, you get points, if you are $10 over you get points. POINTS POINTS POINTS. If you get 7 points, you get fired. If you go one month without any points, you loose one point.
- The Forced guest service. There are ACTUAL lines you HAVE to say to each and every guest, and you are surveyed doing this, EVERY DAY. And you get a review, that add up to either good or bad at the end of the month.
- The pressure of SALES. Like the Item of the day and the Add-on of the day. You HAVE to push them. Even if they are crappy items. You have to suggest them. You are watched reviewed doing this also, EVERY DAY. They set more store on this, than the theming, enthusiasm and the great conversation you have with the guest.
- You get your schedule a week and a half in advance. It’s not terrible, but its not ideal.
- You have to go in to Universal, get a physical piece of paper, fill out the form, and have your coworker sign it, then have it signed by a manager, to switch a shift. It cannot be done online.
- People can not cover your shift, it has to be switched.
- The focus on money. Every day you are told what the amount we are trying to make as a group. The company says; You are here to make money. If we get the guests to spend money, the company gets money, and you get money from the company. That’s the most important thing. Money.
- The Micromanaging, Universal is super organised, which I really appreciate, And I agree with the ‘Don’t be late’ mentality, but a lot of other stuff is TOO MUCH. Leads reviewing you every day, and watching your every move.
- Strict appearance guidelines. I personally love how strict the uniform is, down to the shoes, which I understand as a diehard fan, it keeps the integrity. But he No piercings, no crazy coloured hair or hairstyles, no crazy nails, makes sense to Universal, but NOT to the wizarding world.
My experience at WWOHP was great! As a fan, it is a lot of fun, and the sight of Hogwarts really never got old. Especially at night, when you walk past it in the dark, and the melancholy music is playing around it, and the windows twinkle as if someone really is up there, running around, going to bed in their dormitories.
And I loved being appreciated, I loved the few moments in between working where you could laugh and joke with your coworkers. Making guests laugh and cry with your extensive theming and role playing. Fitting a tiny girl into a Gryffindor robe. Helping a young wizard do a spell with his new wand. Wearing the official school uniform and watching Harry Potter in the breakroom. Its magic. But it’s limited. When you’re at work, you are expected to work, and fun times is on a time limit. After a few moments of joking, a lead will tell you to get a move on. You can work all day, stocking Chocolate frogs and helping guests, and they’ll catch you in the one moment when you are chilling for a second and talking to a coworker. I hate sales, (so it’s not for everybody, for some it’s fine) and that whole part eventually ruined it for me. And it feels very corporate. It felt like I had signed myself off to something kinda evil, but the fact that J.K. Rowling and her team had literally quality proofed and approved every single item, food and drink made me feel happy. She had said no to a bunch off stuff. Which would mean more money to her as she makes around 19% of everything (!). But that doesn’t matter, if it’s pointless tat or some Americanized bullshit, she wouldn’t have it. I LOVE THAT! After a while, I couldn’t take it. But some people LOVE it. They can shut that whole thing out, that free thinking, critical part of you that doesn’t like that stuff. I couldn’t, and I wanted to leave at a point where I could look back fondly, which I do, the moments, the magic and the freaking BUTTERBEER!