Pre Covid-19 you could picture it, possibly you lived it; bank after bank of desks in a bank, the low hum of the air-con recycling air contaminated by various body odours, an indeterminately hushed conversation in the near distance, ‘I’m just placing you on hold madam’, a stray glance borne out of boredom that gets awkward when you notice that someone else clocks it, the drone of a hundred fingers tapping on keyboards filling in fields on some generic company database or Excel spreadsheet, interspersed with deliberately audibly weary sighs in-between increasingly frequent glimpses at the clock – still two hours and twenty-six minutes to go.
Heady days for the hundreds of thousands who have been laid off recently.
Because, as one of those who’ve been chucked on the scrapheap over the last month, and having not been unemployed for quite a while now, it’s all been a shock to the system. Not only is the process of looking for work highly repetitive, finding a job is harder work than keeping one. Is this by design? I’d always assumed, a dangerous thing in of itself, that the standard recruitment procedure of making someone jump through a series of hoops proves very little. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether the sifting process exists, given the volume of applications, solely to make it easier for hiring managers to reject folk.
Look, I’m not bitter about rejection after rejection, it is what it is, but at a certain point the sheer volume of them has given me a wee bit of the fear that I’ll never work again. Am I perpetually up against people more qualified than myself? Say chartered accountants, paralegals and software developers who’ve been doing it since they were foetuses, and that they’re being forced to apply for data entry and admin jobs just for something to get by?
Even I know how infantile and embarrassingly neurotic that hypothesis is, but it’s hard to reconcile the myopic resolve required when job hunting with doubts as to whether the employment process works. Is it a meritocracy? Not to be conceited about this, but I’ve encountered some completely hopeless folk in my working life who’ve fallen backwards into well-paying jobs or with greater seniority, and wondered how they managed to impress anyone during an interview. But what if it’s me? I’m wondering if I’ve underestimated them and that it’s me that’s lacking…something. Do I lack a lack of self-awareness? Is that a virtue? Do some possess the skill to acquiesce, to say what people want to hear, are they fluent in a language that recruitment consultants and hiring managers understand? Maybe it’s just my hideous face?
Gone are the days when you could try and do the Yosser ‘Gis a job, I can do that’ Hughes thing, that’ll likely get you arrested in the days of social distancing. So instead I’ve been through the full virtual, socially distanced job hunting gamut. And it’s…been interesting, provided you’re a masochist.
Try the torture of writing a covering letter that doesn’t make you seem like a pub bore or some meta eejit, or a robotic tosser who uses too many pretentious positive change adjectives to describe mundane tasks. Hey I pimped my CV with columns, bullet points, different font sizes and styles, so it looks, somewhat nice, and concise, just like the legions of other CV templates out there. Then there’s the online tests of your mental acuity, general knowledge, situational judgement and typing aptitude. Some of them made me want to self-harm, and they all have an unerring knack of making me feel as though I’m completely thick.
Pre-screening interviews are new, it’s a mini-interview, kinda informal, but just formal enough that if you botch it, and I have botched a few already, you get eliminated. It all feels reminiscent of the gruesome Take Me Out, hosted by him from Phoenix Nights, where they wheel out some attention or sex starved soul in front of a baying mob of prospective dates/causal sex partners/Cilla Black friend zoners, and they get judged instantly, usually harshly – even if this one deserved it.
Successfully navigate that and maybe you’ll be treated to the delights of a virtual interview. They’re similar to an in-person interview only much worse. Add it to the list of things nobody wanted that technology has foisted upon you – being able to watch yourself while you’re being interviewed. It’s doubly disconcerting when you momentarily forget about it only to notice that mid-thought you’re wearing a facial expression that makes you look as though you’re a hostage reading out a list of demands, or have just seen some snuff porn involving kids, Jimmy Saville’s corpse and one of Jimmy’s cigars being stubbed out in an orifice. On one I was being interviewed by two folk, who, on Zoom, or was it Microsoft Teams, I forget now, took turns to ask me questions from their living room, with the camera switching between them. So, to recap, there was a picture of myself in one corner of the screen, the person asking the question, and the other person minimised in the corner. Very smart software, I’ll concede, but disconcerting when you’re trying to concentrate. Perhaps how badly I navigated that was the main criteria which disqualified me? Or was it trying to compensate for the virtual interview’s bizarreness and my facial contortions by apologising for the shitty knock-off Mark Rothko’s on the wall behind me, but it only lead ballooning with pity laugher in response.
Needless to say I won’t be putting ‘expert at virtual conference calls’ on my CV. But hey, at this rate I’ll be getting plenty of practise. Good luck to all of you out there in the same boat, persevere and keep the heid. And to all of those who have employment, consider yourselves very lucky.