The Door Flings Open

Since I returned from New Zealand fourteen months ago, I’ve been seeking employment.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  Let’s remove from  calculation the month I spent living temporarily in the Arse End of Beyond, and the two weeks it took me to unpack the shipping crate.  That leaves a shade over a year of job-seeking.

In the initial horrifying month I garnered first-hand experience of the Kafkaesque inability of welfare agencies to cope with basic administrative tasks, let alone professionals seeking jobs.   If your expertise doesn’t fit neatly into a four-digit pre-categorised code (e.g. ‘panel-beater’ or ‘secretary’) you might as well unpack the depression medication right now.   If you haven’t the stomach to be given a form to fill in, only to be told in an accusatory tone on attendance at your appointment two weeks later that you have filled in the wrong form and will have to start the entire process again, you might be better off hiding under the duvet all year.  If you don’t have the ability to survive with no money for upwards of the six weeks it takes for a form to be transmitted from Office A to Office B, I suggest you reach for a vat of vodka.

On one particularly memorable occasion I was asked by an ‘adviser’ what advocacy is, and how to spell it.  On another, after I spent ten minutes detailing my career, I was told in a sarcastic tone that I certainly had a lot of qualifications and experience.  Possibly even enough to become a Jobseeker PLUS adviser.

I am fluent in governmentese and have the advantage of a good education, and I found it nearly impossible to decipher what was being asked of me most of the time.  Do I have a Level 1 qualification in literacy and numeracy? I don’t know.  I can tell you I have GSCEs, A-Levels, Undergrad and Post-grad degrees, and legal practice diploma, but I have no idea whether that answers the question because none of those has ever been described to me as a Level 1 anything.  Maybe you could assume that it’s pretty hard to get those qualifications without being literate and numerate.  Lard knows what happens to those people without all the advantages I’ve had, or who simply don’t speak English very well.

I emerged from this experience a shadow of my former self, and found a temporary job in fundraising.  Apparently, skills of persuasiveness are highly transferable, and the job quickly became permanent.  I need hardly tell you that although it turns out I can do it quite well, I don’t enjoy asking people for money, or writing the same thing 17 times in a slightly different way.  So I had a job, but I was looking for a better job: a job that would use my skills and experience in a way I wanted them to be used and that I would enjoy.  Spoiled, aren’t I?

Looking for a job in this market, you hardly need me to tell you, is a task of unrivalled demoralisation.   When you have a full-time job it is also exhausting.  Gone are the days when emailing your CV and a brief tailored covering letter and then attending an interview was enough.  No.  Now, you will need to fill in a long application form to demonstrate how you meet (exceed) every single one of a list of 15  poorly-worded ‘competencies’.  For example:  ‘the ability to appreciate the challenges faced by persons of ethnic minority’.  I’m human and not a sociopath, so I have the ability to appreciate those challenges: are you asking me to somehow demonstrate my basic humanity in writing?  Or are you asking me the more straightforward and better-designed question of whether I have experience of the kind of role that involved appreciation of those challenges?  My tendencies toward pedantry didn’t help.

There were times this would take me an entire weekend.  If you’re lucky enough to get an interview you can kiss at least another day goodbye as you’ll need to prepare for some kind of task (usually a presentation on a badly-phrased question but I have also had to complete a long-winded written exercise).

This for a part-time or contract (or both) job because nobody is hiring permanent full-time anymore.  Then to be told you’re not good enough.

Repeat several times, and you might as well kiss fun goodbye because on top of having no money, all the self-confidence you might have gained thus far in life swirls slowly down the plughole until you can’t see further than the feeling that you’re no good to anybody for anything.  If you suffer the same personality issue as me, you attach a goodly chunk of your sense of self-worth to the job you do.  I tried to be glad I just had a job.  It didn’t work.

But finally, opportunity has knocked.  I have a new job!  It’s temporary and part-time, but I don’t care because it is so fabulous that I can hardly stand to work out my notice at my current job,  such is my enthusiasm for getting started.  I will be gracing the corridors of academia as a Research Assistant in a Public Policy department, working on a human rights project.  The opportunities for me to display geekery and pedantry will know no bounds!  I will be paid to read stuff that’s interesting.  I will be paid to write stuff that’s challenging and that nobody knew before.   It will give my CV the triumvirate of central government, NGO, and academia in my chosen field.  I will be able to network with people and hear about other opportunities, and I’ll be a shoe-in should I want to get my phd.

Better yet, I have my current employer over a barrel, having taught them the error of being unprepared for a negotiation with me, and they have had to agree that I can stay on a part-time basis.  So I’ll have nearly one full-time job until at least September and possibly for longer.  After that, who knows?  At the moment it feels like the world is my oyster.

My confidence is back to par.  And all it took was for someone to see into the core of who I am and what I can do, and give me an opportunity.  I wish the same would happen for everyone because it is shit out there right now.   Believe me, I know how lucky I am.


11 Responses to “The Door Flings Open”

  1. 1 Ashley July 16, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    I am very excited for you! I have a couple friends in a very similar situation and it’s really tough here, too.

    Do you think you will continue in research or possibly other areas in academia? I.E. teaching or administration? I never really considered a career in Higher Ed but now that I work at a grad school and this school in particular is so invested in the values I hold dear, I can see it as a possibility (administration, for me).

    I would love to eventually read about the work you’ll be doing.

  2. 2 lane July 16, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I’m so happy for you Nic, but I’m also happy for the people who’ve hired you. You are a brilliant woman and it’s about time someone in your field got around to noticing.

  3. 3 Suzanne July 17, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Congratulations, Nic! You know I know of what you speak. Searching for a new job is sucking the very life out of me. I’m happy you’ve found your step forward. And it sounds like a very exciting step, indeed! Well done!

  4. 4 unmitigated me (m.a.w.) July 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Congratulations, and welcome to my world! I am currently living the dream job as well, having started at the end of May.

  5. 5 Jonathan July 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Congratulations indeed :) That job sounds fan bloody tastic… (daydreaming now about what kind of geekery would suit me similarly)

  6. 6 pilgrimchick July 18, 2010 at 5:09 am

    This is a big problem here in the US, too, and it seems no one is trying to figure out a solution that could help anyone out in a significant way. On top of that, employers are skeptical about hiring unemployed workers–yeah, that helps all of those people out.

  7. 7 kellyg July 18, 2010 at 4:19 pm


  8. 8 Lena July 19, 2010 at 1:14 am

    Yay, congrats!!! Sounds perfect!

    • 9 nic July 20, 2010 at 10:20 am

      Thanks everyone!

      Suzanne, I was thinking of you as I wrote the post because I always keep my fingers crossed that you will find work.

      The cool thing about this new job is that it can so easily lead to other things. I’ll be networking as much as I can to identify opportunities, and there could also be the odd bit of teaching (I suppose, though the thought terrifies me). I’ll finally have the time to try and get my dissertation published.

  9. 10 Naomi B. July 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    To land a job you want and have your current employer suddenly realize just how good at your job you are… outstanding.
    Isn’t it amazing that the sucking of life and self-worth can be replaced so quickly when you suddenly get affirmation that you are valued.
    I can see the spring in your step all the way over here in the US.

  10. 11 Stacie August 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

    So happy for you to be doing something meaningful that you enjoy, and that you’ll be paid for!

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