My week in joblessness (1): How to survive a job ‘trial’ [GoThinkBig column]

Published 07/06/2013 on GoThinkBig

My week in joblessness: How to survive a job 'trial'

We’d like to introduce our new blogger, the brilliant howtobejobless, who’s set the deadline of 12 months to find a job in journalism. You might remember her from ‘The Definitive Guide to How to be Jobless‘ and this piece on rejection letters. So how’s it going? 

How to survive a job ‘trial’…from someone who probably didn’t

Happy Friday to my pyjama’d and pyjama-bound people. I’m very excited to now be a regular contributor to GoThinkBig. I’m rarely even a regular contributor to my own outfits (roll around in a pile of laundry long enough and you’ll find yourself dressed. Quite a stress saver).

I’ll kick off by talking about my experience of a new type of job interview. Do as I didn’t, jobseekers.

Some journalism employers have realised a high-pressure 20-minute interview is largely useless for finding out whether a desperately hopeful youngster can come up with ideas, write, get on with co-workers and meet deadlines.

Hence the new type of interview: The Trial. Get the applicant in for a week, get some work done for free, and see how they fare in the team. The employer finds out what they need to know, and the candidate gets all the awkwardness of an interview with the added excruciation of the first week in a new office.

What a joy it must be to watch cool-acting applicants plead with themselves, “Don’t screw up, don’t screw up…”

Here’s how I did.

  • You don’t have the job yet

The problem with The Trial is it has the same name as the period after you’ve been hired and they’re double-checking that you’re not a smelly psycho with odd socks and a ferret stuffed down your shirt. The time when they reserve the right to say, “We’ve made a ghastly error, you most definitely do not have the job, please vacate the premises and take your ferret with you.”

A trial isn’t, ‘the job is yours unless you’re Creepy Ferret Boy’. It’s an extended interview. So turn up on time and behave like someone they’d want to see every day.

How I ballsed this up: I got way too excited. For a fleeting moment, I thought I had a job, or at least a reasonable shot at one.

The senior writer welcomed me at the door with a question that brought me back to earth and my actual position on it: “Hi, are you here for work experience?”

Oh. I was not nearly a staff writer. I was not a big achiever who leapt off the page. I was not the proverbial shit. They were trialling other people, and this was not a job offer pending ferret concerns.

  • You’re SO not one of the gang yet

Inside jokes whizz around you like Dementors. If you attempt to join in with a conversation there’s a half-second pause in which they stare at you as if you’ve just said, “Guys, look at this rash on the inside of my cheek! Look by TOUCHING!”

They’re not trying to be cold. They’re a close-knit team, they’ve probably worked through a lot of awkwardness to get where they are. You haven’t put those hours in yet.

How I ballsed this up: I got in on a game of foosball (it’s one of those offices). I don’t know why I expected laughter and high-fives the moment we started manipulating the bar-bound little men. We didn’t even make eye contact – I honestly couldn’t pick any of them out of a line-up.

Also, I sucked. Whenever my put-upon teammate scored, the girl opposite me said, “Good shot, Elizabeth.”

“Well-played, Elizabeth.”

“You’re beating us now, Elizabeth.”

  • Office banter – sense the tone

Sometimes a joke that would kill in your circle of friends falls flat in a new office, simply because people weren’t expecting it. Try to sense the tone of the jokes. If a Michael Jackson punchline tends towards, ‘it’s funny because he has a squeaky voice’, maybe don’t then venture ‘it’s funny because he’s dead’.

How I ballsed this up: A perfectly friendly guy said he didn’t like cheese because it’s “basically off milk.” I pointed out it’s off in a controlled, chemically processed way. He reiterated that it is, in fact, off milk.

I said, “If you’re going to get that literal, then babies are just parasites with chubby cheeks.”

A pin dropped, and tumbleweeds rolled across the carpet.

“I’ve gone too far, haven’t I?”

That, they laughed at. And I’m eternally grateful.

  • Eating lunch together – don’t freak out

If the team eats lunch together, it’s another opportunity for you to hang out and show them how cool you are.

How I ballsed this up: The team invited me to have sushi with them. Unfortunately, I’m allergic to shellfish. Even the smell makes me feel ill and, in especially embarrassing circumstances, gag.

Instead of explaining this properly or making up some prior engagement, I said, “I can’t, when I go into sushi restaurants I die. I mean I vomit. I vomit from shellfish. I vomit from the smell. I mean I gag. Not vomit, necessarily. Oh god, I’m sorry I keep saying vomit. Enjoy your lunch.”

  • Dress well

You’d think this goes without saying.

How I ballsed this up: On my last day, a good hour and a half after I got in, I noticed there was a stain on my top. How did this happen? Did I roll around in the wrong pile of clothes? How could my system fail me?

I started scrabbling around in my brain for some brilliant reason I could give for looking like I’d eaten porridge lying down, on a rollercoaster, drunk.

I know – I’ll say I saw a friend at the bus stop, and I kindly held her baby while she tied her shoelace, and the dribbly bundle of joy spit up on me.

But how was I going to mention that casually across a near-silent office? I’d already called babies chubby-cheeked parasites, I couldn’t stand up and announce, “Look, everyone! Hear ye hear ye! Feast your eyes upon what a BABY did to my top, fresh from the clean pile of clothes by my bed, NOT the dirty pile by my door!”

Oh yes, quick, hire the scruffy and weirdly dramatic infantophobe.

So, I kept quiet. Probably the smartest thing I did all week. GoThinkBig

They said they’d let me know.

One thought on “My week in joblessness (1): How to survive a job ‘trial’ [GoThinkBig column]

  1. Pingback: My Week in Joblessness (20): THE FINALE…The five stages of getting everything you want | howtobejobless

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