Kirsty Liddle: offered a job on Friday, rejected on Saturday

Even celebrating a job offer should be off the table for jobseekers: it can always be taken away. Kirsty Liddle shares her experience and warns jobseekers to be wary of verbal job offers… Anyone looking for a job knows it’s … Continue reading

Thanks, do not hire me

Annapaola Paparo started her Skype interview excited and motivated. Now, her attitude is more “Dear prospective boss, unfortunately you have not been successful on this occasion.” Here’s why.

The interview happens on Skype. That should make things easier, shouldn’t it?

It is 5.45 p.m. on a dull Monday. Mondays are always dull, especially when spent on job seeking. It has already been two and a half hours since I started waiting for Godot – namely, the president and founder of glorious PoundBeef (fictional name).

Our original appointment at 4.30 has not come through, despite me being in front of my monitor, sat in my chair since 4.20. Despite me having removed beforehand any inappropriate objects that could stand out in the background (flying socks, a baby bottle used as a pig bank, sheep patterned pyjamas…)

However, at 4.40 glorious PoundBeef president has written the following Skype message:

Hi, I have called you but you have not answered (how is that even possible?) Anyway, I have just realised that interview was actually scheduled at 5.30 (was it?). Talk to you later.

I rush to type that there is a misunderstanding: I am there, ready to impress him and shine on the pedestal of confidence. His response is clear:

It is too late, now my schedule got all messed up. Talk to you later.

Rule one of the perfect jobseeker: the prospective boss is always right. Even when you have not been hired yet and he is already holding you responsible for something.

I manage to keep calm and carry on until 5.30.

You can imagine my state of mind when at 5.40 the glorious president of PoundBeef has still not showed up. Have I messed up his schedule again? God, I hope not!

Finally, he shows up at 5.45. He is young, as spotted earlier on his Linkedin profile. His piercing blue eyes look at me from my laptop screen. There is a faint smile on his face. He does not bother with chitchat, like hello, how are you doing, or maybe sorry for delay (forget about this, the prospective boss and I are Italians; we know that politeness is a waste of time.) He goes straight to the point, as real men do.

Hi. We are going to have an informal chat. Eventually, if I like you, you will have an interview with our head of communications. Eventually, if he likes you, we will all meet in London, for a final interview.

I can’t wait for that! I think.

I start talking about myself, as he asks. However, as I open my mouth, the glorious president breaks our virtual eye contact and turns his face to the left. I can see his glorious profile while he is apparently inspecting something else; maybe he is looking at another computer screen (is he reading my CV?).

Anyway, I carry on talking about myself, my background, why I moved to London, what kind of company I am working for. Trouble is he is not being acknowledging my presence. He is looking at something else. A few times, he is even turning his back to me, bending over and rummaging on the floor.

I am worried that he cannot hear my voice, that we are both in the same dream, that aliens have put us in two different space-time dimensions.

Suddenly he cries, as if someone has stepped on his toe:

This is not what I asked you, I do not want to know what kind of company you work at! I just want to know what YOU do!

Good to know he is actually listening to me. I must make the most of this moment, since he is looking towards the camera again. This is my chance.

I quickly give him the information he wants, although his attention span is really too brief. It reminds me of when I was a child attempting to catch a fly with a glass. Just when you think you’ve got it, it flies away.

In fact, the glorious president breaks eye contact again. He is looking again at the other computer screen. From my perspective — I can see one of his eyes, that is rolling, and a portion of mouth, that is making some grumbling-like noises — it is not looking good. At all.

When he cries the second time, I am almost expecting it.

Why have you not managed to find a proper job yet, in all these years?

Oh, my glorious president. What a question. Do you not regard freelancing, temping, volunteering, interning, work-experiencing, tip toeing, table cleaning and pie baking as jobs? Moreover, if I currently had a “proper job”, then what? Would we even be having this heartening, rewarding and deeply emotional conversation? Would we have had the pleasure to bump into each other and chat? Of course not! Thanks to the Universe and its own unexplainable plans for that!

Surely, I won’t talk about bad economy and universal plots. Instead, I try to defend myself as best as I can, although I have realised there is nothing to be done. Already. While looking away, the glorious president of PoundBeef is grumbling like a teapot. He is rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He is pulling faces and openly sulking.

I am mortified. Firstly, I mess his schedule up. Then I upset him after just 10 minutes of conversation.

At this stage I realise I’d better shut up. That any additional sentence at all will upset him. I might as well be saying my top model friends are coming to meet you, right now.

When he finally realises I no longer wish to talk, he seems to relax. He looks at the camera, at me, and says, as being a bit spiteful: we only hire smart people.

Right, got the message. In my head, another memory is taking shape. Those evil school kids nobody liked but everybody cheered. Those children were unquestioned leaders, and would admit or exclude you from their games just for the sake of ruling.

Anyway. Towards the end, he is polite enough to ask if I have questions.
I do, actually. Among other things, I ask him if company has a branch in London or if the job will be carried out remotely (I have researched online the company’s location but I have found nothing). Following my question, his piercing blue eyes open widely, as if I have just pronounced the worst insult.

Of course we do! We have a marvellous London office (where you will never put your foot, he implies).

Finally and thankfully, our conversation ends. He simply says I will call you if I want you, and then disappears.

Dear prospective employer, please do not even think of hiring me. Thanks for having spent your time looking at my CV and sharing details about the job offer. The history of your company and profile are impressing, indeed.

However, you have performed poorly on this occasion. Besides, I suspect (in fact, I sincerely hope) that there are better employers out there than you. At least, a tad politer.

In addition, I would like you to remember that I did not ask for money for you to contact me, nor have I bribed or threatened you or any of your friends or relatives, or forced you verbally or physically or through the enticing powers of my mind.

Getting in touch with me was your free choice. Submitting an application to the “kind” attention of PoundBeef was my mistake. Please, do not even think of retaining my CV. I couldn’t even stand to have coffee with you, so you can imagine how pleased I would be to work for you.

Best regards,
a prospective employee.

The post gap-year diary: trying to get back onto the ladder

We all know it’s hard to get on the career ladder, but surely it’s easier to get back on? Erin Cardiff explains the tribulations of getting back into journalism after voluntary redundancy and a career break. I’m going to come right … Continue reading

The Rioja Journals: introducing DYLAN YATES (and his sidekick, Marti)

How to Be Jobless welcomes Dylan Yates to the #Pyjarmy. He’s a jobless writer with a Spanish housemate, a few bottles of cheap red wine and a discussion point. This week: LinkedIn-speak. THE RIOJA JOURNALS: A LinkedIn discussion over the course of … Continue reading

Aicha Marhfour: “Don’t call me ‘aspiring'”

This week in The Vent Corner, Australian journalist Aicha Marhfour talks about the words people use to make her lack of employment seem “noble”.

Don’t call me aspiring.

I’m not emerging, either. The only thing that threatens to emerge is my fist, on its way to your face.

These words are my bugbears, and are a completely transparent way to make my unemployed state seem politically correct. An “aspiring” journalist sounds kind of noble, like a Boy Scout with a notebook and good observational skills. An “emerging” journalist is verbing his or her way out of the cocoon. They’re going somewhere.

But I’m not. I’m a jobless journalist. I exist in that caste where you can insult me by using words like “emerging” and “aspiring” to signpost that I’ve yet to be legitimised by a full-time job.

You may as well label me an amateur and get on with it. Call me unemployable. At this point, I’d prefer to be laughed at openly. I want to wear a large scarlet A (A for Aspiring, naturally) to reclaim the word for myself.

To be fair, I am a freelancer. Oh, that word. I used to dream about calling myself a freelancer and meaning it.

Early on, I did the rounds of unpaid internships. They were constructive but sometimes humiliating. There was no coffee making but most were marked by debriefs with some salaried superior, who would sit back on their subsidized beanbag and try to explain post-GFC economics to me.

I would be told how things were so dire that staples were being reused, office plants now worked reception and how truly sorry they were (not usually meeting my eyes at this point) that they couldn’t offer me a job. It was like crunch time on a TV singing contest, except that I didn’t cry and redo takes to make it more heart-wrenching. Any devastated feelings had to remain inside.

I’ve stuffed my CVs with internships, yet I still imagined the day when I could really be a freelancer. That moment came (with a lovely pay cheque to prove it), but the novelty wore off as I realised that nobody took me any more seriously.

I remember interviewing for a job the week before I finished university and being grilled by one editor who was flummoxed by my dubious online clips. “So are you freelancing?” he asked. I didn’t want to call the occasional free movie review and dry news write-up “freelancing,” so I sidestepped the question and felt ashamed.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job and it was filled by a crashing bore with an obsessive love of the subject matter that particular outlet wrote about. Onwards!

Young journalists (and older parties trying to get on the game) are made to feel ashamed of themselves for wanting things. Anything, be it a free notebook or that unimaginable pipe-dream, job security. Jobs seem to be replacing Chanel bags, Hermès scarves and spa weekends as the new luxuries for the rich.

I can count on fingers and toes the number of  advice-dispensing elders who have chided me in a roundabout way for having ambition. At my age! With two university degrees! You must be joking, they say to me, in coded words. They’re clever and evasive about it, as old codgers so hard-boiled that they scatter shell everywhere when they sit down tend to be.

They look careworn, because after years of boozy lunches and beach trips “sponsored” by companies, they have over-tanned skin and now have to work even harder to keep their senior positions. They know we’re coming, the younger people, ready to hound them into their graves, once we demolish capitalism and end the working week. Well, I hope so.

At least they realise, as they huff and puff onto Twitter and fumble with smartphones, that there is a smart and literate generation approaching, hungry after years of surviving on occasional praise and mie goreng.

So they try, in their devious ways, picked up as they were being dandled on Sir Keith Murdoch’s knee, to pull us down. They pump out stories about the selfish selfie generation, or rather the #shamelesselfiesexcrazedgeneration, as they’ve put on their specs and now know what hashtags are (no longer just a number on the phone keypad! Oho).

They have collective amnesia about baby boomer greed, or the Swinging Sixties and what it all stood for. They’ve forgotten about the feckless 80s, when they were in their working prime and wore shoulder pads and had perms. They talk a lot about advertising and the old “rivers of gold,” faithfully glossing over how it was they who adapted to the Internet too late. I hope we eat them alive.

Back to my point, which is that these dusty old crocodiles rarely tell young people off in an obvious way. I’ve been told things like: “Well, you can’t expect to get (basic entry level position) straight out of university!” There’s an upward inflection that tells me that it’s a joke, and I should laugh. But I don’t laugh. I seethe, and sometimes when I’m at my desk alone, and even occasionally during a phone call, I cry. I’ve been crying quite a lot, actually. Unemployment does a number on your general wellbeing.

I always want to yell: “No? I can’t expect a minimum wage and some kind of validation of the hours of toil, email refreshing and rejection? Just like you did, all those years ago? Sorry for being so obtuse.”

And then I play a fun game using LinkedIn. I don’t have LinkedIn, as without a proper job I’d feel like an idiot filling in my internships and advertising just how long I was gormless enough to work for free. I also don’t really care about the LinkedIns of my friends and acquaintances. It’s a bit of a dry social media platform, with no incriminating photos or banter to be found.

But I do look at the profiles of some of the journalists and editors around, and see the exact opposite of what I’m being told. They worked as copyboys (and copygirls), entry level positions they started right after high school. They shimmied up the corporate ladder, flitting between companies like bees with their pick of the flowers. Younger writers leveraged blogs into paying jobs, or wrote about music for major publications while they were in their teens. Before the global financial crisis (or what baby boomers should be required by law to refer to as: ‘Our Bloody Fault’), they were herded into trainee programs.

It is a big serving of sour grapes, and helps me feel even more ashamed and bitter about myself. I can’t begrudge everyone their success. But it tests my patience when another person snaps: “Well, it was hard for me (20/30/40/100) years ago.”

It may have been difficult for that particular person, but it sure as hell couldn’t have been for journalists at large. The LinkedIn game proves this.

I remember reading a post-war novel where one character walked past the offices of the New Statesman, and resolved to get a job there because he was having a rough time working as a lawyer:

“I am not going near the Law now. I’m going to be a journalist. A left-wing journalist. The New Statesman offices are up at the end here, up the alley. I’ll walk in now. I’ll demand a job. And I’ll be given one. I feel it in the wind.”

I take this to be a proper historical document. A qualified lawyer who is a little frustrated by his profession could, in those heady days, walk in off the street and get a newspaper job. Or as Jonny Sweet’s character in his radio comedy Hard to Tell explains to his parents, who are confused by his desire to become “Paxman-meets-Fry”:

“It’s a generational curse. There was a time when it would’ve been easily doable. In the seventies, it was basically: graduate, become Paxman. Now it’s graduate; guess what? Paxman already exists. It’s Hell.”

It is Hell, where we are completely self-aware and marinate in our frustrations. Yet I stick with it, because churning out pronoun-heavy thinkpieces is what I want to do for a living. Right now, this desire feels like pissing in the wind, without the surprise splashes. My dreams are humble, my jokes are relentless and I have yet to find a way off the no-experience treadmill.

Please don’t call me aspiring, but I am very much perspiring (see: joke + rhyme = I’m basically Buzzfeed). Add a funny gif and I’m either a click-bait content farm or a sleep-deprived jobless journalist. Get at me.

Aicha Marhfour is a freelance journalist in Melbourne. A real one, who writes for money. Please send commissions to her on Twitter: @aichamarhfour

Emails from the jobless trenches

Joblessness has somewhat fallen off the news agenda, have you noticed? That’s what happens when things don’t really improve. After a while, they can’t keep going with the same story. So, just as a reminder that there’s still plenty of talent going to waste, I thought I’d share with you an email I got from one Jake Brown, who emailed  me requesting to contribute to How to Be Jobless.

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Dear not quite so jobless anymore but hopefully still sympathetic Madam,

I’m a recent convert to the school of joblessness (read: newly graduated), hoping to tease out some of my unemployed anguish onto the pages of your scarily close to the mark website.

My experience includes an inbox entirely devoid of responses to my job applications, expert skill in day-dreaming of the sad old regulars in my local pub actually being big-wigs who’ll one day give me a media job, and a slowly fading but ever present optimism that all my education might actually, hopefully, just possibly have been worth it.

So what do I want to write about? Good question. I know I’m not the only one to have faced the bloody awful move from a lively big city back to the countryside and its all too familiar stench of boredom and parental disappointment. I think I’m pretty talented – but so does everyone else, right? Well, I’d like to write about my current struggle, to put it bluntly. The part-time job, the well practised “no everything’s going really well!” lie, the un-worn interview outfit and of course not forgetting the stomach churningly large overdraft.

Eagerly awaiting your response (refreshing Gmail a hundred times an hour),