Monday, 14 May 2012

Strawberry jam on toast

We all have a story about the job that got away. As graduates start to come out of the universities, ashen-faced and stumbling into the merry-go-round from hell that is job-seeking and rounds and interviews, you find yourself getting a little attached to The Job Of Your Dreams.

Then, as a rule, it rejects you.

Living with my parents again, and doing a part-time job in order to have a little disposable income and keep a little self-esteem, I applied for Jobs I Wanted To Do. Unfortunately, these jobs very rarely felt the same towards me. Getting an interview would be INSANELY EXCITING! Except it would be a telephone interview, or a recruitment agency looking to exploit graduates to swell their books. Look out for them, they're sharks.

I applied for a graduate scheme and was surprised on my lunch break by a telephone interview, which ended up taking place surreptitiously in the kitchen of my job. She enthused about my cover letter, my experience. A day later I was invited to an interview in London, which I truly tripped off for, staying overnight in a Richard Curtis film with My Successful Godfather in London.

I left his beautiful Islington house to catch the Tube, wearing a business suit and using an Oyster card, and found myself lured into fitting in with this world, as I emerged from the train into a world with the Gherkin towering over it, and people flitting around drinking coffee and clutching free newspapers. Do you know how hypnotic that is, to someone who spent four years being told that this was her destiny, and instead folded clothes in a shopping centre? You don't see the poverty that you know is lurking just around the corner, you don't smell the pollution or sense the stress – the glamour just temporarily oozes out, mixing with the nerves of the interview to make a heady cocktail of desire and hopes.

I spent the day in an office block overlooking the river, completing tasks and an exam, and got chatty with my fellow applicants. There were sixteen of us, and four jobs going. There were only three people for my stream – good odds, by my reckoning. They told us that over 3,000 had initially applied. As I left, and headed back on the train, I hoped and prayed I had the job. I felt good, positive. I wanted that job more than burning. I knew it would be hard, but it would work. They told us we'd know in a week.

By 5pm a week later, I had heard nothing. At all.

Two days later, I sent in an e-mail querying if they'd had the time to make a decision,and I was told they'd tell me soon. Three days later, in the middle of a shift at work, they did. I hadn't got it. No, there wasn't any real feedback – I was just as good as the other candidate, but they'd decided to go for him instead. I thanked them for the time, went back to work, and managed not to cry all day. I went to to a yoga class that night, and half way through just started bawling like a child. It wasn't my best possible moment. My parents were working late that night, I remember, and they came home to me snuffling on the sofa and hugging a bottle of wine and tearfully telling them there'd been a terrible mistake and I was stupid and shouldn't be allowed out of the house again ever.

The next day I got another call for an interview, for a different company. My mood improved exponentially, and people kept on telling me this was proof I was awesome. Duly I went for the interview, and worked out that by the end of the thing that I might well swing this one, but it wasn't a job I desperately wanted. The move to Scotland would have been worth it, but the job would have been crap. I was cool with not getting it, I thought. I would get more interviews, I thought.

I didn't get the job, which I still say is for the best. I was cool with it when I got the phonecall. I continued with my day. I got home from work. I put some toast on, planning to go to the gym for a few hours but needed a snack before I went. I buttered the toast, and put on a generous amount of strawberry jam. Mum came into the kitchen. “Did you get it?” she breathlessly asked me as I took a bite of the toast.

“Oh, Mum,” I said, and then cried all over her. I still can't eat strawberry jam.

I may sound like a drama queen here, but everyone has one of these stories. Looking for work is soul-destroying, as you analyse yourself, open yourself for judgement, and more often than not come up negative. I tell this story occasionally, and people always pipe up with their own equivalent. “I didn't get into the Civil Service scheme because I DRANK WATER TOO NOISILY,” a friend will always indignantly tell me. As many graduates try head into the world of work, hopefully things will fall into place for people and prospective interviewees won't have to feel like this, but I think its inevitable, sometimes.

I'm going to try and post in the next few weeks some more practical tips on job-hunting for the new graduate, and how to dodge through the scams that exist out there, but with the econmoy officially in double-dip recession I felt like I had to write the bad stuff first, before getting to the positive stuff. There is positive stuff, though. I promise.

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