Situation: Vacant

There’s never a nice way to get news like that. It’s not you; it’s just the way things worked out…. The calibre across the board has been unprecedented… You have a bright future ahead of you…. We’re re-focusing our skills elsewhere…You’re better than this place… Plenty more fish in the sea… Yep, many of Britain’s senior politicians know what it’s like to be dumped, and soon they, like me, will (or at least might) be off into the wilds of jobseeking.

ed milliband resigns

Once upon a time, looking for a job was quite straightforward:  a bit like a flow chart.

  3. Company contacts you
  4. Do they want to interview you? If Yes, GO TO STEP 5. If No, GO BACK TO STEP 1.
  5. Interview
  6. Did you get the job? If Yes, GO TO STEP 10, If No, GO TO STEP 7.
  7. Do they want to interview you again? If No, GO TO STEP 1, If Yes, GO TO STEP 8
  8. Interview # 2
  9. Did you get the job? If No, GO TO STEP 1, If Yes, GO TO STEP 10
  11. Did they offer you a half-decent salary in the end? If Yes, WOW – CONGRATULATIONS! If No, GO TO STEP 12
  12. Will you take the job anyway? If Yes, FAIR ENOUGH! If No, GO TO STEP 1.

Every job I’ve ever applied for, from shoveling horse manure over mushrooms to dealing with slightly more metaphorical horseshit of late, followed the same pattern. Of course, this was made even less complicated by the fact I was young and capable of working all the hours there were, but the process itself was pretty straightforward. The techniques of tailoring one’s CV to the application were well-known – “we are looking for a dynamic, forward-thinking individual” would be echoed in “my current role as a fish packer requires me to be both dynamic and forward-thinking in my individual approach”. Tick! You’re through to step 3.

Now, however, things seem a lot more complex, partly because I find myself having to consider potential jobs more carefully. Questions have to be asked.

1) Am I likely to be morally opposed to whatever the company does?

This, as I have discovered, filters out an awful lot of jobs. There’s a lot to think about these days. Do they make their workers – potentially me – work zero-hours contracts? Do they ‘employ’ slave labour to manufacture their goods – or can they show that they’re trying not to? Have their CEOs bribed government officials or supported dodgy dictatorships? Do they have an unhealthy monopoly that squashes smaller businesses in their wake? Do they use appalling grammar in their corporate mission statement? In fact, my initial scan filtered out so many adverts that I found myself with a very small pool of potential applications for step 2.

2) Am I reasonably qualified for the job?

Since Step 1 had left me with three jobs working as a hospice nurse, an aid worker and a publisher respectively, all of which I admire but for which I have no qualifications whatsoever, I had to relax my principles a bit before beginning Step 2 again. This particular filter didn’t leave me with many options either.  It’s not like I don’t have skills –I can spot a misplaced apostrophe from a thousand miles off, for example – but strangely, none of them has ever appeared in a job advert. I was left with two pools of jobs to choose from. One of these groups meant doing exactly the same soulless work I had done for years, probably working for a company with an awful slogan, working long hours and sobbing existential tears at the futility of it all. The other option was to take a local job that paid very little and required no qualifications other than the ability to string a sentence together, be reasonably pleasant to other people, and leave my brain at the door. This led me to:

3) Is it a job I might actually want?

Where’s your imagination, Brioche?  What’s stopping you from looking outside the box – surely there’s a way you can use your skills to do something you like?

So I began to search for jobs that sounded worthwhile, and that might use my skills to good effect.

Medical Writer – that sounded like a good idea. I might not have the qualifications of a neurosurgeon, or the money to get said qualifications, but I know how to write things down, and medical jargon couldn’t be more difficult than the myriad acronyms I’d wrestled with in my previous career.  “Life sciences PhD ESSENTIAL”, said every single advert, and every single recruitment consultant at every single agency I spoke to on the matter. So much for “‘Political Tension in the Austro-Hungarian Empire As Portrayed in Kafka’s ‘Das Schloss’”

Copy Editor – my reputation preceded me on that one. I was probably the only person in my entire office who rubbed their hands together in glee at the sound of the words ‘a detailed peer review’. It was only surprising I hadn’t done that job before. However, vacancies were so thin on the ground as to be non-existent, and publishing firms pleaded not to be sent speculative applications for work experience, never mind paid work.

Back to step 2, then.

4) The Killer Question – What about family life?

This was the question that gave me most of a headache. Not only did I have the mini-brioche to consider, but another pastry that hadn’t been in the best of health of late. I had several options:

  1. Ignore this aspect completely;
  2. Say dramatically “My time has come!” and insist that Mr Brioche become a stay-at-home parent/ potential carer while I jet off doing something glamorous;
  3. Become a ‘mumtrepeneur’
  4. Juggle frantically with full-time work, childcare and the rest like most other people I knew;
  5. Work part-time so that the frantic juggling only needs to take place for part of the week,
  6. Find a job which, while not well-paid, is restricted to school hours.

Well, 3 was out for a start, since I hated the phrase anyway and couldn’t see any skill that I could make a business out of (unless anyone fancies paying me to write vaguely satirical stuff for them, in which case, do get in touch). Successful women balancing a family and a business usually have a marketable skill, or seem to find avenues for selling handmade things you never knew existed– crochet lunchbox warmers and that sort of thing, and I’ve always been abysmal at making stuff.

6 seemed like the obvious choice. We might have less money, but we wouldn’t be spending my wages on childcare rather than the mortgage and other piffling things like food and clothing. 4 and 5 might work, though I knew at the back of my mind that finding after-school childcare is not a simple task – which is why the only school in the district offering after-school childcare has operated a ‘siblings only’ policy for the last few years. If I had been eligible for a high-flying job in the City earning a fortune, 1 and 2 might be an option, but quite aside from the work not quite fitting with my political leanings, I wasn’t a financial whizz and wouldn’t be much good at the work anyway.

People Waiting in Line

I re-jigged my CV and applied to a large selection of minimum-wage part-time roles. Nobody bothered to get back to me, as they never bothered to get back to the other thousands of desperate applicants (one advert had over two thousand applications in the first hour after it was posted online). Responses to my ‘proactive’ chasing (showing my ‘excellent telephone manner’ into the bargain) told me I was ‘overqualified’ and therefore ‘a bad fit’ for the role. There wasn’t really a response to that.

My other CV showed me as the high-flyer who had a ‘track record of successful delivery’; but the outcome so far has been pretty much the same. One statistic shows that women rarely apply for jobs that they are less than 100% qualified to do, and this hit home – this was exactly what I’d been doing. I was failing to get much interest from the jobs I was 100% qualified to do, after all – why not take a punt on those that I wasn’t? But how to show ‘I’d be bloody good at it nonetheless’ when I knew in my heart of hearts that the person reviewing my CV might not even be a person, but a macro designed to ensure a perfect match between the ‘essential’ qualifications and the CV? I asked an outplacement consultant for advice.

Apparently, my best way out of the unemployment slump was to offer my services for free. This, apparently, didn’t just mean offering to work as the oldest intern in town to get a foot in the door for a complete career change – this meant offering to work unpaid, indefinitely, in a job I was already qualified for, and for which I would ordinarily have been paid a salary. It would seem that this would be a ‘key differentiator’ from the other applicants. I couldn’t help thinking that it wouldn’t ‘empower’ me in quite the way the consultant felt it might.

And so, like the newly unemployed politicians, I continue to scour the job sites for some suitable match. I have long abandoned my principles – it only remains for me to actively pursue jobs I dislike intensely, might object to on ethical grounds, am not remotely qualified for and which would be disastrous to my personal life. Hang on – did someone say there’s a vacancy for a political party leader..?



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