Face-to-face and kept waiting, but who cares

BEST FLIPPER FORWARD in the jobseeking game.
BEST FLIPPER FORWARD in the jobseeking game.

A Writer’s encounter with unemployment, Part Two.

FOUR months and 70 applications since my last job, I gave up applying for work using the internet and employment agencies, doubtful of the software used to scan applications for keywords. Instead, I turned to my local paper.

There was no shortage of positions advertising a “no more commuting” lifestyle and I could have applied for any of them using pen and paper … but I’d have to think laterally about my skills. My interview drought broke.

First time was a local antique shop seeking a part-time sales person. With experience in design and decorative arts, in addition to sales, I had skills to sell. The interview began as most do, but out of the blue I was asked for one word which described me positively and negatively.

Keywords, again.

I panicked, blurting out “perfectionist”. That seemed to go down well. But the next day I got a message saying I’d come a “very close second”. It was during the Olympics, so I wondered if my bank would accept a silver medal for a mortgage repayment.

INTERVIEW INSIGHTS try not to be as weird as they are!
INTERVIEW INSIGHTS try not to be as weird as they are!

My second was for a part-time administration job with a local training company. I was interviewed by the vice-principal and the CEO, who was so enthusiastic about his company that I worried I might be asked to invest. It proved difficult to sell my training and admin skills against that energy, and as I left I was presented with a corporate-branded showbag full of company merchandising.

Lovely. They’d get back to me in a few days.

Over a week later I got a call saying they’d found someone excellent. The showbag went into the recycling bin.

A group interview for a housekeeping job at an eco-lodge started late when two of us got lost in the bush on the way. The manager scanned our physical fitness for bunk-bed making abilities, and said there was no probation – you were either an expert bed maker or not. One applicant immediately excused herself, citing back problems, , and the manager all but gave the jobs to me and the other guy, saying he wanted to increase the male staff.

Maybe I wasn’t man enough, since I got turned down. I saw the other guy at the supermarket later that week with his young family, beaming with new-found buying power, while I still had to budget.

A fantastic job requiring every shred of my communication skills taunted me throughout this period. I spent a week preparing the application but heard nothing for two months, when a call came with an apology for the delay and an offer of an interview. To me, a “delay” is a train 20 minutes late, whereas a two-month silence could be concealing a shemozzle.

Well after the appointed time I was left waiting, fending off annoyance by soaking in the wonderful natural surroundings of this cultural organisation. Finally I was in front of a panel and almost an hour of scenarios and questions. They took notes, asked me to extend on my resume and discuss my future plans and dreams working with them.

By then I really wanted the job, based on the human contact alone. At last I was being genuinely scanned by other souls, not computers or employers who felt they were the only ones with needs.

Two weeks later I got the offer. Relief flooded through my bones as I arranged my start date, which is not for another two weeks. But I think this will be a long, mutually beneficial association worth a lot of patience.

Since my job-seeking began the economic crisis has kicked in and I am no longer in the minority – I have crossed paths with many others desperate for interviews. Employers are advertising fewer jobs and asking staff to move sideways or take pay cuts.

PANEL SHOW Sometimes they're a relief.
PANEL SHOW Sometimes they’re a relief.

Employment agents are attaining minor celebrity status as they are asked how to secure a job in the current crisis. No wonder I had problems earlier on.

But I have come to understand that people get jobs in many unconventional ways. My friend who first told me about the application scanning software recently had a great position created for her because her company “just liked her” at an interview, even though the advertised job went to someone else.

Human contact, not human-computer contact, seems to be the real key – presenting yourself as you are, not allowing yourself to be filtered by technology. I was lucky that my search led me to a company which still expects its human resources staff to select candidates using gut feelings alone.

I’ve been asked my advice about online job seeking, keywords and application scanning, but since none of these involves human contact I avoided them, and stopped applying for any job which did not provide access to a real person within the company. It’s been a challenge to swim against the tide.

Published in the Weekend Australian 2008.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

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