Taxi Noir: A Careers Adviser Writes
I once again find myself unemployed and negotiating the murky world of recruitment. I’m a qualified careers adviser. I did well to find work during the height of the lockdown, but when the work dried up four months later I was out.
There are jobs out there, but employers expect so much from you these days: not just on the job but getting appointed in the first place. You can have all the qualifications and experience in the world, but you have to convince the gatekeepers that you’re a fit and proper person just to get a shot at the title. Most applicants are screened out. Those lucky few granted an interview need to answer a battery of complex questions aimed at predicting how you’d behave in various scenarios. You have to big-up yourself to fantastic proportions. If you’re not used to this style of interrogation, you’ve no hope of success. Only those who know how to play the game win.
When I wore a younger man’s clothes, the interviewer just wanted to know what I was about, and what motivated me. Today’s focus on leading teams, handling criticism, implementing systems, adapting to change, &c. Dealing with stress too, as they know there’s going to be a lot of it. Even if you’ve never led a team – as I haven’t – you need to scatter your replies with the buzzwords that they want to hear. Some application forms and CVs are digitally scanned, and you’ll only get through to the next round if enough buzzwords are picked up.
I’ve had a couple of interviews since leaving my last job on December 3rd. In the first interview I gave a lamentable performance. In my most recent application, I did the hard bit by passing the situational judgment test and presenting an acceptable 500-word statement. I rehearsed well for the interview but bombed again. I’ll handle almost anything on paper, but I’m out of my comfort zone when put in front of a panel and asked to articulate descriptions of my skills and competences in such a formal and artificial way. I get flustered. My clever pre-arranged answers disappear in a fog of nervousness.
Most job interviews are currently being held on-line. I don’t mind this. I’d rather crash and burn in the comfort of my own home, than have to drive to a distant town and worry about parking. My last interview was pre-recorded. I had to direct my answers to a talking head on my laptop. It’s a bit soulless and impersonal, but employers don’t want personality.
On joining a company you are encouraged to adopt a bland corporate image based on the “personality” of your company. You have to take yourself very seriously. They will attempt to mould you into certain prescribed ways of thinking until you take on the dominant views of the group you’re now aligned to. Your every utterance is scanned for non-compliant language and attitudes. If you’re older, you’ll probably have views that are considered outdated.
Working in the public sector you could never admit to voting for Brexit. It’s assumed you support Black Lives Matters. If you think there’s anything absurd about gay weddings or transgender politics, keep it to yourself. On one hand we’re told that none of this matters, we’re all equal – which is the way it should be – but your application pack will include intrusive questions over your ethnicity, religion, marital status and sexuality. You’re asked whether you’re a man or woman, and whether you were male or female when you were born. You have to say if you fancy men or women. Unfortunately, I’m not very diverse. After ticking a few boxes on the form I start to wonder if there’s any point in continuing with my application. Is the form really optional? Will the personnel department “lose” my application if I refuse to answer the monitoring form?
When you’re at the wrong end of your fifties you are justifiably nervous – even if the Americans have voted in a 78-year-old to lead their country. You don’t need to put your age down, but if your CV says you started work in 1978 they know you’re no spring chicken.
You might not be as proficient at IT as younger colleagues who were born into the digital world. If you were brought up on black & white telly and mono wireless, you won’t necessarily think of putting £3 in someone’s birthday fund via a banking app. Yes, the going rate is now £3.
In my last careers adviser I job I took a personality test for my own amusement. I always knew I was almost off the scale on introversion, so it was no surprise to see myself described as an “eccentric introvert”. I wear it as a badge of pride. I identify most with artistic types. In the corporate world I like to set the bar low and think inside the box. Sadly, that doesn’t wash in today’s job market.
It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are. My kind of intelligence might have been useful had I met John Cleese at Cambridge University in the 1960s, but not in an irony-deficient discussion of policies & procedures at Central Twattinghamshire Council. At my interviews the dead parrot in the room was me, but I’d challenge any of the Monty Python team to excel in a public sector job interview.
Really, I’m best suited to self-employment. I was a London taxi driver for many years. I missed the office life, but it suited me working on my own and being responsible for my own performance reviews and handling my supervision. I was harder on myself than any employer, and my time management was exemplary.
So, for any would be employers reading this; despite a touch of disaffection, I believe I have proved beyond reasonable doubt, that I’m a young and dynamic team leader, constantly exceeding targets in a highly pressured environment. When can I start?
(the photos are of me happily working in an office as a Knowledge of London examiner).