How To Play: A Jobseekers Experience (Guest Post)

Being unemployed has meant that I have willingly undertaken a number of new hobbies, namely watching the Olympics and baiting cold callers (recently I spent 20 minutes convincing “Steve Smith” based in “Telford”, though I’m guessing Telford is now a town in India, that my Gas was supplied by British Telecom. He refused to believe me and I admitted my mistake as our gas supplier had recently changed to TalkTalk. Apparently the phone connection to Telford must be quite poor as we got cut off and he didn’t try call me back).

However, one of the hobbies I’ve been forced to take up, and that I’m not enjoying, is the bi-weekly trek to the job centre, during which they try to convince me they are helping me find me a job and offering good advice examples of which have included, “make sure you turn up to things on time [sensible] and on the correct day [huh?], and remember if the appointment is at 1120 that doesn’t mean you can leave your house at 1120… [this is getting ridiculous] now where do you live? [Tell her] And are you coming to the job centre by car or bus or train? [car] and where are you going to park? [she pulls up google maps]. At this point I twigged where this was going and said that I capable of performing simple maths and then felt slightly sorry as she looked most hurt. In revenge for my dismissal of her Google mapping ability I was then told that I no longer owned my own life and that my soul belonged to the job centre (slight paraphrasing), but I held my tongue as the £56.25 they paid me per week would come in useful.

A few days later I received a phone call from the job centre wanting to confirm some University details to “speed up the process.” Excellent, thinks I, maybe they’re not as feckless as others have intimated “cool, what do you need?” I eagerly respond. What follows is as faithful a transcript of the ensuing conversation as I can recall:

Job Centre: “I just need to confirm which uni you went to.”
Me: “University of St Andrews
J: “Where’s that?”
Me: “In Scotland” [not an unusual response, though most people mention Wills, Kate or Golf].
J: “Is it a new university?”
Me: “erm, been around a while.” [Approx 600 years, so unless this guy went to Oxford or Cambridge it’s not especially new].
J: “oh, I thought Newcastle was the only uni in Scotland.”
Me: “Is there anything else you need?”
J: “No thanks, that’s all”
At this point I put the phone down and sob gently… These people are trying to find me a job… There’s only one thing to do at this point… fight fire with fire. It is at this point I invented the sport of “Job Centre Baiting,” the rules are simple you must enter and leave your bi-weekly meeting (lasting 10 minutes) with your sanity intact, you cannot be arrested or have your Job Seeker’s allowance withheld and they cannot give you advice.

I have only been able to play “Job Centre Baiting” twice, however I feel that both times I have been quite successful. The first time started off poorly and I seemed destined to failure, Lynne (real names used to protect people from confusion) took control of the meeting and promptly started offering up jobs for me to apply for, (legally, if she makes a suggestion I have to apply for it. In my mind that means she had to hit print or write it down… I had to stop her doing that). Quickly I pounced on one job “Hang on, is that the one in the Midlands?” “Er… it’s in Coventry?” [NB: When you get a job, buy these people a “My First Map of the UK”] “Yeah I looked at that one but decided not pursue it to due to the companies’ track record and issues it would pose for me both morally, ethically and religiously.” Thankfully this stopped her in her tracks, she complimented my research and strong moral standing (at least in my head she did) and she quickly signed the relevant bits of paper and clicked the relevant buttons before handing me some paperwork for next time. After leaving the Job Centre I reviewed my performance and made some notes for next time.

Proper planning and preparation prevents pretty poor performance was, I decided, the key to ensuring that the next round of Job Centre Baiting swung in my favour as it was clear a lack of planning had forced me to use an “all or nothing” type of approach. Luckily I had two weeks to plan and they had already sowed the seeds of an idea. Paperwork. Two weeks pass and I’d developed a plan. Of a ten minute meeting the first 90 seconds would be given over to me catching up with Lynne, asking about her weekends and her garden (she mentioned last time that the rain would be doing her garden good) before delving more deeply into her garden, did she use heritage varieties? What methods of pest control did she use? Does she have a pond? [For those wanting to join in my sport, it is here that the planning and preparation takes over, I visited Wikipedia]. The next six minutes would be spent on the paperwork. I had quickly looked through the pages they had given me and filled in some rather obvious boxes (name, address etc.) but intentionally left a large amount blank. I broadened my accent and launched in asking deliberately obscure questions, requiring her to double check with someone else, and taking it very slowly (searching for boxes that I’d already pre-starred etc.). The final 150 seconds would be spent with asking if they had an earlier time for me to sign on (11:10 is just irritating) and with saying goodbye, in the nicest possible way I hope I don’t see you again Lynne.

Signing on day roles back around and off I go to the job centre. I’m asked to sit down and as the time for my appointment passes I count up the number of “advisors” sitting at their desk without anyone in front of them to “advise,” in my head, therefore, doing nothing, (6, including Lynne). I also start working out which questions to drop from the “garden section” of my plan, they can be used another time asking if she spends much time just sat in the garden may seem a bit inappropriate for the 2nd meeting. My name is called. I’m led over, and introduced to, Margaret. Darn, there goes the gardening questions. As we exchange pleasantries I mention that “the sun will be doing the gardens good” (always live in hope) and she agrees… Game on, “oh, do you have a big garden?” 8 minutes latter we’re done, I’m out the door and no advice, nor jobs, were offered. Success!

A review of the meeting proved the old adage that no plan survives contact with the enemy but a lack of panic ensures that the plan can be twisted to suit.

Next time, hopefully there won’t be one due to getting a job (hopefully, maybe, probably not), I’m tempted to go in traumatised due to the fact I “hit” a rabbit on the way there, maybe I’ll get a cup of tea out of them?

By a Northern Biology Graduate.

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