There’s an Ancient Greek myth about a man named Tantalus.
The ancient character committed some crime on Earth: the specifics aren’t important. (Well, they probably were to Tantalus, but not here).
As punishment he was sent to the underworld, where he was chained eternally to an apple tree in a pool of fresh water. Every time he reached to eat an apple, it disappeared in front of him. Every time he bent to drink the water, it disappeared in front of him. Unable to die since he was already in the underworld, Tantalus was essentially doomed to be eternally starving. But no matter how hungry he got, his food would always be always ‘tantalising’ him, just out of reach.
That’s how I feel applying for jobs.
Actually, it’s worse. Tantalus didn’t have to pretend to care about “corporate values” or read endless PR spiel about how “This isn’t a company: it’s a family”. Sure pal, your company is just like a family. I don’t know about you, but whenever I meet up with my family, we like to sit next to each other in silence for 8 hours working on separate projects. It just wouldn’t be Christmas otherwise!!
Job hunting is it’s own special kind of Hell. And thanks to COVID, there are a lot more people populating that Hell than there used to be. Unemployment is on the rise, no job feels safe, and the economy is going up and down like the man who has sex with Ben Shapiro’s wife behind his back.
So, to cheer up anyone out there who has been, or even is still, living though Job Hunting Hell, I’d like to make you a gift. No, it’s not a job. Sorry.
It’s the story of a time I totally screwed up and accidently lost a job offer because I have the phone skills of a 90-year-old grandma who’s still convinced her Android is the TV remote.
After all what better way to vent the frustration of unemployment than with a good laugh at someone else’s expense? Even if that someone else has to be me.
It’s near the end of 2016, and I’ve reached a point of desperation in my job hunting. I want badly to be a journalist, but every writing job is super competitive. I’ve been surviving on freelance and part-time gigs, but whenever I apply for a full-time job nothing seems to stick.
This has been going on for about 4 months, and I’ve gotten to the stage where I’m just applying for anything and everything I’m even vaguely qualified for. Business reporter? I could probably do that. Tech writer? Might as well give it a go. Romance novelist for the Amish? Screw it, fetch me an old-fashion typewriter and I’ll pump out a story that’ll really help Ezekiel’s barn rise.
As I said, things were getting desperate. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A local newspaper I applied to has rung me up to offer me an interview. I told them I could do the interview and saved their number to my phone as ‘Peterborough Paper’. No sooner had I finished doing this, than another company calls me. This one I’ve already gotten in my phone as ‘Pharmaceutical Mag’. I’ve already done a first interview with them, and it must have gone okay because they want me in for a second dinterview.
Both interviews are on the same day, meaning it’ll be intense, but there is a real possibility of me landing something soon.
Ever since I got the news, I’ve been prepping like mad for the interviews. I’ve researched the role, rehearsed all the standard job interview questions, even read through more of that trite PR nonsense we all love so much. Stuff like: “Here at IDENTICAL FACELESS CORPERATION, we like to think of ourselves as little different”. You’re not. You exist to make money just like every other company. That’s fine. But don’t pretend to be some wacky collective just because your office has a ping-pong table. Also, not to harp on, but your message about being individual is somewhat undermined by the fact that every single company has an identical script about being “different” copy-and-pasted on their website.
Okay, rant over. Back to the story. The day of my two-interview bonanza has finally arrived, and I feel ready.
I go my first interview of the day, the one with the pharmaceutical magazine. It goes well. Very well. I leave the building believing I have a genuine shot of getting the role. What’s more, they’ve promised they’ll send me an email in only an hour to tell me if I’ve landed the job.
I hop on the train and start getting in the mental space for my second interview, the one at the local newspaper.
Just as I get off the train, my phone goes off. I check it and, oh my lord, I’ve actually done it. I’m now a full-time writer for a pharmaceutical magazine (in hindsight that sounds like a strong entry for “World’s Most Tedious Job”. But like I said: desperate).
A wave of relief washes over me. It’s not just excitement at having a job. It’s also the joy of not having to do any more goddamn job applications. No more cover letters. No more constant tinkering with my CV. No more feeling like Tantalus.
After a brief and embarrassing fit of very public celebration (apologies to all the commuters I asked for high-fives), I turned around and got the first train back home.
On my way home, I decide to call the local newspaper to cancel. After all, I don’t want to waste their time with an interview that doesn’t mean anything. Or, more importantly, sit through another hour of people asking me how I see myself fitting into the BIG EVIL CORPERATION family.
I grab my phone and go through my contacts, half-distracted by the thought of what disgusting, unhealthy food I’m going to funnel down my throat to celebrate tonight. I jab the screen and call up the local newspaper. I tell them exactly this: “Thank you for inviting me in. I’m grateful for the interest, but I’ve just been offered a job elsewhere.” They understand. All is well.
I get home and spend the rest of the day celebrating. After all, I’ve finally been set free from the eternal drudgery of churning out meaningless job applications. Of course, I’ve just agreed to enter the eternal drudgery of the 9 to 5, churning out meaningless articles about pharmaceutical developments. But you know, at least it’s a whole new kind of drudgery.
Besides, the pharmaceutical job told me in their job confirmation email that they’d get back to me in a couple of days with more details and the contract. So there was nothing to do now but wait.
The first day passed with no email, and I waited Mainly in bed and at the pub. I told my mum about my new job and she seemed proud. I told all my friends about my new job, and they feigned interest admirably. But I was excited. Whatever the job was, I had a job. My first full-time job, non-contract, non-internship job. My first foray into what felt like a vital part of adulthood. My first major step on the path of what was sure to be a long and fruitful career.
Another day passed with no email, and I kept relaxing. Why not? For the first time in months I had no need to spend hours pumping out dreary job apps. I had every right to make the most of the time off? And by ‘make the most of’ I mean I ate a big sandwich and watched three terrible Netflix movies.
A third day passed with no email, and I was starting to worry a little. Still, no need to rush them. They sent me that email, so they must want me. Surely there was nothing I could possibly have done to screw up this opportunity already. I hadn’t even spoken to them since.
A fourth day No email. Quite a lot of worry now.
Day 5 rolled around, and I cracked and decided to just ring the pharmaceutical magazine up and ask why they hadn’t sent me anything.
After a couple of attempts, I managed to get through to a receptionist.
I ask her why I haven’t had the contract through yet, and was surprised to hear her confused reaction
“But I don’t understand… You rang us?” she said tentatively.
“You rang us” she repeats, “Right after we offered the job you rang us back.”
“I don’t understand. No I didn’t”
“Yes you did. You called us up about five minutes after we gave you the job. You said: ‘Thank you for inviting me in. I’m grateful for the interest, but I’ve just been offered a job elsewhere’.”
I was baffled at first. But after a very confused conversation in which the receptionist and I both spoke like we were trying to explain something very simple to a five-year-old I realised the problem.
My phone contacts are alphabetical. And ‘Peterborough Paper’ is right next to ‘Pharmaceutical Mag’.
Yep, in my excitement I manged to press the wrong number. And then I apparently managed to perfectly navigate a conversation with their receptionist without ever mentioning any specifics that revealed I was rejected their pharma job because I’d been offered… their pharma job.
Somehow I pulled off this conversational magic trick, and now I had to tell all my friends that I just threw away a good job because I use a phone with all the dexterity and panache of a rhino trying to juggle.
The water disappears in front of Tantalus…
Perhaps comparing myself to Tantalus was too generous. After all, the water in front of Tantalus disappeared because of divine Greek magic not because Tantalus is a cartoonish idiot who can’t use his hands properly. I’m more like Tantalus if he managed to get some water into a cup, only to then clumsily spill it on the ground, slip on that spilled water, prat fall to the ground, and accidently hit himself in the nuts with the cup.
And if you think that’s embarrassing, I’ve still never told my mother the true story. I just told her they backed out on me at the last minute for no reason. If she reads this, it’ll be her first time hearing the truth. Hi mum!
If this story has only made you feel bleaker about job hunting, don’t worry. There is good news. I hung in the job market for another month, before finally being offered a job I actually really wanted. One waaaaaay more interesting than working at a pharmaceutical magazine (a high bar, I know).
I stayed at that job for three years, and it was one of the most enjoyable office experiences I’ve ever had.
So I guess the moral of the story is that, even when things seem dark and hopeless, another opportunity will eventually come along. You just have to hang in there. Well, that and learn how to use a phone properly.