There was a news article around recently that caused immaterial me to chuckle with guttural glee. It was about a university applicant called Elly Nowell, who sent Oxford University a letter rejecting a place to study there (before it had even been offered), as she had been utterly disappointed by the interview process at her chosen college, and as a result repelled by the prospect of studying there. Though the university has denied many of her accusations, the best thing about this story is the element of guts and gall the young girl appeared to be showing in a ‘market’ for education that does nothing but expect students to get what they are given, and only pay for what they can afford. Everyone loves a story of innocent resistance, especially when the protagonist is only doing what they have the right to do. The surprise about Elly’s choice was that she made it, and as she says herself that people were “unable to comprehend that I’d sent such an email to this bastion of prestige and privilege”.
I was reminded of this story today when, drowning in the misery of joblessness: CV writing, covering letters, online application forms, telephone interviews, face to face interviews, Skype interviews, and recruitment agency bookings, I found myself being belittled and humiliated by a recruiter – the people who are meant to be assisting job seekers to find something appropriate to their skills and qualifications. Astonished, I sat in that office – apparition of a tortured prisoner in the Spanish inquisition – defending my CV and explaining every minutia of my experience to a response that varied from stark incomprehension to sheer disdain and denigration. I imagine that it is this exact situation that has jobseekers rippling with frustration and dejection – the notion that one’s ability to find a job remotely related to expertise depends on whatever you can fit into a manageable sentence for a pea brained agent to understand. Essentially I have been reduced to two sides of A4 paper and the results in black ink are rubbing red raw on my dignity.
The difference I have found, for someone in their inexperienced twenties, is the impression that anything anyone throws me now is a favour, a lifeline, and something to devotedly grovel on the floor for. My refusal to fall to my knees in eternal gratitude when a job was suggested to me that involved skills I had gained after I finished my GCSEs ten years ago, in a sector completely unrelated to my prior employment and education history, at a salary much lower than I can afford to live on, and located in an unattractive area, incited a large degree of scorn from both agents interviewing me. The manager’s attitude verged on bullying and both colleagues proceeded to tear my CV to shreds. I left without bothering to hide my horror at their behaviour, in an effort to conserve some of my tattered pride.
Marching off steam through the central London financial district, I thought of all those young people who do not have even the small luxury, as I felt I did, to turn down a job they are over-qualified for and would be undervalued in. The unemployment crisis is forcing twenty-somethings to feel they ‘have no choice’ but to accept any job – railroaded into careers that will potentially suck the life and soul out of them and halt the positive development of their work experience. I know that a job is a job, and at a time when youth unemployment continues to increase, passing record figures in recent history, being offered anything should indeed incite some relief and gratitude in us all. However, just as Elly Nowell realised in applying to Oxford, gratitude for acceptance into an institution comes only with recognition of your worth and value from the other side.
My experience at the recruitment agency made me fear that we are now seeing the rise of super-hyper-inflated- arrogant employers (beyond the usual ratio) who are so sure of one’s jobless desperation that they can behave as if the vast favour they are doing you is more than you really deserve and reflect this in their ugly demeanours and unfair salary and benefits packages. Employers and government policy-makers shouldn’t forget that young people may be desperate but we are also impulsive and inclined to exercise our right to choice at any given moment. What better place to look for proof than the 1980s, our cousin in economic woe, welfare cuts, massive youth unemployment, and sickening financial service arse-licking– when Wham’s ‘Wham Rap!’ incited youths to forget about finding a job if it wasn’t worth it and claim benefit instead, saying: “make the most of everyday, don’t let hard times stand in your way, give a wham give a bam but don’t give a damn, cos the benefit gang are gonna pay”.
Loath to suggest that we should all claim JSA instead of finding useful, meaningful jobs: I am only pointing out that unemployment does not equate to worthlessness (“you got soul on the dole”), and that those in charge might wish to remind themselves of that, else the psychological effect on a whole generation of tax-payers will otherwise be severely damaged. As a starting point, I wrote this email to the recruitment agents who had been so rude to me:
Thank you for meeting me today for an interview on my suitability to the roles that you recruit for at …
I sincerely apologise for altering my original appointment time and arriving early, I do understand that this was inconvenient to you and I can only express my regret for causing you difficulties.
However, I must say that the way I was spoken to towards the end of my interview was extremely rude, and extremely humiliating. Though I may not have had long periods of employment in one company, I have had a large amount of useful, diverse, and transferable work experience. Moreover, my education itself makes me a credible employee. I might add that I always behave in the most courteous and appropriate manner, and that I show respect to everyone I meet. As a result, I can only expect to be treated with some respect and good manners by others.
Unfortunately, I did not feel I was treated well in your office, and I would appreciate it if you delete my CV and scanned image of my passport from your records as I do not want to have employment advice from you in the future.
I hope that you understand this request and it does not cause too much offence.
I might just as well have ended with: “a million people switching off for work, well listen mr. average you’re a jerk… not me. You can’t hold me down…not me. I’m gonna fool around.”