“All in all not a bad guy – if looks, brains and personality don’t count.” – The Coen Brothers
Before coming to China I was, like pretty much everyone who is both creative and working class in the UK, on Jobseekers. I was in a difficult position, where I was under-qualified for most of the media positions I was applying for* and so overqualified for the other jobs that no one believed I was genuinely passionate about cleaning the toilets in Home Bargains (I actually find that cleaning is a pretty meditative experience. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m ironing of doing the dishes, but that ain’t what Home Bargains want to hear, apparently). Luckily, my ‘careers coach’, probably a frustrated dreamer herself, could see that I was serious about my writing: sending scripts and stories to the right people and constantly applying for jobs. She was actually a fairly pleasant individual.**
One thing that they make you do after six months on the dole is a training regime to help you polish up CVs, ace difficult interviews and deal with the constant tedium of bitter defeat and crushing rejection. It’s actually not a bad idea for a struggling writer to do such a training regime! I met people who are still turning up as characters in my stories to this day, mostly as dickheads (“Finding a job is a full time job, isn’t it?” Well, no actually. In fact it’s literally the opposite, you daft bastard!)
The training included writing up mock application forms, acting out mock interviews and trying desperately not to mock any of the people delivering the training.
Once, when ‘brainstorming’ what we might ask potential interviewers, I came up with:
Me: What’s your company ethos?
Trainer: What’s that mean?
Me: Well, do you have a good ecological policy? Do you use sweatshop labour in Indonesia?
(This was shortly after the roof of a sweatshop building had collapsed and killed 1,130 people)
Trainer: Uh, okay. Good question. Maybe… try to get the job first?
Trainer: When is it appropriate to turn up for an interview in jeans and a t-shirt?
Me: When you work in the performing arts.
Me: Yeah, if you turn up in a suit people think you’re well pretentious!
Trainer: Okay, well when else is it appropriate to turn up for an interview in jeans and a t-shirt?
Me: Media. Tech start ups. Construction, maybe.
Trainer: Okay, let’s move on.
One other aspect they covered was ‘personality’:
Trainer: Not everyone wants to be a fireman. Not everyone has the ability to work in a call center. Apply for the right job for your personality.
I don’t like personality tests. At university we had to make a ‘group documentary’, and our tutor had the idea of grouping us all by personality using the Myers Briggs test.The results were predictable: everyone absolutely hated the groups they were in. My group was made up of people who were all too imaginative/abstract/conceptual to agree on a documentary subject while being too warm/compassionate/introverted to do anything about it except slag each other off behind our backs. I eventually went out into Northampton town centre on my day off and shot my own documentary without the group. “Great,” beamed my film tutor, clapping his hands together, “that’s exactly what an INFP should do!”
The personality test that Job Centre Plus used is not as universally recognized as the Myers Briggs. They grouped us, like a scene written by Ricky Gervais, as ‘birds’.
Yes, that’s birds. I wish I was joking.
“You are a sparrow. Often quiet, you find it difficult to get what you want. You settle for the nest that you are given.”
“You are a cuckoo. Sometimes appearing manipulative…”
That sort of shit.
To what would have been my genuine surprise (had I given anything other than not a single shit), I was the only one on the training course who was an ‘eagle’.
“You are an individual with the ability to soar to great heights. The sort of bird who would happily devour every other bird in this room, shit them out of its arsehole and tell us that our test is a load of wank.”
It wasn’t all bad. One day they made us apply for several online jobs, just to be sure that we weren’t taking their fifty pounds a week and scratching out balls with it. “Have you thought about jobs abroad?” said one of the trainers, “you seem like the kind of bloke who wouldn’t have a problem relocating.”
*I even went for an interview as social media writer for a school, and was so desperate to get back into the workforce that I ignored the fact they wanted someone with graphic design experience. “Are you,” asked a wise friend of mine with narrow eyes and gritted teeth, “sure about this?” “Yes,” I lied. “I’ll be fine right up until they ask me to design something!” This was indeed the case, and they were rather underwhelmed with the new ‘school logo’ that I drew them in MSPaint.
**The days that she wasn’t in, however, were sheer torture. I came very close to asking one hatchet-faced old bint, “Have you got any jobs here, love? I reckon I’d make a great patronizing cunt!”