Prospecting for employment

Bristo Square panorama on a sunny day, with wooden boarding being installed across the entire central area, along with small wooden buildings
Construction of a temporary venue at Edinburgh University

This can be thought of as a companion piece to my earlier post To PhD or not to PhD. I haven’t made a firm decision yet on whether to continue with my doctorate, but I am leaning in the ‘not to PhD’ direction at the moment. However, whether I choose to change track completely at this stage or decide to continue part-time with my PhD, I will at some point need to think about employment, if only out of practical financial necessity.

One option, of course, is to return to the relatively safe (but generally isolating and sometimes uninspiring) world of the freelance copy-editor. Yes, it gave me a great deal of freedom to manage my own time as I saw fit, which is probably the main reason I’ve spent more of my life doing that than I have spent in any kind of salaried employment.

Nevertheless, several people have independently suggested to me that a student support role at the university might suit me, especially given my particular combination of life experiences. (It’s probably worth listening when several people come up with almost the same idea.) In considering the possibility that I might not return to my PhD, I’ve therefore been casually casting my eye over the university’s job vacancies. (I still haven’t thought of looking further afield yet. One change at a time.)

Now, it’s a long time since I last applied for a job – if you don’t count tutoring as a postgraduate, which is practically handed to you if you ask for it. (Incidentally, I’ve missed the deadline to apply for tutoring next semester, perhaps because in the back of my mind I don’t think I’ll still be at the university then.) I think the last time I went through the traumatic process of applying for jobs was back in 2002/3, after I’d been made redundant from my longest term of employment. That was sixteen years ago!

I applied for a lot of jobs back then, but I don’t remember reaching the interview stage more than once. In fact, I’ve had very few actual job interviews in my life: there must be something about me that puts employers off from the word go. And when I do get an interview, I find myself feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable and performing at my absolute worst (so I’ve very rarely got a job I’ve been interviewed for – let’s just say that my job choices have always been made for me). As AusomeCharlie recently noted in a tweeted video clip, interviews tend to be far more focused on assessing your performance in particular (neurotypical) social skills rather than your ability to actually do the job.

What do employers really want/need?

Without even thinking ahead to a potential – if unlikely – interview, it scares the life out of me to scan through various jobs on the university’s website and be reminded of the huge lists of ‘required’ and ‘desirable’ qualifications and experience which these job ads always seem to feature. (Does anyone really conform to these ‘person specifications’? If not, what does ‘required’ mean here?) Not all that much has changed in the last couple of decades, it would appear, and I’m sure the application process is as tedious as ever.

Although I haven’t yet seen a job at the university that jumps out at me, I have perused a few of them just to get a feel for what is out there, and among the seemingly universal requirements are variations on ‘excellent interpersonal and communication skills’, ‘self-motivation’, ‘strong team player’ and so on. Ugh.

Now, I can talk to people, but do I really have excellent interpersonal skills? I wouldn’t like to go that far! So by applying for such a job, I’d already be considering myself to be stretching the truth about my abilities before I even got on to how I’d handle the core aspects of the job. And if I got an interview, I’d feel like a fraud.

And I can communicate well by email, for instance, but could I really cope with using a phone as an important part of my job? I’d hate to have to do that, which perhaps rules me out completely for a student support role. Even if I could relate well to students and be a good point of contact for them, what if some of them preferred to speak on the phone? I could hardly opt out, could I?

As for self-motivation, well, I don’t have a great deal of that, unless I happen to be very interested in something, in which case my motivation can be unstoppable. So would I be sufficiently interested in my job to be able to keep going, I wonder?

I recall that on many an occasion in the past I wrote (or even said in interview) that I ‘enjoyed’ working as part of a team. It wasn’t quite true, though, even if I thought at the time that it was. I mean, I like being around people to some extent, but generally I like to get on with things by myself, with minimal interruption from others. That’s assuming I’m sufficiently motivated to do the things in question, of course!

Aside: I notice that many of the job ads on the university website refer to the ideal person for the job as ‘s/he’! Are non-binary people not acceptable for these roles? What’s wrong with the pronoun they, which has been used for centuries, is pronounceable and actually includes everyone? (To be fair, it is actually used in some of the ads.)

Am I unemployable?

Well, it’s probably true that I’m now less employable as a result of having written this blog post! As I understand it, prospective employers nowadays scour your online footprint to see what they can find. The admissions in this post should probably never be made publicly by anyone who hopes to be employed one day!

In any case, my age makes me increasingly unemployable, despite anti-discrimination legislation, and along with my age comes an increasingly lengthy catalogue of assorted jobs, numerous periods of study (over-qualification?) and a few difficult-to-account-for periods in my life when I don’t seem to have done very much.

Maybe I’m being unduly pessimistic, and I’d dearly love it if someone could persuade me that I’m more employable than I think. Failing that, though, and assuming I can’t wheedle my way into a rewarding job at the university that I’m not yet quite qualified to do, there is always my freelance work.

I suppose I should count myself lucky that I have that to fall back on – at least until copy-editing is considered a luxury that no one wants to spend money on any more. But I find it more than a little dispiriting to think that I could end up doing that for the rest of my life. I’d like to think that there’s more to look forward to.

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