It is now almost one whole year since I ceased being dosed with the life-preserving poison known as chemotherapy. It’s now about six months since I started feeling mentally and physically capable of concentrating for periods longer than a few seconds, and of remembering things from day-to-day rather than losing the thought within minutes, and, so, I started the search for work. It felt like a giant step at the time especially as, just before Christmas, I was told that I was being put forward for a job with a recommendation from HR that I was the best person for it. In the event the job went to an internal promotion and I never got as far as an interview with the decision-maker despite having spent hours getting my MS Office skills back to where they had been a year before. Then came the lean months, the months of staring into my laptop’s screen and wading through all the jobs that are available out there. To see so many jobs is really great. To be able to apply for such a small percentage of them is not great. To spend a couple of hours or more preparing a CV/resume tailored to each position and yet to hear nothing is very definitely not a rewarding process. To receive an email saying, “you’re through to a telephone interview”, is, initially a fantastic feeling, but, after a few of those, when in my own unbiased opinion, they have gone well, and yet not hear any further from the employer really is a blow to one’s morale. To apply for a job at Home Depot as a collector of carts in the parking lot (see how American my language is becoming, I really, really, wanted to write, “a collector of trolleys in the car park”) and not get past the first interview was a real blow, especially as I’d chosen not to point out to them that placing a column of seats in the corridor to the fire escape had to be a breach of Health and Safety legislation even here in Florida. Everyone tells you, you have to turn up in person and then when they see you and “hear your cute British accent”, (their words not mine – honestly!) they’ll offer you a job, but these days you turn up and they say, “apply online”. I’ve even been to jobs fairs where there are recruiters there whose sole role was to give out fliers showing how to apply online – thanks Target, T-Mobile and others, it was almost a pleasure getting out of bed and travelling to meet your recruitment staff to discuss the jobs you have. Why do they bother turning up at all? I don’t know what kind of effect that has on other job seekers but it definitely left me not only pissed off and unimpressed with them as an employer but also it creates a negative impression which very definitely impacts on my spending plans. Maybe the spending power of those desperate enough to be applying through jobs fairs isn’t sufficient to be of interest to those companies.
I set myself a target of applying for at least three jobs a day. Most days I applied for four or five, sometimes five or six. On one day I got in an amazing 25 job applications courtesy of chain websites which allowed me multiple selections of stores at which I was willing to be considered for employment, but I got no response from any of them. I was finding it more and more difficult to motivate myself to approach my unpaid work of finding paid work with any degree of enthusiasm, and then, a neighbour phoned a friend of his who works for Workforce1 and we arranged to meet a couple of days later. It was a very simple action by my neighbor but it meant a lot to me, here was someone who believed in me and was willing to put themselves out for me. That meeting went well and I went for an interview which also went well, but I had morale qualms about what I would need to do as, effectively I would be on an IT helpline resolving customers’ problems but with a view to upselling the employers kit to replace what the customer had. Now I’ve spent a few years working in IT and helping friends and, in my experience, the problem has rarely been the kit. Some friends had a friend who was undertaking training there and who was, at that point, reported to be enjoying working there: his opinion changed when he was working directly with customers and he soon quit. I felt vindicated when I heard this, I’d possibly made the correct decision and still retained some dignity despite having to continue to depend totally upon my wife. Anyway, from this initial meeting with Martin at WF1 I was able to sign up for their program called Professional Placement Network (PPN) which is kick-started by a one week course in how to find work. They had expectations of us, for instance, we had to dress as though we were going to work, a small thing but it did make a difference, they treated us as real people with goals and we felt important. That week with Thomas Doughety revitalized me, as it did others, and I adopted many of the strategies they suggested, however the pattern continued to be the same. Then through PPN I got involved in helping at a jobs fair where I met Shannon, and suddenly it did seem as though, when someone met me, they would think my accent was cute, and they might offer me a job, but first I had to go through a telephone interview with Shannon’s assistant, and then another telephone interview with Shannon and of course these things take time don’t they as they work to the employer’s timescales and not those of the unemployed and, in the interim, my wife and I had met with some friends, one of whom is a teacher in a private school about 18 miles away, and she suggested I contact the school with a view to acting as a substitute teacher. I explained that I didn’t have teaching qualifications in Florida and was having problems convincing the school district of my qualifications, as in England, universities don’t )or at least they didn’t when I was a student) regularly provide transcripts which seem to be de rigeur here in the US. Lisa responded that as a private school such things might not be necessary, so I wrote to the school with yet another carefully crafted resume and after a few days the school got in touch and said they would like me to teach a lesson being observed by around four staff. Now, I’ve taught lessons as a student with class teachers, headteachers, and even HMI watching me. As a qualified teacher I’ve gone through HMI and OFSTED inspections as well as annual appraisal by my managers, but I was more nervous of teaching this lesson than for any of those. I mean I had no idea about what the pupils knew, so I didn’t really know where to start let alone where I was going to finish, but, in the event, it went well as did the interview afterwards, and we left it that the school was interested in me and would get in touch when they knew what they had to offer me. That sounded very similar to one interview I had for a job selling cars where my interviewer and I both agreed at the end of the interview that we were both interested in taking things forward and then I got told they weren’t. Anyway, you know the old saying, “It never rains but it pours”, well, my heavens opened. I got a call from a company I had applied to four months earlier saying they would like to speak to me. Great, except it went to voice mail and so we played telephone tag for a couple of weeks, or, more accurately, I was trying to play telephone tag but Sylvan never called back. It was at this point that I had the second telephone interview with Shannon, and then a friend suggested applying to another company for casual work selling vacations and they wanted to interview me as well, so, suddenly, from having nothing going for me, I was waiting for Sylvan to get back to me (they never did), for Shannon to take things to the next interview with a local manager, for the travel company to move on from the three hours of interview process and for the school to get back to me. Of them all I preferred the school option as Sylvan would probably be only part-time, Shannon’s job was commission only selling financial plans and I don’t want to turn into the kind of guy who annoys everyone he meets by trying to sell them some kind of a scheme, the travel job was minimum pay with success basically depending upon the hours put in and it was pretty clear that meant 9+ hours per day on the phone and that would be 7 days a week in order to make a decent income. Against this, I know I am a good teacher and that I can succeed at the school, but, despite telling them that I was awaiting confirmation from these other companies that they wanted me, the school still hadn’t been able to sort out its staffing needs until last week when they phoned and told me they could offer me a job! That was a great day. Sadly I couldn’t fully share my joy with anyone as my wife is abroad with her son while I had chosen to stay home and chase work. Telling family by text just isn’t the same as seeing them face-to-face and sharing the physical excitement and relief. I felt slightly bad about telling Shannon that I had accepted another job as she’d phoned and left a voice mail to say we could now go forward with a local manager and wanting to arrange a suitable time, plus I felt that we had begun to establish a positive relationship, but, a bird in the bush and all that.
I really do view getting a job as part of the return to a normal life after the chemo, and it really does feel like a giant step forward to me, and yet, I continue to read the blogs of those who were diagnosed with cancer at about the same time as me, and I read how they are now on new medications which are finally showing some signs of beating back their cancers, and I realise that, in terms of where I have been these past 18 months and where my blogger friends are in their own journeys, it is significant but less important than being healthy.