A crowded room. And dimly lit. The low hum of conversation underscoring some middle of the road jazz tinkling from the PA system. It and the joint had seen and heard better days. I hadn’t known this Russian tea house even existed until I’d recieved my instructions.
The maitre de beckons me in an oily smile plastered on a sweat-sheened face. More oil than on a Florida beach, I thought uncharitably pushing past and deeper into the eaterie.
There. A small table squeezed Swiss-like between French patisserie on table 12 and the strudel at table 14. The neutral zone.
“Is this seat taken?” Stage nonchalance. As ordered brandishing a copy of Proust – spine unbroken – and clocking the specified headwear on the seated figure feathers lightly tapping the shoulder of the strudel eater next door.
I quickly check the menu.
“How’s the special?”
“Underdone and overpriced.” Click. Contact.
Nonsense of course. But the search for work takes you into strange, strange places. And one of the changes in your life that you have to get used to is a certain level of furtiveness. Sadly, I have yet to be drawn into an intrigue in a Russian Tea House. (I am, of course, open to offers.) Nevertheless these are strange times so I thought I’d share some of the strangeness.
One of the new departures is having to use the internet as a seller of yourself. Basic things about how to go about finding a job seem to have changed out of recognition. I blogged before about CVs. Having a CV though is just the start of it. You have to register at on-line job search sites. I wishing now that I had kept a list right from the start because I’m getting multiple email alerts from the same sites. That’s because if I get a sniff of a job on-line I usually end up registering again at a site I was on a few days before.
While my email alerts are going wild and filling my in-box I can’t help wonder how active I ought to be in managing the recruitment consultancies that have taken my CV. Are they working for me or me for them? Sometimes completely unbidden I hear my mother’s voice as I think about my rather quiet new consultancy pals: “You never ring. You never call round. What am I, dead to you?”
Obviously without the parent/child guilt thing going on.
In the great scramble for jobs you also have to have a web presence. Twitter. LinkedIn. You can not be passive here, I’m told. But you need to manage all of this carefully too. Take down those Facebook pictures of you trying to dance with next door’s trellis obelisks from the street party. Delete those shattering insights into the policy failings of leading politicians and senior management from your Twitterfeed.
And, check what your kids have been saying about your predicament on their Facebook pages. (“Dad said XX is a complete ____ and should ____ _____ the ___ and ___ with the ___ and just you see if I don’t.”) Not nice. Unhelpful too if it comes up when you get googled as you surely will.
While we are on googling let’s not forget to mention search engine optimisation (SEO). Now I thought SEO was a civil service grade. But no. It’s a dark art of writing copy and using features of internet search engines to ensure that when someone types in terms that best exemplify you like ‘tall, dark and handsome,’ it’s you who comes top (or close to it) in the results list.
Of course some strangeness enters your world from colleagues who try not to mention your impending doom. It’s just bad manners. So like Hardy and Nelson taking a stroll on the deck of the Victory at Trafalgar your conversation weaves its way around everything to do with the present unpleasantness.
“Nice shoes Hardy.” “Thank you. I went to the little man you recommended in The Strand.” You see what I mean? Sometimes you just have to say it’s all right I’m going. Don’t be frightened to mention it. It’s a fact. Deal with it.
Sometimes though you just can’t help but enjoy the Basil Fawlty way that folks tie themselves up into knots. “Don’t mention the redundancy. I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”
Or the grim determination of some folks to see that standards of conduct don’t fall. For example raising of odd issues in memos like, “I was surprised at N’s tone in his response to my email about the intractable issue of the colour coding of the filing records. It suggests to me that N doesn’t understand the gravity of the problem and my difficulties in getting it resolved. I would appreciate your support to moving this matter forward.”
To which my answer should have been: “HELLO! HE’S BEING FIRED. I’M BEING FIRED. WE DON’T CARE ABOUT THE FILING SYSTEM. IN FACT BEFORE WE GO WE’RE GOING TO SWITCH ALL THE COLOUR CODING AROUND AND SWAP YOUR CABINET WITH THE ONE THAT NO-ONE HAS OPENED SINCE THE 3-DAY WEEK. THE ONE WITH THE DEAD CACTUS ON IT AND THE DAVID ESSEX STICKER. JUST FOR FUN.”
But of course I don’t. Habits of good manners and collegiate working are too deeply engrained to really let those inhibitions go. You can’t help wonder though at the lack of imagination you sometimes see that comes from folks being unwilling or unable to put themselves into someone else’s place. Whatever the force majeure that brought the redundancy notice to your door it is ultimately a rejection. Rejection fundamentally alters any relationship.
All of which brings me back to the rendezvous in the seedy strudel shop. Did our hero get his just desert or just dessert? Was the contact all that they seemed? Was the meeting observed? Did the man in the gabardine rain coat really have a camera in his bow tie? Find out next time.
Or will you? (Cue: cliff hanger music).