Working – or not, as the case may be – in 2020

Restaurants and other businesses have been ordered to close during lockdown (Image: Pixabay)

I would have been going to work tonight, but as we’ve just started our second national lockdown, the restaurant where I waitress a few evenings a week has been ordered to close.

It’s a real blow for me – financially, socially and emotionally. I started working there just under two months ago and I had just got comfortable, feeling like I knew what I was doing and that the other staff weren’t just colleagues, they were friends. After a rollercoaster of a year so far, life was finally starting to feel a bit more stable. Even my dog had settled into our new routine and was happy.

It had been so much harder than I had expected to get this job. Returning to Devon after a period of time under my parents’ roof due to the loss of my relationship, home and job during the first lockdown, I applied for 31 jobs without success – in most cases, without so much as an interview.

These were jobs that I felt perfectly qualified to do, from minimum wage jobs in retail or hospitality, in which I had plenty of experience, to jobs more relevant to my decade-long career as a newspaper reporter. I graduated with a good degree from a good university. I’ve been described as a well-rounded person – I’ve travelled, I’ve been heavily involved in team sports, I’ve volunteered. I’ve got glowing references. I very quickly stopped being picky about jobs based on the hours, location or salary. I carefully tailored my CV and cover letter for each employer.

The problem was the incredible number of people all competing for each job: dozens, hundreds, even thousands. Most of the jobs I went for were advertised on Indeed, which tells you how many applications there have been for each one. After a good phone chat and face-to-face interview, I got down to the final couple of candidates for a job at a local patisserie, only for them to eventually choose someone who had just done two years in an almost identical role elsewhere. There had been 79 applications for this job. I went for an editorial support job at a small, independent publisher but so did 300 other people. I went for a social media co-ordinator job only to find I was competing against 3,000 other people. Rudely, but unsurprisingly given the volume, many employers didn’t even bother to respond to my application.

I applied for a content writing job at a local media and advertising agency and had a good interview via Zoom before being asked to complete a sample task. They expected me to spend four to five hours on this task – unpaid. I’m a member of various writers’ groups whose members feel very strongly about unpaid tasks as part of the recruitment process, and while I understand both sides of the argument, the fact of the matter was if I didn’t complete the task, I wouldn’t get the job and someone else would. I had to give it a go. I worked hard on it – and heard nothing. When I chased it up, the managing director (who, unimpressively, managed to make TWO typos in my name alone), told me I ‘wasn’t quite the right fit’.

The competition seemed to get fiercer as time went on and that’s undoubtedly going to continue for some time to come. It seems that almost every day there’s a news article with another major brand announcing hundreds if not thousands of redundancies. Today, it was Sainsbury’s cutting at least 3,000 jobs and Lloyds Bank cutting a further 1,000.

A problem for job seekers is that many of the roles are only part-time, say six to 16 hours a week, and yet the employers expect you to be totally flexible with regard to your availability. I’ve had jobs where you’re given your rota three weeks in advance and others where you only know what shifts you’re doing a few days in advance. It makes it almost impossible to juggle more than one job, unless one is always daytimes and one is always evenings.

Last month, Chancellor Rishi Sunak advised people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic to consider retraining for a new career. The Government’s National Careers Service website has a quiz to help determine what kind of career would suit you.

According to this quiz, the top three career areas that might interest me are: business and finance (despite me saying I don’t like working with numbers), law and legal (no thank you) and travel and tourism (a sensible suggestion – except in the middle of a pandemic).

Although I’m a freelance writer, it’s important to me to have a part-time job in another sector. It removes some of the stress of trying to find clients, it provides some financial stability and gives opportunities for social interaction that I don’t get when I work from home.

They say this lockdown will last until December 2, but it might be extended. It’s time for me to step up my writing game, and this blog post has been a warm-up.

If you’re job hunting: don’t give up. If you get rejected, you weren’t right for each other, and it just means something better for you is waiting around the corner.