Looking for work during a pandemic - an encouragement
There are a few tried and tested strategies for that first blog of a new year. There’s the review of the past 12 months, for example, or the planning of the year ahead, or a combination of both. Personally, reviewing last year didn’t feel like an attractive option. No doubt we all have our own narrative of 2020, depending on our personal journeys and points of view. Like for many others, COVID-19 has had severe negative implications for me, both personally and professionally, and yet, I also have cause to be very grateful, and I have some positives to cultivate and take forward into 2021 and beyond.
So, no review of last year. But I would like to share one of the negative experiences that transformed into a useful insight (as it so often does), in the hope that it might be of use to others in a similar situation – those having to pitch for / apply for work in these uncertain times but fortunate enough that work is available to be pitched / applied for in the first place. To be clear, this is not a guide how to write a job application. More a gentle reminder of things we all know anyway, I’m sure.
Like so many colleagues and fellow freelancers in the arts I lost work last year. I felt apprehensive about the prospect of having to find new work during a pandemic, but I decided to trust my experience, and I also realistically expected a certain number of rejections. But I was still surprised when I wasn’t invited to interview for a project contract that I felt I was more than qualified for.
Though on re-reading my #application I realised where I had gone wrong. On the surface it was a good application, a well-written outline of my achievements, tailored to the specific subject area of the role. It conveyed experience, expertise, passion for the arts and a desire to learn.
The problem was just that the role description didn’t prioritise these areas. First and foremost, the focus for this role was on personal qualities such as commitment, reliability, respect and understanding of others’ work, a supportive, generous and collaborative approach. Knowledge of and experience in the actual role only came second.
Which I had understood – and ignored. I had taken the shortcut of writing an application I was comfortable with (because it was a proven template) rather than the application that had been asked for. Tailoring my professional experience and expertise to the advertised role rather than describing my entire career in terms of so-called “soft skills” felt more familiar and yes, “safe”. But in the end, these were all just excuses. For whatever reason, I hadn’t responded to the application brief, and consequently hadn’t been invited to interview for the role.
It is easy to panic in uncertain times. Having to find work can be debilitating, especially when it feels like all these applications rarely lead anywhere.
But maybe this is a time to slow down, not to panic and rush. To be extra diligent in tailoring every application to exactly what is being asked for in the brief. To stop and check again, even (especially) if we think we’ve “nailed it”. To not rely on the tried and tested or take for granted that experience will speak for itself. It might. But then again, new approaches or transferable skills might be of more interest to potential employers.
It’s also worth reminding ourselves that we are demonstrating our suitability for a role to people who (most likely) don’t know us. I was once interviewed for a position that would have fitted me like a glove, as I had performed almost exactly the same role at another organisation before (and had loved it). In my view, the interview went extremely well, and I was absolutely devastated when I wasn’t offered the position. Feedback was that I had come across as perfunctory, not very passionate. It was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me in my entire career, and it took me a long time to make sense of this confusing feedback.
But in the end I think I got it: I was so familiar with the requirements of the position, so familiar with the role, that I had treated the interview like a team meeting. I completely forgot to advertise myself as the best candidate for the role, because in my head, I was already doing it.
Of course it’s possible that they simply didn’t like me. Or thought I wasn’t the right person for the job after all. But I’m convinced that my interpretation is at least partly correct. I took things for granted and failed to consider the employer’s perspective.
I believe it’s easy to fall into that trap, and to lose focus of what is important for an application, especially during such frightening and challenging times as these. But I’m also convinced that it is worth investing time and effort into every application.
Even if it doesn’t always feel like it.