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Letter From America: Qualifications

Should you need any bobbins sorted or sandwiches fetched you may have found your man.

Ronnie Bray recalls job-hunting frustrations.

In hard times when jobs are scarce and there are more would-be workers than places to be filled, life can turn up some unusual surprises. I discovered this soon after I graduated from university with an honours degree in Theology and Religious Studies. My first sense of surprise came when I presented myself to the careers officer at Leeds University, eager to learn which of the world’s humanitarian organisations were clamouring for my services to move them forward in the needy world.

I should have known something was wrong when the officer asked me with eager intent what occupation I had followed before entering university. Although it had been almost three years since my last employment, I still remembered it.

"I was the custodian of ecclesiastical premises." I said, honestly.

"And is that what you will be doing when you graduate?" She seemed earnest, but less intense.

"No." returned, replacing my fallen crest with an insouciant air.

She directed me to the library and left me to wonder at the opportunities that presented themselves, at least in theory.

Over the next few months, I applied for every opening where I felt my degree and experience would place me at a favourable advantage. I would like to say that I could have papered a room with letters of rejection, but, alas, the world had turned from courtesy and no rejections came. At least they kept pace with acceptance letters, and eventually to game was declared a goalless draw, the final score being called as, Rejects Nil - Acceptances Nil.

After this time I realised I was, perhaps, setting my sights a little high, so I opened up as a part-time house cleaner, although I continued to apply for jobs at a slightly lower grade than before.

One job caught my eye in the local newspaper and so rather than risk a letter of rejection I decided to apply in person. A spinning mill in Milnsbridge needed a bobbin sorter that would also double as a sandwich person. The latter part did not require sandwiches to be made, only fore orders to be taken from the workers and then a short trip to the sandwich shop around the corner, and the bought in delicacies distributed to those that had ordered them.

I gave the employment opportunity my usual test to determine whether I could fulfil its conditions and thereby please an employer. I decided that as far as I could tell there was nothing required that I could not supply.

I could tell from the attitude of the lady in the mill office that my turning up unannounced was not something they were used to. However, since I was there, she decided, "You might as well fill in an application form, since you are here!" This was said in a certain way and with sufficient emphasis to convey her feeling that she wished I were not there.

I sat on one of the Victorian office’s Victorian dining chairs, the sort you keep just in case someone that you don’t like visits, so you can have them sit on one, which ensures they do not stay too long. The complicated form seemed apposite for engaging a managing director, but it was definitely overkill for a bobbin sorter cum sandwich man.

I was about halfway down the page when I realised the futility of my task. I bolted to the part where it required me to list the qualifications for the post. In that space I wrote simply, "I can sort bobbins and I have bought sandwiches before."

I slid the form between the glass sliding doors that separated the inner world of a Victorian textile establishment and its working practices from the modern world of, "Can we not get too daft about this?" and, stepping outside into Milnsbridge’s ancient riverside district, I mounted my pack horse and plodded home.

Did I get the job? What do you think? Do you need any bobbins sorted or sandwiches fetching? Anyone?

Copyright © Ronnie Bray 2010







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