Thursday, November 25, 2010

Selling Oneself

My days start a little earlier now. I rise on waking, make a cup of English Breakfast tea with a splash of skinny milk. I shower and wash my hair, after which, there is the normal cleanse, tone and moisturise routine of the facial skin and roll on some organic deodorant. I prefer the organic, non-chemical stuff, which works far better than anti-perspirant - it doesn't stain your clothes and it doesn't stop you sweating - it just stops you smelling. Humans are meant to sweat under their arms after all.

After these ablutions, I dress. With care. New tailored trousers, a clean white, trim fitting t-shirt, over which goes a long tailored black jacket.

In between imbibing my normal breakfast protein shake, fish oil capule and multi vitamin tablet, I consider my face. I'm really blessed. Spending my twenties in England, good genes and being pleasantly plump, I have few wrinkles for my age. Other than a couple of light circles under my eyes, my skin is clear. I now proceed to cover it in beige powder - again, mineral based to allow my skin to breath underneath. Then there's a bit of blusher applied to my cheekbones, a light dusting of shimmering eyeshadow, brown eyeliner (which a queeny make up artist told me years back to use rather than black - it's far less severe for a woman of my age) and a bit of brown/black mascara. I dry my hair straight - a seemingly pointless exercise in this humid weather, but it has to be done. It will be an unruly, frizzy mess by midday.

I am in interview mode. I have two pimps to meet today. I have to give them my A-game.

Before heading to the tram, I clean my teeth, careful to use mouthwash afterward. Just before I leave the flat, I put on my shoes. My running shoes. These are what I wear to work. A pair of one inch kitten heels sit in a bag next to my handbag. I will slip these on just before I meet the pimps. I may as well be comfortable until then. I have a pair of black work flats under my desk which will don my feet at Tin Can, String and Whistle. You could turn up in your pyjamas there and nobody would notice. Fridays I normally wear jeans - like everybody else. Unless you're meeting clients there's little point turning up in a suit.

Just after twelve, I slip out of the office for my scheduled meeting with pimp number one. Her name is Amber. Stripper name. Bet she's blonde, dressed fashionalbly, very thin and with a high pitched voice.

I'm used to dealing with the pimps - or recruitment consultants as they're known to the outside world. People who will sell your skills on to the highest bidder. People who will happily oversell your worth for their own gain.

Yes, I'm cynical, but after the last time I went contracting, going from appointment to appointment, shaking wet fish hands, having my christian name said at least once every sentence, you get to know the drill.
The good pimps are the ones you can have a laugh with. The good ones are genuinely interested in finding you a job that makes you happy. These are the ones who look you straight in the eye, tell you how it is and do call you through the year to see what you're up to. Second pimp of the day is one of these good ones. But more on him later.

Stupidly, I change into the kitten heels before making my way to the pimp's lair, a kilometre away from the office. In the wet and with the paving stones I slipped repeatedly and my right knee started to ache. Never to mind, a bag of peas and some lectric soda later would help to sort it.

Amber was on time. Indeed, she had the wet fish handshake, the simpering smile, the speech impediment that made her use my name in every sentence, and yes, she was slim, blonde and dressed very fashionably. We sit in a barely furnished room, stripped of natural light.

She then starts the questions.

What did I want to do? Had I looked at the company website? Was I able to work in Geelong? What were my strengths? What were my greatest acheivements? When was I available for work... all the normal questions from somebody who I would say has summed me up as one above pond scum in a moment after our intitial meeting. Of course, you have to put on your game face, answer with the same enthusiasm required of anybody else selling themselves.

Of course I will bend over and play dead as you wish.

Actually, it's not quite like that. I answer honestly. No, I'm not prepared to work full time in Geelong - a week here and there, sure. No, I don't want to work a ten hour day - I work to live, not the other way around. Yes, I like variety. I'm better with people than  machines. If I can google it, I can learn it. No, I don't have an MBA or a business degree - I've learned business the hard way, from the back offices and though pushing paper and watching closely. It's got me a long way.

On leaving I offered her my hand. She didn't appear happy to take it.

Pimp number two is a much better experience. Later in the afternoon I make my way down Collins Street once again. Pimp number two is named Tony.

Tony and I have talked regularly over the last three years. I met him just before I got the role with Tin Can, String and Whistle. He's somebody I could see as a drinking buddy or mate. A man with a firm handshake and a genuine smile. He remembers from previous conversations that I run, read tarot and write. He has an idea of my skills. He likes that as somebody in the testing field that there is a trace of personality in me. We have a chat. He tells me that it's probably going to be mid next month before more opportunities come in. I tell him I'm aware of this, but I may as well get the leg work in now. He laughs at my plastic bag containing my trainers. He asks if I changed them in the lobby for the kitten heels. I admit to this. I have to give him my A-game after all. Good attitude, he says.

After bidding Tony farewell, I make my way home, tired, knee aching, rather desiring a beer.

Selling yourself is hard. It's exhausting. You know who you are and what you can do, but you have to go out and wager this into the market. When you're not a salesman, this can be hard on the psyche. You are dressed in clothes you're not used to wearing, uncomfortable shoes, there is a mask of makeup on your face. Your hair, normally thrown up in ponytail or given a cursory brush once a day is groomed within an inch of it's life. All of this is tiring in itself - just more stuff to consider.

I work in IT - jeans or business casual are normal fare unless you're meeting clients - half the time you're scratching around under desks or playing with cables anyway. Makeup isn't insisted upon - geeks don't care what you look like. Sensible shoes are the norm. Code doesn't ask you to roll over and jump through hoops - it just needs to work effiienctly and to spec.

This is why this is all so alien. I do feel like a prostitute. I also know that when I get the new, job, whatever that may be, within a fortnight I will be stripped of the mask of makeup, back in my comfortable business casual clothes and wearing flats around the office. Such is the game.

On arriving home, there is a mad dash to the bathroom where a wet flannel removes the bulk of the makeup. The office wear is thrown in the washing machine and a bag of frozen peas is strapped to my throbbing right knee.

Once again, I know exactly who I am and what I'm about.

It's such a pity that finding work is such a performance.


JK said...

Hmmm... My near future as well.
Some good tips here for me!
Good luck - you're doing well.
Unfortunately I know, the Ambers outnumber the Tonys - but you only need one or two Tonys to get yourself a good job.
Also use your contacts - let everyone you know know you are "out there", it is amazing what can come up.

Word verification: AGRAIN

Meaning: doing something repeatedly through gritted teeth: I am on the job hunt circuit agrain!

Kath Lockett said...

You're right. It IS a performance and you're forced to sell a version of yourself that isn't real.

I often look at people's faces when they're reading or watching something, when they're neutral. Is their mouth bitter, downturned, or slightly smiling?

Wouldn't it be ideal if job interviews were conducted wearing the real outfits? So much more 'real' stuff would be learned; esp when you're interviewed at the workplace by a panel who'll inevitably be your teammates. Because in the current system even the interviewers tart themselves up.

Best of luck - keep on wearing those kitten heels....

River said...

I hope you get whatever job it is you're applying for.
I'm very glad toread that you're wearing brown eyeliner and brown/black mascara.
I see so many women who insist on sticking with the black, when it just isn't right for them. And because they're older and can't see as well without their glasses, they put it on too thickly, with clumps. Clearly they don't check the look once they put their glasses on. Here's a tip. Apply mascara, let dry, apply a second coat, let dry. Then get a washed (and dried) old mascara brush and gently apply to lashes to remove clumps. Check the look with cheap $2 magnifying glasses.
I know of one woman around my age (58) who insists on still wearing the same creamy textured hot pink lipstick she has loved since she was 16. Now? It's SO wrong for her.