Looking for Labour in Lockdown

I knew I had to leave my job in October. I was sick with stress, harassed by managers who did not know how to support a remote worker, feeling gaslit by the constant scapegoating and ‘accidentally’ cc’ing me into emails critiquing my performance. By January, my doctor advised that moving from 36 hours over five days to 31 hours over four days might mitigate the isolation that my working condition caused; the management said this was untenable and unreasonable. So I looked at my savings and didn’t look back. I would be fine for as long as it took a person with a doctorate and years of experience in education, arts, and the charity sector to find a job in the fastest growing city economy in the UK.

In February a global pandemic hit. In March my country went into lockdown.

By this point I had written dozens of applications already. In the first week or so of March every one of them responded saying they had paused recruitment while the situation unfolded. They thought, like me, that it would unfold quickly and linearly. I tried not to let those emails gut me too much – I was in a position of immense privilege financially and in terms of my support network that I was able to not be in work for a while. My husband, suddenly classed as an essential worker, continued to go out every day. One day I looked on a job search engine and the only job available in my area was a mushroom harvester. I am allergic to mushrooms. I bookmarked it anyway.

When adverts for jobs in my field – which I was defining more and more broadly every day – started reappearing in July and August, I made job hunting my job. I foregrounded my experience working and delivering remotely. I advertised my services as a freelancer. I forensically applied to be a project officer, a diversity coordinator, a marketing assistant, an intern. My spreadsheet of application information shows I applied to sixty professional jobs between July and October. When I started applying for supermarkets and call centres, I didn’t even note them on the spreadsheet. I just went through the churn of national insurance number, no prior convictions, I am a team player who loves to learn. I started to feel like I hadn’t done the right thing. After all, every staff member at my old job was now a remote worker. They had to have been handling it better now, right? But how could I have known? I couldn’t have gambled my health any longer. I couldn’t have known how devastating the emerging health crisis was going to be. As stressed as job hunting made me, it was nothing compared to how injurious my previous situation had been. It was the first time I had had time off since I was sixteen, and I couldn’t even go outside.

Eventually, there were interviews. Some of which I was obviously unqualified for – I don’t know anything about climate change or corporate fundraising, but who am I to argue with the esteemed charities who wanted to hear my thoughts? – and some of which I was crushed to be rejected from, certain I was perfectly placed to do the job well. As if the universe knew I was building to a crescendo, in one particularly frenetic fortnight I had four interviews.

I received three offers.

I couldn’t even be mad at the people who made jokes about buses.

In the end the job I went for was an easy decision. I had been interested in working in community development, which was a route it offered me, and the organisation in question also offered cast iron stability. I had never quit a job without having another lined up. I had never turned down a job offer. I felt like a whole new person.

Looking back at my applications, I realised I had written this successful one in March. It had been waiting for me all summer.