Green Typewriter
  • Lucy Thackray

No, this job is not 'beneath me'. I should know, I applied for it

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

We need to talk about the gulf between the moves mid-level creatives are looking to make in their careers right now, and what employers think those moves are. Forgive me for writing while my blood is up, but in the past week I have been rejected for three jobs that I was comfortably qualified for - jobs that I really could have brought some expertise, maturity and creative flair to - because the employer 'didn't feel I would be satisfied with the role and/or the career progression they could offer'. One of these wasn't even a permanent role, it was an Acting Editor role, covering someone on leave.

When the magazine I worked for for six years was closed by its publisher three months ago, six seasoned and talented people of my exact skills set (some with 15 years' more experience than me) were hurled out onto the job market, adding to the army of brilliant journalists already out on the streets following other brutal media job cuts and publication culls. Since then, about five jobs that fitted my experience level have come up, and all of them have turned me down, some feeding back that my experience was meatier than the role they were filling, others that they felt I would be too 'ambitious' and 'career-focused' to stick around. The aforementioned short-term one felt like the final straw. Who is so blinded to this industry's state of health that they think a recently-redundant creative is going to ditch a solid six-month gig for a better one before it finishes? Spoiler alert: there is no better gig. There's barely a worse gig.

I can't quite wrap my head around media companies having their pick of writers and editors - people with five, 10 or even 20 years in the game, ready and willing, so dispirited by the barren, competitive job market that they will take literally any salary - and opting instead to hire someone... not as good? There is a veritable bargain bin of great talent out there at the moment - snap us up! And the wording of the feedback is so faux-complimentary - why do these employers seem to think I have my pick of rungs to grasp above theirs? My career ladder, frankly, is whittled down to a toothpick.

Then again, last time I was jobhunting - at 22, and then again at 27 - it was all about stretching your CV, not shrinking it. It's all I know - over-dazzling, compensating with personality, looking like a capable enough pair of hands and a quick enough learner to take a decent leap. This time, at 33, I was braced for a brutally competitive job market; what I didn't know is that my competition would be those less experienced or 'ambitious'. I was prepared to have to be demonstrably the best and most capable for the job - not the meekest and least go-getting. There's not much I can do about my CV, short of lie - if I moved up quickly in my first five years of media work, it's because I'm super productive, network well and am open to new creative challenges, or I was back when those opportunities felt plentiful. That is, before we were watching legendary print titles tank month after month, or publishers cull creative staff in favour of cheap content-bashers of questionable quality. It's a different landscape now, and - unlike a lot of people in this biz, doing it 'for fun' or on the side - I need to pay my rent.

It feels relentless. However much I plead in applications and interviews that I just want some steady work involving the things that I am good at, or assure prospective bosses that my once-stratospheric career plans have shrunk down to nothing (Covid HAS broken my spirit guys, I don't expect any good things anymore, honest!), no one is buying it. Here's my reality: I've been unemployed for three months. I don't have limitless savings. If I don't get a gig soon, expect to see me do a Fatima and retrain, sharpish. It feels as though employers are looking at a phantom bigger picture of career development that bears no resemblance to the world as it is now.

Added to which, these recruiters already knew my level of experience and career trajectory when I sent my CV - why put me through 2-3 months (standard, unfortunately) of suspense and last-minute demands for tasks and interviews when you knew my career history and outlook from day one?

In short: don't tell me what level of job I want or will be dissatisfied with. In a field where we still - 10+ years in - have to jump through hoops of pitching ideas, giving free creative feedback and advice and undertaking time-consuming tasks, you'd better believe I am not bothering to apply unless I really want that job. I'm forever explaining to aghast friends in more ethical industries that ours basically takes the opposite approach to headhunting - it's the bloody Hunger Games of recruitment, all the way to the top.

Reject me, by all means, because I'm inept, don't interview well, don't know enough about your title's subject matter, or seem unwilling to muck in - but don't act like you're doing me a favour by 'not letting me settle', based on some aspirations I might have had back when our business was in better shape. That's not feedback I can take on board, or adapt to in order to ace my next application. Believe me: I'm holding up my end of the bargain by applying for the best roles out there - and you should be hiring the best candidate.

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