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The trials and tribulations of a Covid job hunt

I sat my partner down at the dining room table and discussed the idea of taking voluntary redundancy. I felt sad that amongst all this uncertainty, this was my time to leave the job and career I loved so much, says James Page.

In September 2020, I found out that I had been accepted for voluntary redundancy so started a job search. That’s when the real fun began…

At the beginning of January 2020, my partner and I woke up to the sound of seagulls and the sun streaming through the large patio doors opening on to a magnificent view of Table Mountain. We had rented an amazing apartment for a week in the cool, vibrant and hip Waterkant area of Cape Town. I put the coffee on and poured some juice. My partner switched on the TV and opened the large doors, letting the sunshine and warmth come into the apartment. In the background, there was chatter of a virus in Wuhan, China and a virus that was not being contained. We didn’t pay much attention as we didn’t think it would affect us in any way, shape or form… How wrong was I!

Little did I know that 2020 would be a life-changing year on a worldwide scale with unimaginable consequences and effects which will last for many years to come. For the previous 14 years, I had worked for a major airline with extremely high standards in customer service, safety and security. It was a proud moment when I put on the fitted and tailored uniform to get ready for “work”. I say “work”, but it really didn’t seem like that for me. Yes, I was always a high performer and achiever onboard but the solidarity, team work and family feel at the airline made the working environment an amazing place to be. I knew on an average working day, I would be flying with friends, colleagues I had previously flown with and meeting new faces. Once that final aircraft door was closed, it felt like a family away from home with an amazing warm feeling and sense of security.

Over the course of my previous 14 years flying, the airline industry had changed dramatically. Cuts to service budgets, crew numbers onboard and redundancies were all part of a major shake-up of the industry. On a personal level, I had accepted a demotion in rank in order to keep the job and lifestyle I loved so much. Further down the line, decreases in overall pay would make me begin to question if I could financially carry on doing the job I loved and so doubt had started to creep in a few years ago. Often my partner and I would sit down and discuss if I should make a career change and find a role that was better paid. The next day, I would go back to work and as they say “time flies when you’re having fun” and it really was the truth. I would put off a decision time and time again only to find myself at the end of another year and still flying. 

In February and March 2020, my rostered flights started to get cancelled and the flights I was operating had significantly less and less customers onboard. Regular flights to destinations soon became repatriation flights as America insisted all UK nationals return to the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic. Empty aircraft would start to be permanently lined up on the tarmac with their engines covered going nowhere fast. The Chancellor’s financial intervention was a god send to all crew who were starting to worry about paying their mortgage, rent and bills as a new code on our rosters stated: “Furlough”.

Then came the rumours of redundancies and cutbacks in departments as lockdown was in full force. To begin with, the airline had asked for volunteers to take redundancy in order to mitigate compulsory redundancy numbers. I had managed to thankfully survive the first round of redundancies. For a brief moment, I actually considered taking voluntary redundancy the first time round but as I didn’t have a job to go straight into, thought it would be unwise and career suicide. I had always thought that one day I would bite the bullet and look for a new job and smoothly glide from one role into another with ease. How simplistic this idea seemed at the time and it just shows that you never know what is around the corner. 

A second round of redundancies was announced as the virus was gripping the airline industry with even more force. Not only was the survival of my own job being questioned but more worryingly the survival of the airline itself was thrust onto the front pages of the national press. Thanks to the furlough payments received, I was fortunate enough to be able to pay the mortgage and household bills but would have to come to rely on my partner to help bail me out for everything else. (A huge amount of gratitude goes to my partner for not only putting up with my stress, worry and anxiety but also helping me out financially during this difficult time!).  I had seen my salary and overall income drop over the past couple of years but this was the lowest I had ever seen money coming in. I knew things had to change but in the current climate which direction was I to turn? A second invitation for voluntary redundancy had been announced alongside a second round of compulsory redundancies. Things were going from bad to worse.  

I sat my partner down at the dining room table and discussed the idea of taking voluntary redundancy. I felt sad that amongst all this uncertainty, this was my time to leave the job and career I loved so much. The role wasn’t the same as it had been even a couple of years ago and even pre-pandemic there were a lot of negative impacts on the role. On the other side of the coin, what was I thinking? Was I seriously thinking about leaving a job I had at a time when unemployment figures were on the rise and major businesses were folding and not surviving? Uncertainty in the job market, a high rate of redundancies and big names on the high street closing week by week were the results of a pandemic out of control. But I decided to bite the bullet and take a risk. Someone once said: “A life without risks is no life at all”, and so the time had come for me to end on a high and bow out while I still had fond memories of a career and job I loved. My heart was thumping as I completed the form for voluntary redundancy and pressed “send”. 

In September 2020, I found out that I had been accepted for voluntary redundancy so started a job search. That’s when the real fun began! I found myself in a very strange position and I felt rather lost at first. I had in front of me a CV from 14 years ago and wanted to register with all the major career websites ASAP. And what was LinkedIn all about? I had absolutely no clue. First of all, I had to write a new CV and update my experience.

After a few weeks of sending out many emails with a new CV, a successful response came through. A HR Assistant for an online luxury shopping website had seen it, liked what she saw and offered me an interview for a customer service agent position. I got through a few rounds of online interviews, but then nothing. Silence for nearly two weeks until I finally had the courage to send an email to ask for feedback. She replied after a day. They were not going to pursue my application as they had more experienced candidates matching the criteria. I was gutted.

For the next few days, I tried to examine where it had all gone wrong. Everything seemed to be going well but looking back now, so many candidates must have gone for the role and those with better experience were obviously successful. It was hard at first to accept because I thought the job was in the bag. A couple of days had passed when I turned the corner and started to view the interview and its processes as a gain. I WAS successful in being called for a first and second interview after passing the initial online assessments so I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. This was at least something.

My normal routine for the following couple of months would consist of searching through the job websites only stopping for a break at lunchtime. I would then carry on until 4.30pm when I would start to find myself just staring at the computer screen in front of me. The goal was to apply for as many jobs as possible in the hope that perhaps one day a recruiter will pluck my CV out and put me forward for an interview. I didn’t realise that although I now had a great CV and covering letter, each and every time I applied for a specific job, these had to change accordingly and adapt to the job advertisement as advertised.

Self-doubt started to creep in during some weeks when the constant news of redundancy and job losses was relentless. The number of vacancies applied for increased over the weeks and months and to date I have applied for around 200 jobs. I can count on one hand how many personalised email responses I have received saying thank you – but no thank you. The job search has also taken over my entire thought process – from thinking about getting a job as soon as I wake up – to my final thoughts when I lie down for bed. How long will my redundancy money last me and how will I survive when all the money has gone. At this rate, will I ever manage to get a new job.

Although we are now in our third lockdown in the UK, hope is on the horizon for a better way forward and hopefully a better jobs market. I have already noticed that not as many people are applying for the same job as me. Where it used to be around 800 per role, it is now around 350. Although a small amount of anxiety is always present, I have learned to remain focused, positive and upbeat about finding a job in the near future. I know one day my experience from the last 14 years will shine through and I will be called for an interview. Determination and perseverance are the top priority at the moment and I do not intend to give up for one second.

For everyone still looking for a job, keep on going and never give up because a role will come up that you are suitable for and even if it isn’t the dream job you imagined it to be, there will be plenty of time to pursue this when the dark days have passed. Although times are tough at the moment, I am grateful that my family are fortunate to have their health. On the days filled with anxiety, worry and stress, it is this that reminds me of how lucky I actually am and everything will, eventually, fall into place. 

Hold on! There is hope, after all. After an initial interview just before Christmas, an email came through last week inviting me for a trial with a major utility company. I can confirm that training will start imminently. The interview process was very quick and organised and I managed to glide through each recruitment stage. I am very excited and look forward to starting this new customer service role with a new (online) family. Not only do I feel more at ease, but the relief is already starting to set in.

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James Page

James Page is currently training to be a customer service advisor for Utility Warehouse and is a former flight attendant for Virgin Atlantic.

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