Dumbing down Deborah

Friday, April 26, 2013 Permalink

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started to look for some part-time work. Worse case scenario I’ll apply for full-time work for a temporary period. But I think I’d prefer to go hungry (or sans alcohol) than find myself in full-time work permanently again. At least at this stage.

I have a tiny amount of money coming in from my freelance writing and blogging, but unless I start to actually APPROACH businesses or brands, that won’t increase anytime soon. (And yes, I am working my way up to it!)

I have to confess I don’t really want to work in retail or the food / restaurant industry (and have no experience in either). I wouldn’t mind sorting mail or packing shelves but part-time opportunities in my very depressed socio-economic region are rare. The few and far between positions available are administration / receptionist jobs.

I’ve applied for a couple of admin jobs now. Unsurprisingly the level I’m applying for is significantly lower than that which I held when I left government. (Like less than half the pay even IF I was to work full-time!)

As is the case with Government jobs I’m having to respond to selection criteria. It’s all pretty straight-forward and I’m well-versed in the process. The positions for which I’m currently applying ask about my ability to deal with clients or customers, my capacity to manage my time and prioritise my work as well as my familiarity with computer applications. That sort of thing.

However… although I’ve done this many times before (and traditionally been very successful), it’s a bit more challenging this time around.

When I first arrived in my new hometown I applied for a casual position and the time management issue was one of the criteria. I wrote about managing correspondence, briefing and reporting processes and having to meet Cabinet, Parliament and Ministerial deadlines as well as senior executive expectations. I said that I focused on immovable deadlines (Cabinet, Parliament) and prioritised accordingly.

When I got feedback on why I didn’t get the job I was told that an appropriate answer would have – in fact – been for me to say “I’d use a diary to organise my time or appointments.”

What. The. Fuck?!

Last week I applied for a low-level admin job and it occurred to me that my usual answers (about my communication skills – dealing with Ministers’ offices, other elected officials and CEOs and my former career as a diplomat) sounded a bit wanky when the question was more about whether I could be nice to people in a health service.

I wondered for the first time if I should ‘dumb’ down my responses.

I haven’t worked in a shop or organisation where I’ve dealt with members of the public in recent years.  “Should I fib?” I wondered.

Surely the person assessing the application can see that – if I’ve dealt with Ministers and their staff – then I can deal with almost anyone (political staffers are usually occasionally hugely high-maintenance!).

deb beach dumb

The idea of ‘dumbing down’ my applications feels patronising. Don’t get me wrong. I’m hardly the most qualified person on the earth or even an eminently-desirable employee! Indeed, although in many ways it could be perceived that I’m ‘overqualified’ for the positions on offer, I don’t think that’s the case. I applied for a receptionist position at a local radio station (full-time but temporary) and wasn’t successful. I wasn’t offended. I’ve never worked as a receptionist before and I would have no idea what I’m doing.

I’m trying to be up-front if offered the chance to provide an additional blurb: I’m blunt about the fact that I’m not wanting to pursue my previous project management / executive liaison career in the way I once did. “I’m pursuing my writing,” I’m planning to explain, and hope they understand.

Despite my little (basic and second-hand) Mercedes Benz and apartment on the esplanade (and *ahem* preference for expensive stuff 😉 ), I’m now going for a non-materialistic existence with the work/life balance scale firmly tipped in the direction of the latter.

I want to save my headspace for writing and just ‘being’. I’m tired of lying in bed stressing about reports and wondering if it’s bad to wish a certain person from our Director-General’s office would get hit by a bus.

Life’s too short.

I’m naturally diligent and have a strong work ethic. I know I’ll work hard at (whatever job I do) while there, but I just want to have a life that isn’t about my day job.

Part of me feels guilty about this lack of ambition. I’m only 45, I have years ahead of me. Indeed I have many many bills to pay. I need money.  But… the ‘new me’ is thinking I just need ‘a bit’ of money. Not lots.

Of course, I’m assuming I’ll be happy viewing a job as something that just pays the bills (rather than something more). I might well find myself thwarted by my own lack of ambition (and corresponding salary).

However, at this stage I’m willing to chance that and just eke my days out here by the ocean.

Have you had to undersell yourself for a job?
Should I be dumbing down my applications?


  • Jo Tracey
    April 26, 2013

    Perhaps don’t think of it as “dumbing down” but rather “tailoring” to meet the job spec? As for ambitions…there’s more than one type of ambition- yours is now just different to what it was. Best wishes…

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2013

      Thanks Jo. I do try to tailor my applications but my biggest problem is that the practical examples I have to give in my applications make me sound a bit wanky as my work experience is at a certain level / doing certain stuff. Re the jobs in the last couple of weeks I’ve tried to ensure I talk to a contact person so they know a bit about my history etc. (I find people are suspicious about why I’m applying for some jobs….) *sigh*

  • @Kanga_Rue
    April 26, 2013

    You’ve readjusted your priorities. As Jo said, adjusting your CV and applications accordingly may prove more successful. Happy to put my former HR hat on & help if you’d like?

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2013

      I might take you up on that offer… particularly when it comes to jobs outside of the government sector. I’m used to responding to selection criteria etc but not so great at general letters selling myself!

  • Mel
    April 28, 2013

    That’s a tricky one Deb, although I do agree with Jo Tracey; tailoring your responses in the job market, showing you are ‘fit for purpose’! Good luck with the hunt. If all else fails, you’d like good in Bunnings green and imagine the discount you could get!!!

    • Debbish
      April 29, 2013

      Oh god Mel, I HATE Bunnings so I couldn’t work there. Plus I know little about hardware and handyman stuff. I could be a storeman/person or something though. The only retail type job that would probably interest me would be in a book shop!

  • Neen
    April 29, 2013

    Well if you’ve got experience in writing ministerial briefing notes, I’d think ‘dumbing down’ is a skill you already have in your bag 🙂

    • Debbish
      April 29, 2013

      Hee hee. I certainly dealt with my share of doozies…. I was just bitching (at bfast on Saturday) about a current (prominent) member of parliament here in Qld who was a Ministerial Advisor / Chief of Staff when I was a liaison officer at one point. Am sure she’s perfectly charming to her constituents but she was an absolute cow to her colleagues and those in the Dept (including our Director-General!).

  • Belinda
    May 7, 2013

    Maybe some remote writing work would be available with some of the mining companies? Plain language interpretation? Good luck with your search – the part-time job rarely gets advertised, and I too feel the shock of the no-longer-government paycheck!

    • Debbish
      May 7, 2013

      Thanks for your comment Belinda. I wouldn’t know where to start with the mining companies. I’m currently applying for some govt jobs but can’t help think that I’m more likely to get something in the private sector through a contact I’ve made.

      I just need to be more confident about asking I guess!


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