An Email I Sent 10 Years Ago

It’s time to clear out my accumulation of old emails, but first a walk down memory lane.

As my digital spring-cleaning drags on deep into summer I have progressed from sorting through my web browser bookmarks to clearing out my archive of emails. It would go without saying that I’d saved a lot of old crap from people to whom I haven’t talked in years, but one area of interest I almost overlooked was my own old sent items. I now have a nice Thunderbird rule established that will delete the stuff I send after 28 days, but before I put this live I had time to have a read through my old correspondence, and I spent many a long moment staring into the middle-distance, silently reminiscing about times gone by.

I sent the following little beauty to a few friends back in September 2004. We’d graduated from university a couple of months before and, freshly-qualified, we were all on the hunt for jobs to start our careers in IT. Up to the point I sent this email I’d had little success on finding a job, not for the want of trying, and I had been feeling rather sorry for myself. Here’s the email I sent, telling my friends the story of the week that, ultimately, resulted in me landing my first job in IT:

SUBJECT: One Week: Success, Failure and The One-Armed Man

Gather round, and hear a tale of mystery, terror, happiness, stress and panic. It’s a long story, so go take a wee now, because I won’t be pausing for anyone. Welcome to the story of my week.

On Monday I went to an interview for a helpdesk job at REDACTED, an EPOS systems provider just outside of Nottingham. It was a shit interview, which started as it meant to go on; the guy insulted me twice and said that programming was a terrible career to be in; unrewarding financially and completely boring. These words may have sounded better if he wasn’t interviewing me for a poxy underpaid helpdesk job, which we all know is much more creatively rewarding than, oh, say a career in programming. I left there knowing that, even if they offered me the job, I wouldn’t want to work there because I would end up punching the guy who interviewed me (who was actually the MD, and a complete twat) repeatedly in the face. The interview lasted thirty minutes – which seemed brief – but as he really didn’t know how to conduct an interview in hindsight half an hour was probably too long. I wish I had had the balls to verbally insult him on my way out.

In total I was scheduled to have three interviews this week, but on Tuesday morning I received a call from a man at REDACTED (an IT support business with two offices, the second just having been established in Nottingham, the first down in Surrey) who asked if I’d like to come for an interview the next day (Wednesday). I agreed, and phoned him back later to arrange a time and confirm the address. He had never actually been to this new office himself (he was in his car on the way to said office during our phone calls, on the drive up from Surrey), so he had to phone back the next day when he’d figured out where the place was.

Tuesday afternoon was a much better interview, where I jetted off to sunny Sutton-in-Ashfield (a mere ten minutes from my house, less if I speed) for an interview with REDACTED, a tin can manufacturer. Before anything else I was given a personality test, which, presumably, was to check whether I had a personality or not. I quickly completed this and was then interviewed by a woman from HR who was very friendly. She then swapped with another woman who turned out to be the IT Manager, who interviewed me on a more technical level but we still managed to have a bit of a laugh. I went home afterwards feeling good about the whole thing, a definite improvement on the day before.

Wednesday’s interview at REDACTED was at 2.00 p.m. Unfortunately Beeston is a forty-five minute drive at a good time, and can take an hour and a half in bad traffic from where I live. Fortunately my dad has been acting as a great taxi service for several interviews, because (a) he knows Nottingham better than I do, and (b) he’s retired so has nothing better to do than ferry me back and forth – it keeps him busy and stops him bothering my mum.

Anyway, I arrived and entered the converted house on Beeston’s main street that they had just moved into – as we walked through to an office off from the main room they apologised for the fact that it looked like the Pamplona bull run had just torn through. Two men, both called Andy, interviewed me for twenty minutes. Well, Andy 1 interviewed, Andy 2 sat there with his hairy hands, just listening, and then offered two questions at the end. They said I had the core skills but lacked experience, but there may be a position come up in three months or so, and they’ll keep me posted. I left a little perplexed at how this interview took twenty-five minutes and the previous day’s had taken two hours.

Thursday was a free day, so I watched Finding Nemo. Never seen it before. Not bad. I liked the albatross and the sea gulls.

Friday was rather action packed. Got to REDACTED (sited at a technology park near the University of Nottingham) for 10.30 a.m. It was a group recruitment day, so there was me and five other applicants round a big board room table, and till 12.30 p.m. we were given a talk by the CEO about what the company did (building mission critical messaging and directory technology), accompanied by a woman from HR (unmarried, 40s, kept looking at me; I’m in. Either that or I’d got something stuck to my face). Their aim was to hire two from the six of us.

We were then given a personality test; simply choose the most and least likely attributes to describe ourselves from a variety of words. After this me and the boys had a little chat while we waited for the three department heads from Programming, Testing and Support to come and give us an overview of their respective departments. I’d gladly accepted a cup of tea earlier when offered by the HR lady, and I reckon it was the quinine on an empty stomach that triggered an agonising headache. My fidgeting caught a few glances from the programming and support heads, the latter of which was sitting right next to me, as I sat frowning intensely in an attempt to restrict the pain from coursing through my brow.

After this we were given lunch, and many plates of sandwiches, onion bhajis, cake, fruit and those spicy meat things on sticks were brought out. Whilst waiting for the queue to thin (I wasn’t hungry, but desperately wanted a glass of water) I went to the toilet and had the longest piss I’ve ever had. Around a dozen members of staff had been brought in to mingle with us, and I talked to about six of these guys which was informative and friendly, getting a few laughs along the way because I’m a funny guy (apparently). During this chitchat I noticed that one of my fellow interviewees had only one arm, the other missing at the elbow. After the staff left and the food cleared away we were then given a tour of the offices.

Back at the board room we were issued with programming tests; multiple-choice questions for C++ and Java, and a “Do a high level design of this scenario” paper. They didn’t expect people to know both C++ and Java, but you could do both if you wanted to. I did both, despite my Java knowledge being pretty non-existent. After these tests, and with the silence of the room threatening to become oppressive, I asked the one armed guy if he found it difficult to type, to which he warmly replied that it wasn’t really a problem because he’d been born with only one arm, so it was all he knew. I then asked him if being born with only his left arm made his brain wire him up as left-handed by default. He replied that he thought he might actually be right-handed because his writing always felt un-neat. I reassured him that despite always using my correct one my handwriting was still frigging atrocious.

We were then told by the HR lady that each of us would have two fifteen minute interviews; one technical and one “personal”. They would operate these with two interviewees at a time and then swap them over, so the two going last would have to wait an hour for their interviews. I was one of the middle two to go, so in the mean time I regaled the remaining group with tales of my many interviews since graduation, seeing as this was my 11th and they’d all only had one or two.

The technical interview went quite well; I’d scored 60% on the C++ paper but bombed on the Java, which I wasn’t surprised at because I was blagging it. The personal interview was always going to be the easier of the two, and that went fine. With these interviews done I was free to go, so after five and a quarter hours I left at 3.45 p.m.

Having switched my phone back on I discovered two voicemails, one from the factory in Sutton-in-Ashfield and the other from the support company in Beeston. I immediately telephoned the factory and the HR lady invited me back for a second interview next Friday. When I got home I phoned the Beeston place back, and after my rather busy week this phone call was the shit-flavoured icing on the cake. The bloke on the phone wasn’t one of the two Andy’s, so he gave me a quick ten minute phone interview to get up to speed on me. I suspected he was about to invite me back for a second interview next week, even though they’d implied before I wasn’t experienced enough for the job, but instead he offered me a position right there and then, collectively having been interviewed for just thirty-five minutes. I asked what the package was, and here came the sting: a £10,500 salary during the first three months, rising to £11,500 after that, and 20 days holiday. I’d also be expected to use my own car to get to and from the client sites that I might be working at.

I stifled a snort of derisive laughter, then lied and said that I’d been offered £17,000 by someone else (the deal from the messaging technology company is £17,000, though I won’t know whether I’ve been offered that until Monday or Tuesday next week). He was a bit stunned, but I had to go for shock tactics to bring him into the real world, as it was clear he didn’t have a clue what a reasonable offer consisted of, and he sure as hell was never going to get anyone for that wage. I can earn more by stacking shelves or scrubbing toilets.

And there you have it. My week.

(As a quick conclusion; to my massive surprise I was ultimately offered positions at all the businesses that interviewed me that week, and I took the one at the factory.)

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