In 5 Years’ Time – Important Career Lessons: Here’s What I Have Learnt Today…

Today, I went into a room with two women and engaged in an hour of role-play. I did not know these women. Prior to walking into that room, I had no idea who was going to take the lead; nor did I know how long I was expected to last for. Afterwards we shook hands, I adjusted my tie and walked away into the grey cold of the Tuesday morning air, a smile of satisfaction upon my face.

I am of course referring to a  job interview. Well, a mock interview. A mockterview, if you will humour my indulgence of the odd portmanteau here and there (but mainly here). How I ended up taking part in a pretend interview for a job that doesn’t exist is mainly down to my inability to create a CV template readable to people who wish to pay me for either writing, talking… or both.

(Before I go on, please may I apologise for the poor innuendo at the start of this piece. I don’t know what came over me, but I just felt the need to slip it in. Sorry.)

As I type, I am currently “looking for a new challenge”. After recent years (5, probably; but more of that later) of too-ing, fro-ing, freelancing and temporarily contracting, I just flippin’ want to do what I love – and am not all that entirely shabby at – on a daily basis.

I know there’s a train of thought that your work shouldn’t define you as a person, but I believe your passions should. So to that end, my career does define a large part of who I am. 

From the moment I knew I wanted to work in radio, to the moment when I was last told I should still be in radio: I have lost none of my passion for radio. Similarly, from the first moment I wrote a story for fun, to this very moment when I am typing these very words: I have lost none of my passion for writing.

I admit that I thought my radio career had come and gone. “If you love somebody, set them free,” as Jimmy Nail wisely dictated in his 1988 hit Ain’t No Doubt. It’s rare that I make career decisions based upon the song lyrics of North-East actor-cum-singers but, on this occasion, his words seemed fitting.

Then, at the end of last year, I was asked for my demo by a radio boss. It was a request completely out of the blue and so I dusted off my demo tape and sent it over on an MP3 (which now shows up the fact that it wasn’t actually a tape and I didn’t need to dust it at all.) I was asked for a meeting, I received some confidence boosting words: I was told to call myself a radio presenter because “you are a radio presenter”.

Admittedly, I was a radio presenter without a radio gig. Even so, it felt good to have a title. I considered also calling myself a professional footballer; just without a professional football contract. I didn’t though.

Instead, I arranged meetings with other radio heads. Again, I was told I should be on-air… “it’s just a case of waiting for the right opportunity.” It felt “exciting”, if I am going to use any adjective. Which I am. And it’s that one.

I am a realist as much as I am an optimist, and always aim to be honest above all else. So for all I was told really positive things by programme-content-director-controllers (pick a title; any title); there were also those that didn’t see me fitting their stations. That’s radio. That’s life, in fact. Imagine putting your all into creating something and it garnering no opinion at all. I’d rather people listened and decided it wasn’t for them; as opposed to being held in the same non-esteem as flock wallpaper, or those beige slacks that are advertised in the back of magazine supplements.

So it was that I went back on-air to cover.  The feeling of being behind the desk, with the mic a couple of hands-widths away from my face, and that opportunity to connect and engage with an audience came rushing back. It was like coming off the strictest diet imaginable and being presented with a hamper of cheese and chocolate whilst being told, “Just eat.”

Following on, I received some calls and was asked to audition for some breakfast shows.  Exciting. Again.

I wrote and prepared a couple of mock-shows. Reams of paper scattered across my kitchen, bedroom and living room. Anything that happened to me personally, anything I thought of, or that I observed, I noted down. Once I had an idea or written a note, I looked at the angle I could get on it: how I could make it relevant; dissect it; and finally put a twist on it to, at the very least, raise a smile.

“Wear your heart on your sleeve and your life on the air.”

(I’ve written that as if it’s a well known quote. Actually, I just made that up. That someone was me. Just then.)

I auditioned and co-presented with different people, targeting different audiences. How could I work that idea or observation so that it would be entertaining, but inclusive to whoever chooses to listen? How could I present it in a way that it brought in the co-host I was working with? I was back to how I always had been. Constantly thinking. Constantly writing and planning. Constantly looking for an angle; all whilst knowing that all it would take would be a brilliant statement from my fellow presenter, or an off-the-wall text from a listener to make me leave it aside and spontaneously go with it.

The passion I had for it coursed through my veins day and night. I was more awake than I had been in ages; and slept less than I had for years.  The planning; the passion; the spontaneity; the connecting; the constant striving to be better than the last thing I did. My mind fizzed and popped and flitted; my arms flailed, my hands clapped, my fingers clicked as I worked out how to get the best from what I wanted to do. I was alive. I loved it!

But… I didn’t get the gigs.

That’s life. That’s radio. It’s not the first time and for every role I have ever got and loved; there has been rejection either side. It’s better to burn brightly in pursuit of passion; than to sit in beige trousers from a catalogue whilst looking at your flock wallpaper with Jimmy Nail playing in the background. If the gig you’re going for is landed by other people whose dream matches your own, then at least you know it’s a dream that’s being lived. Not by you; but someone is doing what they love. The world needs more of that, doesn’t it?

Which brings about my passion as a writer. I love writing. I have loved it since before I even found radio invigorating or women intoxicating. (Actually, I remember wanting to marry Debbie Harry when I was 4 after seeing her on The Muppets, so that’s not strictly true. I am now 37 and hope to one day marry my girlfriend, but she doesn’t even like The Muppets. Funny how life works out, isn’t it?)

I first saw the fun to be had in writing as a kid, after getting completely lost in books by Roald Dahl (I was a very small child and they were very big books).

I love that anyone can write. I love that anyone can take a thought, an idea, a notion or a daydream and just put it onto a page. It doesn’t matter if you’re not grammatically amazing, as long as you have thoughts in your mind that you can share.

I believe it’s far better to actively encourage expression, imagination and passion before we suppress it all with rules.

Obviously the best writing incorporates technique and punctuation, but that can be taught and learnt after talent has blossomed from encouragement.

I think it all comes down to loving what you do, doesn’t it? I love writing in all different forms: whether that be personally for fun; or professionally for an audience or agency. I very recently missed out on a job which had an extra fee attached in order to act as an incentive: my incentive is just loving what I do and having pride in it.

(Actually, I discovered I missed out on that job half-way through writing this very blog…  About 20 minutes ago, in fact. Umm.. could you please just excuse me..? I need to share that with someone.)

Hello, girlfriend. If you are reading this, please don’t read the above paragraph. I’ve got something I need to tell you. Thank you. PS – You look very pretty today. Is that a new top? Well, it suits you anyway. Yes, I remember now. Well, it suited you the last time I saw it too. Pardon? The thing about marrying you. Yes, I know you don’t look like Debbie Harry. That was just a fleeting thing. It was purely based on the fact she did Call Me on The Muppets when I was 4; it didn’t mean anything. Anyway, my first proper crush was Daisy Duke and you look like her with your hair and… sorry? Right, yes. Ok, we’ll talk later. I love… Hello? Hello..? Ah…

So all this rambling about passion and desire leads me to the actual point: I went for a mockterview.

This came about because, in the midst of opportunities in radio or writing – be it articles or creating campaigns for agencies – I needed a proper CV. I did have a CV but as much as I liked it, it was, to quote my girlfriend, “Less a CV; more a list of anecdotes.”

So, I sought professional help. (That’s made it sound way more dramatic than it needed to be.) I went to the Job Centre. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in the job centre but there are people at desks and other people waiting to talk to the people at desks. There are also 2 security guards who wander around the place (presumably to stop people going in and stealing jobs).

I spoke to a lovely woman. She looked at my CV, gave me a few pointers, and I was good to go into the big, wide career world again.

Before I headed off she asked me if I would like to hone my interviewing skills. I said that was the bit I was quite comfortable with.

“But we can provide something that just brushes up your skills. It’s a mock interview,” she said.

“A mockterview?” I questioned.

“No,” she said, “nobody calls it that.”

Thinking this would make for an anecdote if nothing else, I went and arranged a time. I would have to wear a suit and also boots, in keeping with her turn of phrase. The desk lady woman told me that I must adhere to the rules, even though it was a mock interview.

“A mockterview,” I offered.

“No!”

Obviously with this being a made up interview scenario, I was quite laid back about it. Then I looked at the list she had given to me. The very first rule stood out immediately.

1) DO NOT smoke.

That’s just quite good advice in general, isn’t it? You know, for health reasons and all that. I did find it strange that it was the number one priority in an interview, given that smoking inside public places was outlawed around about 7 years ago.

4) DO NOT swear.

I could see how that one was good advice. Although it’s not against the law, there is that grey area of whether or not you should meet people you have never seen before in a formal scenario by greeting to them with, “Morning f***ers!”

6) DO NOT discuss politics, religion or gender relationships.

It’s a good job I had re-designed my CV after all. Otherwise that time I freelanced as a left-wing Catholic transvestite kiss-o-gram may have been hard to skirt around in an interview.

So it was that I turned up and met the two women mentioned in the opening paragraph. They then proceeded to interview me for a creative writing position which they had no power to give me. I hoped I would do well.

Now, even if you’re not looking for your next career goal (or “job”), I recommend going for a mock interview. (Although if you do go for a mock interview, please can you call it a “mockterview”.) It’s a flippin’ good reminder that you have actually achieved something with your life. Throughout the course of the hour I was asked such questions as: what achievement are you most proud of; have you got any examples of how you cope with pressure; what are your strengths and weaknesses. (Apparently even if you can get more amusing anecdotes from your weaknesses, you should focus on your strengths. You live and learn…)

Then came the biggest question: where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Where does anyone see themselves in 5 years’ time? Do you know where you’ll be in 5 years’ time? Who knows!?!

In order to answer that question, I thought back to what had happened in the last 5 years. Had anything that happened in the last 5 years been predictable? I thought about what I’d done since 2009.

Went on a TV dating show – hosted an event with a giant pineapple – wrote and filmed a sitcom pilot – moved to a village down south with my friends; who subsequently split up – looked after my friends’ 7 year old over a number of months, doing the school runs and earning the title of “The Village Manny” – became an uncle to my sister’s child; despite my sister being told she couldn’t have kids – was offered, and took the job of marketing manager of a shopping centre – regularly went drinking with elves – gave a speech to business leaders despite not knowing what the subject was – took a job writing radio adverts – made numerous new friends – fell in love with a girl even prettier than Blondie. 

“Where do I see myself in 5 years’ time? I think being happy, doing what I am passionate about, and being surrounded by people I love.”

I appreciate there are probably better, more clever answers. Still, it’s the truth. (Unlike Jimmy Nail’s love interest in the 1988 hit Ain’t No Doubt because, as he clearly states, “She’s lyin'”.)

So it was that at the end of the mockterview, I was offered the job. I know! Congratulations to me, hey? Except, obviously, there is no job. Not even freelance work. So… back to looking for that actual consistent work it is. It was fun though.

Maybe the radio gig that fills me with burning enthusiasm on a daily basis is just around the corner. Maybe that dream writing position is only a pen flick away. Or maybe something will come along in the meantime that, like the last 5 years, is totally unpredictable.

So, Here’s What I Have Learnt Today: it’s good to re-visit the past every so often in order to remind yourself of what you have achieved. Because, even if you’re not where you want to be at this moment in time, with passion, positivity and persistence, who knows where you could be in 5 years time?

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”  – Maya Angelou

(I hope the word “mockterview” has made it to the Oxford English Dictionary by then though.)

Al x

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