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Photo by stuartpilbrow

Nick Rowlands wanders into an employment agency woefully unprepared, and it doesn’t go too well.

“Can I help you?” She’s dressed smart, pale blouse with navy blue jacket and skirt. Pale red lipstick that should be called femininely professional.
“Ah, yes,” I reply, “well, I hope so… I need to find a job.”
Her finely pencilled eyebrow twitches. “What sort of work are you looking for?”

How have I managed to push the buzzer and walk up the stairs into an employment agency in London without considering this question? What sort of work am I looking for?

“Well. I lived in Egypt the last four years I’m a writer you see and I was visiting my mum when it all kicked off and I kinda lost most of my work and I don’t know if and when I’ll be able to go back and I just need something to tide me over for a while. Anything, really.”
“Eeegypt, huh?” She draws out the “e,” as if savouring an exotic taste. “My friend went to Sharm al-Sheikh. She had a lovely time.”

You got to be kidding me? Sharm al-Sheikh. We are currently witnessing events in Egypt so epic the Pyramids themselves are shaking, and you want to talk about the resort hell on Earth that is Sharm al-fucking-Sheikh!
“Yes, it is lovely,” I say.

Photo by bbearnes

She asks me again what sort of work I want to do. I realize two things. 1 – I’m not going to be able to dodge this question. 2 – something to tide me over for a while isn’t going to cut it. I need to be more specific.

I resist the temptation to tell her that what I want to do is go back to Cairo and continue writing about the city; that as far as revolutions go, this one was damned inconvenient because not only did I miss it, but the only time I broached the subject to my family of returning I was told – eyes glassy with shock and suppressed tears – not to be so selfish. But I figure she won’t be able to help with that, so –

“Well,” I start to say, “my background is in writing and editing…,” but she interrupts –
“We only deal with office jobs.”
“OK. I’d like an office job, please.”
“Do you have a CV?”

This one I’m prepared for. I do have a CV. A CV that charts, in excruciating detail, the meandering path I have taken through life: from Geology graduate to numeracy tutor, via some TEFL and a touch of fundraising, to tour leader and then writer. In short, a CV that shows: a) I can’t keep a job for more than two years, and b) I probably don’t want to work in an office.

I’ve been anticipating this moment with delicious dread. I remove a sheet of paper (keep it down to one side of paper, I’d been told, it’s very important) from a smart plastic wallet (liberated from my mum’s study) and pass it over, watching her eyes. She doesn’t take it. Doesn’t even glance at it!

“We don’t accept paper ones here,” she not-quite-snaps, “We get so many CV’s we’d drown in them. You need to email it to me.” She hands me a card, as I imagine her death by a thousand paper cuts.

Photo by michelhrv

I ask if they have much work going, and she assures me that yes, there is loads. Then she pauses, looks me slowly up and down. I flush. I’m dressed in tatty jeans and trainers, a hoodie that I don’t think she can see the holes in, and a striped brown beanie.

I want to tell her that all my clothes got ruined in Cairo, that dust and pollution and old taxis and smoky cafes (not to mention leading tourists around by the hand) play havoc with the threads; that before returning to England I hadn’t been subject to the tyranny of socks for four years. But I don’t. Instead I blurt out –

“I do scrub up well.” She smiles for the first time, though I can’t tell if it’s patronising, pitying, or contemptuous. Perhaps all three. I leave, feeling pathetic.

I totally suck at looking for work. Partly because I haven’t had to for years; partly because I still feel disoriented in London. Visiting is one thing, but contemplating a move back here is a whole different kettle of heebie jeebies. And if I’m being honest, a big part is that I don’t want any of the jobs I’m applying for. I could possibly work in a nice cafe for a bit, one with chilled beats and beanbags and a jeans and t-shirt dress code. Possibly. I suspect if I even did get offered a job in an office, I’d turn it down. I’ve been spoiled. I am spoiled.

That evening, I meet three friends in the pub. We talk for hours about Egypt. One of us used to be a teacher there. One has family there. One has lost her freelance work as a news producer because of her insistence on covering events there. One realizes, deep down in his heart, that he simply has to go back there.

I go to the bar, get a round in. Put it on plastic, so it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money. Drinking like I’ve got a job.


Have you ever applied for a job knowing there’s no way you’re really going to accept it? How do you go about finding work?
And to see how Candice Walsh dealt with being laid off, check out Garlic Finger Breakfasts and New Life Plans: The Hope and Heartbreak of Being Laid Off.

Career Advice


About The Author

Nick Rowlands

Nick lived in Egypt for six years, working as a tour leader, EFL teacher, city guide editor, and online guidebook writer. He's currently in San Francisco searching for his centre. He (kinda sporadically) blogs at Delicious Chaos, and you can follow him on twitter.

  • Cheri Lucas

    Totally just laughed through this entire thing. Not because I’m laughing at your jobless situation, but your writing can be quite entertaining. Nice work. It’s hard, this looking-for-a-job stuff. So, I appreciate the lightheartedness here.

  • Eva Sandoval

    Brilliant, Nick! I don’t know if I’m meant to laugh but some bits were just too good: “I imagine her death by a thousand paper cuts” and “the resort hell on Earth that is Sharm al-fucking-Sheikh!” I’d give you a job just for that, but, alas, I’m looking, too. Why can’t we all just employ each other? I’d make cupcakes for everyone.

  • Kristin Conard

    Delightful piece of writing if not a delightful state of mind/existence.

  • Jessica

    Really enjoyed reading this. I laughed out loud about her remark regarding Egypt. I think in your shoes I may have actually asked her if she was fucking kidding me?! Good luck on the venture to finding what makes you happy. For now I’d def lean towards the cafe or a pub job vs. an office job!

  • Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith)

    This is beautiful. I hope you re-find your way after it was yanked. Must be a hell of a ride. Wishing you well, and lots of writing fodder (which no doubt you’ve got brewing under htat striped beanie).

  • Heather Pardue

    I know how you feel, I’m applying for jobs now too that I know I don’t want to accept if they’re offered. It’s got to be especially hard because you know where you’d rather be. I say go for it, what have you got to lose?

  • Nick Rowlands

    Thank you, everyone. Though, are you *really* laughing at my plight? Heartless! Have you ever considered work in an employment agency, you’d fit right in? ; )

    Cupcakes? Gotta be a job there somewhere. Royal cupcake sampler? Cupcake jumper-out-of’er-at-weddings? Model cupcake?

    • Cheri Lucas

      Maybe you can juggle the cupcakes that she bakes. Yeah?

      • Nick Rowlands

        Juggling cupcakes? Love it! That’s the sort of creative, smash-the-box thinking that changes lives. I’m on it.

        • Eva Sandoval

          I know you will succeed.

  • neha

    Good luck Nick. I feel your pain. Have never been good at job-hunting either. The last time I tried, I met a head hunter in Zagreb. After our meeting she says, “Let’s try but I must say I have little hope.” I think she was talking about jobs for an English writer but we’ll never know …

  • Lindi Horton

    Nick this is brilliant. Sorry for your plight but an office job would surely not suit. I do hope you find your way.

  • Miranda

    Loved this. A great take on the experience of needing a job without wanting one. (I *have* a job and I feel like this a lot of the time.)

    I totally relate to the idea of “drinking like I’ve got a job”, too – I’ve always done that in periods of unemployment. My boyfriend actually has a theory that the pub is the best place to get work (and ideas). I’d say it’s just crazy talk, but he makes a comfortable living (and effectively treats our local like his office). So you never know – the evenings in the pub might be more productive than the trips to employment agencies anyway.

    Best of luck finding your way back to Egypt…

  • mamamia

    A job in an office? would I employ you I ask myself? I shan’t say the answer

    Must be something out there for a geologist/numeracy tutor/TEFL teacher/cooker of lentils and Arabic speaker.

    Good luck in the search

  • Jen

    Aloha Oi!

    I have never read an article that I related to more than this one! On this rainy day in Hollywood with little to do besides eat my emotions, I found humor in your article! Thank you so much for sharing.

    I recently moved back to the States after traveling Mexico, Central America, South America, India, and Hawaii for 2 years, and just took a job as a receptionist in a Massage Wellness Center. I am shocked that after walking into the place, the owner liked me so much that she offered me the position with absolute disregard that I fibbed my “reception” experience on my CV, and now that I am four days into training, realize that I cannot go in there one more day. Bookkeeping, accounting, credit card transactions, smiling at guests who think I’m some nimwit of a girl IS ABSOLUTELY CRUEL!!! Especially after living in the Himalayas with a family of four cooking dahl every night, spending hours on the beaches of Puerto Escondido, surfing and teaching yoga, discussing world politics with travelers from all over the world, picking fresh fruit from the pineapple bushes and coconut palms off the shores of Maui. Now I live in a 500 square foot box amongst 13 million other people living in the county of Los Angeles, integrating back into American living, and not so happy about it.

    What do I even want to do anyway? Ugh…offices…lame. Big business…lame. Hollywood…lame. How about something to look forward to everyday? Like a swim in the warm salt water oceans, an elephant crossing the street in the middle of traffic, people who actually care about their fellow neighbors?

    Thanks for listening. I think I’ve decided that the United States is not for me!! :-)


  • Hal Amen

    Great piece, Nick. There’s always an alternative to the office out there.

  • Lucie

    Been there, done that. Freshly arrived from my exotic adventures in Asia, didn’t know anyone in London, didn’t have any money. I remember sitting in a depressing office of some company that made software for the insurance industry. Navy blue carpets, fake-wood furniture, everything about the place screamed BORING. It was 9 am in February with the usual London winter weather – cold, grey, wet … but I put on my brave interview face because I needed a job of some sort. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I just knew I didn’t want to be somebody’s secretary. That, and I needed money to pay rent.

    The CEO of Boring PLC took one glance at my CV and asked, “Your last job was in India? Why did you go there?” His tone didn’t say “oh how interesting”; his tone said “why the fuck would anyone go to a third-world country voluntarily”. I knew then and there that we weren’t going to hit it off but I gave him some reasonable answer about the fast-growing IT sector and interesting opportunities. He continued to question me for another 10 minutes. “What did you learn about yourself when you were there?” God. So many things. But how do I even begin to explain or summarize that to a complete stranger in less than 2 minutes? A complete stranger who doesn’t seem too friendly. I mumbled something about teamwork.

    Afterwards, the CEO said, “Honestly, I think you are the most disinterested person I have ever met in my life.” I should have taken that as a compliment, but the truth is I needed work badly and I was young and maybe not so confident in myself. He continued tearing me to pieces. “You are going to have a real problem in life with your personality.”

    Disinterested? Dude, I had a passion for living. I had a passion for the world. I had a passion for travelling. I had a passion for colours and music and smells and tastes and for learning new things. I had no passion for navy blue carpets and pale blue shirts, yeah. I should have walked out then and there, but I let this narrow-minded asshole subject me to psychoanalysis and life advice. Then he gave me a maths test which required the ability of a primary-school kid.

    The recruitment agent called later saying Boring PLC would like to invite me for a second interview. I said no thanks.

  • Nick Rowlands

    Thanks to everyone who says I don’t need to work in an office ; )

    @Neha – a headhunter that has little hope. Wow. Just. Wow.
    @Miranda – ideas, maybe, not sure about actual work…
    @Jen – good luck with carving your own path.
    @Lucie – Boring PLC. ‘Nuff said…

  • Heather Carreiro

    Thanks for sharing this Nick. I totally understand the family pressure – ie “it’s so selfish.” When I first told my mom Duarte and I wanted to start a family her first reaction was, “And then you’re just going to take them away all over the world?”

    I’m hoping in our case a grandchild will be a good way to lure my parents out of their comfort zone when it comes to travel.

    Did this agency ever follow up with you? Keep us updated!

  • Rebecca

    Great piece! I applied for an office job a month ago and received an interview but I knew deep down I didn’t want the job. The thought of being stuck in an office (boring) working 80 or more hours didn’t appeal to me. I liked the industry but being stuck in an office felt like a death sentence. I’ve been there and done that. What happened? I was wished the best of luck :-)

    Now, I apply for jobs that I really and truly would consider accepting. I had an interview a few days ago and would like to have the job. I’d still be able to continue my freelance writing which works for me and them!

  • Elizabeth

    Yaaa Niiiiiiiiick… you did it again! I’m going through a parallel crisis and you’ve managed to intimate the MANY frustrations of having one place on your mind while needing to remain nominally engaged in another. I feel for you immensely and hope and pray you get back there soon… so that I can continue getting my Matador-Writes-About-Egypt fix till I can return myself, isa…!!!

  • emma

    beautifully written as always, babe.

    sharm is a soulless wasteland, for pity’s sake!

    sorry you’re going through the misery of job-hunting. can you really not go back to egypt EVER? can’t you just find something to tide you over til things calm down a bit?

    i’m also currently job-hunting. i find it easier to apply for jobs online. you’re more likely to be ignored, but it still counts as job-hunting for the purposes of Jobseeker’s Allowance! ;-)

  • emma

    As an FYI to all those of you who object so strongly to the concept of working in an office, it’s not such a bad way to live. You do your hours, you go home, and you use the money to go travelling. What’s so bad about that?

  • Anne Hoffman

    I love this.

  • Pjsimonelli

    I loved this! Had me cracking up all the way through in part due to the writing style and for how relate able this situation is for me.   I have an interview for an office job tomorrow and it pains me to say that I need it (bills).  Good luck out there man! With any luck, by this time next year I’ll be somewhere in Asia teaching English.

  • Anonymous

    I loved your article – it was fun to read. Not that I’m looking for jobs, but it reminded me how stupid all that exersise was when I did… I was overqualified every time -never thought that being overqualified as a bad thing! ha ha ha… It is such a good read for those who are looking though – a very useful information! I’m going to pass this on now! Thanks

  • Grace Igandu

    lol.Quite humourous and good to know that I’m not the only one who’s not a big fan of employment agencies and their condescending ways of judging you as soon as you walk in

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