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Karen was our career advancement counsellor. She arrived to help us find new jobs, after the company decided to relocate the direct marketing department to Budapest, and Rick, Avril and me were made redundant. Karen was part of our severance package. We were going to have a meeting with her each week.
Karen was small and determined and her spiky blond hair looked like it was made of metal.
After our first meeting, she started texting us pieces of advice – “Getting a job is a job. Treat it like one”, and “Don’t sit back. You have to make it happen.” We had to print them out and pin them up at home, somewhere we’d see them every day.
Karen said, “It’ll be no use just waiting for something to turn up, because it won’t.”
We spent the first part of each session on practical things – scanning the internet, writing emails, seeing if we had any LinkedIn connections who could be useful, things like that. Then, Karen used to set us problems, puzzles which didn’t seem to have real answers. We had to discuss what the solution might be.
One was, if every time you open a cupboard something falls out, what should you do? The options were: buy more cupboards, or make sure we had fewer things to put in them.
Rick said that he’d do both. Avril said she didn’t see why she had to do either. Karen told us not to be so negative. She said that if we lost our self-esteem, we would be starting to slide into hopelessness and if that took hold, we might never get back on track.
Rick told her to stuff it, because he was going to help his dad in his property business. Avril told her to stuff it too, because she had decided to marry her boyfriend, whose family ran a restaurant.
That left Karen and me. It was alright for Rick and Avril; neither of them was more than thirty. I was forty-two.
“Now,” Karen said to me, “we can really make some progress.”
Together, we re-structured my CV. We maximised my Twitter feed. We rehearsed my interview technique. Karen introduced me to power dressing, body language, neuro-linguistic programming. She leant me her dog-eared copy of Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.
So far, the net result had been four days cutting back trees at a house that Rick’s dad owned. Avril said she could probably get me the odd night working in the restaurant if I got desperate. I spent my evenings minicabbing in the ex-company car.
I used to wait for Karen every week in the meeting room where the video-conferencing equipment gathered dust. My heart sank every time I heard her click-clacking down the corridor. I had to report each week on what job applications I had made, the ones that were outstanding, interviews coming up. There weren’t usually many in any category.
I spent a lot of time in that room with the big black table and the twelve chairs that were hardly ever used. I stared out at the stunted trees for hour after hour, or watched the salesmen come and go.
Five or six weeks after we had first met, Karen plonked herself down opposite me. She looked at me steadily across the table. “Do you know, Mikey, I could have ended up like you,” she said, without a trace of irony.