A Vignette from the (Un)employment Agency

A Vignette from the (Un)employment Agency

When I discovered that life was tough, that the system was sick and that no ordinary gainful employment could possibly support a single person living alone in a rented flat, I put my self-respect away to join the skeletons in the closet and went to give myself in at the local employment agency. The institution’s building is a fine example of brutalist architecture, probably designed so as to discourage job seekers from seeking support. Lining the entrance are sickly blue boards advertising employment opportunities. Huddled around them are the smoking and spitting unemployed themselves. Running to and fro and screaming at the top of their lungs are unattended children. I joined the queue, conspicuously well-dressed and with my hair and make-up done, and lit a cigarette to blend in.

The crowded hall of the building branched into several corridors and cupboards with desks staffed by the grumpy looking employed. I couldn’t decide if I required employment assistance, social benefits advice, material deprivation aid or a combination thereof. Most people queued at a desk ambiguously signposted as Information. One can never have too much information, so I joined in. Equipped with a file case of filled-in forms which took me about a week to research and complete, I approached the deeply frowning clerk whose substantial upper body protruded threateningly from behind the safety glass. I opened my mouth to speak, breathed in the unhealthy air and fell into a coughing fit. Convulsing with cough, I handed the clerk my paperwork. Unimpressed, she leafed silently through my forms, added a bunch of more on top of them and gestured me away with disgust.


Inexperienced in the inscrutable ways of the system, I failed to bring my own pen. Finding an available pen in the employment agency is even less likely than finding an employment vacancy there. I scurried through the corridors haunted by ghosts of the unemployed past, present and future, and found nothing. Reduced to begging for a pen from the bulky lady whom I coughed at, I humbly curled into a meek ball of wool – since I was wearing my woollen coat – and asked submissively, Could I please borrow a pen? A red vein the size of the Amazon river popped out on the woman’s forehead. BUT.YOU.MUST.RETURN.IT!! she yelled forbiddingly. I carried my prized possession pressed against my woollen heart away into a nook in the corridor, wary lest someone should rob me of it.

I filled in the forms with considerable effort and re-joined the happy hour queue only to notice that the vein woman was kindly filling in forms for a middle-aged male applicant. Maybe she’s misogynist. Or maybe the man is illiterate. Or maybe everything is all right but she just hates me. I re-approached the clerk and returned the pen the first thing, on which she let out a satisfied low grunt. She immersed herself into the mountain of papers the size of Mount Everest. Without looking up, she barked questioningly, Computers? – I stared. Computers? I vaguely echoed, losing it. – Can you work with computers? the woman gave me an impatient deadly look. – Huh, yes, I guess, I ventured. She scribbled into the special skills field: COMPUTERS. I didn’t realise that computers were such a highly marketable skill.


The dog woman handed me the unemployed ID card and forwarded me to another desk. There ensued another happy hour wait in the dimly lit corridor full of coughing people – since the winter is coming. Despite the cold, ceiling fans were on full blast in the building, probably to prevent people from suffocating in the packed place. Then I was admitted to a small office seating two clerks at one table. The unemployed sitting next to me was just in the middle of performing a dramatic story of his severe allergic reaction to the packing material in the business where he worked, for which reasons he quit the job. His clerk looked unsympathetic, but mine looked positively murderous. I think people hate me. My clerk glanced at my papers, dissatisfied. He processed the forms I got and procured another series for me to fill in. Take it home and come on Tuesday at 9:20, he advised. And so I went.

32 thoughts on “A Vignette from the (Un)employment Agency

  1. Thanks to your vivid writing, I now know that the experience to be had in unemployment centres is universal. My own memories of being in unemployment offices came flooding back. Judder. Were you told you were over-qualified? I got that a lot. Have you tried temping agencies? That never worked for me but my husband got a whole series of jobs through temping which then became permanent.

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    1. It’s funny how blogging shows that human experience everywhere is really universal, however unique we think we are. Honestly, I went to the labour exchange at the point when I gave up the idea of getting a job. There’s nothing an agency can do for me that I can’t do for myself in the age of the internet. First I was looking for all kinds of jobs, even outside my field of qualification, such as secretary, travel agent, receptionist and even supermarket jobs. But the wages are set up so that the earnings would pay my rent in the best case, but nothing would remain for food and other necessities. So, I admit I decided to remain unemployed while working on occasional small tasks from my university – it’s editing tasks I’m paid for via a stipend – and working hard on preparations to set up a freelancing business before I manage to secure myself a job in my field. It would not sustain me either, but I’d be at least doing what I like. That’s my evil plan…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You paint the picture so well with your words. I’ve had a few experiences with an institution like that, but in Sweden. There, they’re very eager to send you to various courses … because while you’re enlisted in a course, you’re OUT of the unemployment statistics. Secondly, while you’re in the course, you’re still qualified for unemployment benefit, it just has a different name (!). An online buddy, who hadn’t worked for years, was sent to a course in ‘how to search for a job’. The name of the course was Work for Me [IN English IN Sweden]. I think it was a six months course. They took walks, learned how to take care of their health, talk about their anxieties … et cetera LOL [she’s still not working]

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    1. Sweden is known for its curious social system, which is not necessarily bad. I would actually love to go to some courses! We have courses here too, but you don’t qualify for attending by default. It’s frustrating to see though that red tape rules supreme everywhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Finding employment is always a drama. Going to the agency is epic. At least the way you narrated it – which I love! Best of luck on your plan!

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  4. I’ve come to the conclusion that employment agencies aren’t there to help people find employment, but to simply give employment to a jaded few. Their job appears to be simply the processing of meaningless paperwork.

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    1. Your conclusion is apparently correct. The employment agency only creates jobs for those who work there… Trouble is, I think, also that many of those who register with an employment agency do not really seek employment. Such as me. Sad though it is, in my situation it makes more sense not to have a job but rather to work on my research projects and prepare for starting a freelancing business.

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        1. The greatest help is that you don’t have to pay your health and pension insurance when you register with the employment agency because the agency covers it. Usually you are entitled to some unemployment benefits too, in the first months – much to my surprise, I happened to qualify for some minimum support since I’ve been working up to now and I’m a first-time registree. The social system is quite generous here, but only with particular social groups. My group, single persons living alone without children or disability, doesn’t get any special support. It’s a shame that it pays off not to work, but so it is and I embrace it for now :-O

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          1. I like to believe that the support system is intended to help people like you during a period of transition while you get on your feet. Every little bit helps.

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    1. Thanks very much for indulging me! Seriously. I hope things will start looking up soon. Or not, so that I’d have something to blog about! It’s hard for me to blog about nice things, I prefer the dark side…

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  5. Ah gee, poor you – that sounds horrible! But don’t take it personally – I think these people are just fed up with their jobs and listening to people going on about how they don’t have a job that they throw everyone in a same pot and are just grumpy and mean to everyone that crosses their path… Good luck, and keep your chin up!!!

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    1. Haha, sure, I’m not taking any offence personally, especially when it comes from representatives of the state system, who are not persons when at work. The next time I go to the labour exchange, I’ll see if I manage to be more grumpy than the staff. Challenge accepted!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wait,what?
    I thought you quit smoking,haha!

    I guess bureaucracy is present in employment agencies as well.Sometimes I wonder if they really understand you and try their best to find you a job,or just see you as another unwanted number in the miserable statistics.

    But yeah,you narrated it so well that we don’t really get to think of the shortcomings of the system!

    I hope you have found employment by now!! 😀

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    1. Yeah, I know, I quit smoking for three years and I started again following my job interview, which was particularly depressing. I hate smoking, hope I’ll manage to quit again and for good.

      I don’t expect anything from the job agency, at least I won’t be disappointed 😉 I’m not regularly employed now, but I have a lot of freelance editing work from the university. Apparently, they don’t want to employ me but they still need me to edit stuff…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alright then,I’m glad you’re not completely unemployed and left on your own!! 🙂

        By the way,do people play something called the Gadulka in your country?

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        1. Thanks for your kind comment! But gadulka I never heard of until now. It appears to be a Bulgarian instrument. Where does this idea come from, how did you come across gadulka 🙂 ?

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          1. SOrry for the late reply!! I was incredibly busy this week.

            SO basically,I was playing a video game and the soundtrack at one point was really good.I searched it on youtube and in the comment section saw that the gadulka was used for this soundtrack.The band who plays this music is Polish,so I thought you might know about it,given that you’re of Slavic origins! Some people also said the music is a sort of lullaby in Poland.

            I was so impressed and fascinated by Slavic culture that I read quite a few things about it and Czech culture.I mean you never hear of the Czech Republic in the media.It’s almost as if the country doesn’t exist.For instance,I read The Economist every week (I have to),and you very rarely hear anything about your country.I think it’s really cool,because the country then preserves a certain mysticism; we keep wondering and speculating about it!!

            ANd you must also be really proud of your Slavic origins!! :O
            Your ancestors were Vikings,I bet!

            All my country has is a freaking bird (the Dodo) which became extinct as it couldn’t fly (was too fat)!

            Here is the link for the soundtrack btw:

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          2. Oh that’s a great way to stumble upon some good music! And the soundtrack is excellent – sounds medieval and very enticing! Thanks for introducing me to this instrument.

            No wonder that Eastern Europe doesn’t get much in the news – unless there’s a revolution or something. We’re not up to anything too interesting or even influential here… Well, I’m not too proud of my Slavic origin, but neither am I ashamed.

            The Dodo bird sounds much more fun! We only have chickens and pigeons…

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