Sometimes I feel like I only really exist in job application forms. I spend half my life trapped in those black-lined boxes - write in black ink only, this form may be photocopied - communicating with someone who won't communicate back; writing messages to people who, in all likelihood, or in my recent experience at least, end up putting all my hard-scribbled words into recycling.
I can do it with my eyes half-shut nowadays, though perhaps that's half the problem, but I tell myself I'll always try and make it sound fresh, and not dissolve into the meekness of resorting to cliche. Nonetheless, you end up seeing yourself saying the same things time after time, and you can't really help it. It's a game of guesswork, wondering what someone else's expectations are and how they're going to treat what you put down.
Should you say you're enthusiastic? Or does that sound too enthusiastic? Should you say you're organised? Or does that make them think you're labouring the point? Do you say you have a lot of experience, which sometimes counts against you when - you suspect - they'd rather have a chinless wonder in a footballer's tie fresh out of college, with none of your hangdog baggage or flabby list of nearlys and not-quites? Do you say you're keen to learn? Or does saying you're keen to learn expose your lack of experience? Sometimes it feels like unless you're actually doing the very job for which you're applying, you don't have a chance of having the required skills and experience - those "Essential - E" and "Desirable - D" things you see in the job description.
I don't really know. I have, in a lot of ways, tried to stop the guessing game. There was a time when I wanted to sound like I really, really, really was the most wonderful candidate in the world, the person who was the ideal match for everything they wanted. I don't really do that very much any more, not that I think it sounded convincing in the first place.
I don't, for example, really have a bulging contacts book, and I don't say I have. I'm not a self-motivated self-starter, whatever that means; I'll probably get the job started on my first day and finish it on my last - that's the plan. I don't say I'm grateful for the opportunity, because I assume that everyone would be grateful for the opportunity, from the very best to the most awful prospective new employees. I don't say I'm looking forward to hearing from them very soon, because although I am, it sounds a bit needy.
I don't want to sound needy at all, because I don't really think I am that needy in real life; I just want a new career. Try expressing that without sounding needy, though. Try saying that you want to do something new without making it sound like you hate your existing job, that you amaze yourself with every passing second thanks to the calmness with which you refuse the ever-growing urge to throw a fire extinguisher through your computer screen, skip down the fire escape and never come back - sure, you'll be nowhere, but you'll never be here again.
While I may think it's obvious to everyone else that I despise every passing second in the workplace as if it's something dark and corrosive eating away at my soul and replacing it with sawdust, no-one else probably notices, really. But I don't want to give any clues - not in an application form anyway. The little nuances and tics can reveal it all for me in the interview process, if I get that far - the little giveaways that show the desperation. "Look, I'm desperate," I want to say, "but that doesn't mean I don't really want the job, or that my interest in it was made entirely of desperation. I really do want the job, but I happen to be desperate as well. Surely that's possible? Surely the desperation is a good thing - after all, you had to advertise for the job in the first place; someone who wasn't looking for a change wouldn't have seen it. So, in a sense, everyone you see is going to have varying levels of desperation, aren't they?"
That's what I want to say, but I never really do. So I carry on filling in the same details, time after time, in the same places. Where I went to school; all the places I've worked, all the triumphs and disappointments - bits and pieces of my whole life, most recent first. The baffling section about 'membership of professional bodies'. The referees, who never seem to trouble the scorers. Everything, in the same order, typed in the boxes, or written in longhand, in clear block capitals, to ensure it can be easily read, and no trace of personality slips out through handwriting.
And then it's done, and you send it off, with the same faint hope, the same spark you think might turn into something more. You hope that this might be the time that the hope isn't pointless, because you've got to have hope; but with every time it doesn't quite work out, that seems a little less easy to believe. It becomes easier to expect that things won't work out. But you try, nevertheless.
So it's there again, another application form, neatly filled in, my life reduced to a few ticks and a few boxes, and a few hundred words. Words that I want to change to "I just want to write, it's all I've ever been good at, but I promise I'll give you everything I have, because this really does mean a lot to me, if I can't have that dream, and I'll do it just as well as anyone else could", but I don't. I just write the things I'm supposed to write, in the right places, and then I wait. Apply myself again.