I had been invited to interview for a job that I hadn’t even applied for! I had been approached by a friend, who put me in touch with her boss. Blimey, I must be important, right?
Of course not. I had a friend who was looking for a new member of her call centre team at Pfizer, and so asked me if I would be interested. I hesitated for a moment, because I liked the job I did at Thanet College … but money swayed me, I’m afraid. My salary would increase by about £2,000 per year; a significant sum for a 23-year-old still living with his parents.
I succeeded at the interview and started a few weeks later. I was excited; this was the first time I had ever worked outside of my home district. I had to commute! Okay, there was a company bus that picked us up, so it wasn’t very onerous, but still – I left Thanet every single day to go to work on a site with a couple of thousand people.
Working with a friend as my boss was easier than I thought; we maintained a professional distance during working hours, but still kept it light. I was treated with kid gloves for a while, because the team weren’t quite sure what to make of me; was I going to run to my friend every time there was a problem or a disagreement? Of course not, but I recognised that was a legitimate concern of theirs; I had to be whiter than white, so I did everything properly and let them come to trust me.
I spent two and a half years working at Pfizer, but never worked for Pfizer; our department, like so many others, was outsourced. At the time, there was a confusing mix of agencies; I worked for EC Harris for two years, and then for Mitie. Not that I particularly cared; I was there to do a job, and it didn’t matter to me how the employment structure worked – as long as I was paid regularly. It was the only job, incidently, where I was paid fortnightly. I never did get to the bottom of why the company did it like that, but it was unusual.
I seemed to have an aptitude for training, so I soon got the job of helping to train the new recruits when they started “on the phones” (as we say in the business). That was easy enough, although a couple of new starters were clearly not suited for the relatively-easy world of facilities call centre work. One lady didn’t come back after the first two weeks, having stared at me blankly for much of that fortnight. I’m surprised she lasted that long, to be fair. Another lady was going to be let go very early on if she didn’t manage to get through some remedial training I was asked to give her; I knew the edge that her career was on, but wasn’t allowed to tell her for whatever reason. I felt awful and was willing her on – she was a decent enough sort – but it didn’t work out. She got angry and stormed out very loudly.
But the team itself were decent; friendly, helpful, and respectful. I don’t know why, but I can still – even fifteen years later – remember the names of almost every single colleague in that call centre. Why have they all stuck with me for so long? I don’t know, in all honesty; perhaps it was the newness of working in something so different, or maybe it was their unquestioning acceptance of people. For whatever reason, their names and faces have stuck with me.
Working in a call centre was never going to be something I wanted to do long-term, but I could see a lot of opportunities at Pfizer – and, indeed, after two years, I moved to a different department (and employer) on the site. I had the glorious title of Operations Administrator; essentially, I scheduled in all the jobs for the cleaners. They were a lovely bunch, and I kept a friendship with some of the staff after I left. I felt content with my work – I was being stretched and challenged, and could forsee a long career ahead of me.
But, as it turned out, I was only in that role for six months before I left Pfizer entirely and never went back. I was left reeling for quite some time by the speed of the change, and I certainly didn’t see it coming. I was vaguely – distantly – caught up in an odd situation that Pfizer decided they didn’t like, and any non-Pfizer staff had to leave.
If I’m sounding vague, that’s because my memory has faded with time; I can remember everyone’s name, but not the intricacies of how I lost my job. Perhaps I’ve shut it out during the intervening years because I had hopes of staying there longer. Perhaps my mind recognises the absurdity of the situation at the time – and it was absurd, I am certain of that – and blocked it off.
I was hurt and left somewhat adrift after this blip. I didn’t quite know how to handle it, but I had to pick myself up and move on; by this point, I had moved into my own place and was responsible for half a mortgage and a share of the bills. So I forced myself to move on from a place I had hoped to spend a significant part of my career and find something new. I floated around for a time after this, and with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect that I was looking for another Pfizer. I wanted to find something that replicated the sense of ambition and achievement I had there, and I didn’t find it for a long while.