By John McGregor

‘So, John. You’re about to change direction in your life and career?

‘Yes, Fiona. I’ve just left the Royal Air Force and I’m looking for a fresh challenge.’

‘OK. Well, actually here at the Job Centre we’re pioneering a new way of trying to help people re-settle in their lives. We want you to take some tests, but our way might surprise you. I am going to give you a booklet and – a pin! Not a pen, but a pin. If you work through steadily, with your initial thoughts only please, don’t dwell over the four multiple choice answers – just put a pin prick in the box next to the answer that suits you best. Then you can have a break and a cup of tea while I have a look at your answers – OK, John?’

And that’s how I came to be interviewed in the Nottingham Job Centre back in 1972, aged 23. I had just finished a frisky, funny, five years as an aircraft radio mechanic, seen a fair bit of the world, made some great mates and had a ball. But all good things must come to an end and I had decided that long term the Air Force and its quirky way of life, so different to civilian life was not for  me. The RAF, bless ‘em had tried to advise me to go into ‘safe’ jobs: banking, teaching, the Civil Service. Indeed I had been offered a teacher’s training course, but I declined it: both my sisters were teachers and it just didn’t appeal, and neither did the others options mentioned. Lately I had seen that the Probation Office were looking for people to train – now that certainly seemed more interesting. Oh, and dear old Dad was an Area Sales Manager for the East Midlands for a toiletries and medicines manufacturer. He had told me his company would shortly be looking for new young inexperienced people to train up: hmm…

So while getting a short term job in Players, the famous Nottingham fag factory to earn some necessary short-term money while I changed career, I mentioned my quandary at the Job Centre and was invited along to this somewhat strange interview. My young Scottish interviewer, Fiona certainly came over as knowing her stuff. When I opened the booklet there was a mass of written questions, all with four possible answers – like ‘Do you get on with your parents/authority’, ‘Do you like to work on your own’, or ‘Do you like working with your hands’ etc. For some nosey reason I picked up the heavy document several pages thick and could see that it opened up. Having a naughty peek I noticed there were graphs behind where some dots I had made linked up, and some did not. Very interesting. From memory it took me about an hour to finish all the questions.

Fiona came in with a welcome cup of tea and took my answer sheet away. After thirty minutes she came back and we started to talk. She asked me to describe the type of work I had been doing in the Air Force – if I had liked it, what aspects did I dislike etc, and then she turned to the future, asking if I had any ideas. When I told her about my becoming a Probation Officer she frowned and explained:

‘John, that worries me. Your ‘black box’ changing aircraft work is straightforward, with an end result. But being a Probation Officer involves working with problematical people who have disobeyed the law. People have an awfully nasty habit of going back to their old ways, often when you and others think they are getting better, and the job can be very frustrating. I’m not sure from the answers you have given that The Probation Service may be the right move for you, John. What other interests have you?’

While discussing the other options available I mentioned becoming a company salesman, and Fiona brightened up.

‘How strange you should say that, John’. I told her about my father, and she nodded enthusiastically. ‘You see your profile shows you that that would be an ideal position given your abilities and temperament. Your personality would seem ideal and that is actually one of this system’s recommendations for you’.

And do you know what? The following week I answered an advertisement for ‘Fledgling Marketeers’ in the Daily Telegraph for my Dad’s company, and soon after joined five other young men fresh from college on a two-week training course at the company’s head office at Slough in Berkshire. I started as a junior salesman, immediately adored the job, and relished the challenges along the way. After several successful years ‘on the road’ I started to steadily climb the greasy pole of sales management, before eventually leaving eleven years later to join another company. I worked for four different companies over the next 25 years, staying happily in that profession until taking a well-deserved early retirement and coming to live in Spain in 1998, aged 49.

Then what? Retirement can be boring while still so young. Well, I started writing, firstly in newspapers and magazines, published a book or three and achieved my degree in English at the Open University in 2013 – and during this lively period a sort-of sales opportunity came up, this time selling advertising space in a monthly magazine. It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it – actually, I loved it, and it came naturally.

So looking back fifty-odd years ago, the couple of hours I spent at the Nottingham Job Centre in 1972 was time exceedingly well spent – why don’t they do that now? It certainly set me on the right path for a decent career in life which I loved and helped me get to early retirement in Spain. Cheers Fiona, lassie – you got it bang on!