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High Blood

How I lost my first job

12:08 AM January 13, 2016

Like most first-timers, I went through a gamut of emotions when I began looking for work.

Fresh out of the confines of school, I was brimming over with enthusiasm, fear, excitement and insecurity as I ventured into the real world to take a stab at joining the workforce. Armed with my transcript of records and a letter of recommendation from a person of note (commonplace during my time), and accompanied by my mother, I set out for my first job interview at The Manila Times Publishing Co. Inc.

The interview went well, although nothing earthshaking transpired. The customary parting words “We’ll call you, don’t call us” were said. Down-hearted, I hurried home to nurse my bruised ego. My mother, ever the sunshine girl looking at the bright side of things, assured me there was no outright statement that there was no vacancy for me.

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True enough, a few weeks after the uneventful interview, I received notice to report for further evaluation.  I was on Cloud Nine.  Posthaste I went and received the good news: I was hired.

The job was clerical in nature.  They needed someone who had a legible and beautiful handwriting.  Apparently, I was going to do a lot of writing—not newspaper writing (silly me), but writing the personnel’s data on their folders. Nobody had ever made much of my penmanship until then. I thought it was nothing to write home about.

I must have so impressed the boss that it did not take long for me to get promoted. Upward movements in my department, the Personnel and Industrial Relations Department (what is called a Human Resource Office today), presented a golden opportunity for me. Despite my short service, the personnel manager saw me fit to take over from his private secretary who in turn got promoted to a position for which she had applied previously. A rigodon of positions was not uncommon then.

The chemistry between my boss and me gelled perfectly.  I could read his mind and he could second-guess mine.  We must have hit on the right formula for a working relationship.

But a particular incident comes to mind, wherein I was not consulted by my boss on a matter that was of personal import.  He knew that if he did, he would not get the desired result.

Without my knowledge, let alone my consent, he entered me in an office contest for Miss Manila Times, a first ever in the long history of the publishing company.  Things moved so fast that I did not have time to back out. In short, I was a reluctant winner. Unprepared as I was, but a good trouper, I hurriedly sought out my aunt for a gown to wear to the coronation night. Thankfully, no one noticed that I was crowned wearing borrowed clothes—not that it really mattered.

I have long “forgiven” my boss for the “inadvertence,” if only for the distinction of being the first and only Miss Manila Times, a “title” to which, to this day, I still have to get accustomed.

When my boss went on official business for a month abroad, I was given more responsibilities in close coordination with his assistant.  Our department functioned smoothly in his absence.  The rewarding experience honed my work ethic to a high level of standards that served me in good stead until the day I retired from work.

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Idealistic as I was then, I figured that the job which effortlessly came my way was going to last forever—until the grim reality of martial law in 1972 padlocked our offices and permanently stopped the presses.

On the day we heard the distressing news, pandemonium broke loose. The expressions of anxiety, disbelief, uncertainty and fear etched on everyone’s face still haunt me. Husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and some entire families had lost their jobs. It was bizarre. How could someone, by a stroke of a pen, close down an institution that had survived World War II?

My stint at The Manila Times ended on the same month that I got hired—November—almost to the day.  It took three months for the office, from the declaration of martial law in September, to wind up things.  In the interim, we were given false hopes that the company would not be shut down totally.  We were ordered to submit a profile of each and every employee to the Department of National Defense. Why? Nobody had a clue.  However, we were all of the belief that it was some kind of a “security/loyalty check.”  Of course, as we all know now, nothing came of the whole exercise.  Martial law mercilessly delivered the deathblow to a venerable institution.

The company’s entire workforce was rendered unemployed in one fell swoop. What ensued were agonizing idle months. Seeking a job when everything was uncertain made it doubly hard for us Manila Times employees, who were stigmatized as pariahs in the labor industry.

For the old-timers, age was a deciding factor. For greenhorns like me, work experience was sadly lacking. Some just fell by the wayside. Fortunately for those who had friends and connections in high places, work came easy, never mind that the prevailing conditions were not conducive to new hiring.

Given my young age then, the enormous opportunities for growth at The Manila Times were limitless.  Martial law changed all that.

Irony of ironies, (doubtless, life is full of them), I ended up working at the tail end of 1973 for the government that cost me my first job, until I retired after 37 years of dedicated service.

Romana F. Gella, 69, is a widow and, like some High Blood contributors, an “accidental writer” who finds self-fulfillment in writing.

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TAGS: Careers, first job, Manila Times, martial law, Miss Manila Times, Romana F. Gella, working
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