After I left school, I went to college to study for a Secretarial Certificate (LCCI dontcha know ..), in which we studied various subjects that were supposed to ensure us ‘young ladies’ bagged a top job in London. Although it wasn’t the course I wanted to do originally, I ended up having a blast – mainly because I went with my best friend and we’d spend many a lesson looking up rude words in the dictionary. Much hilarity ensued.
I came out with a Distinction – not quite sure how that happened, but I didn’t argue.
I have no idea what this says above, but one of the subjects we studied at college was shorthand. It was like learning a whole new language (getting an E for my German ‘O’ Level didn’t bode well.) As much as going to college was a lot of fun, and we may have messed around just a little bit … I’ve always loved learning. Shorthand, however, was just plain ridiculous. I wanted to ask my lecturer if she was just making it all up. “Miss … are you taking the piss? Did you and the other teachers just make these squiggles up in the staff room to see if we’d fall for it?” I didn’t say anything, of course, and struggled to make sense of it for the first six months of the year-long course.
Then one day, everything fell into place. I don’t know why or how, I was just really relieved that I ‘suddenly got it.’ Better late than never. The second half of the course was spent improving my speed. It’s hard to imagine how quickly 120 words per minute (wpm) is but suffice to say – it’s bloody quick.
When the exams came round, we all sat down, half a dozen pencils lined up on our desks, all sharpened in readiness for them breaking one by one as we scribbled down these nonsensical characters that we couldn’t always read back. The examiner spoke so quickly that I ended up with two characters per page. Panic had well and truly set in.
I was shocked to find I’d passed at 120 wpm. I think a little guesswork may have just gone into me transcribing the shorthand back. Since then, a fair few years have passed and although shorthand is now considered ‘old skool,’ I’ve used it in all of my jobs so far. If nothing else, it means I can write telephone messages and shopping lists down really quickly. Every cloud …
I’m now back on the job market and find myself clutching at all straws in my attempt to persuade employers that studying for a degree and being out of the job market for a few years doesn’t mean I can’t do the job. I’m pulling out every rabbit from every hat I can think of – even skills I learnt 23 years ago.
“I see you do shorthand?” the agencies asked.
“Oh yeah, it’s like riding a bike – you never forget,” I blagged.
“Well, while you’re here, let’s test your speed.”
Could I still do it? Do employers still want/need it? Is it considered relevant anymore or is it all about your Powerpoint skills these days? Either way, I was prepared to do whatever it took to get the job so I calmly asked for a pencil and mentally began to transcribe everything the interviewer said to me into shorthand in my head.
“Ready?” the interviewer asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” I laughed, putting a brave face on the rising nausea I felt.
She didn’t tell me what speed she was going to start at and thankfully, it turns out shorthand is like riding a bike after all.
The first test was 90 wpm and amazingly, I managed just fine. She went up to 100wpm and my heart was beating a little faster, remembering the panic I felt as a 17 year old girl back in college. Thank God she stopped there. 100 wpm was enough to appease her.
Did it get me the job? I’m still waiting to find out. Having a degree, experience, huge enthusiasm and a real passion to work just isn’t enough to secure a job these days, as I’m finding out. I doubt knowing shorthand is going to help that much either, but it can’t hurt.