Continuing my quest to participate in every single job that exists in New Zealand, I now work temporarily full-time for the Civil Aviation Authority.
The CAA is the government department responsible for overseeing all non-military aviation in New Zealand, from helicopters to drones to commercial jets. It includes the Aviation Security Service, who you’ll know as those people in airports that are oddly terrified of liquids that don’t fit into 100ml bottles. It also deals with extraordinary amounts of bureaucracy (welcome to the civil service), and has infinite government forms (I should know, I had to audit them all) that sound like parodies of government forms. Personal favourites include the Laser Beam Exposure Questionnaire, the Bird Incident Notification and the Headache Investigation Report.
I’ll freely admit that I couldn’t cope with this assignment if it was a permanent job, but as a temporary position, it’s a fantastic experience. First, there’s the location, at the very top of the tallest office building in the northern part of the city centre, with panoramic views over the harbour and parliament next door. It’s also a great opportunity to work in a Kiwi office environment, alongside professionals instead of travellers. Everyone has been extraordinarily friendly and I already feel as if I’ve worked there for months.
Perhaps most importantly, as a Support Services Officer, I’ve learned all sorts of semi-useful skills, like how to use a franking machine and an automatic paper folder, how to make vast amounts of coffee very quickly, and how to conduct face-to-face security audits when no-one knows who you are.
By far the most valuable thing I’ve learned is how to pretend I know things about aviation, because I spend a lot of the time acting as an operator, answering the phone and trying to connect people with the relevant staff member. People call the CAA for all sorts of things, including – I’m told – to report UFOs. My enquiries have been less cuckoo, but no less esoteric: I’ve talked to a woman who wanted to know if she could take her father’s ashes on the plane with her, and a man who needed advice as to how close he could fly his helicopter to the local oil refinery.
It’s easy to panic when you’re faced with a question you know absolutely nothing about, but the key is to remain calm, sound confident, stall for time and be good at guessing.
|If this happens…||…do this|
|They say words at you.||It’s just like trying to understand a foreign language. Pick out the words you know. Okay, you have no idea what a Fit and Proper Person Questionnaire is, but he just said the word money, so you can transfer him to Finance. Bonus points if you can pick out two key words and find the name of someone who deals with both of them. Helicopters? Airworthiness? Oh my goodness, I can put you through to the Airworthiness Team Leader for Helicopters! I’m a genius!|
|None of the words they say make any sense.||Say Let me just put you on hold while I see if I can find someone to connect you with. Then put them on hold and run around the office asking people for help until someone gives you a name. Doesn’t really matter whose name you get because it’s not your fault anymore.|
|You put them through to an answer machine or a person who isn’t helpful.||Doesn’t matter. They’re not talking to you anymore.|
|They call back because you put them through to an answer machine or a person who isn’t helpful.||Make a joke about how no-one else in the building is working. Meanwhile, frantically re-order the staff list by job title and find someone with a similar title to the previous person you tried. Problem solved forever definitely.|
|The phone rings while you’re talking directly to a member of staff or a guest.||Depends who it is. If it’s the CEO or a guest, ignore the phone. If it’s your fellow receptionist, stick your middle finger up at them. They were only trying to make you watch videos of terrible Britain’s Got Talent contestants anyway.|
|The phone rings while you’re trying to eat leftover cheesecake from the board meeting.||Are you kidding? Ignore the phone and cram as much cheesecake into your mouth as you can. If you get fired, grab all the cheesecake that will fit into your arms and run from the building, cackling manically as buttery crumbs fall from your cave of a mouth.|
Disclaimer: Don’t actually do any of this.