Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Groping Scandal

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Lord Rennard is accused of the sexual harassment of up to a dozen women

Nick Clegg MP recently gave an accurate description of what journalists are – self-appointed detectives. They dig up the facts and then report them, exposing things liars, cheats and wrongdoers would rather keep hidden.

The media are the third estate – sometimes called on when power-abusers cannot be dealt with by the police or the law. They may be able to escape the legal system but they cannot risk their reputation. Parliament had failed to act on groping claims directed at Lord Rennard. He was a Lord “holding the purse strings for any winnable seat [in Parliament]” and abusing his power, behaving as he wished with no consequence. Women had apparently gone through official channels and been let down. His friend Lord Stoneham is now accused of harassing the lady who went to the press.

Lord Rennard's chum, Lord Stoneham

Lord Rennard’s chum, Lord Stoneham

The fact is that Lord Stoneham was responsible for his friend’s conduct and one would hope that he addressed it with him. It is alleged that he promised a victim he would. A groping offence is no laughing matter, I have suffered this walking out of a bar and I felt shocked and disgusted. It was a complete stranger. My manager once said “we could have sex right now and no-one would know” when the office was empty. I often spoke about my boyfriend to remind him that I was not interested. A previous colleague had alleged sexual harassment and it had been brushed off as “banter”. This it is certainly not. It is inappropriate, ignorant and disrespectful.

It’s time the offence stopped being viewed as something comical that women “bring on themselves” or worse, that they “should be flattered” or even “enjoy” it. Women in the scandal were dismissed as “red hot babes” “silly girls” and “hormonal women”. If a woman says no or becomes uncomfortable men should know when to stop. Lets shift the focus away from the victims and onto the perpetrators.

Another problem this story highlights is the issue of management accountability. I was once in a company where bullying of a colleague was addressed in the internal post, as the accused was friends with her manager. Prior to this, when it happened to me, I went through official channels with the perpetrator’s manager. I was hauled into her office for a good dressing down from both of them. The frustration colleagues felt was epitomised in this picture which they laughed about. >>>>>image0011

How can a situation be addressed when the person responsible for the accused’s conduct is their peer? Surely they would side with them, as seems to be the case in this scandal, with the result that the problem was not dealt with. This leads to whistle-blowing. Victims are then hounded. We need to have management systems whereby whistle-blowing is not necessary, where someone can address an issue with someone more senior – a “my door is open” approach.

When there is no redress for disgruntled workers this may result in a negative working environment. Productivity may decrease as a result. I was in a company that was the most successful branch in the country. They had a culture of communication – the managers would talk to you on the same level, would hold meetings with you and would listen. They would work with colleagues, not above them. We were inspired by their success.

As for sexual harassment, I expect to encounter this again as it is so endemic. I will not hesitate to point out that I am not OK with it and find it inappropriate, and I hope readers will. If it is not addressed it will only continue.

Lets make management more approachable and accountable and lets stamp out sexual harassment, not only in the workplace but elsewhere.

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The Power of Networking

Since I threw the stone advertising unemployment into the Facebook lake, there have been quite a few ripples, as old school friends got in touch saying they knew about something or could ask for me.  As the Japenese saying goes, a rolling stone gathers moss.

These positions were available through agencies that were not based in the city where the job was. So there would have been no chance of me knowing about them otherwise. In these intensely competitive times, it’s not what you know but who you know. It’s a case of contacts – from a course you attended, college or university.

At first I was too ashamed to broadcast my job seeking status. I thought it seemed like failure when many of my graduate friends were in nice impressive jobs. I’m rather envious of a guy from my year who is now a broker at Christies, constantly posting pictures of his champagne lifestyle. By their mid-20s it seems most graduates have found decent/steady employment.

I told one friend that no, I was not above doing warehouse packing – any job to release me from the state’s shackles.

Speaking of which, I waited 45 minutes for my Jobcentre appointment to make a new claim. Security staff hovered about occasionally as I sat there, steam coming out of my nostrils. I had paid 20p extra on a quicker bus and I had run to ensure I could not be sanctioned for being late. The worst thing about being unemployed is being at the beck and call of the all-powerful Jobcentre who control everything from what you have to do next on the endless run of job skills workshops, to whether you get to eat or not.

I had a job to apply for and I had to send in details before 5. This didn’t happen. I was expecting a call back about a legal matter (more on that story when it gets to court). This did not happen as I can only be contacted on my home telephone – my mobile is broken and I cannot afford a replacement. The charger on my old replacement mobile has broken so I need to buy another. There are always things to be bought.

I sat next to a guy who was being text by an angry girlfriend, unhappy about his financial situation, or maybe about his personal hygiene, judging by his overpowering natural cologne. He had been in the Jobcentre for two hours and he waited an extra 30 minutes to be seen, such was the backlog. His friend next to him had just got a delivery driver job. He had his tracksuit on, hood up and was bouncing about with suppressed joy. A girl on the other side of the room with bright red hair was sitting with her nose aloft, reading a novel the size of War and Peace, wearing a tracksuit but with walking boots instead of trainers. We almost quick marched out of the place and into each other.

I understood this display, having read The Week in an effort to show that I most certainly did not belong here thank you very much. I also didn’t like the way we seemed to be called “customers”. I wasn’t buying anything, I just needed temporary financial aid. The sooner I could escape from this two week cycle of despair the better.

Finally I was seen by a lovely girl who apologised for the delay and continuously apologised for Jobcentre policies. I had apparently been penalised because I hadn’t been in to sign on. Why? Because they’d referred me to a “Finding and Getting a Job” course and I was on that. When I pointed this out she tentatively said that had I contacted them to inform them of this within 5 days my benefits would have continued. When I asked why I wasn’t contacted for 27 days she apologised again for the policy.

I once again provided every payslip for my Saturday job, but still have to fill in a form telling them what they say. I have applied to get the money back for the past 26 days, but this depends on a God-like decision-maker, sitting in some cushy office upstairs with that all-important rubber stamp. (Update – I never got my money back).

But I won’t be messed around for long – things are looking up…

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Staring poverty in the face

Today I was informed by the Jobcentre that due to my appointment missed three weeks ago, I would no longer receive benefits, leaving me with £85 a month to live on.

I had attended that place of misery and contempt the day before to see my adviser. She put me on a two day “Finding and Getting a Job” training course, which I found useful. I attended it unaware that I was no longer receiving any support from the Jobcentre.

I had provided all evidence of my Saturday job, only for my employer to be asked to provide more information.

lifelineA friend said his benefits had been stopped for two weeks, after telling them in advance that he would not be able to attend an appointment. He never received money owed. I have heard of people being sent to interviews when they do not meet the basic job description.

They had all my personal details, why did it take 27 days for them to contact me? Why couldn’t they have asked why I missed the appointment, or at least given me warning that my lifeline was about to be cut?

Luckily although I am nearly out of money to live on, I have received support from family and friends. I have food parcels, tins and the freezer stock. I walk wherever I can to save on public transport. I am making do with a mobile on which I can hardly hear someone’s voice, rather than buying a new one. “Make do and mend” and “waste not want not” are my new job war mottos.

What is annoying is that I did everything that was asked of me. When I was aware I had forgotten for the first time I rang them up and went in on the day. I provided full evidence of my Saturday work and full evidence of my job hunt, I attended all meetings apart from two which I forgot, as I attended the Jobcentre so regularly it was difficult to keep up. I will need a diary now just to put their appointments in.

Despite having a first in Careers Development I even went to the optional (so I was told when I attended) Group Information Session, where I was reminded about how I look for work, along with repeated information about sanctions this, sanctions that.

Where is the compassion? Where is the accountability? Where is the respect for those who are suffering? As a big faceless organisation I do not know who to address my complaint to. I don’t want to bite the hand that literally feeds me, but if I had more financial commitments I would have been tearing my hair out for the 27 days it took them to write to me.

An adviser smirked when I said that I could now buy a printer as I had food. It was to print out job search documents without paying 10p per sheet at the library every time.

In between saving up for one, I was referred to their free printing service. It involved a computer with a program different from Word, so every time I copied and pasted from Word it wouldn’t format and I spent about an hour playing about with it until my c.v could actually be printed on two pages. The reason given was “Word is expensive”. Once finally sorted, I had to ask permission from an employee to take it off the printer. You don’t get much more patronising than that.

There was no one to assist and while I was struggling, I heard two employees chatting. One imitated a man’s broken English. This father had just come in to get a bus pass so that he could take his children to school. I found the lack of understanding and respect disgusting. Clearly he had never experienced the daily financial hardship of being unemployed. The job seeker was desperate and needed his help, yet he and his colleague thought it appropriate to joke about his language ability, something which was probably holding him back.

My adviser was really helpful and thankfully had people skills. I won’t be referred to her this time I expect. I am going to the Jobcentre tomorrow to get myself off the streets, so to speak. Although thankfully I have accommodation provided for. I would now be in debt as a result of the delay, had I not saved.

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No Horse-Play with Local Meat

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There’s a lot to be said for keeping it local. Now more than ever, as it was found yesterday that horse meat containing a banned vetinary drug had entered the food chain from Britain.

“Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France”

Traces of the substance phenylbutazone or bute, an anti-inflammatory drug were found, but it is not harmful in small doses. Six contaminated carcasses were shipped from Britain to France, and half had already been processed and is on its way to supermarkets. After previous scandals with our meat, such as the mad-cow and foot-and-mouth disease, it’s a wonder our neigh-bours across the sea still accept our exports.

In France the meat was much less common and considered working-class fare. Now though, it seems they want to see what all the fuss is aboutFrench equine butchers have seen a 15% rise in profits – they still enjoy eating horses for courses but they want it drug-free. Here there has been curiosity about it too, Findus beef “100% horse” lasagne was being sold for £70 on E-bay before sellers were reigned-in.

Although we have shouted about it til we’re horse, many people have already consumed vetinary drugs recreationally – ketamine (K), a tranquiliser causing incontinence, remains popular with 200 000 using it last year, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I once saw someone hallucinating with it, hiding under a table, in another world. Perhaps this scandal will affect its popularity.

We already knew ready-meals were bad for us, being high in sugar and salt, but maybe more people will cook from scratch now. I was not caught up in the hype – you never really know whether suppliers have horsed around with your bolog-neihse when when you eat processed food anyway. I was not surprised 200px-Donkey_from_Shrekthat products were beefed up. Then we discovered we’d really been an ass buying cheap meat as donkey was found. Animal DNA kit manufacturers must be ass-tounded by the sales increases.

An upshot of this is that people are supporting their local shops more – The National Federation of Meat and Food Traders reported a 15% increase in sales at independent butchers, as people turn to sources they can trust.

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When I went to my local farm event this week most of the shoppers were interested in the meat, 100% from animals who roam free (less fat).

Reasons to support your local butchers and greengrocers:

1. It may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for – food which is generally tasty, wholesome and organic. My friend and I found that prices were about the same as supermarket organic food, and some products were actually cheaper.

2. Small shops have a vested interest in providing quality products – they need the business, unlike supermarkets who need to get rid of a certain quota. There will always be enough customers for supermarkets, whereas independent stores have to work harder to keep their patrons.

3. By buying local, you’re supporting your community – the farmers, shop owners, and the local customers who rely on the convenience and quality just as you do. The profits go back into your area.

A friend gets a weekly vegetable box delivered which is filled by nearby farms. The products are full of flavour, ready-to-eat and a good size.

I have got into cooking recently and the extra time spent making meals from scratch is well worth it. Using fresh ingredients makes a healthier and tastier meal. Jamie Oliver recommends organic produce but recent studies indicate this is no more healthy or environmentally-friendly than standard varieties. They do taste better though, and you often get more for your money. His Ministry of Food book is inspiring in getting beginners to have a go. It’s easily accessible and he has made an effort to use simple, cheaper ingredients. I would recommend using truffle oil as a treat sometimes though – it adds a rich flavour.

Click this link for more horse jokes.

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Pros and Cons of Unemployment

You’re probably wondering how there could possibly be any upsides to unemployment. But some of the negatives have a silver lining…

Negatives

1. Financial hardship

Most of us do not get much in benefits and every time you go shopping you have to be aware of your dwindling bank balance. You have to budget according to your reduced income.

2. Cold callers article-2167683-0C6EFE84000005DC-962_468x286

Thinking it’s that important interview call you rush to the phone, only to hear it’s some rude dimwit advertising something you have no interest in!

3. Daytime TV

4. Negative attitudes towards your job status snooty

Don’t listen to them though, it’s just ignorance.

5. Lack of company

Most people you know are working and you’re home alone noting down details of every job you’ve ever done and every qualification you’ve ever achieved.

Positives

1. You have more time

You may be busy filling in application forms and doing interviews, but in between you have time to enjoy yourself (albeit with free or cheap activities).

2. You can go to events during the week

I went to a lambing event yesterday, something I couldn’t have done if I was working. I saw piglets, I had a meerkat on my shoulder and saw a skink, armadillo and racoon for the first time! Unfortunately the 80 lambs were 4 days overdue and didn’t appear. We just saw a lot of grumpy sheep standing about, scoffing so much hay you weren’t sure which lump was baby and which was belly.

3. You learn/have to be more sensible with money images

As it runs out, you think of ingenious ways to save, such as living on tins and frozen food! You should minimise expenses or debt will be your enemy. You may start going to your grandparents for Second World War/post-war saving advice. In those days it was “waste not, want not”! We need to remember the wisdom of  previous generations facing harder times than we are in today.

4. You can enjoy the sunshine

I went for a run this week in the glorious sunshine under a bright blue sky and took in the scenery. Usually I’d be in an office during the week. You may miss the sun as you work, and when you get home you may be too tired to enjoy the fading light. Now you can enjoy daylight hours outdoors. You may have more energy to enjoy the day. You can get a good sleep with fewer early starts.

5. There is good support for Job seekers

Unlike other countries, we are lucky enough to have a welfare system. I have heard of free training courses which may help me find work. I have already made use of free interview training. People are generally understanding because they’re aware of the tough job market situation.

5948249-piggy-bank-squeezed-by-a-measuring-tape--concept-for-money-is-tight-budgeting-squeezing-money-out-ofTurn the negatives into positives

Money is tight, but when we do have it,  we may be thrifty enough to start saving or spend more wisely. Maybe you do a training course and edge out the competition to get the job. Your dream job is still out there, there are just more people applying for it, so you have to stand out from the crowd (this does not mean wearing a pink suit to an interview). You may have had more interview practice than employed people going for the same job so you may perform better.

Of course we all want a job, but when we fall on hard times it’s best to make lemons into lemonade, rather than eating them and getting bitter.

Another blog writer suggests throwing the lemons you’ve received back at life!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is an expression meaning when life gives you negatives, turn them into positives.

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February 22, 2013 · 1:48 pm

Struggling to find work? Could be your degree!

I had an interview yesterday where a manager said “yes but you have a  degree, it seems such a waste”. I had just said to the panel that due to my study of medieval literature, the Latin spellings in the typing would be no problem. I got  a funny look.

“My degree is a hindrance rather than a help”

I had a job-specific qualification, but not in that particular field. Management were hinting that a degree meant I wouldn’t stick around, and asked me why I had left my previous secretarial job. In a small city with a lack of degree-related jobs it is necessary to look at other areas. Graduates are two-a-penny, so I have worked in non-graduate jobs as well.

TEFL-diploma

I can no longer use my English teaching postgraduate qualification, as the government has made a “Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector” Certificate compulsory. I realised after the first lesson that it’s the same course I did with a different name. My expensive qualification is unusable due to this policy.

“As Nick Clegg MP said, “the minimum wage is not a living wage””

I have another interview next week – the care sector is expanding as the ageing population grows, and I have found the search there quite fruitful. The problem is that even if they don’t require you to have a qualification (for something I have done for years), or don’t require you to have your own car, you’re lucky if you get more than £7 an hour. You are probably less well off on minimum wage than you are on benefits. But MP David Cameron is cutting benefits rather than raising the £6.19 hourly rate.

How can Mr Cameron understand the plight of those struggling on a daily basis? I wonder how he would cope living on the breadline. I have known people who after bills, rent and student loan payments are deducted are left without enough money for food. How are they supposed to save for a pension?

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clegg-300Nick Clegg MP nailed it when he said that “the minimum wage is not a living wage” in Parliament. Mr Clegg is a dedicated, caring, lovely politician who has helped me as his constituent, despite being responsible for central government matters.

“Some roles require NVQs for jobs I have already done”

I have become aware that my degree is a hindrance rather than a help. I will have to directly address concerns about it at interview. Of course it depends what type of degree you have. Those I know with a post graduate teaching qualification are all in work. Those that graduated in I.T and maths have mostly found work.

I have applied for 5-10 jobs every day for the past month and a half and I have had three interviews. I have applied for work in two sectors. Some roles requires NVQs which I cannot afford to do, although I have already done the jobs.

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It is stressful being in work, all the outgoings mean that the average person is not much better off. It’s tough being out of work too – usually I would go halves on food when my sibling visits but as I am living off tins and pasta I cannot afford to do that. I have found that if I spend more than £2 on an item of food during my weekly shop I go over budget. Meat is a luxury, as are other things I used to take forgranted, like pop tarts…

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“People are surprised when they hear I can barely feed myself”

Some people get fooled by the media and think that the dole is cushy, that people just lie around waiting for their handouts.  They are surprised when they hear I barely have enough per week to feed myself.

There is lots of temporary work available, and some people who are desperate bounce from that to the dole, as I have done since I graduated. This short term work means I have not been able to get enough experience to do permanent roles. Those jobs are like gold dust.

Wages are low, with the average wage in administration being £14 000 per year and for care work £11-14 000. If you are prepared to move opportunities may be better.

“I have encountered discrimination on my job status”

Times are hard, but if you are unemployed you need to keep hope and keep hunting. Your c.v should be fresh with voluntary work/part time work too. I like to talk about my Saturday job at interview because it shows that I am not just sitting around getting money for nothing. Indeed I think the proportion of jobless people doing this is smaller than is widely assumed.

I have encountered discrimination on my job status which surprises and disgusts me. I am avoiding meeting new people as one of the first questions people ask is “what do you do?”. Our identities are defined by what we work as. Sometimes we are judged accordingly.

118E9573F5AEE9CB4B9EC713D844_h316_w628_m5_cLLkGXHSBIt is easy to use those out of work as scapegoats, as some in government like to do. The media encourages this too – just the other day I saw the story about a lady on benefits with 11 kids and a pet horse! But I think a much larger proportion of us are desperate for work and are trying.

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February 21, 2013 · 6:06 pm

Looks are deceiving

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On Saturday my boyfriend booked a “Royal” “Hotel” in Birmingham. The rooms looked modern and clean and the price was reasonable, reduced by £20.

As our taxi drove up the road we spotted a prison and a housing estate with an equally high fence. Then we stopped in front of a rundown pub. There were people hanging around it smoking with their beer. We both checked whether this was indeed the “Royal” “Hotel”. The pub’s car park was labelled as the hotel one. As my boyfriend crashed up the kerb entrance, we saw youths in tracksuits smoking and drinking outside the pub disco – all 90s music played through a sound system of the same era. Asbestos hung out of the car park ceiling where something had crashed into it.

Making our way past the leering locals, and already feeling rather out of place, we squinted in the disco lights as we were assaulted by noise. I wondered if the car would last the night and what delights we could expect in our accommodation. Trying to find reception, we walked through the disco and into the main pub. We spoke to the barman, and minutes later a pleasant, thin, anxious young man appeared. He took payment at the bar and then accompanied us. It was a bizarre experience being in a pub disco waiting for our hotel lift to arrive.

The second floor was completely different. There were modern-looking hotel rooms and framed pictures of the city centre in the cleaned corridors. We were shown into our room. The bed was a decent size and I was impressed with IMG_0853[1]the cleanliness. Instead of a kettle they had a “Tea-Mate”, a fast boiling tea pot. This looked fancy so I took the pot out and had a look. Mould floated in the water. I poured it out. It was marked with multiple drinks.

We left for Birmingham city centre. I was amazed at the size of the buildings, towering around us. I felt as small as an ant in a human’s world. The taxi driver remarked that there were too many people in Birmingham. He said there was a big problem with illegal immigrants putting a strain on the city, and that developers had demolished the beautiful old buildings and replaced them with ugly new architecture like the Bullring. He took us to Chinatown, as we wanted a reasonably priced restaurant meal.

496We found a diner, China Town Noodle Bar, off the main street. The decor was basic, just laminated wooden tables and plastic chairs. I was put off, but my boyfriend was keen. I was persuaded when I noticed the customers were mostly Chinese. We were seated in front of a roast duck, complete with head and legs, and a roast chicken, shining as they rotated. I’d never seen a whole cooked duck before. I ordered some in a noodle soup. It was delicious, and I had it with cream soda, not generally available when eating out.

We had a great night. When we collapsed into bed in the “4*” “hotel” we realised that our “bed” was in fact beds put together. A thin sheet covered the mattress.

At 7.40 there was knocking on the door and incoherent shouting. My boyfriend was asked to move his car as it was in the way. He’d only parked in the space because someone was reversing out of it. I opened the curtains to our grit bin and road view. My throat, dry like paper, demanded a drink. There was none due to the bacteria-laden pot. So I had a shower with the “toiletries” – two thin pink soaps. It was really powerful and I enjoyed it until I began wading in the previous occupant’s dirt from the partially-blocked drain.

I avoided the exfoliating towel and used my own. With filthy feet we went to breakfast. There were no staff around, although we were 5 minutes before closing time. Finally the cook came down and grumbled as much as our stomachs. He told us he had cooked for 15 but only 9 had booked, so it was a case of “making do” with what was available. We had never experienced this sort of customer service before. Apparently when guests complained about the noise keeping them up, he told them they “should have slept in the day instead”!

I sat down expecting scraps. In fact we got a lovely cooked breakfast, so it didn’t matter that the toast was burnt. “Was everything ok?” asked a barmaid as we left. I didn’t have the heart to comment.

The moral of the story? If you’re booking a hotel, check it out on Google Map street view first. Our “hotel” had good reviews on our booking website, so always check Trip Advisor first.

On the other hand, don’t be put off by the appearance of a diner/restaurant. It may serve excellent food despite the decor.

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Competition and Coffee Cake

Job-Seeker-01  job-competition

Are you in it to win it? Show the recruiter you are!

Today I took a bus then a train and then walked to get to the recruiters. There were so many applicants the employee would not tell me about the competition. He just said they did have 400 positions and now they have 50. I didn’t get interviewed for about half an hour as other candidates were dealt with first. This was good as it was an open-plan office, so I heard what was said. This helped me to get a job one time, earwigging on the questions.

The lady before me was interested in leaving her permanent job for the temporary position, for a change. She had good experience.

The next lady was from Holland. She had been out of work since early last year, having graduated from York University and then worked at M and S.

I sat there with my degree and all my worldly documents feeling a little uneasy, until the manager went round offering home-made coffee cake and there was a spare piece. Needless to say with my eagle eye on it he noticed. After succeeding with my cake application I sat there in seventh heaven, cream oozing between moist chocolate cake. The office faded out and all I was aware of was the taste sensation going on. A bake-off was proposed. I want to apply for another job in case they interview me next week, when a recruiter promised to make raspberry chocolate cake.

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Awakening me from this taste experience, someone rang up about the job I wanted. The agency had taken the advert board for it inside and I could see and hear why. It started on minimum wage and was for a month.

Allow me to share some of the things I have learned from this experience.

Network

  • I had heard about it through a friend and I couldn’t find it advertised. It’s all about networking. Ask for help on Facebook, ask friends and family.

Register with the agency before your meeting, and check it

  • Ensure your registration has gone through – mind hadn’t. The recruiter had to do it for me. He would have expected to process me quickly and he had the pressure of the next candidate waiting. 

Prepare 2 days in advance

  • I knew an assessment centre test was involved but I only started revising yesterday, and this affected my performance.

Bring bank statements to cover company absence

  • As I said in my previous post, you should make sure you have all your documents the day before. With references, if there are any gaps in your employment history, or if you have not worked for a company in that time, bring along your bank statements covering this period. 

Don’t consider the competition, consider why you’re the best

  • With a new burst of confidence from the coffee cake experience I decided that I would no longer be intimidated by the opposition.
  • Instead I would demonstrate why I was the best, and I planned how I was going to do that in my head. 

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A highlight of my travels into town in the morning is The (Mighty) Metro, a newspaper available free on the bus. It has all I need, plenty of sensational news and romantic/celebrity gossip. If I want to read more in-depth news I buy a paper – I feel the need to support print journalism as the industry is really suffering. I opened my saved copy. After chuckling out loud at a series of pictures of a border collie balancing Pringles and biscuits on its head I turned the pages to more news of economic gloom.

Jessops shop England UK. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown. _65329541_65329226 blockbuster_cut_2453342b

On Wednesday Republic fashion chain joined the host of high-street shops that have had to go into administration, with 2 500 jobs at risk. I then passed the store, decorated in bright signs advertising impending doom and REDUCTIONS ON ALL STOCK. A great time to be in work I thought as I gazed enviously at (still) unaffordable fashion. Last month 2,000 jobs were lost at Jessops, 4,190 at Blockbuster, and 4,123 at HMV, according to the paper. That’s over 10, 000 redundancies and thousands more on the way, not counting cuts to smaller and government businesses.

If you are/have been made redundant think of all that experience you gained. I’m sure it will be an asset on your applications. If things are tough maybe look at another area you could go into. The high-street is suffering from lack of spending as job security, spending power and consumer confidence have been affected. £375 billion has been put into circulation as a last resort, to no effect. The Metro suggested this was partly due to a “high turnover of Treasury stock-photo-869687-background-of-english-sterling-pound-notesstaff”. This means that due to budget cuts services may be affected. I have witnessed skeleton staff situations in the police and NHS, threatening front-line services. Surely money can be saved elsewhere.

Anyway I digress. After another security clearance to confirm that I am not a terrorist (in the American immigration department this involves a tick box question “are you a terrorist : Y/N) and possibly a submission of several months of bank statements I will wait and see whether an 80% test pass rate is acceptable…passfingers-crossed

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Interviews are like Exams – prepare to succeed!

Employment blog – useful advice
http://80000hours.org/blog/109-should-we-stop-interviewing-people *Clean-shaven!

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Revise and you are more likely to get a good result! Preparation makes perfect.

If you want a positive outcome you have got to know what you’re talking about and go in with all the documents you need.You need to revise and get everything you need in advance to save rushing and panicking on the day. Then you need to make sure you get there on time, but not more than 15 minutes early or they may think your time-management skills are off.

Read on for advice which I hope enables me to pass my interview tomorrow. I have another one next week – look at the rest of my posts for more advice which has helped me with my jobhunting mission.

Left or right? I have a striped and plain shirt, which should I choose? it’s an office job.

Check out http://www.jobiety.com/9-tips-for-dressing-for-interview.html for more interview dressing advice

– Looks

Are your work shirt and trousers ironed? are your work shoes clean and shiny?are your tattoos covered? is your hair neat/tied back? is your dress or skirt knee length or longer? are your earrings subtle? is your make up/jewelry subtle? I avoid wearing jewelry. A nice watch should suffice, although mine no longer tells the time…

Proof

– Papers

Have you got all the relevant certificates? especially for essential qualifications.

Have you got your passport and driving licence? have you got two proofs of address (bank statement/bill/bank card and cheque book)? National Insurance proof – P45 or P60 or card?

Have you got references? Check that former employers are prepared to give you one in advance. I need 3 years worth – that’s all the contact details of pretty much everyone I’ve ever worked for…Check the list and make sure you have all the documents and photocopies of them, so you look really organised and efficient.

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– Essential skills

Have you practiced them? I need good spreadsheet knowledge, so I’m reminding myself. No good saying I Excel at them if I can’t prove it!

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She's thinking about how her cv skills match the job description!

She’s thinking about how her cv skills match the job description!

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– Have you got down potential answers to potential questions?

This is important for the competency-based questions. Check what qualities they want from you. E.g attention to detail, and think about how your previous work highlights those skills. Prepare your answers and analyse them. Are they the best examples?

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– Travel time

Once you have everything you need make sure you know how long it will take to get there in total – including walking to the bus stop/train station and from there to the interview. If you’re driving, check out where you will park and leave time for it. Check you have enough money for transport costs.

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– Preparation time

Give yourself double the time you usually take to get ready in order to make sure you have everything and remind yourself of the skills you are going to highlight and how.

 – Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes

1. What would you ask to find the right person for your company?  2. Plan your answers. 3. What would they want to hear? How does this compare with what you have planned to say?

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Finally don’t be beaten by nerves! Think about why you’re the best for the job and convey your positive attitude. This will convince the interviewer too, if they can see that you believe in your skills.

I intend to go in there tomorrow fully prepared and therefore confident that I am the one and they would be losing out by not picking me.

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Work Training Day

82203-343x343-Bad_morningToday I woke up at 7.30. This hurt as I normally do not have anything to get up at the crack of dawn for. After a coffee to ressurect me from the undead I went out into the snow. The roads were clear, so I left half an hour for a 25 minute journey. Once again I had the misfortune of a driver who waited behind buses instead of overtaking them, meaning that a 25 minute trip took 40 minutes.

When I got to the company, to my surprise, the main receptionist was unaware of where the course was in the building. She asked for the teacher’s name and I did not have it. I showed her the text I had received reminding me of it. She told me and another course candidate to go to the first floor and turn left. He was a young man with a round face and black hair. I was in an ironed shirt and work trousers, while he sported baggy black jeans and an Ed Hardy t-shirt proclaiming “LOVE KILLS SLOWLY”.

“A woman joked “why don’t you just have them, nobody else wants them””

We stood in a queue for a while, and I wondered where the teaching room was, as I couldn’t see one. Finally we got to the desk and there was a lot of confusion over what we were here for and where we were supposed to be. I showed them the text but it still did not help.

While they were deliberating amongst themselves a lady joked “why don’t you just have them, no-body else wants them”. Exactly the sort of ignorance from someone who is fortunate enough never to have been unemployed.

Eventually we were directed to the right floor. We were greeted by a tall angry blonde. She was a curvy lady wearing glasses and a skin-tight black dress. “You’re late” she informed us, “I’m not sure if I can take you. I’ll just check.”

She came back and said that she had been given permission to let us in. It emerged later that we were a full three minutes later than the 15 minutes allowed. We explained that we had spent this time being sent to the wrong floor and she apologised.

I hadn’t been looking forward to the training session. I pictured dropouts lounging back on the chairs smelling of weed, tobacco or poor hygiene in line with the standard Jobcentre experience. To my surprise this wasn’t completely the case.

We went round the room introducing ourselves and giving some history. First off was a suited, 50-something man with glasses. Bob was a sales manager with plenty of experience in different areas. He told us he had faced a lot of age discrimination and he believed this was stopping him getting a job because interviewers just looked at him as being ripe for retirement.

Next was Bogale, a Politics and International Development graduate who had been a maths teacher in Kenya and was originally from Ethiopia. He had been in the UK for four months but his English was pretty good. He was interested in being a Teaching Assistant.

Abdul had dropped out of an accounting and finance degree because he was going to live in Turkey, but it didn’t work out. He was keen to work in a call centre. He had worked for five years in a variety of jobs. His family ran a cake business in Iraq. He had a short black beard and was shy but laid-back, wearing a woolly hat and casual clothes.

Shabeeb had been a forklift driver for two years until he had been fired. He wore a cap, a big grin and casual clothes. He spent most of the class asking when we could have a break/go home/whether he had to be there the next day as well. He had a great sense of humour and made us all laugh.

Jamie was the guy I came up with. He was on a part-time I.T course at university and was looking for administration work.

Miss Bradley had done work in I.T, admin and sales and was a DJ by night. She was slim with long dark curly hair and a ready smile. She had been forced to drop out of university due to a custody dispute with her “psychotic” ex-partner. It reminded me of my experience of working in family law.

Ms Begum was a full-time mum and had worked at a call centre for British Gas. She was looking to get back into work and had the right qualifications. She was keen to work in customer service. Everyone in the room except her and Bob were in their late 20s or early 30s. They were a pleasant, friendly bunch.

The teacher said that she would not “tret” us any different due to what we had done in the past, we were all the same in her eyes. She had a talk about “elf” and safety in the building. I felt bad for smiling at this when she told us how an employer had told her she had failed a Family Learning teacher interview due to her strong accent. She said she felt like suing them.

She also disclosed that she was a trained counsellor, and that she’d naturally done this all her life, without realising it.

She told us to beware of stress once we got work, as due to the recession their had been a sharp increase in hospital admissions. I remembered how stressed I was when I worked three jobs, seven days a week. Stress can creep up on you and accumulate if you don’t release it regularly. Mrs Begum said that when she was stressed at work she had no outlet for it, as when she went home she had the kids to deal with.

Make time to relax for 20 minutes before you go to bed each day. Think about your day and what stressed you out and whether there is anything you can do about it, in which case do an action plan. If there isn’t, let it go.

Stress happens when we’re caught in between fight and flight mode. If we are prepared and have action plans and lists to tick off, we know what we are doing when, and can relax more. This is how I could be responsible for all the medical files in a department. My day followed a certain structure and I had time deadlines for tasks. I’d always keep in mind the next item on the to-do list and work my way through it. That way I wasn’t running all over the place wondering what to do next.

As soon as I’d said I was an English language teacher I noticed Tibuk’s eyes light up. We had a chat and it turned out that in my last job I was teaching the very syllabus he needs to learn! I may be able to give him lessons to prepare him, although of course I will need to see if I can fit it around work when (note I said when, not if – Positive Mental Attitude) I get it.

The day was actually really useful, even though I got a First in Careers Development whilst doing my degree. I learnt that I am weak on the personal profile in the CV, and what to put in there.

She asked if anyone knew what CV stood for. Everyone looked like she’d spoken another language, which she had. I informed everyone it was curriculum vittae, was Latin, oh and by the way vittae meant life, so literally it was curriculum life, which didn’t seem to make sense. There was a stunned silence for a moment.

This week is full of training and interviews! After applying for 5-10 jobs every day for a month I have two to look forward to. One is for a graduate position. I just sent off an application pack for another one. I am also thinking about applying for the Royal Mail graduate programme. I will keep you posted!

Work Training Day 2

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Today I discovered that criminal records were holding two of the members back. One for GBH, the other for breaking and entering. Both were misdemeanours of their youth which still count against them. One of them had a great sense of humour and we said that he should be a comedian because he made everyone laugh. It is a shame that their past could prevent them from moving forward with their lives.

Everyone in the group was easy to get on with. There was a supportive sense that we were in this together, although when I got an interview at lunchtime someone was a bit too keen on knowing what it was for! I once told someone about a job that I was applying for. She applied first and got it, so I’m more careful now.

Keep throwing yourself at the job market. The Jobcentre-referred course was great and I would recommend it to anyone. You think you know how to apply for a job, but it is not as simple as it seems. Every phrase can be read into, and it is all a carefully formulated plan. I am now going to re-do my CV, and I’m prepared for my interviews more thanks to plenty of practice.

Again I would recommend agencies – I have found getting an interview with them much easier and they are a foot in the door to permanent work.

I am encouraged by the course and am actually looking forward to interviews for the first time. It’s simply a matter of preparing yourself – getting the ID documents, dressing for success, preparing for competency-based questions (Explain how you dealt with a difficult situation) using the CAR/STAR method (if you don’t know what it is ask to go on the course!) and brushing up on the skills you’ll be tested on.

I’ve spammed the job market for a month and I’m only just starting to get results. It may take time but if you ensure that your CV and interview preparation and skills are in line with what is needed you will be fine.

Good luck fellow jobhunters! Keep on it!

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