Category Archives: Jobhunting

A description of my days as a jobhunter. Hopefully this state of affairs won’t last – it’s not enough to live on.

The Job Lottery

lottery balls

I was so lucky.

The week after I walked into a job agency, the last one on my rainy day trip in town, I started working for a local university.

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I am now doing administration for a team that deals with international student enquiries. It is work based around creativity, communication and technology and is infused with the excitement of students looking forward to exploring England.

Continuous improvement is more than a sound-bite. My colleagues are positive, supportive and most people clearly love what they do. Colleagues laugh every day (particularly the ones that go abroad for work) and the Director also has a great sense of humour, putting his “betting hat” on when he was betting on the World Cup and having a team meeting outside with ice-creams. People are inspired and motivated by him and he looks on the bright side.

My manager is the same. She sees someone else’s “problem” as her “challenge” that she can solve by liaising with her contacts. She supports me and encourages me to do new things and I have developed as a result. I will miss the office and she seemed genuinely disappointed that I am leaving in two months, but money talks. I am giving up 9-5 hours for irregular shift hours but better pay. I am looking forward to the mornings off during the week already.

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When I was unemployed I applied for a job as a civil servant and I am now returning. Back to bureaucracy but a different role which hopefully will be more suitable. I will be working afternoon shifts as well, perfect for someone who is not a morning person. I will pay for it by working 7am until 5pm on a weekend, three weekends in the month. That bit scares me but I got used to leaving at 6.30am for a 7am bus when I was a nursing student.

Touch-typing and clicking my way through paperwork will be much easier than trying to change a dressing and keep the new one sterile, with three generations of the family looking on, and applying a bandage with 50/50 stretch. I hope I can be the office first-aider. I already stepped in when a man fainted and the first-aiders needed prompting.

I have helped my new housemate find work by directing her to the job agency and helping her market herself.

You are the product, make yourself one that will fly off the shelves as the employers try to buy you first.

Do as much as you can to find work and one of your job application tickets may be a golden one.

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Recruitment agency registration

Today I had two interviews with job agencies for administration and legal administration.

Hand-mouse-keyboard

I didn’t need to set my alarm clock because my housemate gets up for work at 7.30. I didn’t mind as I then make the most of the unemployment holiday. Looking for work is a full-time job as I searched for jobs, re-writing my CV, filling in forms and then actually applying. I had struggled to get to sleep with stressful thoughts whirling around my mind. I dozed off and woke up at 11am. I dressed in tailored pinstripe trousers, a lace sleeveless top and a navy striped cardigan. I looked in the mirror and checked that I was business-ready. Fake it til you make it.

I had ensured that both appointments were in the afternoon as I am not a morning person. Apparently it is in your genes whether you are or not, so that is not going to change no matter how much caffeine I drink. I allowed 45 minutes for a 20 minute bus journey. Just as well as the bus was packed and stopped every few hundred metres to pick up yet more noisy students, mothers with children, and retired people.

The general administration recruitment consultant was a business-like young lady in a sharp black tailored jacket and trousers. She had brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair that was straightened to within an inch of its life. I admired her sparkly peach manicure as she went through the wad of registration bureaucracy. She gently persuaded me to lower my asking price from £9 per hour to minimum wage. Although I have eight years of administration experience, the consultant firmly urged me to lower my desired salary to minimum wage, due to the level of current job competition.

The company receive so many CVs that their email warns that you may not receive a response due to the sheer volume of applicants. In today’s market you have to stand out. It is not enough to have a degree when there are so many graduates, you need a masters. It is not enough to have some experience, you need extensive and recent experience. If you can’t get a temporary job for the CV you need to volunteer or try to get an internship.

Most of the employment available online was for those without qualifications, knowledge of Microsoft packages was the sole requirement. Typing jobs were few and far between and the recruitment consultant that this would severely limit the opportunities available. It doesn’t matter that I type at around 90 words per minute or that I have a bunch of text and audio processing certificates. For temporary work, basic administration skills are all that is required.

The legal recruitment agency meeting was helpful because I got advice on how to improve my CV. The meeting was in a new office at the top of a building, with a lovely view out over the cityscape.

waiting for job agency interview

My CV was not extensive enough, so I popped to the central library and increased it by a page. I added another three years of job history to make it more comprehensive. But the smiling young woman with long, ginger curly hair and square glasses told me that they had no temporary opportunities available at the moment. She would keep my file on record for any future opportunities. I was getting used to hearing this.

So, when should you choose a job agency?

  1. When you are looking for temporary work. Agencies are best-placed to get work quickly. Temporary work is also ideal for those with bar work or acting jobs who need to supplement their income.
  2.  When you need a quick fix following redundancy or unemployment. Sometimes this can lead to full-time, permanent work, as was the case when I last worked with an agency.
  3. When you are not interested in taking over the office, but are content to be a cog in the wheel.
  4. When you are trying to get your foot in the door of a new industry.
  5. If you have recently finished school/college/university or if you are returning to the world of work following a break.

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Job agencies are like sales companies. They “buy” jobs for their potential employees and then they “sell” you to the company.  Some have better working conditions than others. It is good if an agency specifies in its recruitment material whether paid annual leave is included and how many days annual leave allowance you are entitled to. Some even have a pension plan. A good recruitment agency should work with you to try and match your particular CV to a job that suits your skills and experience.

If you are a fellow jobseeker I wish you luck. Never stop trying and never give up the fight. Today’s job market is tough but you have to stay strong.

win it

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The Jobcentre from 2008 to 2018 – the view from the shop floor.

It was astounding how much the Jobcentre had changed.

When I was first unemployed a decade ago, following graduation in the summer of 2008, the queue usually went out of the entrance.

Today there was only one person in front of me with sleeves of tattoos, ripped jeans and a cap. He was sent downstairs to the long-term unemployed section. I had been there for one appointment before I finally got work. That is where you go when you have been down and out for more than six months. It is like going down into hell, a pit of despair and depression with “customers” who look like they gave up on life a long time ago.

Today was my first appointment at Jobcentre Plus plc. Hopefully my one and only, I thought, as I scanned those waiting. They were all on their phones with the exception of one young guy who had his headphones on. There was a chair for everyone today, I had never seen the Jobcentre this quiet. Five years ago in 2013, there were always people milling around the lobby as there weren’t enough seats to go round. There would be maybe 30 people waiting. Today there were probably about 8. The Jobcentre is a micro snapshot of our economy. From where I was sitting, the economy had never been so strong.

There were two mothers with prams and I was soothed by a babbling baby as I read a book about the experience of flying by a pilot. It was a thought-provoking and I was able to get absorbed.

I lost track of time but I must have been waiting at least 20 minutes. The advisor apologised. He was clearly rushing because he was behind, but he couldn’t do enough to help. He said that I needed to come to the office with more paperwork about my savings and that because of these, I would get around £20 per week to live on. I am not going to spend it though because that is for my future. I did not work and save for five years just to spend it all in hard times. There was hardly any point in going through the long, painful and irritating process for £20 a week. But at least it was something, beggars can’t be choosers.

In 2008 when I was claiming unemployment benefit, all you had to do was sign a piece of paper. When I brought in evidence of work the advisor smiled and said “it’s ok love, I don’t need to see that, just come back in two weeks”. Those were the days when you were trusted to get on with it without being pushed. It was relaxed and painless. In 2011 I was bounced back to the dole after a temporary job ended and I was told I would need to bring evidence of job searching every two weeks. That was no problem. Then I was told I needed to fill in a booklet instead. When I saw them two weeks later I’d finished the booklet with evidence of job searches and applications and asked for another. You should’ve seen the look on the advisor’s face.

Flash forward to 2018 and I have been asked to “follow the Jobcentre on Twitter” and “publish your jobseeker status on social media”. I have already broadcast my embarrassing job status on that I told him. I also said I thought Twitter was for twits and didn’t use it on principle, but he told me that that was actually how people got work these days. I was stunned. So in 2018, not only do I have to presumably show evidence of looking for work every two weeks, probably attend job skills workshops every month, register to their “job match” service, sign multiple times and in exactly the same way on a digital machine every two weeks, I now have to join the Twitter twits and “follow” companies. Then I have to sign a legally-binding contract agreeing to all that or I don’t get a penny. Next they’ll be telling me to “like” the Jobcentre on Facebook.

Someone give me a job. Fast.

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Unemployed…again.

“The-greatest-teacher-failure-is.”-Master-Yoda-Star-Wars

Since my last blog post, my life has changed completely.

In November 2017 I decided to apply to do a postgraduate nursing diploma. I had spent years working my way up to a well-paid steady job as a civil servant. But I wanted to have a job where I could help people. It was a gamble but it was the last year of the bursary – it was now or never.

“My bursary was £450 and rent is £380 – all activities were limited by my budget.”

I am no longer on the course but I hope that I can start again, because I really enjoyed both the academic and practical aspects of the course. It involved military discipline and if I wasn’t passionate about nursing I wouldn’t have managed it. I woke up at 6am to go to placement, got back at 5 or 6pm, ate a sandwich for dinner and then wrote a 6 000 word essay in the library until it shut at 9pm…for over a month.

My bursary was £450 and rent is £380, so all activities were limited by my budget, even food shopping. Gone were my flights of fancy at Waitrose. Now it was Aldi or Co-Op basics. The 30p bag of pasta and the £1 jar of pesto with some defrosted peas or carrots became my go-to meal.

Despite the long hours and low budget, patients kept me strong, smiling and focused and made the experience enjoyable. Being able to provide care was a privilege and gave me a deep sense of contentment.

It made me realise that caring for others is not just what I do, it is a fundamental part of who I am. It gives my life more meaning and purpose.

This is why I volunteered to help at a Dementia Cafe with a wedding theme this week. I immersed myself in the experience, from blowing up confetti balloons to hearing people’s life stories. It was a welcome relief from the stress of feeling lost, confused and worrying about the future.

If I don’t get another chance, what am I going to do?!

Things couldn’t be tougher. The intense combination of university and placement have been replaced by throwing myself at the job market. My bursary has been stopped but I still need to pay the rent. I have already had to endure two consecutive days of rejections from two job agencies.

“I didn’t get off the sofa most days.”

If I don’t find work in June, I will be forced to give up my independence and move back in with my parents. My housemate couldn’t believe it. “I love living with you” she said, “please don’t move out.”

I never thought I would be in this position again. It has been two weeks so far. The first week I was an emotional wreck and I came down with a sore throat and a cold. Exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally, I didn’t get off the sofa most days, crying, blowing my nose through a full loo roll and watching TV. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

But when you’re at your lowest, you realise how lucky you are to have so many good people around you. Everyone gave their time to listen, offer advice, meals, and a shoulder to cry on. With their support my week gradually improved, and I was able to focus instead on my birthday celebrations.

I have already tried to get care work but sadly it wasn’t possible. I have no formal qualifications in it (despite years of experience) and I can’t afford a car.

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A few days ago I decided it was time to stop crying and get off the sofa. Partly because I had watched everything remotely interesting on TV catchup, from the BBC to More4 and ITV. There was only dreary daytime TV left.

I started by creating a more positive and restful environment. I tidied, cleaned and hoovered the house. The saying “clean space, clear mind” is confirmed by research showing that messy rooms cause excess cortisol production and can be distracting for the brain.

I then began a Post-It Power Plan, where I brainstormed ideas to find a way forward. It was a good method to get some clarity in the chaos.

I am either too qualified or too unqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

Yesterday my job mission continued. I rang up three job agencies and applied for admin work online. So far I have been turned down by two job agencies on the basis that although I have experience, it is not recent enough. This is a new level of competition compared to the “you don’t have enough experience” response when I was last unemployed some five years ago.

But persistence is key if you are to break through the increasingly reinforced walls of the current job market. The next day I ramped up the pressure by going in person to other job agencies with my CV and even going into various businesses with it. It is always more effective going to a job agency in person than contacting them by telephone or email. In person they can practically smell your desperation as you offer to give their employers your time on any basis, working for any pay and at any level, as you hand them your CV, your passport, your CRB certificate and your dignity. They can see that you’re tired from walking around all afternoon in the pouring rain in your business power dress.

Next week I am going to a job fair where up to 25 companies will be hiring and I will be spamming companies with CVs. By the time I’ve finished, I will be surprised if there is a business in the city that has not heard of me. Short of walking around with a billboard strapped to me, reading “AVAILABLE FOR WORK NOW” and my phone number, there isn’t much more I can do.

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I now have a busy week of job-hunting to look forward to next week. I have signed up with one agency and I have an appointment with another next week. I also have an appointment for Jobseekers Allowance. I am dreading going back to this handout again, it is so shameful that at my age and with my experience I will now have to sign up to weekly harassment involving job skills workshops, when I got a first in a careers development module at university. I know how to gain employment. The problem is that I am either too overqualified, or too underqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

I was in this desperate position when I started this blog in 2013. The blogging community spurred me on and eventually my documented struggle to find employment attracted over a thousand views a month from all over the world.

If you are in the same boat and you are struggling to keep your head above water, read this article about the importance of learning from failure and being patient until you succeed.

henryford1-2x

 

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What’s hot – thermals and my blog on its anniversary!

Hello and welcome on a rainy dark cold English winter evening.

First of all I just want to thank you for checking out my blog over the last year. In 2013 I was unhappily unemployed and decided something needed to change. With qualifications and experience but fighting just to get an interview I began blogging and found a virtual family. Thank you to all those who read, commented, and supported me through that tough time and gave me the strength to keep going.

Thinking of ways I could help readers in my situation gave me something to do other than the endless repetitive task of filling out applications mixed in with a YouTube workout or two. I suddenly had an exciting project to do that stimulated my neurons far more than the endless repetition of personal details.

A year on I yet again face an uncertain future. But either way I will have gained more experience to help me stand out.

So what have I learnt during my year of blogging?

Rose Heart (4)1. Love and relationship stories are the most popular. My highest spike in viewings was the story of my first date. There are some highly entertaining dating blogs out there.

2. To accept an award you are expected to write endless drivel about yourself. I have only done this once, although I have appreciated the nominations.

3. The blog world is a real community – there are always friendly people that have been through exactly what you have and can sympathise. I found this especially helpful during times of financial hardship and struggling to get work. Use this support network.

4. It is a great way to help others. My most popular article remains Pros and Cons of Unemployment. I couldn’t find any articles on positives of unemployment. In this dire situation I thought about the British idiom “every cloud has a silver lining” and realised that if I could focus on this I would be able to cope with the situation much better. I began feeling happier, more confident and began interviews by following my own advice (for once). 

5. Blogging is a great tool to test creative projects – sharing photographs, paintings, cartoons and so on.

international-students1_10892518_std_16. I have been surprised at how international it is – my blog has been viewed in an incredible 87 countries and counting.

7. There is such a great variety out there. Just search for the topic you want to read and it’s all free.

And finally –

I have just realised how fantastic these are. Most people know that wearing layers keeps you warmer because they trap heat. The most important layer is the one next to your skin. Then the second one insulates and is also close to the body to minimise air gaps. You can read more about this technique here.

The lower the rating, the warmer it is! By silk I assume this means thick woven fabric…

Everyone raised their eyebrows and told me they were for the elderly and the elderly alone. When I looked on the thermals section of a clothing company the metrics did show that all comments were from the over 50s. But when thinking about saving money why not remember the wisdom of previous generations. Instead of turning up the heating, buy a few undergarments.

It cost me about £12 for the shirt and for the leggings but it’s a one-off purchase. You will get a lot more off your heating bill than that. I’m currently wearing thermal leggings with trousers over the top, thermal and standard long-sleeved shirts and an acrylic jersey. I have worn them all day. I don’t need an expensive wool one with all these layers. I find it itchy anyway.

As you have clothes over them, it doesn’t matter what they look like and you don’t have to admit to wearing them. But actually there are some good looking ones now – my shirt has dark blue and white stripes and being a scoop neck I can wear it under other tops without it showing. The leggings I’m wearing at the moment are more effective at retaining heat. They are mostly acrylic and their snug but comfortable fitting means there are no air gaps.

So go on, stay warm for less this winter.

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Anti-Wrinkle Ageism

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Yesterday I went to buy some more anti-wrinkle day cream. The media bombard us with messages that we should “defend” ourselves against signs of growing old. But is this just the ugly face of ageism?

We have an increasingly ageing population, yet age discrimination is still a big 271333881_5342e17059_zproblem. I have written previously about how a former sales manager in his fifties experienced ageism routinely at interviews.

The horse-racing pundit John McCirick, 73 has this month launched legal action against Channel 4, who he said sacked him for a younger replacement. Chris Moyles, then 38, was an excellent Radio 1 presenter, always entertaining. He was replaced by Nick Grimshaw, then 27, who is boring and self-obsessed, but knows a bunch of celebrities. A colleague had commented that Moyles was “too old”. Last year a 52 year old won an age discrimination case against his employers who replaced him with a 15 year old who they could hire for less. The year before that, a BBC Countryfile presenter won her case against being sacked because of her age.

HelpAge International has launched a petition which I have contributed to. It urges the government to press for a UN convention protecting the rights of  older people. So far over 8 000 people have signed it.

http://www.helpage.org/get-involved/campaigns/what-is-age-demands-action/sign-the-ada-petition/

Faukja Singh, 101, the oldest person to complete a marathon!

Faukja Singh, 101, the oldest person to complete a marathon!

Lets stop thinking that the passing of the years is some sort of problem which we must “protect” ourselves against. If you’re worried about looking old why not try natural methods of looking younger instead? According to research, exercising vigorously for more than 40 minutes a couple of times a week results in a younger-looking appearance over time.

I would rather look old than scary. I will fight for the right to be seen as experienced rather than due for retirement, and I will defend myself against ageism, not wrinkles.+Jackie+Stallone++'The+Expendables+2'+film+premiere,+Los+Angeles,+America+-+15+Aug+2012+

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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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