Thursday, 26 February 2009

signing on

I'm signing on tomorrow. not sure how I feel about that.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

There's whoring and then there's whoring

The good thing about looking for work is that it hardens you to rejection. If you are single you must put this new found skill to use by joining a dating website or going to a speed dating event. Your hardened external shell provides a useful shield against further rejection.

In fact the worlds of dating and job applications have a lot of similarities; there’s the perfect person with the perfect profile, you meet all her needs and she meets yours, until you find out she lives in Aberdeenshire. There’s the act of putting yourself on the line, of profiling yourself to the world, naked and alone. And then there’s the act of giving your details out to all and sundry at the risk that marketing companies will bombard you with emails (more about this in a future blog).

So you find a job and you’re really interested in it, it’s perfect for you and you’re perfect for it, so you arrange to get together for a meeting. Maybe you go for out for a drink or over to their place for a chat and a cup of coffee. You dress up nice because you want them to like you. You’ve had a productive first date and they promise to call.

You get home that evening, maybe slip into a hot bubble bath and think back about how you made them laugh and how sincere you sounded when talking about your fictionalised charity work.

You sit at your computer browsing other jobs on the internet but you’re not really looking. You check your mobile, maybe it’s not working or you missed a text. Still nothing and it’s four o’clock in the afternoon. You think about phoning them but you stop yourself, after all you don’t want to seem desperate. Still nothing and the whole day passes. They must be employing the three day rule. Fine, so they’ll phone tomorrow. Still nothing, so you write an email but you never send it. And then, four days later they phone you and either you’ll get lucky, get a second date or they’ll gently explain that they liked you but they’ve been seeing someone else and they’ve decided to make a go of it with them.

However if I keep going with this analogy it would make recruitment agencies pimps and me a whore. Hmmm, analyse that if you can Mr. Freud.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Online Application forms are killing me

When a beautiful flower opens up before your eyes you gasp and drink in its wonderment. Unfortunately the same is not true of online job application forms. What you think should take thirty minutes takes five times as long. Fill in your name, email address and upload your CV. Great, no problem. A covering letter, boy, well sure I guess that’s fair. There is nothing like a covering letter to boost the job chances and let them get to know you a little. Expand on some of the more exciting areas of your CV. Fill in some gaps and of course a little flattery will get you ... hang on, you want me to say how I meet the person skills requirement, but, the covering letter?

And so the form expands and drops down and branches out and links to other bits that take you back to the beginning. Where was I? Press here. No, no don’t submit I wasn’t ready, I haven’t... oh it didn’t because I haven’t. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow. But you must always soldier on and get it finished. Stopping half way through filling in an application form is a recipe for disaster. If I stop with a view to carrying on the next day I’ll more than likely convince myself during the night that either there’s no point applying for this position because I’ll never get it or that I don’t really want it and will have already moved on come morning.

Online application forms have a sense of linear progression whereby one section is filled in after the next, like a slinky going down some stairs, dropping one level each time until it reaches the end and stops. It can go no further. A downloadable application form is another matter all together. I can never tell if you are supposed to fill in the space using some sort of Microsoft form filling tool or just cut and paste – even if the resultant words are for some reason highlighted in blue. Maybe it exists already but if it doesn’t someone needs to invent an application whereby you enter some of the key words from the person specification, some words from the job specification and then some key words from your CV and it creates the perfect application form response. Two minutes per form. Bonza!

As an addendum to stupid application forms I had no idea how to show I had the required ‘skill and competence’ listed below, I’d be interested to know how you might have answered it so do leave a comment:

Skill and ability to inspire high levels of confidence in own professional judgement and to negotiate effectively.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

The perfect job is killing me

The heat is crushing as you stager towards the next sand dune. All around is nothing but desert stretching as far as the eye can see. Each movement forward takes four or five normal steps as the fine grains flow underneath your feet, draining the energy from your wearied limbs. And your throat, my god your throat is parched! You can feel every open taste bud on your rough tongue against the dry roof of your mouth. You look desperately for anything that might contain moisture but there’s nothing. Then, as you reach the top of the dune you see the oasis at the bottom and life springs eternal. Your soul soars and your spirit lifts. Your brain tricks your body into releasing the last bit of saliva to wet your mouth and you rush down to the watering hole only for it to disappear in a haze of heat and wishful thinking. Very much like finding the perfect job, only it’s in Coventry.

The perfect job exists, it isn’t like the Loch Ness monster or the Sasquatch of North America. It is out there it’s just very rare. You’ll be hunting through the jobs pages of the Guardian , Times or some such and you’ll come across the perfect job title, that perks your interest right up. Next you look for the salary and it’s more than you could have hoped for but not too much more that it puts the job beyond your reach. You begin to read and the job starts to sound better and better. I can do that, I’ve experience of doing exactly that in my last job, oh wow, I’m qualified for this role. Your soul soars and your spirit lifts. That’s when you see the last line – financial sector experience required or, this is a job share opportunity, or worst of all, based in Swindon.

Ok, so it’s based in Swindon, they are offering a car as part of the package, I could drive to see my friends every weekend. I’ll stay over on sofas and oh my god what am I saying. I’m not a student. If I move to Swindon I’ll have to live in Swindon. I’ll be making my life there. Maybe it won’t be so bad, it has got those roundabouts people talk about, on that salary I’m sure I’ll find somewhere out in the beautiful countryside to live, and commuting won’t mean being crow barred onto the tube each morning. I’ll probably have a blue Ford Mondeo and I can listen to Coldplay on my six CD changer system. That’s when you start to cry and the people around you in the cafe where you’re eating your sandwich and reading the paper look awkwardly in your direction, half of them in sympathy and the other half in disgust.

I’m being dramatic, of course I am, but the point stands true, finding the perfect job can be a tortuous and heartbreaking experience with much false-fill waiting to collapse instantly beneath you. Take care when it all sounds too good to be true. Consider the implications of moving away from your community of friends and family before applying for a role you are never going to take. The misery of not having a job can only be beaten by the misery of having a job in the wrong place. Finding the perfect job is killing me!

Friday, 20 February 2009

These fallow days are killing me

Today is one of those days unemployed people dread, the fallow day. I have no plans, no commitments, the shopping is done, I don’t need a haircut, I have no one to bug me and all my friends are at work. I don’t even have any mind bending drugs to distract me. It is surely because of the fallow days that people turn to crack or alcohol in the first place – to make the endless hours stretching out before us move along that little bit quicker.

There’s TV. There is always TV. Trisha, Fern and Phil and Jeremy Kyle. Why is it that we know these people by their first names? Actually I’m not going to go there. Not just because it’s been done a million times before but because there is a whole world of activities and knowledge and things to be learnt just waiting for each and every one of us. Me, I’m going to turn to cosmology and try to find out just how big the universe is and exactly how old it is – I think it’s about 14 billion years old but it’s always good to check. I have explored this before, I didn’t just wake up one morning knowing the age of the universe, but it’s important to know for sure. 14 billion used to sound like a big number until Government bail-outs upped the stakes to the trillions.

Banker: “how old is the universe? 14 billion. Pah! I lost that much by tea time yesterday.”

The fallow days are just the worst because they sap your energy, they force you into procrastinating and even go so far as to eke. Eking is the worst thing you can do (with the obvious exception of murder, torture and so forth) because you are passively wasting your precious time here on earth. We have such short life spans and so much to accomplish that eking is a crime against nature. The odds against each of us existing is incomprehensible! The quantum event that began the big bang, that the mathematical constants of the universe should be such that the universe neither flies apart too quickly or collapses in on itself, that a planet should be formed with just the right atmosphere and chemicals and distance from the sun that water could exist, that humans should evolve in just such a way that your parents met each other and that one sperm should make it through to the egg and here we are. Bang! An individual without a job.

Google almost makes it too easy to find an answer, perhaps that’s why it’s human nature to corrupt Wikipedia. Wikipedia should be a wonderful resource for all of human knowledge, that once we have written it all down and linked it up together we will discover wonderful new applications and inventions, but instead we prefer to purposefully fill it with nonsense and junk. Henry Miller, in his book ‘Tropic of Cancer’, exclaimed that when all of art is collected in one book and all the ideas have been done, then art would be dead. Perhaps this is why we avoid completing Wikipedia. Lord knows how the world of advertising would cope. Advertising company board rooms across the world would slump as their latest idea for selling us face cream could be found out by a click of a button. This is already happening to an extent. So the question is, can the human race run out of ideas and if so will we have to keep wiping our memories every ten years just to enable us to enjoy life.

”Ooh look the Mona Lisa, I haven’t seen that before. What a quirky smile she has.”

I read that the British Library is preparing a phenomenal project to scan all of the art in all of the galleries across Britain and put it online. What a terrible idea. Sure you can expose a lot more people to a lot more paintings, but you can only make them appreciate art less as they scroll through, like the posters in HMV as you flick casually past Metallica and Girls Aloud, perhaps pausing once because you thought you saw a bit of nipple. You didn’t. Carry on. I think I might write to them and tell them it’s a terrible idea. They could spend the money on something much more exciting like, an escalator to the moon.

Boy you can tell it’s a fallow day when I’m writing about escalators to the moon. I’ve got things to do, like the washing. And so it grinds on. These fallow days are killing me.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Signing on is killing me

I was there early for my nine am appointment with advisor number seven and dutifully joined the queue on the disabled access ramp, waiting for them to open. A similar experience, I should imagine, to joining the queue for the porn shop. Lots of men in shabby coats shuffling anxiously, looking down hoping not to be noticed, the odd hard-nosed weather beaten lady and the surprising cute chick who really doesn’t look like she should be there.

I’m here to find a job, the ‘job-seekers allowance’ as it’s now called – more famously the dole – is but an inconvenient truth to my situation. I’m not here to bludgeon off the state, I’m here to find work. As long as I keep telling myself that I can hold my chin up high in this line, high enough to check out the cute chick.

I won’t go through the boring details of the process, the complaints about finally seeing someone at 9.30 because, let’s face it, where else do I have to be. A recent text I sent to a friend read, “Dole. No plans”, simple, straightforward and crushingly true. My reflections on the process, as I type this, is that at no point did advisor number seven provide me with any hope that my situation would change, that a job was waiting around the corner for me. Rather there was a mutual understanding that I was doing all I could to get a job, she couldn’t think of any other areas I should try, and worst of all that my future was in the hands of fait.

The only completely stupid form I had to fill in was a residency form. Now I can understand why this needs to be filled in by non-UK citizens coming from abroad. It makes sense. But given that I have a UK passport, should I really have to fill this in just because I was away for the year? How many times can you write, “Because I was born in the UK 35 years ago,” or “I didn’t bring any possessions back with me because all my possessions are here. I live here. I own a property here.”?

So what do I get, apart from an untimely sense of the sword of Damocles and a reliance on a supreme being in whom I do not believe? I get a passport to helping me pay the mortgage through the local authority. I get £60 a week – not to be sniffed at, until you realise it costs £6 to make a return trip into London, £1.20 for a loaf of seeded bread (I’m saving the NHS money in the long run by eating seeds) and that as soon as I move back in I’ll have to pay, gas, electricity, internet and contents insurance. Well that’s the £60 gone, now for the mortgage and eating. Bugger.

Can signing on actually bring you down, destroy your self confidence and ultimately impact negatively on solving the problem – unlikely. For as I said in the beginning, I’m only here to help me find a job. So back to the websites and the newspapers with their false jobs created by agencies and their endless links to application forms even Superman would have trouble with.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Recruitment Agencies are killing me

How many jobs have you applied for over the internet that list only the recruitment agency representing the potential employer? And how many of those jobs were just right for you with a great salary in these tough times? And how many times have you actually been contacted by the company directly, taking the time to set out the job specification and location? Or rather do you then receive a call from the recruitment agency saying they like your CV and will you come in to talk with them? WHAT? WHERE’S THE F’ING JOB GONE?

A friend of mine once said that you have to remember these agencies are like estate agents, they don’t work for you they work for the employer. Oh, they might come across as your friend, as the plucky 23 year old working tirelessly on your behalf, but where’s the proof? Some of them are also very good looking which is rather distracting and really not fair at all. Friday is the best day to get an interview, by the way, because it’s dress down day – jeans and a sexy t-shirt. Damn it! No. I won’t be beguiled by their long flowing locks.

I’m registered with four agencies and I’m going to speak to one more tomorrow, only one of which has presented with some jobs and non of which has actually got anywhere. You have to phone them constantly in a vain attempt to get them to stay on top of it. An actual conversation with an Agency went like this:

“Did Craig (name changed) not put you forward for that job then?”
“No he bloody didn’t.”
“It’s absolutely right for you.”
“Yes I know (pulling my hair out). Can’t you do something?”
“Well I can put your CV forward.”
“Brilliant, what a genius you must be, I can see why you’re in this job. Well done.”

Ok, so I might not have been so obviously passive-enraged, you can’t, if they think you might be challenging them then they’ll put you on the naughty pile. And you aren’t getting off the naughty pile anytime soon. So you have to grit your teeth and swallow that ball of rage deep, deep down until you’ve put the phone down.

Nothing. No jobs. Joining an agency has meant nothing more than interviews in posh locations with pretty young girls who flaunt their ... damn it, there I go again. But you have to join because you just don’t know. They may have the greatest job in the world and it’s there waiting for you and the only thing that stands between you and your ultimate life-fulfilling goal is whether that spritely little upstart can remember that you might be suited, and then simply hope that they deign you worthy to be put forward.

So I continue to rack up these agencies, some I’ve forgotten that I’ve even joined. I’ve been interviewed by kids and I’ve smiled and worn a suit and I’ve told them what my perfect job is. Actually that’s a lie because oiling the Brazilian woman’s beach volleyball team might not go down to well with someone looking to place you in the redundant dusty corridors of some god awful local authority.

So the jobs disappear and the interviews keep happening. Yet still nothing positive has come from them. But we’re all trapped by them – I tried to get out but they keep calling me up. Isn’t it false advertising? Can’t something be done? Or maybe it’s just me – but I doubt it. If you read this and you’ve had a similar situation do let me know.

Application forms are killing me

It’s all a game, this applying for work and filling in application forms! The object is to fill the gap using as many of the key words listed in the person specification as possible. Take for instance my recent application to the Home office where I said:

“I was able to use the dedicated website monitoring tools to analyse activity and feedback in relation to specific symposia and website traffic in relation to posted comments. This allowed me to breakdown the statistics to show where I had been successful in promoting the website and encouraging feedback and where either more work or a different approach was needed.”

WTF does that mean? It makes sense in context with the application form which shows only that the application form is otherworldly. I know they have to try to make some sort of judgement on whom they should interview, but seriously, the most an application can show is how creative you can be in stretching the truth to meet the impossible categories set out by the employer:

“Delegates fairly while retaining overall responsibility.”

Or they might as well ask for, ‘parts the oceans without destroying the fragile eco-structure’.

Then they’ll list in the job specification:

“Actively engages others in equal opportunities and diversity issues”.

I’m tearing my hair out. What does this even mean?! ‘I always actively engage in equal opportunities and diversity issues by neither performing lynching nor burning down any churches, within the last five years’. Do I have to join the anti-Nazi league in order to prove I’m not a Nazi? No, of course not, that would be stupid. So how can I actively engage others in not distinguishing someone’s ethnicity as an issue? And why should they believe me? What right thinking person, Nazi or otherwise, is going to say in a job application form that actually they have a number of eugenics issues they feel still need to be addressed?

Filling in an application form is a skill, and all it highlights is that you are good at filling in application forms. It’s a travesty. I think any application form should be open ended with two main questions:

“Who are you, and, are you competent?” Then you should have five hundred words to demonstrate a sufficient answer.

I guess it all comes down to corporate culture. By knowing how to fill in an application form you are demonstrating that you are happy and competent to play the corporate game, to use the right words without having to demonstrate anything more than the briefest of actual thought – you may recognise this person as your boss. Which is why people who employ different ways of thinking about how to run a company are so sought after – just don’t put it in an application form.

And then there’s the question of why anyone would want to work there. Take the British Airways application form which asks you to say in 250 words, why you are attracted to the role. ‘Because it pays good money. That’s right. What do you want me to say – because I’m dying to be a part of a demonised industry that continues to pollute the planet. That I love peanuts and other airplane snacks, or just because I have always wanted to be a part of a faceless corporate giant with no real commitment to ‘colleagues’ who are expendable when times get tough. I have always wanted to be at risk of being sourced out or downsized or it’s just that I’m desperate to be the one to tell people they are being sacked. I just live for that look on their face when they realise they have a mortgage and school fees to pay.’

Filling in these application forms is killing me. It’s as if they are the shattered hole in the matrix that exposes the fragility of the world economic system – not that we haven’t been given enough clues of late. Can I really apply for a job that asks me to: Anticipate, build, respect, manage, promote, enforce; be pre-emptive, proactive, reactive, calm, resilient, concise, accurate, impartial, creative, efficient, probing, analytic, constructive, respectful, credible, collaborative and a leader – without lying?!

But I wanted to end on a positive note, and that is this – once you have jumped through all the hoops set out in employment law by HR professionals who might not have a job if the application procedure was any easier, and once you have passed the psychometric pseudo-science interview tests, and presented a presentation, and been grilled by three people and landed the job, well then you might just find you’re working with a lot of people just like you and nothing like the people who were required by the application form. Unfortunately many of these people may also be incompetent and make your life a misery. No. That can never happen, because the application form would have weeded them out! No?