Saturday, 30 May 2009

Wake up call

When I got the letter telling me I had to attend a ‘Back to Work’ session at the job centre I literally laughed out loud. Guffawed into my porridge. The very thought of sitting with a bunch of unskilled, lazy and let’s face it, probably grimy, people was, in my mind, entirely absurd. Without delay I called the office and explained in my most well-spoken manner that I really didn’t think there was any reason why I - a well-qualified graduate no less - needed to attend, and that I was quite alright searching for work on my own, many thanks all the same.

“It’s mandatory,” replied the voice. Ah, right then, better brace myself in that case.

I marched into the waiting area, praying that it would be a one-to-one so that I could quickly explain my situation and leave, only to be told gleefully by a ‘greeter’ that today’s was a group session. Great. I promptly dodged the camouflage-clad TA who were in situ trying to lure unsuspecting victims into a life of war games, and swiftly found a seat opposite a scruffy John Lennon look-alike. I could see the others out of the corner of my eye, all casually dressed, some sniffing into tissues – I almost had to ask for one, but managed to stifle the tears of humiliation.

When the session began I kept my head down and avoided all eye contact. It progressed well, just a bit of easy listening and stating of the obvious, nothing too taxing, over soon, I told myself.

Then a bombshell. The cheery women taking the session asked if anyone would like to share their work action plans with the rest of the group. Not one for sharing at the best of times, and certainly not under these circumstances, I kept schtum. “I’ll share,” piped up John Lennon. “Oh god this is going to be so depressing,” I inwardly moaned.

“I work in social care and I’m also an artist, so I’m looking for work within the voluntary sector. I’m currently volunteering for a charity and hopefully they will be able to give me some paid work soon. In my spare time I teach art to youth groups in the city.”

My head slowly rose so I could take a long look at this man. What did he just say? Before I could think anymore about it a second voice:

“I’ll go next,” said the guy sitting next to me, whom I’d written off as an out of work bouncer about 20 minutes ago. “I’m a gas engineer, so I lay new gas pipelines and do maintenance work on existing ones. I’m also a qualified builder, so my next plan is to contact the 2012 Olympic contractors to try and get some work on the site.”

Wow, I didn’t see that coming. “I’ll read,” hollered another man sitting at the end of the table. “I used to work in public procurement, but work has dried up of late, so now I’m looking to be a project manager in a related field. I’m still in touch with my old employers and they are helping me find work.”

I continued to hold my head up for the remainder of the hour.

The three men who were gracious enough to speak to the rest of us were qualified, articulate and humble. And I was surprised. Then ashamed.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Women of our time

Here’s something I realised the other day amid the daily panic and impending sense of despair that often takes hold around 10am – I figured out exactly which generation of women I am going to belong to when they write today’s history books.

You know, there were the suffragettes in the early 1900s to whom we owe our right to vote, the original ‘keep calm and carry on’ band of fearless females in the war-time 40s, the punk rockers who raged against the establishment and embraced mullets in the 80s, and now I know where I will fit into this historical female spectrum:

I will be a Recessionista!

I am a Recessionista. We, ladies, are all Recessionistas.

And so I declare to my friends and to all the 20-something good women of this country in the loudest voice I can muster via the written word: Even though you might be lucky enough to still have your jobs, we’re all going through this veritable wine drought, this time of consumer guilt and this period of waist belt tightening together. We stand and we unite at Stitch n Bitch, at the all-new Women’s Institute and on our Staycations. For one day in the not too distant future, we will be able to buy Kurt Geiger shoes again and feel the pinch on our feet rather than in our wallets, we will be able to increase our guilt-ridden carbon footprints on long-haul flights to salubrious destinations and we will also know how to knit, how to mend a broken drain pipe, how to bake banana cake and how to grow our own tomatoes.

We are the Recessionistas and we will rise again. More skilled this time, but with and equal if not heightened passion for shoes.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Shake it

Goddamnit. So the second-round interview I prepared my bloody arse off for this week will not, it has transpired, be leading to a window back into employment. For most people, such rejection tends to prompt a thorough post mortem of the entire interview to determine where might one have slipped up or what one could have phrased better, etc.

In my case, this is futile. I already know the exact moment - on entering the interview room and reaching across a table to greet my potential employer - that I wasn’t going to be offered the position. Why? I did the finger grab. The finger grab: a half handshake reserved, in my opinion, for the weak and pointless. OH MY GOD. How did this occur?

Having dissected the 0.3 seconds of aforementioned dexterous error, I have deduced that it was an unfortunate combination of a deceptively large table, the interviewers reluctance to reach too far for fear of his rather tight shirt popping out the top of his trousers and my lack of spatial awareness.

These are not excuses, you understand. Nothing can excuse a bad handshake. I interviewed an expert on the subject a couple of years ago who told me: “Even though a handshake is supposed to be a symbol of equality, one false move and it can turn into a battle for power and dominance.” Interviewers form vital opinions of you on your handshake. One false move and it’s history.

How a momentary action can hold such huge significance is somewhat angst inducing, but if you can recognise the potential areas for tripping up it’ll be much easier to avoid them in the future.

And now... for your comic and cringe-worthy pleasure, the pitfalls.

  • The crusher: By being too aggressive you’ll come across as a bit of a dominatrix.

  • The limp fish: Antithesis of above and equally disastrous as it conveys weakness and lack of personality.

  • The wet one: Clammy palms suggest nervousness and are pretty unpleasant for the recipient.

  • The over-eager: The only outcome of going overboard on the pumps will be someone’s sore right arm - not a wise move.

  • The glove: Trying to appear overly trustworthy by placing the left hand over the top of the handshake wont wash. Normally reserved for politicians - you get the picture.

  • The drifter: No eye contact makes you look indifferent and uninterested - avoid.

So what’s the magic formula? Be firm, but don’t grip, keep the angle neutral, check your palms are dry and always make eye contact - and an awareness of table width, I’m sure, wouldn’t hurt either.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Keeping it in the family

It’s not often I get out onto a motorway these days, which is generally a good thing. It's like being stuck in a monotonous, grey time warp from the moment you glide off the slip lane until you reach your exit junction. Alas, last weekend’s mini-break to the Forest of Dean required the use of a very long, boring stretch of highway, so for once there was no avoiding it.

Having exhausted our collection of CDs, I was about to nod off in the passenger seat when a colossal, blue articulated vehicle caught my eye. And not because of its gargantuan size or its proximity to our tiny Corsa, but because the name blazoned across its side read: BULL Transport.

Bull transport! If all else fails maybe they would hire me as a lorry driver! I mean, they couldn’t shun one of their own in her time of need, could they?

This prompted me to find out what other members of my extended family could potentially employ me. I found:

  • Bull Public Relations, in Windsor – great, almost on my doorstep;

  • Bull & Company Estate Agency, in St Ives – fractionally further a field but doable;

  • Bull Information Systems, in Ireland – would have to move;

  • Bull & Co intellectual property law firm – based in Norway, which is perhaps a little drastic.

But a multitude of possibilities! And if all else fails I suppose Red Bull could be my back up option...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Because we're worth it

The headlines tonight:






So, unemployment has reached 2.2 million. And benefit claims rose in April from 57,100 to 1.51 million. Good, well my benefit guilt has certainly come back to haunt me, if not the impending sense of doom and despair.

2.2 million. What does that even look like? The entire population of Paris, if that helps.

I blogged recently about feeling lonely. Today I don’t feel lonely, I actually feel a sense of solidarity, part of a big club that no one wants to join but more inevitably will. I want to talk to the other 2,199,999 million people who have lost their jobs in this recession. I want to meet them and ask them how they feel. Do they, like me, ever feel guilty and worthless without a job?

As I’m certain is the way for many, my career is a large part of what defines me as a person. I’ve worked hard to build it up, just to have it blown down in a stiff, south-easterly breeze I’m certain prevailed from somewhere near Canary Wharf...or Wall Street.

Sometimes I look at my friends and peers, I see them flourishing in their chosen professions and I feel cheated.

Often I have to remind myself that it’s my job I have lost and not my career – there’s a big difference. My career will always remain with me, and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be building it back up again.

Friday, 8 May 2009

A game of numbers

Trying to land a job is exactly like trying to land a man.

If you think about it, the parallels between job interviews and dating are uncanny. Here are a few examples:

First impressions

JOB: The all-important outfit, smile and handshake combo is a vital stage in the interviewer being able to decide if you’re a fit for the company.

DATE: The all-important outfit, smile and handshake/kiss combo is a vital stage in the man being able to decide if you’re fit and a bit of what he fancies.

The chat

JOB: Making eye contact, being expressive and confident, bigging yourself up without sounding self-obsessed, making your prospective employer laugh – all qualities that will help you to shine when going for that dream job.

DATE: Making eye contact, being expressive and confident, bigging yourself up without sounding self-obsessed, making your prospective partner laugh – all qualities that will help you to shine on that dream date.

The waiting game

JOB: Did they like me? Will they call? Am I going to get a second interview? Should I call them first – just to check – or should I just be patient?

DATE: Did he like me? Will he call? Am I going to get a second date? Should I call him first – just to check – or should I just be patient?


And then there’s the juggling conundrum. If, like me, you’ve forgotten how many jobs you’ve applied for over the past few weeks because there have been so many, it’s likely they will now be at different stages of assessment. Some you’ve yet to hear from, some may have invited you for a first interview, some you will have been to and are waiting to hear about a second, and so on. You weigh up the pros and cons, work out the best commutes, and consider the impact each could have on your life.

This perfectly mirrors the way we are when dating men. You juggle potential dates, first dates, second dates and maybe even going-nowhere dates just to give yourself more options. You weigh up the good points, the bad points, how easy it’ll be to get to his place, what his friends will be like etc. And the bottom line is no man need know there are any others on the scene. Although chances are he’s doing the same thing. Just like potential employers are.

It’s all just a big game of numbers at the end of the day, right?

Friday, 1 May 2009


“… And then next door’s cat did the funniest thing – she launched herself into a bush in a failed attempt to catch me a bird! I knew the bird was a present for me because I’d just been stroking her tummy for ages. Anyway, two letters came for you in the post. Mum called me at around lunchtime and I found three more jobs I’m going to apply for. I think the washing machine has broken and by the way I drank all the milk, oh and ...”

Have you ever thought about the number of people you speak to, even just say good morning, in an average day? My bet is you wouldn’t be able to remember them all. I could be having three conversations at once while simultaneously signing for the day’s deliveries at my old work and would consider it perfectly normal behaviour.

Slowly but surely, what I’ve come to notice now that working in an office is no longer part of my daily routine, is that I hardly talk at all during the day. So little in fact that when my partner gets home I can’t stop the banal diatribe that hurtles from my mouth and into his ears.

I get excited if the postman rings the bell, because it means I can interact with someone – albeit for 30 seconds. A few words and a smile from the sales guy in Costcutter is a great pick-me-up. Making phone calls also prompts much enthusiasm. Although I have to remember to clear my throat before trying to speak – otherwise all my vocal chords can produce is an unintelligible croak.

It’s lonely, this business.