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Monday, 30 April 2007

"The times they are a-changin'" Bob Dylan

It's temporal displacement time again. I have said before that I think recruitment consultants work in a different time dimension than those who consider themselves normal people, working to GMT or some other internationally accepted variant. They, consultants, have a different take on time to the rest of us and for them it matters not one jot whether an eon passes between getting back to us to talk about opportunities in outer Mongolia or some other far flung place like Carmarthen. Whole species can have evolved and become extinct before a return phone call. My theory on the end of the dinosaurs is that they were told to wait by a recruitment consultant because "he'd be back in a minute" and they starved to death.

However there is another temporal shift going on now. I am in my sixth week of unemployment, though I do now have a part-time job (that's 14.5 hours a week MAX Job Centre guys if you are reading) that should keep me going for another six weeks or so. I am now honing the new routine of being unemployed, looking for work and carrying out a part- time job.

The thing is though, that time is shifting. You see I used to hang on until 1pm to eat my lunch at work even though I was so hungry by that time that I could have eaten my notebook and several of the 250 rubber bands that seemed to have mysteriously found their way into my desk drawer. This acted as watershed for the day; after that, going home time (6.30 to 7.00pm) would be that much nearer and more achievable. Dinner may or may not have been with the family and by the time the dishes were washed, next day's sandwiches made and coffee drunk it was easily 9pm. Evening life didn't start until then.

But now lunch has been pulled forward to 1200 over the last few weeks. I am beginning to think anxiously about food around 1145 and sandwich preparation might be starting at 1150. Dinner is now around 6pm, with the family, and the dishes cleared by 7pm at the latest. By flinging a small child bodily off the Mac at 8pm I can catch up with emails and the like much earlier. At this rate of meal pull-forward, by the summer holidays (if I am still unemployed by them) lunch will be at 10am, dinner at 2pm and the bottle of wine will be opened at 4pm (though that's not such a bad idea come to think of it) and we will be several days ahead of ourselves. By July 1st we will be on July 7th's meal times. Breakfast will be taken the night before.

Part-time job time is different as well. I've stopped wearing a watch and my battered Filofax lies unloved and forlorn. Three months ago I was filling in the many appointments and meetings in pencil, altering and amending them to meet the changing circumstances, being dynamic and flexible as a senior manager in International DooDads. Now the pages are empty except for "sign on at Job Centre" and "dentist 0750". And I forgot to go to the dentist in any event. After I grovelled and promised never, ever to miss another appointment they let me off with 50 lines and gave me another appointment - at 0750 next week. I accepted it and it was only after I had walked most of the way home I wondered why? I mean, I am not at work so why am I taking a 0750 appointment? I could have wandered in at say, 1130, and been home making my lunch at 1145 (see, time is creeping again, it does this if you are not careful).

It's the same with the part-time job. I can work from home much of the time (research and analysis if you must know) and log my hours accordingly. Without the stricture of office hours, turning up and spending 50% of the day chatting to colleagues and whinging about your other colleagues, I am working at very odd times. A few hours here, a half morning there, even a full day next week. So as I do not fall foul of the lovely people at the Job Centre I have to call a halt at certain times of the week and postpone work until the following week. Then start again. Try logging this work pattern with the Job Centre. Believe me they do not have any way at all to cope with this. Not one form in the many, many forms we looked at last week can record this working style. "Does not compute" they shriek and then their heads spin on their axes (they aren't armed - my wife tells me this is the plural of axis) and pop off onto the floor smoking and whirring. So as not to cause them any more distress I am therefore "signing off" for the next 6 weeks as neither party can cope with the bureaucracy involved in trying to sort this out. I'll just have to go through the whole signing-on process all over again.

Other people now have to cope with my time. When the optician called to say my new glasses were ready I was in the shop waiting as they put the phone down to me. Library calls to say my "ordered books are ready for collec...oh it's you already Mr Eyes on the Prize" as I hand over my library card at the desk. I had a call last week from an independent pension adviser acting for one of my pathetically tiny pension funds. 'Can we see you to discuss your pension?" they asked. "Yes" I said "what time and date?" "Oh we have slots from 0830 to 2000hrs every day, each day". "Right" I said "tomorrow at 0830". "Let me just confirm that Mr Eyes - that's 8pm in a week's time." They found it hard to understand that I really DID mean tomorrow at 0830. When people ask "what time is convenient" and I say "any time" they find it really difficult to cope with this level of flexibility compared, I suppose, to customers demanding all sorts of obscure times to suit their busy lifestyle. "No" they cry "you must be really difficult and obnoxious so we can be awarded our employee of the month dealing with idiots award and send email recordings of your telephone aggression around the company." But not me, not right now. My time has been feng shui'd into a calm, relaxed haven of peace and tranquility.

So what shall I do now?
I think I'll go for a walk into town.
Or wash the car.
No it's 1130 and lunch time.

Monday, 23 April 2007

"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." Newton's third law. It ain't necessarily so.

Newton's third law is one of the immutable laws of physics (if I remember my Physics "O" level course well enough).
It states that: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."

I say: do HR departments and recruitm
ent agencies know this?

I have been studying many advertisements for jobs recently. Call me Sherlock Holmes. These range from the super jobs on the first page of the jobs sections of the "heavy" newspapers to the mid-range jobs further on in the pecking order of jobs. I have deselected myself from the '£100,000 per week, plus bonus, plus company helicopter, divorce lawyer, free photographs of your children updated monthly otherwise you will forge
t what they look like, must sign Faustian contract" job adverts and not yet looked at those jobs in the classified ads that read "Sls mgr req, mst be able to txt, gr8 opps, £OTE 46p daily. Sth coast." Not yet anyway.

Jobs adverts, as you will have noticed, are written in a code. Some are easy to understand, others are impenetrable. The mo
re more obscure job codes remind me about the messages the BBC broadcast on the wireless during the war (I want to point out that I read about this, I am not that old) to our agents in occupied Europe. They went something like this; 'Elephants like dandelion and burdock. Play mouse catch", "Lemons are walking, tie the lace" and "Attack the sub pens at St Nazaire tonight at 8pm".

This is why Newton's third law may not apply to HR departments and recruitment agencies. If they want a reaction then they have to give you, the job seeker, a way to react. Many ads seem to be designed precisely to stop you responding to the advert as you can't decode them in the first place. Some examples therefore. Have a look at "Marketing" - in the jobs section huge one page adverts are taken out by recruitment agencies advertising multiple jobs, perhaps 10 to 15 per page. But they do not; tell you the name of the client, the salary (it's always £competitive), where the job is (the hemisphere would be a start), what the job involves (other than you have to be a team player, GSOH, like working in a mad environment, work all hours, have no other benefits, no life whatsoever outside work). How do you respond to an advert like that? Easy, you don't.

Another two examples. I have signed up to several on-line recruitment web sites like "Monster", "Wrong jobs", "Cannot send you jobs that in any way match your criteria that you set out in your profile" and so on. One actually sent me a job that matched my profile (fell off seat) BUT did not tell you the salary or the location. Email for more information it said. I did asking "is it commutable from where I live?", not an unreasonable question I feel. Two weeks later and I'm still waiting. Another one gave no indication of the size or type of company although it did actually locate the general area to a land mass in the Northern Hemisphere. All it talked about was the functional requirement of the post."Pretty please tell me about the company, size and scale." Silence.

I have therefore developed a law of job adverts called the Eyes on the Prize law (TM).
The law states that the "likelihood of getting a quality response from the organisation or recruitment agency is in inverse proportion to the amount of decoding necessary to find out what the hell sort of person they want to recruit in the first place." Now, as I want to be rich and famous and be invi
ted to speak about my new law at prestigious venues around the world,
I have produced a model to describe my law.

It is a standard 4 box array based on two axis, X and Y. You can see my theory in all it's glory at above. Here goes - the law.

The X axis depicts the Quality of the advert (decoding necessary to respond to it) running from poor quality at the bottom (i.e. impenetrable and thus rubbish) to high at the top (i.e. you know the client, the salary, the location and what the job entails).
The Y axis depicts the Quality of response from the recruiter. At the far left it is Poor
(Silence, poorly written rejection email, ask for SAE for response) . At the far right the Quality of response is High (they write back, they let you know the format for interviews, you get polite rejection letters) .

If you are still with me then you can now plot the Eyes on the Prize law based on the advert and response. But we need more.
We need to now have a descriptor for each of the four boxes.
I have based my descriptor on the quality of alcohol bought as a student at University - I am forever mentally scarred by the low standards of beer based on a restricted student income.

In the bottom left hand corner: low response and low quality advert - we call this Watney's Red Barrel. You had to have run out of your grant and be desperate to buy this rubbish - looks like cold tea, tastes of yeast.

Top left quadrant: High quality of advert but low quality of response- we call this Hirondelle red wine. Shows a naive sophistication at the moment but has promise.

In the bottom right hand quadrant: low quality advert but higher quality response - we call this Mateus Rose. A small step up from Hirondelle and also made a great candle holder and light stand as well in thousands of student bedsits.

Finally top right hand quadrant: high response and high quality advert - we call this New Zealand sparkling wine, method champenoise.

So you can now plot Quality of Advert by Response, categorise them and have useful descriptors as well. And, just like my student days, most of mine seem to be Watney's Red Barrel. Still you could always buy a Watney's Party 7 - 7 pints in one tin. Yum.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

"even then...eternity would scarcely have begun." J Joyce, "A portrait of an artist as a young man".

Let me share this with you if you don't already know it. It still makes my head hurt.
"You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness; and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air; and imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away. And if the bird came again and carried it away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could have said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun."

James Joyce. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Well it's a bit like that when you are unemployed. After the first three weeks or so of being busy now it's the waiting time. I am the the pile of sand that Joyce refers to, though more of a sandcastle sized pile really. Everything is now about waiting and learning whole new ways of being patient.

Waiting for:
  1. The jobs section every week in the papers.
  2. A position that one can reasonably apply for.
  3. New jobs on the on-line recruitment web pages.
  4. The mortgage protection policy provider to pay out.
  5. Any, any recruitment consultant to answer emails or messages left on their voicemail ever. I reserve a special place in Recruitment Consultants' Hell for these people. It will be particularly fiendish.
  6. Interviews.
  7. Feedback from interviews.
  8. Feedback from the submitted applications. Public sector applications have an astonishingly lengthy process. Six weeks to submit a dazzlingly complex application form (I do not remember how many "O" levels I got as I cannot find the certificates and why do they want to know the grades?) and then a "if you do not hear from us in 10 years you may assume your application was unsuccessful."
  9. Application forms to come. It's amazing how many web links do not work.
  10. Rejections - most applications just "disappear" and I refer you to point 5. This is like the error message in Excel, 'cannot resolve circular argument'.
  11. Call backs from people you are trying to network with.
  12. Responses from those people you used to know quite well when you worked but now don't respond to emails, phone calls, pleading or begging.
  13. To sign on at the Job Centre.
  14. To get a different form from the Job Centre.
  15. Even the traffic seems to conspire against me though I accept that this may now be sign of faint paranoia.
I could go on. I have gone on. The point I'm making with this very blunt tool is that there is nothing you can do about it except be very, very patient. I used to kick and scream and find it all very disheartening but now I know you have to work with the system, for what it is. When you are in work this is what most of us do to job seekers.

"I put it to you, as defendant in the dock, that you have willfully, and regularly ignored phone calls, CVs and attempts at networking whilst in your last job sending them off to HR or putting them directly into the bin thus causing exactly the same emotional response as you are feeling now. That is correct is it not? Answer my question, yes or no".

I suspect that for most of us the answer is yes, that's how we treated other attempts from other people when they were seeking employment so it's hardly surprising that is what happens to us.

So wait. If you don't hear anything after submitting an application (certainly after two weeks) it's a goner, move on, if people won't call back find new contacts, look for other sources of jobs, follow up network contacts but after a reasonable time (remember they have jobs and therefore very important meetings to go to and then do nothing), go for a walk, get fit. Do something.

Don't wait passively is my advice (if you've been waiting for any and it's taken ages to come what with all that Joyce stuff) but wait positively and actively. Because one day someone will ask you "what have you been doing with all this time?" And they won't wait for an answer.

Friday, 6 April 2007

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Polonius in Hamlet and he was a gloomy one as well.

It's not the first two weeks of unemployment that bring home the reality of what has happened and the mountain that must be climbed, it's week three when it gets difficult. After that sombre opening - some gratuitous positive statements and then a cup of tea. Well, I am British and, as we know, a cup of tea solves everything from being a little down after a busy day to dealing with the after effects of a nuclear war. I love those asides you hear when someone says "there's nothing worse than a [fill in blank here] stain on shirt/spilling a drop of coffee/running out of milk in the evening/seeds not germinating." Oh yes there is - try a tsunami for starters, though living in central England as I do, that comes under the "possible but not likely heading".

The first two weeks comprise quite a bit of denial and a fair amount of busy, busy, work, work. Got to knock the CV into shape, tell friends and acquaintances of your new situation, tell your Mum and Dad (three times), email all those networking contacts, find the business cards for those networking contacts so you can actually email them, sign on at the Job Centre, answer all those personal questions about your life, fill in more forms than you normally see in 6 months (10 pages + 12 additional photocopies for mortgage protection insurance alone and now they want 6 more), log on to and upload CV to Monster/totaljobs/fish-for-jobs/trawl-desperately-for-jobs/
you-know-I'll-do-any-thingatall-jobs-including cleaning-Raglan-sewers-again-jobs
(although that would be a sort of job job on reflection). There's also the tasks around the house that you now have the odd hour for and can now complete and, gosh, the garden hasn't looked that good for years has it?

I met a man the other day. Early 50's, been unemployed for seven weeks now, first time in his life, 18 years with the same company and then "let go". Hurl. Hadn't done a thing to look for a job so far. Walks the dog twice a day, wife asks to him to go out because it's upset her routine, thinks he ought to start looking for a new job soon. At this point I feel like a grizzled veteran from a Second World War movie, like John Wayne or Audie Murphy, watching the fresh troops move up to the front line with their shiny rifles and wearing their newly pressed combat clothes. You know the sort of thing, Big John spits out his disreputable cheroot, wipes his filthy brow with the back of his hand and snarls "most'll be dead in two days". These men, Big John and Audie, are combat vets, they've seen all the action and can smell a fresh recruit from a mile away. Yep, it's just like that at the Job Centre.

What happens now is that it goes deathly quiet. You may have submitted several CVs for likely looking jobs, perhaps talked to some recruitment consultants and attracted their attention for all of two minutes, maybe even had your first rejection. But now all that early work is complete. This is the time when it gets very hard indeed to keep motivated until you find the new routine of job searching to replace the old routine of actually having a job. But you will find that new routine because you have to. You have to adapt. When someone asks how you are, they do not really want to know that you are totally brassed off and could cheerfully roast a member of staff from the Job Centre over an open fire. What you really need to be is positive, not elaborate on the circumstances, and just make sure that they know you are still looking and maybe they can refer you to someone who might be able to help (that's a newly learned tip, see even the vets need new ammunition). Oh, and ask them do they have any matches?

I have discovered that you are very unlikely to find an old oil lamp that you can rub and then find a genie popping out telling you that you have three wishes. Actually I did find one once but wasted two wishes asking for two KitKats when I realised that I could have just used one wish to ask for a four-finger bar. It is a very true and pithy aphorism that states "finding a new job is a job in itself." I'm spending a minimum of two hours a day, starting at 0700, working on the job hunt. Some days I spend all day and then worry it is not enough. I have to share this valuable point: don't apply for jobs (not yet anyway) that you are not qualified for and wouldn't want in any event. It's bad enough being rejected so why increase the number of rejections to make yourself feel even more worthless and unwanted? Q. Why do people get low paid jobs? A. They apply for them.

I've had some terrific advice from some great people across the world e.g. get out of the bathroom someone else is waiting. No, some truly great advice from people who I didn't know before (and haven't met and may never meet) but are willing to try and help. There are some who have helped shaped my CV and given me interview tips, others that have suggested adapting my networking skills and suggested books to read. Having this community of empathetic people is a great morale booster. What isn't a great morale booster are people bemoaning the fact to me that their bonus is only paying out 95% and they may have to drop that fifth holiday later this year. I have a word, indeed several, for those sort of occasions. I won't share those with you. Others have commented on this blog about the Job Seekers' Allowance (a non sequitur, as there isn't one if you have more than 5p in life savings) and undertaking part-time work - although I may have solved this out by finding some part-time work that more than compensates for the JSA that I'm not getting in the first place.

The score after three weeks unemployment.
2 interviews - 1 rejection, one offer of part time work for three months. To be confirmed next week.
1 vague possibility of a few weeks work far, far away in another galaxy - and if this comes off I'll eat my Job Seekers' Allowance.
2 further jobs applied for, no feedback
2 further jobs, work in progress
50 networking emails sent - some limited feedback with a sort of job offer in a city 150 miles away for 60% lower salary than I had been earning. Bit of a mismatch I feel.
278 versions of my CV produced (OK, some exaggeration perhaps)

"The best of times the worst of times." If you knew that this would last seven months and then a wonderful job would come along wouldn't that be great? Except that you don't know how long it's going to take Polonius said, sort of, good or bad, only thinking makes it so. No genie, no wishes so you might as well be positive.