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Wednesday, 27 June 2007

"You never write, you never call"

I don't know whether to send this email or not. It won't make the slightest bit of difference but let's treat it as an open letter to all you recruitment consultants out there who act like this - and there are many of you.

"You may recall speaking to me about the above position suggesting that you may be interested in me as a candidate and also giving me some feedback on my CV that I had submitted. You suggested that I use a professional CV writer and resubmit the CV which I did.

I have heard nothing from you since despite a further email asking for an update.
Perhaps you will now let me give you some feedback.
You queried the structure of my CV for a senior position. You suggested I spend £400 having my CV rewritten and, having done all that, you do not have the courtesy to let me know what the status of my application is. I am querying your professional courtesy and processes when conducting searches for senior personnel.

I find your sort of attitude amongst recruitment consultants sadly widespread. In my experience there are very few recruitment consultants that I would rate as excellent - you are not one of them. You would not, on the basis of this experience, even merit a mediocre score.

Compare your dilatory approach with this response I had recently for another very senior position.

"Thank you very much indeed for your expression of interest in this position. If we are able to include you on our short list, we will try to get back to you by July 13th to discuss the next steps. If you haven't heard from us, say by July 27th, please assume that on this occasion your name will not have been put forward: we will have received, in those circumstances applications from others who match the profile more closely."

See the difference?

I now know that the CV has been received, when I might expect a response and the final cut off date after which I can forget all about the application. What has it cost? A cut and paste from a template and an insertion of the name into an email. Two minutes? And you do not have 2 minutes for a potential candidate?

Please do not claim workload for the lack of response either. I ran an operation comprising 400 people moving 3000 cars a day and I always responded to all my staff, clients and suppliers. I did not have a PA either.

I read this statement about your consultancy - "{name} has a strict ethical policy with business procedures to ensure our service to clients is exemplary." Shame that doesn't extend to the candidates.

I do not expect a response from you. You have already displayed your lack of courtesy."

So do I send it? Do you recognise yourself?

And an update. After almost three weeks sitting in my email drafts I sent the note. Within one hour I got a reply from the consultant's PA. "He has sent you details to the client and he's on holiday until the 12th of never." Sniff.
So I replied:
"Thank you for neatly proving my point. You clearly have access to his email and you haven't replied to me when I requested an update two weeks ago. Even if you missed that email you clearly know his movements, know what he has done with my details with the client and still and haven't bothered to let me know what is going on after 16 working days. I wonder how much longer it would have taken you to contact me."
It will achieve nothing but it feels so good to fight back against this shoddy behaviour.

Monday, 25 June 2007

"I was taught to fight, taught to win, I never thought I could fail", Peter Gabriel, Don't give up

Oddly enough it really brought home to me unemployment last week when my company car was taken back. That marked the end of my three month's notice period and the day when I broke my previous record for being out of work - exactly three months before I started a new job. Now I'm on my fourteenth week and, to be honest, it's getting tougher. In fact I am hacked off this week.

I like to keep a sense of perspective on all of this. No one has died, we have still got reserves of money to survive for a while, the house is not in danger of being repossessed, Social Services are not assessing the welfare of the kids and so on. But.
It is harder to remain positive some days when you get knocked back yet again or even wonder what to do during the day to pass the time.

So what emotions are thriving here?

Guilt. I remember an episode of the Simpsons when Bart is struggling in school to pass an exam - he says plaintively at one point something along the lines of "this is the best I can do". I feel like that. I've networked, sent in CVs for jobs, revised my CV several times, targeted likely looking organisations, put my CV on the web, signed up to Linkin/Monster/Total Jobs, contacted recruitment consultants that specialise in my industry and...nothing. I feel there is more I should be doing, must be missing something and it can gnaw away at you in the background trying to find that extra angle. Maybe this is the best I can do. That is worrying as it not getting me a job to support my family - that brings in large dollops of guilt when you have to say "No we can't afford that, go there, pay for you to do what your friends are doing" and so on. See why I feel guilt?

Tension. Tension? But you are not doing anything how can you be tense? Try this. Clench both fists and keep them like that all day and release them at night. That's the best way to describe the tension. No, it is not like a demanding day in the A&E at your local hospital, or fighting in Iraq with the British Army. But it makes you tense and, like guilt above, can work in the background to slowly bring you down.

Desire to consume. We are not starving, we are paying the bills, we have a small car. This is not poverty. In the context of what we could do in the recent past, what everyone around us does, we are no longer able to afford to do very much. Not having much money drastically reduces your choices. Mind you I am walking a lot more these days and my bike sees a lot more of the town than it ever used to. Now my wife and I discuss what we will buy this month. Priority purchases, secondary purchases and an entry in the WIGAJ (see an earlier blog for a fuller explanation) ledger.

Rejection. Let me tell you I've been rejected from better jobs than yours - I feel like saying that when the rejection letter comes through the door/email - if one even turns up at all. I am still being selective when applying for positions. There is absolutely no point in applying for a job that you are not qualified to do. I broke this rule recently when a vacancy came up in the town where I live about a mile from my house. I was, shall we say, tangentially qualified for the role, so sent in a CV anyway. What the hell, nothing ventured nothing gained and all that; got rejected. Anyway, I had to do it, you understand. Be prepared for rejection as, for most of us, there is a lot of it about.
My part time job comprises a lot of telephone research calling senior people in organisations to ask their views on something that is considered important by the client but not by the person being researched. To get 30 telephone interviews took calls to over 150 companies and involved about 300 telephone calls in total (they were out/not available/busy and so on). That's about a 1 in 10 success rate which (blush modestly) is pretty good apparently. Except that the 120 organisations that said no rejected me. A psychiatrist friend opined that this was like the Caesars taking small doses of poison deliberately every day to build up their resistance to being poisoned. Her theory was that small doses of rejection on a regular basis help me build up a large scale resistance to job rejections on an irregular basis. Nice try but I clearly need to be rejected more often then as it ain't working very well.

Boredom. Remember as a child those long Sundays in Winter with the rain streaming down (much like June so far this year) and being totally bored to the depths of your soul? The only entertainment available was the radio with "World Wide Family Favourites" at lunch time and "Sing Something Simple" in the evening"? I feel depression coming on just recalling those days. Anyway you'd say to your Mum "I'm bored what can I do?" and she would reel off 25 ways to creatively pass the time that sounded just as boring as the "I am so bored that I am no longer able to find a way not to be bored" form of boredom. It isn't quite like that but motivation does become harder as unemployment goes on. It is a sort of learned helplessness that you have to fight to avoid inertia.

Moaning. That is what you end up doing, moaning, and it makes not the slightest bit of difference. Except friends try and gauge your mood before they talk to you and edge away nervously if they suspect a tirade of "It's not fair, we can't go to the USA for a month this year and please do not park your SUV gas guzzler next to my 1985 Trabant as it raises the tone of the neighbourhood."

Catharsis. I feel so much better for all of that so onto another subject.

Is this a scam? I was contacted by a recruitment agency in London the other day. "Interested in you for this very senior position, like to do a telephone the sound of you...may put you forward... but small problem. Your CV is not really what we would expect for a senior position, needs some professional work and I suggest this CV writing agency (names name). Have them rewrite your CV and send it to me". I look at the CV writers web site - £400 for a professionally written CV! Sorry about the ! but I felt it really needed one at that point. Naturally I did not pay £400, rewrote the CV with some free professional help and sent it in. Naturally I have heard nothing since. If the recruitment consultant has a deal going with the CV writer and takes a commission every time he successfully recommends a client to them (who he may have no intention of recommending them for the job in the first place) then this is a nice little earning opportunity. And who could ever prove otherwise? Perhaps that is too cynical of me but, in retrospect, it just didn't ring true. Logically my original CV must have worked to the point that he could see that my background and experience might have been suitable so why would I need another?

Mustn't grumble. As Fred Astaire sang I have to "Pick myself up, dust myself down and start all over again".

Monday, 18 June 2007

"I'm in love with my car, gotta feel for my automobile", Queen, I'm in love with my car

She's gone. There's just a blank space where she used to be. We spent so long together, so many experiences, so many places and now she's with another.

My car that is. My company car. It went on Friday, collected from me, after the end of my three month's notice period, along with my mobile phone, fuel card, epaulets and with my sabre broken in half in front of me. This is quite a defining moment. Now that really does draw a line under the last job and totally cuts me free from them. I had intended to use the car on the last day of use and drop it off at the HQ (that would have felt very, very weird) but plans got changed so I got them to come and collect it. Well the HQ is in the middle of nowhere and it would have been easier to escape from Alcatraz than find public transport that actually went somewhere you wanted to go to at the time you wanted to go there. "Well we do go through Much Deriding at 0600 to get to the ewe tupping market and then onto Little Caring for the 'stare at the stranger in the village' morning at 2142 if that is any help me love?"

You have to be careful with company cars though. At my last company it went through regular financial crises, like once a month. At one board (bored) meeting the Financial Director suggested scrapping company cars, as a cost saving exercise, and replacing them with a monthly cash allowance. You could have heard a pin drop when he announced this. I mean, for most company car drivers you could reduce their salary by 75%, take away all fringe benefits, make them work 24/7 and sell their family into slavery and you would get less fuss than if you tried to take their company car away from them. We didn't change the car policy and he never got invited to any company social event ever again.

It's only a car after all so I'm not getting maudlin about it (or should that be too maudlin, leather seats, aircon, central locking, cruise control - I miss them so much.). We'll manage in Mrs EotP's little run about for the time being. However it is 10 years or more since we were without two vehicles and, in just two days, I'd forgotten about our new status and went to go out today - except my wife also needs the car. So we've had to arm wrestle for it and I'm staying home. This also means a very close co-ordination in diaries for the first time. When do you need it? Can I have it then? Shall I get a lift? I think there's a bus route (I haven't been on a bus for decades, how do you work them?).

Because I've worked in the automotive industry cars have become blase. A quick calculation reveals that I have had more than 50 company cars in the 27 years I've been working. Yes folks, a new car at least every 6 months on average. Now for the last 7 years my company car has been changed every 3 years (positively vintage) so you can see that at some periods the changeover must have been very frequent. One company I worked for changed company cars at 5000 miles - as I was commuting 1000 miles a week I would be ordering a new car at collection which caused the HR department to go into melt down trying to keep up with me. The car never required a clean inside or out whilst I had it as I never had long enough. I also had a fuel card and could never remember the registration number when I went to pay for fuel always tried to park the car at a pump where I could see it from the cashiers. I'm sure the local petrol station thought I was mad, going "errrrr" in response to the question about the registration. Every car was silver, the same model and spec so to them they looked exactly the same.

On the basis you don't know what you've got until its gone the first redundancy was very traumatic. The company I worked for then had such a liberal policy on company cars that everyone in my family had one and I could go down the street pressing car keys into surprised neighbour's hands and insisting they have one too. However the car(s) went. And they wouldn't come and collect it. On the last day I had to make my way back from a place that, though well connected North and South with the rest of the world, saw going West (where I lived 26 miles away) as unnecessary so I could walk for all they cared. And they didn't care. Fortunately a colleague thought that being car-less with a three month old baby in Winter at a time when unemployment was rocketing was a little tough. So he pressed the keys of his spare car into my hands with the proviso that I insured it myself. No problem, except that as a company car driver I had no record of insurance. "To insure you will cost £2.3m - £5m if you want fully comprehensive" the insurers said. Well, to be truthful, £700. This for a 1.6cc standard new car. "But" I blustered, "I can go to a daily rental car hire place and get insurance for 3 pence a day with their cars and I can prove that I have had an accident free driving period for at least 7 years." They were unmoved almost to a broker. Except that I found someone at last that covered me for a more reasonable sum. When I found a job a last with a lovely company car policy, we decided that we would buy a car so that, should the day come again when I had no job, we would not be without transport. Three redundancies later that decision has proved fortuitous.

Are there any upsides? No company and private fuel tax for the time being so that will cause me and the Inland Revenue much hilarity trying to work out who owes who what at the end of the tax year.
What am I saying? I always owe them something.
A lot more space on the drive for...nope working on that one.
No that's it - less convenient but we'll work around that one.
I don't need a big, grand company car a Trabant will do me- until of course I get my next job with a company car and then spend hours working on the optimum brand/colour/spec/tax/combo before ordering it.
And then there is always that wonderful smell of a brand new car.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

"Chance, luck, coincidence, miracle." Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Here I am in my 12th week of not having a full time job and am I having fun.
Let's rephrase that.
Am I having fun?
It's not too bad, though there is no sign of rain after the long drought (full-time job metaphor). Now I'm sounding like some old and grizzled native American - next I'll be examining buffalo spoor and predicting a bad winter of many moons.

It occurred to me that to be in this position of being able to blog about my many redundancies my ancestors must have survived all life's many perils to have reached breeding age, must have bred successfully and passed on the gene pool eventually to me ("All that evolution and this is what we get? Not a world statesman?") That means surviving plagues, wars, invasions, murder, accidents and so on. Now I know that many characteristics can be handed down via the genes through the generations. As I seem to have a special skill at being made redundant I thought I'd do some genealogical research and see if this skill can be traced back through time. I've found some quite interesting results. Come with me back through time therefore and let's have a look at some Eyes on the Prize ancestors.

I assume that as feudal serf, and therefore an early form of sole trader, it was nigh on impossible to be made redundant by oneself. Still the Eyes value innovation and may have found a way but we have no early records to tell us otherwise. There is a tantalising Roman name scratched into the wall of the amphitheater in Usk, that of Gaius Eyesus Praemium. Maybe we'll be able to find out more as the excavations continue.

The earliest ancestor I can find plausible proof of is a scribe on Lindisfarne whilst the Venerable Bede was in residence. Employed as a proof reader for the Chronicles of St Cuthbert, Brother Eyez, as he was indeed known, thought he was onto a job for life scanning the manuscript for mistakes which, when found, he would strike through with a quill dipped in red ink causing a complete rewrite of the page and much merry comment from the Brother monk who had written and illustrated it. Of course, the chronicles recount, he hadn't calculated the cost of red ink made from the thousands of bodies of red ants and lost his job in a monastery cost cutting exercise then left. The records do not say where for. Fortunately his departure preceded a Viking raid on Lindisfarne where all present were put to the sword. His zeal for corrections undoubtedly saved his life.

The next ancestor of note can be found in the Chronicles of St Neot dealing with the life of King Alfred, King of England (871 -899). Employed as a pastry chef for Alfred, Eyeus son of Eyeus, was made redundant after the Danes forced Alfred into hiding and Alfred lost his tax revenue. No doubt this loss of his favourite chef was a major contributory reason for Alfred burning the cakes - he had lost his skilled retainer and cook books and made a hash of the cooking himself. History records the scolding Alfred received from the wife who asked him to look after the the baking. It does not record what happened to Eyeus son of Eyeus. However, following his deliberations during the cooking, Alfred managed to push the Danes back from Wessex to East Anglia and thus saved the lives of many English people including, we assume, that of Eyeus.

We find references to Eye Evans ap Llewellyn in the Welsh Marches. The Book of The Mabinogion is one of Wales' greatest contributions to European literature and is fortunate that we find a tiny reference to Eye Evans. Employed as a dog handler for Prince Llewelyn ap Iowerth's dog Gelert, Eye Evans was "let go, sorry boyo" by the Prince citing the taxes imposed by the English. Of course we all know of the result of the Prince leaving his infant son in the care of Gelert - how would history have been changed if Eye Evans had kept his job?

The final extract from history today concerns the Brothers Eyes. Labouring as barrel carriers in London in 1605 they were employed by a certain Guido Fawkes to carry barrels of "salt herring" into the cellars under the Houses of Parliament and then stay to guard them before, said Mr Fawkes, the famous herring eating party he had arranged for November the 5th. It seems that Guido ran out of money on the 4th of November and made the brothers redundant when he found he could not pay them but forgot to take the key for the cellar from them. When the plot was discovered, and Guido tortured, he was asked where the key was - "The Eyes have it" he is said to have replied and so the saying stuck until this day in the House of Commons. If the brothers had stayed until the herring party...well this blog may not have been written.

So there you have it.
Redundancy does appear to run in the Eye DNA, an evolved and evolving skill that is passed down from generation to generation. But it also seems that skill has helped keep the family line safe during the perils of evolution.
Chance, luck, coincidence, miracle?

Monday, 4 June 2007

Money, get away, get a job with good pay and you're OK", Money, Pink Floyd

The WIGAJ list. That's how I record how I want to spend my money, when I have some again that is. It stands for, of course, When I Get A Job, and is a list of all the things I want - notice the "want" and not "need" as we've entered the realm of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. When you have a limited income, or no income, then you have to prioritise on spending unless, of course, you want to go out in a blaze of glory buying that Ferrari or Lear Jet and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the State who don't take kindly to you parking next to their bikes at the Job Centre in a super sports car and claiming you have no money. Parking the Lear Jet would be a bigger challenge but we could rise to it I'm sure. Prepare for the strip search.

But when you have limited income it's like being hungry and dreaming and talking about the steaks, champagne and ice cold drinks in Alex you'll have when you cross the searing desert and outwit those clever Germans.

So you have to prioritise and decide what you need to live - actually it would be easier if we gave Tesco our money for the month and asked them to let us have pocket money for ourselves from the balance. Not having money takes away many of the choices you have for spending - the sort of "I'll just have that book/CD/gadget/thing/clutter/stuff/shiny thing" that we clearly were buying but are now not. The credit card bill has halved in size and value. We are contributing half a forest back to Scandinavia this year by reducing the spend on the credit card with the result that it's only one page long rather than five. I think the bank are warning about reduced profits for the second half of the year as a result. Now on the one hand this makes life boring compared to how we were six months ago. We don't go out for meals ("We rarely went out for meals", Mrs EotP), have more or less stopped going to the cinema, buy clothes only when we really need them and have cancelled a holiday. Mrs EotP would like to know in what dimension I lived in, or what chemicals I was taking, when living the Utopian life I claim to have been enjoying as she doesn't remember being there. Anyway the point is that we did more and now we don't. It's all relative anyway because there are always others better off or worse than you all time - it's just my comparison to how it was (probably).

So back to the WIGAJ list. I now fantasise about having a disposable income again. There are two lists, see if you can work out whose (Mrs EotP or me) list is whose. Still got that needs/wants thing going on here I think.

List A
BMW motorbike.
G5 Mac with 30" monitor
New iPod
Apple iPhone

List B
Holiday as planned in Summer
New clothes
Meals out for family
Cancel all job applications and continue to build up own business
Replacements for all machinery that has failed during the period of unemployment

The financial position is that we can pay all major bills each month. The part time job allows us to manage the main budget and we are careful with the rest. It looks possible that the part time work will be extended for another three months which is just as well as the full time offers are not pouring in. Or trickling in. Or dripping in. And the postie has asked me to stop waiting at the bottom of the street as she starts her round and asking is there a job offer for me today? She says it just not becoming.

Tempting. We have stopped going to shops unless there is something specific we want otherwise it is just too tempting. When I get work again who knows what will be fashionable by then? It's a sort of consumer coma - when you wake up there will be a whole new range of desirable things to buy that would make the desirable things I wanted to buy today look, well just old fashioned.
That's something to look forward to.