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Thursday, 30 October 2008

Parent company

I don't think they believe me.
My parents that is.

We spoke the other day, on the phone, and I made a fundamental mistake. They asked me how the job search was going and would my contract be renewed early next year.

My fundamental mistake was that I told them.

Now do you remember Zaphod Beeblebrox? I'm sure you do. One of his heads wore glasses, as I recall, that in the event of danger would become completely opaque so that he could no longer see the danger and therefore could not panic. My parents are like this. I think it stems from living during the war. 'Eh lad, thou cannst no longer hear sound of t'V2 flying bomb, so thou's safe'. Or was it the other way around? Anyway they're from Yorkshire so that explains a lot I feel.

They deal with every crisis of whatever magnitude in two ways. A cup of sweet tea and a denial that it is happening. 'What are those multiple mushroom clouds and large bangs our lad?'. 'Put on kettle our wife and t'finish Telegraph crossword.' would be a typical reaction. So I've learned over the years not to tell them anything that does not have a positive spin and makes the whole world sound utterly lovely and full of fluffy bunnies and pink field mice.

They must have got me at a moment of weakness because I launched into an explanation of the difficulties of finding a job, CVs, recruitment agencies, experience, age, salary expectations, the state of the economy, the Amercian election anything and everything. In fact it was a mini rant. 'But', they said after several minutes of puzzled silence, 'you've got lots of 'ologies'. (Hands up all of you who remember the BT ad then). I then compounded my mistake by trying to explain the difficulties of job searching and the over/under/wrongly/too/not enough/not quite/if only you'd had one more days experience matrix that is used to weed you out provided you even pass 'he must be so totally kidding shred that CV and use it for the hamster's bedding' first filter.

Well I suppose it makes some sense. My father was a Civil Servant so worked for the Government all his life, retired on an index linked pension and had never heard of the word redundancy. My mother never worked (Mrs EoTP has pointed out that anyone saying that a woman who has brought up a family and managed a house hasn't 'worked' is asking for more trouble than they've seen in a long, long time and suggests that person recants...if they know what is good for them. I recant. I meant hasn't been in paid employment. Close call there.) No one else they know seems so have racked up such an impressive ability to have their job made redundant during their working life as I have done, so they are puzzled as to why I can't get another full time job. I think they think I'm shirking, slacking, swinging the lead, possibly not making enough effort and living on the vast earnings of Mrs EoTP's renaissance career. Make it so. Only it ain't so. If their lovely son can pass all his 'ologies and get two degrees then he must have something very wrong with him and be unbalanced. Let me tell you I am a very balanced individual - I now have chips on both shoulders.

Having made this error I am now seeking to retrench my position by taking a Panglossian view of the world and its many opportunities with my parents and refusing to say anything that doesn't seem as if is only a matter of hours before I'm snatched up by some desperate organisation seeing me as their saviour of the moment. They clearly prefer this approach and have not questioned me anymore about the job search. Their house is full of fluffy bunnies again.

I'm off for a drink now. A Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster will do me. According to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy it is the best drink in existence and says that the drink's effect is similar to having one's brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick. The Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster has also been described as the alcoholic equivalent to a mugging: expensive and bad for the head.

Beats tea anyday.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Premature speculation

This is a subject that affects everyone, I'm sure, over a certain age. There's no need to be embarrassed; it's just better if we get it out in the open (no joke intended) and talk about it. Once we've done that you'll realise, I hope, that you are not alone and that you can be treated and no ointments or surgery are required (joke intended).
'The problem is premature speculation.'
Now there are two objectives to this blog. One is to mark my progress in finding another full time job after my fourth redundancy whilst in my early 50's. The other is to be noticed by a major publisher and be offered a huge advance to publish my memoirs which will then be taken up as an option by Hollywood and David Tennant would be perfect to play me. Sorry drifted off for a moment there - the other objective is to help anybody else in a similar position by attempting to describe how it feels trying to find another job and all the stuff you have to do (and not do) and then make all our lives feel better. Substantially. When we get the next job.

Back to premature speculation then.

The symptoms:
  • You've been out work some time and you've cut back enormously on spending (you need to do this as that redundancy package you have may not last as long as your unemployment, even though that holiday in the Maldives does look raaaather tempting and you can't believe you'll be out of work for more than a month - hey, go read the newspapers.)
  • You're now driving around in your partner's 15 year old 2CV and telling all your employed friends with big company cars that 'yes it feels really good to have a much lower carbon footprint, should have done this years ago, will never go back to a car with a CO2 emission greater than that of a turnip, think I'll convert the driveway into an allotment', turned the heating down, started wearing the jumpers your Mum knitted you in 1967, thinking that the local Oxfam shop might have interesting clothes after all and cooking with offal that cost no more that £1.50 a meal but looks, well, like offal.
  • You've sent off bucket loads of CVs but with absolutely no response.
  • In fact no one has called you back, responded at all to your speculative CV and everything on Monster jobs seems targeted at 18 year olds.
And then, out of the blue, comes a request to come for an interview. You haven't had an interview for months, can't even remember applying for the job really. You look at the job spec, well actually first you look at the salary , then the job spec, decide you'll say you can do it whatever it is the job entails ('Yes I have substantial experience of fighting polar bears and breeding guinea pigs and have been to the centre of the world lots'). You have the interview and the interviewer seems slightly interested, might call you back for second interview and/or definitely put your CV in front of their client.
EoTP bangs on about recruitment agencies. Again.
And this is when it will start happening. You begin to start speculating about what it will mean to have a regular income again. How you could use what's left of the redundancy package to go on a decent holiday, have the 2CV scrapped (bloody awful thing) and buy a 6.0 litre 4X4 SUV for your partner ('that will show them at the golf club that I'm still standing'), get a plasma screen TV, convert the patio into a Elizabethan knot garden - and so on. It's no good standing there and saying you'll think no such thing 'cos we all do it. And, as I have learnt to my cost, it is totally pointless because until you actually have the offer letter in your hand, all the blandishments of the recruiters are - well whatever it is you could use it on your new allotment for the vegetables.

In my experience virtually all recruiters are too scared or unprofessional to say 'Great meeting you but you're not what we/our client wants, now get out before I call security.' Most would rather get you out of the office leaving you with some vague notion that you actually may be just what they want and will be in touch very soon (define 'very' and 'soon' - 2020?). The reality is they have 25 other candidates to see and have already forgotten you.

And by giving you this impression you start to dream the dream about a salary again and all the possible opportunities for consuming that go with it.

The prognosis:
You've got to be tough. You have got to be moving onto the next application even though you might have a second interview. Whatever you do, don't indulge in idle speculation because, when the rejection comes, not only do you get the wobbly lower lip because you've been rejected (again), it hits all the harder because you've already spent the salary in your mind. However that is not as bad as actually spending the salary using your credit card. Even worse if you've mentioned to your partner and or kids that you'll buy them that expensive thing they've wanted for ages when the job offer comes in. Your disappointment will be trebled when that happens.

I'll bet you're glad you came to Dr EoTPs' surgery today so we could sort that out. Any other problems before you go? How about some CV implants, boost those last two positions a little shall we, make them a little perkier perhaps?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Confidence tricks

A year ago to this week Mrs EoTP started back in full time work for the first time in sixteen years. A week later she had turned into a complete jelly, a metaphorical jelly that is not real one of course, as that might have caused some problems in the staff room and certainly with her driving.

Why the jelly thing? Because, despite being fully qualified with the degrees and lots of letters after her name, Mrs EoTP thought she could no longer handle the work load.

Now a year later and Mrs EoTP is barking out orders left right and centre, managing her working time time to the second, taking on additional management responsibilities and generally showing a fair proportion of the rest of the staff up for being complete woosies and shirkers. And she's giving me a hard time too. You should see the list of things I was expected to do today.

And that's the subject of this week's blog. Confidence and where does it go? To hell in a handcart is the answer. No, there's more.
'Winnie-the-Pooh plasters do not solve confidence problems' says influential report

When you've lost your job it is, to put it mildly, a bit of a blow and it can't be fixed with a Mummy's rub of the sore knee and a Winnie-the-Pooh plaster. The job search itself can be a long, hard and, dare I say it, distressing journey. Mainly because the journey involves REJECTION. Time for another exemplem from my own life.

So far, over the last 18 months, I've applied for well over 70 jobs. I'm still here rambling on about redundancy in your 50's so I would describe the time as a journey rather than a destination. Now I've had a number of interviews during that time, a little over 15% of the total applications. Ignoring the part time job I have, that's a 100% failure rate to get a new full time position and 11 interviews also with a 100% failure rate to get a new position. That, I put it to you, is a fair amount of rejection for one person in a short period of time.

The effect of this multiple rejection is, sometimes, a feeling that actually you'll never be able to manage to make toast in the morning, let alone be responsible for people and a business ever again. It's daft really but, if someone tells you you are rubbish repeatedly and not wanted, you develop a sort of learned helplessness, and a corresponding feeling that you can never again be thrusting and successful as General Manager of Consolidated HoHahs (now merged, because of the economic climate, with Incorporated Whatnots). Little over three years ago and I was managing over 400 people in a business with a £24million turnover. Today I cleaned our baths and toilets.

'Stiff upper lip needed' says EoTP. And sense of humour. And lots of tea.
How to handle this then and make your job seeking life better? Substantially. Let's start with the jelly. After sixteen years of not working Mrs EoTP took just three weeks to get back into working life. After twelve months you wouldn't think she'd ever not worked. Though you may think you can no longer hack it, the fact is that within the week you'll be right back in it wondering how to choose a company car above your grade and whether you can travel business class on an aircraft. Last week I had an interview. No really I'm not kidding, really did. Problem is, the recruitment agency told me three days later, is that there is a recruitment freeze at the company. 'So why did you interview me and have me travel miles at my expense' I wanted to scream but there you are. During the interview I was asked about my Excel skills as they would be important. I almost turned into jelly there and then and yet, yet, I am totally fabulous with Excel, no really. However I found myself thinking 'Oh no there's no point in going on I don't even remember how to launch the application let alone enter any data'. See, confidence slipping because I can't believe that any organisation is interested in me - despite being interviewed. Hmmm, flawed logic.

Stop planning ahead. I mean it, listen to me. Take one day at a time, cliche I know, but there's no point in fretting about something you have no control over.

'If they don't want you that's their big mistake'

Don't give up. It does not matter how many rejections you get, just do not give up. I have been told I am overqualified, under qualified, wrongly qualified, the wrong type of snow and at the wrong meeting but you just have to keep going. Mind you I don't bother with the 'would you like some feedback on your interview' anymore. I can only take so much kicking after all and, anyway, every organisation is so different that it's just their opinion, and as their opinion involves not taking you on you know it must be deeply flawed anyway and definately not worth listening to.

Reading this back this all sounds a bit sanctimonius except that being out of work is painful, can be demeaning but cannot be ignored because there are bills to pay. There's always something good that comes out of the experience. My toilets are gleaming for example. I'm not going to let anyone use them for two days.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Hours: not to reason why

I was talking to some police officers the other day.'Can't you loosen those handcuffs they're rubbing my wrists?' I said. No I didn't. I wasn't under arrest at all but we were talking. They'd told me that they work a 12 hour shift on a rota that required an IBM AS/400 to compute the permutations of days on/nights off/on. But the amazing thing is, they told me, was that everyone up to the rank of Inspector gets paid overtime.
I mean paid overtime.
Can you believe it?

I mentioned to the officers, in passing, that the last time I got paid overtime was in 1979. 'No way' they said. 'Yes way' and No Kidding. When I left the lowly clerical grade that I started on in my first job after University I, like many others, was expected 'to work the number of hours necessary to complete the job'. This, of course, means that the organisation could now exploit you to the full by making you work so many hours that your salary fell rapidly to the equivalent of 10 pence an hour. As a young ambitious and, just possibly, tad naive graduate I naturally fell for this malarkey and promptly started working around the clock, down in the mines and cleaning chimneys. Mrs EoTP however, worked for an organisation that did no such foolish thing and had proper start and finish times. This meant that we saw each other during July only and rarely at any other time during the year as our arrival/departure times at home never coincided.
Fails to go to hospital to see the baby
So ingrained did this way of life become that when we had our first child, born late at night on a weekday, I actually went to work for a while the following morning before going to see my wife and new born in hospital. Mrs EoTP was not impressed I can tell you.

Then of course, five months later the company made my job redundant - so it had all been worthwhile hadn't it?
Exemplem: Eyes on the Prize gives example from own life.
And this is the thing of course. Organisations rely on this huge level of unpaid work to get anything done. I'll come back to this in a minute. Come with me for two tics and let me give you an example from my own life. Working for a company down in West London they, the daft management, decided that they were going to enforce rigidly the start time of 9 am. Failing to take into account the appaling traffic in the area and the fact that employees who were unable arrive on time, through no fault of their own, always made up the time at the end of day plus they also did lots of unpaid overtime, the new policy was introduced - you would lose a full days pay if you failed to arrive on time. Oh yes, it worked, everyone left home an hour earlier to get to the office one actually then started work until 9am exactly and everyone left exactly on time. In just two weeks the Management (good grief, couldn't find their backsides with both hands and a route map) recinded the rule because they found the company was beginning to fall apart without the unpaid extra time being worked.
Working many, many hours is 'silly' - shock report says.
When you've been kicked around a bit, like my four redundancies, you begin to see that working many hours for nothing is probably, well, silly. After all you're not going to be lying on your death bed thinking 'Gosh wish I'd spent a few more hours at the office' are you? So when a senior manager colleague moaned, a few years ago, that most of the staff were actually daring to go home on time I pointed out that that was, contractually, what they were paid to do. 'Maybe we should pay overtime if you want them to stay on' I suggested. Look of horror on colleague's face.

There is another aspect to hours worked. And that's logging them. I work 3.5 days a week. I have decided, as no one else has, that a 'day' is 7 hours work plus 1/2 hour for lunch. I log any work that takes longer than 10 minutes. I regard travelling time as 'work' but not if I'm going to the office because that's my place of work. Not contentious so far is it? Except that there are sorts of discussions about this. Some of my colleagues think I shouldn't regard travelling as work - well what is it then? If you stay away overnight when does work stop? When you arrive at the hotel, when the meal with your colleagues is over (as you discuss work with them) and so on. I am paid a fixed salary but I still have to work more hours than I am paid to to get the job done. Am I mad? No need to answer that one. Well, in the end, I try and be sensible about all of this because I like what I do - if only there were more of it - and you have to deliver.

The final aspect of hours I'd like to share with you today is 'where do they go'. Look, at 0910 am this morning I decide that my day will consist of completing a number of specific tasks. By 1630 hrs I discover I have partly completed one, put off all the others until another day and started on six more that were given to me during the day and were totally unexpected. I am not the Prime Minister of Great Britain or a Captain of Industry, so where has the time gone? Who has taken it and can I please have it back?

Oh well, no option then, I'll just have to stay on after work to finish it.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Bleak expectations

'Well I'm looking on the brightside this morning' said Mrs EoTP 'I've a new pair of scissors to use at work'. We'd been discussing, before we both left for work, the increasingly grim economic news (you may have noticed it recently unless you've been living in a parallel dimension) and I, in my optimistic and prophetic way this morning, had opined that this was probably Not A Good Thing for my full time employment prospects. I had also stated that it would probably start snowing and not stop until March, fuel prices would rise a further 100% by December, interest rates would treble, a herd of llamas would invade our garden, the house would be repossessed, the family would disintegrate (split up, not disappear into individual atoms which might get a small mention on the news), and, you know the sort of fully rationale response we all have to the odd personal setback in life. Mrs EoTP declared that you have to take all the small pleasures as they come, though I think she might have been making a point but it passed me by.

Why this gloom? Easy one that. Because 17 years ago, when I was first made redundant the market conditions were remarkably similar and suddenly no one was recruiting - I was, of course, in an anti-recruitment situation. The dastardly HR team didn't actually say those words but I bet they wanted to. Being in the automotive industry as I was (and still am) it seemed to take the downturn very badly though those in the financial services industry probably believe that things aren't quite as rosy at the moment as they might be. Saying 'Have a good day' as they pass might be considered akin to having a death wish. With five months of falling vehicle sales in the UK you can bet that further rational phrases such 'for Pete's sake slash all the budgets, nobody spends anything, ban travel, turn off all the lights use candles, ban entertaining, in fact ban everything, employees have to pay us to come to work, however I still need to travel business class to San Francisco for that meeting make sure the hotel is 5 star won't you?' will be used throughout the head offices of all the car manufacturers. It still makes me smile that the instruction used to come through, all those years ago, to only make phone calls in the afternoon and stop sending faxes to save money. Rome burning and all that. All about you the business is failing and collapsing and you have to stop sending faxes. Whatever they are.

You can't give yourself away. A local company advertised for a part time marketing manager (did I tell you I am a qualified marketing manager, I'm sure I did, you just haven't been paying attention). I was vastly over qualified for the job but, wanting some extra work, rang the MD before sending in my CV to explain why someone so clearly so wonderful would want one day a week work. 'I fully understand' he said, 'love to see your CV, just what we were after.' Needless to say a) the pay would have been impressively low and b) I got the inevitable email 'we found someone who's experience matched our needs more closely'. I have an MBA with a marketing focus and they found someone with better experience! I was virtually giving myself away and there is someone they want more?

Right now there are lots of well meaning articles in print and on the web aimed at the recently redundant and I have to say that I think most are meretricious rubbish. Not that I have strong views on this you understand, but most seem to have been written by people who have never been made redundant and are trotting out the same old tosh. Over 40 years old and you have, in my experience, a heap big problem, over 50 and it is a heap bigger problem only the heap is smellier. OK I admit that in the good economic times it is easier to get a new job but when thousands are having their jobs made redundant and all employers are freezing recruitment then believe me, it's gonna be a long hard winter.

Charles Handy (he of the 'Empty Raincoat', Reinvented lives' and so on) wrote extensively of developing a portfolio of jobs. Great idea, not so easy to do. See example above. I am not quite sure what type of employee these companies who seek part timers want but I bet the words 'young' and 'cheap' are part of the description. And of course there is the theory of why people have low paid jobs: because they accept them. Yes I know, get down from your soapbox before you start lecturing me, many people have no option but to accept these type of jobs but, in this country, employers seem not to value experience but prefer cheap. And young.

I continue to apply for part time jobs, though I don't spend much time on the nuances of the application forms, cut and paste makes it easy. And by emailing them you save on postage.

Well Mrs EoTP will have been using her new scissors all day and will, no doubt, be savouring the delightful experience.


I'm sure it's going to snow.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A small case study

The first time I opened it, it creaked very loudly, like an old door with ancient hinges, creasing the pristine leather. Inside was a soft, yellowy lining, with differing sized compartments, so many compartments, to store so many things, so many things that I actually didn't possess. And then, in my best handwriting, I wrote my name, in biro on the inside of the flap, because this was my first, my very first satchel. In brown, pristine leather with gold coloured buckles and a long leather strap. In fact it was the first time I recall having to carry anything regularly to and from anywhere and the reason? I'd just started at my new secondary school and it was on the list of required items sent home by the school, along with body armour to protect one from attacks from pupils from the rival school plus a 'make yourself hideous to girls' kit (for this was a boys only school and to be seen anywhere near a young female was tantamount to making them pregnant instantly and tarnishing the name of the school - which was the most heinous crime of course). I think we were naturally hideous to girls as a result of the extended peaks on our mandatory school caps, having to carry satchels and having nascent acne but that might be simple prejudice coloured by time. On the first day of school I put my pen, eraser, pencil sharpener and compass in the cavernous bag and set off for lessons. By the end of the first term the satchel had become, progressively, a weapon to hurl around on the strap to keep assailants at bay, a pitch marker for rugby, something to drag along the ground like a dumb pet and, very occasionally, a container for carrying substantial numbers of books.

When I started work full time I reverted back to the not having to carry anything to and fro for several years until I got my first company briefcase. This was the size of a small steamer trunk but was mandated for the position of field manager - everyone who had the role had to have and use one. It was a badge of office. It was made out of material that could withstand an airburst nuclear attack at a height of 50 metres, could accommodate a small motorbike and had clasps to secure it that opened with a sound similar to a large gun being cocked. When all the field staff came in for a meeting and opened the cases you needed ear defenders on to protect your hearing. In the five years I had it (it really was indestructible, it's probably in a landfill site now and will still be there until the crack of doom) I never managed to fill it more than a third full and always felt faintly embarrassed when my dealers glanced in and saw how little I had to carry. And you needed 5 managers signatures to get a new case but only 3 to replace a car. Totemic or what?

At least it was sturdy (in a Forth Road Bridge sort of way) because I also recall duffel bags purposely designed, I'm convinced, so that you would deposit your games kit on the road as the bottom tore out at random times when cycling home. And why were they always covered in a tartan material?

Anyway when I left my first organisation for greener fields (oh how I now laugh now at that naive thought) I had to hand my case over to my successor. This left me feeling rather naked without a suitcase attached to my hand when arriving at the new offices. Recognising, belatedly, that I never actually filled the first briefcase I bought a slimline Samsonite case with locks that sounded like large guns being cocked when opening them. What is it with briefcase locks? Naturally I never filled this either though would jauntily take it on aircraft and then feel embarrassed when having to open it at security when all it had in it were two pens, a pencil sharpener and a compass. This lasted about two years until I finally realised the futility of carrying a 90% empty briefcase around with me.

Then I discovered leather document folders and these have been my standard carrying item ever since. Slim, elegant and seemingly indestructible they have accompanied me around the world. All the papers I need always fit in them and I can get my iPod, glasses cases and sundry other items in with ease - and no more embarrassment at security as it passes through all their scanners.

I had several company laptops that came in bags of a similar size to my first briefcase - so big were they they wouldn't fit behind the driver's seat of my car but had to be towed on a trailer behind the car or rest on the back seat sliding about as I drove along. Now, if I take my Macbook out, it fits in a messenger type bag slung over my shoulder. Easy. And probably cool too. A little.

You can see this progression in trends by looking out of the window at the kids making their way to school. A few years ago it was all backpacks, bigger than those used by the British Army, then a year of plastic supermarket bags with various bits of games kit and school books poking out and now it's mainly messenger type bags. Good heavens I'm keeping up with the youth scene. Gd grf thts Gr8.

There are times though when you do need to make a statement with a bag and when that happens it's time to deploy the old battered briefcase that was my wifes and her brothers before her. Battered, scratched, marked and with a clasp that probably last worked in 1935 it is a true statement of pedigree and style (and a refusal to spend any money on a new one). So why I carry it I don't know, but whenever it is out and about it always attracts positive comments from true afficionados who know that a bag is for life and not just to impress.