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Sunday, 14 June 2009

Making introductions

And so you start your first day at the new job.

There are two sorts of starts.
  1. The informal induction
  2. The formal induction.

The informal induction.
It goes like this.
'Here's your desk, here's your PC, there is some paperwork for you to complete, see you in November'.

IT haven't set your log in, you therefore do not officially exist, you can't access your email and your default printer is set to print in another office on another floor but no one tells you for a week. As you do not exist you cannot book holidays and the IT help line is always on answerphone. HR do not seem to have heard about you joining and ask for your bank details five times.

You now spend six months trying to find out what your job is, what it is you do and what you do does. Forget it, you'll never find out, just fill in forms A/11/C1957 and fax them to 5543 as soon as you have done so and don't forget the pinks go to ACCAT7 and the blues in that tray there.
You never find out what or who is ACCAT7 or whether there is a 1 - 6 version either.

You spend the first four months walking half a mile to the nearest loo and then find out that there is one around the corner.

You are startled by the fire alarm once a week, looking around to see if any other members of staff are making any attempt to leave only to find out it is the regular test. Then, when the fire alarm goes off on a different day and time you look around to see if any of the other members of staff are making any attempt to leave and can't hep feeling concerned that they aren't when you can hear approaching sirens and notice there does seem to be a lot of smoke coming from the stationery cupboard.

For the first year you can only navigate your way from the entrance to your desk and back and do not realise that there are 1500 other members of staff on the same site, on different floors only nobody has told you anything about them.

You are told that there is a probationary period before you become a full member of staff and that performance objectives will be set. You never hear anything more about either.

You hear stories about a staff canteen but never find it. You eat your sandwiches at your work station whilst all around you your colleagues disappear for two hours, for lunch, but you don't know where they go.

You have never seen the MD of the organisation but see his/her car park space immediately outside the main door. You however have a quarter mile trek from the staff car park along a muddy path. You believe the MD is the one whose presence causes everyone to quit looking at the BBC news site and eBay on their PCs and look intensely busy as he/her strides through the office looking neither left nor right

You finally make contact with the two key people in the whole organisation - the keeper of the stationery cupboard and the one person in IT who can actually make your PC work without first asking you to reboot it.

The formal introduction.
It goes like this.
You have four days of tightly scheduled presentations from members of staff who you never see again in your whole time with the organisation.

The presenters never start or finish on time and about 33% mysteriously never turn up causing the over jolly person from HR to go into meltdown and end each day session early.

You are given an introduction to the aims and goals of the organisation by the highest member of the senior management team HR have convinced to turn up. This could be the cleaner, though their introduction is usually an improvement on the one given by the senior manager who clearly thinks that achieving his/her performance bonus is the major aim of the business. They tell you about the structure of the business. It looks like someone has upturned a bowl of spaghetti but presume it makes sense to someone somewhere. Actually it never does.

85% of the presenters start off by apologising for the boring nature of their subject. They do not lie. 95% then go on to overrun their alloted slot causing you to think longingly of blunt objects with which to strike them and thinking maybe signing on once every two weeks wasn't that bad after all.

90% of presenters believe that a good presentation depends on them standing in front of the new staff with their back to them reading directly from 173 densely written Powerpoint slides which they use as their script. They do not notice they lose their audience from slide 2 and neither do they understand why, after two long deadly dull hours of talking in a monotone no one has a question. Everyone is now comatose. The new staff only have one question - how long before I can go home and tell myself this is all a horrible dream.

IT haven't set your log in, you therefore do not officially exist, you can't access your email and your default printer is set to print in an office in France but no one tells you for a month as you frantically try to find the scurrilous emails your friend has sent you and you have sent to print. As you do not exist electronically you cannot book holidays and the IT help line is always on answerphone.

You finally make contact with the two key people in the whole organisation - the keeper of the stationery cupboard and Kevin in IT who can actually make your PC work without first asking have you rebooted it. You have, 26 times that day for a start.

You are required to sign an additional 23 forms telling you about data protection, eating at your workstations, staff socials, joining a Trades Union ('We welcome it.' They don't.), DSE, GSE, ABH, DDT, ABAGH and other abbreviations and acronyms you can't understand.

Then, on the first day at real work, you get a 'local' induction. 'Here's your desk, here's your PC, there is some paperwork for you to complete, see you in November'.

You are told about PDRs or PDPs leading to NVQs or possibly RACs and NFIs. You are so full of information after the first five days you can no longer absorb any more. You stagger back to the staff car park and drive home, exhausted.

Welcome back to work.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on*

So where did it go right? Why, after 2 years, 82 applications and six interviews did I finally get a job?

I have no idea. It's a mystery.
That is not very helpful is it?
But it's true.
Why my carefully constructed, honed and polished CVs made no impact when applying for jobs that you'd have thought I absolutely must be the best candidate for the job got nowhere, yet I managed to get a job in a totally different business sector will, for ever, be a mystery to me.

However I have learned somethings along the way (covering all 5 redundancies, we must learn from history) that I feel impelled to inflict on you. It may help, it may stop you making the same mistakes or you could always print them out and make a draught excluder from them.

Prepare for rejection (and more rejection).
Did I mention rejection?
Expect to be out of work for some time. Expect rejection, many rejections. Expect not to hear anything from most applications. Move on immediately - remember the HOE curve (yes rejection is very hard you don't have to tell me about it, now a fully qualified Master of Being Rejected) and keep looking. Keep a file of jobs applied for - you may need it as proof that you are actively job seeking.

Stay positive.

There will be good days, there will be bad days and there will be mind bendingly awful days. However there is a lot of silliness in the world. Sometimes it is very hard to see it but it’s there. And it can make you laugh. Well it made me laugh. Whatever happens try and bounce back. And there is life after redundancy. It may not be the life you had but it might very well be better.
 It might have more kittens and yawning puppies.

Use every way you can to find a new job.

Use every channel you can think of to find a job and keep scouring them. 
Do not stop using them even if you think they may not be working. You will not be able to predict easily where a job might be found. There are many channels: on-line jobs (Monster, Total Jobs, Fish4jobs), national newspapers (Times on line, Daily Telegraph, Guardian), local papers, local library, notices in shops, referrals, information from your friends and acquaintances and so. Get creative and think of any others that may work for you. Use them. Don’t stop.
 And if you keep doing the same thing you will keep getting the same result. Evolve and adapt.

Stop spending.

You may have a reasonable redundancy payout, statutory redundancy pay or even nothing. What ever you have you need to stop spending now because you do not know how long this is going to last. Cancel all non-essential spending and start budgeting and get real. The kids may hate it, your partner may hate it, it may put you in a difficult position with your employed friends but that’s their problem. If they are that insensitive then have nothing to do with them because they will only vex you more - or ‘get in your grill’ as my kids say. You can do without many things - stay solvent and, if you have any money left when you get the new job, then is the time to spend.

Keep fit. Learn something new.
This time may be gruelling, will sap your motivation and test your sense of humour. Don’t sit in the house all day telling yourself life is crap, get fit, walk, go running, do something, get creative, learn something new. You’ll feel a whole lot better and able to face the job hunt. And it is a way of demonstrating a positive response to this difficulty to a potential employer.
 Believe me chewing endlessly over and over the subject of 'no one replies to my job applications' tends to empty the room you are currently sitting in quite effectively.

Respect your partner’s space.
Your partner might be at home or still doing whatever they were doing before your job loss. Respect their position and their space. You are going to need them for lots of support and it won’t help trailing after them all day around the house like a demented toddler following their mother. They will not want to hear your ills and moans all the time - try and remember that and be supportive to them.

Don't pay good money to snake oil merchants.
There are many organisations that are waiting to take your severance pay, savings or JSA. They are very seductive and promise much - some are very expensive. But none of them will find you a job, that's always down to you. So you might as well save your money.

Sign on. Don’t be proud.
This is, admittedly, not the most rewarding experience you will ever have. Be prepared for quite a demeaning process which may include giving all your private financial details to a complete stranger in an open office. However you are entitled to State Support (subject to a means test) and your National Insurance will be paid. There is some help in retraining available and there may be jobs available that the Job Centre Team can put you in touch with though usually in Fife I found as a sous chef or CNC operator.

Sell yourself properly with your CV.

Employers and or agencies will be inundated with CVs for most jobs - their first task is to carry out a paper sift on the applications - and they will be ruthless. Your CV is your only opportunity to get through that first filter so make it count. Can you describe what you do and the benefits you could bring to an organisation in one minute? Well make sure you can - the question you have to be able to answer is ‘what benefits to the company could hiring this person bring?’ And they don’t want to know about your hobbies and they certainly don’t have any right to ask for your age. If you haven’t updated your CV then do so now. Remember: contact details, profile, relevant competencies, examples of tasks (plus problem solving and outcomes), list recent employers (but you don’t have to list them all), qualifications - in my experience hobbies, interests, pictures of your cat, holiday photos and gold star from Mrs Edwards in primary school for making a paper mache dinosaur are not required but suprisingly often included.

Treat finding a new job as a job in itself.

Set aside time every day to look for a job or do something positive in finding a new position. There is always something that you can do

Don’t apply for jobs you’re not qualified for.

This is difficult but unless you want more rejection then do not apply for jobs you are patently not qualified for. Remember there are many more applicants who really will be better qualified so why beat yourself up?

Three steps backwards to go forwards.
There comes a time when you might have to accept the lesser paid job, take a considerable drop in salary and perks. That was then, this is now. Ask yourself do you want the money and see it as a way of fighting back up the ladder. Or do you continue to wait for the 'right job'. Ask yourself 'Do you feel lucky?' Well do you?

Voluntary contributions
Almost the subject of a blog in its own right, local voluntary organisations are looking for volunteers to muddle through the many layers of impenetrable bureaucracy as we speak. If you'd like to spend time helping others, just jog on down to your local volunteer centre, making sure it's not an Army recruiting office and ending up in Helmand Province.

With a little help from your friends...
Keep in contact, don't become isolated - contact by email, Skype, iChat, smoke signals, two tin cans with a piece of taut string. What ever it takes don't become isolated and, whilst I'm at it, thanks Neil, Dennis and Dick for your invaluable support.

And that's it, down to the irreducible level - forget the books, forget the seminars, this is what it comes down to.

And don't give up.

*Robert Frost

Monday, 25 May 2009

Life, but not as we know it. Hmmm

Sometimes you need to count the number of buses at the bus stop.

I'd walked into town last week to photostat all the documents required to prove that I exist for the new job. We'll ignore the rather obvious one of actually being in the room at the time of the interview which suggested to me that, unless I was some phantasm, my corporeal existence could be taken for granted.

No we wanted, or rather they wanted: birth certificate, driving license, passport, evidence of NI number, copies of educational certificates (I just knew someone would want to see my 'O' level in Agriculture), photos of me as a baby, saliva sample, DNA, palm prints, iris shots, and my Cub Scout badge for using a phone box with a 'Push button A' and 'B' (I cheated, I asked a passerby to phone Akela for me). Then, just as I was about to post the signed T&Cs I thought 'Sod this, I'm vastly overqualified for this job, I'm going to ask for more money' and walked home. There, on the door mat, was an invitation for an interview for a BETTER job with MORE money but two days after I potentially start the new job.

OMG, two years, over 75 applications, five interviews the last one being six months ago and now, in the space of just three weeks two interviews and a firm job offer. Now what do I do? It's true what they say about buses you don't see one for ages and then you find out they are big, run on diesel and carry upwards of 60 passengers to somewhere where you don't really want to go at a time that is massively inconvenient.

Well the first thing to do was to dither. Then procrastinate, then consider the HOE curve and finally cry hot tears of frustration. OK not cry, but is that frustrating or what?

I felt the only course of action was to first swear loudly, and for some time, in the fortunately empty house then call them to ask for more money...and I got it. So I decided to take the job where there was a firm job offer (and therefore money, even more since I asked) and sadly turn down the interview for the other where I might not get it - wouldn't I feel foolish then? After two years of determined searching that hurt I can tell you.

And now work. Next week.
But this feels odd.
I've had to check I've got enough shirts to wear during the week. I haven't.
I had to check if my ties were still in the proximity of fasionable. They are not, they are not even in the same neighbourhood.
I had to check if my suits still fitted. They don't, I've lost so much weight during the last two years.
It is going to cost a small fortune going to work just in buying clothes.
I hate buying clothes.

Then, as Mrs EoTP also has a job we will, for the first time in our married lives, be out at work at the same time. So in our ever changing world we are having to evolve and adapt once again to deal with this. We've managed to fit our respective requirements for Mrs EoTP's little blue car (lbc) around our lives over the last two years but it now seems that I will also have to have a lbc of my own. Good grief that's a quarter of my yet to come salary already gone and I haven't actually started yet.
That can't be correct, can it? My WIGAJ list involves lots of expensive electrical gadgets for me and not necessary transport.

And yet it is. For the cruel fact is that it costs to go to work.
And yet I am not complaining. Not yet anyway, that will come after five months when the halo effect of having a job has worn off, when I discover that most of my colleuagues are paid at least as twice as much as me but collectively have half the qualifications and that I could do all their jobs without even breaking into a sweat. At least I think that is what happens at work, it is all in the distant past.

In the end I don't think there was a choice. Yep, I'd have loved to have a job with a salary near to one I enjoyed two years ago and all the rest of the 'package' but it's a very tough world out there right now as we all know and this might very well be the career change that gets me out of the industry that keeps making me redundant. I'd quite like a spell away from the Job Centre where they will be buying me my own seat soon, I've been such a regular visitor over the last few years.

So the JSA back-to-work form has been completed and posted to Fife - well that's where all the jobs ever seemed to be on the Job Centre Plus site, the contract of employment has been posted to the new employer, I've bought some shirts and ties (and Mrs EoTP has returned them and bought something more suitable) and we are good to go.

Once I've negotiated the use of the lbc before I buy my own.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Because I'm worth it?

I've been offered a job.
No really, after all this time, after all these applications, after all this searching on every job site in the known universe an organisation has offered me a job.

During the interview I batted every question out off the pitch (that's a cricketing metaphor I believe but as I loathe sport of all descriptions it might well be a reference to tennis for all I know) and kept thinking 'Is that the best you can do, come on make me really think.' Anyway the organisation rang later that day and said the job offer would be in the shredder. Post. Sorry that's just a habit after two years searching.

The thing is, and I say this with all due modesty, I am vastly over-qualified for the job and therefore, naturally, will be vastly underpaid to do it. Think Nurses. However as it represents 100% more than I am being paid now I think that's not a bad deal really and I'm very happy to be employed again. It's also a totally different business to one I've been in most of my working life i.e it doesn't lose money and most people currently want what it offers, unlike the car industry where I've come from where the reverse seems to be true. The last time I made a bid to leave the automotive industry in, oh let me see, 1985, this proved to be such an unmitigated disaster that I rejoined it two years later only to see my career path prove to be an unmitigated disaster for the next 20 years. There's consistency for you. Still I did get to travel around the world selling who-ha's to anyone who wanted them.

A couple of light years ago, in one blog, I explained my concept of intelligent capitulation - you can even Google the phrase now (you must have read it, 'Brilliant concept' The Times) - sometimes you just cannot cross the bottomless chasm with two planks, some string, a candle and an oil drum, and have to walk away. Thats walk away from the edge of the bottomless chasm of course, because if you went in the other direction you'd fall down it. That's how I felt with this job offer. I posed some questions to myself:
  1. Have you got a job?
  2. Are you anywhere near getting another job?
  3. Is the economy in free-fall, think it's on a bungy jump but has forgotten to tie the harness securely around its waist?
  4. Can you find any other jobs in the desired salary range?
  5. Are you already fed up with signing on?
  6. Has some one just offered a position you can make a demonstrable difference to and is willing to pay you to do so?
  7. Are you desperate?
Well it was 'No' to number 7, but the others had fairly self evident answers and anyway I believe I can make a difference and, in a couple of year's time, the economic outlook will have changed and we can see what happens then.

And finally...I signed on last Thursday, once again.
'Do you use the JobCentre Plus web site to search for jobs' the jolly Job Centre person enquired?
'No' I said 'I think the site is quite poor and just keeps offering me jobs as a sous chef in Fife, I prefer to use Monster or Reed Jobs.'
Patronising smile. 'Shall I search for you right now?'
'Please do'
And the result of the search?
An admin job for £10,000 p.a in Perth. 'Oh' she said 'I see what you mean. You carry on doing it your way.'
Point proved I think.

I've always done it my way.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Routine matters

You see when you have a job you have a porpoise. You have a purpose as well (Blogger spell check not working too well today).

You get up on a Monday, moaning about the time and how you are so tired, stuff breakfast into your complaining body, stagger into the car still half asleep thinking about the budget, sales, deadlines, memos, have any of your colleagues actually bought milk and coffee supplies, drive to work but not remembering the bit from leaving your house to getting to the car park, and then collapse gratefully into your seat at your desk. It takes 45 minutes for Windows to boot up on your PC. You can then moan to all your colleagues for the first hour or so about the dreadful weekend, try and find someone with fresh milk to put in the coffee when you've first found someone that a) has coffee who will let you have some or b) was foolish enough to leave their coffee unguarded and so was assumed to have volunteered it for the other 25 members of staff who have also now found this trove. Men will not buy fresh milk incidentally. They would prefer to shave lumps into their coffee from the rancid whey left from milk gone past its sell-by date by some margin rather than call into Tesco on the way to work.

You can waste another hour as you try and get the photocopier to work. Photocopiers have three states: warming up, on and jammed. 'Warming up' takes about a day, 'on' lasts for exactly the amount of time it takes you to get to the machine needing 45 collated, stapled copies for a stroky beard meeting in a hurry when it goes immediately into the 'jammed' state. Only one person in the entire company knows how to resolve the 'jammed' state and she is on holiday in Florida. Very occasionally the photocopier enters a new state, 'Add toner'. This is guaranteed to happen when you are wearing your newest, brightest, whitest shirt or blouse and you end up looking like a Friesian cow.

And so the week continues.

Tuesday is still an opportunity to have many 'coffee machine' meetings ostensibly for informal internal lobbying but really to moan about the management whilst drinking scalding, bland, liquid from plastic cups that are marginally thinner than the average condom.

Wednesday is a difficult day being half way between the two weekend states and generally, and unhappily, this is when the work often has to be done.

Thursday is a chance to catch up on the paperwork, emails and office gossip and CC in everyone else on the email network slowing the server down to the pace of an asthmatic snail.

Friday is, of course, only half a day long and that is mostly spent talking about the upcoming weekend and wishing everyone a 'good one'. For many companies, Fridays are enlivened by a dress down policy (which is interpreted to mean dress up) and where half of admin wear clothes that would be more suited to a club environment and are therefore deemed 'inappropriate' by HR but somehow 95% of the male members of staff find a compelling reason to visit admin on that day. 60% of the management team wear patterned jumpers and Rupert Bear type trousers that are more typical of a particularly brash Florida golf course. 10% of management wear clothes that would be more suited to a club environment and somehow several members of admin find compelling reasons to visit their offices or desks to discuss urgent admin problems concerning stapler supplies. 10% of management always forget about dress down days and dress in suits and try and pretend they knew all along but have client meetings and the balance is HR and no one knows where their offices are so can't recall what they wear anyway. And Windows takes 60 minutes to shut down and 'save your settings'. Where is it saving them, in Nepal?

And then the next week starts all over again.

But if you don't have a job...

You don't have a routine. There is nothing you actually have to do - well, apart from searching for and applying for jobs and that is quite important really, but that can be done at any time of the day or night. You can clean, shop and watch the 18 episodes of 'The Wire' that you have recorded at any time. Dress down day is everyday and I can't find my watch anywhere as I no longer need to wear it all the time. But I think it is important to find some rhythm to life even if that rhythm is a longer beat than it used to be. It takes work to deal with the lack of routine but that in itself can be quite liberating. Don't get me wrong I want to get back to work as soon as I can but just how often in life can you be largely free of the routine of work? Especially when I can send Mrs EoTP out to earn money.

Hedy Lamarr said 'Some men like a dull life-they like the routine of eating breakfast, going to work, coming home, petting the dog, watching TV, kissing the kids, and going to bed. Stay clear of it-it's often catching.'

There's something in that.
Now what shall I do next?

Thursday, 23 April 2009

This blog contains Graphic language.

I believe that each week starts, as I've said in earlier blogs, full of hope and promise. I like to think that I'm a fairly positive sort of guy (or a complete prat, take your pick) in the circumstances. But sometimes the pheasant of promise is shot down by the gamekeeper of despair.

I think most of us travel in hope. You know the sort of stuff: your teenager might spontaneously clean their room without being threatened by the withholding of their pocket money, they might change their underwear more than once a week, they might have a conversation with you that includes words with more than one syllable and lasts longer than 20 seconds, someone in a call centre is actually able to sort out your problem, that sort of thing. However hope is usually powered by experience and often our travel plans end up in Welshpool bus station late at on a Saturday night after the last one has left and there's not another bus until Monday. Next month.

So it is with applying for jobs. Unless you are applying for a job so ludicrous and so far beyond your abilities and qualifications (and I still don't understand why the White House won't let me run for President they are so narrow minded) then you cannot but help but hope some teeny weeny goes against all probability speck of hope that you'll get the job. And, because you have this teeny weeny goes against all probability speck of hope then, like a grain of sand in an oyster, a little pearl of optimism starts to grow and glow faintly - go on, don't deny it, it does doesn't it, and you start to visualise yourself in that very job.

Well it's no good, this has to stop for your own good.
Therefore I have produced a scientifically based series of graphs to demonstrate this tendency in a variety of job seeking circumstances and to help you all (well all three of you readers) quit hoping unnecessarily - a bit (but only a bit) like the NHS stop smoking campaign except with a lot less money and no pile of fag stubs outside the door where we all go outside with our coffees to have a drink, smoke and serious slagging off of the organisation and the boss and have you seen what they've done to our budgets, slashed them how can I run a department on 35p a year? I call this the EoTP HOE curve.

HOE = Hope Over Experience.

Let's start with the 'applying for a job on a on-line job site'. Here you can see that once you have submitted your CV you may as well go and feed the hamster, wash the car, disconnect from the broadband and go and live in remotest Peru because you are never going to hear from them. Ever. Again. Notice how one doesn't even start off with any hope at all as we all know that a giant electronic points system is directing all CVs into space as part of the CETI project and, even now, aliens on the planet Thorg are involved in the universe's largest ever job paper sift preventing them from launching their Earth invasion fleet until 2506 at the earliest.

Next we have the job application where your skills and experience exactly match the job specification, so much so that your Mum must have written it. Note how you start off with such high hopes and then, as time passes, those hopes decay a little and then you start hoping again, then fading steeply and rising so that the graph looks like a little range of mountains such as Hobbits might have to climb with the Ring. Perhaps tomorrow the call to an interview will come, they've all simultaneously gone down with the vomiting bug that's why they haven't called. You fool you.

Now here we have the graph that shows the HOE curve for those jobs that we think we might have a bit of a chance with. You know dark horse, got to be in to win. Hmmm.

Note here that despite all the evidence and knowing that there are 603 applicants for every job we still can't stop ourselves having just a glimmer of hope and that we'll hear. Something.

And then finally, in this current series, we have the 'Job Centre insists you apply for three jobs a week' HOE curve. Even though there are zero vacancies in your sector and yet 35627 job seekers we know, they (the Job Centre) know, the recruiter knows, even the aliens on Thorg know that this is just plain silly. But then you never know.

So there we have it. Scientifically graphed evidence that demonstrates that you might as well forget about every job application the moment it leaves your hand/PC/Mac/quill and indeed you might as well shred some of them yourself straight away as it saves time later in the process - if you are gong to be contacted then you will be, so no point worrying unnecessarily. The Gamekeeper of Despair has just reloaded both barrels. You're not going to make his day are you?


Mrs EoTP applied for a job last year after not working (in paid employment, I know, I know child care and looking after the house is a 26 hour a day, 8 days a week job) for 16 years; we must not forget her HOE curve because it shows that, sometimes, the pheasant of opportunity gets away and leaves a very large message on the head of the gamekeeper of despair. And that message says 'never give up'.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Applying one's self

Is there any more fiendish way to get one's blood boiling than trying to complete a job application sent to you by a prospective employer in a template created in Word? I ask, as one who has made many applications for jobs over the last few years and whose heart sinks and soul dies a little more each time every time one of these doozies turns up.

There are, as we all know, many ways to apply for a job.

There's the click, fire and forget method of the on-line job sites where you can apply for (and be subsequently ignored by) many jobs with the practiced ease of a professional job seeker. 'Look at me apply for this job with my my back to the computer and using just a mirror to use the mouse whilst juggling two apples'.

We have the carefully tuned, honed and polished CV where you spend hours skillfully attempting to match the skills and competencies outlined in the job description and that you email off and then are subsequently ignored.

There's the 'Oh just send a standard CV as the company or agency doing the recruiting gives just palimpsest details of what the job entails' and then are subsequently ignored.

We have the proactive approach CV where you have forensically targeted a potential employer and sent in 'Let's meet up and talk about how I can turn your company around in 48 hours CV' and then are subsequently ignored.

However with all the above approaches there is one positive aspect to the whole process and that it is you, with whatever word processing package you use, who are in control of the layout, formatting and aesthetics of the CV. If the final result looks like a dog's dinner and hamster's nest remember that you that prepared it.

But then, but then, we have the templates, the very output of Beelzebub.
In Word.
Or created in Word but turned into a pdf.
These seem to turn up mainly from public sector organisations who have clearly had a giant big strokey beard conference some years ago to decide that no single public sector organisation will ever ask for the same information in the same way or same format.

Now this is all OK'ish if you make one job application every, say, 10 years. Any higher frequency than that and the whole thing makes you want to tear cushions apart with your bare teeth which goes down badly in the waiting area of the doctor's surgery I've found. And, furthermore, the application forms are created by people who never have to fill them in and have only been on the Word Perfect basic training course in 1992. If they did they would realise that some boxes are too small for people with addresses in Wales. Try fitting Llanfihangel-yng-Nqwynfa into a fixed text box.
Try entering Llanfihangel-yng-Nqwynfa into your SatNav after a good night out come to that.

There are those that want to know every job you have ever had, not just the employer but every title, every start date and finish date, all starting salaries and ending salaries and details of the job responsibilities. I was sorely tempted to put 'take bosses dog for walk daily and clean car weekly' for my first job with a major car manufacturer to see if any one read it. I can't remember what I did last week let alone 25 years ago.

A particular favourite of mine are those that want to know the year/month/date/time of exam/number of questions/name of invigilator/grade of each and every 'O' level/'A' level you have taken and the make of pen you used to complete the exam paper. Never, in all my working life, have I ever been asked to prove that I have the qualifications I say I have, so to find the original certificates would be a small miracle after all these years. I just ignore these boxes and say I have stuff, lots of stuff.

Let me give you some other examples after first taking a strong sedative.
I particularly like the forms that invite you to add additional details to support your application. These invariably permit you to type free text in small box that, when you exceed the length of the page, cause the text to mysteriously disappear on the next page because Word can't handle the page break. You can then spend hours of what remains of the rest of your life trying to find a way to make the text reappear on the following page without messing up the formatting of the rest of the document and swearing like a Marine as you fight a losing battle with Word.

And, because the forms all differ, you cannot cut and paste the information from one form to another as you can with a CV that you have created. Oh no no no, that would be too easy, all the boxes are different lengths, sizes and widths. And can anyone tell me why Word does not line up text exactly in columns? Why not? I can see the formatting marks, I can see they are exactly the same and I can also see that freakin' Word does not line up. Exasperation.

Sometimes the potential employer gets cunning, or more stupid, I can't decide which, by sending the document to you as a pdf. Presumably this is to encourage you to complete the form in your bestest hand writing. As I don't have bestest hand writing, or even averagest hand writing I convert these forms into Word and complete them as normal - see above for comments, and send them back in and let them work out how I did it. And then get subsequently ignored.

My favourite example, in the recent past is one I completed last week. There was no electronic version of the application form, just the old fashioned 'complete in ink' paper form except, except that it said 'You may complete the form by pasting in appropriate answers to the sections'. So, let me understand this clearly, there is no electronic version but I can type my responses in Word, print out the result once I have worked out the size and shape of the boxes and then cut them out and glue them into the various sections. Yes. A masterclass in wasting time if I ever saw one and presumably that won an award at the public sector conference for imagination and innovation in application form design

I suppose it wouldn't matter if you only did this occasionally but, as a dedicated job seeker now fully signed on, it's a regular thing. However one of the requirements of having a Job Seekers Allowance is that you apply for three jobs a week. I pointed out that there weren't three jobs a week that I could apply for that were in any way suitable for my skills and competencies. So we agreed I would just apply for any three - but you can bet they won't be for public sector organisations.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Tales of the unexpected

Looking for a job is a lot like buying a house really.
You lie back in your sofa in your current home, just after switching off 'Grand Designs' where Kevin McCloud has once again waffled on about the architectural narrative remaining coherent ('I think it does'), finish your second bottle of wine and decide to move to the house of your dreams.

But you have to remember that for most of us buying a house follows this inevitable sequence:
What you want.
What you will accept.
What you end up with.

So it is with a job, especially when there are at least 10 applicants for every job, according to the Trades Union Council a few weeks ago. Ten, I should be so lucky, there seem to be the entire population of the Isle of Wight applying for every post that I think looks interesting.

When I last lost my job I once again went through the 'no need to panic, plenty of time, important to find a position that fits my skills, knowledge and interest' rationalisation, then panicked. Nah, I didn't I'm a job seeker vet, man don't panic, man gets on the street does a little hussling, y'know whad I'm sayin?

Well 70 plus unsuccessful applications later I'm beginning to doubt my strategy a little. Having spent all this time carefully targeting selected organisations, finessing my CV to meet the job spec and writing covering letters that Mr. W Shakespeare himself would have been pleased with and to have achieved nothing at all sort of tells me something and this is what it tells me...
If you keep doing the same thing you keep getting the same results.
So is it time to abandon the strategy, shout everyman for himself, push the women folk and children aside, grab a lifebelt and throw myself into any job that looks like it might pay something and the 'fit to skills, knowledge and interest bit' can go to hell in a hand cart? Is it time to respond to those advertisements tied to lampposts at road junctions that ask do you want to earn £2000 A WEEK? Just ring this premium number in Columbia and ask for Serge, own AK47 an advantage. Or should I consider a paper round?

I was in my school's CCF (Combined Cadet Force), RAF section. They probably have a MI6 section these days. Yes, that sort of school. Anyway we went on mandatory annual camps to military establishments all over Europe where we got to do all sorts of spiffing military stuff like fire big, noisy weapons (must tell you about the Bloodhound missile I fired at a Russian jet sometime) and get cruelly bullied by the regular squaddies who had very innovative uses for Kiwi boot polish. At one camp we had the task, as a teams of five, to cross the mythical bottomless ravine using only two planks, a teddy bear, tube of toothpaste, four sticking plasters, 10 foot length of rope, three oil cans, a woman's bra, (empty, pity) and a copy of yesterdays Daily Mail. I learned two valuable lessons here, apart from never volunteer and just how hard boot polish is to remove from the body:
  1. Sometimes it is possible, with imagination, teamwork, innovation, planning and not quite enough time, to figure out how to get the team safely across the bottomless ravine.
  2. Sometimes, no matter how imaginative you are, how well you work as a team, how superb your planning and despite having more than enough time it is actually not possible, with the equipment to hand, to cross the bottomless ravine.
What the military seem to be looking for in 2 is the concept of what I'm going to call Intelligent Capitulation. That is to say you realise that what is being asked for is just not possible so you stop wasting your time and give up and go and do something else. Or wait to be captured. Or helicoptered out. Or blow something up. I don't know I didn't join the army, stop asking.

So now we have two concepts to consider. I just like to get you thinking.
  • If you keep doing the same thing you keep getting the same results.
  • Intelligent Capitulation.

The problem comes back to process of buying a house. Do I now abandon my dream of having a replacement job with a salary that was similar to one I had? Do I dilute my expectations to that of looking for a job that is somewhat less than the package I had? Do I just accept anything at just about any salary as long as there is some income coming in? What do I tell the Job Centre when I sign on? Shall I tell them about my theory of intelligent capitulation and see if they still want to pay the Job Seekers allowance?

Or do I just accept that with my background , skills and qualifications then hell will freeze over before any one offers me a job with a significantly lower salary than I used to have and I might as well stop bothering applying for circular meat patty high temperature rotating operative jobs.

Answers on a postcard please.

Now then, I still have the bear, bra and one plank left - just place it on the Teddy Bear's head and tie it tightly. I'm sure we can cross the ravine that way.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Let us prey

Do you know what gets on my toot and really, really annoys me? Many things actually, so many that I need two bouncers with a red rope rail only allowing selected annoying things through, so that there is often quite a queue to get on my toot at any one time of the day or night. There is health and safety everywhere these days you know, the bouncers even have to carry those clicker counters to ensure that the maximum capacity of my toot is not exceeded.

What annoys me are those organisations that prey on your deep felt sense of insecurity as you search for a job.

First up are those that clearly come from such on line job sites such as Monster - I'm not picking on Monster - no actually I am, they all seem to come from that source now I think of it. The emails start off innocently enough as the mark is identified; 'I've just reviewed your CV which is of considerable interest to me' (heart begins to speed up slightly) 'and I think it may be worth us meeting to consider your CV and possible career moves.' (Blood pressure rising, adrenalin starts kicking in, it might be an interview, it might be, OMG, a job offer). And then, so so seductively, the letter continues its tantalising message of hope until the sign off, 'Let's meet' it oozes, 'at our nearest office to you for a chat.' Then you notice, but only in the mouse type or by checking out its web site, that actually it is not a potential employer but an agency trying to flog you a course in how to find a job, for a big fat fee of course. It doesn't promise you will find a job. Just that it will take your money from you. And it doesn't tell you how much money either, presumably not until it has ensnared you in its web of promise and seduction.

Next on my list of let's profit from other people's misery shall we is the 'Is your CV being targeted at the right headhunters? Just send us £500 and we'll make sure that we distribute your CV to selected headhunters who will then whoop with unabashed joy, and jump in the air pumping their arms with clenched fists at seeing exactly the right candidate for the job they are seeking to fill, fall into their hands with no effort on their part just as they were about to despair. The job is practically yours right now'. This sentence is, of course, correct up to bit in italics. OMG people fall for this? Well of course we do, we are desperate, we need a job; any thing, including handing over large amounts of our fast disappearing cash has to be worth it doesn't it? Er no, in my experience. Handing over large amounts of cash to Snake Oil merchants is the last thing you want to be doing. There are plenty of organisations that help you for free - just look at the wonderful web site and you'll see what I mean. For £5. Kidding, it's free.

We have the pernicious CV writing companies. 'Just send us your CV for a free review' they gush and we'll tell you how to write a CV that targets your desired job with the accuracy of an American missile.' Oh yes? How so I ask? If CVs were that easy to manipulate that potential employers would immediately jump into their company car, drive to your house, go down on their knees and beg you to work for them the instant they glanced at the carefully crafted document don't you think that might, just somehow, have leaked out or potential employers become inured to them?

Now don't misunderstand me. I'm a pretty positive sort of guy that sees the start of each week as full of hope and promise (or a complete prat, you can take your pick really). But these sort of things just get me going. So much so I feel that I have to go to Tescos and see if I can buy some hope and promise there as these organisations do so well in destroying exactly that by about Tuesday morning.

I see the Government believes that there is an opportunity to fast track refugees from the business world into teaching. As some one still intimately involved in the world of education (Mrs EoTP and her job and with children still at school) you can only gasp open mouthed at the sheer audacity of the scheme. Now I accept that many of us ended up in the wrong industry, and some of us are still wondering how we can escape. I ended up in the car industry because Big Thirsty Cars of America offered me a job first during the milk round at Uni and hinted that a company car would follow in short order - and it did, a 2.0 saloon no less, with a brown vinyl roof covering, velour seat covers and optional push button radio (LW and MW, eat your heart out). One of the students I knew stayed on to to complete teacher training after Uni because he fancied two blond babes on our course. The rest of us could see that they would rather run around naked on the campus in mid Winter than have anything to do with him, though he and I might have voted for that if we'd had a choice and Mrs EoTP (to be, though I didn't know it then) was away for the weekend. However that decision cost him dear as he is still on the fringes of teaching and can't escape either.

I went to one of my child's parent teacher evenings last week. I get annoyed before I even get to them, and I've been to many now, and therefore been annoyed many times You'd think it would be the easiest thing in the world to organise slots for clots (i.e, us parents) and rotate the meetings in a controlled and organised manner thus enabling us all to talk to about our little darlings in the time allowed. You'd think. What actually happens is anarchy, every time, as parents/children/teachers fail to get a grasp of what is going on and mill around ineffectually. We never did get to see, literally, one teacher, who was surrounded by layers of parents even though it is meant to be a one-on-one meeting. The Government clearly believes that bringing in experienced people from industry will give a much needed boost to these apparently ineffectual academic types and sort things out. Well it won't because, in industry, the well paid executives are far more incompetent than in academia - it's just that they can hide their giant, enormous mistakes much easier than you can in public life and in the public eye - I present the evidence of the finance industry M'lord but, if you want back up, then the automotive industry is quite instructive. For example GM. And Ford. And, well, possibly many other car manufacturers. 30% over capacity in a booming world economy? No wonder they are in trouble now. I wouldn't want to be a teacher. I think that they do a great job with such variable inputs (i.e. kids) but one does question their ability to manage an organisation of more than three people. At times. Such as parents' evenings.

Anyway back to retraining. I have been extensivley retrained I can reveal. It was suggested to me (and when Mrs EoTP suggests you'd better listen) that we needed a grout cleaning brush, as my bathroom cleaning came under some detailed scrutiny a week or so back. Apparently the grouting wasn't clean enough and needed a good scrubbing and therefore I concluded I needed a good scrubber. The old ones are the best I feel. A grout scrubber was bought (men - Lakeland - sells everything for the house that you never knew you needed and then some) My grout now gleams with the intensity of three white hot suns as do my toilet bowls and basins.

See, we men can multi-skill and multi-task and if the Job Centre ever finds out I'll be cleaning the municipal toilets as part of my next career step.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Cold comfort

Mrs EoTP has a job (yippee).
Mrs EoTP is home at the moment, and has been for two days, with a streaming cold, which she has very kindly shared with me.

Thank you, Mrs EoTP.

As someone without much work to do, (but don't get me started on the toilets and bathroom which 'need cleaning'. Mrs EoTP doesn't take much notice when she's out at work but she has the eyes of an eagle at home) when you don't feel well you just stay in bed as everyone leaves for school/work. Or you wave them off and then dive back into bed and feel very sorry for oneself all day, such a luxury.

Of course, at work, there are all these procedures to follow when you've been off sick.
  • Notify someone who is the slightest bit interested. That's not always easy as all your colleagues are immediately ensconced in their own work on arrival at work or at least arguing about who is going to make the coffee. Of course you have to tell them this in a voice that suggests that you could come into work if it was absolutely necessary and would be sure that your slumped, fever wracked body in the corridor wouldn't get in the way too much but if it is OK with them you'll just hang on at home with your tissue box clutched to your side.
  • Find out if you have to call in sick on subsequent days. Nobody ever seems to know this.
  • On returning to work try and figure out how on earth you report your sickness and decide how graphically to describe the symptoms which are generally asked for in a big box on the sickness reporting form. Too little and there may be just the hint that you've been swinging the lead; too much and you've been Googling for just the right words to elicit full sympathy and plausibility and noted down an illness that only three people in the history of medicine have ever had.
Many smaller organisations seem not to be too bothered about all this reporting stuff. They wave an airy corporate hand at you suggesting 'oh don't worry about all that malarky' but actually means 'We'll make sure we make it up from you in the next year as you work twice the hours you are actually paid for.' And of course we do make it up - or you do if you are in work. I don't have to at the moment but just find that the ironing mountain is three times higher than when I last looked at it.

Then there is this fiendish system called the Bradford factor: using a cunning formulae and algorithms devised by the Devils's own little imps it measures the disruption of short, unplanned absences thus;

B = S^2 \times D (and you thought you'd left algebra behind for ever didn't you?). Don't say that this blog doesn't teach you anything. This identifies malingerers with the accuracy of an American missile. Sort of like a speed camera for illness at work really.

Of course for most illnesses the most sensible thing to do is take to your bed and ram Ibrprofen down your throat until everything seems a whole lot better. In just about all the illnesses I've presented to my doctor in the last 10 years that has been his stock response : 'Oh I've had that just take some Nurofen and stay at home.' No more signing off from work for a week. Though I did ask for a little more help than that when I fell headlong down the stairs and dislocated my shoulder.

If you are of a certain age then you may remember Mother's remedys. Mrs EoTP and I do.

  • Colds, No tissues just one hankie which would be soaked after an hour as would the pockets of your school trousers, skirt (or both if it was a public school). Your nose would be the colour of the plastic noses for Comic Relief. I tried to dry mine (hankie not nose, there was health and safety even in the 1960's) on the fire guard of the coal fires in the classroom. Yes, in the classroom, Big cast iron stoves. With coal scuttles.
  • A warm onion in a bag for earache.
  • Warm olive oil poured into your ear to cure earache.
  • Syrup of figs for the going problems
  • Milk of Magnesia for the stopping problems
  • Calamine lotion - for making you look stupid with pink residue drying on your skin
  • A scarf tied around your head when you had mumps
  • Vick's rubbed on your chest to help just about everything

The other thing that always helps is a Brandy. Surely it's not too early for one of those? Well I'm working on Doctor EoTP's orders so mustn't ignore them, must I?

Monday, 9 March 2009

I'll be back

The one thing you discover about searching for a job is's just a job.

The last month has been a very difficult one with a death in the family. Naturally that takes precedence over all other things - like looking for a job.

Still, the show must go on, and I still have things to ramble on about. And will be doing so later this week.

I will be back.


Tuesday, 27 January 2009

People who need people are the luckiest people

There are a number of phrases that set my in-built danger bells ringing loudly.

  • 'Dad can you help me with my maths homework.'
  • 'Dad I'm going out I don't know where I am going or what time I'll be back.'
  • 'Dad I'm just going to use the phone I won't be on it long.'
  • 'You've won a weeks free accommodation in Florida, call this premium rate phone number to Croatia to find out more.'
  • Can you cook the meal tonight I'm going out?'
  • 'I'm calling from BT to tell you about our new calling rates.'


  • 'People are our greatest asset'
This last statement is generally uttered with the implication that the CEO/MD is also saying 'I love our people so much, so very much, that I want to take them all home with me every weekend for a party and give then give them all picture of a kitten and a puppy each because I love them so much did I tell you that?'

The last phrase sends shivers down my spine as it often associated with not investing in any other physical asset to enable staff to do their job with any degree of efficiency. There is also the proudly uttered 'We are investors in people' - great, but can you get a new biro from the fearsome Keepers Of The Stationery or more paper for the photocopier, can you hell as like.

You see, from my perspective, telling your employees that they are the company's greatest asset and then actively preventing them from undertaking the job they are paid to do by not giving them the correct tools is, well, unfortunately far too common. And if organisations are not actively preventing the staff doing their job then, by not fixing the problems, they clearly are condoning the whole can of wiggly things. I know that W Edwards Deeming covered all this back in the 50's so I won't go on about it (well not more than I am already doing) - but in my experience most people come to work with the intention of doing a good job, or at least the one they are paid to do, and then spend the day fighting the system which seems intent in preventing them doing exactly that. This is also true of volunteer work as well where the great British spirit of muddling through is alive and well and being honed to new levels of muddling not hitherto considered possible.

And then the recession.

'Get rid of people and get rid of them now'
'But I thought people were our greatest asset?
'Who said that, I never said that, I hate people, they are a liability, there are too many people around me I feel crowded get rid of them, preferably lots of them and they are drinking too much coffee and eating my biscuits. And shred those pictures of kittens and puppies, they make me feel nauseous.'
'But without people we will not be able to provide the high level of service to our customers that we, er, like to pretend we are delivering.'
'You still here, just lose the people and quickly. And you can go too.'

Well that is Capitalism for you I suppose, in all its ruthlessness, but when you hear of all the people now without jobs, and know there is more to come, it sort of reminds me of the first letter I ever had making me redundant - 'You are surplus to requirements'.

That's not how you deal with your greatest asset, that's how you treat a filing cabinet.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Door stops

It has been so cold in the house during the day over the last month I've had to use an ice scraper on the computer monitor bef
ore I could use it.

EoTP develops a new law of finance
When you have a much reduced income then the sensible thing to do is to reduce your spending at the same time. However there is an immutable law of the universe that states 'a drastic fall in your income and a sensible and matched reduction in spending is immediately followed by a corresponding substantial rise in your utility bills and an expensive failure of several vital domestic appliances.' Thus our gas and electricity monthly bill has just risen by 74%. Now I have appealed, in vain, to the accounts department of Horrendous Gas Bills and Laughingly Large Electricity Costs Ltd and thought I'd proved that, actually, our fuel consumption had fallen over the year - cunningly I used their own graphs and data but they remain unmoved.

So back to the cold house. You see, when you work you are so pampered, well at least many of us are/were, with warm buildings and, sometimes, even aircon during the summer. Mrs EoTP would like to point out here that she works in an Elizabethan building where the only way to warm it up was throw another Catholic on the fire. That was in the 16th Century of course. As a result, at home, the heating does not get switched on during the day and I have to wear so many layers to keep warm that the Michelin Man looks anorexic compared to me. I can't bend my arms to use the keyboard and have to rock from side to side to press the keys. thiz hus teken mi al dai to tipe.

Being at home also involves talking to a lot more people who knock at the door during the day, people I didn't know existed before unemployment. There is of course the Postie. Consistently, through snow and sun, rain and fog, she never fails to drop yet another substantial bill through the letterbox but never, ever any job offers. Don't get me wrong, after being home by myself all day with just my head goblins to chat with, the opportunity of talking to another human is one I can eagerly grasp.

But there are the others. We have the proselytisers, naturally, a steady stream of people most weeks, with the convictions of their faith, wishing to share it with you. I have no problems with anyone trying to convince others of their faith and will listen politely at my door for up to several seconds before declining their various tracts. Live and let live as long as it doesn't scare the horses I say. They seem to travel in twos: good proselytiser, bad proselytiser? Sometimes it is necessary to be a little more assertive in convincing them to leave, they having mistaken my smile as I greet them for someone desperate to be converted to Pantheism, become a Jedi Warrior, Man from Uncle or whatever. It is the ones who presume on my innate politeness by coming back for a second or third go over the next few weeks that, frankly, start to get on my er, er, er, wick (that'll do). I do point out that I don't come to their door and attempt to convert them to paganism or atheism on multiple occasions even though they have made it clear that they are not interested but we could make a pact and, if they don't stop calling, I will dress in a long white sheet and pointy hat and dance round in circles, singing and clapping on their drive whilst waving an inflated pigs bladder on a stick at each turn of the Equinox and other divers ancient ceremonial dates and is that OK with them?

We also have many itinerant peddlers call. They launch into their sales pitch for Latvian Gonks, Peruvian nose flute music CDs or super cloths (super cloths??) the instant the door opens, presenting you with an 'Identity card' that they have clearly made on a 1950's John Bull childs' printing set with a wonky, blurry picture of what looks like a Womble stuck on. I generally laugh at this identity card and tell them my kids could make a better one. Last week one presented me with a 'Peddlers' licence', allegedly signed by Sergeant in a Nottingham police station. I scoffed and he huffed and said 'Well, call them then it's pukka.' 'Right', I said, 'I will.' and made for the phone. He departed so fast he left scorch marks on the gravel on the drive.

Outside the house the Council are repairing the path. They are changing it from the 4 x4 testing ground it has resembled for many years to a blacktop surface with the smoothness of baize on a snooker table. Anyway they have this sign up - see the top of this blog. I wondered then, what sort of assistance they might offer me?

'Can you help me with my job seeking?'
'Yes go and talk to Albert there on the concrete mixer, he's a renowned expert and talks regularly on the Radio 4 'Today' programme to John Humphries amongst others. Albert is so motivational and passionate on the subject he'll soon put you right and get you back to work.'

'I'm confused about Marxism-Leninism could you explain the difference?'
'Of course, Brian driving the dumper truck completes the Wikipedia entry on that subject and lectures in many countries during his holidays - good friend of Castro actually.'

'I've never had cause to use the horse's hoof stone extracting tool on my Swiss Army knife, why do they still include one in the tool set?'
'Ah, now Jenny can answer that, she's an expert on medieval armour as well as our JCB driver.'

'I've been writing this blog on people who call at the door now I am at home a lot and don't know how to finish it.'
'That's an easy one, I can answer that for you, all you have to do is...'

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Testing, testing

OK so we've had a letter saying they might, just, not promising anything though, it's only a thought, look I still have my fingers crossed whilst I'm saying this, be interested in you.
For a job.
But first, before they even start actually speaking to you, before they even deign to actually even start to pay you any attention whatsoever, you have to be tested.
What with? Needles, samples and involving latex gloves and bend over Mr EoTP, that sort of testing?
No, scarier than that.
Psychometric testing.

You see in the old days you'd get a tap on the shoulder and a 'You're alright, just turn up for the interview more or less on time, try and find the right office, don't dribble too much, pretend you like the boss's wife and the jobs yours'. Then all those HR managers were targeted by recruitment professionals selling their snake oil and, suddenly, an interview with the pre-meeting shoulder tap was no longer good enough. HR had been convinced that some of us could blag our way through interviews without knowing anything about the job, managing people, team building and yet still be a complete and utter power crazed sociopath who would ruin most of the business before moving on. Many of those types found their way to the top I found. The HR team wanted to know more, much more about your psyche, team playing abilities and what your head goblins were saying to you when all was quiet and still.

So they came up with testing.

Now I am the first to admit that relying on an interview alone is a poor way of deciding who should get a job particularly if it is me that hasn't got the job. If I have got the job then it is a first class way of recruiting exactly the right person and don't tell me otherwise.

My first test was handwriting analysis. They asked me to write all the letters of the alphabet as neatly as I could between the lines on a page in a notebook using a pen with a nib and an inkwell. No, false memory there, that was at primary school. Shame I accidentally spilt all that ink over the dress of the little girl sitting next to me. No my first test came, strangely, at the end of an interview process. I was reasonably confident that I'd got the job and 100% confident I wouldn't accept it. However the HR manager remarked, seemingly out of no where, that I should have filled out the initial application form in ink, in my very bestest handwriting, and not have printed it out on a computer. Did he not know how many bleedin' hours I'd spent making sure the print came out in exactly the right places on the application form after lining it up in Word? Well no, he didn't so he made me write it out in longhand like some form of after-school detention. Now I'm left handed and wondered whether all the resultant Rorschach inkblots would count against me and they, too, would be analysed - 'Be careful of this one he thinks he has special yellow friends living on the ceiling.' No a week later he rang up and said, simply, 'You're OK.'
Is that all the handwriting analyst could come up with on their professional scale? What was the scale then?
1. The ruthlessness of Genghis Khan
2. The sheer terror of Margret Thatcher
3. The team building skills of Stalin
4. OK
5. The honesty of Blackadder
6. The personality of Eeyore.
7. The intelligence of George W Bush

I turned the job down.

Next job application came with the computerised version. Left alone at a screen and keyboard I was given an hour to complete the test. Twenty minutes later I'd finished and, eventually, the HR person returned and was suitably impressed at my speed. 'That was fast' she said 'Some of those maths questions are very tricky, you did well to do them in your head.' 'Head' I thought 'I used a calculator I had in my pocket.' Well as no one had said not to I decided not to say anything - and took the offered job.

Of course HR are not so easily diverted anymore and the tests have become longer and more involved. I still have the results of several to hand. Let's share:
Actual quotes here.
  • 'EoTP is unlikely to be reticent about coming forward.' - er, aggressive?
  • 'He doesn't seem to have problems with stage fright in large groups.' Show off?
  • 'Naturally curious'. Stop pushing your fingers in that electric socket - that was my Mother.
  • 'Strongly creative.' Yes I see that of course I am, but 'don't let him work in finance'.
  • Rules - likely to exercise a degree of flexibility.' Yes, I treat them as guidelines.
  • 'You should employ him now.' Are you listening?

Here's another one, only 25 pages long this one. My own Mum wouldn't recognise me.
  • 'Affable, socially confident.' Lock the drinks cabinet and hide the party food.
  • 'Very independent.' Well I think that means very independent what do you mean you disagree, I don't care I'm going to do it anyway.

Should I take any notice of it, should anyone? In some ways they are like horoscopes as they all talk in very positive and flattering terms about someone very important to me i.e. me. Whether they truly make a difference in recruitment when the potential employer finally groks my age and goes 'No we wanted young and cheap, I don't mind if they have the personality and moral scruples of Pol Pot tell the older guy we actually wanted uncreative and totally biddable.'

So I leave you with just one question?


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Consultation period

I could see the gleam of hope kindle and then blaze in her eyes with the heat of a white hot sun. She'd read my CV, discussed my career aspirations, and now she pounced with the zeal of someone revealing the entire secrets of the universe to the uninitiated.

'You could be,' she paused dramatically, 'a consultant' and then leaned back in her chair with the triumphant look of someone who has just bought the last bag of brussel sprouts in Tescos before Christmas whilst all around her the unlucky ones wailed and gnashed their teeth at their misfortune (well they do where I live).

And that was it, 50% of the result of the career counsellor's output after exhaustive psychometric testing, CV evaluation and interview skills. Oh that and be an interim manager which proved to be the other 50% and we've already had a little look at those roles. Having developed a poker face, as a result of so many people telling me 'Oh you'll soon get a job with your qualifications', and then not having done so, I asked, simply, 'Consult who with what?'. Had I asked how to fix the Large Hadron Collider for just £5.30 I feel I might have got a more fulfilling answer. 'Ah' she said, 'I've just forgotten that I had another client, er right now in Mumbai, must go'.

So let's put the beefburger of consultancy over the flames of possibility and see what catches fire. Well I've been an independent 'consultant' and it falls, in my experience, somewhere between the fun you have hitting your face with a house brick repeatedly and running over your foot with the car. Both interesting experiences in their own ways but you are very glad when they stop.

Firstly, consult what? Well, when you've had many years in the wacky and fun filled world of the sandwich-in-a-balloon industry you might feel uniquely qualified to be able to consult with the said purveyors of sandwiches-in-balloons. Of course, you first have to get over the hurdle that the the employer that has just ejected you might not feel like having you back on the premises, in the same town, county or even country and the fact that their competitors probably loathe them and their staff with a passion bordering on an obsession. The moment you left you were erased completely from corporate memory unless you figure in the same sentence as 'Ah that was the fault of XYZ, he/she didn't complete it before they left.' Your departure is good for at least six months of backside saving.

Then you discover that, strange though it seems, there are 65 other people who also claim to be to be consultants on the sandwiches-in-a-balloon business. You've never heard of them, you don't know where they've come from but they all seem to be pitching for the same teeny weeny bit of work. And all have strangely sounding business pedigrees that somehow make yours just that little bit less lovely and cuddly.

How much do charge? Oh this is so hard, so very hard. You are desperate for the work but don't want to sell yourself short because, once you name a day rate, hell will freeze over before you can raise it. £500 a day sounds a lot. But how many days will you work for and how any days do you have to spend not being paid looking for the next job. And you don't get paid when you are on holiday or have a sickie - pulling a sickie now costs you money (and that's a bad thing). Remember consultants often have the same, or slightly worse, survival rate of a soldier in the trenches during the First World War. I once turned down a week's work at £250 per day on the basis that it was half my usual day rate and then spent that week at home not earning anything. Still I had my pride. And an empty wallet. But I had my pride and that's what counts Tesco, that's what counts why are you escorting me out of the store?

The car, what car do you buy? Right, the big shiny company car has gone leaving only a small oily stain and few weeds on the drive. Now you have to buy your own. Prudence says a 10 year old Fiesta will do - but what will the client think? Too big a motor and they will think you are charging them too much, a pile of rust and they will think nobody else will employ you and have they made a major error. But how can you be a consultant without a sharp suit and a big shiny car? Everyone else has a big shiny car, why can't I Mummy?

And then there is the actual work.
'So what value exactly will you add to our company Mr EoTP?'
'Well I know stuff.'
'What stuff do you know and will that stuff enable us to sell more of our stuff for more money?'
'Well I know stuff about the industry and stuff about selling and stuff about marketing. And I have a kitten.'
'OK we like the kitten but not you - the kitten can stay.'
Fundamentally you will only get work as a consultant if you can actually show that, by the end of the paid period, that things are actually better in some way. Compare that to most people's jobs where they are satisfied if things are not actually materially worse than when they started out that morning or, at the very least, somebody else has been blamed for it.

And don't think that a groovy web site that lists your qualifications and Alma Mater will make the blindest bit of difference: it won't. Neither will funky headed paper - I had really very funky and colourful headed paper and I couldn't find any work after 18 months and therefore no one to send it to. Anyone like to buy 15 reams whilst we're here? The people who pay you money want the knowledge in your head extracted and put into a bottle and then they can throw the husk of your body out onto the cold, cold streets.

There are the accounts and the Inland Revenue to deal with and I still have nightmares about the day the VAT man sent in the
bailiffs. Yes I was VAT registered. Pay the VAT before the children eat, before the mortgage is paid, above all else do not fail to pay the VAT man as they have super powers that transcend all us mortals. Pay them and all will be well, they said. Well I did and the one time that the VAT system paid my cheque into the wrong account, through their error, I had the bailiffs knocking on the door three days later demanding anything that wasn't too large to get through the front door but not including Mrs EoTP fortunately. Oh it was all sorted out, how I laughed, though I'm still waiting for an apology 10 years later.

In the end I gave up the consultation work. To be fair it gave me up first. All my contacts dried up or moved on and in the end there wasn't really a market for what I was offering. Marketing support for small to medium enterprises since you ask. Though I was prepared to do anything by the end of the period. That work as an ice trucker paid handsomely thank you. As if.

So before you decide that consulting is the very thing for you, in the worst recession the country has seen since the dinosaurs were wiped out by a giant meteorite or some one said 'there's a big black rat just got off that boat do you think it might be carrying a funny foreign disease', just be sure that the stuff you are selling is the stuff organisations are buying.

Or you'll be stuffed.