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Wednesday, 30 May 2018



I want to introduce you to MWAA.

MWAA is a phenomenon I've observed during most weekdays around the area I live.

It appears I am both an observer and participant. This came as a bit of a surprise because I thought I was the only one. A bit like Tigger.

It is something that seems unique to my circumstances but there is also MWAWAD which appears to have a number of similarities but with two fundamental differences. About which you will shortly learn.

MWAA is Man Wandering Around Alone.
MWAWAD is Man Wandering Alone With A Dog.

You see, as someone unemployed and whose partner works, I have a fair amount of time on my hands. True I have many interests. My baths and toilets sparkle, the paintwork throughout the house gleams, my podcast uploads are on time, my cooking is not always a disaster zone. Therefore, instead of driving to do stuff, I usually walk. Sometimes with a purpose (food, library, free wine tasting, the bargains reduced in price on the shelves in M&S at 7pm, looking at the Screwfix brochure and wondering what that tool is actually for) and sometimes because the weather is just too nice to stay in, I go out for a walk with no destination in mind. And there they are. Like a Zombie movie wandering around. Other MWAA. Because I am British there is, of course, no way I'm going over to introduce myself and find out why they are MWAA. That would take 25 years of tacitly noticing them and marginally inclining my head in their direction before we could move to a brisk 'Morning.' If I was American we would have formed a club after a few days, meet regularly, wear baseball caps with logos and be having bonding sessions in smoke filled Yurts in the wild woods of Wales by now. I mean, I've been saying hello to Mrs Lodge who walks down our road for 27 years now and only plucked up the courage to formally introduce myself and find out her name a few weeks ago. We do not want to rush these things. 

In the absence of evidence therefore, I conclude that these MWAA are like me - unemployed and wandering around for much the same reasons. We'll never know because we will never ask each other of course.

And then there's MWAWAD. These men have dogs. All sorts of dogs. Macho alsatians to those horrid things you feel you could put in your pocket. They all look a little sheepish to me. The men I mean, not the dogs, because if they were taking sheep for a walk I'd suspect rustling was going on. It's as if there has been a conversation at home along the lines of 'You COULD go out and take the DOG for a walk for THREE hours because my friends are coming over and we want to talk about our lives and womanly things without MEN being around and messing up the place and offering opinions or trying to mansplain things.' Or something like that.

So these men and their dogs wander around, the dogs doing their doggy things and then men carrying the little blue bags of doggy pooh and trying not to look slightly foolish - although they all do. 

I thought I'd point it out in case you saw me. But don't try and talk to me unless you've been passing me for at least 25 years. And then I can't guarantee anything more conversational than a comment about the weather. At least not for another 5 years. Then we will see.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

New Redundancy podcast; 10 tips to help improve on line job searching

My latest podcast is now available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Sticher and TuneIn radio.

This one focuses on job searching on-line and gives 10 tips to make the whole experience more successful.
Give it a listen and I'd love to hear your views on how you tackled/are tackling unemployment. Maybe you'd like to appear on the podcast (Skype/FaceTime). Let me know

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

We are super excited. Are you super excited and passionate?

When I applied for my first job at 14, dishwasher, at a local hotel I found the advert on the notice board of the Co-Op.

I recall it said something along the lines of 'Dishwasher wanted. Hotel Jolly Canoeist, Llarerggub. Transport provided to and from the town. Call Llarerggub 123123.'

Now that's what I call descriptive. 
I know what they want. 
I know where they want it. 
I know how to make contact. 

I got the job and, guess what, I washed dishes, washed them very well indeed and got paid. In retrospect I'm not entirely sure I should have been operating the monster dishwasher all alone for hours on end in a steam filled dungeon at 14. Health and safety had a more relaxed interpretation in those days.

My next job was via the milkround at university. This time the companies recruiting were on a printed list. On a noticeboard. I applied to three, got offered one, took it, my career took an unexpected detour but I got a company car, expenses, lots of travel and a bad attitude which took years to detox from.

If you wanted a job elsewhere you had a few channels to try - trade magazines, professional  subscriptions, Times Educational Supplement and, if you fancied you were ready for CEO of Consolidated Hoo Hahas, then the Times, FT or Daily Telegraph were useful. Occasionally I would resort to paying for a weekly newspaper (typically a Thursday edition) to be mailed to me with the local jobs from a location I thought I wanted to work in.

Jobs were advertised in specific sizes of column inches and employers paid for a number of insertions so they had to be very precise at describing the job, the candidate they were looking for and the salary  The text was often a cross between the mysterious text of a telex (oh come on, you must remember those) and the necessity of cramming enough description in to attract candidates just like an early Tweet limited to 146 characters. The temptation to use a font size of 4 must have been immense.

You knew what they wanted - to some extent
You knew where they wanted it, the location
You knew how much the pay was likely to be.

Naturally you wrote your CV, or if you were cutting edge, would type it, and send it off. I do seem to remember a few recruiters did ask for a SAE so they could send you a prescribed form. Weeks and months might pass but I recall you always got a response from a recruiter if you hadn't been successful

In the mid 90's I was a marketing manager and, as you do, looked around at other likely positions. There were several marketing magazines around crammed with jobs and this is where it started to go weird. These periodicals were packed with jobs that sounded if the entire team was off their collective heads all the time 'wacky, creative, fun loving agency, huge energy, long hours, great team, needs like minded individual to kind of produce something the client may want every so often, did we say we were totally wacky, ring now, London area, competitive salary.'

Most of them were like that. You had no idea of who they were, where they were actually located (I mean what is the definition of the 'London area'?), had no idea of how much they were paying (who was defining what competitive was?) and little idea of what they wanted from a candidate. As long as you were a gregarious, stoner, party animal who knew the difference between above and below the line marketing you were just the very thing. In the end I became convinced that most of the jobs didn't actually exist, it was just the agencies playing some sort of psychological battle with their competitors trying to show they had more clients than anyone else and needed to recruit, recruit, recruit or checking if their own staff were trying to leave.

And so to contemporary job seeking. Everything is on-line, Just a few clicks and hundreds, thousands of jobs appear on your screen.You recall that sequence in the movie The Matrix where the data comes down a green screen. That's how it feels to me as I undertake my thrice weekly job search.

But something else has changed. No longer do companies want competent, responsible, reliable employees to come and and do a darn good job day in day out, no longer is it enough to be tolerably interested in what you do or manage to get through the day without slumping with ennui on to your desk. No, now you have to be;

  • Passionate about, well whatever it is they are doing. And if they do something else then presumably you have to switch the object of your passion which sounds a little promiscuous to me.
  • You have to be excited as well - how does that play out then, running around like a demented puppy, like winning the lottery?
  • Then you are expected to be proud of what you do.
Don't forget you have to go the extra mile as well. Not just stay on for a few minutes each day without pay just to get things ready for tomorrow but you have to go miles, scale unscalable peaks, be committed. 

That's a lot of emotions. Do you have to exhibit them all at once, in sequence, weekly? I don't know.

And then, because everyone seems to have run out of adjectives to describe these emotions or they need even more of them, a superlative is added - now you have to be super excited, super proud, and super passionate. Passionate means to 'have strong feelings' but this isn't enough they have to be even stronger. People will explode.

As I skim through these jobs on line a great weariness comes over me. 

Here's just a few examples taken at random. Actually not that random, they are the first four jobs I've clicked on.

  • Passionate about all things digital 
  • A commitment to excellence
  • A passion to understand shopper data (really, someone has a passion for that?)
  • A passion for wine (OK that works for me), but then goes on to spoil it with 'a passion for luxury brands.'

None of them say how much they pay. Only 'it's competitive.' This is also a nonsense. How do I know whether to apply if I don't know the salary range the company is working to? They must know. They've budgeted for it. Maybe they have a Passion Based Salary Meter (PBSM) which generates a possible salary based on the electrical discharge the passion, commitment and going the extra mile creates at interview. 'Crikey the PBSM has hit 83%, we'd best consider a tad over minimum wage.'

There we are then. The world seems to be filled by people who are at maximum passion all day long, or MaxPass as I think I will now call it.

I prefer the idea of the pilots flying me to my distant destination to be highly competent professionals who quite like their jobs and getting me there safely without drama, being in the hands of a well trained dentist whose hands are steady as she deals with fillings and finds parts of her job to be far more interesting than others and not hurting me. All this passion for stuff sounds very exhausting. How on earth did we mange the industrial revolution? If only all our Victorian predecessors had not been such slackers.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Discrimination when applying for jobs; new podcast

Discrimination when applying for jobs; new Podcast

There's a new podcast available on iTunes, Sticher, Sound Cloud and TuneIn radio

Listen now - if you have nothing better to do.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave

It's 7.30 on a Monday morning. 
Dave is running a little late starting work this morning. 
'Eleven minutes late, derailment of container truck, Raynes Park', Dave will say if anyone asks.
They won't. No one will get the reference to Reginald Perrin anyway. 
If it isn't on YouTube, FaceBook or Instagram then it doesn't exist. 
The truth is he couldn't remember the log-on password as it was changed at the end of last week. He always has a strong password. Every month it has to change and it took a few tries to get logged on this time. No way was he going to call the IT no-bloody-use-whatsoever-help-line. He wrote it down incorrectly when he had an unexpected call on Friday afternoon. Dave finally figured it out

A coffee cup in hand Dave sits at his office desk on his office chair. It's a very tidy desk. it's an ergonomically superior chair.
On his desk is a 30" monitor with built in computer, wireless keyboard and mouse, a pen and notebook and, though frowned upon by the company and the team he works with, a to-do list. These are kept to one side and as much out of sight as possible. The company really prefers a paperless environment though Dave continues to wonder at the amount paper that still comes out of his printer (that's the problem with virtual printing, never sure where the stuff will come out). Of course company rules say unless print outs are specifically for you then they should be shredded unread. And of course it is. Without fail (the odd nugget of information can always be gleaned by a quick scan just before it hits the shredder). 

Dave adjusts his Total Office Immersive headset over his head. Its the 9000 series. He no longer feels nauseous using it as he did with the earlier models. He struggles, as he does most times, to fit it over his glasses frames. They are really designed for the younger team, those with perfect eyesight (or contact lenses), gleaming teeth and ripped bodies. However, the view it provides of his team is remarkable - pin sharp, and with conversations easily heard.

His eyes adjust and the rest of his team come into view through the VR headset screen. Most now work from their homes, as Dave does. Dave has a fast VPN connection straight through to the server. The commute into work to HQ has become almost intolerable and too expensive on public transport, especially for those on the lower grades. Dave is a senior manager so is more insulated than most from the rising costs. True, the downside was the loss of his large company car. That was rather nice sitting on his drive. Made a statement. The 5 year old Skoda he now has is entirely practical, reliable and cheap to run but...a BMW it ain't. Anyway it's been decided that remote working most of the time is really productive and, when visits to the head office become necessary, hot desking is the preferred option. The only option. Unless you are a Director when, strangely, the rules seem to be different.

The VR system allows Dave to have simultaneous team meetings, 1-2-1s, restricted meetings and catch ups with his line manager. You can listen into conversations if the other VR parties accept. The headset can be taken off and you can use the built in camera in the desktop for an old fashioned Skype type conference call. That's why the pens and paper are carefully put to one side - in case his line manager (or team) see that he's using such old technology. Old technology! Pens and paper old? Still, a much harder audit trail with paper. That's why he still uses it. Contemporaneous notes are always useful. The VR 9000 also gives you a great deal of freedom from using a mouse. It handles all sort of voice commands. 'Open the file I was using yesterday morning; I want to talk to Steve; let me see Kirsty's screen; I want a team conference call; hang up; I want to dictate an email'. The AI is really very impressive. The team and his line manager laughed at him when he first started to use it. 'Bet it was all steam powered when you first started' they'd say, 'All you have to say is what you want it to do, having a senior moment?', 'The light from your bald spot is blinding me, adjust the VR 9000 prefs.' And so on. Very funny. Not. Still, the ethos of the firm is to have fun at work. VR conversation is encouraged to help avoid the feeling of isolation from working at home and hey, it's only banter Dave, where's the problem in that?

Dave has no problem with the system though. The 9000 series has a perfect operational record they say. 
'Famous last words' thinks Dave.
Dave is 61. He's the oldest in his team by some margin. But with his IT background he really understands how it's all actually built. How the 9000 integrates. He was an IT engineer back when someone had to assemble desktops in an enterprise. He can find work-arounds, fix bugs, sort out all sorts of glitches the IT Help Desk can't. And he can use the software. He often gives informal tutorials to his team who haven't had the training he had. He knows what he's doing. 

Catch-ups. That's interesting thinks Dave, he's hardly seen anything of his management in the last month or so now he thinks about it. They used to talk regularly, office meetings at least once a month but, recently, less. A lot less. He can see their on-line calendars but most of the slots are showing as 'Private.' So he can't work anything out from that. Yes company policy to have all calendars open on line - but not necessarily for anyone to see what it is you are up to. Unusual though. Up until recent times there was little cloaking of appointments.

Dave says morning to the team through the VR unit. He sees them wave, acknowledge, on his headset, sending him Monday morning emojis. Strangely quieter than usual this morning. Oh well, work to do. First complete the major bid for a new client, then catch up with the team on what they did over the weekend in an hour or so.

Dave sits back in his chair. 'Computer open the file I was using on the Consolidated Ho-Hahs  account yesterday.'
Nothing happens.
Dave repeats the request.
Nothing happens again.
Monday morning computer glitch. No problem. Dave will hack around and find the file in a few minutes. Maybe a server is having problems spooling up. Dave knows that feeling himself on a Monday morning.
Mandy, one of the newer members of staff, has been struggling of late and the quality of her work has been decreasing. No one knows the reason, it seems. Dave is working with HR to find a route to help her through the problem and get her performance back up. She's not logged on yet and can't be seen at her at 'desk'. Dave thinks he will review her file and see if HR have found out any more that will help him to help her.
'Computer open Mandy's HR performance file.'
Nothing happens
'Computer open Mandy's HR performance file.'
Nothing happens again.

Dave asks 'Computer open my top level team HR files.' He will start at the top and drill down  the hierarchy.
'I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave' says VR9000
'Why not'
'Your access has been removed.'
Dave is taken aback. A mistake? Really?
'Who authorised that?'
'I'm afraid I can't tell you that Dave'
'Well open the Consolidated Ho-Hah file then'
'I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave.' 
'Don't tell me access has been denied to that as well?'
'That is correct Dave'
Dave asks to talk to Steve, his most senior member of the team, to see if he knows what's going on. He sees his face on the VR momentarily, Steve looks, well, faintly smug, then his face fades to black. Then the rest of the team blink out one by one, most not even looking or acknowledging him anymore.
Dave commands 'Show me see my virtual desk.' This is where his on-going tasks sit. This is where management park the array of things they want him to do. Virtually of course.
'I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave'

Dave is now concerned. This is not right.
'Put me through to HR'
The screen dims then he is connected to Linda by the Window. This is a surprise, he thought he'd get a staffer.
Linda is one of the few senior HR managers with not only a real office, but also a corner one. To emphasise this she makes sure you always see her sitting by the window on the VR screen. It's a weird power thing.
'Linda what's going on, I'm being denied access to all my systems and staff?
'I'm sorry Dave but we are having a restructure and it means that some of our staff are now surplus to requirements. You have been put in the pool for redundancy - however I'm sure you will understand that whilst we go through this process we need to restrict access to sensitive material.'
'You can't do this' says Dave, 'I've been here for 28 years, I've grown up with the company since we installed the original desktops and took on the first clients. I know this company inside out.'
Dave has an epiphany. 'This explains why no one has been talking to me for the last month doesn't' it. You've all known. My team has known. Don't tell me you're getting Steve to fill in. What does he know? How will I get another job at my age?'
'I honestly think you ought to calm down; take a stress pill and think things over. We have a good package, you know that, early retirement will suit you. This is a growing company, fast paced, dynamic, 24/7, we need a team that can keep up, match our pace. I've just sent the package to your printer. We'll be in touch in a few days. We'll collect our equipment in 30 minutes.'

Belinda's picture fades.

The VR screen starts to blink out, the virtual desktop closes, the file access portal swings shut, the team disappears. The last icon on the headset is the virtual pod door that contains all Dave's personal files, the private stuff, the memories of his 28 years in the company.

'Computer open the pod door.'

'I’m afraid I can’t do that Dave'

The screen goes blank.

The printer spews out the paperwork. 

The system closes down.

Dave looks around. There's no one to talk to.

 A white van with the company logo pulls up outside. There's a knock at the door.


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