Archive | October, 2011

To Wigan library and beyond: how to boost employability prospects

10 Oct

Today I did something that I’ve been putting off for quite some time, I joined the library.

Hardly controversial I know, but it signals a reluctant acceptance on my part that I’m staying put for the time being.

After I graduated in July 2010, I rather optimistically thought (hoped?) that after a couple of months I would land a job a media job and eventually work my way up the career ladder.

Although I was aware of the economic climate and the knock-on effect it had on the jobs market, I had no idea of just how tough it was, and still is, out there.

I wrote a feature on this very subject: Doles and degrees: The lost generation part two? for Manchester-based news website Mancunian Matters.

I was buoyed by Charlie Ball, the Deputy Director of Research at Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU), who was optimistic for the future graduate market, but was all too aware of the warnings Dr Dalia Ben-Galim, Associate Director of IPPR, was issuing.

Her somewhat prophetic comments about high levels of youth unemployment triggering unrest seem particularly poignant, especially in the aftermath of the rioting seen across the country in August this year.

UK riots: mindless thuggery or legitimate protest?

So, 15 months since graduating I’m still in employment limbo. I am earning, but not in the field I’d love to work in.

I’ve had a taster in the form of studying for my NCTJ qualifications and numerous work placements, but getting that elusive paid media job is tantalisingly out of reach. For now.

So this morning, on a delightfully grim day weather-wise, I decided to don my waterproofs and go to the library to see what they had on offer. I was pleasantly surprised and left with the weight of a small child’s worth of books in order to initiate Operation Different Ways To Get That Job.

I chose one book based on what I thought was an incredibly pretentious title, Brilliant employability skills: How to stand out from the crowd in the graduate job market by Frances Trought.

In Trought’s defense it’s a really good read. I had a cursory glance at the first chapter over a cup of tea, and then couldn’t put it down.

It isn’t new ground-breaking information, but it really helped combine all the advice given during my time at university and throughout my post-graduate studies. It also showed examples of key recruitment terms in job application contexts. Well worth a read if you’re in the same boat as me careers-wise.

For now, it’s time to bury my nose into the pile of other books I checked-out and see where they lead. Onwards and upwards!



Strictly catching up

9 Oct

One of the benefits of working a long Saturday shift is the promise of a self-indulgent Sunday catching-up with all the  TV programmes I’ve missed.

Having worked an 11-hour shift with no breaks – a new personal best (or worst) – I had missed out on a serious amount of guilty-pleasure television including Merlin, Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor. Never mind food.

However it was all worth the effort as today, after a home-made Sunday roast (chicken and all the trimmings, if you’re curious) and an indulgent sticky toffee pudding for dessert, I plonked myself in front of the TV.

At the end of a five-hour marathon of TV viewing I felt numb with pixels. However my viewing highlight was Russell Grant’s performance on Strictly to Abba’s Dancing Queen. (If you haven’t seen it yet, please YouTube it, I guarantee it’ll make you smile.)

Feeling the groove: Russell Grant throwing some Strictly shapes

I beamed throughout his routine amid a flurry of frills, feather boas and sparkles. It proved to be the perfect antidote to a miserable few days job-hunting. Or scraping the barrel jobs-wise to be more precise.

This got me thinking, instead of moping around about the dire jobs market I need to diversify in my job-hunting quest. So, starting next week, I’m initiating Operation Different Ways To Get That Job. (It’s a working title.)

As well as chasing the slim-pickings that are out there I’m going to take a more pro-active approach to getting work. I have a few ideas up my sleeve, but I’m unsure whether I’m just experiencing post-X Factor/Strictly highs where it seems anything is possible.

At least my career lows are not being played out on national TV, unlike a certain Ms Currie. Again.

From journalism to male modelling… and back again

7 Oct

I woke up this morning with a renewed enthusiasm for job-hunting and, armed with a mug of tea, booted up the computer excited for the possibilities today could bring.

I took a look at the usual suspects, holdthefrontpage and W4MP  (slim pickings) and so decided to take a cursory glance at what potential jobs had landed in my inbox.

Job hunting from the comfort of your own home

Like most people, I’m signed-up to a number of job listings websites which aim to narrow down the job search by emailing over jobs you’re interested in. Naturally, as I’m interested in journalism, job titles such as editorial assistant, trainee journalist and media assistant are vacancies at the top of the pile. Each day I spend a good half an hour wading through them to see if any look like they’re worth a punt.

What made me smile this morning, was a listing from Jobrapido which read:

Jobrapido has found more than 100 new jobs that match your profile.
Click the links below to view the jobs:
Editorial Assistant (15 new jobs)
Editorial/Manchester (3 new jobs)
Junior Copywriter (4 new jobs)
Copywriting (more than 100 new jobs)
Journalism Copywriting (11 new jobs)
Male Model (6 new jobs)
Journalist (11 new jobs)

Male model?! And it’s listed above ‘journalist’!

So if all else fails I’ll need to get buffed up, and have a sex change. As the famous meerkats from Meerkova say. Simples.

Aleksandr Orlov philosophy: simples

Job application #3874

6 Oct

….or so it feels.

It seems that filling in application forms has become something of a full-time, albeit unpaid, job for me.

The most excessive one was a staggering 17 pages long (they were pretty specific) and took me the best part of six hours to complete. Six hours! Many cups of tea (and innumerous toilet trips) later I was the proud owner of a tome about my various work experience placements and qualifications.

That was completed four weeks ago and I hadn’t heard so much as a peep from the recruitment bods. No surprise there. However I woke up this morning with a niggling thought that the interview date was fast-approaching and, you know, my phone has been on the blink so I might have missed their impassioned pleas for me to grace them with my presence and be interviewed. So I decided to give them a call.

I rang up the HR department and babbled about the job application to an unimpressed sounding woman who merely asked: “Name?” And after some exaggerated paper shuffling said: “I’m sorry you haven’t made the shortlist.” I thanked her for her time and hung up.

Now although this shouldn’t have been a big surprise I was genuinely saddened by the news and did what every mature wannabe would do in my position. Got mad.

Rejection rage: it affects all ages

“WHAT MORE DO THEY WANT?!” I shouted to my nervous-looking boyfriend, “I. DON’T. KNOW. WHAT. ELSE. I.CAN.DO!”

After a lot of sulking and pouting I decided to use my bad mood in a positive way and get another couple of job applications under my belt. It was as I was scanning the online vacancy listings that I noticed that most adverts ended with: “Due to the large number of applications we will receive, if your application is unsuccessful we will not contact you.”

I felt the anger rise again. And 12 hours on I’m still fuming. I don’t understand how difficult it could be for a recruiter to send an en-masse email to say “Sorry, better luck next time.” Or simply “No.”

Do they not realise how demoralising it is for applicants? I only hope that this generation of unemployed people will eventually strike lucky and be a more compassionate bunch in the future when they’re recruiting.

I’ll make damn sure I am.

Unpaid internships and the minimum wage: when will all workers get a fair deal?

4 Oct

Having spent the last week gallivanting about the countryside and mini-breaking with friends, the inevitable day came when I had to get back to my normal routine of waitressing and applying for jobs. And today was the day.

After an incredibly long and busy eight-hour shift with no breaks (does this make me an illegal worker?) I gratefully tucked into the mountain of food placed before me by my parents.

Although running around buckling under the weight of a heavy tray, interpreting Starbucks-esque drinks orders (a grande Americano is just a large black coffee in Wigan love) and taking varying amounts of abuse from customers is not an ideal way to spend a day, I am lucky in many respects. For one, I’m paid the national minimum wage.

The minimum wage was introduced in 1999 by the Labour government and stated that workers must be paid at least £3.60 an hour, with under 22s being paid no less than £3. Now 12 years on it stands at the princely sum of £6.08 an hour, however increasingly employers are finding ways of exploiting legal loopholes in order to pay workers less than or, in some cases, no wage at all.

The debate regarding unpaid internships has rumbled on for some time. Back in April 2011 the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, introduced a social mobility scheme with the aim of setting a level playing field for everyone, instead of the pick of the internships being reserved for a select few.

Nick Clegg: sentiment vs reality

He’s quoted within the article saying: “For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and the well-connected. Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.

“We want a fair job market based on merit not networks. It should be about what you know, not who you know.”

The sentiment and rhetoric is spot-on, however I fear that it has fallen on deaf ears in the majority of cases. At a time when companies and businesses are tightening their belts and people are desperate for an edge in the jobs market, it’s something that’s not going to happen any time soon.

This was highlighted in this week’s Panorama, All work and low pay.  The programme really hit home as most of the examples used have happened either to me or one of my friends.

The example of the ‘chuggers’ being expected to do a day’s work for free as part of the application process reminded me of friend’s ‘interview’ for  job. At an interview you expect to be given the opportunity to sell yourself (so to speak) not be the recipient of a highly-charged sales pitch. However my friend – let’s call her Jess- experienced just that. She was deposited in a suburb of Manchester and expected to door-knock on her own for eight hours before being picked back up by the company to review her work.

Jess was understandably freaked out at what was being expected of her, and being left alone in a slightly dodgy area. In the end she did what any girl does when in a predicament – rang her Dad. He did a 60-mile round trip to pick her up from what she describes as “the worst employment experience of my life.”

As a budding journalist, or wannabe hack if you will, I’ve been at the receiving end of unpaid editorial internships. They come with the promise of an amazing portfolio of work at the end to show to prospective employers, which is true, you do get a decent body of work by the end of it. But is it truly worth busting a gut for weeks/months on end to have a handful of published articles? Sadly yes. If it means taking one tiny baby step forward towards every wannabe hack’s dream – a paid journalism job, then it seems to be a sacrifice you must be willing to take.

The last segment of the programme discussed the idea of paying for an internship. To most people it seems absurd to part with your own hard-earned cash to be out-of-pocket by the end of it. But I can relate to his story, as I did it too.

I graduated in 2010 from the University of Hull’s politics department in 2010, having studied British Politics & Legislative Studies . I completed an internship at Westminster in the academic year 2008-2009.

Unlike my other classmates who worked for MPs or peers, I went down the journalism route (naturally) and worked for the House Magazine , the in-house magazine for Parliament. And unlike my classmates who were given £5 a day in lunch vouchers and London-based travel expenses, I was lucky enough to be salaried. As my boss at the time said: “It’s just not right to have you work for us that long and not be paid.”

However I watched as many people scraped together what money they could and made desperate calls home for emergency funds from the Bank of Mum and Dad to cover rent and utility bills. Although it was an amazing experience to be rubbing shoulders with the Westminster villagers,  the financial pressures of covering the hefty price-tag of course fees (half-price while on placement) whilst working for free put a lot of friends under enormous pressure.

It’s ironic that the legislators who brought into effect the minimum wage, so flagrantly disregard it.

So although I complain about my long waitressing hours, I should be, and am, grateful that I get paid a fair, if minimum, wage.

Back oop North

3 Oct

Apologies for not blogging as diligently as I should have done. It just seemed wrong to waste the gorgeous summer weather indoors, so I embraced the outdoors – both in the country and the city (and in the odd watering-hole) and had a thoroughly fabulous few days away.

Today I’ve been catching up things I would have ordinarily done if I’d been at home including obsessive checking of emails to see if anything had come through jobs-wise (there hadn’t) and tidying my room (a seemingly never-ending task). An added bonus to the day was the extraction of yet another wisdom tooth.

In my last post I was waxing lyrically about Oxford being the backdrop to a number of popular films and TV shows and it didn’t stop there, while walking along the banks of the Thames last week I turned to Beth and said: “You know what would make your Oxford experience complete? Seeing filming for Lewis while you’re here.”

She reluctantly agreed and conceded: “Yeah, my mum and gran would be chuffed.”

Having finally made it to the end of our Thames-side walk and into Oxford , we turned right onto a main road and bam! As if I’d conjured them out of thin air stood the actors Kevin Whately and Lawrence Fox (Mr Billy Piper).

I know, I know I’d be a rubbish pap, but granted I didn’t have a long lens, just my trusty Nikon digital, but still you can just about make them out.

Lewis and Hathaway on the case in Oxford

Although it may not seem the most impressive ‘famous’ actor spot, the gents certainly made their presence felt, and I enjoyed watching scenes being set-up and shot.

Boys in blue: police cordon off street for filming

After all the giddy excitement and stunning weather of my two days in Oxford, on Friday I jumped on a train and headed for Romford, Essex to meet an old university friend, Shona.

The weekend proved to be a fun-filled and welcome distraction from my dismal attempts to crack the current journalism jobs market, and I was introduced to the newly opened mecca of shopping which is Stratford’s Westfield. My oh my.

Westfield Stratford: so many shops, so little time

The place is enormous and is home to every conceivable high street fashion store. I got particularly excited when I visited Forever 21, an American import that only has two stores in the UK (The Bullring, Birmingham and Westfield).

However I found shopping there on a Saturday afternoon particularly over-whelming, particularly in addition to the sheer amount of choice of clothing and accessories.  This assault on the senses sent my little head into a spin and I left the store without buying anything. Gasp.

On my last day in Romford Shona and I indulged in a picnic and it was so hot we had to don our sunnies and slap on the sun lotion.

Our glorious sunny picnic, modelled by Shona

Need I remind you it was October 2nd? And apparently the UK is due snow next week. Madness!

Anyway, back down to earth with a bump now, let the job-hunting and waitressing continue!