Tag Archives: jobhunting

An open letter to my MP

After my recent time unemployed, I have finally been able to have the time to write to my MP about the failures in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Below is the body of the email which I sent to him. Any links are inserted into this blog post, but were not included in the letter, though URLs which have been typed, were.

I am writing to you with reference to the failures of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which I experienced recently. At the end of January, I was informed that I would be made redundant from my role as an accountant in a recruitment company in London. This redundancy became effective near the end of April. I am happy to report that I have now found work, being employed by a different company in London, from the start of July.

In the meantime, however, I had to claim job seekers’ allowance (JSA). However, my experience of dealing with DWP has shown some significant failures which I think ought to be brought to your attention. If it possible, I would ask that you raise these concerns directly with a minister responsible for the DWP, or even with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan-Smith.

My experience was that of a department is in disarray, had terrible communication and very few internal checks. As part of my claim, I was asked to provide some documentation on my savings. These are, as are many people’s, held in ‘e-savings’ accounts that do not provide monthly statements. I stated to the job centre that I was perfectly willing to provide proof of my savings, by logging on to the online bank and showing them. They were, however, unwilling to accept this as evidence. Even though I explained that these bank accounts didn’t provide statements, I was asked for statements nonetheless. This demonstrates an inflexible approach that has not yet caught up with modern technology and ways of personal banking, which the DWP ought to be attuned to.

It took an extra couple of days for my building society to provide printouts that they were willing to stamp. I duly took these into the Crawley Job Centre Plus as requested. Interestingly, when I asked for a receipt, I was denied. This seemed extremely odd, as it would have been no significant effort on their part, but it denied me written evidence that I had the provided the documents on a timely basis. As it turns out, this was very important.

I continued to apply for jobs, attend interviews and sign on every fortnight as required. However, I did not receive my JSA promptly. Three weeks after my handing over of the relevant documents, I received a letter from the Worthing Benefit Office stating that my claim would be closed because they had not received my bank statements. Upon enquiry, it emerged that the Worthing Benefit Office did receive my bank statements, but it happened to be exactly one day after they closed my claim. This was two weeks after I had submitted the documents. Whether the fault lay with the Crawley Job Centre Plus or with the Worthing Benefit office, I cannot say. But between them, there was an evident lack of communication. I saw computer records at the Crawley Job Centre Plus where they recorded receipt of the statements, yet the Worthing Benefit Office was unaware of this. Either an integrated computer system or even something as simple as a single phonecall could have prevented this, yet this didn’t seem to occur to the staff.

Having discovered this, common sense would dictate that the claim could simply be reopened at the touch of a button. Common sense, though, is a quality severely lacking in the DWP.

The upshot was that I was asked to make a brand new claim. I was also asked to do a “rapid reclaim” to backdate to when I was first made redundant. I carried on applying for jobs, attending interviews and signing on. When I was eventually offered a job and accepted the role, I still had not received any payment at all. The first payment was not received until after I ended my claim and asked for a P45 from the DWP. This payment was allegedly at the full rate of £71 per week, but was only backdated as far as the second claim. Consequently, for the 10 weeks I was unemployed, I only received an equivalent of £41.59 per week. Given that my monthly rent (on a 1 bed, unfurnished flat, property band B) is £750 per month, I question whether the coalition government consider this enough to live on. I would have to receive 19 weeks’ worth of JSA in order to afford 1 month’s rent. That is, of course, before council tax, food and utilities.

I know that I am much more fortunate than the vast majority of JSA claimants, as my previous job paid more than the average salary and I was subsequently able to build up savings. It was these savings that I lived off during my unemployment, with effectively no help whatsoever from the DWP. Instances of those less fortunate than me are well known, and I’m sure you are aware of http://calumslist.org which documents the deaths in which DWP decisions have played a crucial role.

Being unemployed is a very stressful time in one’s life. The DWP should be providing services that help to minimise this and to ensure a decent standard of living for those who are seeking work and those who are unable to work. But this ideal is far from reality. Consequently, I would like to propose some recommendations, based on my experience, that could be easily implemented to make others’ experience less stressful and would help to DWP staff to demonstrate a greater level of professionalism:

1) The Job Centre Plus should be permitted to provide receipts to benefits claimants, detailing what documents have been provided and when;

2) The Job Centre plus and the Benefits Office need to talk to one another. If a claim is being considered for closure due to a lack of documentation, it is plain common sense for the benefit Office to phone the Job Centre and ask them if they had received anything;

3) Payments need to be speeded up. Waiting more than 10 weeks for the first payment is not sufficient;

4) Payments need to be increased to reflect the cost of living. As it presently stands, they are not sufficient to provide even the most meagre of livings. This results in considerable financial and emotional stress which is not conducive to either good health or to employment prospects.

5) When a claim has been closed erroneously, and it can be easily demonstrated that the DWP were at fault, as in my case, then the bureaucratic form-filling that currently exists should be lifted, with an authorised manager given the ability to reopen the claim immediately, with no need for additional claims to be made.

So that you aware, a copy of this letter will shortly be published on my blog, which is publically available at https://sipech.wordpress.com where I have further documented my experience of being unemployed.

I’d be interested to know what you think of my letter…

A Big Personal Announcement

I’ve got a job!

Having been searching for 4 months and having been unemployed for over 2 months, I’ve finally been able to bring the days of jobhunting to a close. I am writing this in the period between when I accepted the offer and when I started, as I didn’t want to jump the gun and announce things before I had a signed contract.

Of course, as this blog is personal, I will not be revealing the name or precise location of my new employer, though I will say that it entails me working again in London. I had hoped for something more local, but every major decision in life requires some level of compromise.

The interesting thing is that job offers came like buses. I had worked and waited for many weeks and then 2 came along at once. I received the first offer on a Monday (what I shall call ‘job A’), just after I had left an interview for another job (‘job B’). The people offering ‘job A’ asked for a quick reply: they gave me 24 hours. However, the interview for ‘job B’ had gone well and I thought there was a reasonable chance that I might receive an offer for that role. So I was able to persuade the recruitment consultant for ‘job A’ to give me an extra half a day to think about things. Meantime, I let the other recruitment consultant know that I had received an offer and that I had a short deadline.

I’m not a fan of the “hard sell” as I’ve learned from this through painful experience. However, I didn’t think a day and a half was too short a time to consider it, though I was aware that I was putting pressure on another potential employer, effectively saying “offer me this within 24 hours or you’ve lost me.” That made me feel a little uneasy, as I try to be empathetic.

My plan had been to keep it all under wraps and not tell anyone, but as I was now presented with a choice, I felt I had to consult others in such a big decision, as I was looking to ensure that my next move would last at least 5-10 years. I was aware that my CV didn’t have a job on it that I had kept for more than 4 years. Also, I value some stability as this allows for better long term planning. So I asked a few people to grill me and get me thinking about questions that I hadn’t thought about, to ensure I looked at it from several angles. I spoke to my dad and to the pastor of my church. I had hoped to get the view of my former finance director, but he was off sick at the time.

I also wanted to make sure that I could be totally honest about my reasons for picking one over the other, so I paced up and down my flat a lot rehearsing what I would say to each recruitment consultant and trying to determine which sat most easily with me; to make sure I wasn’t trying to kid myself as much as anything.

As mentioned in some of my earlier posts (scan through my history to see which ones) I’ve made much of the fact that I would be needing to live off unemployment benefit. Though the truth is I didn’t. In all the time I was unemployed, signing on at the job centre once a fortnight, I never received a penny of jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) from the Department For Work And Pensions. I don’t honestly know if I will receive any. Instead, I was eking out an existence on what remained of my redundancy package. But JSA certainly isn’t enough to live on. I would have needed 11 weeks’ worth of claims before I would be able to afford 1 months’ rent on my 1 bed, unfurnished flat, such is the cost of living where I presently reside. That’s without considering council tax, utilities or food.  I do intend to write a full account of this and send it to my local MP, with a request for him to forward it onto a minister in the relevant department. When I do so, I will be copying my correspondence on this blog for all to see; I shall also inform him of my intention to do so.

At the time of writing this, I am in an interregnum between accepting the offer and signing the contract. There is some hold-up in obtaining references from one of my former employers, though as I will not post this until after I have started, by virtue of the fact that you are reading this, I can assure you that such references have been received.

Onward ho! Onto a new chapter of my life….

The reasons for rejections

I’m writing this at the start of my 6th week of unemployment. I had a few setbacks last week, which I want to document here.

The previous week had ended well with me passing a second round interview for a company whose UK base is just about 25 minutes’ walk from my flat. The third stage was an online personality test and as such, I was given assurance that there were no right or wrong answers.

I didn’t get a chance to take this straight away, as I had an interview booked in at a “Mary-like” airline which is only a few hundred yards further, so I wanted to do all the necessary preparation in order to give myself the best opportunity to pass the interview.

I had a bit of a ‘mare on the Monday night. Having cleared out of the bathroom in order to clean it, I brought most stuff back in. But only when I was getting out of the bath did I realise that a towel wasn’t one of them. Hurrying to get one, I slipped on a tile and fell backwards. I know I banged my elbow and I thought that was it.

On Tuesday, the day of the airline interview, the temperature suddenly soared. But I still had to wear a suit and a shirt & tie for the interview. So I was sweltering in the heat and my back had started to ache too, presumably as a result of the slip the day before. As with pretty much every interview I’ve had, we started late, but not on my account. I was met by someone from HR and escorted through the building to the HR dept and then asked to wait. I waited for about 15 minutes while being subjected to the same advert on the screen nearby over and over.

This interview turned out not to go so well, as I was rejected from it the day after. The reason given was quite bizarre. In their minds, they have a setup which requires lots of people to do very little work. For example, in my last job I would spend half a day per month doing the bank reconciliations (for about 10 different accounts), whereas they employed someone to do the bank reconciliations as their full time job. We ended up talking at cross purposes, and the senior guy there was obsessed with making an artificial distinction between financial accounting and management accounting (for those of you who aren’t accountants, the difference is that financial accounting is reporting done externally for regulatory purposes and management accounting is done for internal purposes, but for 99% of the time you do exactly the same thing for both). But this guy treated them as though they were as different as football and ballet. The fact that I wouldn’t be drawn to a preference for one over the other was interpreted as meaning I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I was rejected on that basis.

Straight after this interview, I had to go the library to do this online personality test. The format gave you three statements for each question, and you had to say which statement you agreed with the most and with you disagreed with the most. Examples included:

  • I like to get things done on time
  • I enjoy negotiating with people
  • I am tidy
  • I make decisions quickly
  • I do not show my emotions easily

I’ve done plenty of personality tests before and they all come out fairly similar: I’m a details man, able to spot mistakes at a very close level, but also able to see the whole picture. In terms of Myers-Briggs, I am an INTJ personality type (Introvert-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging), which puts me in the good company of Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking, though also in the exceedingly bad company of Ayn Rand!

The important thing here is the introversion. The job required building working relationships with people and I demonstrated a past ability to do this in my previous jobs during the course of my 2 interviews. But according to the company, introverts can’t do this and I was rejected on the basis of the personality test.

But in all this, the back ache didn’t go away and I could not stop sweating. Even at night, after pouring cold water over my face, I was just radiating heat and I quickly concluded that it was more than just accident + weather making me feel unwell, I had a virus of some sort. It felt rather like flu, only I had no symptoms of a cold. So on the phone I sounded absolutely fine, you couldn’t tell anything from my voice. But if you looked at me, you’d have seen a constant sheen of sweat dripping from my face and I couldn’t walk far or fast. If I wanted to see something behind me, I couldn’t turn my neck, I’d have to shuffle my feet around to look. That knocked me out for most of the week. However, I still had another interview to attend on Thursday. What was I to do?

Well, I did what any self-respecting man would do. I got up off my sick-sofa (I’m not good at spending all day in bed) and dosed myself up on painkillers. I made it onto a train into London and was able to scout out the office where my interview would be. This was a slightly tricky task as there were 4 roads in the same area with the exact same name, all centring on a single point. It was on the 3rd of the 4 that I found it! Having done so well ahead of time, I found a seat at Victoria station and gave myself more painkillers and fever suppressants, watching the clock tick round. I’m still waiting to hear back from that interview, but considering how many drugs I’d taken; it could be a novel rejection!

I’ve been rejected from other jobs for being over-qualified, which is quite bizarre. There is still a culture in finance that people have to be ambitious and so while there was nothing in the job they felt I couldn’t do, I was told I was “unlikely to progress as quick as I might want” without actually asking me about my views on “career progression.” Everything seems geared against someone with a christian mindset like mine, where ambition, career progression and other associated connotations of materialism are shunned in favour of finding contentment and fulfilment in God.

So what other reasons/excuses are there for rejecting someone? Have you had any bad or otherwise memorable ones you’d like to share?

The infuriating stupidity of the DWP

This will be a rant, so if you’re not in the mood for reading my foul-tempered outpourings then now would be a good time to go elsewhere.

As many of you will have read over the course of the last few months, I am currently looking for work having been made redundant from my previous role near the end of April. As well as looking for work, researching roles and company, attending interviews, etc., I have been claiming job seekers’ allowance (JSA) from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). When I last claimed, as a graduate, I didn’t have a very good experience which you can read about here.

On Friday (the 18th) I had an appointment to go and sign on and talk to one of the DWP’s advisors who would try to give me advice on how to give myself the best chance of finding a job. I don’t know if the chap was new in his role or if, somehow, he found me intimidating, but he was noticeably shaking during our meeting. We went through and confirmed a few points, as well as having a brief discussion over what I was currently doing to look for work. Under the agreement I signed, I have to do 3 things per week in order to not have my claim stopped. I do a lot more than that, so even the edited highlights in my booklet had about 15 lines in the last fortnight.

However, just as we were booking in my next meeting in a fortnight’s time, the computer threw up a problem. My claim wasn’t coming up on the system. He looked at a few forms on the computer screen (which I could see at the same time) and it transpired that my claim had been stopped.

Why was this so?

Well, we’ve got to back a few weeks. When I initially made the claim I had to answer a lot of questions. One of these related to the amount of savings I had. I was asked to provide evidence of these savings. As most were in e-savings accounts, I didn’t have bank statements for them so I had to go to the bank and get them to print and stamp the relevant documentation. I can’t remember the precise date, but this information was handed to my local Job Centre Plus on either the 2nd or 3rd of May.

My claim was stopped on the 14th of May, with the reason being cited as “you have not given us the information we asked you for.” On the screen that I could view, there was a note on the 17th to say that documents were received, but this did not mean the claim would be reopened.

So why the delay?

Well, I delivered the requested documents to the Job Centre, but they are only the “shopfront” rather than the main benefits office. That is located elsewhere, about 30 miles away. So if it left on the 3rd of May, then the average speed of the documents was about 0.089 miles per hour. No reason was ever actually given for why it took so long. From the point of view of the benefit office, they would be right if they said they had not received the documentation by the 14th, but their statement that I had not given it is false. It had simply not been sent on.

To me, this level of incompetence is staggering. Yet, it could be argued, it gets worse! The fact that the system recorded that the documents were received on the 17th should make things simple. They could acknowledge their blunder and re-open the claim now that the relevant benefit office is in possession of all the desired documentation.

As if it would be that simple!

I was instructed by my advisor (remember, I am still in the local Job Centre at this time) that I ought to phone the relevant benefit office. I was directed to use one of the phones in the office, which I duly did so. They told me that I needed to ask for a “rapid reclaim” but that they couldn’t process this for me on their system. Instead, I had to phone the number for a new claim and request that they process the “rapid reclaim.” This I duly did, but the operator was confused since my records showed that I had an appointment booked for a fortnight’s time. She asked if there was anyone around I could ask, so I called a member of staff at the Job Centre over to help.

The only help I was provided with was to be told that I wasn’t allowed to use a phone in the Job Centre to ring the ‘new claim’ number and that I would have to use a different phone outside the building.

By this time, my patience was being pushed to its limit and it seemed that the next course of action was not permitted in that building, so I went home for lunch. After I’d had time to eat and calm down, I gathered all my papers together and phoned the benefits claim line. The operator was still using the set screen in front of her, so I can pass no blame on her for having to take me through the whole registration process again, which took over half an hour.

The upshot is that I have an appointment to go back to the local job centre on Monday afternoon (the 21st) where I will be very much on the war path. I’m spending this weekend making multiple copies of the timeline and gathering all the letters and other documentation I have to hand so that I can go and show them just how incompetent they are.

All this is a nasty distraction. I’ve still got job applications to follow up on and a couple of interviews to attend. The more time I spend having arguments with the DWP, the less research I get to do into future employment.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress or lack thereof.

The 3rd week of unemployment

So I come to the end of a 3rd week of unemployment and still the horizon is as far away as it ever was.

The week didn’t get off to a good start. As stated earlier, the 2nd week had ended with the possibility of an interview. However, the recruitment consultant I was dealing with was very poor at his job and so had not confirmed a time. So I started the week with great uncertainty and nothing ever emerged of it.

Given that Monday was a bank holiday, this only left 4 days to do any good amount of job hunting. As great as bank holidays are for the millions who work, they pass by with something slightly less than indifference for those of us out of work.

Tuesday was a fairly good day, just not in terms of jobhunting. My sister and her family had decided had decided a while back that they were going to go on holiday. Now, I live very close to one of the busiest airports in the country and my flat has a car parking space. Being a non-driver, I’m perfectly happy for friends and family to use this space if they are flying out from this particular airport. It saves them car parking fees, and it’s a lot more secure as well. Anyway, my sister wanted to take me up on this offer and so she arrived with my brother-in-law and my eldest nephew.

We had half a day together and got to take the little boy off the park so he could play on the swings. My nephew was also quite keen on this. However, just as we were leaving the park, I received a phonecall from one of the recruitment agents I’d been dealing with to inform me that I’d been rejected from one of the interviews had the previous week.

The reason was the usual one. My experience was good enough to get myself an interview, but because my remit in my last job was dealing primarily with other finance staff and with the executive board, it wasn’t part of my job to be a commercial director and be involved in pricing or detailed discussions with sales staff. That was the role of the commercial directors to whom I sent reports and commentary, as well as answering ad hoc queries from them. So all this is interpreted as meaning that I am incapable of dealing with non-finance staff and therefore unsuited to any job that might have the slightest whiff of non-finance in it.

Wednesday and Thursday were still pretty full-on in terms of jobhunting. I had, on the bank holiday, updated my CV on Monster. The way recruitment consultants work, they only look at recently updated profiles. So by making a few small changes I instantly put myself back on the radar for consultants who I hadn’t previously spoken to. At a rough estimate, I think my phone would go about twice an hour and these would often be followed up with an email, or in a few cases preceded by one.

In order to be able to claim job seekers’ allowance (JSA) I need to keep a record of everything that I am doing in order to look for work. So for every phonecall I have, I need to keep a log of who I spoke to, what firm they are from, what we discussed, what I will do next and when I will do it. So by the time I’ve had the phonecall, read the email, replied to the email and documented the whole interaction, the phone will usually have gone again.

It really is a full time job in and of itself. I had hoped that if I wasn’t going to be in employment I would at least be able to accelerate my reading and blogging to stop me going from insane, but I don’t get much of a break for this. The one benefit is that I have been able to sleep more. Normally, I tend to go to bed sometime between 10:30pm and 11:30pm, only to get up sometime between 4:30am and 6:00am (depending on how busy I was at work). Now, though, I am able to have a lie-in until about 8am, and I’m not usually going to bed until well after 11pm. Though I do find, in order to not screw up my circadian rhythm, that I am at my best when I am awake during the sunlit hours and am either winding down or asleep during the night. Also, I don’t want to get into such an “off work” rhythm that by the time I do eventually get a job that it’ll be hard to readjust to early morning starts.

Friday was quite a reasonable day. I had an interview lined up that was actually in the town I live, which was nice. It was only a 25 minute walk up the road from my flat. Since I was sure it was an 11am interview, I was having quite a leisurely morning, having already done the research on the role and the company. At about 8:30am I double checked my email to make sure of the time. When I then saw it was 10am rather than 11am, I suddenly had to get my skates on, as I hadn’t even ironed my shirt yet.

As it turns out, I ended up leaving ridiculously early and still arrived a long time before my interview was due. So I took a little walk around the industrial state, which was round the corner from where my office was for my first graduate job. When I made it back on time for the interview, I thought there were a few guys loitering outside the front of the building, having a smoke. But as I got closer, a minivan pulled up and I realised that this was a welcoming committee for the occupants of the minivan.

It quickly dawned on me that these were very important people visiting (the board from the overseas parent company), and that everything but the red carpet was being readied for their arrival. However, they were taking their time in getting out of the van, and I still had to get through the front door too! So I had a bit of dilemma on my hands: do I wait for them to go in, which could be several minutes, or do I scoot around in front of them and head straight to the reception desk, at the risk of having my back turned on my potential future employers.

I opted for the latter. Having clearly introduced myself to the receptionist, I was then asked very slowly to repeat myself because apparently giving my name first and who I was here to see second was the wrong way round.

As is usual with my interviews, I turned up about 4-6 minutes early, to give my interviewers adequate time to come and meet me, so we could start on time. However, when one chap came down the stairs, he was dressed very casually in jeans a light top. No sign of a suit or a tie anywhere. Then, when I caught from his brief discussion with the receptionist that he was one of the people I was having the interview with, he then proceeded to meet the other person in reception who was sat behind me, and they went off to a room together.

This prompted me to double-check my email in case the interview was at 11 and not at 10, in which case I might be off to a very bad start, though early is always better than late. This other meeting didn’t last long, and I think we started ours about 10 minutes late, which is about standard for the interviews I’ve been having.

I still couldn’t work out, though, why he was in casual clothes. It turns out that Friday is a dress down day every week, so apart from the exec board who arrived at the same time as me and the receptionists, I was the only person wearing a suit! Anyway, the interview went fairly well, though I know that’s not a guarantee of anything.

So as I write this on the weekend, I am still no closer to being employed. I’m also not further away, which is a good thing.

The second week of unemployment

I do apologise that my posts are constantly out of date. The internet café I now rely on for my web usage costs £1.50 an hour and isn’t exactly up to date in terms of its hardware or software. The seats are falling to pieces and there is no software there more up to date than 2003. So when I wrote my blog posts in Microsoft office 2010, I didn’t realise I’d have to change the file type back to an earlier version.

Rather than try a Windows specific format I went back to the good old .rtf file format which has served me so well in the past. If it’s text you’re interested in, with formatting preserved, it’s the simple things that are the most reliable.

Anyway, as much as to preserve my own sanity as anything else, I wanted to write a brief account of my travels and travails as a jobhunter. I’ve written a couple of posts already, just search for anything with the ‘unemployment’ tag. Rather than give a day to day journal which may be extremely boring to you, I thought it more prudent to give a short summary.

The short story of this week is that I have had 2 interviews this week and might have another 2 next week. The first one was on Tuesday at a technology company about 15-20 miles down the road. It was tucked at the back of an industrial estate and seemed to take quite a long time to walk there, though I did arrive at the train station very early, was in my posh shoes (which aren’t the most comfortable) and was taking in my surroundings as I went. It was actually quite a hot day.

I arrived my customary 6 minutes early for the interview, though the office didn’t seem to have a receptionist. I was buzzed in by an anonymous voice at the other end of the intercom but then I just sat in reception. The clock ticked past the interview time and still no one appeared.

Eventually someone saw me and asked who I was waiting to see. It turned out that both the people who would be conducting the interview were still in a meeting. Once we did get started, the interview lasted an hour (which they were keen to stick to). I thought we got on OK, though I did stumble over a couple of questions. At the time of writing (Sat the 5th) I am waiting to hear back to find out if I’ve made it to the 2nd round.

The other interview was in London on Thursday. I made it up there in good time and had a little wander down the Thames path, as the office overlooked the river. This was a very different role to the others that I had interviewed for (this is now my 7th interview in total) as the role in a very small company replacing a retiring finance director who had been in his role for longer than I’ve been alive! So although the role wasn’t that of a director, some elements had de facto directorial elements to it, such as becoming company secretary. The main downside was that they wanted the role to start on the 1st of July. So even if I got it, I would still be unemployed for a further 2 months.

The interview was quite close to Pimlico so I headed down to the Tate Britain which is a gallery I’ve been to once before and enjoyed immensely. However, it just seemed to lack something this time and I didn’t really have fun there. Even my favourite painting, The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, had been moved so it was now well above eye-level and the reflection on the glass covering the painting meant you had to stand to one side to view it without reflection from the gallery lights.

So I curtailed my visit and went home, to get ready for our church’s monthly prayer meeting. Whilst changing and having an exceptionally early dinner, I received a text message telling me to check my emails, as someone had sent me another job spec. I nearly jumped out of my chair when I read it, as the company’s office was but a few minutes’ walk from my flat. I checked the job spec to make sure there was nothing on there that would likely hinder me from being able to do the job but, finding nothing, I was in the middle of emailing back to say ‘yes’ when the agent phoned me. We had a brief discussion covering the salient points and agreed my CV was to be put forward for the role.

Anyway, I got the train down to church and made it to the prayer meeting. It’s quite rare that I can make them, as they are always scheduled for the 1st Thursday in the month (the first week of the month is usually the busiest for accountants) and it’s at 8pm which is generally far too early for the average working professional. But as these usual hindrances were now removed, I saw no reason not to go.

Apparently, it was quite a high turnout, though I couldn’t really determine that having very few meetings to compare it to. Amongst the many to things to pray about, my unemployment inevitably came up. Everyone is now expecting a great testimony in a short space of time though I really don’t know when that’ll be. I won’t consider prayers to be answered until I have an employment contract in front of me. Also, unless I have a fully scripted speech in front of me, I’m not great at public speaking. And the size of my church (Sunday mornings have around 120 people plus or minus 20) it’s quite awkward. It would be much better if the audience were top side of 1,000 where it all becomes rather more anonymous.

So then we come to Friday. I had to go to the job centre to sign on. I had prepared my booklet which recorded everything I did to look for work. They used a temporary agreement that I used 6 years ago which said I had to do 3 things per week. My general idea is that I try to do 3 things per day, and that afternoon I certainly did.

On my way to the job centre I got a call from a consultant and he said he had some good news for me, but I had to cut it off short and call him back after my appointment. When I did, it turned out that I had been invited to interview at the place that was very close by. I made another couple of calls later that day with nothing forthcoming, but then the phone rang at about 5:20pm from a consultant in London saying I had an interview on Tuesday! The trouble was he was asking me about when would be a good time to go, suggesting 9:30am. As that would mean travelling to London at peak time, it would be a very expensive train ticket, so I suggested we put it back until at least 11am. He said he’d get back to me and confirm. As I finish writing this post on the afternoon of Monday the 7th, he still hasn’t done so. I did try to phone him back on Friday afternoon about 6:15pm but got no answer. So when he arrives back at his desk on Tuesday, he’ll find in his inbox an email from me telling him that the interview has to be rescheduled. Even if it is booked for 11am, there’s no way it is professional for a recruitment consultant to confirm an interview 2 hours before it takes place. I need to be mentally prepared and I’m not going to get myself psyched up on a purely speculative basis.

So coming into the third week, I have 2 interviews that I’m waiting to hear back on with a potential 2 further 1st round interviews in store. None of these are guarantees and I don’t really foresee this being the last week of unemployment. Even if these are successful, there are still further hurdles to jump. It’s a dark tunnel and if I think I can see a light at the end of it, it often turns out just to be an electric light shining round the corner. But there’s no telling how many corners there are to go and I won’t consider the task done until I can see the sky and the trees, with the tunnel exit fading quickly in the rear view mirror.

The Last Day

As regular readers will be aware, I have now been made redundant from my job and am, for want a better turn of phrase, a gentleman of leisure for the time being. I began to write this piece in my head on the way home after my leaving drinks, though I did not start to actually type anything until the Saturday afternoon. I wanted to write fairly close to the day’s events so as to not start forgetting this, as I am wont to do. However, the lack of immediate internet facilities has delayed the publication until now.

The night before my last day was somewhat ambivalent. I have been ready to leave now for a good couple of months and in my mind I had already left. I was simply playing out the time, trying to make sure all loose ends were tied up and that I was able to hand over everything that needed to be handed over. I got the last train I could get that would get me into the office on time, so I arrived duly at about 8:50 and decided to go for breakfast in the canteen. Others who were down there were puzzled as to why I had come in any time before 11am; after all, who can really complain and what could anyone do about it? One late morning is not a sackable offence, so I wouldn’t have been risking my redundancy package.

The point, though, was that I always wanted to be, and to be seen to be, straightforward, honest and transparent. As an accountant, I believe that one of the best virtues you can have is to be accountable. This is why much of the work I have done over the last year has been to remove levels of obfuscation that my predecessors had put in place over some areas of the finance function. Of course, there is need for confidentiality, so when dealing with salaries, I would always lock my computer even if walking out of the room for 3 minutes to get myself a cup of coffee.

So, having started my day on time, even though I had not much to do, I set about writing my goodbye emails and saving them in a draft folder, ready to go out later that afternoon. I had to rack my brains thinking of who I might have left out so as to not unduly offend anyone.

As it happens, I had some time off in the middle of the day to go and speak to some more recruitment consultants. These ones were based in a new building called Heron tower, which seems to have been overshadowed by the Shard (not literally, they are about a mile apart!) and which is one of the tallest buildings in the country. I’d never been in before, but it was a bizarre experience. Outside the door was a guy in a long coat and bowler hat, who wanted to know why on earth I might want to enter. Once I’d got past him and through the revolving doors, there was another chap standing between myself and reception desk. My intention was simply to walk past him, but he stepped across my path to block me, demanding who I was going to see. This chap more than the bowler hat guy, had a serious US Secret Service inferiority complex. It seemed that his entire job was to stand in the lobby with a little wire in his ear and look cross.

Having negotiated my way to the reception desk I was finally able to get to make known who it was I wanted to see. Though it wasn’t until I had sat down to wait that I realised the entire backdrop to the reception was a giant fishtank. I didn’t have a measuring stick with me but at a rough guess I would say it was about 50 feet wide, 12 feet high and 7 feet deep. It was full of large tropical fish. It was like a much bigger version of the tank my parents have, and with supersized fish too, though some did appear to be a similar species/variety/genus (please forgive me, biology wasn’t my strongest point).

Anyway, the meeting went pretty much as every other meeting I’ve had with recruitment consultants. Afterwards, I headed on back to the office post haste. I finished clearing down a lot of old emails, as I had checked with work that they wouldn’t mind if I deleted emails confirming that I authorised a supplier payrun in Luxembourg in September 2010.

Throughout the day, I had the occasional person come up to me and wish me well for the future, which was really nice. The odd thing about my role is that I predominantly deal with people across Europe and in the United States. I have very little to do with the people who physically work in the same office as me. That’s not to say I never interacted with them, it just wasn’t anywhere near as much as they had with one another. I was just the quiet bloke sat in the far corner near the finance director and who drank a lot of black coffee.

After sending out emails spanning a reasonable part of the globe, I again got quite a few nice responses. Some weren’t aware I was leaving. This was particularly annoying as there was a small delegation from the US who were coming to the UK this week (w/c 23 April) who wanted to meet up, since we talk regularly on email and on the phone, and I’m just going to miss out on the chance to meet them.

There was small presentation for me at 4:30 with a couple of speeches. I didn’t prepare anything other than a wisecrack on our forecasting ability given that I had been there for 27 months on a 12 month contract! Oddly, though, at that point I still had not been informed that I would definitely be made redundant. Officially, it was still the case that my role was at risk of redundancy. So I still had to have a meeting with HR at 5:00 to confirm this.

Now, it is a truism that you should never trust HR with numbers. This was no exception, as I had calculated how much holiday I was owed, and knew that they would pay me for any unused holiday. They miscalculated and gave the figure too low. I picked up on this in an instant. So even on my very last day, I couldn’t leave on time as I had to wait for the official letter to be redrafted. That said, the extra 2.5 days is worth a few hundred pounds so that’s the closest I’ll have come to paid overtime during my tenure there.

After all this was done, we eventually managed to make it to a bar, where many many drinks were consumed and which I paid for none. Considering when I left my previous job, only one person showed up, I was dreading another no show. But quite a lot of people came out. However, I was standing just behind one guy who I heard saying “who was this guy leaving anyway” which I think sums up how ‘high profile’ I was. But most of the finance team and IT were there, who I do speak to every day. Once the drinks got flowing and the tongues loosened, an interesting portrait was revealed about who really thought what of whom. This is not the place to spread gossip and how much the strength of feelings may have been exaggerated by alcohol is questionable. But I did get more encouraging feedback from folks with comments like “you’re one of the good guys” or “whenever I needed help, you were the one who provided it.” As the evening wore on, the advice got a little more tenuous.

Several of them didn’t know that I wasn’t allowed a proper holiday last year. When you have a line manager who ignores employment law, compounded with a vague HR policy, all I could take was the odd day either side of a weekend, but not a full week at any point in the year. So I’ve still only been on holiday twice in the last 12 years. At this, I was told that I ought to travel to Thailand and “bang as many women as possible.” This was the point to call it a night. I’m not quite sure how I was still standing at this point, as I had consumed considerably more alcohol in the space of 4 hours than is recommended for a week.

I managed to get on the last train home and well aware that I was at risk of falling asleep and waking up in Brighton at 11pm, long after the last train back from there, I sent a message on twitter and to my sister to remind me to change trains at a 10:40. Spot on time, my sister phoned. I hadn’t fallen asleep (I don’t think) but I was able to get home fine and then randomly watch an episode of Father Ted on DVD before heading to bed. However, I was wide awake and stone cold sober at 5am on the Saturday.

So as I come to finish this now at just after 10:20pm on Saturday night, I’ve been up for a fair old while and am pretty tired, so I shall head off to bed and think about scheduling this for publication later in the week.

The frustration of the jobhunt

Frustration (was: threesixtyfive | day 244)

As I write this on Saturday afternoon, I know that I only have 5 working days left in my current job. Technically, I’ve not actually been informed I’m being made redundant; rather, my current role is “at risk of redundancy” and that it will not actually be determined until Friday, which is the day that my temporary contract expires.

So far, I have had 5 job interviews and have succeeded with none of them. The first one I have written about before. There was one more where it was very clear that I was not suited for the role, though I had been misled by the recruitment agent and he misled the company about me. After a few terse words, I told him I didn’t want to have anything to do with him any more.

These two were a waste of time, and were frustrating for that reason. But the other 3 were even more frustrating. These were jobs I had a real shot at. Two of them involved a greater level of direct involvement with the commerce side of the business. In my current role, I am very much back office staff, and my day to day interactions are with the company directors, account managers and other finance staff;  I have no need to interact with sales and to do so would be overstepping my mandate, besides the fact that I have nothing to talk to them about.

Yet this was my downfall for 2 of the interviews. So on this basis, I have had to revise my short term goals and avoid anything that has a commercial aspect, as I will not lie in an interview situation. But every time I mention that I working with commerce would be something I’d look forward to, the level of interest on the part of the interviewer drops.

The last one was the most frustrating of all. The job description was the most similar to my current role and 90% of it I could have done with next to no training at all. The only difference was the software systems they use, though I am very adept at picking up new software skills and quickly surpassing those who teach me. One part of the job description was to line-manage a graduate student. In my current role, I am nobody’s line manager, though I do have lots of people reporting into me.

Yet someone else they interviewed was currently line-managing an ACA student. I had really high hopes for this role, as it was walking distance from home and I got on really well the group financial controller. The interview had been due to be an hour, but ran on for an extra 20 minutes, the close of which I had been asked about my salary expectations, notice period and availability for second interview. Talk about getting someone’s hopes up!

So where am I now? Pretty much back at square one. I am due to have an interview sometime this week, though I have not been given a time for it. I’m putting my CV out on more and more websites, which usually ends up with a flurry of phonecalls, but it often seems more like fuss than progress. By now, I’ve had the same conversation with so many different people that I’m starting to lose track of who I’ve spoken to. At one recruitment consultancy, I keep speaking to different people, so every time they call me and they say I’ve spoken to one of their colleagues, I have no recollection of whether or not that’s true. I decided to just call them all ‘Mark.’

When I get sent a job specification that is unsuitable for me (often because they lack the understanding that when I say I’m willing to commute up to, but not more than, a total 3 hours per day) that they send me job specs for roles that are in Berkshire, or other places that are a 2.5 hour commute each way. It is interesting to note that are very few jobs in the local area, which is very blue in the political sense. The places where all the majority of new roles are being created tend to be in Labour constituencies; it certainly casts an interesting perspective as to which of the 2 main parties is more pro-employment.

The odd thing about job hunting is that when you think you are on the brink of being employed, you can suddenly find yourself as far as ever, yet not knowing when the right job spec will come under your radar or when you may get called for interview, you can also be extremely close to finding a job before you realise it.

So as a question of epistemology, you never know when you are close and I try not to get my hopes up too much. Because the range of emotions that exist create the illusion of being close to a job, and it is when the rejections come that I feel furthest from getting a job.

It’s like trying to jump over a narrow stream. Even if you get 95% of the way across, you still end up with mud on your face. From the feedback I’ve had, there’s nothing wrong with my run-up or take-off. I’ve just got to keep going, but there now seem to be fewer streams to traverse, as I’ve had a go at most of those around.

The guilt of jobhunting

This may seem like an unusual title, but it’s something I felt as I have been pursuing my next job. The fact is, as an accountant, those that are interviewing me are those that have “succeeded” as they might be seen by their peers. These are mostly finance directors of the various companies for which I have interviews.

So far, I have had 4. One has been very good and I liked the chap I spoke with a lot. I was also given reason to suppose that they were considering putting me forward for 2nd (and final) interview. The other 3 didn’t go anywhere near so well and I am not optimistic of going forward with those.

The thing is, though, that in my position, I’ve had recruitment consultants fall over themselves trying to throw job specs at me. One role has been put forward to me by at least 4 recruitment consultants, but to be honest I’ve lost count. My phone number has been given out by current colleagues and one night last week my phone barely stopped ringing from 5:30-9:00pm. But this is where the guilt comes in; I am not having to do much work to get these opportunities sent my way.

I put my CV on Monster and responded to a few emails and phonecalls, trying to keep track of who I have spoken to and what jobs I’ve said I’m happy to apply for. I’ve made a few meetings with people early in the morning, which has required getting the 5:30am train (not so easy now that the clocks have gone forward!).

The only thing vaguely sacrificial I have to do is wear my posh shoes all day. Normally I wear trainers with my suit and only change into my formal shoes once I’m at work. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to carry my trainers into an interview. Now my formal shoes aren’t the most comfortable for walking long distances in, so wearing them all day results in blistering and bleeding.

Yet if I weren’t as educated and qualified as I am, I really don’t know where I would go. It’s this that makes me feel like a useless numpty who gets stuff thrown at me that I really don’t deserve. Then we have to have to come on to the notion of salary.

For those who of you who don’t know, recruitment consultants make their fee as a proportion of the starting salary of the individual placed. Then each consultant gets an individual commission based on the fee. So it is in their interest to try and push for as high a salary as possible. Because I am a christian, I am a socialist. I will not let myself be motivated by materialism or greed. So I am perfectly happy to take a pay cut if it gets me a job that keeps a roof over my head. In this I agree with Paul when he wrote to Timothy:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. (1 Tim 6:6-9)

Yet this is a complete anathema when talking to consultants and other capitalists.

One chap I spoke to today (I wrote most of this on Monday night) went on a very long spiel about how he wasn’t interested in his commission, only to then go on immediately to start suggesting I aim for a salary that was £10k higher than what I am on now.

I am already paid more than the national average salary (which is around £26k, to the best of my knowledge) and so to ask for further increases would represent a seriously warped sense of priorities. Yet to play down one’s aims risks looking like you have no drive. Recall, though that I am meeting with finance directors; they only got to their position by having a significant amount of ambition and consider that anyone who is worthwhile will be just like them. So unless I portray myself as far more right-wing than I am, I run the risk of not getting a job in the first place.

This morning (Tuesday) I posted a short note on Twitter & Facebook that ambition is another word for discontent. Not one person agreed with me. One post suggested that the opposite of ambition was laziness. I would disagree with this; laziness is the opposite of hard work. My aim is to find a job that I am good at and can enjoy. I do not feel a need to try to climb career ladder or aim to be a finance director. Those who do are not the happiest people I know. Whatever they have, they always want more.

Living a contended lifestyle is completely alien in today’s world. But I’m content to swim against the tide of materialism.

Have you ever found jobhunting induces guilt, or felt pressured to put a different emphasis on your goals in order to get a job?

A brief up on the jobhunt

I thought I’d give you a little update on the job front. I’ve heard nothing more from my current employer as to my end date, so I am assuming it will still be shortly after Easter.

I saw this really great post from Morris Henshaw. I’d highly recommend you read it. He talks about being unemployed and how we view and define ourselves by our jobs, taking into account what’s really important. Please read it, it’s excellent (though it is quite long, so don’t read it while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil).

I’ve got a master copy of my CV done and have sent a trimmed down version to a local recruitment consultant. I’m starting my search local as I’d like to cut down my 3-4 hours of commuting per day, although I know this will also probably slow my reading. If I can get something local, I might even have time to learn to drive. Given that I’m rapidly coming up to 30 years old, I think I’m a late learner by anyone’s standards.

This has given me a couple of leads, which I’ll look at over the next few days. I’m not sure the jobs are right for me, but I’ll try to get an interview (not usually a problem, as my CV is fairly strong) anyway. You never know, but past experience shows my interview technique gets rusty quite quickly. So I normally need a couple of interviews as practice to get myself back to presentable and professional standards. I’m not saying I’m unprofessional normally. It’s just that to get a job you have to be flawless.

I’ve also opened a profile in Linked In as this was recommended to me. I’ve started asking for connections from lots of old work colleagues and uni mates, which is quite interesting as I’m not a great one for staying in touch. Careers and lives certainly go n different directions from those you expect them to.

If you have any hints and tips, please do drop me a note in the comment box.