Friday, 30 October 2009

I do aim to a be a twice-weekly kind of person, but today's post has been postponed because I've just been called into work to cover a shift and as I don't hate my work, and I don't hate being paid either, I am taking up the offer, and then zipping off to the big city to see some friends.

(I am tempted to leave it as that as a one-long-sentence-post).

Monday, 26 October 2009

in my dreams

"But I ordered Pineapple on my sandwich!"

"I'm sorry, there might be some delay with the pineapple" I reply halfheartedly, watching pineapple chunks float amongst the swimming pool water, out of the door and into the streets. It's difficult to maintain one's cool when chlorinated liquid is lapping around your waist and customers are screaming at you and stock is floating out of the shop on a tidal wave. Somehow I manage.

I hate work dreams. I hate them because I am good at making sandwiches, great at them. It's not very stressful. So I feel like my subconscious is playing undeserved tricks on me when I have to suffer gastronomic nightmares, especially when it had been years since I last hung up my apron and headed towards the bright lights of the city and the intellectual challenges of university study.

I did actually find myself using my sandwich skills at Uni. During late nights of editing the student magazine I'd play hostess and sculpture energy-boosting sandwiches for my fellow editors using delicious ingredients procured from one of the nearby yuppie delicatessens: Rose Humous, Organic Cucumber and Parma Ham, Baba Ganoush, Feta and Chilli Olives. I honestly thought my sandwich-making career was over, this was just extra-curricular. How wrong I was.

I have re-entered the field with trepidation; but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. It's nice to have a change of track, a break from the paper-based stresses of desk-work and studying simultaneously as I did for most of the last two years. But it feels somewhat anti-climatic. It's hard to be pleased about moving home and going back into fast food catering, even if the ingredients are organic, locally sourced and by all accounts gourmet.

I don't want to sound like a snob, because I'm really not, but although I'm now working in a completely different kind of establishment, a fine-dining equivalent of the sandwich world, it's not exactly what I had in mind after six years of further education.

An old friend of mine recently popped into the charity bookshop to say hi and I told her about the new job. "I'm moving up in the world, I really am", I joked.
"But you are! Their sandwiches are so nice."
She was being honest, but I still felt slightly insignificant. My friend knew exactly what she wanted to do when we were still at high school, and now she's achieved her goal, loves it, and is about to buy a house.

And I'm back to living with my parents and still making sandwiches. The reality stung me hard.

But this is how reality works.

How could I be jealous of my friend having achieved her goal when I had no clear goal to achieve? This isn't what I had in mind after six years of education, because to my discredit, I didn't know what I had in mind. It's taken those six years to build up a respectable CV and to decide what I want to do. This last month hasn't just been about lol scumming. It's been about working out my next step. Now I have my degrees, two (and a bit) foreign languages, a great work history... and a goal.

So the dream is to pay off debt, and get enough money together for (another) internship, one that's related to my chosen career. You gotta have a dream, they say. And it's true, sandwiches or no sandwiches.

But when the work dreams return, I'm out of there.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

we march on

This week the public service broadcasting of potentially shocking and offensive infamous persons dominated the public discourse.

Hoorah for free speech. The liberal assertion that if you give somebody a platform to show themselves then their truly outrageous countenance will be revealed and open for all to see and criticize, was gratified with evidence. Free-minded liberals can rest on their laurels in smug self-validation.

Their argument was proven correct this week, and anyone who missed it can see the results here.

As my family and I sat and watched things unfold, I realised I wasn't entirely sure I still agreed that the BBC should have made the decision to continue with the broadcast. It was incredibly uncomfortable viewing. I couldn't quite believe my ears and eyes, yet they remained glued to the tellybox. Yes, this actually happened. Irrefutable proof that giving a controversial figure an audience will be compulsive viewing, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

Really, what is this Yoko?! (You have to get to the end to see the full effect, but I don't blame you if you don't get there)

Friday, 23 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part five

The final part of my 2007 financial planning series.

By now, I hope you’ve got some good simple money habits to keep you on track. You know where your balance is, you’re not living on a credit card, you’re withdrawing cash on a weekly basis, you might have a bit of extra cash coming in. So I’m going to start talking about spending money again. It’s okay, we’re allowed from time to time.

Food is an important thing to spend money on. I’d call it a life or death expenditure. But Supermarkets wants you to spend a fortune, so watch out. Marks and Spencers advertising, for example, despite its classy fa├žade, uses the same salacious methods of appealing to your base desires as Amsterdam’s seediest sex-shops. And just like sex, you’ll actually get more and better food for your money if you invest a bit of affection and effort into getting some.

So forget entirely about faux designer food and trashy takeaways. Get your bargain bounty goggles on, because finding food deals is just as satisfying as high street sales. The supermarkets on the outskirts of town (Tesco, Morrisons, Lidl and Chinese Supermarkets) provide all the economy brands that local branches and cornershops don’t stock. Get your fill of value branded breads and grains, bumper-sized boxes of food and cleaning products. Be a brand whore and go for 2 for 1 deals, but only if you need the product in the first place. A member of my family once bought six watermelons because they were ‘on offer’, forgetting that nobody in the house actually likes them. They sat festering into interestingly fragrant food-fight ammunition.

If you’re an economy brand snob, many ‘own brand’ items are actually made by the same companies as the leading brands. I’m always wary about meat products but otherwise many products are the same or similar quality, except Heinz, which are usually the superior bean.

Always buy your fruit and veg from the wonderful green grocers your neighbourhood has to offer. Most of them will give student discounts and it can become easy to live well with very little expense.

Buying for yourself can be incredibly wasteful and expensive. Buying ready meals is even worse for your pennies and the packaging is landfill overkill. 70% of food produced and sold in the UK goes to waste and this impacts both our environment and our purses. I’m not suggesting you all start dumpster diving outside your local supermarkets (this is another way of keeping costs down, admittedly, but might break trespassing/theft laws). Grab your wheelie suitcases, band up with your flatmates and go on a food shopping day out. You’ll get to know the city better, burn off calories carrying bags, and you’ll save even more money if you share the shopping. If it’s not feasible to buy everything together, then suggest at least pooling bread and milk funds. This is what the most astute students among us do. A familiar sight in Lidl is of bunches of funky young students piling groceries into luggage together… It’s the modern day hunter-gather expedition.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part four

Part four in my 2007 financial planning series.

A few years ago there was a Guardian cartoon called ‘Lost Consonants’, and one of my favourites showed aerobic OAPS and a young McEmployee alongside the caption ‘many students work to make their grans stretch further.’ These days students are lucky even to get a grant, so I certainly ain’t putting in hours to pay my granny’s yoga fees. But various surveys predict that around half of the UK’s students are now working between 10-15 hours and earning about £70 a week. That’s over £3600 a year, and for many this is a necessity.

Finding casual work during term time shouldn’t be too hard in theory. Looking in shop windows, checking the Uni's advice centre, looking at sites like Monster and Jobs Direct are good starting points. Right now various outlets will be looking for Christmas relief staff if you’re finding yourself short of money for the end of term. This is also really handy for the staff discounts to pick up cheap gifts! The usual bar, coffee shop, and temping jobs are some obvious options, but there are other ways to pull in some extra cash than pulling pints.

Look around campus for students needing participants in surveys or studies – these usually pay a few pounds for little effort. Or try googling for ‘mystery shopper’ or ‘paid surveys’ – there are a number of UK organisations which will pay various amounts for equally little exertion. And if you’re good with google and have an internet connection, you could work casual hours for the fun text service Any Questions Answered (AQA). Visit for more information.

Even if you don’t need the money, but you think you can spare the hours, consider some sort of employment, whether paid or not. Working, volunteering or ‘getting involved’ as the Uni folks in the know put it, all count towards those immeasurable soft skills employers want as well as letters after your name. This is great if you do need to work through Uni, because you’re getting more return than just an hourly wage, you’re also earning CV fodder. You ain’t just stacking shelves or waiting tables, you’re building team skills (putting up with that lethargic tosspot of a colleague), numeracy skills (figuring out how many CDs you’re earning on your hourly wage) and problem-solving skills (kicking arseholes out of your pub at drinking up time). Seriously though, it all counts, and could help you score a higher starting salary after Uni.

For this reason, office temping can be useful employment for students to gain office skills, and often pays more than service sector jobs. However, like call centre work, temping can be soul-destroying, and is less sociable than serving your mates at their local bar.

Most people do manage to study and have other commitments, Of course, I can’t just encourage you to work while you should be studying. The usual guideline for part-time work is 10 hours a week if you’re doing full time education. Don’t let employers be pushy with you for more hours than you want to do, and never, ever, miss classes to work instead.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part three

Part three in my 2007 financial planning series.

I was drinking with some friends and someone suggested we go all out. One of our crew lamented a cash crisis situation. Not a problem, exclaimed another friend, you can extend your overdraft over the phone, right now, sitting here in this bar, drunk!

This is an example of bad financial planning, and I cannot recommend it much less than taking a roller coaster ride on the stock exchange with two thousand Zimbabwe dollars.

Okay, a night in doing personal accounts is not a scintillating exercise. However, it is vitally important to keep track of your money digits. This can be as little effort as reading your monthly statements and checking your balance every time you withdraw. Scanning these numbers will give you a basic awareness of where your money’s going and what spending pattern you can keep up. If things are getting tight, start withdrawing a certain amount each week and sticking to it. Don’t be tempted to take your card out, or to buy things online thinking that it’s not ‘real’ money. A number’s a number, and it’ll decrease whether you like it or not.

The best advice budgeting advice: try not to go into your overdraft. Banks can seem generous and it’s useful to have an interest-free overdraft to dip into during those personal ‘Northern Rock’ moments, but it’s not there to be lived out of.

I used to be petrified of ending up in the red, while a lot of students I knew casually talked about the hundreds of pounds they owed. When I ended up more in debt than I planned (and I use plan in a loose sense, because – confession - I didn’t plan at all) I understood the feeling of ‘overdraft underwhelm’. Being three hundred pounds into your overdraft is absolutely terrifying. Being £600 down isn’t really that much different, hey, it’s still the hundreds, right? But keep on spending, and you discover that being £1200 overdrawn doesn’t feel any different either, until you graduate and the bank wants their money back.

That might seem far off, but I am warning you from the future. I celebrated graduating this year with ten thousand pounds of student loan, minus twelve hundred pounds in my account and an I-O-U to the bank of mum and dad for a grand. I went over my overdraft once, missed some credit card payments, and now have to keep up with council tax bills (this one’s a real bugger) and self-finance a part-time post-grad. I paid off the credit card, but I’ll be living out of my overdraft for some time yet. I’m not one of the worst off, but I’ve left the splendour of spontaneous student life and believe me, I sorely miss it.

Make sure you know how much you have until the next SAAS pay day. Pretending not to know how much you don’t have is plain dangerous, and having a ‘fuck it’ moment like my friend will make your overdraft rise exponentially. Be honest! If you can’t control yourself, get your bank statements sent home instead of to your term address. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind, and right in the lap of your parents. And there’s nothing more frightening than that.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part two

Part two in my 2007 financial planning series.

Most of us like shopping. Some of us are darned good at it. Back dans le jour, when yuppyism was rife, it was imperative to be able to show off the trendiest brands and most expensive items to establish one’s status. Those who rode the wave of capitalist success were the icons of the Maggie era. This century is different. There is kudos for a good bargain. In the economy bumper-pack generation, we are Primark’s children. One in twenty adults on the brink of bankruptcy, daytime TV jampacked with adverts for consolidated loans, whole economies in trouble because of massive unsecured debts - there’s almost a pride in poverty these days, as long as you’re poor with style.

And that’s why it’s difficult being a student, because the old ‘Young Ones’ stereotype just doesn’t ring true anymore, and a Glasgow resident spends the second highest amount of money on average on clothes in the UK (it must be true, I read it in the Metro). Fact – we’re that good at shopping. But did you ever think to shop for money?

You need a student bank account. No arguments. That’s what they’re there for. But they’re a product, not a service, and the banks are vying for your custom and loyalty like any other business. Chances are, your local bank succeeded. It’s nearby, you had your kiddie saver account with them, and you’ll probably stay with them for life. That’s fair enough, but you could probably get yourself a much better deal. You just need to do a bit of bargain hunting.

Like I said before, you’re not looking for the fun stuff, so don’t be swayed by gimmicks. It’s like shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. The embroidery and details might be nice extras, but you’re looking for the best cut you can get. If you’re in the money and for some reason have few outgoing expenses, you want a high rate of interest. If not, you want the largest interest-free overdraft possible, with the least repercussions for going over it. Don’t worry about the graduate deals yet.

This year, Martin Lewis from recommends HBOS, RBS and Natwest for student accounts and if there’s one thing you should take from this article, it’s to visit I can’t emphasise that one enough. But Lewis also recommends that you shop around, that you forget about money monogamy and tart about. Student deals change all the time so keep up to date. Even if you’re not a new student, and even if you have an overdraft, you can still switch student accounts. I must add however – do not, absolutely do not, open up more than one student account. You can open multiple bank accounts, but you cannot have more than one student overdraft.

Next issue I’ll argue that you should aim to finance your time at University without ever needing an overdraft, but even if you never actually need to use it, you need one to remain prepared, and it’s worth negotiating the biggest allowance available with your bank if you don’t automatically get it. Pay attention to what you’re being offered.

Martin Lewis expounds an interesting suggestion for student financing, which I wish I had tried, but secretly know I would have failed at. ‘Deficit banking’ involves moving your savings and as much of your overdraft as possible into a high interest savings account and living out of the bottom of your overdraft, transferring money from your savings as necessary. I will neither recommend nor discourage this, but I will suggest that this involves more careful planning and precarious financial balancing than most young people are prepared for (I’d love to hear from you if you’ve done this though).

Without patronising my readership, I’m aiming to give advice for watching your pennies without any effort. I know that very few students seem to want to be counting their beans and discussing percentages, but it’s worth it to ask your mates what deal they’re getting from the bank, and to find out which one’s guilty of fleecing students. Ask your bank questions now, before they start asking you questions, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part one

Yeah, so I cheated this week. To ease myself back into working full-time, I've resurrected some old articles I wrote for my student magazine. When I graduated in 2007 I wrote some articles for the new intake of Freshers about financial planning, which is something I definitely didn't do when I was a Fresher. They are most definitely corny, and a bit out of date (this is pre-recession, remember!) but I thought I'd share them here so you'll get something every day this week. After that, I have some things up my sleeve, but I'll probably have to drop from five times a week to two or three times, depending on the work situation.

Here goes:

Hello all, my name is Miss NoMoneyPenny, and I’m your off-beat, out of tune financial advisor. I’m here to guide you kicking and screaming through your time as a sensible, thrifty student. Seeing as it’s Freshers’ Week, and you’ve got a whole host of other worries, such as what to wear out tonight, how to get off with the hot girl in the block across from you, and how the hell to find your lecture halls, I’m not going to talk about the boring stuff such as budgets and bank accounts. Hoorah.

I hope you’re sitting back and enjoying yourself so far, because the truth is, you’ve never been in such a good position, especially if you’re Scottish. The government has been so kind as to pay your tuition fees, offer you a nifty loan tied to inflation, and if you’re especially lucky, hand over a student bursary (this is actually a grant, and it’s worth applying for through SAAS to see if you get anything – hey, it’s free money!). And pending Mr Salmond being able to sweet talk the rest of Parliament, you’ll probably get through Uni without being stung by a two grand charge at the end of it.

So, life is sweet, and so is your money. And lots of companies have started to realise student buying power. That’s why you’ll probably suddenly find yourself absolutely irresistible to all sorts of branding and PR staff, especially while trying to wander up and down campus. A word of warning though – it’s not you those sweet, semi-naked PR girls want, it’s your money.

The student card is a passport to all sorts of cut-price goodies, and it’s definitely worth scoping out the best deals amongst all the flashy flyers you’ll have thrust at you. Some student offers worth mentioning are: Topshop and its sister brands (the discount, NOT the store card), Apple (iPods and Macbooks, not fruit), local greengrocer's (fruit, not iPods and Macbooks), the Student Railcard and the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Even if somewhere doesn’t advertise a student discount do ask if they provide one, especially if you’re buying something pricey (like a computer) and especially if you’re paying with cash. Companies want brand loyalty as much as they want a quick sale, so often they’ll do anything to keep you sweet.

Don’t get taken in by every student offer available, because there are some that aren’t quite all they promise to be. I’m not just talking about the clubs in town that brag about bouncy castles, D-list celebs and fantastic (though illegal) drinks promos and then fail to deliver on the ‘bonanza’ (though they are bloody annoying). I’m talking about credit cards and store cards.

Credit card and money companies cottoned on to the fact that students love free stuff and they’ll take any old shit if they think it’s a good deal. A ConMe Credit Card with 85% APR? No thanks. What about if we throw in a free box of Candy Floss Makers we’ve had in the back store room for the past decade? Oh, well now you mention it…

Just don’t do it, okay? You. Do. Not. Need. A. Credit. Card. And you don’t need a TopShop shopping card, or a free popcorn machine, or a New Look card, or anything of the sort. There is a time and place for these things, and now is not it. Enjoy Freshers’ Week you lucky buggers, but if they approach you do what any self-respecting freeloading student does - take the free pen and run.

Friday, 16 October 2009

mixed nuts

I'm now in paid employment.

It's not very glamourous, but should be good banter and will help me along with achieving my multi-step plan:

1.Pay back my overdraft.
2.Earn some money.
3.Learn to drive.
4.Get some work experience in my chosen field.
5.Get on track with a related job. Bingo.

My student debt is not that bad. My student loan is somewhere in the ether gathering dust and interest, and my overdraft is manageable. Due to a mixture of hard graft and excellent budgeting, I'm actually in less debt from having completed my Postgrad degree than I was when I left studentville after my Undergrad. I count that as a huge success. It would have been even smaller, or non-existent, if I didn't get wanderlust for foreign climes, but hey, have overdraft, will travel.

I made the decision that I didn't want to commence the next part of my life while still in debt. I should add that by 'debt' I mean debt to the bank. My student loan is to remaining drifting in the governmental ether for some time yet, I fear. But with my parents being so generous with the whole bed and board situation, I'm glad I'll be able to get back to black in no time...theoretically.

Of course, this does not mean I am signing off the lol. This is but just the beginning. There's a whole lot of comedy to be found in career-hunting, paid employment, learning to drive, and of course, I'm sure our friendly political representatives will keep us endlessly entertained. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

lol and not-lol

Politics is almost always funny. It is a built-in feature of UK politics, with its weekly Punch and Judy puppet show of put-downs and pantomiming during Prime Minister's Questions. I really do miss the days when Spitting Image was on the tellybox (I tried to find a video of the famous vegetable scene but couldn't find it, alas). I was only a kid at the time, but got most of my elementary political training through that show; what kid wouldn't find the name Virginia Bottomley inherently hysterical?

Radio 4's the Now Show and the ubiquitous Private Eye are decent substitutes, but it's not the same without those rude latex puppets to comment on the political circus.

But sometimes political humour amounts to no more than standard 'circle of shame' celebrity gossip. Some folks go so far as to call it "showbusiness for ugly people" so it's important to be able to distinguish between real political lolz (lolitics) and gutter-level gossip humour.

Take the blog Glum Councillors, for instance. It's marvellous, and funny because it's true. Anyone who has ever been involved in local politics, or even seen the front page of a local newspaper, can relate to the visual pot-hole-itical (sorry) outrage documented on this site.

I also like this nifty little game which gives the UK party conference speeches a magnetic poetry twist, even though it is biased, which is also funny, but a shame as I feel I miss out on some extra game play value.

Lol news is an obvious example of lolitics, based on the popular "I can has Cheezburger" meme:
I can has Chavezburger?
moar funny pictures

This silly season story about South Carolina's Governor Sanford was perfectly ludicrous as it unfolded. Sanford will go down (sorry) in history for contributing the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" to the catalogue of euphemisms for describing that common phenomena of "abandoning your governing duties to visit your mistress in Argentina." His 'apology' speech was beautiful car crash television. His stance on family values and his refusal to resign gave lefties excellent fodder for humiliation and reds-roasting. But it's nothing more than glorified gossip. It masquerades as politics because Governor Sanford is, indeed, a Governor. Boy, did I get a kick out of it, but I ain't going to pretend that the extended coverage it received from pundits was anything more than partisan nit-picking. I don't have a problem with gutter level gossip humour, and this is funny, but not strictly political.

This story about Obama allegedly snubbing Brown just annoyed me, moreso because the BBC fell for it. First of all, it was a classic example of a "So and So denies Such and Such" headline which almost inevitably results in a non-story based upon (biased) journo-rumour-milling. Second of all, it had no substance and no consequence. The BBC, with a mandate to remain politically neutral, made a mistake in covering this story so heavily because the story came across as partisan poking at the PM's unpopularity vis a vis Obama. This story failed to be either funny or political.

Political humour doesn't have to be neutral of course. That would defeat the purpose most of the time. Partisan agendas are a natural and priceless aspect of the sport and that's a-ok. The world of lolitics is fraught with danger though: danger of being wide off the humour mark, and danger of damaging the political discourse. I'll talk about the latter, later.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Good odds at the bookies

I have already provided some very good reasons why volunteering while job hunting is a good idea. I really do enjoy it very much, and given the situation, it would be the perfect job to have while trying to mount the proverbial career ladder, if only it was a paid position.

Well, I have been informed that there may be an opportunity to get paid for some of my hours at the charity bookshop because a couple of the paid staff need to cut their hours. While this is not yet definite, it demonstrates the unexpected opportunities that can arise out of putting your heart into something you enjoy. So, even though this is still not confirmed, and even if it doesn't work out, I thought I would mention it.

I also thought I would mention this for anyone else who is volunteering in the UK while job hunting. Most places offering volunteer positions know that volunteering is often a CV filler, but this is a government programme that also offers official recognition for volunteering.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Captain's Lock

My mum told me this story. It happened to her last week.

Her manager's secretary was on her lunch break, and the manager came running through into my mum's office in a nervous panic.

"I've done something on the computer and I don't know what happened and I can't fix it!"

My mum is no IT guru. She works with young people mostly, giving talks in schools and advising kids on a one-to-one basis. But she offered to help anyway.

"What were you trying to do? What has happened?" She asked.

"I don't know! It's gone all wrong! I was trying to write an email and then it broke."

My mum looked at the email that he had been writing and realised that he had accidentally pressed the CAPS LOCK key. She fixed it, and died a little inside.

I don't know if that's heartening or disheartening to me. I can't decide. It reminds me of my time as a temp when I had to save a phone number into my manager's mobile phone because he couldn't do it. I had to do it several times after that because he refused to learn how to do it himself.

I am not lying when I tell prospective employers how good I am with computers and suchlike. I am the Tempest Typist for a start, and that's just one of my many skills. That works out just fine for me, and I understand that not everybody is as electronically endowed as I, but I cannot abide stubborn stupidity. Now I know for sure that it is not just endemic to the field of temp-work.

As frustrating as this is for overqualified office drones around the world, there is an upside. If someone is too reluctant to learn new skills, that can only make me look better. Stories like these give me CV bragging rights...right?

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Tempest

A couple of years ago I was going to start a blog called The Tempest about my experiences of temping. I was just out of uni for the first time and had naively leaped arse over tit into the first job that had been offered to me.

In retrospect it was a good experience, and it also looks great on my CV. However, at the time I was learning just what it meant to have the label of being "the temp" in the office. I'm sure I am not the only one who has experienced the swift shock to the ego that going from a relatively smart and successful graduate to an underpaid and underappreciated office-worker provides. If the instability of the temporary contract isn't bad enough (including the nil that gets paid on holidays and sick days), then add the contradictory disdain that fellow colleagues bestow on you for being a smart-arse graduate and for being the lowest in the pay-roll pecking order. It's even more soul-destroying than the job hunt that precedes.

I'm trying to avoid a graceless return to temping, but there is a distinct possibility that I may have to, depending on how the next few months pan out. For now I am enjoying the refreshing experience of my volunteering stint. People respect me, people thank me for my efforts, and people want to take advantage of my skills, even if it is just my vague understanding of how best to display the politics textbooks! Gosh, what a joy it is to be appreciated and to be rewarded with respect.

And this is certainly assisting with the job hunt effort. When I was temping, I found it difficult to go home and feel excited about filling in job applications, or later when I was doing my MSc, to do the necessary reading. Now, after a day of wholesome book-sorting and customer-serving I go home and feel fired up for a bit of skills-matching and profile-writing. Definitely stirred, not shaken.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Bagman's Gambit

A friend linked to this on facebook and I thought I'd share it.

Name: Mr Claus
Address: 1, Lapland

Previous Experience:
Santa Claus (19th Century - 2008)
Unfortunately I got the sack. Ever since I've been having an existential crisis.

Saint Nicholas (10th Century - 19th Century)
Achievements include receiving sainthood and securing sponsorship from Coca Cola.

(Thanks Ruth)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Beef Jerkies

Orwell demonstrated that economics becomes a lot more understandable when explained using barnyard animals; so I enjoyed the BBC's "Sacred Cow or Prime Cuts" quiz at the party conferences (watch them here: Lib Dem, Labour, Tory). Politicians mince their words over the difficult decisions that will prevail in the post-recession period. We can certainly expect public services to become more "value brand" as the government (regardless of party) will have to attempt to balance the budget after the bail-out blow-outs.

The good news is that we can however expect a more beefed up experience in Burger King. Sadly, where I live does not allow fast food chains to be franchised in the town, and my mate never took that job as Assistant Manager of Burger King, so that's a potential business employment opportunity scuppered for me. Probably a good thing because, if the McVideo Game is anything to go by, I'd be useless at it anyway. I did consider going back to my old job as a 'Sandwich Artist' in a well known sandwich bar, but that's one of my last resort options along with going back to temping. I'm hoping that my days of asking customers if they would like "six inches" are well and truly over.

But this service sector student experience might have its uses in another field. I would like to suggest that given their record, MPs might not have the most satisfactory experience in finding good "50% off" deals or in every-day rationing. Surely supermarket employees and poor students/pensioners/families who are used to stretching their weekly pocket money and finding the best value brand products have the most relevant budgeting skills required to keep the country ticking on a tiny budget? Bob from check-out to the Treasury please...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

It's Not You, it's the Market

Have you ever read the book He's Just Not That into You or seen the Sex and the City episode it was based on? (I do apologise for the references to the show, I promise I am not one of those women). It's about the liberation of truly understanding how the dating game works.

My approach to job hunting is similar to that, and my mantra is "It's not you, it's the market".

There is plenty of doom-laden recession porn to be found online about the plight of young people and graduates struggling to find their place on an insecure career ladder: here here here here here here here here here here here

I could go on. A young graduate could read all this and think, in a Marvin the Paranoid Android-esque sequence of defeatist thought processes, "oh, what is the point, I can't do anything in this situation" and conclude that applying for and getting a job has about the same odds of winning the lottery, resulting in a sitting duck graduate passively riding the recession wave. Boo hoo.

Or the said graduate could actually try buying a ticket for the lottery, and engineer that ticket into a winning ticket! Woo hoo! (Okay, we can also achieve it without the corny metaphor.)

I'm not an economics graduate but I have the understanding that the best thing I could probably do to boost my CV and to make my contribution to the speedy end of the job market of doom, is to start my own little business. For various reasons that I don't need to go into, this isn't really an option for me. However, I'm doing what I can. The problem here is two-fold.
1. I have no money.
2. I have no career.
But, as a result of both of these things, I have a lot of time.

Obviously a lot of time is being spent applying for jobs. But to avoid the soul-destroying experience of job hunting mentioned earlier, I am also volunteering at a Barnardo's bookshop. I cannot overstate how great this is.

First of all, I get to categorize and organize books, which saves me from sitting in my bedroom doing the same with my CD collection over and over.

Second of all, I get to sell lots of wonderful second-hand books to people. I love chatting to the customers and helping them to find great bargains. I especially love talking to old ladies on a buzz from buying stashes of cheap wool from other charity shops, about all the knitting books we have.

Third, I enjoy getting to know the other volunteers, a diverse and interesting bunch of folks.

Fourth, I have a filler line for my CV. "What did you do in the recession, Daddy?"

Finally, it gives me the motivation to keep on trucking. Another rejection email? Another day of fruitless job hunting? No matter, I'll spend tomorrow morning drinking cups of tea, shelving books and smalltalking with the locals. Then I'll see what kind of shape the market is in by the afternoon.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


It's been conference season for the three main UK political parties, and other than the usual mixture of socks and sandals and snide, there has been very little to report in the realm of lol. This week is the last of the big three, the Tory Conference, which reminds me of this historical lolitical gem courtesy of facetube.

Announcement: The Tory party have just announced that they plan to take policy advice from the cast of High School Musical, reminding the UK population that "We are all in this together".

Monday, 5 October 2009

We're sorry to inform you that you're brilliant

I've started this blog because I'm convinced that job-hunting can be a pleasant experience, or at least not totally soul-destroying.

I've experienced the soul-destroying side of it:
Firing off standard CVs to the out of date job adverts suggested by a Job Centre advisor and noting it down on the handily provided job hunting schedule to prove that it happened.

Skimming job sites that only seem to advertise jobs with Greggs.

Skimming job sites that only seem to advertise outbound sales advisor call centre jobs.

Going for a pint with a mate who received an email from a job hunt website that said "we thought your skills matched this position and that you might like to apply." The email was accompanied by a promising link entitled "Assistant Manager" but which unfortunately led to a job advert for Assistant Manager of a local branch of Burger King, perks including free burgers.

Skimming job sites during a recession and realising that not even Greggs are advertising jobs.

Actually being at an interview for an outbound sales advisor call centre job.

Going to a Graduate job fair during a recession.

Getting to the point when you can't remember if it's the week you sign on or not.

Or being a minimum-wage temp...again.

Yes, it can be soul-destroying. But it can also be a motivating, eye-opening experience. I learned this when I was rejected from a job recently. Yes, really. I was invited to an interview, completed some tests and appeared in front of a panel looking like a quivering heap of well-dressed jelly. Relatively smooth interview (not too wobbly), back on the bus and back home on the sofa with a calming mug of hot chocolate.

Waiting for "the phone call" is somewhat like being told by a charming guy that he'll call you later that day. Any self-respecting girl knows that she should fill the rest of her day with useful tasks and other social engagements, but she also knows she'll probably glue herself firmly next to the telephone for the next three hours so she doesn't miss his call. What am I up to? Oh, you know me, I'm really busy. Ha. At least when you're blatantly unemployed you don't need to pretend you have a full diary; everybody pretty much knows you're on the sofa in your pyjamas posting inane comments on news websites and watching MTV.

They called me back in for another chat the next day because they had whittled the candidates down to two. It was me versus someone else in an anonymous battle for gainful employment. In the end, they went with the other candidate, but in the rejection they told me I had performed brilliantly and that they wished they had a more suitable position so they could hire me.

This was great to hear because truthfully, I was not qualified for that job. I was rejected on the mutual understanding that I'm pretty darn good but that job wasn't for me. That's exactly what I needed to hear, and it's motivated me to reconsider my whole approach to this job hunting malarkey.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Guidelines 1

Don't use gibberish as placeholder text in a job application. Do not use placeholder text at all. This could result in your profile reading "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc etcetera etcetera..."

Don't attend an interview with a bank and tell them that money does not motivate you.

Don't drink seven pints of Guinness the night before a trial shift.

Do be subliminal; mirror the exact language of the job description in your application.

Do plan your route to the job interview on google street view.

Don't apply for a job working for a company that makes products that you hate. Or at least, don't admit that you hate the products in your application.

Don't go into Oxfam and ask if they are 'hiring'.

Do trust your loved ones when they tell you that you're underselling yourself.

Do point out spelling mistakes in job adverts to the advertisers, but do consider if you actually want to work for people who make those kinds of spelling mistakes.

Do listen to interview questions so that you don't give the interviewer your prepared answer on where you want to be in five years when they asked where you want to be in three.

Do steal your mum's smartest power-shoes for interviews.