Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hiatus

I like the word hiatus.

I'm going through a rebranding exercise. See you next year.

In the mean time, read this instead.

Changing my name; Changing me? Gladl(e)y.

After reading some literature and discourse on the symbolism and meanings of certain wedding traditions, and how these can/should/don't/shouldn't get shaken up by different and changing dynamics in the concept of marriage, I thought it would be worth writing a little note about why I am so stoked about changing my name.

I love my last name as is, because it's got some great heritage. It's what I was born into, and will always be. We have a clan and a tartan and a castle (sadly I don't own it, it's abandoned and dilapidated, but it's also called Fatlips Castle which is brilliant). My grandad has done a lot of work in our family history and I'm one of the few in my family who take an interest in the stories he can tell about our ancestors. Mr calls me Fatlips sometimes as a pet name, because I do have fat lips and I do pout them when I don't get my way.
But I have decided, myself, that I will change my last name when I get married.

First of all, a very serious but seemingly light-hearted reason: There is (currently) nobody else on facebook with my future name. I kind of like that. There are people with my current name, even within my own family. I feel that rather than losing my identity by adopting my man's moniker then, I will gain something rare. And because after we marry we will be separated physically/geographically for a while, I will have time to adjust to my new identity by myself, and become used to being a new individual. I've even registered my future name as a gmail address already.

Second, I see it as an opportunity to redefine myself, as me, but also as part of a new team, a new duo of crimefighting superheroes (that's me and my Mr). We're going to be Team Ladley. Some of our friends already refer to us in a jokingly celeb fashion as Gladley, which I LOVE.* It involves both of us and refers to both of us. It's also better than combining our last names, because Turnbull + Ladley = Turdley, and that's certainly less resplendent.

*Gillian is pronounced like Giraffe. But this is Gladley as in Glad. And I am Glad.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Commenting on Commentary

I'm sitting on the bus to the Political Innovation Camp in Edinburgh, and while I rarely blog in 'real time' I thought it'd be worth drafting some thoughts about citizen journalism and political commentary. I already introduced some ideas in a couple of posts below, but some interesting things have happened in these spheres in the past week that give some food for thought.

The first was Keith Olbermann's very temporary 'indefinite' suspension from MSNBC and his show Countdown over some undisclosed political donations. The donations are neither here nor there, but it was an interesting turn of events for a few reasons. First, the rally of support for Keith that manifested so rapidly over, of course, the Internet. Second, MSNBC's ability to spin the incident as demonstrable proof that the cable network is somehow more responsible and less overtly partisan or activist than Fox news. Third was Meghan McCain (daughter of Arizona Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain) defending Olbermann on account of his being a commentator, and not a journalist.

There are blurry distinctions between journalism and commentary, between bona fide media formats and citizen journalism/commentary. As I asserted before there are nuances in the codes and grammar of each, and also in the expectation the reader or viewer garners from each medium. There are some rules that all must adhere to, such as regarding libel, copyright, plagiarism, confidentiality, etc. But it'll be interesting to have discussions about how commentary and blogging is currently perceived and how it can be used.

The other events concern twitter tags such as #twitterjoketrial and #iamspartacus. Over on this side of the ocean we've seen instances of social media 'commentary' (jokes and flippant comments) becoming issues of a legal matter, but more so, issues of action. I'm sure plenty of media fans and politicos are watching these two Twitter tags with many levels of interest, as they add a different, slightly more alarming, facet to this conversation on commentary, blogging and connectivity.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Employed Kyle!

I've been following Kyle and his employment-seeking-technique with interest, and am very pleased to find out today that he is now happily employed. There was plenty of that there 'dogged determination' on display, for sure, as well as clever originality, so I'm glad his campaign worked, and indeed it worked well:


Kyle Clarke

63 days, 452 tweets, 13 interviews, 15 job offers, 1 new boss... And a lot of BIG thank yous!


Even more interestingly for me though, Kyle linked to my blog post about his intriguing job hunting methods. Apparently I should be 'properly loaded' for managing to get high Google ranks! Total fluke, though, sadly I must admit. Would that it were true!

What he had to say also highlighted something I've known for a while - that this design ain't doing much for me. I don't love it. Originally it was a vague, subtle pastiche of the Directgov Jobseeking site and it's not really relevant anymore. I slightly changed the by-line at the top there, but I'm certainly going to overhaul my interweb presence at some point soon.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Life as we know it

When I started this blog I intended it to be about employment, and then politics. I never really intended it to be very personal.

The other week I saw this movie at the cinema. It's everything you'd expect from a Rom Com, except that it's not particularly romantic, and not particularly comedic; it's incredibly sad. I'm not usually one for Hollywood fluff (who am I kidding? I wrote an important University paper on Snakes on a Plane, I wrote a blog post about Post Grad, I once saw and almost enjoyed a Jessica Simpson movie...) but for some reason 'life as we know it' had me crying throughout.

This year, for me, has been punctuated by bus-rides and airport scenes (and Skype screens). Buses are never glamourous, even in movies, but buses are almost always interesting and variable (though sometimes for the wrong reason). Airport scenes are almost like the kind you see in the movies, but they are usually three hours longer and so far removed from any movie glamour with the sleeplessness, the screaming children, the queuing, and the crumpled plastic bags filled with old lipsticks and vaseline. Red-eye to London, layover in Paris, long haul to the USA, traipsing around terminals in Heathrow; I've been to five different UK, one European, and three USA airports since June.

There is a helpless frustration about being a lone traveller sitting in an airport lounge or trundling solely through security, or sitting trapped in a window seat above the clouds. For all the months I spend apart from my fiance at any one time, the moment I missed him most was on a delayed long-haul flight this year, exactly one hour away from landing. I sat boxed in by the porthole window and watched the little plane creeping towards its destination on the screen in front me, and sobbed for that whole final hour because I just didn't want to be sitting waiting any longer. One hour later I was in my partner's arms, but it felt like an age at the time.

An acquaintance expressed his sympathy for how hard it must be for me to be apart from the person that I'm going to marry; I was floored.

The reason I was floored is because earlier this year his girlfriend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Recently he ran a half marathon, and then he and a truly amazing group of people ran 10k and raised almost £10k for Cancer Research in her honour. It was truly a awe-inspiring moment in what I can only imagine is an extremely challenging period.

My mum got her annual memo at work about their office secret santa last week. This year, because sometimes people get secret santas that they don't know very well, everyone has been asked to put up their likes and suggested presents on this sheet of paper on a noticeboard. Being a sarcastic British lady, my mum was going to put "£5 note" as a suggested present. Instead she wrote the URL to donate to my friends' fantastic efforts in the 10k. You can donate here too if you like.

Earlier this year, in a lovely twist of fate, my gran got married, was given the all-clear from cancer and is now thinking about getting a tattoo to celebrate. Some of my friends have even said they'll happily get tattoos at the same time as my gran!

And on the other side of the world, while my gran decides what design she'd like, my fiance is cultivating a 'manly' moustache and raising money for the likes of Prostate Cancer and other mens' health charities, as part of the fantastically chappy Movember campaign. He's doing this partly for reasons close to his heart, and partly because I'm jealous I can't grow such great facial hair for such a great cause. Whether you live in the US, or the UK, you can also donate to my man's efforts to emulate Teddy Roosevelt and see a silly picture of me with a moustache (his hasn't grown in yet).

Important things are happening in the world, and my partner has just started his own blog to document some of them. But equally important things are also happening in life, as we know it, right now.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Blogslinging

Yesterday Andrew Marr made the comment that blogging is not journalism.

This was already the glaringly obvious thing to say after my previous post: the hierarchy of internet users.

In fandom it separates those who like something enough to call themselves a fan, from those who make a living from their fandom or who participate in fan activism (such as those who campaigned to get Family Guy back on TV during its hiatus, for just one example).

When this idea is also attributed to news on the net, it's plain to see that despite the rapid spread of ideas and articles, there's still a notion of hierarchy between known news outlets and what Marr deems 'citizen journalists'.

But then, aren't they are also totally different kinds of literature, each with a different kind of 'grammar' and textual code and meaning and purpose?

Monday, 11 October 2010

Memes on the Brain: a braindump

I wrote my undergrad dissertation on Snakes on a Plane. The movie. The movie with Samuel L Jackson, a plane, and a bunch of snakes.

(Incidentally, if anyone cares, I did my postgrad dissertation on the concept of 'ethical power' and the EU's neighbourhood policy. I wrote both dissertations in all seriousness.)

I was pre-warned by my undergrad supervisor that I was taking a risk with the subject matter.

For info, here's how it went, in ten summary steps:

1. Some movies and TV shows are classified as 'cult'.
2. Cult movies/TV shows can be made to be cult or are 'discovered' by fans as cult.
3. Cult fans are not just consumers, but can sometimes be involved in changing the text of their revered show/movie (usually a show with more than one instalment).
4. Cult fans are also productive, by making fanfiction, fan magazines, mash-up videos/songs, merchandise, spin-offs. etc.
5. Cult fans also create a 'shadow text' (a term coined by Matt Hills) by providing commentary on their favourite show/movie (again, usually a show with more than one instalment).
6. Fans are hierarchical - those who produce fanfiction, sell merchandise, or those who comment quickest and most often are alpha fans.
7. The increase in popular use of the internet makes it quicker and easier for fans to comment and be productive and hierarchical.
8. All of the above happened with Snakes on a Plane. Only it happened before the movie was released.
9. The movie was not very successful. Fan activity died down after the movie came out...
10. Therefore Snakes on a Plane was and is not a cult movie. It was an internet fad, exacerbated by the stupid name and premise of the movie, and also in the timely increase in popular use of the internet, and namely the creation of and popularisation of YouTube. Without those elements it would probably not have been an internet fad (or fad, stupid).

I see this happening more and more. And not just with movies, but anything that becomes an internet fad. Or meme. And how they spread across the internet is simply fascinating; Susan Blackmore touches on it here in her TED talk on memes and temes. It's all the more impressive when most of the colloquial terms on the internet are coined on the same site (which, incidentally, celebrated its 7th birthday recently), and then regurgitated on two more sites, that is, Facebook/Twitter.

An IT friend once described the expediency/timeframe of various social media platforms as such: blogging is slow, Tumblr is faster, Facebook is faster still, and Twitter is fastest, being almost instantaneous. YouTube fits somewhere in the middle.

Of course, not only does slang or movie hype travel quickly, but so does news and current affairs, which should be no surprise to anyone. With all these various platforms available to us, with grassroots commentary on news as it happens, we have instant 'shadow texts' on every facet of the outside world.

In Matt Hills' film theory, 'shadow texts' are interesting pieces of literature (for want of a better word) created by fan commentary, perpetuated by what is happening on screen, between episodes, and so on. In the UK, X Factor is one of the best examples of this happening, oh so easily tracked on Twitter whenever it broadcasts. In fact, finding 'shadow texts' is so much easier since the dawn of Twitter, but you find them on forums and Facebook and in fan magazines as well.

Additionally, we have important instances of grassroots commentary on current affairs, such as the famous 'Iranian Twitter Revolution', or the people who tweeted in real time as they attempted to vote in the UK general election only to discover, first, huge lines (sorry, queues), and then eventually that the doors were closed on them as 10pm struck and they were denied their vote.

In Mexico, 'social media' is getting through censorship, and the story of the 'narco-blogger' was seized upon by journalists as an important example of social media activism and reporting:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38684639/
http://www.observer.com/2010/media/journalists-silenced-mysterious-blogger-reports-mexico’s-drug-violence
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/aug/17/press-freedom-mexico
http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/43152/

If you haven't already read Malcolm Gladwell's article about online activism (where have you been?), then it's certainly worth a thorough read.

It's been doing the rounds on Twitter and the like, along with a torrent of responses:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/02/malcolm-gladwell-social-networking-kashmir
http://www.markpack.org.uk/malcolm-gladwell-social-networking/?utm_source=wordtwit&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=wordtwit
http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=19008
Are just a few of them...

This is an aside though, as I'm not talking necessarily about political activism here, although these are interesting and pertinent stories to follow and respond to and debate. The rapid spread of ideas and commentary certainly carries some of the same themes as online calls to activism, and indeed can work hand in hand, both in theory and in practice - does it make a difference if it's political or creative or pointless?

On Friday the Facebook movie, The Social Network, is released in the UK. This is fascinating to me simply because it's kind of meta: I wrote about how online social networking can affect a movie, and here's the ultimate movie affected by online social networking, because it's about its very inception on the modern internet.

Fellow tweeter and blogger Miss America made this comment that made me giggle:

@: Think they'll make a Twitter movie next? Imagine how confusing it'll be with 140 characters.

To which another fellow tweeter and blogger responded with this amazing precis for a Twitter movie, and whatdyaknow, somebody already made a trailer. All you need is Sam J, and you've a fully-fledged, unstoppable, round the world, instant internet meme with B-Movie to match. Get to it New Line Cinema! Let's see if this time round the power of the interwebz can get active enough to create a whole movie, rather than just add some extra lines of obscene dialogue.

But maybe that doesn't need to happen. Gladwell's article has sparked a number of debates, and one of those is about hierarchies on the internet. The internet is used by everyone for news and marketing. The story is no longer under control, whether it's a case of adding more snakes and the phrase "motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane" or telling the truth about drugs in Mexico or rebutting a large corporation's PR campaigns/disaster management skills, 'ordinary people' are responding quicker than ever and getting more exposure than ever.

It's not the case that it could only happen with the internet - we've already had comedy stand-up shows and improv and art and Soviet samizdats (which literally means 'self-published') and Czechoslovakia's Charter 77 group prior to the collapse of Communism. But there is a torrent of it, and it's constant, and it's global (almost - the point in Gladwell's article about Iran and lazy journos reading only english commentary comes to mind here, and firewalls restrict access to certain people, but the reach of a well constructed, well timed, well publicised tweet or blog or youtube video is far wider than a xeroxed samizdat). People are people, but the internet magnifies and accelerates these 'shadow texts'.

So when I think about Snakes on a Plane now, which in internet terms is ancient history (going by the speed of the spread of information, not the length of time the internet has existed - Confused.com ads would have us believe it was invented in 2001, not the 1970s), the length of fad and the variety were still impressive for such a daft movie. It had an end point though, when the movie came out, which I addressed in my original essay as the main failing of the movie's hype. (What if it had it never been released?! How long would the hype have been maintained? Does anyone still Rickroll? Would it be better if a Twitter movie was mooted and never came out?) I received a mediocre grade for my dissertation in the end, unsurprisingly, but I still stand by it as an interesting piece of work. A piece of work that could be built upon proper and probably has, though admittedly maybe not with Snakes on a Plane as a case study.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Oh, snap!

In planning a wedding with my partner across the ocean I have come across a huge variety of wedding blogs, catering to different styles and niches of wedding. Most of my favourites display gorgeous images of wonderfully diverse people and all their different wedding celebrations:

http://www.lovemydress.net
http://www.london-bride.com/
http://ruffledblog.com/
http://www.rocknrollbride.com/
http://apracticalwedding.com/

Offbeat Bride has been my favourite though, because they have a private 'no drama' ning site for all sorts of offbeat brides (and grooms) in fully-fledged wedding planning mode. While Mr and are decidedly 'offbeat lite' we are also a transatlantic couple, and there's a group on the ning site specifically devoted to us 'geographically challenged' couples and that has been a great resource and constant source of support.

Many of these blogs show couples who opt to have engagement photo shoots to announce their wedding, and to get the opportunity to practice in front of a camera before the big day so they don't end up looking back on awkward family photos in years to come. We didn't do this (it's not wholly practical when we have limited time together and spend most of our spare money on flights) but we are in the habit of capturing the few precious moments we get with each other. When we were on our recent trip over to NY and PA, my mum half-joked that we needed plenty of photos to show immigration one day and gleefully snapped us at every chance throughout the trip. But indeed, photos of our relationship across time can form part of the requirement to provide immigration with "Evidence of a Bonafide Marriage - relevant documentation to establish that there is an ongoing marital union".






Sunday, 26 September 2010

Fabrics

Just back from a threefold trip across the ocean:

1. To see my fiance.
2. So my mum could meet his mom.
3. To get fabric for the dresses.

Success on all three!

1. Fiance surprised me by visiting me in NY for the few days we were there before heading to his parents' place. Extra days with my beau!
2. I think everyone had a lovely time. My aunt came along for the ride as well, and all of us, along with my fiance's aunt, had fun mini-golfing, going for dinner, drinking tea and eating cake.
3. Fabric purchased for my dress, and two of the bridesmaid dresses. My maid of honour is my sister-in-law-to-be and she'll be making her own dress because she's a talented art school type.

Here's the fabric for my dress!

That's his kilt, the one he'll be wearing on the day (it's muted Mackay tartan), plus the fabric I chose for my two junior bridesmaids (the blue one).

I'd already chosen the pattern for the dress, although it's being heavily altered, and I never had a desire to visit any bridal shops to try on dresses. I only wanted to try on one dress, my own, but it didn't exist.

I'd always wanted my mum to make my dress because she's a brilliant seamstress and she made her own wedding dress, and she was really honoured when I asked her to do mine too. She's a huge fan of Project Runway so our first stop was Mood Fabrics. We had so much in the garment district of NY wrapping me up in all sorts of beige silks like a betrothed Egyptian mummy:

That's my aunt helping.




Unfortunately Mood didn't have quite what we wanted, but we found a treasure trove of fantastic silks in every colour just a few blocks away.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Manual Labour

I had a funny moment while I was sitting in my driving instructor's car early one morning. I was being instructed on pedestrian crossing protocol. I misnamed a "Pegasus" crossing as a "Unicorn" crossing, which was rather cute of me. But that wasn't the funny moment.

Another learner driver had pulled up behind me and parked on the side of the road. In the rear view mirror I caught a glimpse of someone and made a wry smile - it kind of felt like I'd seen an ex-boyfriend in fortuitous circumstances. But then, when I break it down, my old driving instructor was a bit like a stereotypical bad boyfriend.

First, his company website was totally flashy, but not very user-friendly. Good looking but no substance.

Second, he constantly turned up to appointments late with no excuse or explanation.

Third, he never explained important information to me. He'd basically tell me to "drive" - and then stop me and tell me each time I did something wrong rather than show me how to do something and talk me through it as I practiced.

Fourth, he got into the habit of undermining me and putting me down -the cherry on the cake was when he said I might as well just give up and get a bus pass.

Fifth, he promised he would call and never did. He decided I should just learn automatic because manual was getting me nowhere. He said he'd call about getting a lesson in an automatic. He didn't.

So what does any self -respecting girl do when she's in a destructive relationship? She moves on of course. I cut my losses (hours of stressful driving, hundreds of pounds, months of getting worse at driving) and found someone better. And my current instructor is contrary in every way. I picked him according to his basic, unimpressive website, reasoning that a non-flashy website would mean a better instructor, and I was right.

I remember saying I didn't want to be negative on this blog, but I thought it was worth mentioning mr bad driving man. For a girl who's got as much going for her as I do, I'm often not as forthright as I should be, sometimes to a fault. It's fairly well known: My fiancé's the hawk and I'm the dove.

I did a first aid certificate recently for work and they said I was great, but didn't come off too confidently, even though I should have done. They told me to be louder, which sums it up.

So I was almost distracted by wanting to stare down mr bad driving man in the rear view mirror, but I was interrupted. A drunken guy approached our car and started slurring vexatiously through my open driver's window. He held a pink plastic wine glass like it was a glass of brandy and hugged a bottle of cider in the other arm. Mr good driving instructor warned sternly that he'd call the police, and by the time the drunk had tottered off, the other learner car had moved on.

And so have I. Ha. Look at me now mr bad driving man.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Employ Kyle

Opinion is divided about unusual resumes/CVs/job applications - does a "wacky" or creative stunt ever catch an employer's attention in the correct way? Can they be substantiated with a strong, relevant work history?

I suppose it depends on the employer. Those questions are not for me to answer; I'm not hiring anyone.

But here's one success story, so maybe there are cases where dogged determination and an eye-catching stunt can highlight a jobseekers's positive qualities. For example, if you can create a media storm and you're looking for a PR job, or you're a web designer with a beautiful paperless URL CV, or you're interested in politics and have the gumption to ask a top politician for work experience, or an actress who "quits her job in style" and starts an internet meme, then creativity and guts are a valid and commendable combination.

But what if you're not quite sure where you want to go next? How do you stand out then?

Graduate Kyle Clarke is having a go at creating a buzz about his business credentials with a full-blown web tender for his skills. He's created a campaign called EmployKyle, where potential employers can 'bid' for his services, and after the month's deadline he'll go with what he calls the 'best' offer. The flashy website is, of course, also accompanied by a live Twitter account, which he's using to approach employers, network and promote his campaign.

Interestingly, he's also fairly candid about not quite knowing what he wants to do or what his 'dream job' might be.

Like I said, I'm not an employer so I can't predict how this open sincerity will play out, but if his slick website and undoubtedly clever wording plays into enthusiastic and dogged determination for seeking employment, then it may well garner some good results for him. The Guardian seems to have picked up on his story, which turned out well for fellow tweeter jambothejourno. Best of luck Kyle.

If anyone's been inspired by the examples of creative job hunting/attention-seeking linked here, then you'll need to keep on thinking outside-the-A4-sheet. I reckon these ideas only work once (remember the genius million dollar home page?) if they work at all - but you've gotta have guts to try, and sometimes employers kinda like that.

Monday, 13 September 2010

The 365

It was a year since I bid a teary farewell to my boyfriend as he returned to vaster shores, handed in my dissertation and was treated to a cup of tea and a bag full of biscuits from my flatmate, packed up six years' accumulation of books, notes, and memorabilia from my days as a student officer, and moved back home.

It's natural then, for me to be looking back on the past year and what I've achieved or not achieved. I told my beau a couple of weeks ago about my fear that I haven't "achieved enough" in the past year. I think at the time I was feeling blighted by my commute and the fact I still can't drive. There are limitations to living in a remote steading with no public transport - for one, it means planning social activities meticulously. On the plus side, all the walking I do negates a need for an expensive gym membership.

I have achieved what I had set out in little baby steps, which is great to report. I am, in my instructor's words "an excellent driver" so hopefully it won't be long before I am a legal driver too. The nights are rapidly getting dark!

So my aim for the next year is to keep on moving forward, learning and progressing. Reaching and achieving. I want to pass my test, take another language class, and volunteer again.

I could describe the last several months as an extended summer period. I'm off to the USA again for a week, but when I get back it's definitely time to hit the gas and step things up a gear, so to say.


Monday, 2 August 2010

the kindness of strangers

My beau received a lifeline from a very kind stranger. He has been so relentless and dogged about his job search; it inspires me. He started looking for a post-uni job way before I did, while we were still writing and re-writing our dissertations last summer. I was under no rosy impression that we would find work immediately after graduation; he thought the extra letters after our names would hold us in good stead for finding gainful, relevant employment.

We both found work relatively easily, albeit in food service. It was tougher for my partner to adjust to 9-10 hour shifts of serving customers because of the extra effort he was putting into career-hunting, while I'd put that on hold when I first started working at the deli.

He became very skilled in crafting resumes and speculative letters, succinctly and eloquently telling the story of his career to date. He followed up every lead, saved every kind word, and chased every non-response - methodically and with strict dedication.

The energy to keep on going at tasks like these is sometimes incredibly difficult to maintain. He was told by some recruiters that they had received literally hundreds of responses to particular job adverts and he hadn't made the cut. It's hard to know if, in those cases, his application was ever read at all. But still he resolved to keep putting himself out there.

Most of the time job applications (either speculative or responsive) had been sent into the ether with little or no acknowledgment of receipt and certainly no further communication. Again, in those circumstances it's hard to know whether to keep on putting effort into sending out applications when there's no guarantee of receipt. But like a lottery, the odds are better when you participate than when you don't. So he resolved to keep putting himself out there.

Two of the most heartwarming responses he did receive did not lead to jobs, but they have been incredibly important nonetheless.

One was a beautifully written letter from a political representative simply explaining that there were no positions available, but he was impressed by my partner's resume and wished him all the best for his career hunt. It was written in personal, genuine language, unlike commonplace holding letters or rejection responses.

The other was an invitation from a staffer to have a telephone information meeting. The staffer was again impressed by my partner's resume, but explicitly stated there was nothing they could do for my partner, other than to spend some time on the phone to give some practical advice and insider tips on getting his resume noticed in the right way. Had the staffer not been on the other side of the country, my partner probably would have given them a huge thank you hug. I believe a thank you email or two did the trick instead.

Acts like these sound so small and simple (and they are!) but they have been so vital in keeping up my partner's momentum. The disheartening silence that meets multiple job applications can be confusing at best, but even just a note, a sentence or two to let him know he was on the right track, makes it all the more worth it.

So when I received a call at work recently from a girl asking about funding her postgraduate degree, I tried to give her help, even though it was completely unrelated to my job. "I'm sorry," I said, "that's not what we do here, but I totally understand your pain, I finished my postgrad last year. Let me send you some links that I have."

It was coming up for my hometime and I needed to catch the bus. But I didn't mind. "Give me your email address and I'll see if I can find anything that might help you." I said.
"Thanks so much..." she sighed, "I'm going round in circles."

It wasn't much, but I know how much a voice who's willing to help can mean when you're trying your best and seemingly getting nowhere.

Monday, 12 July 2010

fear and dis-peers

After a wonderful two weeks spent over sunny stateside with my beau (our first liaison in six months, since the proposal) it's a hard adjustment back to GMT times and to the quotidian. After one weekend of jet-lag erasing sleep in my (very humble ex-council) countryside abode, I went for a tightly scheduled jaunt to the city to catch up with old uni friends - slots of tea with friends, followed by slots of tea with more friends, followed by scheduled fun, sleep and more of the same. Perfect.

I started by having tea and cake with two friends from uni, and talking about the head-rattling bureaucratic processes of our state. The first friend had just found herself breaking the surface of a paper ocean after a brief spell treading water on Jobseeker's Allowance. We regaled the box-ticking, form-filling, phone-etiquette, and life administration associated with signing on and signing off (not to mention the hopeless isolation that seeps into one's sense of being when it's sign-on day).

The second friend is working as a temp in a government office, with all the box-ticking, form-filling, phone-etiquette and life administration associated with the position (not to mention, etc etc).

I can empathize only too well with both situations. In the latter, I once did an experiment with a piece of paper that entered the system, and tracked its journey, but that is a story for another time. In the former, I once did an experiment with a person that entered the system, but I was lucky enough to be able to exit that system and tell you about my journey since, here.

All I could say was "It does get easier. I promise. I don't mean that it gets easier to cope with, but it does lead to better things eventually. That's all I can say." I remember joking about being unemployed or (a term I learned recently) underemployed, but it was a bitter-tainted humour. Truthfully, I had really resented anyone with commodities and frivolity, and it made me become more selective about the people I spent time with. It sounds incredibly bitter indeed in writing, but it was incredibly hard to hear about some peoples' sailing stories while flailing and treading water myself, no matter how much I liked them. I think, at some really low points, I lost some friends along the way. Those who stuck by me really stuck by me and I love them for it, but I don't really blame those who backed away (I wasn't much fun).

I learned that a kind of social hierarchy has developed amongst some of my peers. People have clumped together according to their socioeconomic status: those without jobs, or those in unrelated/poorly paid jobs, don't speak to those who are doing internships because they resent the fact they they can afford to do internships in something interesting, and those who are doing internships don't talk to those who have career enhancing jobs. It's not nasty, but it's borne out of jealousy and despair, mostly. Moreso because there's a public sector hiring freeze in the UK now. I totally understand it.

It's tough. It's sad, regrettable, but not unpredictable. I'm only now slowly reconnecting with some people I lost connection with, even if we had lived very close by we were in very different worlds.

On my second day in the city I had lunch with two different friends who were embarking on new adventures after breaking the entry-level job period of their lives. One's going travelling, and the other one had received both a great job offer and acceptance to a perfect postgrad course during the previous week. It was truly exciting to hear about the way their lives were going to pan out over the course of the next year. It was wonderful to listen to them talk with such happy anticipation because they had both waited three years since graduating to find themselves in these positions - or, to put it more accurately, to have worked themselves into these positions.

To those at the bottom of this hypothetical hierarchy, I'm not sure if it comes as a comfort to learn that patience and hard graft are eventually rewarded, even if it takes three years sometimes.

And it's easy to isolate oneself while in a rough situation, thinking that everyone else's lot is better. It's probably not, but you might not find out until you pluck up the courage to meet up for coffee one day down the line.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Webless

We need some spidey web magic in our neighbourhood.

Sometime just over a week ago our Internet stopped working. A few days later we received a letter from our ISP telling us about the fantastic new upgrade in our area. It warned that we might lose Internet for a few hours, and advised not to call them if that happened. It would have been useful if they had included a phone number to call as we had been without it for days. And we couldn't go online to find it.

Data usage for my phone has skyrocketed, ha.

I did receive a text from a friend asking for help with an upcoming interview and also to help her with "not putting all my eggs in one basket, even though there is only one egg and one basket". Regarding the latter, I suggested she try to pretend that it was a mock interview for the 'next' interview and to judge it as a learning experience. So, if and when we are reconnected properly, I'll put up another "guidelines" edition all about interviews, which will be most difficult for me because they are usually a bit of a blur for me.

I also have a rather heartwarming tale to tell...

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Debating debates

I spoke of my but three hats before. On this important day of potential sea change and tide shift, let me throw some more hats into the ring.

One of the most entertaining things about this election has been the debates. Correction: One of the most entertaining things about this election has been reading Twitter during the debates, an endless stream of witty oneliners from friends, alternative stats from 63336, and poll listings from Tweetminster. Almost as interesting were the partisan tweeters; each declaring their own party as a winner, although these were amusing for a different reason.

The 'winner' of the debates became as moot as the issues being debated themselves. The after match analysis was a similar affair on television to Twitter - William Hague congratulating Cameron, Cable commending Clegg, Balls bravoing Brown. I would have loved, loved if they had shaken it up a bit! If one had acknowledged the strength of another, if one had admitted a particular slip-up or failing of their peer. It would have made for almost shockingly frank discussion. Of course I more than understand the nature of party politics, but the commentary would be a bit more progressive if it was somehow edgier. It would hold more purpose. And entertainment, for sure!

On a similar topic, there are plenty of partisan blogs, and some of them are very good. They cover a wide range of subjects and party issues and are constantly updated. Guardian did a good round up of the party interwebz efforts. Tweetminster does a fantastic job of following all the MPs and party candidates across the political spectrum. I follow a wide range of them, but unsurprisingly often none of them are particularly revealing and their tweet stances are predictable.

Our national newspapers offer a cornucopia of views, and most of them have endorsed a party, as is their absolute right to do so, but it would be good to hear/read their real motives. The most stimulating justification for support was outlined by the Economist, and that was even based on politics rather than hyperbole and self-interest (or so I would like to believe from a publication that aims to progress intelligence...)

So what's the other option? Our BBC bastion is required to be neutral, and give a certain amount of coverage to all sides (though Murdoch would surmise that it has a left-wing bias). However, because of its mandate towards its license payers, it plays safe rather than cover all the views in a truly cutting coverage. Does this stifle good debate or risque discussion? Paxman excluded of course. And perhaps John Humphrys. But they both take the role of the 'cynical general public' and partisanship is not often seen from commentators on the BBC, only from the candidates themselves. A room full of Paxmen and Humphrys left to their own, real opinionated devices could make for brilliant television.

If you let me cross the pond for a moment of digression, political debate pundits in the USA are a different breed and approach the notion of spreading political information in a totally different manner. My personal favourites are Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. They provide what can only be described as full-on infotainment, and get away with much more commentary and bias than the BBC would probably allow, and possibly even the commercial channels, and can put forward criticism and ideas that political candidates themselves can't get away with.

The problem is when all of this political commentary and information leads to misinformation. When media machines and individuals execute themselves in wholly irresponsible manners. It is damaging and it is dangerous.

Sometimes they come across as stereotypes of themselves. Olbermann fights a relentless vitriolic verbal war against the likes of Hannity, Beck, Bachmann, Coulter and Limbaugh, which has recently extended onto his Twitter feed ... and we are back with the partisan problem. Then it becomes less about the discussion of ideas and more about point-scoring against the other team. Again I worry that this becomes damaging towards the 'info' element of the broadcasting, verging on self-serving, self-congratulating and alienating the undecideds or floating voters. I suppose the British equivalents could be the Daily Mail... and the Guardian?

Incidentally, it may be that we'll see Sarah Palin go this way. While I haven't read 'Going Rogue' I'll hazard that it will be a different kind of manifesto than 'Audacity of Hope' - Palin could reasonably expect to make a lot of money from doing the speaking n' signing route rather than public office, and she'd get the bonus of being able to say whatever the hell she likes. As a commentator she'd have no mandate to hold up, answering to no call but her own, and the occasional sling of insults from Olbermann, which she gets already.

And that's all very well, for them to become an aggressive evangelist for an issue or cause in which they feel passionately and expert in is almost admirable, regardless of whether they are a commentator or fully in the political ring as a candidate or representative. But becoming an ardent spokesperon for a certain side can slightly marr their credentials (whoever would have though Olbermann and Palin could be lumped together like that?!). And this is the crux of the problem of the politics of misinformation. If only hardcore conservatives follow the likes of Palin or Beck (or, again, the Daily Mail), and only hardcore liberals follow the likes of Olbermann and Maddow (or, again, the Guardian), there is never anything new to learn from or teach the moderates stuck in the middle of them.

The moderates are our floating voters who haven't decided on their own political voice amongst the chattering and twittering political classes. For those of us who have - the party members, the candidates, the papers, the media outlets and the political evangelists, there rests a delicate responsibility to these undecideds, whether avid political readers, pub politicians, or vaguely disinterested polling card carriers. The responsibility is to offer a fair fight, and a genuine (and interesting) representation of the issues.

Is this at all possible amongst the melee of voices? Cathy Newman fills a niche quite well with her election 'fact check' blog. Entertaining as well as somewhat purposeful.

But after all these 'hats', the other voice would be an academic blog. And let's be honest, that'd be bloody boring.

So I'll leave you with just a few more points to chew on. Charlie Brooker pretty much hits the mark for lolitics during this campaign. And with a beautiful balance of cynicism, but not so much to self-righteously announce that he's too above voting. Nothing irks a political geek more than a tacit consenter with a chip on their shoulder. Well done Brooker.

And finally, Stephen Fry's compelling blog piece. After weeks of coquettish smatterings of hints on Twitter of who he might support, I had to wonder if he knew just what power he was wielding in those 140 characters. 140 characters and 1.5 million people. I supposed he would know, and hoped he knew the level of 'delicate responsibility' that would also hang on those 140 characters. And he did not fail to deliver to me such a beautiful poliloquy to make me proud. It carries what I would wish to articulate, though more wonderful, vulnerable, and (thankfully) to a much larger audience.

And that is why I steered clear of it all.

And because I'm just not as funny as Charlie Brooker.

Monday, 3 May 2010

the naming of hats

For a girl who studied politics and calls herself lolitician, there hasn't been much mention of either politics or lol in this blog. Doesn't she know there's an election on!?

Why have I been so silent on these events? I never intended to be.

I had originally planned to focus this blog on being 'lol scum' with the idea that if/when I found employment or an internship, I would gradually include more lolitics and slowly change the focus of the blog (hence the URL).

The problem is not that I found a job. I do work in a field where political neutrality is important, but that would be a thinly veiled excuse for not talking about political issues. The problem comes from within: I have three separate political voices within me.

That's not to say that I am being haunted by the likes of George Washington, Winston Churchill and John Locke. That could be very ugly indeed.

Nope. It's a bite more like C.S Lewis' depiction of every practical cat having three names. I think every practical person (or every politics geek) should have more than one political 'hat'. I am so much less poetic that C.S Lewis, but I'll try to explain.

First of all, I have my own personal politics. This includes the political party I support based on policies and ideology. It could simply be the party (or parties!) I decide to vote for on election day, and that could be a private decision between me and the secret ballot's box. It could also be my support for a particular candidate, my membership of a political party, or my engagement in a political campaign. However I decide to articulate it, it's my personal opinion and I have my own reasons for following it.

Secondly, I have an academic approach to politics. This is because I studied politics at University, and it isn't necessarily related to party politics. I was more interested in ideas and processes and issues than parties. And when I looked at ideas, I tried to look at them from a neutral position. I thought this was really important, because I thought that analysing ideas and issues from a biased position wasn't going to lead to any progress in the any understanding of politics. Academic study is about looking at all sides of an issue, making balanced arguments, and looking for scientific patterns and trends. Being politically neutral while studying politics also helped me learn so much more, and helped me to shape, label and refine my own personal opinions.

Finally, I have a general, light-hearted interest in politics... or lolitics. Whether it's biased or not, I don't usually care. I love anything that is cutting, irreverent, witty and current. I've already touched on this before on this blog, also lamenting on the lack of truly great political humour in the UK.

Although it's great that the UK leaders' debates have attracted greater interest in the UK's general election, and some of the after-match analysis is quite interesting, after all the squirming and worming about opinion polls, performance and punchiness, there's a gap unfilled. I'm looking for infotainment with bite, and I can't quite find it.

By infotainment I don't mean dumbed-down, I mean truly engaging, and more importantly, meaningful.

Anyone with a true 21st-century recessionista 2.0 vibe should be asking: If I can't find the infotainment, why don't I create it?


Who wants to be a milliner?


I have three different political 'hats' and as anybody with only one head knows, it's very difficult to wear more than one hat at a time.

...and if you notice me in profound meditation, it's because of a rapt contemplation, of the thought, of the thought, of the thought
of the scourge of political misinformation...

(to be continued, yup)

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Slow off the meme

Told you I was not very good at being an early adopter...stuff unemployed people like.

Also: http://www.unemployed-graduate.com.


Also, coming soon: Long boring essay on why I'm a fraud, not because I'm not unemployed, but because I'm not really a lolitician...

Monday, 26 April 2010

Guideline 5: Cover Twitter

Cover letters are like teaser trailers for the main event - the CV. A teaser trailer gives snippets of the main story in order to draw in a paying audience to see the movie. Trailers have a very limited amount of time in which to do that, and they must stand out amongst all the other trailers being shown at the same time.

I was helping a friend write a cover letter for a job application. He'd send me a draft, and I'd scan-read it and report back. Then he'd make some changes, send it back, and I'd do the same until either he or I was happy. More often than not I was telling him to cut something out, or reword it to make it shorter.

I think there is a habit amongst recent graduates to try to divulge information in incredibly convoluted language. It's a habit most likely picked up from reading complex academic journals, a habit that does not help when thrust into the job market.

So while I was waiting on another tightened redraft from my friend, I got thinking. I was trying to get him to make the first paragraph of his cover letter short, snappy, and easy to read. What else is short, snappy and easy to read? Tweets, of course.

So I set myself the task of writing my CV in a single Tweet.

There are services and sites devoted to using Twitter for jobhunting; here's a list of some of them, and here's another jobhunting site using Twitter. However, most of them involve normal full-sized CVs, and I'm not entirely convinced of their use (prove me wrong please, if you can!).

I wrote my Tweet CV and I was quite proud of its pith, until I found this competition run in January by workthing (workthing's blog is truly excellent by the way). You can find the winner here and also some honourable mentions and bad examples here. Mine turned out to be rather weak by comparison! I'm going to keep working on my Tweet CV; I could spend a whole lot of time making it perfect.

In of itself, a Tweet CV might not be much use, but I still heartily recommend having a go at writing yours because it's a really good exercise in writing short, snappy, work profiles. The 140 character limit is a great motivator for using language creatively and effectively.

I did then ask myself if this was a worrying degradation of language into soulless 140 character sentences. Is it a gross reduction of one's life into one line? Is this a grassroots introduction of Orwellian newsspeak?

My answer to all of these questions: Not at all. In my final year of high school I was awarded an A for my Advanced English portfolio, which had consisted only of one short poem and one piece of prose written almost entirely in AOL speak. Had Twitter existed in 2003 I probably would have done a piece based on that instead. The point is not to reduce the feeling, or the beauty of the language. The challenge is to compact it without losing meaning, beauty, or indeed originality.

Translating these ideas to the challenge of creating your own Tweet CV should help you to understand the purpose of a good cover letter.

(You could also try expressing your career in 10-line poetry too, if you like...I would just not advise sending that out to employers!)

Kind of related:

These sites don't show you how to sell yourself in one sentence, but they do talk about using social media to win you a job, which after last week's post on how it can lose you a job, I thought would be a positive list to include.

CV or not CV: Twitter tips

Does your Twitter handle belong on your resume?

Is Twitter the new CV?

Tweet yourself to a new job

Want a dream Job? Blog, Tweet or Youtube it!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Guidelines 4: Presenting Presence as a Present

Be really aware of your cyber footprint.

So, you called up about the advertised position and asked a few well thought of questions, handed in your CV and were polite to the door staff on your way in. Your CV shows you have great experience, and it's well laid out and typo-free. Great, your real-life impressions really are great. But how does your reputation stand online?

Chances are you are going to get googlestalked, so start ego-surfing and googling yourself and making sure you look just a good on screen as you do on paper. Just be careful. Could anybody find any tweets about how drunk you got, badly spelled blog posts, dodgy pictures from last Saturday night, potentially controversial outbursts on the comments page of your favourite news site, or posts on frequented internet forums that demonstrate you to be an intolerant bully. Are there any news stories about you? Do you have a profile on your current or past organisation's website?

Employers are looking out for this kind of stuff. I know people who've had to deal with repercussions from their social networking profiles. I know people who have had to sign disclaimers on application forms indicating which social networking sites they frequent, and accepting that these might be checked up on prior to/during/after application sifting.

I haven't had to sign a disclaimer like that, but I knew it would happen anyway. Late last year a former colleague (and current good friend) of mine sent me a facebook message that said:

"YOU: Your name is the most commonly searched for term on the organisation's website. I take it you're job hunting at the moment then!"

And it's nothing less than I expected. I should point out I wasn't still with that organisation while I was job hunting, but that might be something else to consider, if you're currently still employed but looking elsewhere.

I didn't expect my blog to get me a job (that's not why I started it) but I knew it could lose me any potential job. I know that prospective employers have read this very blog and followed me on Twitter and I even know how they found my information online (cheers, statcounter).

All that talk about employers using google to find out about their workers is true. Have a cyber spring clean if you need to. Have it now.

Because it seems to be that "public is the default" these days on web 2.0 sites, make sure you know exactly what privacy settings you have on any internet media you use, and if you use your real name or publish your email address. Make sure you know who you're friends with on facebook or any other social networking site and also what groups and discussions you've joined and participated in.

It's not a case of making everything private and deleting yourself from the internet, but it's just a case of making sure that first of all the information is employer-friendly, and also that it all adds up. If you've made the mistake of exaggerating your skills, experience or interests on your CV or in an interview, and the information online represents something else entirely, this can easily be picked up on and you could be left wondering why you never got that call back.

Basically, stalk yourself online, and make sure you what you find makes you look like the kind of person you'd like to work with.

Want to find out more?

How's your cyber footprint?

Job hunting grads need to tidy up their web presence.

Job hunting in the web 2.0 jungle.

Cyber vetting and your net rep.

Facebook and Twitter hazards.

And... to see how not to do it, there's always lamebook.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Guidelines 3: Two second rule

Imagine yourself as the man (or woman!) behind the desk. Crisp white shirt, smart tie, picture of your family smiling on your desk. On the desk is a messy pile of stapled sheets of white paper. Which one holds the key to your next employee of the month?

I think I read in a jobhunting book once that it is useful to imagine the process of hiring from the perspective of the employer. When you look at it, it can be just as gruelling for the employer as for the jobhunter.

To get an idea, WSJ have a good description of the hiring process here, and here's a checklist that any jobhunter could bear in mind when applying for work. Oh, and here is a useful blog that I'd bookmark, if I were you.

The employer might be spending a lot of money and time on the hiring process, because they want to make sure that they get the right person first time round. The more you can do to help your prospective employer read your application, the more they will like you. The more they like you...well, you catch my drift. So, after having made a good intial impression, you'll definitely want to make a good impression on your application.

And you've got just two seconds to make that good impression.

Is it really true that employers don't read CVs? Is the two-second scan a real thing?

I'm not going to pretend to be an HR expert or anything here, but I've sat on both sides of the jobhunting fence. This is purely anecdotal and there are lots of other resources available online that can say more about this phenomenon, so I'll give you just two key hints here.

But yeah, I'd say about two seconds is all I need to read your CV.

I can tell if you've read the advertisement/job description. I can tell if you have relevant experience. I can tell if you have the motivation. I can tell if you're underqualified or overqualified. And if I can, your employer can too.

Here are my hints to help you shine in those two seconds of fame:

1. Make your CV scan-friendly.

You need a clear and concise layout for your CV. Make use of whitespace and bullet points, only include directly relevant information and make sure that the points you want the employer to notice are the most obvious. Don't include rambling paragraphs with no clear indication of what information you want the employer to infer from reading it. You need to sign point everything (and you'll see that this relates really closely to hint number two).

For example, you might be really proud of your degree, or your knitting group, but if the job description calls for project management experience or analysis skills, then your degree and knitting group are less important.

Unless of course, you outline it something like this:

  • analysis skills: gained through 'data analysis' module as part of degree, and through thorough research for degree thesis.

  • project management experience: initiated and developed successful knitting group and coordinated several events to promote knitting as well as managing a charity knitting campaign that raised £X.

And I should add that it's okay not to have relevant experience, or if you don't have the right qualifications. If you can use language to apply the experience you do have to the specifics of the role, or can demonstrate that you understand exactly what the job requires and can prove that you have transferable experience, you might be okay.

2. Put some imitation in your application.

Keywords, keywords, keywords!

They can be the key to accessing the next stage of the process (groan).

The best trick I learned was to use the exact language of the job description in an application. If the application calls for "superior communication skills" don't write that you are "an excellent communicator" or that you "have demonstrable experience in communications"... you write that your experience/achievements demonstrate... what? You've guessed it, "superior communication skills."

Pick out the keywords from a job description and make a point of including them in your CV/cover letter.

This works on two levels. If your application is read by a computer, there are certain keywords the computer is searching for that will determine if you get through to the next round. If your application is read by a human being, it can subliminally encourage them to put your application into the 'interview' pile. Whether or not that's true, or whether that works, it can demonstrate that you have carefully scrutinised the description and submitted a well crafted, specific and relevant application, rather than a standard, generic CV copy.

I suppose, put simply, you are trying to rewrite the job description while putting your name on it. I'd add two extra hints here: First, do not add anything extra that the job description doesn't mention unless you really think it's relevant and relates to what they are looking for (e.g. don't tell your life story, don't try to explain why speaking four languages might be relevant unless they mention languages, don't say you can play an instrument). Second: don't apologise if you don't have the exact skills mentioned on the job description. Doing that just highlights your weak points.

This is a really basic introduction, but there is plenty of information about this kind of thing. Try these links for more:

10 resume mistakes. These mistakes unpack some of the points I've made here, and mistake number 8 relates to keywords. Ignore at your peril!

Passing the 3 second test.
Hey, it's more generous than me, that's a whole second longer!

Is your resume ready for the 20-second scan?
20 seconds is even lengthier! I'll point out that in section one, about ensuring your application is spelling mistake free, they misname the font 'Arial' as 'Ariel'... Ha. But if nothing else, these sites prove that what I say is right on the money.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Publog transport

I am fairly slow with technology, being only an alpha consumer by desire and not by actual consumption, ha.

But then my 2005 iBook G4 still works perfectly, why would I need anything more?

While most apple fans are blogging iPad e-pistles, I got myself an iPhone with my first new pay cheque and can now blog from the bus home, which on a sunny day like today, is rather fun. Or I could read Pride and Prejudice, skype my far-flung beau, or indeed practice my driving theory test...

But the less said about that right now, the better. And at any rate, I couldn't be bloggin'n'drivin now could I?

Commuter Blues 1

I enjoy my new job and I've already learned a lot in the month and a bit that I've been working there.

I just had the first few days off since I started this new decade. Since I leapt from one job to the next (finishing one on Sunday and starting the next on Monday) I've been ticking along. But it was really lovely to have a few days off, not least because I turned 25 during those few days, and so I caught up with friends in a rolling weekend of vague plans and beautiful tableau situations, of mirth and ice cream, tea and gossip.

But, as I now enter the tumble down from early twenties to late twenties and eventually into my thirties (eep!), I have made a whole-hearted decision to have a quarter-life crisis. I'm already listing what this might entail on my twitter. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

For my birthday a friend gave me a Cath Kidston bus pass cover which seems to embody the essence of my quarter-life crisis. Cath Kidston is a top label chintz emblazoned emblem for the middle-class home-style country-living dream. Having a bus pass though, at my age particularly, has been considered by some to be a sign of life failure. Of course, I say this with tongue placed firmly in cheek.

At the moment my work commute is 60-90 minutes each way. I have done this type of commute before and it's no problem really. It is significantly improved by a large part of it involving a bus rolling past the hills and fields of the countryside as opposed to chugging alongside the choked up rat-race streets of the city. I work like clockwork every morning and read on the bus and get some exercise by walking a good part of the way. But this travelling makes for a long day, and my weekends are spent relaxing and catching up with people in other parts of the country. This is my roundabout excuse for blogging little lately. At least I'm eloquent with it, yes?

And I am TRYING to learn to drive... but more on that later.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Guidelines 2: From this moment on

Before leaving my old job I helped to recruit a new me. It was actually quite useful to see the job hunting run from the other perspective. So this week I thought that I'd share what it's like to be on the other side of the CV...

First of all, first impressions do count. You are being judged from the moment you engage.

Yes, it's true. Whether you call up and enquire, or walk into your potential employer to ask about a position, or hand in a CV, you are being sized up for the role. In those few seconds. And it can't be helped.

It's not necessarily a conscious thing on the employer's part, or on the part of the employees you might speak to instead, so it's important to make a conscious effort to make a good impression the first time you make an interaction. Whether you meet the boss or the cleaner, they're judging you and they'll probably pass those judgments on... even if it's just "he seemed nice" or "I loved her shoes."

Think about what you want to say before you pick up the phone and ask about the job, and speak clearly. Ask about a specific job role, saying "I've called about the job" wouldn't be much use if they are advertising several positions.

Don't walk in and ask a current employee about the position and then insult the manager/boss/owner. You don't know work relationships yet, and you probably have no idea who you are talking you. Someone did this to me while we were hiring and I was slightly gobsmacked!

Do feel free to be friendly with the current employees, regardless of their role. You might be working with them one day. If they seem amiable and available, feel free to ask them about the job/business. If they seem busy and stressed out, come back later and don't bug them. Try to preempt when it might be less busy for them. For a sandwich bar, late afternoon is best, for a restaurant, in between settings is best, for an office position, you may have to do some research to see if there are big events or news stories taking place that might be taking up the employees' time, or you might just have to hedge your bets and take a guess. They'll let you know... the number of times I was working in the deli and another business called us to talk shop and I had to say "you've called a sandwich bar at lunchtime, could you please call back at 3pm?"

Show enthusiasm about applying for the job. Whether you are calling up, handing in a CV, or just asking if there are any jobs - stride in, smile, and show them that you'd enjoy working there. That's the best impression you can give.

If all that sounds obvious to you, of course, then you're halfway there already...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

U are my favorite

Email that I received this week from my partner:

"So I just realized something. I submitted a job application and I had to send a writing sample from my degree coursework. I just realized, and had to correct it before I sent out this application, that all writing samples I have sent out with job applications could have actually cost me jobs. Why? Because ALL spelling is in BRITISH English!"

When employers are swamped with job applications, yes, it can come down to details like these.

Still, it's not as good as one job application my mum received when she was hiring for a position, it stated that the applicant was qualified in "fist aid".

Monday, 8 March 2010

What's luck got to do with it?

Am I lucky? Was it luck?

While I might feel "lucky" for want of a better word, I believe there is more to it than luck. Not, of course, to say "I'm bloody brilliant and why wouldn't anyone hire me", not at all, but I think there are certain things that can improve your chances of getting the good news phone call. Note, I say improve, not guarantee.

I know where to look for jobs related to my career aspirations. Politics/public sector graduates like me have a few websites to source employment opportunities, internships and other experience. Namely these are sites like guardianjobs, w4mp, eurobrussels, euractiv, publicaffairs. However, I also kept an eye on various other sites - individual companies/organisations, local job sites, even jobs direct. If I found a good job on these sites instead, I targeted it first.

Why? Because jobs advertised on specific sector sites are (probably, I admit I'm using no insider knowledge here) advertising to a specific market. Most of the positions are based in London (I'll get to that) and the applicants probably had very similar CVs and career aspirations as me. That makes it difficult to stand out. It makes the competition a lot tougher.

I did consider that not being London-based would be a disadvantage for someone in my position. I live in rural Scotland. However, there are opportunities to be found. Maybe I am lucky to some extent that I live near enough to a variety of good Universities where I secured some interviews for relevant jobs, and also it seems, a good pool of regional offices.

I had applied for various positions in London/Brussels, with mixed results. I had made the assumption of tough competition and oversubscription; of course it is hard to speculate that if the local jobs I had applied for had been in a different setting would I have had similar results? But by keeping the notion of the big city in the back of my mind, rather than being the focus of my job hunt, I had some ego-boosting local experiences instead. And I discovered that ego-boosting is just as important as getting an actual job.

The other thing that is vitally important - experience. Most grads get that 'degree is not enough' tagline shoved down their throats enough times, but it's very true.

Here's a timeline for you:

- I studied that 'useless' subject Film and TV at Uni (alongside Politics).
- I used that as a hook to getting to write film reviews for the student magazine. I wasn't even very good, but it was a new magazine and I got there first.
- I learned a bit more in the subediting/design side of the magazine.
- I got summer job helping with a summer newsletter, giving me office experience.
- I got a Politics degree, and with office experience, got admin jobs with government in specific policy fields... which, strangely (or not so strangely) relate to where I am now.

I absolutely didn't plan it that way. I remember one evening sat on my stoop in the city, watching the moon in the sky and the traffic passing by, crying down the phone to a friend. She was in a 'perfect' job, earning above the national average, had a car and a flat and was generally enjoying life. I was struggling to pay my rent, exhausted from studying and working and all of the rest of it, and not even sure if it was all going to be worth it. I was jealous of her life while mine seemed so uncertain and messy.

"It's all in your head" she reassured, "you worry it's not worth it, that you don't know where you're going, but I promise you that on the outside you appear sorted. You've got good work experience and everything will fit together. It will."

It hadn't surfaced in my mind at the time that the very friend I was confiding in had had her own roundabout way to her current position. She'd started a Post Grad course and dropped out during the final furlong, moved back in with her parents and spent some time freaking out about her next step when an opportunity arose (incidentally related to a summer job she once had).

This all demonstrates how you can use one thing to lead to another, or how you can let your interests lead the way down a windy forked career path.

Recently there have been further difficulties in taking that path - recession and a bad job market. I don't want to use the "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" line, but things I had thought were disadvantages: living far away from big cities/urban hubs, and having previously taken temporary office roles, I inadvertently managed to use to my advantage.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Human Interest Story

This is a bit off my usual blogometer, but give me patience as I adjust to my new job, please thank you.

At work I'm going to be working on a project involving older people and social inclusion. It is a serious and compelling issue and I'm excited to be a part of it. I've worked with a government programme for older people before, and I was on the front line, speaking to (and hopefully helping) people, so I know how confusing new services and processes can be for this demographic.

I also understand a little about the loneliness that older people can feel as well. I remember reading an article (I will find and link it) about a man who put an ad in the local paper offering to pay £7 an hour for people to go for a pint with his father. It was a sad and touching story, reflective of our modern lives - the adults who are too far away or too busy to care for their parents, the longer periods of retirement as average life expectancies increase with each year that pass, and the need for companionship. The point that the article made was that older people often don't need someone to do something with - there are SAGA holidays and local meetings and other such events where people of similar age group can do activities together. No, it is the moments of doing nothing that are the loneliest. People don't need someone to do something with, they need someone to do nothing with.

It is this weird place that I find myself too. I can spend hours talking to my partner on Skype or on webcam or on the phone, but there are times for conversation and there are times when I'd rather just sit and be in a room with him, silently co-existing. People ask if I miss him. I say I don't miss him when I am busy doing things, it is when I am doing nothing that I would like to be doing nothing with him.


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Those to come

I had gone through to the city for a friend's birthday drinks. It had been a wonderful evening, but depressingly grown up; it involved one full-blown argument about art and another about Chekhov. We also talked about politics, and the house that one friend was about to buy, about the teaching career another was to embark on, about my career and my new job, and about job hunting in general, which of course many of my friends are still pursuing.

"Of course, you know what you're talking about," was the comment directed at me. I suppose I do. I know as much about what doesn't work as what does. No, I know more about what doesn't work than what does. I've also spent some time considering this whole job market world, helping friends with CVs, playing with my CV, playing trial and error with job applications.

"I think, if I had a question, I would probably ask you..."

...to which I replied "Half of it is just knowing where to look for information. I have spent a long time looking for information and now I know where to look."

Still ain't an expert though, and I don't pretend to be. But nevertheless, I'm getting a reputation for myself it seems, which is no bad thing.

Which is also my round-about way of saying that I still have a lot to say on here, so hold tight and don't think I'm deserting my blog because I found a job.

Incidentally, I'm quite looking forward to getting stuck into my new role. It's with a very interesting organisation that pursues a lot of interesting projects.

One could say that I'm very lucky indeed...

Monday, 15 February 2010

see-saw for thought

Many people use the new year as a time for reflection and taking mental stock. I use long bus journeys.

This bus journey in particular was heading towards a job interview, unexpected, but very welcome, as a result of the phone call the other week.

It is almost exactly a year since I finished (what will hopefully be) my last stint in a temp job, called up a friend and met for burgers and pints; a joint celebration/commiseration while waiting for the future to begin. Since the job market was shoddy and it looked unlikely I'd find another temp job soon, and I was already almost over-stretching in trying to balance my work/uni/life commitments, the rest of the year looked open and empty ahead of me. I had been worried about how Uni was going, about how I would find more work, worried about money and paying the rent and the council tax and the bills, worried about where I would be headed afterwards and how I was going to get a career started, I was worried about my social life and the effect that working so hard had had on my relationships with people. I was still kind of getting over a bout of flu that I'd suffered from a couple of weeks before, feeling exhausted because my body hadn't quite recovered and because the weather was dark and sharp in the cold, lingering grip of Scottish winter.

The future began the next day when I met some of my Uni friends for nachos and I met the person who was to change the course of the year and the course of my life. In the past year I have gained my degree, had language classes, gone backpacking, had an absolute blast working in the deli, gone abroad and gotten engaged. It is far beyond what I could have comprehended a simple year ago.

My partner and I often tell each other that we balance each other out. We are individuals, unique and different and sometimes polar opposites. But we are also a team, working together and pulling the best out of each other, giving each other a kick up when one of us is down. We are each other's harshest critics and each other's biggest champions. We are stronger together.

This is a new experience for me, something I have had to learn over the past year. I am still getting used to constantly thinking of someone else in everything that I consider, in every action I take. I'm still getting used to compromising and discussing and deciding as two people, not just one.

As I stepped off the bus and headed towards the office, I barely gave a thought to pepping myself up for the interview. If it didn't work out, it didn't matter. If that's one thing the past year has taught me, it's that I can pick myself up and start again.

With that in mind I talked myself through the 90 minute interview (mostly) confidently, answered (almost) every question eloquently and drew competency examples from my whole career. Afterwards, I bid good-day to my interviewers and got a bus to work, and that's when I started to panic about my performance.

Until a few hours passed, and I received the phone call, and I received the job offer.

Needless to say, my partner is also ecstatic for me. It's a win for the team, after all!

Unfortunately my partner did not receive the same kind of news from a job application he'd been waiting on, and that news absolutely broke my heart. I would rather that he had had the good news, over and above myself. I wanted to make it right, to balance the see-saw, even push it to his favour.

So it's been a bittersweet week for our team, a strange combination of jubilation, heartbreak, and determination.

But we're riding it together, and when you balance it out, we're doing alright.