Sunday, 27 May 2012

How To Definitely Get A Job After Graduation

… okay, that title is a lie. Sorry. There's no set way for anyone, at all. This entry is more a vague set of tips about what to do in the search for an elusive job post-graduation. A survival guide, if you will.

As dissertations reach and completions and exams start to look like something that might go away soon, many soon-to-be graduates are looking into the maw of employment and wondering what on earth they're going to do with their lives. You may well have a plan, or a job-related degree. Best of luck, teachers, doctors and accountants! I am aware that everyone has trouble with first jobs, but at least if you have a direction then you know where to start looking.

But what of those of us who are cast into the ether without any clear direction, what should we do? It's all very well to beat our chests and rent our clothes and bewail that we didn't take the time to visit the Careers Centre, but alas, for some of us the Careers Centre is too far away now. These are some very vague tips for anyone who is currently resembling a headless chicken and have no idea how to go about even starting to look for a job:

1. If you want to go the graduate scheme route, go nuts – they're designed for graduates. Milkround and Prospects are both good websites, and I managed to get a few interviews/assessment centre places with them.

2. Apply for everything that takes your fancy, but tailor your applications. A general CV is a boring CV. Why do you want to do that job? More importantly, what unique thing can you bring for that particular role?

3. “£25,000 OTE!” means 'Slightly above minimum wage unless you're really, really good at sales'. If you're really, really good at sales then hooray for you! If you're not, though, a sales job will probably make you unhappy. Sorry.

4. If you don't understand some of the job terms used, then that's fine! If you don't understand the whole advert, then there's only so much you can blag.

5. “This job is below me!” No, it's not. Get out of that mindset right now. Work is a good thing to be in. The job may be hell, and you may not enjoy it, but the job you're doing now? The waitressing, the call centre, the data inputting? Some people do that for their whole life. Work is a good thing to have, and that McJob will keep you with some money, some self-esteem and if you're clever, will help give you a leg up into the job you want to do.

5a. Did you have a student job? Can it be transferred or made full time in some way? That's what I did, and within two weeks of transferring to a different store in a different region (translation: I moved back in with my parents) I got promoted to supervisor. Okay, I left that job, but it means I have MANAGEMENT EXPERIENCE which is, on a technical level, gold dust.

6. Don't buy an interview suit until you have an interview. It's soul-crushing to look at it, unworn, swinging gently in the wardrobe.

7. Beware the recruitment agencies. They will lure you in with a job title and it turns out they just want you on the books. I am on more recruitment agencies books than I can shake a stick at, and I've never got a single interview out of them, let alone a job. Recruitment agencies, unfortunately, also advertise very real and current jobs. Read the adverts carefully and ask about their client for this role. If they have a specific client, it's probably a real job. If it's vague, they don't.

8. Lastly, keep in contact with friends. Not for networking, you mercenary bastards, but just to keep in contact with people you may have moved away from during the job search. Frankly, it's good for the soul.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Summer time, and the weather is fine (finally)

Now that we are officially on the first hot week of the summer, I am going to explain to you the advantages of being a graduate in the summer!



I am perhaps feeling a little stung about this at the moment, as the first two lovely days of May have been Monday and Tuesday, i.e. working days. This means a lot of looking out of the window and sighing, and thinking longingly of the pub beer garden. It's day like this when being a graduate really sucks. Remember long, hot summers? With no work to do? Oh, the happier days of being a student. You don't even need money to sit in a park!

As such, I am physically forcing myself to think through these statements logically. The vast majority of students work during their summer holidays. I did. I used to think longingly of beer gardens then, too. Okay, it did have the massive advantage of being part-time work, therefore increasing my drinking time, but I lived at home and my mother can be quite judgemental when you roll through the front door smelling of rosè wine. If I didn't work, I would have no money for drinking. This is logical.

Plus, exams are still ongoing for many people. I spent seven years of my life doing summer time exams. NINE. Okay, the lure of the beer garden wasn't quite so strong during my GCSEs, but the longing to be outside and enjoying the sun was still as strong. I can come home and not revise. I've spent three years not revising, and I am 100% happy with this as a fact. It's probably the best bit about being a graduate during the summer time.

And the weekends still exist, after all. I can sit in a park during the weekend, with a book, and relax as much as I want. Okay, I have to walk to the park which involves putting on slightly neater clothes than going into the garden at my parent's house, but, well, it's still a day, isn't it?

Okay, I give up. I'm grasping at straws. Being a graduate on a hot sunny day when you have to spend all day in work and are generally too tired in the evening to go out sucks, particularly when you have to think about student days through rose (or indeed, rosè) tinted glasses.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Strawberry jam on toast

We all have a story about the job that got away. As graduates start to come out of the universities, ashen-faced and stumbling into the merry-go-round from hell that is job-seeking and rounds and interviews, you find yourself getting a little attached to The Job Of Your Dreams.

Then, as a rule, it rejects you.

Living with my parents again, and doing a part-time job in order to have a little disposable income and keep a little self-esteem, I applied for Jobs I Wanted To Do. Unfortunately, these jobs very rarely felt the same towards me. Getting an interview would be INSANELY EXCITING! Except it would be a telephone interview, or a recruitment agency looking to exploit graduates to swell their books. Look out for them, they're sharks.

I applied for a graduate scheme and was surprised on my lunch break by a telephone interview, which ended up taking place surreptitiously in the kitchen of my job. She enthused about my cover letter, my experience. A day later I was invited to an interview in London, which I truly tripped off for, staying overnight in a Richard Curtis film with My Successful Godfather in London.

I left his beautiful Islington house to catch the Tube, wearing a business suit and using an Oyster card, and found myself lured into fitting in with this world, as I emerged from the train into a world with the Gherkin towering over it, and people flitting around drinking coffee and clutching free newspapers. Do you know how hypnotic that is, to someone who spent four years being told that this was her destiny, and instead folded clothes in a shopping centre? You don't see the poverty that you know is lurking just around the corner, you don't smell the pollution or sense the stress – the glamour just temporarily oozes out, mixing with the nerves of the interview to make a heady cocktail of desire and hopes.

I spent the day in an office block overlooking the river, completing tasks and an exam, and got chatty with my fellow applicants. There were sixteen of us, and four jobs going. There were only three people for my stream – good odds, by my reckoning. They told us that over 3,000 had initially applied. As I left, and headed back on the train, I hoped and prayed I had the job. I felt good, positive. I wanted that job more than burning. I knew it would be hard, but it would work. They told us we'd know in a week.

By 5pm a week later, I had heard nothing. At all.

Two days later, I sent in an e-mail querying if they'd had the time to make a decision,and I was told they'd tell me soon. Three days later, in the middle of a shift at work, they did. I hadn't got it. No, there wasn't any real feedback – I was just as good as the other candidate, but they'd decided to go for him instead. I thanked them for the time, went back to work, and managed not to cry all day. I went to to a yoga class that night, and half way through just started bawling like a child. It wasn't my best possible moment. My parents were working late that night, I remember, and they came home to me snuffling on the sofa and hugging a bottle of wine and tearfully telling them there'd been a terrible mistake and I was stupid and shouldn't be allowed out of the house again ever.

The next day I got another call for an interview, for a different company. My mood improved exponentially, and people kept on telling me this was proof I was awesome. Duly I went for the interview, and worked out that by the end of the thing that I might well swing this one, but it wasn't a job I desperately wanted. The move to Scotland would have been worth it, but the job would have been crap. I was cool with not getting it, I thought. I would get more interviews, I thought.

I didn't get the job, which I still say is for the best. I was cool with it when I got the phonecall. I continued with my day. I got home from work. I put some toast on, planning to go to the gym for a few hours but needed a snack before I went. I buttered the toast, and put on a generous amount of strawberry jam. Mum came into the kitchen. “Did you get it?” she breathlessly asked me as I took a bite of the toast.

“Oh, Mum,” I said, and then cried all over her. I still can't eat strawberry jam.

I may sound like a drama queen here, but everyone has one of these stories. Looking for work is soul-destroying, as you analyse yourself, open yourself for judgement, and more often than not come up negative. I tell this story occasionally, and people always pipe up with their own equivalent. “I didn't get into the Civil Service scheme because I DRANK WATER TOO NOISILY,” a friend will always indignantly tell me. As many graduates try head into the world of work, hopefully things will fall into place for people and prospective interviewees won't have to feel like this, but I think its inevitable, sometimes.

I'm going to try and post in the next few weeks some more practical tips on job-hunting for the new graduate, and how to dodge through the scams that exist out there, but with the econmoy officially in double-dip recession I felt like I had to write the bad stuff first, before getting to the positive stuff. There is positive stuff, though. I promise.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Work appropriate clothing vs the zombie apocalypse

Work appropriate clothing is a funny thing.

I am very pleased that my life no longer involves uniforms, staff clothing allowances, or the need to wear clothes that you don't mind if bleach splashes against it. This may not sound like much to you, but it's important to hold onto the little things when it comes to a new job.

There are probably jobs out there where you can wear exactly what you want 24/7, but I don't have one of them. This is mostly because on a day to day basis I have been known to wear naught but pajamas, or a replica Star Trek uniform. Both of these are probably not great for my slightly customer-facing role. Besides, it's nice to have a 'work' side to the wardrobe. It means that I don't have to think too much about what I'm going to wear that day, know that I look appropriate for my role, and also be reasonably comfortable. The culture of my office is one less of smart-casual and more of smart-comfortable, simply because there is a manufacturing element to the business I work for and sometimes you need to head into an industrial area and sensible shoes and high-visibility jackets are the order of the day.

See that woman up there? That's what I assumed I would be wearing in my graduate life. Instead it might well be a blouse like that, but with jeans, or smart trousers with a jumper. Still, I keep on thinking that one day I will be a Professional. My interview suit – jacket and trousers and yes, it's from Marks and Spencer – hangs forlornly in my wardrobe, and the other day I went mad in Primark and bought a pencil skirt.

Imagine, then, my delight, when I found myself selecting for a Very Important Meeting outside of the office. Okay, not that delighted, but still – I could wear my new skirt! On the morning of the meeting I shuffled myself into skirt, heels and strode out into the morning before promptly failing to get into my car with any dignity of grace. This experience continued throughout the day, particularly when I attempted to get up stairs. Hilarity ensued for my colleagues. Less so for me. A pencil skirt, for those not in the know, creates a sleek silhouette, with a higher waistline and lower hemline, with a tightening towards the knees. In practical terms, it means you can't move particularly fast.

One day I would still like to have a role where I get to wear Office Clothes, but I think I need more practice at the business suit thing. Apart from anything else, I always feel it's important to be able to run away as fast as possible when the zombie apocalypse comes and the only way I would have been doing that would have been to do that would have been to strip first, which frankly no one needs to see at the end of the world.

In conclusion: business suits take a ridiculous amount of practice. Who knew?

(On the bright side, the meeting went very well and I only fell over once in the car park. Success!)