Actually, I should just clarify that headline. When I say ‘Tips for working mums or those who want to be’ the tips will be for those who are already mums but who want more work, not those in work who want… That wouldn’t be appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »
Posts Tagged ‘jobseeking’
So it’s now finally official, I didn’t get that job. But before I cave in to disappointment, I thought I’d pause one last time to indulge the fantasy I’d created about what it would be like to be back working in an office…
The fantasy basically involves me meandering up through Soho in the morning, perhaps pausing to indulge in a really good shop-bought takeaway coffee, full strength, ground on the premises, and with that pleasing crema it’s impossible to replicate at home. Read the rest of this entry »
What can I say? It’s been an incredible journey. I’ve learned so much.
For those lovely people who misunderstood and thought I actually got the job mentioned three posts ago – I didn’t, or I should say haven’t so far, only interviews, but that’s a start. Last week I made it to the third and final round of interviews, gave it my best shot (ok, messed up the second interview but really went for it on the third). Even managed to come up with three passable ‘interview outfits’ out of a rather limited wardrobe/budget. Read the rest of this entry »
The latest fashions v the latest cakes: introducing the Whoopie Pie!
It was this time last year that I realised that I was unemployed. My last book (The World’s Greatest Cities, since you ask) had finally gone to press after a full on couple of months, and the other small writing jobs had been filed. It is a common experience for the freelance to come to the end of bouts of intense work and realise that you haven’t had time to line the next things up. But in the past, something had always turned up. Not this time.
As is standard practice, I dropped a line to all my contacts letting them know I was free, pitched a few ideas, applied for some jobs. But nothing. Then more pitching and applying. More nothing. And so on… Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
A year on and I can talk it all up as a ‘learning experience’. I’ve used the time to trim budgets, making us a leaner fitter household not weighed down by too many financial commitments allowing us all to keep our options open. I finally embarked on a printmaking course at one of our wonderful adult education colleges that the Tories will probably kill off (Morley College), and felt the thrill of learning new things again.
I’ve toured secondary schools exhaustively and been heartened by the improving standards of the state system, despite received opinion otherwise. I’ve subsequently got my daughter into a local school that’s just been judged ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (from being a no-go zone a decade ago) without even having to temporarily rent a house in the catchment area, fake a separation from my husband, or pretend I go to church.
I’ve realised that I don’t actually miss those interminable meetings that seem to take up 50% of office life – it’s a relief to be able just to get on and do stuff. I’ve been to careers workshops, sent my details round agencies and signed up for every jobs websites. I’ve realised that filling in job applications and looking for work is even harder than a full-time job – at least with a job you get holidays. I’ve done some really dull stuff for the money which has freed up time to do some really interesting stuff for none. I’ve taken heart from all the entrepreneurial things I’ve seen my friends doing and stopped thinking the world owes me a living.
I’ve gone from being antisocially miserable to artificially chirpy, reasoning that sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to solve anything. Most importantly, I’ve come to terms with the fact that my career has hit the buffers and needs to follow a different track, but found that the change of scenery is actually quite pleasant.
I’ve talked to lots of other people who are at different points on the same journey: some still at the stage of despairing that there doesn’t seem to be anything out there, others well ahead of me and now enjoying hard-won success after a period of gloom. Some contemplating that leap into the unknown (go on, jump!).
The past 12 months have been bloody hard work, and will continue thus, but that’s how it should be. Friends, family and former colleagues have been incredibly supportive (thank you!) and even put some work my way (thank you again!). Though my earnings for the last tax year have been pitiful, almost half came in the first three months of this year, which I hope means things are picking up for all of us.
My next book – writing this time, not editing! – is due to be filed at the end of May; another proposal is with an agent. And I’m so busy for the next month I’m even going to have to get some temporary childcare.
I have also NOT applied for five random jobs I saw advertised that a couple of months ago I would have thrown myself at in desperation (and been summarily rejected).
Is this the so called green shoots of recovery? Or just the crocuses? I was silly busy this time last year too. It was after Easter, when the new tax year started, that it all went pear shaped.
But when any offers of work still seem like a Christmas present, how do you know what to turn down? Try this simple checklist:
Do they pay well?
Everyone needs a sugar daddy. If you’ve got someone who’ll give you large sums of money on a semi-regular basis, then roll over and take it.
Will they pay on time?
I’ve known people to spend more time chasing payment for a piece of work than they spent doing it in the first place. Usually from my former employer. Why is it that company accounts departments fail to grasp the urgency of paying a freelance or subcontractor on time, yet if their own wages were late they would hit the roof? Really, we should all refuse to work for such people ever again. But we won’t.
Will it be fun?
If you went into a profession like music, art, theatre, publishing, fashion, architecture, media, food, teaching, or anything vaguely creative or nurturing, chances are you didn’t do it for the money. It was probably because you couldn’t face the tedium of working in a bank. Why abandon your principles now?
Does it involve free food?
In the past 12 months my earnings have been scant, but I have eaten award-winning lamb burgers, with tangy mango chutney, followed by outrageous cheesecakes, drunk artisanal beers and fashionable spirits, enjoyed dinner a deux at Brixton’s Upstairs,and star treatment at Le Pont de La Tour (where Blair once took Clinton).
Do I want to work for them again?
If the answer is an emphatic yes, then you may have to accept that you are going to be exploited in order the name of future business. Call it a ‘loss leader’; it sounds more deliberate. In the mean time, the NUJ offers advice on how to negotiate good terms.
Have I done this before?
eg written virtually the same article? Played virtually the same character? Delivered the same presentation? The business-minded response would be to jump at the work as a cost effective means of operating – requiring minimum additional preparation – and the only way to turn a profit. Personally I find such repetition stultifying. Which is probably why I’m broke.
Is it for a cancer charity?
There are some clients you should feel morally obliged to say yes to. And probably waive your fee. Especially if it involves young people with cancer.
Will it lead to other work?
For example, you might hope that writing a blog might lead to writing a book for not much money which might lead to writing a piece for a magazine for slightly more money relative to time taken but still very little, which might lead to another book commission for a bit more money than the first time round, and so on… Or at least keep your fingers exercising.
Do I have time?
If you’ve spent the past year getting used to being broke, then you are in a strong position when it comes to turning down work. Take advantage of the fact that you are now accustomed to not having any cash to view the possibility of cash as a bonus rather than a necessity, and one that should be weighed up against other pleasures. Ask yourself which you need more, a weekend drinking beer and reading the Sunday papers, or one spent tapping out lists of things to do in the Easter holidays.
Having applied this simple checklist to recent decisions of my own, I have:
* ‘sacrificed’ half term to work with other people’s children on something that turned out to be surprisingly rewarding,
* drunk too much coffee during brainstorming sessions on projects that aren’t going to make me rich but will be great fun all the same,
* rejected a commission off the back of a book I wrote ten years ago,
* passed up an offer from my ex-employer who is bound to pay late,
* done a favour for a good cause for someone who always pays on time,
* regretted committing myself to some menial work when I was desperate and is now getting in the way of me taking advantage of other opportunities,
* worked most evenings on a cash cow, and
* helped fundraise at school.
It may not be the best business practice, but I’m probably having more fun than most accountants.
Another month, another round of redundancies, this time more of my ex-colleagues . Luckily they’re all excellent, talented people who will fare much better than the title they’re leaving.
But at some point after going from an intense, exciting job in the centre of ‘the world’s second most exciting city’ (according to the book I edited last year, ‘The World’s Greatest Cities’) to sitting at home in their slippers (see post #7) even they will need a project.
Unfortunately, ‘a project’ is not the same thing as ‘an income’. For that you’ll need ‘a job’ (see post #11), ie a random means of getting money which may, or may not, be related to your interests and ambitions. In the current climate, probably not.
‘A project’ on the other hand will allow you to use your brain, creativity and talents. It will furnish you with fulfillment and make you the envy of friends who still have ‘a job’ and therefore no time or energy to take on ‘a project’ because they are too busy doing all the work of the people their company made redundant.
For example, I’ve just read about woman who has suspended her full time job-search and will be cycling to the world cup instead. If you want to go with her, you can email her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can try something more sedate. Here are just a few of the impressive things my friends have been up to that inspired me to get off my own gently expanding arse:
Starting a community garden
Launching a little coffee van business
Setting up a Saturday stall at Greenwich Market
Setting up an independent Manchester publishing house, Nightjar Press
Setting up London gay literary salon Polari
Taking over their local toyshop and turning it into a local cooperative
Writing and illustrating roleplay games
Setting up a street theatre company
Producing and playing at their own music nights
At least three people who’ve got the funding together and are making/have just made films (guys, if you give me some links I’ll put them up)
…and I’m sure lots more that I’ve missed (but will add when I remember them!)
Hopefully some of these will eventually turn into ‘a job’ or some sort of moneyspinner; but even if they don’t they’ve provided their instigators with an outlet, and the community with something more.
For most people, the fatal mistake is to waste too much time deliberating about exactly which of their many brilliant ideas they are actively going to pursue. That way they end up doing nothing. Stick a pin in a list. Roll a dice. Pull bits of paper from a hat. Tippex™ them onto the back of snails and race them…
In no time you’ll be far too busy to worry about the fact that you’re skint.
It has occurred to me that I ought to be blogging about my New Year’s resolutions. However, not only does this feel a little self-indulgent, but the list is embarrassingly similar to last years’. There have been some readjustments for lowered expectations: ‘get a job’ is still on the list but relegated below more achievable goals such as ‘put up blind’, ‘read to kids every night’ and ‘fix bike’, but still ahead of the fanciful ‘learn to bake’. Otherwise my achievements over the past 12 months have been slight.
It’s not that I’m predisposed towards laziness, or that I took time out over the summer to wallow in self-pity (though perhaps a bit of that went on), but rather the paradox of the freelance/jobseeker predicament – instead of having extra time, you somehow have less. Whether its firing off emails to potential contacts, filling in lengthy job application forms, or researching your field on the look out for potential openings or juicy stories, it’s a full-time job with no defined boundaries, no wage packet and no pension plan. One that expands like that sticky yellow foam filler for lazy DIY to fill every crevice of your life then bulge out beyond it in unsightly growths you’ll never get round to sanding down. There is no ‘end of the working day’, no hard earned reward of a couple of hours in the pub or an evening of Baileys and Poirot on the sofa. It’s a 24/7 job. On top of which, as the non-bread winner, or crumb-winner, you must earn your keep by taking on sole responsibility for domestic chores (your wages in kind are the £40 a week you might otherwise have paid a cleaner, plus the ££s that would have gone to a childminder).
Here, if you will indulge me, are just a few of the tasks I confidently assigned myself in September when staring into the abyss of a long, jobless autumn: ebay unwanted items; put review copies of audiobooks on Amazon marketplace; attach the skirting in bathroom; attach cupboard door in daughter’s room; get skylight surround replastered; plant some things in tubs in garden; repaint front door; assemble Ikea toybox; put up Velux blind in office; put up roller bind in spare bedroom; create a website; print own Christmas cards; make iPhoto book for Mum’s 70th; take a course in starting your own business; visit Roger Hiorns’ ‘Seizure’ installation; take the empty paint cans to the dump; clear out under the stairs; assemble CD tower; get business cards printed; organise a mass yard sale for the whole street.
And although I can proudly tick off the skirting board (ok, there’s still a little bit missing, but it’s 90% there), I’m now also adding the books I’ve still not read and the unwatched TV programmes that are clogging up Sky+.
I’d better get on…
2009 in figures:
Number of friends made redundant: 13
Number of friends forced to move back in with parents: 1
Number of architects unemployed in December 2008: 680
Number of architects unemployed December 2009:1,595 (down from 2,000+ in August source: AJ)
UK Unemployment 2007: 1.7m
UK unemployment 2009: 2.46m
Number of consecutive weeks with no paid work: 7
Number of pitches sent during April-June: 24
Number of pieces subsequently commissioned: 1
Fee for 400 words on North London for Completely London: £350
Fee for 500 words for Time Out London for Children: £100
Fee for 1000 words for Times Online to promote The World’s Greatest Cities: A copy of Londoners Through a Lens
Number of takeaway coffees bought first three months of year: 14
Number of takeaway coffees bought since April: 6
Alternative careers I’ve considered this year:
Primary school office assistant (purely for the convenience)
Primary school lunchtime operative (ie dinner lady)
Taking over the local stationery shop
Taking over the local bookshop
Working in a deli/cheese shop
Setting up a facility/information exchange for the local self-employed, probably selling stationery and books. And coffee
2012 meeter and greeter
Artisanal greetings card maker
Best free stuff
Community centre careers workshop with fantastic Caribbean curry laid on for lunch
Local lending library
Swimming lessons at Crystal Palace, c/o swimming teacher training at London Leisure Academy
Food, in exchange for café reviews
Travel for under 16s
Tate x2, National Gallery, V&A
Fountains in Somerset House
Jardin des vents et des dunes (bouncy playground) at La Villette
Fireworks in Brockwell Park
Trafalgar Square – always something going on
Swim for Life – free swimming for under 16s and over 60s
Southwark council multisports programme
Walking. Walking from Clerkenwell to London Bridge on a balmy August evening. Walking from Bloomsbury to London Bridge (in heels) on a clement October evening. Walking from Kingston to Hammersmith along the Thames Path.
Cycling proficiency lessons
George Osborne saying ‘We’re all in this together.’ I somehow doubt he’s in it as much as some of us.
George Osborne generally.
Closure of The London Paper, London Lite, Observer Music Monthly, Observer Sport Monthly, Observer Women, Arena… too many colleagues loosing their jobs. Who’s next?
The Euro-pound exchange rate. Casual coffees in Parisian cafes now a thing of the past. Packed lunches in parks it is.
The death of both my cats, from old age, months apart.
Petty squabbles with the council over a domed skylight, exactly like the ones on every other house in the area. They won.
Applying for secondary schools.
Getting rained on at Latitude, at sports day, on my birthday, at the end of term picnic, in Manchester, in Hextable (no, me neither).
Embarrassing appearance on CNBC. The consolation was that none of my friends watch daytime financial TV – until someone posted it on their website.
Sunny Paris at Easter. Sunny Fife in May. Sunny Granada in August.
Friends sticking candles in a cheesecake for an unofficial day-after-birthday picnic.
Printmaking classes. The creative outlet and sheer joy of learning something new must be worth the fee. Cheaper than therapy. Find a course via Floodlight.
A publisher returning my email.
Someone reading my blog.
Reopening of Crystal Palace Sports Centre – one of the most elegant buildings in London
Making £75 cash at a car boot sale.
Husband getting dream job. At least someone did so there’s still hope.
Things to look forward to in 2010
Van Gogh at the Royal Academy, from 23 Jan. His paintings sell for millions but the man was constantly broke.
In Search of the British Work Ethic – Melanie Phillips meets the unemployed and socially excluded for Radio 4. This I must hear.
‘Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay’ by John Lanchester. The current financial mess wryly explained by the former Dep Ed of the LRB.
sunshine forecast for first four days of the year!
First up, a big shout out the Berlin eBay massive who I hear are loosing their jobs following the company’s decision to relocate its services elsewhere in Europe. Genuinely sorry to hear that.
Thanks to the German love of bureaucracy, they won’t actually be kicked out until some point in the middle of the year, once everything has gone through their Works Council, and several other bodies. On the one hand that’s six months to line up some schemes and realise your dreams (open a shop? foreign travel? write more?); on the other it’s six months to get bored out of your mind going through the motions of a job you already know is doomed. Expect mass sickies.
Personally, I’m coming to the end of my six-week sojourn into the world of work, where I’ve been filling out purchase orders, ordering stationery, scanning in funding proposals, and trying to work out the difference between a PS1 form and a VL 2, who should get which colour duplicate, and whether or not I can bring myself to care. I’m leaving just as I finally get access to the Z: drive, and find somewhere interesting to get lunch (an intriguing little Japanese convenience store called Natural Natural, just off Finchley Road). Only last Thursday I discovered the basement and another staircase; on Friday I realised there was a whole other building.
Don’t misunderstand – I’m incredibly grateful for the work. Somewhere warm to go during the day, and some cash for Christmas presents. Though I’ve spent most of my time on my own in a cupboard sending emails, I’ve learnt how to spell Grotowski, to pronounce HEFCE as heff-key, and to use a sentence like, ‘I’m not sure the VP’s research outputs are REF-able; let’s see if we can get any funding through SCUDD.’ I’ve been shocked by the students – not because they look so young or so self-absorbed, but because they have more expensive clothes than I do. And it’s been eye-opening to see how much more money there is sloshing around higher education that around publishing.
But most importantly I’ve learned that I love my job. Not the cupboard-based one, but the one I took for granted for two decades. I really wish my vocation was high finance, law, plumbing, search engine optimisation, or celebrity ass-kissing… anything with a decent wage. But it isn’t. The further removed I get from work, the more I realise it wasn’t really work in the first place, but getting paid for your passion. Which, let’s face it, was quite jammy really.
I recently heard of an editor of a weekly magazine (known to be pulling a six-figure salary) who has gone on holiday while his/her Christmas issue goes to press. Traditionally this is the toughest issue of the year, but also the most fun to produce. How sad to be in such a privileged position and yet appear to derive no pleasure from it.