I lost my job as a magazine editor in November (an industry I’ve worked in for 15 years). And since then I've been in the miserable world of job seeking. A world that is spearheaded by Pauline from A League Of Gentlemen.
I’ll be honest, the job hunt is proving fruitless. I’ve applied for countless jobs since November, and had no interviews. Most companies don’t even acknowledge receipt of application forms (even the ones that require you to spend hours – sometimes days – answering their endless, open-ended questions), never mind tell me I wasn’t successful. I just deduce it from their silence.
It’s rather dispiriting needing to edit both of my hard-won MAs and quite a lot of my senior work experience off application forms in order to make myself look more suitable for jobs that I’m dramatically over-skilled and over-qualified for, but which I’d gladly do as I’m sick of being skint… and, more stressfully, we’re in the fortunate position of having a mortgage to pay (secured before knowing I’d lose my job).
I am completely unemployable
But what’s becoming apparent is that I am completely unemployable in 2013. In the eyes of prospective employers, I am over-qualified and unsuitably skilled to be a dinner lady, retail assistant, office administrator etc. Yet I'd really like a job like this, that I could do well and competently, but which I wouldn't take home with me, enabling me the mental capacity to plug on with trying to grow my own events business in my spare time.
Similarly, I can't get jobs doing what I actually want to do, which is events organisation and promotion. Because even though I've been running my own (tiny, non-profit making) events business for a year, I'm competing with people who've been made redundant from senior jobs, which means I haven't a hope in hell unless I work for free. And that’s not going to put food on the table or keep the mortgage company from our (or, as it’s fast becoming, their) door.
Companies who expect you to work for free
And it’s this business of companies expecting desperate individuals to work for free (with the vague notion that this will increase the likelihood of them considering you for a job, one day, in the unlikely future) that offends me the most. Throughout my 20s, I worked my socks off to get good experience, build my career, and pay my way as an independent person. For a few years, I held down three jobs at once (working 9-6 in magazine offices, nights pulling pints in a bar, and weekends doing magazine sign-off shifts), so I’m hardly work shy. At that stage, it was very rare for anyone to ask me to work for free – and I wouldn’t have done it if they had.
However, more recently, it’s expected that you will work for free… and worse, that you’ll be grateful for it. In my industry (journalism and writing), I blame the rise of websites such as the Huffington Post, that are populated by unpaid articles, mostly by students desperate to fill their (virtual) tear-sheet books. It’s insulting that these sites (and there are many of them) expect talented, trained and professional journalists to work for free, when five years previously the same people would have received several hundred pounds for the same work. That said, I’ll admit I’ve done it on occasion and will probably do it again – and then hate myself for continuing to chip away at the ethics of credible journalism.
Six weeks' unpaid work with no promises
Today, I was shocked afresh by what a prospective employer told me… Upon applying for casual work invigilating GCSEs, I was told I needed to have at least six weeks of classroom experience before they’d even consider me for handing out papers. I explained I wasn’t a teacher so didn’t have any classroom experience. And was told that I’d need to do six weeks of unpaid work in a classroom before they would consider putting me forward as a possible candidate to be a casual exam invigilator. In short – work six weeks for free, and we’ll consider putting you forward for a few hours of work on the minimum wage. Oh, and your Job Seekers’ Allowance will be stopped for those six weeks that you work for free.
Which brings me onto the Job Centre. Every week, sometimes two or three times (and last week, twice in one day) I am obliged to attend the Job Centre to justify why I'm entitled to £71.80 a week (less tax) to live on. And they really make me work for it. But even the Job Centre doesn't know what to do with someone like me as I don’t fit the tick boxes on their computer.
So I'm made to feel like scum by the Job Centre: like a fraud, like a lazy piece of shit because someone with my qualifications and experience is still unemployed after three months. Well, it’s not for the want of trying, DWP! I'm also told that if I haven't found a job in the next three months, they'll stop my small benefit completely, because my husband (on a short term contract) earns "too much". (NB: anything over £17,000 is deemed "too much" for a couple to live on by the DWP.)
RIP to the DLA
And there’s an extra complication. I also have three types of disability – all unseen, and all of which, independent of the others, qualified me for DLA a few years ago. But now, even collectively, are not recognised by the DWP in any way, shape or form. Meaning that my only source of financial help is if I’m a committed and proven Job Seeker. Despite my doctors advising me not to work for the sake of my health.
Welcome to Britain, 2013.
To quote Yozzer Hughes: “Giz a job. I can do that.”