Friday, 8 February 2013

Notes from an unemployable person


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.


Dole scum
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.”

19 comments:

  1. PS - I should add that of course, I know three months is no time at all to be unemployed, and there's plenty of people who've been unemployed for far, far longer than me.

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  2. I wish you the best of luck! I was made redundant 5 years ago after 25 years as a senior editor/graphic artist. Not only am I overqualified but *gasp* I'm also over 50 - too old and too expensive (at least in perception) to even rate an interview, much less a job. So I scrabble and scrape, freelance, twist, bend and contort to make due as, here in the States, there is no unemployment allowance even for committed job seekers who are long term unemployed :(

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  3. Tweeted this but I have more characters here!

    I'm sick of unpaid work as well. I'm a recent music graduate (July 2012), and I'm currently underemployed. The only job I've been able to get is a 'crew' job at a local arts centre. I'm not even earning half of what I need to cover my bills. Anything else I apply for I don't hear back from, and I can't claim JSA unless I quit (it's far less than what I'm currently earning anyway, and I'm not eligible for anything else). I was signed off for working more than the 16 hours limit (this isn't every week though). So I can sympathise!

    I would probably sell out and do some unpaid work if I still lived with my parents. That's the only work I can find that I'm eligible for. My situation differs in that I don't have enough experience for anything. For example, there are plenty of office admin jobs I could do (I make damn good tea), but everywhere - almost without exception - requires 2 years OR MORE office admin experience. It's a ridiculous situation.

    Sharing this because I reckon it's important that as many people share their experiences as possible.

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  4. Jane, I'm in a similar position and additionally hampered (I suspect)by my age - although as you say, employers don't bother letting you know why they didn't interview you. PhD, 17 years with the BBC, three years (hourly paid) lecturing experience, also can't get a job. I signed on for two months before they finally told me that part-time lecturing meant I hadn't paid enough NI to qualify for any benefit at all. All I can say is - there are lots of us in the same position, and that at least means that there are people who can empathise. Wishing you all the very, very best and thank you for a brave and well argued post. x

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  5. I was mostly unemployed between the ages of 21-27. I had a lot of jobs, but all of them temporary, because my mental health was far too wobbly for me to actually reliably leave my house from week to week.

    I used to be an enthusiastic proponent of volunteer working because it was a brilliant way to meet people, have a routine for the week, learn new things, and feel less of the obligations around "having" to be somewhere when you're a paid employee.

    That companies who can afford to take paid employees on, but instead take people on for free for a few weeks and then don't employ them, should shame those companies. Instead, it's seen as them doing a social duty & giving people work experience!

    I don't have a cogent point here, just needed to let off steam. I really hope you find something that suits your needs & pays the bills too.

    As an aside, I hope you're aware of the Access to Work scheme, to fund extra costs incurred in work as a result of disability. When you do find something, it might be useful to you.

    Best wishes

    However, the increasing assumption that everyone "should" volunteer is making me less and less likely to suggest it as an option to anyone.

    I have had several volunteer jobs (not all at the same time!) and I am pretty sure they were a big part of both learning to live with my mental health issues and being more employable so when I was ready to go back to paid work, employers were more willing to take me on.

    For all its positives, I see volunteering being tarnished as unpaid internships are demanded of people, and Workfare schemes force people into unpaid work, all under the banner of "volunteer work" but with the key component - that's the individual has offered their time of their own free will, that is, voluntarily - missing.

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  6. Three months unemployment here--I have an MA too and only just managed to secure a part-time job doing data entry. And the Jobcentre...they don't have a bloody clue. I was asked to delete the four years of university off my CV because it made me look "over-qualified". When I asked what I was meant to have been doing for four years, they went "oh yeah..."
    It absolutely sucks. I couldn't have imagined being in this position only one year ago. GOOD LUCK. I know it doesn't do anything, but you're not alone.
    Emma

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  7. I can't agree with you more - I have made my blog my main income and I cannot tell you the number of times I am asked to work for free. I've absolutely refused to write for Huff Post - I did it once and never again. I've recently been asked to speak at a conference for free - with over 500 delegates each paying £300 to hear me (and others) speak. When I said I wouldn't do it without pay, I never heard a word from them again, despite them saying they'd asked around and I'd come up time and time again as recommended for speaking. It's so frustrating constantly being made to feel you aren't worth anything, when you know you damn well are! If it is any consolation though, a friend did six weeks with a company answering phones and ended up (as a non graduate) on their grad. training scheme (paid) and a full time job.. so it does happen.. try not to lose faith. x

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  8. Thanks Jane for sharing your story! Feels pretty much the same over here in Germany being in a similar position: just being too old, too experienced, and (assumably) to expensive to pay (when there are loads of cheap students available to do the job - in some way).

    Concerning the applications, and feedback I have created a public overview of my job applications on one of my blogs called http://TheServiceRevolution.blogspot.com (even though this particular post, the latest, is in German, the link in this leads to the overview).

    h/t to Umair Haque https://twitter.com/umairh/status/300692952265682944

    PS.: Once in a while it feels good to listen to Peter Diamandis' talk at Singularity University in 2009 "The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it Yourself" http://bit.ly/bOioWC

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  9. This all sounds horribly familiar, I've applied for near enough 200 jobs and it's rare to get any kind of acknowledgement. Even worse when you have to go through agencies (I don't believe a word they tell me by now). Even when I get an interview and do well, they'll say "we'll be in touch within a week" but they don't bother. If I chase them up about it they'll often avoid giving me a straight answer, denying they received my email and other implausible excuses. Despite having a PhD in physics and 10+ years experience in the electronics industry the job always goes to somebody whose experience matches the job better than me. Forget about ability or potential, employers will only hire people who've done exactly the same job before. If such a person a person doesn't turn up they just don't fill the post. I've travelled around the country for interviews from Essex to Edinburgh. I've applied for all sorts of jobs, technicians, office work, call centres - overqualified for them all no doubt. The Jobcentre made a token effort by typing "engineer" into their computer and turning up a couple of things like central heating engineer or satellite tv installer. I don't get benefits bar the 6 months JSA because I was prudent enough to save a lot of money in case I got made redundant (I did, twice).

    I have a couple of lights at the end of the tunnel now though, both of which would involve retraining at a graduate level and earning a wage about 40% of my previous salary. Anything's better than nothing.

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  10. I feel for you. My daughter had a similar experience for six months or so after graduating before getting an agency post that turned into a permanent one. She found the process incredibly depressing, and didn't have the financial obligations that you do.

    I left my permanent job last year to move into freelance work, and so far it's going really well, although there is of course no security at all.

    Best of luck!

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  11. Thank you all for your kind comments, good wishes and, more importantly, sharing your own stories. I'm truly overwhelmed by the response to this post and how far it has gone around the world. The very real shared stories I've heard in the last few days from others in the same boat is very humbling. Jane

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  12. I know what you're going through. I have been looking since late last year. Recently, with one organization, I had over a six week period, 1) a call with a headhunter. 2) meeting with COO. 3) two hour meeting with four staff people. 4) another meeting with COO. 5) headhunter checks references. Was one of two finalists, ready to meet with the head guy. Then he called the whole thing off, saying neither of us would be hired. You're right about not responding to applications, about being unemployable. I had 20 years of experience, was in a job for the past eight. Was replaced by a guy who was hired to be my "assistant" and whose last job was as an intern.

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  13. Horrible story.

    But you also have top flight skills - editing, copywriting, understanding zeitgeist. You'll have to work how to market those and find clients willing to pay a premium for them.

    In reality, your magazine employer almost certaintly appropriated most of the value of your capabiities in return for a steady wage. You know face more volatility but based on your brief bio, you'd be able to command higher fees in the open market. (Probably not the safety net of a job, but at a higher yield).

    As an example, I know of magazine writers/editors who earn £350 to £450 per day doing corporate writing in their domain. In the world of content marketing, senior execs (who needs to build a digital profile) need someone to grow their footprint. Brands require content created for them (directly, rather than arbitered by a publsiher).

    Look to networks like Odesk, Scripted.com, or iTrigga (Ed Bussey's business).

    It's a hard road. Best of luck.

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  14. And here I thought only living in a small European country whose standard was much lower than the British one involved so many people struggling like this. I do earn rather well as a freelancer but since back in the day of communism something called paid student work (and not to mention the working force paying the schooling, housing, transportation, food, etc. of all undergraduate students in the country students take the jobs from and all students organisations receiving several billions of euros every single year from the national budget) was introduced, I have been forced (when starting out but I hear many people stay that way) to work for much less than I am qualified for as a professional translator that knows her job well and has plenty of work experience and references. People would and could just say: "I'll just hire a student instead". I am lucky enough that I've now got better clients who pay well but it's so frustrating when people like waiters, salespeople, etc., who are trained and experienced are not hired because stores prefer to hire students as all social security for them is provided by the budget, they can pay them less, pay no benefits or taxes and can have them work even illegally if they want to. And unemployment rates in my country are rather high. And the rate of people finishing college is very low and most of them are unemployable graduates of social sciences that our economy has no need for.

    And my boyfriend with an MA has to do public works to stay employed because he was hit by a car when he was 10 and had to really work hard to even stay alive and to even finish college and a masters degree. Yet employers don't see someone like that as an asset to their company as all odds were against him with the brain damage he suffered following the accident to even be able to function at all, let alone be a reliable worker and diligent student who is one of the few hundred people in the country that hold as Masters Degree or higher. And now the local job centre is telling him he should complete another degree to perhaps get a job in another sector. For which he doesn't have the money for.

    So I can truly sympathise and wish you the best of luck :)

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  15. Thank you, well said and I couldn't agree more. When will these advisors realise that voluntary work or working for free will never pay the bills?

    I'm 54, 4 years unemployed, and have 13 years voluntary work, undertaken whether in paid work or not - the last time for over a year, twice a week, two years ago. So it's not as though I've never been willing! But it has never put food on the table and never will. And to quash another popular delusion, there's also no guarantee of a paid job at the end of the voluntary commitment.

    I worked in libraries (mine was 'restructured' leaving me on 12 hours a week at awkward times over two days, with a two hour journey each way from our new address). Library staff in my new area and the surrounding areas are all watching their backs.

    I have far more I could tell you but I don't wish to bore you senseless. I am gathering the impression (from personal knowledge) that the old 'it's not what you know but who you know, and where' adage is very much in operation again.

    Right now, I'm exhausted after 4 years of trying, by various means, to find paid work. I've networked and I can't help but think that it's a combination of ageism/overqualification and the sheer volume of applicants for any post, that's if posts exist.

    Reading your post and comments confirms for me again that one thing's for certain; we're not alone.

    All the best to you :)

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  16. Thank you, well said and I couldn't agree more. When will these advisors realise that voluntary work or working for free will never pay the bills?

    I'm 54, 4 years unemployed, and have 13 years voluntary work, undertaken whether in paid work or not - the last time for over a year, twice a week, two years ago. So it's not as though I've never been willing! But it has never put food on the table and never will. There's also no guarantee of a paid job at the end of the voluntary commitment.

    I worked in libraries (mine was 'restructured' leaving me on 12 hours a week at awkward times over two days, with a two hour journey each way from our new address). Library staff in my new area and the surrounding areas are all watching their backs.

    I have far more I could tell you but I don't wish to bore you senseless. I am gathering the impression (from personal knowledge) that the old 'it's not what you know but who you know, and where' adage is very much in operation again.

    You are right about all the frustrations attending the job-seeker when applying. And that's if there's vacancies to apply for and the sheer numbers of competition we're up against.

    Reading your post confirms for me again that one thing's for certain, we're not alone.

    All the best to you :)

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  17. Thank you, well said and I couldn't agree more. When will these advisors realise that voluntary work or working for free will never pay the bills?

    I'm 54, 4 years unemployed, and have 13 years voluntary work, undertaken whether in paid work or not - the last time for over a year, twice a week, two years ago. So it's not as though I've never been willing! But it has never put food on the table and never will. There's also no guarantee of a paid job at the end of the voluntary commitment.

    I worked in libraries (mine was 'restructured' leaving me on 12 hours a week at awkward times over two days, with a two hour journey each way from our new address). Library staff in my new area and the surrounding areas are all watching their backs.

    I have far more I could tell you but I don't wish to bore you senseless. I am gathering the impression (from personal knowledge) that the old 'it's not what you know but who you know, and where' adage is very much in operation again.

    For me, it's time to be creative and also to network. But reading your post confirms for me again that one thing's for certain, we're not alone.

    All the best to you :)

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  18. I understand all too well what you've been going through.

    But your Job Centre demands that you attend once a week or more?

    When I was unemployed they never asked me to come for more than once every two weeks - are they within their rights there?






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  19. You guys think you are having a hard time ? I have been in the IT industry for 20+ years. The longest I have been able to stay on a job is 4.5 years. Right now I'm in my mid 50's and I can tell you the ride has been extremely bumpy with all the lay-offs, out-sourcing, short-end contracts that end too early and actual firings. While going through this hell, I managed to pick up a DUI and a reckless driving conviction 2 years apart from one another. Add to that the gaps in employment and the actual firings not lay-offs and my job applications raise the red flags up to the moon. When I go on an interview I'm actually shaking in my boots for fear of what my come up in a background investigation. Yet I have to eat so I keep filling out these applications. I must have sent out at least 200 in applications in the past 3 months only to receive two lousy phone interviews that never went anywhere. On one of those interviews I stayed up all night for 2 nights in a row studying the questions they might ask me and sure enough I answered maybe 98.9% of the questions the interviewer asked me but still no call back. I wake up every morning and search the job postings and maybe I might find one or two new jobs that fit my skills and background. I get all excited until I read the fine print that says "must be able to pass a background investigation". Recruiters simply don't want to waste their time with you if your record is not spotlessly clean and shinny. I tried applying for lower level jobs but how to you tone down a resume with over 20 years experience. I could outright lie but BG investigations are also common in lower level jobs these days if not more common than in professional jobs. I'm thinking maybe I should get on disability for my arthritis or welfare and call say goodbye to the corporate world once and for all. What a waste !

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