Monday, 25 February 2013

Funemployment 9 - The Job Centre IV

At long last the moment I had been dreaming of since I first set foot in the Job Centre had happened - I was able to sign off. Now, before you crack out the champagne on my behalf I must state that this was only for 2 weeks while I was on a paid placement. Even so it meant that I was free from the Job Centre for 2 whole weeks. Bliss.

This 2 week placement came into effect fairly quickly, basically Monday - got placement, Tuesday - start placement. The rapidity of which meant that I had one afternoon in which to sign off from the Job Centre so as not to be committing benefit fraud. The Job Centre, like the Council, may be ineffectual, useless and disorganised BUT forget to sign off, miss a Council Tax payment and BANG! Angry letters with threats of bailiffs and court.This was something I was not going to deal with.

I remember the 'signing off' process being fairly straightforward - fill in a very basic form saying I had found work and would no longer require JSA, submit form, account is then closed and payments stopped. Being that I was not due at the Job Centre until during my placement and how they seem surprised by me appearing even when scheduled to be there I felt that turning up in person would cause utter chaos and phoning would be a better option.

Eventually I managed to get through to the right department and speak to somebody where I explained that I needed to sign off JSA but that I needed to do it today as after that I would not be available to come in person. I was told that in theory this was possible over the phone but that my local job centre would have to do so. My heart sank.

The person on the phone told me that they would forward me to the Job Centre and that they would deal with it from there. My call was forwarded. No answer. Bounced back to the main switchboard, spoke to another person who forwarded on my call again. No answer. Bounced back to the main switchboard spoke to a third person who forwarded my call. Finally someone picked up. Conversation as follows;

Job Centre: Hello, Job Centre Plus Sam* speaking how may I help you?
Me: Hi, I have found out today that I will be doing a two week paid placement so I need to sign off my JSA, but I start tomorrow so I need to do this ASAP and the main switchboard told me I could do this by phone.
JCP: What? You need to actually sign off?!
Me: Yes, but it's only temporary as it's a 2 week placement
JCP: *sounding confused* but you've found work?
Me: Yes, hence I need to sign off. 
JCP: *still somewhat confused* you WANT to sign off?
Me: Yes, I will be on paid placement for two weeks so legally cannot claim JSA. Can I do this over the phone?
JCP: Erm... it's better if you come in in person...
Me: I start tomorrow
JCP: Can you make it down today?
Me: yep, can be there in about 10 minutes
JCP: *still sounds confused but not as much as before* right, erm, come down to us, explain all this to reception and they will give you the forms etc and direct you to an adviser.
Me: Cool, thanks, bye.

When it comes to ripping off a plaster I have learned that it is better to do so in one go, so in less than ten minutes I was down at the Job Centre ready to sign off. Sadly in my excitement at not having to visit the place I had temporarily forgotten that I would need to have a similar conversation again in order to explain why I had turned up.

Luckily the person on reception, although initially confused by my turning up without an appointment AND wanting to sign off, gave me the form I needed, told me to fill it in and wait five minutes until an 'adviser' was free.

The form took around 30 seconds to fill in as it involved ticking two boxes and signing on the dotted line. What took the most time was the fact that most of the 'advisers' were more engrossed in conversation about what they had done over the weekend, how wasted they had gotten and how they wished it wasn't Monday, and thus were clearly too busy to work.

Eventually, I was directed to an adviser who signed me off, understood the fact that this was a 2 week placement and explained to me how to do a 'rapid reclaim' once my placement was finished. It looked like on my final first stint of funeployment I had found someone competent at the Job centre. Yes, I am genuinely as shocked as you are by this fact.

I then headed home safe in the knowledge that for two weeks I would be on a paid placement and free (temporarily) of the Job Centre.

*Name changed for legal reasons

Post Coming Soon - The Job Centre - Signing Back On.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Kate Middleton – Plastic Princess?

It seems that for her all fans around the world the Duchess of Cambridge has not found one in Booker Prize winning novelist Hilary Mantel. Speaking during the London Review of Books event at the British Library Mantel described the Duchess as being a personality free ‘shop window mannequin’ who ‘appeared to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen, with a perfect plastic smile and the spindles of her limbs hand-turned and gloss-varnished’ whose ‘only point and purpose’ was to give birth.

Mantel’s comments about the future Queen caused much shock and offence. However, the novelist’s sentiments were definitely not shared by thousands of Britons who leaped to the Duchess’ defence describing her as a warm, caring and intelligent woman.

Despite being on a trip to India even Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in labelling Mantel’s comments as ‘hurtful’, 'completely misguided and completely wrong'.

So it would appear that Mantel’s comments have come across as a rather poor attempt to gain publicity by taking a shot at beloved member of the Royal Family. To a certain extent though the comments are true; one of Kate’s roles as future Queen is to produce ‘an heir and a spare’ in order to continue the line of the British Monarchy.

However, Kate is far from some vacuous doll simply led around by Prince William when he goes out and about on State Visits. In her own right the Duchess of Cambridge has a degree in History of Art from St. Andrews University, completed the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, studied at the British Institute in Florence, undertook a Raleigh International programme in Chile, and crewed on Round the World Challenge boats in the Solent. Feats that show her as academic and able to achieve things in her own right.

While Mantel’s comments may have meant to highlight the vacuousness of some female celebrities, choosing the Duchess of Cambridge was a poor choice. On a daily basis young people are exposed to supposed female ‘role models’ that either adhere to the rule ‘a woman should be a chef in the kitchen, maid in the living and a whore in the bedroom’ or are famous for the basest of reasons. ‘Celebrities’ such as Kim Kardashian – a woman who is famous for her sex tape, a 72 day marriage and generally being attractive (and vacant), clearly a good role model for young girls.

It would appear that had Mantel wanted to properly highlight this issue then she would have had ample candidates among the cast of TOWIE, most contestants on Big Brother or any of the ‘troubled’ stars of Hollywood or the music industry who are regularly photographed passed out in the street or in outfits that leave little to the imagination. In the media it would seem that the more vacant, badly behaved and promiscuous you are the better role model you are for young people. No wonder that the UK is always so high in the polls for teen pregnancies and binge drinking.

Bearing this in mind it hard to really imagine why Mantel thought that attacking the Duchess of Cambridge was a good plan. In comparison to half the women who grace the cover of gossip magazines Kate is an excellent role model; University Educated, highly motivated, sporty, immaculately presented, successfully married to the man she loves and expecting her first child. I can think of very few women held up as role models who should be emulated and Mantel should most definitely be praising Kate rather than criticising her. I would far rather be a Kate than a Kim.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Generation Debt - Press Release

Below is a Press Release from Step Change about unemployment in the under 25s age group. As someone who is currently unemployed this struck a chord.

Press release logo - StepChange

February 21 2013


Generation debt: Unemployment leaving under-25s struggling with debt

New findings from StepChange Debt Charity show that unemployment is a significantly greater cause of debt problems for the under 25s than any other age group. Those seeking help from the charity who were under the age of 25 were more far more likely to be out of work than their older counterparts.

Reason for debt problem
Last year, 34 percent of the 22,262 adults under the age of 25 seeking help from the charity said that unemployment was the reason for their debt problem.

This is substantially higher than other age groups: for those in the 25-39 age bracket, 24 percent said unemployment was the cause of their debt problem; for the 40-59s, it was 23 percent; and for those aged 60 and over, it stood at 10 percent.

Higher levels of unemployment for young
Not only did a higher level of the under 25s seeking help from the charity cite unemployment as the reason for their debt problem, a far greater percentage of clients under the age of 25 were out of work than other working-age clients.

Last year, 42 percent of under 25s seeking debt help were unemployed compared with 30 percent for those in the 25-39 age group and 31 percent for those in the 40-59 age group.

Commenting on the findings, StepChange Debt Charity external affairs director, Delroy Corinaldi, said: “Unemployment is the single biggest cause of debt problems at any age, but markedly so for the under 25s.

“It reflects the acutely vulnerable economic position that many young people now find themselves in and is likely to overshadow the lives of a significant proportion of young people for many years to come.”

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Fun-employment 8 - The Interview

A couple of weeks ago I was called to interview for a job I had applied for. The key points to know for this post are that the role was in the financial sector and required someone who spoke Russian. My knowledge of the financial sector is average so I was fairly shocked when I was contacted. This interview can best be described as an 'experience' and at times felt like it was being filmed for some reality show I was unaware of.

I made sure to arrive and sign in for my interview in good time so that I had the chance to sit and mentally prepare myself for the interview, think over possible questions and answers, and do my best to make a great first impression.
While I was waiting for my interview another candidate walked in and sat down next to me, joined shortly afterwards by a third. After a few moments each asked me if I was here also for the interview to which I replied yes. It was at this point that the receptionist informed us that this would in fact be a group interview. Recovering slightly from this shock, I was under the impression that it would be a one-on-one type interview, I decided that the best possible action was to stick with my answers and not be swayed by anything that the other two said. After all you never know what an interviewer is looking for and I was not going to blow any potential chances by not being myself.
Several minutes passed and the interviewer appeared and took us down to the interview room and explained that this would be an informal 'get to know you' type interview. Once we were all seated and comfortable the interviewer asked us each to give a short presentation about ourselves including our education, work experience and reasons for wanting the role. Needless to say I was last. Below is the transcript of the interview that followed;

Interviewer (I): Welcome to you all! Thank you for coming, now I would like to each go round in turn and ask you to tell me a little about yourselves - education, work experience, how you know Russian etc etc. Let's start with you *looks at candidate 1*
Candidate 1: Hello, my name is Boris*, I am from Moscow and I am a native Russian speaker. I have previously worked at Bloomberg for ten years where I was head of my own team. I have an MA and an MBA. I would like this role (Boris then continued to outline all of his previous experience and reasons for wanting the role)
Me: (in my head) Oh balls! It's fine I can still claw this back, I just need to be better than the other candidate.
I: Oh wow! That's excellent Boris, and you *turning to candidate 2* what about you?
Candidate 2: My name is Olga* and I too am from Moscow too and am a native Russian speaker.
Me: (in my head) Shiiittttt! Well, that's me gone.
Olga: I also have ten years experience in the industry, have run my own team, have won awards in my company and have an MA in Economics from Oxford. 
Me: (in my head) Bloody hell! Seriously, is this some kind of joke? Am I being filmed by the Job Centre for some new TV show as punishment for my critical posts?!
I: Wow Olga that is also very impressive. Any finally what about you? *Turning and looking at me*
Me: (not in my head) Hi, my name is Laura and I have an MA and BA in Russian from UCL...
I: *interrupting me* Oh! I remember you from your CV! 
Me: (in my head) oh dear Lord this does not bode well! (not in my head) oh really?!
I: You're the non-Russian girl who speaks Russian! Please continue.
Me:(in my head) well that is better than I thought. (not in my head) ah, yes, well this is true. I do speak Russian but I am a native English speaker *pointed stare at the other two candidates* (I then go on to outline my previous work experience in the British Library, as a free lance translator, intern at Collection Red, Events Manager at WRF etc)
I: So, you have previous work experience but not in finance? 
Me: No... but I am a quick learner (continue with rambling spiel about working well as part of a team, quick learner etc etc)
I: But Laura, you're so young, why do you want to work in finance?
(Both of the other candidates also turn to look at me as if I am a child who has managed to dress themselves for the first time)
Me: (in my head) WTF?! Young?! I'm nearly 25! Since when has being young somehow excluded you from a job in finance?! Seriously, where are the cameras?!
(not in my head) well, I have an interest in the economy (more rambling about may be young but am competent, clean slate to be trained in the way the company wants etc)
I: Well, this is all very interesting. Any questions you would like to ask me?
Me: (in my head) Erm, why am I even here?!
(Boris and Olga then go on to spend the next ten minutes asking in depths financial questions to I each trying to out do each other)
I: Ah, well it looks like we are almost out of time, This has been very interesting. I have made sure to make notes, I have another interview tomorrow then I will be contacting people for the next round. I would like to say that if you are not contacted it's not because you're not a great candidate it's just that you're not right for the company or you lack something we're looking for.
Me: (in my head) why do I get the feeling this is directed at me......
I: (continues with speech about how there are a lot of strong candidates for the job *looks at Boris and Olga* and that it is an achievement to even be called as they had over 100 candidates and had to narrow it down to 10 etc)
Me: (in my head) wait, what? I beat off another 90 candidates for this interview?! Bloody hell!

The interview then ended and we were all free to leave. After wishing Olga and Boris luck for the next round and having a little chat to them in Russian, annoyingly they were both really nice people and complimented me on my Russian skills, I decided to retreat to my room and scratch 'financial sector' from my list of areas to job hunt it.

It will most likely come as no surprise to the reader that I did not get the job or make it through to the next round. I was however provided with ample material for a blog post and the feeling that any subsequent interview could literally not be as bad as that one.

The job hunt continues.

NB * real names have been changed in this text.