Category Archives: Take my advice

London: the next level

As you all know, my parentals have come to London town. Yegads! But once the planes, trains and automobiles were booked, the accommodation hastily arranged, and my room ‘sanitised’ to a parent-friendly level, I had to consider the things I needed to tell them to keep them, well, alive.

I write about LIVING in London, which is why I bitch and moan and generally wank on about my ‘feels’. But suddenly I had to think about London from the point of view of a tourist, and even worse, a tourist who’s NEVER BEEN ANYWHERE. Of course, two years ago that was me, wide-eyed and freaking out about the smallest details in the face of a giant adventure.

So now that I’ve got a craptonne of countries and a year of living abroad under my Heathrow-injected belt, here are some things I would like to go back and tell myself, or anyone new to the big city, based on the past week with my parentals.

London: tourist mode

  • Stand on the right on escalators, walk on the left. If you stand on the left, a secret buzzer goes off and all commuters within a three-station radius will automatically head in your direction, to stand behind you yelling ‘exCUSE me!’ You will be lucky to survive the resultant stampede. Many do not. Others come back in wheelchairs or suffering from lifelong tremors.
    Bonus points if you sass another tourist making this fatal error.
  • If you are lost, don’t think standing still, looking about you and glancing at a map will invite those about you to offer help. The key is to aggressively leap in front of the passers-by and make the most sympathy-inducing puppy eyes. This will cause an enormous 20% of Londoners to remember that they are human beings, and you WILL be given directions.
    Bonus points if you make someone remove their earphones to help you.
  • Learn the lingo. DO NOT expect people to infer meaning from context. This is a skill you have learnt by osmosis by watching international television all your life. If you ask for ‘trim milk’ at a coffee shop, the barista WILL assume that you have had a stroke and are speaking ‘word salad.’ Stop him calling the ambulance and then explain that you meant ‘skim’ or ‘skinny’.
    Bonus points if you slip ‘jandals’ into conversation and don’t get questioned.

London: secret levels unlocked!

  • Smile at and speak to bus drivers – other people on the bus will assume this means you’re either terminally ill or have special needs, and will probably give you their seat.
    Bonus points if an old lady with a cane stands up for you, you poor dear.
  • Carry a survival kit. You may never be trapped underground but if that train grinds to a halt with your carriage still in darkness, you will suddenly realise that you are hungry, thirsty, dry-lipped, and entertainment-less. For this reason, always carry water, a snack, chapstick, and a friend or other distractor – Candy Crush being my current Raison d’être.
    Bonus points if you ace the level while a snooper watches over-shoulder.
  • Do not feel at home because you see a Flat White on the menu at the coffee shop. This version of home has been raped and pillaged by orcs, and all beans sent to a bitter death in the hell-fires of Mount Doom. Don’t take sugar? You will. I saw my caffeine-addict-but-not-coffee-snob mother THROW OUT a full coffee yesterday.
    Bonus points if you kick the habit altogether because it’s just. Not. Worth it.

I asked my parents what else they’d learnt in the last week in London, and the immediate and vehement response was ‘EVEN OLD LADIES ARE BITCHES!’ My Other Mother learnt this most obvious of London lessons on day one in town when an old piece of animated crepe paper shoved her into a baby in order to squeeze her lizard-skinned arse onto an already packed lift. Mind you, this was in a fancy-pants department store, so whaddya expect, right?

The other major lesson they’ve learnt is that EVERYTHING IS SOOOO OLLLLLD! I knew this would be ‘a thing’ for my mother since I spent many a late evening as a 14 year old passionate about Latin (yup, geek-fighter here) trying to make her comprehend the timeline I was working with. When I tried to contextualise by saying my favourite Roman author Ovid wrote about the same time as Jesus was around, I saw the brain gaskets blow.

My mother is a super clever cookie, but coming from NZ and not being a uber-dweeb, it was almost incomprehensible how old things are in London. Things that you can just walk over and touch and spit on and lick if you’re so inclined. This is probably my favourite thing about having parents in London – exposing them to things that blow their minds and make their eyes widen and give them a taste of that passion I have for the how-we-got-here, the complete WTF of where-we-are-now in the scheme of things, and the holy-mother-of-god of the where-we-could-go.

Plus, now that they have experienced at least one rush-hour tube journey, they understand the true love-hate-love relationship that I have with London.

A heart in one of the places I heart - Brick Lane graffiti heaven.

A heart in one of the places I heart – Brick Lane graffiti heaven.

 

Watch your back(ground): do you check out to work with UK kiddies?

Do you like kiddies so much that people pay you to hang out with them?

Then you might need some manner of background check to work in the UK.

My former job in NZ was (in a nutshell) trying to stop Sex Offenders (or ‘Sexos’ as we called them) from getting positions working with children, young people, and the more vulnerable members of society. Because of this experience, I’m regularly asked questions about similar requirements for such jobs over here. Rather than repeat myself, here is my handy dandy guide!

Every company has a different hoop to jump through, but the one constant will be a CRB check (apparently now re-dubbed a DBS check – who knew?). I am no expert on this process as I’ve never had to do one (I think my government secret clearance trumps their DBS check, pfft!). However, I’ve seen my teacher/nanny friends deal with it and the gist is this: the company hiring you will provide you with everything you need to do, probably pay for it, and if you’re applying to multiple places, it will count across all of them.

If they tell you they also need a ‘Police Clearance’ from NZ, you can smile smugly at them because you know that this doesn’t exactly exist. NZ Police only do vetting checks for specific jobs in the country (for schools, hospitals, childcare companies, CYFS, etc) and other types of vetting where it is national security at risk, rather than the kidlets.

What you do need is a Criminal Record Check from the Ministry of Justice. The Police vetting service has access to more information than the MOJ, which is why they are responsible for checking you out if you wanna adopt a kid or whatnot. But the MOJ own the information on Convictions, which is what will be provided under a Criminal Record Check (and Police can’t give out any ‘extra’ info to overseas, so there’s no point them doing it).

This service is free, in theory takes a maximum of 20 days (dubious), and can all be transacted by email.

If you’re thinking ahead, you can request it for yourself before you head overseas so that you’ve got something to pull out of your pocket in case the school you want to work at finds your accent creepy rather than charming.

Or, if asked to provide it, you can request that the results be sent to a third party (i.e. suspicious headmistress) so that you can’t be accused of tampering with it – the twink is obvious dude, learn to photoshop, sheesh.

Possibly the most important thing that I can clarify for you is regarding Clean Slate. This is one of the most misunderstood laws I’ve ever had to explain 41,329 times over the phone to irate ‘customers’, who didn’t get the job because they thought that wee business of murdering a 6 year old in 1982 would not be revealed to the foster care social worker.

Here is the gist: 

  • Clean Slate does not EVER wipe your record, it just affects whether or not your convictions will be revealed in a vetting check
  • Clean Slate applies automatically (i.e. you don’t have to ‘apply’ for it) UNLESS one of the exceptions is met. The general exceptions include: convictions within the last 7 years (from the court date, not offence date, in case you hid that crime in your closet a while), incarceration (including the big house and the nut house), specified offences (no, murder doesn’t ever go away), indefinite disqualification of your driving licence (you’re such a bad driver you are never allowed to do it ever again), and not meeting court conditions (you skipped out on your anger management training or flipped the bird at your fines).
  • Another exception is the type of role you’re going for: if you are going to have one-on-one direct care/contact with a vulnerable person (overnight sole-charge carer for disabled patients, foster parent – anything that looks like a parent and no one else is around) then you will fill in a Section 19 (exception to Clean Slate) form. This is why you should always read what you are signing numnuts!
  • The other major exception is (drumroll please)… if the check is for overseas employment! NZ can’t apply its laws to other states, as they can’t to us. Jurisdiction baby! So just because NZ says ‘oh you!’ and assumes you’ve turned a new leaf if you haven’t been caught for seven years, this doesn’t mean the UK gives a damn about your supposed reformation. ANY criminal record check will therefore be a Section 14 (overseas territory) exception.
  • In terms of convictions from Youth Court (under 17): if a Police check, these will show only if you have other Adult convictions that are not covered by Clean Slate. However, my understanding is that they will not show on an MOJ check, but don’t quote me on that. Contact them or get a check done for yourself if you want to be sure.

If you are not a Kiwi but spent more than 6 months in NZ, the process is exactly the same, although unlikely to turn up much unless you’re one of those tourists who came to NZ for a crime spree.

On the other hand, if you’re a Kiwi who spent more than 6 months in another country and your employer wants a check from there, this may be more difficult. With Australia (probably the most likely country at issue), the rules are different in every state (super annoying!), but generally you have to get a check from the local Police station where you lived, and it costs (*obligatory joke about thieves/convicts*). My first port of call would be to google the hell out of it, and my second step would be to explain to the employer how difficult it might be. Perhaps they will accept a reference from an employer during this period instead?

Yeah… good luck with that.

If you’ve had to get a check for somewhere other than NZ and UK, can you offer up any advice in the comments?

And now for something completely different

Okay, not completely different, just a little bit.

I’ve suddenly got a lot of super positive feedback recently about the advicey side of my rantings (and some potential opportunities!), so I’ve decided to occasionally post something a bit practical that I’ve learnt from being a Kiwi in London, so that fellow ex-pats and potential movers can learn from my mistakes. You’re welcome.

For my non KIL pals, I promise it won’t all be about CRB checks (though, ahem, the next one is) and the regularly scheduled programming of whining and observing life about me will continue. So if you don’t change the channel through CRB, next up after the break will be Attack of the Wedding.

What do killer weddings have to do with being a Kiwi in London? Stay tuned to find out!

 

I just did this search, and it made me sad. Aren't there any other options?!

No Dole to Bludge: a guide to being an unemployed Kiwi in London

In my last post I lamented the oxymoronic woes of Funemployment: so much time, but so little to do, and nary a dime to do it.

To alleviate the usual misery-guts whinge-whinge-moan-whine, I promised some (hopefully) helpful tips on surviving and ultimately leaving the cold dark hole of unemployment. I’m certainly no expert and there’s a billionty sites out there with generalised advice from actual-real-life professionals, which I might even link to if you’re lucky. But what I’m offering is what specific wisdom I could glean from my recent experience, of being a) unemployed, b) Kiwi/ANZAC, c) in London.

HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Unlike the majority of other London Immigrants (i.e. UK and EU passport holders), ANZACs on a work Visa can’t claim benefits such as the Job-Seekers Allowance. While food and drink is relatively cheap here compared to back home, Rent, Transport, and socialising out on the town is extraordinarily expensive.

This means that you can never let your bank balance teeter too far towards the red, or you’re going to be constantly hypertensive if something stops the inflow of income.

If you do like to live on the edge, you at least need a backup plan. Whether this be borrowing from the olds, moving to Croydon, selling everything you own on Ebay, or just having enough on the NZ credit card for a flight home, having options (including ones you’d hate to action) is vital.  Even if you don’t want the red pill or the blue pill, it’s better than having no choice at all.

WOO THE RECRUITERS BUT DON’T LET THEM WOO YOU

Every recruiter I signed up with over my two brief periods of unemployment was wildly enthusiastic about getting me a job. I was ‘one of their best candidates’ and they’d have ‘no trouble at all’ getting me a great position and I’d get at least what I was asking for, because of course I was worth so much more, what with my experience and all. Every time I walked out elated, thinking this was the agent who would make the effort and get it done.

The problem with the London recruitment scene is that each agent has so many candidates on their books and only a limited number of positions across their desk each day. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of first-in-first-served system, and in fact it’s probably the opposite. If a job as a Data Analyst comes up on Tuesday morning and they met a Data Analyst the evening before, that person will probably get the offer.

This means you need to be in their minds as much as possible without being an annoying git. I personally HATE calling and harassing people so I’m not really the best at this part, but I have it on good authority from both clients and recruiters that if you’re really serious/desperate, you should call your recruiters every day to ask if something has come up.

My own experience last week backed this up: I went in to register and chat on Monday and they mentioned a particular job they thought I’d be suited to… I emailed through some documents they wanted the next day and mentioned that after thinking about it I was really keen on this sort of role… I didn’t hear back so called to check the documents were okay and asked again about the job, which hadn’t become available yet… and hey presto! On Friday I got a call in the morning, interviewed that afternoon, accepted 5 minutes later, and started on Monday.

EVEN REJECTION IS HARD TO COME BY

While it may sound like I swanned into a role, believe me there were lots of dead-ends in other areas in the same period of time. This includes waiting not only for jobs, but for rejections – as many other fellow job-seekers will attest, the recruiters don’t really care about anyone other than the successful candidate, so you have to harass them even for a no. I feel bad now remembering the ex-boyfriend I felt too mean to break up with, and in the process left him hanging and feeling like shite. I wish those recruiters would just dump me if they’re gonna dump me!

London has given me many things, but it has also taken one thing (other than my savings) away from me: as of last week, I can no longer claim to have been offered every job I ever interviewed for (*le sigh*).

HELP WANTED: WHERE ARE THE HIDDEN JOBS?!

Anyone who’s been on the dole in NZ and attended one of their compulsory ‘seminars’ (teaching everyone who goes on an unemployment benefit how to hold a newspaper in such a way as to appear to be job-seeking) knows that the advertised jobs are ‘just the tip of the iceberg!’ At home, you’d be encouraged to contact friends and family and former work colleagues, look for ‘help wanted’ signs in shop windows, and cold-call into businesses, handing out copies of your CV, ideally in a nice bright pink to stand out and freshly perfumed with the latest celebrity scent.

Over here, the only jobs advertised with a bit of Comic Sans on A4 in the show window are in the nail-salon-cum-hairdresser-cum-massage-parlour-cum-drug-den and the minimum wage jobs that always have a waiting list, such as the local gastro pub or Micky D’s.

But there are a lot of hidden jobs in London that you might actually want. As above, recruiters have so few roles compared to job-seekers that most are filled on the same day they become available. So few make it to the website that you should never let an apparent lack of appropriate roles deter you. The recruiting role is somewhat reversed from expectations – it’s not you deciding you want the role and going for it, it’s the recruiter having the role and thinking you’re a good candidate. This means, once again, that you gotta get in there and harass the shite outa them.

But just like when you’re 15 and looking for a part time job you can work illegally cash-in-hand until the minimum wage age of 16, there are other ways to get in the know. The Kiwi/ANZAC network in London is really thriving at the moment, I’d say partially as a result of the absolute domination or all things social-media, and partly because, in all honesty, things are harder here than they used to. The London that our parents came to doesn’t exist anymore, and in a recession, this country wants to look after its own first, so…

USE YOUR FELLOWS

At the apex of these troubles comes sites/networks/social contrivances such as the Kiwis in London Facebook page. What started as a bit of a social experiment has gained snowball-like momentum in the past year and there are currently over 5000 members, which represents about 20% of all Kiwis in London as of the 2001 census. This sites operates as Kiwis in need connecting Kiwis who can help, with a bit of moderation, promotion, event coordination, and the odd Ozzie thrown in.

It is absolutely worth posting your query/need/want/desire on a site like this, with so many people in the same situation and willing to pay back the favours that have been done for them before. The busiest day ever for this blog was the day I unashamedly (okay, a little ashamedly) plugged it on the site, and since then, I’ve made an effort to help with Police check queries (my old job), liked pages, voted for contestants, and even met a dude to be a participant for his PhD survey. Pay it forward, and backward, and around I say!

BEEEEE THE REPUTATION

If you’ve never been anywhere you should have heard that Kiwis and Ozzies have a great rep in London for being hard workers. I always wondered at this until I got here and discovered the abysmal state of some people’s work ethic. The sad thing is that people who would be fired back home would do well here, but the plus side is that the ANZACs can cash in on this reputational beauty.

Whether you’re trying to sign up with a new recruiter, interviewing for a job, or trying to turn a temp role into an ongoing gig, the following all apply:

  • Be nice to EVERYONE
    When I was playing organisational-pleb for a day of very high level recruitment, I was very surprised to be asked what I thought of each candidate. So be nice to the doorman/security/receptionist as this could sway the opinion between two equally-qualified candidates. Plus, you’re a douchebag if you don’t. Once you’re in a job, greet every person warmly, from the cleaners and security to your team leader and the big boss. Spreading warm fuzzies around the office makes you someone people want to be around, and therefore hire/extend, and again, you’re a douchebag if you pretend the cleaner is invisible when she’s cleaning your dirty dishes. 
  • Everything you put in writing is judged
    I won’t even go into CVs and cover letters here (though I could now write a novel on the subject), but every email should be up to scratch, even if the recruiter doesn’t bother to spell check themselves. Toe the line between professional and friendly, check your spelling and grammar, use a logical subject line that grabs their attention, limit the emoticons (I’d say 0-1 is the only acceptable level, and 1 only if it is a long-standing friendly relationship and they’ve used them first), email the right person about the right job, and for gawd’s sakes attach a document if you say you’re going to! That or remove ‘attention to detail’ from your CV. You’re a little fish in a big pond now, and the tiniest things could make the difference.
  • Be on time
    Or preferably early, but not so early as to put their schedule out. If you’re running late, let someone know. If you arrive 3 minutes late to work, apologise. Don’t worry that this will only point out your lateness – chances are your boss has already noticed, and even if they don’t care, your apology shows them that you take their time seriously and have high standards for yourself. The same goes for lunch breaks and clocking-out: put in the hours it says on your timesheet, no more, no less, and work hard for every paid minute.
  • Say ‘Yes!’
    I’ve learnt from experience that you should never say yes to something you can’t realistically achieve – this only leads to disappointment on both sides, unless your boss is C.S. Lewis. But, being new and wanting to impress, you should always aim to say a modified ‘yes’. If your techtard boss asks you to whatzeedoodle the thingamejiggy, say ‘I’d be happy to do that, but I might need some help from person x as I’ve not done that exact thingamejiggy before.’ This shows that you’re willing to learn, but gives the boss the opportunity to give the work to a more experienced member of the team. If your everythingisurgent boss asks you to do ginormousjob#31127, say ‘yes I can absolutely do that. Would you like that to be prioritised over jobs 31100-31126 or is it not urgent?’ This way they understand your current workload and can tell you exactly where this onerous and/or totally unnecessary job fits in the pipeline. Either way, you still said yes, and showed that you’re a go-to person with common sense and prioritisation skills.

FIND A WAY TO NOT GO CRAZY

This is where I can’t really offer any advice because I certainly don’t swallow my own medicine. If you read the last post you’ll know I turn into a mono-activity hibernation-station and no matter how much I know what I should do, and how much happier I’d be, I can’t seem to put it into action. So my only advice is: don’t do what I do!

Keep a reasonable sort of routine. Plan when you’re on the job hunt and when you can do whatever. Find free/cheap things to do that are still fun to do solo. Leave the house every day (wine from the corner shop doesn’t count!). Keep in contact with the outside world, and talk about things other than being unemployed (this is a surprisingly difficult one). Attack that to-do list with fervour, so that you have a sense of achievement to balance out the rejections. Read a freaking book and don’t resort to the Kardashians!!!

know plenty of you are currently/recently unemployed and have been through this whole rigmarole and probably done a better job at being in or getting out of the mire than me. So please, let us all know, how the hell did you do it? Are you still struggling away in the recruitment cycle? Are there any companies/recruiters/websites you’d recommend or blacklist?

Do you think there’s a secret formula to finding a decent job in London or is it all just luck of the draw?