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!!!
I 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?