Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Post Grad

I am now in the land where Santa rides a fire truck giving candy to kids and dog biscuits to, erm, dogs; where banks are drive-thru, marshmallow comes in a jar and peanut butter comes on a cheesy biscuit; where the houses are sparkling with their Christmas lights and festive wreaths; where you can win $1000 for eating 105lb of meat, viagra is advertised on daytime TV and VAT is added onto consumer goods after you take it to the till.

Really, it's very beautiful here, and I am having a great time. Americans certainly know how to do Christmas.

On the flight over, I spent about 4 hours playing Bejeweled on the touch screen computer (a game that takes me back to the guilt-filled moments of procrastinating when I should have been writing my Master's thesis). I also watched some of the comedy shows on offer, and flicked through the 40 or so movies available on-flight, stopping at one called Post Grad.

Post Grad? Hmm, that phrase sounds familiar.

It's about a girl who graduates from university and finds herself unemployed and living with her parents. Oh yes, it certainly sounds familiar. Funny how I hadn't heard of the movie, but already knew the plot.

It's a truly terrible piece of cinema, with an ambling unfocused plot, neglected character development, and a love story completely lacking in chemistry. But there are some familiar moments - the misplaced confidence of graduation, the disillusionment when the degree parchment finally arrives in the post, the upturning of a life plan/the lack of life plan.

For some reason, I watched this movie not just to kill some hours while cruising over the Atlantic Ocean and floating above North-East Canada, but also with the hope that it would offer some answers to my own Post Grad questions. Why I thought that a piece of in-flight Hollywood fluff would be able to do that, I don't know. The main character gets the job of her dreams when her arch-nemesis is inexplicably sacked, and seeing as I don't hate anyone enough to have an arch-nemesis, I doubt that's going to happen to me. Back to the drawing board I guess!

A far more realistic depiction of post-graduation lounging and floundering is captured by 90s UK sitcom Spaced, which, despite its off-beat surrealism, is far too real to me for me to find it amusing any more. The Dole episode is too familiar to be truly funny.

After the movie I watched an episode of Hannah Montana. It was much more comforting and the acting was even relatively convincing, or at least entertaining.

I'm now getting my kicks out of trying to explain the uses of HP sauce to Americans (chilli-cheese dogs, fries and brown sauce is almost a complete cross-cultural experience!), visiting a Christmas tree farm, and out of sharing my Christmas traditions with another family, and long evening drives around the sprawling neighbourhoods to enjoy the Christmas decorations while listening to big band music and the Sufjan Stevens festive album. Even the bulldog ain't so bad.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Us of A

There's something I didn't tell you.

I'm sorry. I wanted to be open and honest on this blog. I didn't think it was that important, and I didn't mention it.

But now I realise that I should have told you earlier. I hope it's not too late.

I'm spending Christmas in America.

And I leave tomorrow.

I've been so busy at work (and tired afterwards) that I haven't scheduled any posts while away, so I'll try to keep up.

I have to say though, if I had been told a year ago that I would be spending Christmas 2009 in the States I wouldn't have believed it. Since finishing Uni, my boyfriend and I have both been living with our respective parents and trying to figure out how to take the next steps of our careers. We have been with each other through daily job applications, job rejections, interview nerves, interview analyses, website trawling, decision-making, and work rants. But it just so happens that we are half a world apart.

It's certainly been a strange year, and possibly about to get stranger yet... I am meeting THE parents for the first time.

Things I am afraid of:

Accidentally and inappropriately swearing like a true Scot.

My British sense of irony and sarcasm being misunderstood.

The boyfriend's pet bulldog.

Putting on weight over an American Christmas season.

That the Marmite I am taking won't be well received.

Or the Twiglets.

Or the Bird's trifle.

Or the Tetley's tea.

Or the HP sauce.

Or my quirky aunt's homemade brandy-drenched Christmas pudding.

My family's copy of the Radio Times is currently sitting on the dining room table, sadly untouched by me, because I do not need it this year.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Something to Shout about

I made a joke with Shouty Girl, and she made one back!

(So, maybe we do all judge each other too quickly. Maybe lame jokes really are what keep this world going round...

that, and the ubiquitous "weather smalltalk" topic of conversation.)

Friday, 4 December 2009

stairmaster 3000

As you will have noticed, I have had little to say about job hunting recently. That's because I am taking a break, and I've put the career search on hold for a short time. My current job is great fun (tinned pumpkin aside) and I'm also very excited to announce something else:

I have paid off my overdraft!

I am indeed back to black. As you may recall, this was the first step in my five step plan, so now I can concentrate on saving a bit of money, and (gulp) learning to drive, which I promise, promise will start in the new year.

So this, along with graduating a few days ago (woohoo!) has made it a very good week for me.

But it's difficult to see my friends in different states of post-graduation despair. I see facebook status updates, receive text messages, and have conversations with people very close to me who are struggling in dealing with this time. I hear bitter words from friends who don't know what they want to do with their lives; those who do know what they want to do but are finding it impossible to get on the career ladder; those who thought they knew but it's not quite working out.

Some of my friends have just left Universityville, and have also just begun the rite of passage of uncomfortable disillusionment that occurs in the period between Uni and starting a career. I know how it feels. I spent 2 years reading up on jobs and job hunting, because I was doing the awkward shift into entry level work while still studying. I had the panic-ridden thoughts of "what am I doing?"
"what SHOULD I be doing?"
"am I doing the right thing?"
"Is this all I am worth?"
"Why can't I get where I want to be?"
"Is this it?"
"Why didn't I do things differently? Would it have made a difference?"
"Why won't someone give me a break?"
"What else can I try?"
"If this is all I can get, why even bother?"
"Where does all my money go?"
"Why is everyone else getting better opportunities than me?"

It's difficult to know what to say back to my friends though because I can relate all too well. Practical advice is usually not what they want to hear, and empty words like "I am sure it will turn out fine" are meaningless and insincere.

Most people find their way during this horrible period. Some shake up their lives a bit, go travelling, sign on, reconsider their priorities, find their own coping mechanisms and then find a way of making money. It's not easy, and there's little to say to reassure people.

I can't pretend to be a careers expert; for a start I don't really have a career, but I do have a lot of experience of the job-hunting mill (at least more than one of my student friends who stepped inside the Uni careers centre for the first time recently and was so scared she ran away).

I already went through these thought patterns and now have a clearer idea of how things work as well as a clearer idea of where I want to be. I don't have a problem with admitting to people, or myself, that I am living with my parents and working in a deli and that my career is currently on hold. When I started my first job out of University, as a staff assistant for the government, I was thinking too much about what my next step would be. When I was studying for my MSc, I was thinking too much about what I was going to do when I finished and how I would afford to live. Panicking too much about the next step made me panic too much about the one I was currently sitting on.

There are lots of approaches to job hunting and career starting, but the one that has worked best for me so far is to take things slowly, to take things one silly step at a time. When I moved back home in September, I set myself some very small goals indeed. But as silly as these goals may seem, and no matter what happens next, achieving the first one this week has made me feel like everything is on track.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

In Soviet Russia...

Pumpkin cans you.

More pumpkin shortage fun at work today. People were trotting into the shop with purposeful beady eyes, zipping quickly around, finding one of the staff and whispering "I heard you're getting more tinned pumpkin in today. Has it arrived yet?"

It was a rumour that we had permeated, but as yet we still hadn't received confirmation. Thanksgivers' queries were met with ambivalence and vague statements. "It might arrive after 4pm, but it might not. It's not guaranteed so it could be a long shot."

We took turns working the front of the shop and guarding the pumpkin-less frontline, taking the repetitive questions.

Customer: Do you have any canned pumpkin?
Manager: No.
Customer: Are you sure?

Customer: I heard you were getting pumpkin in at four. Is it in yet?
Me: It's only three. No.

Customers: Can I reserve a can/Can you keep one aside?
Me: No, I've had more requests than we are getting pumpkin in.

Customer: When is the pumpkin coming in?
Me: after 4pm.
Customer: Can you get it in sooner?

Coming up for 4pm, it was my turn on the frontline. My colleagues were pumpkin-weary and not up for dealing with pumpkin deprived Thanksgivers. The shop was full of eager shoppers. I maintained an abrupt, but not rude, manner.

Customer: Why is it taking so long?
Me: We had to get it flown in from America.
Customer: Really?!
Me: No. I mean it does come from America originally, of course. Brits don't really do pumpkin.
Customer: Really!?
Me: Nope. Libby's is American. We have to import it. It's taking so long today because we are getting some delivered from another shop.

Customer: How much is it?
Me: Eight hundred pounds a can.
Customer: Really!?
Me: No, but I swear some people would be prepared to pay that much today.

Eventually the pumpkin arrived, my manager doled them out straight from the box, and the crowd left happy. After that, when dribs and drabs of Thanksgivers came through the door I pointed to the tiny pumpkin-pyramid without a word, they took their can, paid me and left happy. Well, almost happy: We ran out of pie crust yesterday.

Finally, as evening set in and the shop quietened down, an American girl and her mother came for a browse.
Me: The pumpkin's over there.
Mother: Oh, no, not that stuff! I use real pumpkin. Or squash, because they are basically the same.
Me: Funny you should say that...
Mother: Well, you don't use that tinned stuff, that's just no good. Anyway, we're celebrating Thanksgiving like proper Americans, we're ordering Thai!

We still had some cans left when we shut shop. I feel a bit bad for all those folks who came by and missed out, but next time, folks, get your pumpkin early so we can order more in time.

Or celebrate St.Andrews day instead. We only sold one can of haggis today, and it was vegetarian.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Yes, we have no bananas...I mean...

As I live in smalltown Scotland I wouldn't think that this news story would have much effect on me. As it happens I feel like an innocent bystander caught in some terrible domestic argument that somehow ends up being all my fault.

My deli sells a selection of American imported products for our American population. This includes, for the months of October and November, Libby's Pumpkin in a tin. It's very difficult to get in the UK under normal circumstances, and it's almost impossible to get outside of these months. It's also reasonably expensive.

We sold out two days before Thanksgiving. Cue lots of last-minute Thanksgivers coming to our shop to find an empty space that had once been a pumpkin pyramid. Queries were met only with a shrug and a mention of a possible small consignment today.

It was ruthlessly windy and rainy today, typical for Scottish November. I was opening up the deli when I heard a knocking on the door and realised I had forgotten to unlock it on time. I headed to the front, panicking and praying that it wasn't the shop owner or I'd be in trouble.

A poor, pitiful, bedraggled figure was standing outside being battered by the wind. I remembered her from the previous day. She had bought some Aunt Jemima's products and had been disappointed to have missed the Libby's. I had told her about the pending mini-consignment of Libby's and I had also paid compliments to her cute purse.

"Is it here yet?" She asked.
"No," I replied, "I'm not sure when it will come in."
"Oh. No. Well, maybe I should just go to my class then."

In the next two hours I had a host of people ask me about the tinned stuff. When it did arrive, just twenty cans of the stuff, we kept it behind the counter and doled it out frantically like something illicit on the black market. A pimpkin. 'Ere mate, got any of the good stuff, yeah?

Within about 45 minutes it was gone. And I was back to having to console tardy Thanksgiving rookies.

At first I was quite sympathetic, but when it got to the 40th customer or so, my sympathy was becoming as depleted as our supplies of the tinned stuff. What should one expect in a small town in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving? We sell tinned haggis too, why not buy that and celebrate St.Andrews day instead?

As the afternoon wore on, customers became more desperate and pushy;

Customer: Do you have any tinned pumpkin left?
Me: No, we've sold out. Sorry.
Customer: Shit. But I heard you were getting more in today!
Me: We did at lunchtime, but it sold out.
Customer: (disbelievingly) Already?
Me: It sold out in less than an hour. We might get some more tomorrow, but not until after 4pm.
Customer: Well, what am I going to do then?
Me: You could try real pumpkin. Or butternut squash.

I said that with all the intent and purpose of being helpful, but the scowl I received in return was absolutely priceless. I may as well have suggested she grow the pumpkin herself. Obviously I just don't understand.

Maybe that's because I have never had a Thanksgiving dinner. I haven't grown up with the smell of Stove Top cornbread, I only tasted Candy Corn for the first time a few weeks ago, and to me, pumpkins are for carving into scary faces for Halloween, not for scooping out of a tin and making into pie.

I can only imagine that what I had said was something akin to this scenario: a situation where I had moved to Takayama in Japan, had been there for six months and was getting a little bit homesick. Christmas was coming soon, but isn't celebrated in Japan. Perhaps I knew there was one shop in the town that sold mincemeat and Jus'Roll pastry to make mince pies so that I could have that little taste of home, a small gesture of an old family tradition while thousands of miles away from the place I had spent my childhood Christmasses. I turned up to the little shop to find out that they had sold out of mincemeat that morning. My hopes of a single Christmas tradition would be ruined, until the cashier in the shop suggested...

"Why don't you just use grapes instead?"

Maybe that's how she felt. I'm not sure, but she certainly wasn't impressed.

One girl, after complaining that we had sold out, asked if my colleague had ever tried pumpkin pie. She hadn't. The girl had the audacity to add, "It's disgusting. But you're getting some more in tomorrow, right?"

Well, in that case, maybe I should try to compare it to looking for Brussels Sprouts. They really are disgusting, but essential for a family Christmas dinner. And maybe the Japanese cashier had suggested seaweed as a substitute...yeah. I don't know, I can only imagine.

A while later, the little bedraggled figure from the morning arrived back in the shop. She scanned the shelves and then saw me. Her face was filled with hope and her hair was filled with rainwater.

I reached through to the back and emerged with a solitary tin with a small paper note attached: for the girl with the cute purse.

I only did it because she hadn't asked for it to be kept aside and she wasn't pushy. Also, she had turned up first thing and caught me out with the door locked. I was definitely her favourite person today, but nobody else's.

So Happy Thanksgiving guys, although I feel a bit like a bemused bystander. You can be sure there won't be much thanks-given to me as I do the whole pumpkin shortage routine again tomorrow.

Monday, 23 November 2009

George

There once was a man called George, who at one point lived in the United States and worked as a barista in a well-known juice bar. I will never forget him.

He doesn't know me and wouldn't recognise me. I saw him maybe three or four times. I think perhaps our interaction time doesn't even total five minutes. But he had this way of handing me my 16oz cup of sugar and fruit concoction and telling me to "have a great day" infused with such sincerity that it warmed my heart right through. What a chap.

From what I know of George, I could deduce that he is a lovely fellow. I could be entirely wrong of course, but in our interactions I simply played the role of polite customer and he simply played the role of excellent barista. I don't have much to judge him on.

It is human nature to judge. I don't mind that. I judge people all the time.

At work, for instance. I have a great job; I work with lovely people, and I serve lovely people. It's almost how disappointing how lovely it all is, because it means I have no crazy customer stories to regale to you.

I've been there long enough now to build up rapport with some of our regulars: The little old ladies who buy their cheese and meats from us; the University lecturers with whom I like to banter about current affairs; the students who come in wearing pyjamas and holding paper coffee cups and talking incessantly about how they have been awake all night writing a presentation and took far too many pro plus and are now so jittery that they can't stop talking and they would really like a sandwich and they are so sorry that they keep talking crap at you but are really very charming and entertaining to listen to.

I'm sure most of my customers look at me, and the other girls I work with, simply as their deli girls. I don't mind that. I enjoy helping people, in any role. We exchange our pleasantries and our mutual disdain about the weather, I hand them their goods and they leave happy. I might not be as sincere or heart-felt as George, but it's a good atmosphere.

It's an affluent town and it's a high-end food emporium. Sometimes, I serve girls, students, whose purses cost more than my entire wardrobe. Of course, I judge them on that; I also judge them as lovely, because they usually are. But I also judge customers when they pay for their lunch with their parent's credit card by throwing the credit card at me or one of my colleagues, or when a daily regular completely fails to register my attempt at familiar camaraderie. I assume they judge me as 'just the deli girl' and I also judge them based on the small, daily snippets I see of their personality. I can only judge them on that and no more, especially when they refuse to engage in conversation on their daily lunch run.

One girl comes in almost every day to get her lunch from us, let's call her Shouty Girl. She shouts her order at us and then rarely speaks, smiles, or acknowledges us, usually talking on her flashy mobile or turning her back from us to talk to her friends. She comes in every day, and every day she is the same. I don't mind too much, but it really bugs some of the girls I work with because they are all at the same university.

One day a colleague, a student, told me she was sitting in the library studying, when she became distracted by an incessantly loud voice emanating from the girl sitting next to her. It turned out to be Shouty Girl chatting on her flashy mobile. My colleague turned to her, eyes set to death ray, and snapped loudly "will you please just SHUT UP?"

Shouty Girl was taken by surprise, snapped her phone shut and replied with disdain, "What's your problem? You're nice to me when you serve me in the deli."

"That's because I'm PAID to be nice to you in the deli," came my colleague's winning retort.

Whoever said manners cost nothing was wrong when it comes to dealing with the likes of Shouty Girl.

Mind you, she hasn't changed.

So we all judge each other, and that's ok. But if we all remembered that we are being judged on the short interactions we have with each other, whether we are buying a paper or a sandwich, going for dinner or on holiday, we'd probably all be a bit more like George.

Or at least the bit of George I saw.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Digital Literals

I put out a call for more resources about "digital poverty" or the "digital divide" and so far I have received some great links from people. Thank you and keep them coming!

More on that later, but I wanted to share one link I was sent by a good friend of mine. She said "it's a slightly more literal version of your "digital poverty" theme from your recent blog posts."

Behold, Alice and Kev, the story of being homeless in Sims 3.

It's not exactly what I was thinking of, but I have been promised tears by the end of their story.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Digital Poverty (part two)

While I was at home struggling with Google Wave, my mum was sitting in a lecture presented by economist David Blanchflower. You may have heard about his work on happiness and developed countries. He also sat on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. I heard from a mutual friend that he was on the lowest security clearance to be allowed to see the B of E's gold reserves, so he did, just because he could. I'd say it's pretty cool being able to see the actual bars of gold that our country is based upon.

Anyhow, my mum came home and raved about Blanchflower's presenting skills and about what he had to say. She told me of the lost generation of young people that will be scarred for life because of the recession.

"Older people will suffer too" she said, "but they'll get over it." Younger people will lag behind in education and work experience and it will follow them through life. Blanchflower's solution is to subsidise young people now so that they don't lose out for the rest of their lives. You can read more about this here and here.

My mum, who works with the kinds of people about which Blanchflower speaks, was switched on to his ideas. Unfortunately she is also all too aware of funding difficulties, and other obstacles involved with trying to engage with what are commonly known as NEETS.

I thought this was a good opportunity to explain the concept behind the University of the People that I mentioned in my previous blog post. Free online further education. It's a step beyond the Scottish ILA system (through which I learned German this year, danke).

My mum agreed that this is an intriguing idea, but argued that it is of no use to this potentially 'lost generation' who may lack the motivation and literacy to participate. More importantly, they would probably lack access. By this she meant internet access.

"We first need to do something about 'digital poverty' so to say. Ooh! I just made that phrase up," she concluded.

"I bet you weren't the first to make it up," I replied. Laptop to hand I googled "digital poverty" - over three thousand entries, including a memo regarding Tony Blair from 2000.

I had previously scorned those with the "stubborn stupidity" to not learn how to use the new and vital technology at our fingertips. I will eat my words. There are those in good position to take advantage of learning how to use new technology, or who are in position where a certain competency should be expected of them. There are others who are being missed out.

Incidentally, I also googled "digital underclass" - more entries for this one.

What is interesting, and slightly alarming, is that most of the entries on google about digital poverty refer to the developing world, but what about the UK? There are those in denial about the existence of poverty in the UK, is this perhaps because their voices are not heard by the mainstream information services? So what about the homeless? the illiterate? displaced children?

Isn't this worthy of further investigation? Think back to my previous post about how fast technology has changed, and its potential uses. Even I, a well-versed computer geek, am overwhelmed by what the internet can do. How about those with little or no access, motivation, education?

Yep, so this is what my mum and I talked about one afternoon.

I have received some interesting resources from a former classmate about what I have since learned is commonly called the "digital divide" (it turns out it was a key part of a module taken by my Postgrad peers in the Political Communications course. Oops. It seems I really cannot get away from my previous life as a politics student).

Once again, there is little focus on the UK, so if there is anyone who knows anything about digital poverty or the digital underclass or the digital divide, or anyone who knows someone who might know someone, please let me know, I'd be interested to find out more.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Digital Riches (part one)

I am a geek.

No, not just a politics geek. I am also a computer geek.

I grew up with computers, playing Prince of Persia on an old 286 when I was about 7 years old, and making dialogue boxes that said "hello world" on Windows Visual Basic. I was convinced I was going to invent the new Windows. I was going to call it "Open Doors".

When I was about 10 years old the internet was just creeping into the mainstream, and I thought it was fantastic. By 11 or 12 I had my own geocities website, using html I had learned by looking at source codes of other websites. I proudly told all the kids in school about it, and being suitably unimpressed they called me a geek and made fun of me. If only I had known that a few years previously a similar kind of thing had happened to Atari-Democrat-in-Chief Al Gore.

I made cutesy framed websites using only notepad and ftp, and then tried to convince my parents to buy the domain Kodak.com (which didn't yet exist) so that Kodak would have to pay us millions in order to be able to set up their own site. My parents realise only now that if they had listened to their pre-cyber-squatting pre-teen daughter, then they could have been very rich indeed...or ended up in jail. I think either Kodak or my parents missed a bullet there.

It's amazing now, after the internet's recent birthday celebrations, to realise how far it has permeated into our lives. The internet is now so mainstream that football games have been shown over the net instead of on television, and certain political campaigns have been attributed to the likes of Facebook and Twitter respectively. I even know an MP who updates Twitter during PMQs. Web 2.0 allows users to interact with each other in ways completely unfathomable just a few decades ago, using technology that far surpasses my lowly and outdated html skills. The internet overtook me, but I'm still geekcore about what it can do.

In true geek fashion, I recently spent a coveted day off work trying to figure out how to use Twitter and Google Wave. As a latecomer to Twitter, unconvinced of its usefulness, and confounded by Google Wave, I sent a "tweet" that said "now i have google wave but i'm not sure what it is or does. at least i'm on trend, right?"

To my surprise a complete stranger replied with some useful links to get me started. Now I'm an expert; well, now I am able to get my Twitter updates through Google Wave. And if that doesn't convince of you of the usefulness of either, what else will?

Google Wave is not perfect, but I think it is the start of something very exciting; something that involves using social media for good. In the UK we have NESTA and the Social Innovation Camp, coming up with user-generated technology-based answers to modern day questions:
How can I support my grandparents from afar?
How to get people to give up their seats on public transport?
How to make health care more accessible?

In the US, a groundbreaking, profit-making enterprise is using technology for social change. Virgance has pioneered programmes that encourage energy efficiency or use consumer power to promote corporate social responsibility.

Other start-ups use technology to provide services to the public that sometimes have eco-friendly by-products, such as http://www.parkatmyhouse.co.uk, http://www.zipcar.com, or http://www.shiply.com, to name but a few.

The latest of these I have discovered is The University of the People.
Its aim is to provide free online education to those who want it, depending on voluntary contributions from professors, academics and experts. So far, like Google Wave, the 'University' is in its very early stages, and so far without accreditation, but its potential is very exciting. The U of P seems to take some of the core foundations of the Open University and adds a Web 2.0 twist, keeping it online, and keeping it free (well, almost). I would like to see it succeed and progress.

None of these websites has all the answers to our generation's problems or questions by itself, but each of them demonstrate something unique that can be achieved through the web. I am truly very excited to learn more about how these tools can work together for the public good. I'm even tempted to sign up to the U of P's Computing Science programme so I can join in.

Never before have we been so digitally rich. I hope we are smart enough to be able to handle this wealth.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

if you don't know what to do, do something

try not to get downhearted. it can infect your job applications with a tinge of desperation or bitterness.

a piece of advice from my old maths teacher: if you don't know what to do, do something. you might not always get the right answer, but you might learn something in the process. it might help to see jobhunting as a process rather than a means to an end.

i haven't got the right answer yet, but i'm definitely learning.

1. learn where to find the jobs you want.

2. learn how to get an interview.

3. learn how to get a job.

i'm at stage 2. referring back to my previous post, i have a good bank of sites and resources that advertise the kind of positions i am interested in and for which i am qualified. i have been invited for a number of interviews, and attended a few, but i had been unsuccessful in earning a job offer. however, i did receive some great feedback, so that's part of the process, and useful to getting myself to third base (sorry).

this approach is useful because it avoids pinning hopes on one job or one goal. if you see each job opportunity as a part of the process, you can approach it positively using the lessons you have learned from careers advisors, peers, and from previous application feedback, or from your own reflections from past performance.

i had an interview for what would have been a great job (although part-time). my application was fantastic, because i've honed my skills at this stage of the process. however, i knew i did not nail the interview. i was more reserved that i should have been, and forgot to highlight where my skills are exemplary. next time, i'll try a different tact.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

You can take the politics...

It was a month since I tried to demonstrate the important difference between lolitics and not-lolitics and I had promised to follow up with an explanation of why political humour can sometimes be damaging to political discourse. I have not forgotten about this promise.

I had started by writing a commentary on the whole BNP/Question Time debate to compare the notion of political debate on the BBC with that of political punditry in the USA. By the time I had finished my 'draft' it was over two thousand words long and not yet finished. I wanted to comb through it to give it some finesse when it dawned on me that something frightening was happening.

Two thousand words sounds very much like an essay draft to me.

It seems that you can take the girl out of the politics degree, but you can't take the politics degree out of the girl. Not that there's anything wrong with writing politics essays when one doesn't have to, but I was alarmed to find myself doing it mostly out of habit.

Nobody wants to be writing politics essays "out of habit" and I doubt anybody wants to read such essays either. So instead I've been intently following America's Next Top Model and Project Runway and making a concerted effort to avoid any broadcasting or commentary involving X-Factor. I've left my embryonic essay on the back boiler for now. I'll return to it at some point soon.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Gears of lol

Last week we had a month's worth of rain in one day. In order to achieve this, rain must be both relentless and heavy. As you can probably imagine, that's no fun to be out in, so work was the quietest that I had experienced it to date. This suited me fine because I was safe and dry at work; I also had friends staying over and was glad not to be too tired to entertain them.

After shop had shut, we went for dinner and drinks and catch-up. We went to a reasonably priced Mexican restaurant, asked if we could have a table outside and provided much entertainment for the serving staff. We ordered after much gossip, deliberation, and menu scrutiny by my nouveau-vegan friend (it all happened after she broke up with a butcher). We ate, teased the waiter, tipped well, had after-dinner coffee and gin, bought some soy milk, and called a taxi back to my village.

It was all very lovely until the taxi passed a village at the top of a hill, reached the bottom of the hill and splooshed into a giant puddle, which turned out to be a burst river, which broke the engine and brought the taxi to an unceremonially pathetic kaput. We four girls and the taxi driver were stranded in a river.

I laughed nervously and felt incredibly bad for my friends who had travelled for hours on a bus to see me and what I had promised to be a beautiful corner of the world. Friend A reached out of the window to dip her hand in the river which reached up towards the car door handle and produced a reasonable current. She reminded us all that she couldn't swim. Friend B whipped out her iPhone to update facebook status and text friends about our situation (a reply from a mutual friend: "oh noes! i can has dry? hello to girls in a taxiboat!"). Friend C became increasingly concerned about the large damp patch that was forming at her feet while the taxi driver assured us that the car was waterproof.

We sat for an hour while a people-carrier taxi from the same company approached from the other side of the burst river and decided it was too deep and wide to be able to rescue us. Another car sat some way behind us on dry land flashing their lights (were they alerting other drivers or were they gloating to us that they weren't stuck? We never found out). Eventually a tractor from a local farm came along, and the farmer gallantly towed us back to his farm before going off to rescue more drivers of a foolhardy disposition. The people-carrier taxi took us home, for free.

Luckily the next day was dry, the view was beautiful, the burst river had entirely disappeared, and I went to work while the girls partook in some shopping before heading back to the city. I found out later that the taxi's engine was totally wrecked to a cost of £5000 and our driver was completely contrite about what had happened.

All this excitement with the taxiboat reminded me that I haven't held up my side of the "moving back home" deal. I need to learn to drive. I have been putting it off, but I really don't have an excuse now, especially as I have announced it to the public domain of internetland. I know it sounds pitiful but I am incredibly nervous about this, not just because of the taxiboat incident, but because I am scared of traffic. People assure me that it's not a big deal, "it's just like riding a bike".

That's all very well, but I can't ride a bike either.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

twit

I joined twitter.

Obviously I'm following Stephen Fry already.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

sharpen the soul

I did something foolish.

I know it is foolish and I know that it may have been a terrible decision, but I also think it was the right thing to do.

I received an email last week inviting me to a telephone interview for a paid internship directly related to my career interests. I had applied for the internship in July and since forgotten about it.

My heart leapt with excitement. This is good news! So what did I do?

I emailed back and said I was interested, yes, but unavailable until the new year. Let me reiterate: I turned down an interview, for a potentially ideal position.

Why?

During a tough moment about a year ago, a friend was telling me about the seven habits of highly effective people. I can't actually remember any of them (which I guess doesn't bode well) except for the final one, "sharpen the saw" which I actually misheard as "sharpen the soul".

I had asked my friend to explain it, and he regailed the story of the guy ferociously and unsuccessfully trying to chop down a tree with a blunt saw, believing that he did not have time to sharpen the saw, which would in actual fact save time. It resonated with me because I was working by day and studying by night and weekend, rarely letting myself take a breather or have a distraction. If I had, I probably would have been more productive.

So now that I have a chance to take a breather and enjoy distraction from the overall goal, I am taking and enjoying it. Don't misunderstand this; I am working 5-6 days a week as a supervisor in a posh deli, earning back money.But I'm enjoying the job and I'm not taking the next step of my career, yet.

It is one thing to be able to make opportunities for oneself. I worked hard to get my degree(s) and learn languages and gain skills and was offered an opportunity as result of this. However, it is another thing to be able to turn an imperfect opportunity down. The internship could have been perfect, but I know that it wasn't the right time, and therefore I know it isn't perfect.

Maybe I am a fool, or maybe I am astute. Only time will be able to tell... not the time it takes to sharpen a saw, but definitely the time it takes to sharpen the soul.

Monday, 2 November 2009

it will all be worth it

People always ask kids what they want to do when they "grow up". It's only now I realise how misleading that question is. I know very few people who have only had one career in their lives. Most people I know have had rich and interesting fits and starts and stories about how they reached the current point in their life.

As I had no clue what I wanted to do "when I was grown up" I entered the habit of setting myself short-term challenges. Going to University was kind of like one of those challenges; I studied what I enjoyed, rather than a particular vocation. One summer at Uni I challenged myself to get a "real" summer job and gained experience in Marketing. The next summer I challenged myself to getting a summer job in New York and had fun working on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The next year I challenged myself to find a "graduate job" or get elected as student union president, but was unsuccessful in either.

During a slow day at my "non-graduate job" for the government I decided that in order to change the world, I needed to learn more about how the world actually works. How was I going to do that? I suppose I could have done any multitude of things; the world is a big and varied place after all...

So I made a swift decision to apply to do a part-time MSc in European Politics. Yes, really. I am sure that there area much more interesting ways to find out how the world works than this, but this approach appealed to my geekery for all things political and educational. I was swiftly accepted, swiftly and inadvertently embarking upon a huge, huge challenge.

I went about things the hard way, I think. I was working full time in order to afford fees and rent, volunteering with a political party and attending night language classes as well as doing my Postgrad degree. (This is far too much for a mere mortal to attempt - do not do it.)

Banks collapsed around me and the jobs market looked less and less pleasant. I tried to motivate myself to study while working in a job that, frankly, I did not enjoy. I had set myself this challenge purely out of interest, but part of me wanted to make sure that it was a worthy investment. Grades were and weren't important: I chose to write on topics that I knew little about in order to broaden my knowledge, but of course this probably affected my grades, along with trying to balance deadlines with other commitments and time-pressures.

All through this I had a handwritten ink-note blu-tacked on my bedroom wall to keep me going: It will all be worth it.

Although I don't necessarily recommend setting yourself the same challenge, I do not regret it at all. I challenged myself to learn how the world works, and while I am under no delusion that I am now a worldly expert, I certainly I have learned a great deal. I learned more than I could have expected, and much more than was included in the course curriculum. These unintended lessons have been just as revealing as the classes I attended. I have learned about the world, and also learned about myself, and other people.

When I handed in my final piece of coursework and started packing to move back home, I tore down that little note of encouragement. I didn't need it anymore. It tore away some of the wall paint with it, I guess the idea had stuck...eventually.

I got my grades last week.

Was it worth it?

Well, of course, as you know, I don't have a job related to my desired vocation...yet.

Was it worth it?

My grades were good enough for me, and nobody can take them or the experiences I gained away from me.

Was it worth it?

Damn right it was, but I'm bloody glad that challenge is over!

And as for the current challenge, well, it's to recover from the last, mentally and financially, as well as to prepare for the next...

Friday, 30 October 2009

I do aim to a be a twice-weekly kind of person, but today's post has been postponed because I've just been called into work to cover a shift and as I don't hate my work, and I don't hate being paid either, I am taking up the offer, and then zipping off to the big city to see some friends.

(I am tempted to leave it as that as a one-long-sentence-post).

Monday, 26 October 2009

in my dreams

"But I ordered Pineapple on my sandwich!"

"I'm sorry, there might be some delay with the pineapple" I reply halfheartedly, watching pineapple chunks float amongst the swimming pool water, out of the door and into the streets. It's difficult to maintain one's cool when chlorinated liquid is lapping around your waist and customers are screaming at you and stock is floating out of the shop on a tidal wave. Somehow I manage.

I hate work dreams. I hate them because I am good at making sandwiches, great at them. It's not very stressful. So I feel like my subconscious is playing undeserved tricks on me when I have to suffer gastronomic nightmares, especially when it had been years since I last hung up my apron and headed towards the bright lights of the city and the intellectual challenges of university study.

I did actually find myself using my sandwich skills at Uni. During late nights of editing the student magazine I'd play hostess and sculpture energy-boosting sandwiches for my fellow editors using delicious ingredients procured from one of the nearby yuppie delicatessens: Rose Humous, Organic Cucumber and Parma Ham, Baba Ganoush, Feta and Chilli Olives. I honestly thought my sandwich-making career was over, this was just extra-curricular. How wrong I was.

I have re-entered the field with trepidation; but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. It's nice to have a change of track, a break from the paper-based stresses of desk-work and studying simultaneously as I did for most of the last two years. But it feels somewhat anti-climatic. It's hard to be pleased about moving home and going back into fast food catering, even if the ingredients are organic, locally sourced and by all accounts gourmet.

I don't want to sound like a snob, because I'm really not, but although I'm now working in a completely different kind of establishment, a fine-dining equivalent of the sandwich world, it's not exactly what I had in mind after six years of further education.

An old friend of mine recently popped into the charity bookshop to say hi and I told her about the new job. "I'm moving up in the world, I really am", I joked.
"But you are! Their sandwiches are so nice."
She was being honest, but I still felt slightly insignificant. My friend knew exactly what she wanted to do when we were still at high school, and now she's achieved her goal, loves it, and is about to buy a house.

And I'm back to living with my parents and still making sandwiches. The reality stung me hard.

But this is how reality works.

How could I be jealous of my friend having achieved her goal when I had no clear goal to achieve? This isn't what I had in mind after six years of education, because to my discredit, I didn't know what I had in mind. It's taken those six years to build up a respectable CV and to decide what I want to do. This last month hasn't just been about lol scumming. It's been about working out my next step. Now I have my degrees, two (and a bit) foreign languages, a great work history... and a goal.

So the dream is to pay off debt, and get enough money together for (another) internship, one that's related to my chosen career. You gotta have a dream, they say. And it's true, sandwiches or no sandwiches.

But when the work dreams return, I'm out of there.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

we march on

This week the public service broadcasting of potentially shocking and offensive infamous persons dominated the public discourse.

Hoorah for free speech. The liberal assertion that if you give somebody a platform to show themselves then their truly outrageous countenance will be revealed and open for all to see and criticize, was gratified with evidence. Free-minded liberals can rest on their laurels in smug self-validation.

Their argument was proven correct this week, and anyone who missed it can see the results here.

As my family and I sat and watched things unfold, I realised I wasn't entirely sure I still agreed that the BBC should have made the decision to continue with the broadcast. It was incredibly uncomfortable viewing. I couldn't quite believe my ears and eyes, yet they remained glued to the tellybox. Yes, this actually happened. Irrefutable proof that giving a controversial figure an audience will be compulsive viewing, albeit for all the wrong reasons.




Really, what is this Yoko?! (You have to get to the end to see the full effect, but I don't blame you if you don't get there)

Friday, 23 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part five

The final part of my 2007 financial planning series.

By now, I hope you’ve got some good simple money habits to keep you on track. You know where your balance is, you’re not living on a credit card, you’re withdrawing cash on a weekly basis, you might have a bit of extra cash coming in. So I’m going to start talking about spending money again. It’s okay, we’re allowed from time to time.

Food is an important thing to spend money on. I’d call it a life or death expenditure. But Supermarkets wants you to spend a fortune, so watch out. Marks and Spencers advertising, for example, despite its classy fa├žade, uses the same salacious methods of appealing to your base desires as Amsterdam’s seediest sex-shops. And just like sex, you’ll actually get more and better food for your money if you invest a bit of affection and effort into getting some.

So forget entirely about faux designer food and trashy takeaways. Get your bargain bounty goggles on, because finding food deals is just as satisfying as high street sales. The supermarkets on the outskirts of town (Tesco, Morrisons, Lidl and Chinese Supermarkets) provide all the economy brands that local branches and cornershops don’t stock. Get your fill of value branded breads and grains, bumper-sized boxes of food and cleaning products. Be a brand whore and go for 2 for 1 deals, but only if you need the product in the first place. A member of my family once bought six watermelons because they were ‘on offer’, forgetting that nobody in the house actually likes them. They sat festering into interestingly fragrant food-fight ammunition.

If you’re an economy brand snob, many ‘own brand’ items are actually made by the same companies as the leading brands. I’m always wary about meat products but otherwise many products are the same or similar quality, except Heinz, which are usually the superior bean.

Always buy your fruit and veg from the wonderful green grocers your neighbourhood has to offer. Most of them will give student discounts and it can become easy to live well with very little expense.

Buying for yourself can be incredibly wasteful and expensive. Buying ready meals is even worse for your pennies and the packaging is landfill overkill. 70% of food produced and sold in the UK goes to waste and this impacts both our environment and our purses. I’m not suggesting you all start dumpster diving outside your local supermarkets (this is another way of keeping costs down, admittedly, but might break trespassing/theft laws). Grab your wheelie suitcases, band up with your flatmates and go on a food shopping day out. You’ll get to know the city better, burn off calories carrying bags, and you’ll save even more money if you share the shopping. If it’s not feasible to buy everything together, then suggest at least pooling bread and milk funds. This is what the most astute students among us do. A familiar sight in Lidl is of bunches of funky young students piling groceries into luggage together… It’s the modern day hunter-gather expedition.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part four

Part four in my 2007 financial planning series.

A few years ago there was a Guardian cartoon called ‘Lost Consonants’, and one of my favourites showed aerobic OAPS and a young McEmployee alongside the caption ‘many students work to make their grans stretch further.’ These days students are lucky even to get a grant, so I certainly ain’t putting in hours to pay my granny’s yoga fees. But various surveys predict that around half of the UK’s students are now working between 10-15 hours and earning about £70 a week. That’s over £3600 a year, and for many this is a necessity.

Finding casual work during term time shouldn’t be too hard in theory. Looking in shop windows, checking the Uni's advice centre, looking at sites like Monster and Jobs Direct are good starting points. Right now various outlets will be looking for Christmas relief staff if you’re finding yourself short of money for the end of term. This is also really handy for the staff discounts to pick up cheap gifts! The usual bar, coffee shop, and temping jobs are some obvious options, but there are other ways to pull in some extra cash than pulling pints.

Look around campus for students needing participants in surveys or studies – these usually pay a few pounds for little effort. Or try googling for ‘mystery shopper’ or ‘paid surveys’ – there are a number of UK organisations which will pay various amounts for equally little exertion. And if you’re good with google and have an internet connection, you could work casual hours for the fun text service Any Questions Answered (AQA). Visit www.issuebits.com for more information.

Even if you don’t need the money, but you think you can spare the hours, consider some sort of employment, whether paid or not. Working, volunteering or ‘getting involved’ as the Uni folks in the know put it, all count towards those immeasurable soft skills employers want as well as letters after your name. This is great if you do need to work through Uni, because you’re getting more return than just an hourly wage, you’re also earning CV fodder. You ain’t just stacking shelves or waiting tables, you’re building team skills (putting up with that lethargic tosspot of a colleague), numeracy skills (figuring out how many CDs you’re earning on your hourly wage) and problem-solving skills (kicking arseholes out of your pub at drinking up time). Seriously though, it all counts, and could help you score a higher starting salary after Uni.

For this reason, office temping can be useful employment for students to gain office skills, and often pays more than service sector jobs. However, like call centre work, temping can be soul-destroying, and is less sociable than serving your mates at their local bar.

Most people do manage to study and have other commitments, Of course, I can’t just encourage you to work while you should be studying. The usual guideline for part-time work is 10 hours a week if you’re doing full time education. Don’t let employers be pushy with you for more hours than you want to do, and never, ever, miss classes to work instead.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part three

Part three in my 2007 financial planning series.

I was drinking with some friends and someone suggested we go all out. One of our crew lamented a cash crisis situation. Not a problem, exclaimed another friend, you can extend your overdraft over the phone, right now, sitting here in this bar, drunk!

This is an example of bad financial planning, and I cannot recommend it much less than taking a roller coaster ride on the stock exchange with two thousand Zimbabwe dollars.

Okay, a night in doing personal accounts is not a scintillating exercise. However, it is vitally important to keep track of your money digits. This can be as little effort as reading your monthly statements and checking your balance every time you withdraw. Scanning these numbers will give you a basic awareness of where your money’s going and what spending pattern you can keep up. If things are getting tight, start withdrawing a certain amount each week and sticking to it. Don’t be tempted to take your card out, or to buy things online thinking that it’s not ‘real’ money. A number’s a number, and it’ll decrease whether you like it or not.

The best advice budgeting advice: try not to go into your overdraft. Banks can seem generous and it’s useful to have an interest-free overdraft to dip into during those personal ‘Northern Rock’ moments, but it’s not there to be lived out of.

I used to be petrified of ending up in the red, while a lot of students I knew casually talked about the hundreds of pounds they owed. When I ended up more in debt than I planned (and I use plan in a loose sense, because – confession - I didn’t plan at all) I understood the feeling of ‘overdraft underwhelm’. Being three hundred pounds into your overdraft is absolutely terrifying. Being £600 down isn’t really that much different, hey, it’s still the hundreds, right? But keep on spending, and you discover that being £1200 overdrawn doesn’t feel any different either, until you graduate and the bank wants their money back.

That might seem far off, but I am warning you from the future. I celebrated graduating this year with ten thousand pounds of student loan, minus twelve hundred pounds in my account and an I-O-U to the bank of mum and dad for a grand. I went over my overdraft once, missed some credit card payments, and now have to keep up with council tax bills (this one’s a real bugger) and self-finance a part-time post-grad. I paid off the credit card, but I’ll be living out of my overdraft for some time yet. I’m not one of the worst off, but I’ve left the splendour of spontaneous student life and believe me, I sorely miss it.

Make sure you know how much you have until the next SAAS pay day. Pretending not to know how much you don’t have is plain dangerous, and having a ‘fuck it’ moment like my friend will make your overdraft rise exponentially. Be honest! If you can’t control yourself, get your bank statements sent home instead of to your term address. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind, and right in the lap of your parents. And there’s nothing more frightening than that.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part two

Part two in my 2007 financial planning series.

Most of us like shopping. Some of us are darned good at it. Back dans le jour, when yuppyism was rife, it was imperative to be able to show off the trendiest brands and most expensive items to establish one’s status. Those who rode the wave of capitalist success were the icons of the Maggie era. This century is different. There is kudos for a good bargain. In the economy bumper-pack generation, we are Primark’s children. One in twenty adults on the brink of bankruptcy, daytime TV jampacked with adverts for consolidated loans, whole economies in trouble because of massive unsecured debts - there’s almost a pride in poverty these days, as long as you’re poor with style.

And that’s why it’s difficult being a student, because the old ‘Young Ones’ stereotype just doesn’t ring true anymore, and a Glasgow resident spends the second highest amount of money on average on clothes in the UK (it must be true, I read it in the Metro). Fact – we’re that good at shopping. But did you ever think to shop for money?

You need a student bank account. No arguments. That’s what they’re there for. But they’re a product, not a service, and the banks are vying for your custom and loyalty like any other business. Chances are, your local bank succeeded. It’s nearby, you had your kiddie saver account with them, and you’ll probably stay with them for life. That’s fair enough, but you could probably get yourself a much better deal. You just need to do a bit of bargain hunting.

Like I said before, you’re not looking for the fun stuff, so don’t be swayed by gimmicks. It’s like shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. The embroidery and details might be nice extras, but you’re looking for the best cut you can get. If you’re in the money and for some reason have few outgoing expenses, you want a high rate of interest. If not, you want the largest interest-free overdraft possible, with the least repercussions for going over it. Don’t worry about the graduate deals yet.

This year, Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert.com recommends HBOS, RBS and Natwest for student accounts and if there’s one thing you should take from this article, it’s to visit MoneySavingExpert.com. I can’t emphasise that one enough. But Lewis also recommends that you shop around, that you forget about money monogamy and tart about. Student deals change all the time so keep up to date. Even if you’re not a new student, and even if you have an overdraft, you can still switch student accounts. I must add however – do not, absolutely do not, open up more than one student account. You can open multiple bank accounts, but you cannot have more than one student overdraft.

Next issue I’ll argue that you should aim to finance your time at University without ever needing an overdraft, but even if you never actually need to use it, you need one to remain prepared, and it’s worth negotiating the biggest allowance available with your bank if you don’t automatically get it. Pay attention to what you’re being offered.

Martin Lewis expounds an interesting suggestion for student financing, which I wish I had tried, but secretly know I would have failed at. ‘Deficit banking’ involves moving your savings and as much of your overdraft as possible into a high interest savings account and living out of the bottom of your overdraft, transferring money from your savings as necessary. I will neither recommend nor discourage this, but I will suggest that this involves more careful planning and precarious financial balancing than most young people are prepared for (I’d love to hear from you if you’ve done this though).

Without patronising my readership, I’m aiming to give advice for watching your pennies without any effort. I know that very few students seem to want to be counting their beans and discussing percentages, but it’s worth it to ask your mates what deal they’re getting from the bank, and to find out which one’s guilty of fleecing students. Ask your bank questions now, before they start asking you questions, and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

miss no moneypenny part one

Yeah, so I cheated this week. To ease myself back into working full-time, I've resurrected some old articles I wrote for my student magazine. When I graduated in 2007 I wrote some articles for the new intake of Freshers about financial planning, which is something I definitely didn't do when I was a Fresher. They are most definitely corny, and a bit out of date (this is pre-recession, remember!) but I thought I'd share them here so you'll get something every day this week. After that, I have some things up my sleeve, but I'll probably have to drop from five times a week to two or three times, depending on the work situation.

Here goes:

Hello all, my name is Miss NoMoneyPenny, and I’m your off-beat, out of tune financial advisor. I’m here to guide you kicking and screaming through your time as a sensible, thrifty student. Seeing as it’s Freshers’ Week, and you’ve got a whole host of other worries, such as what to wear out tonight, how to get off with the hot girl in the block across from you, and how the hell to find your lecture halls, I’m not going to talk about the boring stuff such as budgets and bank accounts. Hoorah.

I hope you’re sitting back and enjoying yourself so far, because the truth is, you’ve never been in such a good position, especially if you’re Scottish. The government has been so kind as to pay your tuition fees, offer you a nifty loan tied to inflation, and if you’re especially lucky, hand over a student bursary (this is actually a grant, and it’s worth applying for through SAAS to see if you get anything – hey, it’s free money!). And pending Mr Salmond being able to sweet talk the rest of Parliament, you’ll probably get through Uni without being stung by a two grand charge at the end of it.

So, life is sweet, and so is your money. And lots of companies have started to realise student buying power. That’s why you’ll probably suddenly find yourself absolutely irresistible to all sorts of branding and PR staff, especially while trying to wander up and down campus. A word of warning though – it’s not you those sweet, semi-naked PR girls want, it’s your money.

The student card is a passport to all sorts of cut-price goodies, and it’s definitely worth scoping out the best deals amongst all the flashy flyers you’ll have thrust at you. Some student offers worth mentioning are: Topshop and its sister brands (the discount, NOT the store card), Apple (iPods and Macbooks, not fruit), local greengrocer's (fruit, not iPods and Macbooks), the Student Railcard and the International Student Identity Card (ISIC). Even if somewhere doesn’t advertise a student discount do ask if they provide one, especially if you’re buying something pricey (like a computer) and especially if you’re paying with cash. Companies want brand loyalty as much as they want a quick sale, so often they’ll do anything to keep you sweet.

Don’t get taken in by every student offer available, because there are some that aren’t quite all they promise to be. I’m not just talking about the clubs in town that brag about bouncy castles, D-list celebs and fantastic (though illegal) drinks promos and then fail to deliver on the ‘bonanza’ (though they are bloody annoying). I’m talking about credit cards and store cards.

Credit card and money companies cottoned on to the fact that students love free stuff and they’ll take any old shit if they think it’s a good deal. A ConMe Credit Card with 85% APR? No thanks. What about if we throw in a free box of Candy Floss Makers we’ve had in the back store room for the past decade? Oh, well now you mention it…

Just don’t do it, okay? You. Do. Not. Need. A. Credit. Card. And you don’t need a TopShop shopping card, or a free popcorn machine, or a New Look card, or anything of the sort. There is a time and place for these things, and now is not it. Enjoy Freshers’ Week you lucky buggers, but if they approach you do what any self-respecting freeloading student does - take the free pen and run.

Friday, 16 October 2009

mixed nuts

I'm now in paid employment.

It's not very glamourous, but should be good banter and will help me along with achieving my multi-step plan:

1.Pay back my overdraft.
2.Earn some money.
3.Learn to drive.
4.Get some work experience in my chosen field.
5.Get on track with a related job. Bingo.

My student debt is not that bad. My student loan is somewhere in the ether gathering dust and interest, and my overdraft is manageable. Due to a mixture of hard graft and excellent budgeting, I'm actually in less debt from having completed my Postgrad degree than I was when I left studentville after my Undergrad. I count that as a huge success. It would have been even smaller, or non-existent, if I didn't get wanderlust for foreign climes, but hey, have overdraft, will travel.

I made the decision that I didn't want to commence the next part of my life while still in debt. I should add that by 'debt' I mean debt to the bank. My student loan is to remaining drifting in the governmental ether for some time yet, I fear. But with my parents being so generous with the whole bed and board situation, I'm glad I'll be able to get back to black in no time...theoretically.

Of course, this does not mean I am signing off the lol. This is but just the beginning. There's a whole lot of comedy to be found in career-hunting, paid employment, learning to drive, and of course, I'm sure our friendly political representatives will keep us endlessly entertained. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

lol and not-lol

Politics is almost always funny. It is a built-in feature of UK politics, with its weekly Punch and Judy puppet show of put-downs and pantomiming during Prime Minister's Questions. I really do miss the days when Spitting Image was on the tellybox (I tried to find a video of the famous vegetable scene but couldn't find it, alas). I was only a kid at the time, but got most of my elementary political training through that show; what kid wouldn't find the name Virginia Bottomley inherently hysterical?

Radio 4's the Now Show and the ubiquitous Private Eye are decent substitutes, but it's not the same without those rude latex puppets to comment on the political circus.

But sometimes political humour amounts to no more than standard 'circle of shame' celebrity gossip. Some folks go so far as to call it "showbusiness for ugly people" so it's important to be able to distinguish between real political lolz (lolitics) and gutter-level gossip humour.

Take the blog Glum Councillors, for instance. It's marvellous, and funny because it's true. Anyone who has ever been involved in local politics, or even seen the front page of a local newspaper, can relate to the visual pot-hole-itical (sorry) outrage documented on this site.

I also like this nifty little game which gives the UK party conference speeches a magnetic poetry twist, even though it is biased, which is also funny, but a shame as I feel I miss out on some extra game play value.

Lol news is an obvious example of lolitics, based on the popular "I can has Cheezburger" meme:
I can has Chavezburger?
moar funny pictures

This silly season story about South Carolina's Governor Sanford was perfectly ludicrous as it unfolded. Sanford will go down (sorry) in history for contributing the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" to the catalogue of euphemisms for describing that common phenomena of "abandoning your governing duties to visit your mistress in Argentina." His 'apology' speech was beautiful car crash television. His stance on family values and his refusal to resign gave lefties excellent fodder for humiliation and reds-roasting. But it's nothing more than glorified gossip. It masquerades as politics because Governor Sanford is, indeed, a Governor. Boy, did I get a kick out of it, but I ain't going to pretend that the extended coverage it received from pundits was anything more than partisan nit-picking. I don't have a problem with gutter level gossip humour, and this is funny, but not strictly political.

This story about Obama allegedly snubbing Brown just annoyed me, moreso because the BBC fell for it. First of all, it was a classic example of a "So and So denies Such and Such" headline which almost inevitably results in a non-story based upon (biased) journo-rumour-milling. Second of all, it had no substance and no consequence. The BBC, with a mandate to remain politically neutral, made a mistake in covering this story so heavily because the story came across as partisan poking at the PM's unpopularity vis a vis Obama. This story failed to be either funny or political.

Political humour doesn't have to be neutral of course. That would defeat the purpose most of the time. Partisan agendas are a natural and priceless aspect of the sport and that's a-ok. The world of lolitics is fraught with danger though: danger of being wide off the humour mark, and danger of damaging the political discourse. I'll talk about the latter, later.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Good odds at the bookies

I have already provided some very good reasons why volunteering while job hunting is a good idea. I really do enjoy it very much, and given the situation, it would be the perfect job to have while trying to mount the proverbial career ladder, if only it was a paid position.

Well, I have been informed that there may be an opportunity to get paid for some of my hours at the charity bookshop because a couple of the paid staff need to cut their hours. While this is not yet definite, it demonstrates the unexpected opportunities that can arise out of putting your heart into something you enjoy. So, even though this is still not confirmed, and even if it doesn't work out, I thought I would mention it.

I also thought I would mention this for anyone else who is volunteering in the UK while job hunting. Most places offering volunteer positions know that volunteering is often a CV filler, but this is a government programme that also offers official recognition for volunteering.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Captain's Lock

My mum told me this story. It happened to her last week.

Her manager's secretary was on her lunch break, and the manager came running through into my mum's office in a nervous panic.

"I've done something on the computer and I don't know what happened and I can't fix it!"

My mum is no IT guru. She works with young people mostly, giving talks in schools and advising kids on a one-to-one basis. But she offered to help anyway.

"What were you trying to do? What has happened?" She asked.

"I don't know! It's gone all wrong! I was trying to write an email and then it broke."

My mum looked at the email that he had been writing and realised that he had accidentally pressed the CAPS LOCK key. She fixed it, and died a little inside.

I don't know if that's heartening or disheartening to me. I can't decide. It reminds me of my time as a temp when I had to save a phone number into my manager's mobile phone because he couldn't do it. I had to do it several times after that because he refused to learn how to do it himself.

I am not lying when I tell prospective employers how good I am with computers and suchlike. I am the Tempest Typist for a start, and that's just one of my many skills. That works out just fine for me, and I understand that not everybody is as electronically endowed as I, but I cannot abide stubborn stupidity. Now I know for sure that it is not just endemic to the field of temp-work.

As frustrating as this is for overqualified office drones around the world, there is an upside. If someone is too reluctant to learn new skills, that can only make me look better. Stories like these give me CV bragging rights...right?

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Tempest

A couple of years ago I was going to start a blog called The Tempest about my experiences of temping. I was just out of uni for the first time and had naively leaped arse over tit into the first job that had been offered to me.

In retrospect it was a good experience, and it also looks great on my CV. However, at the time I was learning just what it meant to have the label of being "the temp" in the office. I'm sure I am not the only one who has experienced the swift shock to the ego that going from a relatively smart and successful graduate to an underpaid and underappreciated office-worker provides. If the instability of the temporary contract isn't bad enough (including the nil that gets paid on holidays and sick days), then add the contradictory disdain that fellow colleagues bestow on you for being a smart-arse graduate and for being the lowest in the pay-roll pecking order. It's even more soul-destroying than the job hunt that precedes.

I'm trying to avoid a graceless return to temping, but there is a distinct possibility that I may have to, depending on how the next few months pan out. For now I am enjoying the refreshing experience of my volunteering stint. People respect me, people thank me for my efforts, and people want to take advantage of my skills, even if it is just my vague understanding of how best to display the politics textbooks! Gosh, what a joy it is to be appreciated and to be rewarded with respect.

And this is certainly assisting with the job hunt effort. When I was temping, I found it difficult to go home and feel excited about filling in job applications, or later when I was doing my MSc, to do the necessary reading. Now, after a day of wholesome book-sorting and customer-serving I go home and feel fired up for a bit of skills-matching and profile-writing. Definitely stirred, not shaken.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Bagman's Gambit




A friend linked to this on facebook and I thought I'd share it.

Name: Mr Claus
Address: 1, Lapland

Previous Experience:
Santa Claus (19th Century - 2008)
Unfortunately I got the sack. Ever since I've been having an existential crisis.

Saint Nicholas (10th Century - 19th Century)
Achievements include receiving sainthood and securing sponsorship from Coca Cola.


(Thanks Ruth)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Beef Jerkies

Orwell demonstrated that economics becomes a lot more understandable when explained using barnyard animals; so I enjoyed the BBC's "Sacred Cow or Prime Cuts" quiz at the party conferences (watch them here: Lib Dem, Labour, Tory). Politicians mince their words over the difficult decisions that will prevail in the post-recession period. We can certainly expect public services to become more "value brand" as the government (regardless of party) will have to attempt to balance the budget after the bail-out blow-outs.

The good news is that we can however expect a more beefed up experience in Burger King. Sadly, where I live does not allow fast food chains to be franchised in the town, and my mate never took that job as Assistant Manager of Burger King, so that's a potential business employment opportunity scuppered for me. Probably a good thing because, if the McVideo Game is anything to go by, I'd be useless at it anyway. I did consider going back to my old job as a 'Sandwich Artist' in a well known sandwich bar, but that's one of my last resort options along with going back to temping. I'm hoping that my days of asking customers if they would like "six inches" are well and truly over.

But this service sector student experience might have its uses in another field. I would like to suggest that given their record, MPs might not have the most satisfactory experience in finding good "50% off" deals or in every-day rationing. Surely supermarket employees and poor students/pensioners/families who are used to stretching their weekly pocket money and finding the best value brand products have the most relevant budgeting skills required to keep the country ticking on a tiny budget? Bob from check-out to the Treasury please...

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

It's Not You, it's the Market

Have you ever read the book He's Just Not That into You or seen the Sex and the City episode it was based on? (I do apologise for the references to the show, I promise I am not one of those women). It's about the liberation of truly understanding how the dating game works.

My approach to job hunting is similar to that, and my mantra is "It's not you, it's the market".

There is plenty of doom-laden recession porn to be found online about the plight of young people and graduates struggling to find their place on an insecure career ladder: here here here here here here here here here here here

I could go on. A young graduate could read all this and think, in a Marvin the Paranoid Android-esque sequence of defeatist thought processes, "oh, what is the point, I can't do anything in this situation" and conclude that applying for and getting a job has about the same odds of winning the lottery, resulting in a sitting duck graduate passively riding the recession wave. Boo hoo.

Or the said graduate could actually try buying a ticket for the lottery, and engineer that ticket into a winning ticket! Woo hoo! (Okay, we can also achieve it without the corny metaphor.)

I'm not an economics graduate but I have the understanding that the best thing I could probably do to boost my CV and to make my contribution to the speedy end of the job market of doom, is to start my own little business. For various reasons that I don't need to go into, this isn't really an option for me. However, I'm doing what I can. The problem here is two-fold.
1. I have no money.
2. I have no career.
But, as a result of both of these things, I have a lot of time.

Obviously a lot of time is being spent applying for jobs. But to avoid the soul-destroying experience of job hunting mentioned earlier, I am also volunteering at a Barnardo's bookshop. I cannot overstate how great this is.

First of all, I get to categorize and organize books, which saves me from sitting in my bedroom doing the same with my CD collection over and over.

Second of all, I get to sell lots of wonderful second-hand books to people. I love chatting to the customers and helping them to find great bargains. I especially love talking to old ladies on a buzz from buying stashes of cheap wool from other charity shops, about all the knitting books we have.

Third, I enjoy getting to know the other volunteers, a diverse and interesting bunch of folks.

Fourth, I have a filler line for my CV. "What did you do in the recession, Daddy?"

Finally, it gives me the motivation to keep on trucking. Another rejection email? Another day of fruitless job hunting? No matter, I'll spend tomorrow morning drinking cups of tea, shelving books and smalltalking with the locals. Then I'll see what kind of shape the market is in by the afternoon.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

lolitics

It's been conference season for the three main UK political parties, and other than the usual mixture of socks and sandals and snide, there has been very little to report in the realm of lol. This week is the last of the big three, the Tory Conference, which reminds me of this historical lolitical gem courtesy of facetube.

Announcement: The Tory party have just announced that they plan to take policy advice from the cast of High School Musical, reminding the UK population that "We are all in this together".

Monday, 5 October 2009

We're sorry to inform you that you're brilliant

I've started this blog because I'm convinced that job-hunting can be a pleasant experience, or at least not totally soul-destroying.

I've experienced the soul-destroying side of it:
Firing off standard CVs to the out of date job adverts suggested by a Job Centre advisor and noting it down on the handily provided job hunting schedule to prove that it happened.

Skimming job sites that only seem to advertise jobs with Greggs.

Skimming job sites that only seem to advertise outbound sales advisor call centre jobs.

Going for a pint with a mate who received an email from a job hunt website that said "we thought your skills matched this position and that you might like to apply." The email was accompanied by a promising link entitled "Assistant Manager" but which unfortunately led to a job advert for Assistant Manager of a local branch of Burger King, perks including free burgers.

Skimming job sites during a recession and realising that not even Greggs are advertising jobs.

Actually being at an interview for an outbound sales advisor call centre job.

Going to a Graduate job fair during a recession.

Getting to the point when you can't remember if it's the week you sign on or not.

Or being a minimum-wage temp...again.

Yes, it can be soul-destroying. But it can also be a motivating, eye-opening experience. I learned this when I was rejected from a job recently. Yes, really. I was invited to an interview, completed some tests and appeared in front of a panel looking like a quivering heap of well-dressed jelly. Relatively smooth interview (not too wobbly), back on the bus and back home on the sofa with a calming mug of hot chocolate.

Waiting for "the phone call" is somewhat like being told by a charming guy that he'll call you later that day. Any self-respecting girl knows that she should fill the rest of her day with useful tasks and other social engagements, but she also knows she'll probably glue herself firmly next to the telephone for the next three hours so she doesn't miss his call. What am I up to? Oh, you know me, I'm really busy. Ha. At least when you're blatantly unemployed you don't need to pretend you have a full diary; everybody pretty much knows you're on the sofa in your pyjamas posting inane comments on news websites and watching MTV.

They called me back in for another chat the next day because they had whittled the candidates down to two. It was me versus someone else in an anonymous battle for gainful employment. In the end, they went with the other candidate, but in the rejection they told me I had performed brilliantly and that they wished they had a more suitable position so they could hire me.

This was great to hear because truthfully, I was not qualified for that job. I was rejected on the mutual understanding that I'm pretty darn good but that job wasn't for me. That's exactly what I needed to hear, and it's motivated me to reconsider my whole approach to this job hunting malarkey.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Guidelines 1

Don't use gibberish as placeholder text in a job application. Do not use placeholder text at all. This could result in your profile reading "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc etcetera etcetera..."

Don't attend an interview with a bank and tell them that money does not motivate you.

Don't drink seven pints of Guinness the night before a trial shift.

Do be subliminal; mirror the exact language of the job description in your application.

Do plan your route to the job interview on google street view.

Don't apply for a job working for a company that makes products that you hate. Or at least, don't admit that you hate the products in your application.

Don't go into Oxfam and ask if they are 'hiring'.

Do trust your loved ones when they tell you that you're underselling yourself.

Do point out spelling mistakes in job adverts to the advertisers, but do consider if you actually want to work for people who make those kinds of spelling mistakes.

Do listen to interview questions so that you don't give the interviewer your prepared answer on where you want to be in five years when they asked where you want to be in three.

Do steal your mum's smartest power-shoes for interviews.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

The State I am in

People have shown sympathy to me for my having to move back in with my parents. Quelle horreur! I even received a phone call from someone making sure I hadn't "committed suicide" over the situation.

Okay, so it's not exactly ideal for a 24 year old to be living with her parents, but it's not that bad. It's certainly not as terrible an experience as the media seems to be making it out to be for people in my situation. I lived in, paid for, and maintained my own rented digs on the other side of the country for six years. I paid my own way to the landlord, to the gas company, and to the Council (because I was a part-time student for two years). The Council even owes me money because I overpaid! I'm only back home because after handing in my thesis, and uh, inter-railing around Slovakia and Ireland, I had no money left to pay the rent in my leafy student neighbourhood. I also have great parents.

My parents are incredibly understanding. This is partly because they were in my position during the late 1980s (I have young parents) and partly because I've proved myself to be a hard-working, independent individual under normal circumstances. In that context, getting free accommodation through the Parental Housing Association doesn't seem so bad, for now. It's not unconditional though. My part of the deal is to do my share of the housework, cook most of the dinners, and not use up too much hard drive space on the Sky Plus box. I also have to prove that I am applying for jobs, and I need to learn to drive.

So far I'm doing pretty well, except for recording lots of foreign movies on Sky Plus. I just bought some fabulous, cheap "nhs chic" glasses because I'm going blind in my old age and don't want to drive over sheep or into ravines while I'm learning to drive, so lessons will start soon. My parents enjoy not having to cook every night, and seem to be impressed with my culinary skills (I had a flatmate who worked in a greengrocer's so we all became pretty good at healthy, well-seasoned feasts; I also wholly recommend this book to anyone). So far, so good.

There are some downsides though. First, most of my friends are back in the city where I left them, and I can't meet up with them for a pot of tea or a pint at a moment's notice. Second, my parents live the country, so I can't just pop down to the local Spar at 4 in the morning for magazines and chocolates. Third, I don't know how long I'm going to be stationed here, or where I am going to next.

The last point isn't too much of an issue right now, and is part of what makes this whole experience kind of exciting. From here the only way is up, as long as I make sure there's enough space for my mum to record Project Runway.