April resolution: job by the end of the month.

After a rather terrifying month in which zero appropriate jobs were advertised, the next fortnight brings three deadlines for job applications which I actively want to apply for, and another couple that would be OK.

In preparation I’ve been doing some CV building by undertaking pro-bono work for the Electoral Reform Society for Scotland on the gender balance of Scotland’s public institutions, as well as starting a pretty intensive Coursera course from the University of Florida on Economic Issues & Food. There’s a lot more financial data and a lot less food than I had expected, but that is a good thing. My brain is working hard and I’m learning a lot about global financial systems and economic theory. Both of these things are rewarding in and of themselves, but more importantly they show potential employers that I haven’t spent this period of unemployment letting my skills go rusty.

As well as that I’ve been reading business books borrowed from the local library. Most useful so far have been Brilliant Cover Letters by James Innes (especially the pages on ‘the salary question’ when a post is only advertised as ‘Competitive’) and Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women by the Financial Times columnist.

The latter only came out last year and I have raced through it. I respond well to very common-sense, perhaps even harsh, instructions, provided I trust the credentials of the people giving the advice. Which in this case, I do. The book’s premise is that rather than wishing the world of work was less ‘asymmetrical’ for male and female workers, bright, ambitious women need to adapt to the way the world is now and steamroller their way to the top of their field so they can make it better. For me, this needs to work hand in hand with campaigning to improve gender equality at a structural level, but this isn’t really covered in the book.

Moneypenny breaks down the essential components which women need to secure in order to progress to the top including:

  • Qualifications – she is emphatic that you need good qualifications from prestigious institutions on your CV and gives suggestions for what to do if this isn’t the case in your early career, mid career and nearing retirement
  • Networks or ‘social capital’ – “The idea is that your connections are as valuable to you – and, crucially, to your present and future employers – as your qualifications and experience”
  • Saying No – this requires knowing your priorities, in descending order. “I have priorities. I measure every request for my time against those priorities and, if the request does not measure up, I say no – however uncomfortable that makes me feel in the short term”. This isn’t all that big an issue for me right now, but goodness I could have used such a list 18 months ago…
  • An understanding that You Can’t Have It All – Moneypenny insists this righting of unrealistic expectations is the most important chapter in the book
  • Financial Literacy – This has really resonated (hence the economics course). I am unemployed because too few people in the organisation I worked for were financially literate. I caught up fast but things might be different if there was a greater onus on NGO workers to be as financially savvy as business people. I will not be making the same mistake again.
  • Develop yourself as a thought leader – I can identify people in my industry who are the ‘go to’ source on a given topic, not because they have a PhD on the subject but because they regularly write articles, blog on the subject, retweet relevant information or new pieces faster than everyone else, and are seen at networking events. They all have good jobs, many of which they got after establishing their credentials as thought leaders. Almost all of the people I’m thinking of are men. That needs to change. We need to be strategic about this stuff.

Apologies for going on at quite so much length about a book it only takes six hours to read, but I’ve found it a useful kick up the bum. I can see that I’m not crowing enough about certain aspects of my background and am taking up too much space with examples which were important to me but don’t read well. For example, I went to the Times Higher Education’s second highest rated university on the planet and this is on page 2 of my CV – MISTAKE. I speak basic Japanese although I don’t include it on my CV because it’s unlikely to ever come up in my daily working life – MISTAKE.

Whilst the book isn’t perfect and I know some people might not enjoy her tone, I have loved and benefited from it. It has also reminded me that another rubbish thing about unemployment is not being able to afford £2.50 a day to buy the Financial Times…

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