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…
This is the first time I’ve been unemployed, having worked part-time from the age of 16 and full-time since I graduated from uni. I was lucky enough to secure my first graduate job a few months before Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008 and have been hopping from one job to another in the charity sector for half a decade. I specialise in strategy and project development, trying to move closer to an elusive environmental policy job with each move.
But just before Christmas I stepped down from a job I loved with a charity I really enjoyed working for, as they slimmed down their operations due to the financial squeeze facing most NGOs. Throughout January and February I’ve undertaken some part-time freelance work for an ace environmental campaigning charity and have been pretty preoccupied with moving from Brighton to Edinburgh.
Now we’ve been back in Edinburgh for three weeks and it’s stopped feeling like another holiday home for a visit. We’re here for good and ready to start building our life in this city, but it’s all on hold as we try to sort ourselves out professionally. The freelance contract has finished and I have no work on the cards. I’m learning fast that the recruitment scene outside of London (not just Edinburgh, but everywhere) is a far slower entity than in the Capital, and can’t imagine having a full-time job by April.
I’m so lucky that I haven’t been through this before and that I have the resources which make it infinitely easier to weather unemployment – some (rapidly dwindling) savings and family who are able to put us up until we get on our feet.
When you don’t have much money and, more crucially, aren’t sure when it will start coming in again, it’s difficult to justify spending anything. So it’s easy to wind up sitting in the house day after day, feeling a bit rubbish and binging on iPlayer and 4od (alas, the Netflix subscription has had to go). But that way madness lies. So, as well as looking for decent jobs to apply for and scouting out some relevant volunteering, we’ve been packing in these free(ish) activities to make use of all this time in Edinburgh:
- A walk to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for this year’s big exhibition, From Death to Death and Other Small Tales. There were a couple of great pieces like the room-sized spice tubes, but overall I thought it was a bit rubbish. There were at least six pieces to which the only adequate response was ‘you have a cock, get over it’. I wondered a few times if I was having a sense of humour failure, but on reflection I still don’t think very many of the exhibits were as witty as they thought. But it’s always a beautiful, friendly place to visit and afterwards we sat outside in the sun eating our home-made sandwiches.
- A Sunday afternoon climbing the Pentlands with my boyfriend, my brother, his girlfriend and her chocolate lab. We splashed out on daysaver bus tickets (£3.50, bless you Lothian buses) and headed out to Hillend to do a two hour Capital View walk. Mainly I puffed and blustered about how unfit I’d become and that we were so lucky to have all this on our doorstop. After all that exercise we treated ourselves to a couple of pints in front of a fire in The Steading pub. We’re planning to do a big walk every week to help get fit, see more of the city and keep ourselves busy. God, we’ve even borrowed one of my Dad’s hillwalking books we’re so boring!
- Spending time with family, especially my boyfriend’s nieces, Isla aged 23 months and Esme, all of four days old. We also got to hang out with Emily and her cutie Maggie.
- Lots of dog walking around Corstorphine Hill. Three Bernese Mountain dogs require endless dog walking and we’re
happywilling to oblige.
- Reading loads. I’ve finally got around to The Green Collar Economy and Andy Wightman’s The Poor had No Lawyers, both environmental justice books I’ve wanted to read for a while. On the bus down south for a hen do I cracked on with Wuthering Heights which (shamefully for an English Literature graduate) I haven’t read. And this weekend I expect to be racing through Gone Girl for Blook Club on Sunday. All of these books I either already owned or borrowed from the library, like in the olden days.
Unemployment has been pretty fun actually, except for the constant background anxiety about money, boredom and failing to make a positive difference in the world through my job. It’ll all work out though…