Tag Archives: job

‪#‎firstsevenjobs‬

Today I’m a professional writer, but I initially studied Computer Science and Software Engineering and my career started in technology. Later on I got an MBA and moved into management before moving into writing, but these were my first seven jobs…

‪#‎firstsevenjobs‬

  1. Car washer (invested in a bucket, soap, leathers and knocked door-to-door)
  2. Paperboy (local newsagent store, every morning out cycling before 6am)
  3. Frozen food shelf stacker (Sainsbury’s store – in frozen food freezers all day)
  4. Produce shelf stacker (Safeway store – stacking apples and potatoes all day)
  5. Computer programmer (designing IT systems for Tesco and Dixons stores)
  6. Computer programmer (trading floor of Japanese bank Tokai)
  7. Software designer (Startup specialised in bank trading floor data)
    supermarket//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Help! My boss just asked me to start using Twitter at work!

What do you say to the boss?

This is becoming more and more common. In the early days of social networks, most companies banned them at work. They were seen as a frivolous waste of time, but now many companies are actively asking their employees to use personal social networks to promote the company.

But what if you are not already using Twitter and this is all new… check out this short primer I wrote earlier today as a very basic guide to what you should do next.

Can You Help Joe Evans in His 100-Day Search For a New Job?

We all know that the Internet is changing the way people work and tools like LinkedIn are changing the way people find work, but is it possible to post your work experience online and hope that people will come to you?

That’s what British graphic designer Joe Evans has tried. He has been a designer for many years, but has never had enough design work to make it worth pursuing as a full-time option. Now that his day job at the British embassy in Paris has ended – as the entire department he worked in has closed – Joe has decided to use social media to try entering the world of graphic design on a full-time basis.

But his 100-day campaign is now in the final week. Joe has found that to build some buzz using social media is actually a lot of work. If he spends time applying for jobs then he isn’t building an audience on the social platforms and if he just spends all day tweeting about his need to find work then he isn’t applying for a job.

I asked Joe what he is really looking for: “For me the most important thing is to feel like I’m contributing to society in some way. I’ve worked with a lot of charities and social enterprises in my career and I always find the job satisfaction goes up, as does the innovation. Communications can be forgotten about in the third sector and I’d love to get the chance use my experience and knowledge to help on this front,” he said.

Joe also explained his inspiration for trying to find a new job using his blog: “I’ve been really interested in social media and especially crowdsourcing for a few years, in fact a large part of my master’s thesis was about it. In May I was beginning to panic about my imminent redundancy, and at about the same time I saw Amanda Palmer’s Ted talk on The Art of Asking.

Naturally Joe’s response to Amanda’s talk was to go out and ask. But Amanda has a big audience already so when she asks for help on a social network a lot of people will respond with offers, or can at the very least share the request with their network of friends. If you don’t have a big platform to start with then one more request for help can just sink into a deep ocean of tweets.

When I talked to Joe he was about three quarters of the way through his 100-day campaign to find a job and he explained what had happened: “So far I’ve had one formal interview and loads of correspondence, I wouldn’t have seen the adverts for most of the positions in the normal run of things so that is a real win. I’m continuing to look and following up leads from people while also trying to see if I can get some more freelance work to tide me over in the coming months. The really good thing is how much people have helped me, It’s been a great chance to get back in contact with people I haven’t spoken to in a while and just to get a much better idea of what the market’s really like,” he said.

So even starting from a lower base than a famous musician with a following, it’s clearly possible to generate connections and noise about a job search, but is it enough?

It is tough for everyone to get a job these days, even those with experience and skills so I asked Joe if he felt that things have changed since he originally graduated in 2007: “Yes, I was pretty naive then and took some temp jobs before trying to start a career and before I knew it the financial crisis happened. That really changed the game, the number of candidates seems to have skyrocketed and with restricted budgets, internal appointments have become even more common,” Joe explained. “In feedback from almost every interview I’ve had I’ve been told one of two things either an internal candidate got the job or I don’t have enough experience, even when applying for entry level jobs,” he added.

Joe’s own experience shows that competition has increased. Professionals, like graphic designers, need skills and experience to find a job. There is something strange about companies demanding experience when they are offering entry-level positions, but if they are this demanding then there must surely be people out there with experience applying for those jobs.

Tools like LinkedIn are making it easier to seek out new opportunities, but they have also created more global competition amongst those skills that can be easily traded or delivered online. Journalists used to getting several hundred pounds per thousand words of copy are finding that their work is drying up as people on the other side of the world are hired for a fraction of the cost – and the same applies to jobs in areas like graphic design.

My wife has commissioned several pieces of commercial art recently, logos and website themes, for start-up businesses. She tried asking local designers to quote, but ended up working with people in Mexico and the UAE. Why? Because the other designers were just as qualified, just as professional, also had a great portfolio of work, but were far cheaper.

This globalisation of professional work also means that there is a global market for the services of a computer programmer in Wales, or graphic designer in Hampshire, or journalist in Glasgow. However, the people with these skills need to learn how to sell what they can do to an international audience and that leads us back to the Internet and social media.

Because of his blog, Joe has found a lot of people who are really interested in his 100-day search for a job – many people have got in touch and shared their own experience, but he still doesn’t have that elusive new job. At the end of this month, he is going to have a lot more time on his hands to stare endlessly at LinkedIn, so if you have a role for him, or even just some more advice, then you can reach Joe by reading his blog here.

Revolution!

Photo by FanBoy30 licensed under Creative Commons

Jobs: desperate times?

I’ve been hiring recently. Not for my company, but for a client of mine based in the USA – so it’s a US company asking my company in Brazil to help them find someone in Colombia or Mexico. The world of work has come a long way from the old paper ad in a newsagents window.

What has really interested me about this – more than any other hiring process I have been involved in – is how I have been deluged with emails and messages from people who have no experience or qualifications for the job on offer.

I have had several emails that could be described as begging letters, pleading with me to give the person a chance even though they are from an entirely different field and some of them don’t even speak Spanish – a prerequisite to work in Mexico.

It just made me think. There are an enormous number of opportunities for jobs in the fast growing Latin markets – such as Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, but people really want more autonomy. They want to be able to balance their work and life more effectively.

I know people in São Paulo who take a couple of hours to get to work. The same again to get home. Add in 9 or 10 hours at the office and then there is no time left for anything other than sleep.

The job I am offering pays pretty well, allows for regular travel to the USA, and allows the employee to work from home, or a cafe, or wherever they choose – it’s very flexible and this seems to be something that people here are desperate to find.

Is this the same back in the UK? I’m not sure. Maybe things have changed recently? Maybe people are becoming more demanding, or maybe people just don’t waste so much of their life commuting in the UK?

Epidemia de Pánico / Panic Epidemy

Is it really so strange to leave work at 5.30pm?

I once moved job from a French financial services company to an American one – Société Générale to Sanford Bernstein. My new boss was based in New York and he used to endlessly mock the holidays we were given by our employers in Europe.

After one particularly “hilarious” episode talking to him about holidays, I reminded him that I had moved from a job where I had annual leave of 30 days to his company where I was only permitted 20 – and that was the absolute minimum allowed under EU law. He claimed that I should be grateful because in New York he gets a week off for Christmas and a week off in the summer for a family vacation.

I never even wanted to move from a French company to an American one. The bank was reducing headcount by 50% (in London) and I was offered a job in Paris, Bangalore, or half my annual salary to leave the firm. So I took the money, left, and was in the new job within weeks.

This macho work culture also prevailed in the London office of Bernstein. I would get my work done and head off home at about 5.30pm most days. I almost always had to listen to colleagues calling out jibes such as “…going home now? Part-time or what?”

Frankly it never bothered me. I was getting paid more than the guys calling out and boasting about their long hours – who is the fool when you are putting in more hours for less cash? And looking back now, I know that spending long evenings at the office would never have made me any happier. Why do people do it?

I started thinking about my former employer when I read the breathless reports that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office at 5.30pm each day so she can enjoy dinner with her family each evening. The way it is reported makes it appear unusual for American office-based employees to leave work before 8pm – and assuming they might spend an hour getting home, then having dinner, it means that for most people it is normal to not enjoy any free time after work . The day is just commute then work then commute then eat then bed.

I work with clients now who respond to emails 24/7, schedule calls when they are on family holidays, and never seem able to switch off. Has it really got so bad that employees are now expected to be walking around DisneyWorld with their family and yet still taking calls from the office? This really happened on a conference call I participated in recently – with the guy at Disney trying to focus on work and keep his kids busy at the same time. What a multi-tasking dad!

I realise that in a tough economic climate people are scared and will do whatever they can to appear invaluable to the company, but why don’t employers switch the emphasis on what they expect of people to the output and value rather than time? If the employee is clear on what is expected for them to be judged successful in their job then the emphasis can be shifted away from long hours appearing to be impressive – if you know you are delivering for the company then you can feel comfortable heading home to see the family.

Of course, many people fear the idea that they might be judged on results rather than just time and apparent effort. It means that the less successful members of the team cannot hide their inability just by working 12-hour days when others can achieve more in 8 hours.

But while America – and the world in general – focuses on long hours as the key to remaining in a job, expect family problems and mental health issues to soar. If only companies learned to measure employees by what they achieve, rather than the hours they spend achieving.

Only psychiatrists benefit from the present approach, and I bet they get home in time for dinner with the kids.

Sunbathing?

Photo by David Reid licensed under Creative Commons

Recession in the UK

The UK economic data for Q4 2010 was staggeringly bad. The economy contracted by 0.5% when economists had predicted growth of around 0.5%. If the next set of UK numbers look like this then the country will be officially back in recession – the dreaded ‘double-dip’ where growth is not strong enough to sustain recovery from the last recession.

The economic downturn at the end of the past decade was the worst I have known in my life. In 2008, I lost all of my clients and I was also in the middle of getting divorced – so I was paying for two houses in London. Not the ideal time to be increasing costs and reducing income! Still, I rode that out with a reduction in savings, I found new clients, and now I have moved to Brazil where the economy is growing.

But when I look back at the UK now, I can see so many more real problems that I could never see before, not least in terms of economic stagnation. I don’t mean in the terms an economist would use, I just mean in human terms.

Food prices are going up, it’s harder to borrow money for major purchases such as a house, fuel costs are increasing… but worst of all, I know of at least four friends who are searching for a job. Highly skilled, qualified, experienced, and able people out there searching for work. I’ve never seen this before even back in the hard times of the early 90s or the dot com crash a decade ago.

If the people in London with degrees and experience are getting turfed out into the gutter, then what’s happening to less affluent parts of the UK – especially where they depend heavily on the public sector for work? Wait and see, because the public sector job cuts are only just beginning…
Who Moved My Job?

Gissa Job…

The government is announcing their grand vision for the welfare state today – the plans to encourage people back into work and to create more punitive disincentives for those who try living a life on benefits.

Some of the measures make sense, the idea of a universal benefit to simplify the myriad of benefits, the principle of tapering benefits off slowly rather than just stopping everything the moment a claimant gets a job. Some of these ideas make sense and despite his hard-right-Rottweiler image, Iain Duncan Smith has spent many years thinking about these issues – after he left the Tory leader job he set up The Centre for Social Justice think tank, focused entirely on issues such as benefit reform.

But one of the key principles is troublesome. If a claimant refuses to take a job that is offered to them then their benefit gets stopped. On the surface it makes sense – if a job is out there and a person on benefits is available to do it then they should lose their benefits if they refuse the job. Fair enough. But how does that work in practice? Who makes the final decision on whether a job is too far from the claimant’s home, or the job is not suited to the person, or the job is not paying the going rate?

I’m not a natural Tory supporter at all, but I can see that IDS is trying to reform the system into one that encourages work, rather than facilitating a life lived on benefits – and that’s naturally a good thing. But there are some worrying aspects to this reform that don’t take into account the issues of structural unemployment and jobs being out there, but nowhere near the people who need them.

IDS keeps repeating that over 1m new jobs went through the job centre last month – there are new jobs being created. But the majority of them are low-paid minimum wage and so only people local to the job would take those… you can’t commute long distance to a minimum wage job. And this naturally suits migrant workers. There is a free movement of labour throughout the EU, so a person coming from another country to the UK will naturally locate themselves close to the work.

This does not mean that migration is the problem, but many locals competing with migrants will complain that foreigners are taking all the jobs. It’s not really the case – it’s just that the migrants are prepared to go and live next to the jobs. IDS and the government really need to explore this issue of the friction between where new jobs are being created and where people live.

If I live in Preston and there is a job at Burger King in Manchester, would I lose my benefits by refusing to take it, even if a 40-mile journey to work might eat up most of those new earnings? This new policy might need a rethink.

Who Moved My Job?

It’s the last day of my thirties today – goodbye youth

So that’s it. The end of my thirties. I’ll be 40 tomorrow – that sounds very middle-aged, worse than heading from your 20s into 30s.

In the last decade I got divorced, I bought a house in London before prices exploded, I published my first book… followed by several others, and I also started working for myself rather than a company as an employee.

It’s been seven years now since I quit ‘regular’ employment and it’s been fruitful at times, and close to the wire at others. Fortunately things are OK right now as the companies I work with are fairly positive about a recovery from the recession… though who knows if they are right?

But I have lot of new plans for the future, and a great partner. I remember the BBC journalist John Humphrys once saying that you shouldn’t live each day planning for the perfect holiday, you should try to adapt your life so each day can be like a holiday.

Obviously most of us still need to work, but I like what I do – it’s very flexible and allows me to travel the world and meet interesting people. It’s certainly not a holiday when clients are chasing me over blogs or presentations, but being the master of your own destiny is a far nicer life than being in a bank or a consulting firm where your soul is exchanged in a Faustian pact all in the hope of that annual bonus.

So I’m not all that worried about getting older, life has got more exciting through my 30s – I expect it can only get better now!

I'm Lovin' it...

Foreigners get 77% of new jobs

The Daily Express screamed on the front page today that 77% of jobs in the UK are going to foreigners. It’s a rather typical scare story and I’ve already heard of people waving the paper around today and shouting that all those pesky foreigners are coming to steal our jobs.

But the situation is far more subtle and complex. Even thinking about this for just a few minutes typing this blog I can surmise:

  • We live in the European Union. There is a free movement of labour within the union, meaning we as British people can freely go and live and work in other EU member nations. There are more Brits overseas in the other 26 member states (working, or with family, or retired) than this ‘flood’ of immigrants coming to the UK. So, if the UK decided to suddenly pull up the drawbridge, then what do you think would happen to all those pensioners in Spain or Brits working in France and Germany?
  • Many of the Europeans coming to the UK for work are extremely mobile, which works in their favour. Not many Brits living in Newcastle, and suffering a life on benefits, would jump at the chance of a job in Bristol, or Reading, or even London, if they were only slightly better off. We are not a very mobile society in the UK and this creates structural unemployment where hundreds of thousands of jobs are available, but nobody locally wants to take them.
  • And, in that kind of environment what do you expect will happen? Britain does have a lot of employment available, but it’s not always where people want to work or live. That’s not a problem for someone coming in from overseas who can arrange their accommodation close to their work.

But let’s be clear, these non-British Europeans are not coming in and ‘stealing’ jobs. I’m sure most businesses advertising jobs would be only too delighted to be hiring and supporting local people. But what do the companies do when no locals respond to the job adverts? Go bust because they have no staff? Of course they take the search further afield, and if Brits are not prepared to move 50 miles for a job, then it’s easy to find others within Europe who are happy to work hard, pay their taxes, and add something to the community they move into.

This is not so much a story of foreigners stealing jobs, it’s a story of British people failing to adapt to the international nature of work in the twenty-first century and the DWP not offering enough incentives for those already on benefits to cast the net a bit wider when seeking work.

Election reaction

On yer bike scroungers! Council tenants to get the boot…

The new Work secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, has caused outrage by suggesting that the unemployed should move in search of work, directing his focus mainly at council tenants who occupy local authority property, claim benefits, and generally don’t do a lot – it’s reminiscent of former Tory minister Norman (now Lord) Tebbit and his famous ‘my old man got on his bike’ speech.

Tebbit is often misquoted, he actually said: “I grew up in the ’30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking ’til he found it.” He was responding to a statement that unemployment naturally leads to riots.

Iain Duncan-Smith is the protégé of Lord Tebbit and that’s easy to see with these new plans about migration. When Tebbit left the Commons for the Lords, Duncan-Smith replacing him as MP, he is alleged to have said: “If you think I’m right-wing, you should meet this guy.”

But there is an issue of structural unemployment in the UK. Jobs are out there, but often the long-term unemployed are not living in locations where suitable jobs are available. What are the thousands of skilled workers  at the former Corus steel plant in Teesside going to do now – work in McDonald’s or deliver newspapers? Hardly fulfilling, rewarding, or exploiting the skills available.

There is already a system that allows people to swap their council home with tenants in another location, though why people in an area full of work might want to move someplace where there is none is beyond me. The unsettling thing about what the government is now proposing is that they want the power to force people to move in search of work.

That’s not like the romantic dream of the American migrant worker. It’s compulsion. And though I am all for the government trying to help people into work, I don’t think that charging up behind vulnerable people with a big stick is a very strategic appeoach.

Everyone wants to get rid of dole scroungers and the long-term sick claiming incapacity benefit and spending it in the pub – that’s a given – but this problem needs more thought than clunking Conservative proposals to force council tenants out of their home. What about their family and support networks? How will a single parent arrange child care in a new city, because they will need it if they are heading out to work fulltime?

I think the more intelligent response to this issue of work distribution would be to approach it with short, medium, and long-term proposals. In the short term, make it attractive for companies to create jobs away from the Southeast – offer tax incentives and grants to make it really worthwhile. Then for the longer term, the only thing that can make the people more mobile and more likely to find work in future is their education and skills. Give them training and let them find new work, don’t kick them out of home because it makes for a good headline on cutting costs.

Wasn’t there that story in the Bible about teaching a man to fish…?

Labour struggling