Published on November 29th, 2013 |
by Ben Lucas
Image © Guillaume Paumier 2010
My Story as an unemployed graduate and what I would do differently
Since graduating I spent this summer: going out with my mates, holidaying with family and living on a farm in Cornwall. But after being fed up with all my relatives behaving like Catherine Tate’s ‘Nan’ – “Nah, he ain’t got a job!” – I decided to start looking for one.
I made myself go back to live at home in the hope that living with my parents again would annoy me so much that it would incentivise me even further in the job hunting process. My mum made me contribute £30 a week too, which only seemed fair.
As soon as I actively started seeking work my parents asked me how come I was not claiming JSA. I shrugged my shoulders and nodded my head. But inside I was thinking, “I am not that desperate. I don’t need to claim benefits yet.”
At first I started hunting for the idyllic internships. I bombarded all the job search engines with NGO, Think Tank and Charity jobs. Very little came up, and even less came up that were actually paid! (Interestingly on one website Financial Traders are now charitable occupations – Oh dear!). Nevertheless, I continued to trawl through the application forms repeating my overly polished and exaggerated life story, not before playing with the font style for about half an hour and going on Facebook for another hour.
A few weeks went by.
I organised trips to see my friends on the weekends so as the boredom of unemployment would not turn me feral. When visiting them I made jokes about how funny and great it was being unemployed but really I was a bit ashamed. I want to tell people about exciting projects and adventures I was having in the adult working world, but the only adventures I was having was trying to explore the Internet on how to stream TV series for free and being dragged round the park by my over excited dogs.
After about 4 weeks of hunting for the golden internship, and my progressively worsening financial situation, I decided that my plan now was to look for part-time work in Brighton (where I lived during University) and apply for unpaid/volunteer positions in the London-Brighton area. I was resolute on not being stuck at home.
More jobs began to appear, although I noticed that on many websites that when you load the next page of jobs many are repeated in order to make it look like they advertise more jobs. Opening up the same job so many times is so infuriating.
My internal monologue read something like this whilst job searching – “Could I be a delivery driver … well not for 37 hours a week I want to volunteer too … Ooo … What about a baker … 12am till 6am shifts … No thank you … I DON’T WANT TO WORK IN A CALL CENTRE! … Am I being too fussy? ”
The search went on.
Miraculously after about a week of hunting for part-time work I was offered a job interview. I was woken up by the professional voice of someone asking me if I was available to come for an interview on the same day in Brighton. As I was in Preston (home), they let me come in the day after. I quickly booked a mega bus and train for £35, and was on my way with in a couple of hours.
With a surprisingly comfortable nights sleep on my friends sofa under my belt, I got suited and booted for my first interview.
It was here I had to embrace the moral dilemma of how honest to be in your interview. Of course, if this job went full-time, I did not want to work as a green admin assistant 37.5 hours a week… HAVE YOU NOT HEARD MY PLANS! I am getting a part-time job and unpaid internships!
I came up with a twisted version of the truth that I was looking for 1 day a week/evening classes in stuff to boost my employability, and the slightly bigger lie that I said that I wanted to end up in Green Business in 5 years time.
After having nervously waited by my mobile phone in my boxers (don’t have much to get dressed much when you’re unemployed) for a day and a half (WHEN THEY SAID THEY WOULD RING!) I guessed that my poorly constructed lies had not paid off.
Back to square one. It had come to the point in the job hunt where you hand out your CV round town. My friend very kindly let me use his printer and paper rather than go and pay for them to be printed out in an Internet café. I was only handing round my CV to places with jobs, because we all know that the old phrase, “I’ll keep it on record so when something comes up we will give you a call” – has never actually materialized into a job for anyone.
Having handed out CV’s to every place with a suitable job, even the places I really didn’t want to work, I returned to my semi-permanent residence – my mates house – to wait for replies and watch more episodes of New Girl. Yes, everyone I know who has been unemployed has got hooked/lived vicariously through at least one type of TV series.
The next day I decided the time had now also come to head to the Jobcentre and look into signing on. I now had about £15 to my name and I was skeptical that any of the CV’s that I had handed out would generate a return. I had no idea what to expect there. I expected it to be a gloomy depressing place. But the people there were quite nice and helpful and it was not as bad as I first thought. That being said, this was only the first visit, not the regular weekly trip that many people unfortunately make.
The majority of my CV applications did not reply. But the one place I never thought would reply was Topman. I am known by many of my friends as an unfashionable, unwashed, tree hugging hippy, so I was gob smacked that I even got an interview. They must be desperate.
After spending more time deciding what to wear to that interview than any other date I have ever been on, I sat myself down in the office and waited for the onslaught of fashion questions and the inevitable embarrassment that would ensue.
I was asked about my work history and then, having taken my bank details, I was invited to leave and told they would contact me soon. It was quite boring actually. Part of me really wished that I had been asked to dress a manikin in latest hipster trends. But that was it. So I walked back to my friend’s house wondering what to do with my afternoon. An hour later they called me back offering me the job. My heart sank a bit. I’m I legitimising Sir Phillip Green’s (the owner of the Arcadia Group of which Topman is a part of) alleged tax avoidance of £285million!?!?
At this point, given my financial situation, I decided it was a compromise I had to make. Its not like all the other jobs on offer were safe havens of Anti-capitalist production.
But with every bit of bad there’s a bit of good. The next day I also got offered a volunteer place at Catch21 productions. The plan came true – a very rare case for me to be honest. But what have I learnt from my time being unemployed.
1 – CLAIM JOB SEEKERS ALLOWANCE
If you skim back through this you will notice that I lived off what money I had left, paying a small rent at home and travelling to interviews. This is without factoring in all of the generosity in food and shelter I received from all of my friends. THIS IS WHAT JSA IS FOR. To make sure you can pay for expenses and food during this period. Furthermore, now that I have a job, I have still not been paid for 2 weeks because its not pay day yet. This is the period to live off your own money, not when you are unemployed!
2 – YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET YOUR DREAM JOB STRAIGHT AWAY.
Despite what university sells itself as these days – a fast track ticket to your chosen career destination – for the majority of people it does not happen. As a graduate most of the time you wont have the real world experience necessary to land the job you want. And when it comes to part-time jobs, if you are of the Anti-capitalist persuasion, then you will have to make compromise. Politics aside, I know some people who have landed really great jobs/internships but their compromise is that they must go back to permanently living with their parents. Unfortunately, in the words of Abba that’s the name of the game. However, as one friend put it too me, this is part of the challenge in life. It might be a little boring if we got our dream job and life straight away.
3 – THERE IS A LOT OF LUCK INVOLVED.
I know nothing about fashion yet I got a job in Topman. Inversely, I have seen other people in other jobs thinking I could do a better job. Furthermore, I should count myself fortunate that I got offered one. Many more people have been searching for far longer than I have, only to pipped at the post time and time again.
I want to tell you that unemployment won’t last forever, but the reality is that for many people it has lasted far too long. However, the next time I become unemployed the first thing I am doing is claiming JSA. Not only is it something you are rightfully entitled to; it will simply make life bearable during that difficult period.