Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Graduation: One Year On

It’s 3.41pm on the Tuesday after the bank holiday. I’m sitting alone in the office listening to last Friday’s Annie Mac show. It’s the usual mix of body-juddering wobbliness, wince-inducing ‘funky’ nonsense and the latest tracks from the current ‘in’ sub-genre (the ridiculously-named ‘moombahton’).

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it; listening to patchily-good music without interference from your co-workers. But this luxury is the one nugget of joy in an otherwise soul-destroying cesspool of stress, frustration and spirit-crushing boredom.

Welcome to Graduation: One Year On.

I knew it was going to be like this, at least at the beginning. Even with a decent admin background and some minor journalistic achievements behind me, I was expecting to spend a few months photocopying spreadsheets and pretending to give two shits about dog shampooing or rice importation. But a whole year after graduating? That really takes the piss. In fact, it takes all kinds of bodily fluids that could possibly convey the negativity of an especially frustrating situation. Maybe not that bodily fluid. That would be disgusting.

There have been some small glimpses of hope. The six job interviews, for example. Well, the two that I a) was genuinely interested in and b) wasn’t put forward for on merit of the amazing barcode-scanning abilities that I have displayed in my current temp role.

The last interview went very well. For the first time in my life I didn’t end up waffling complete nonsense after forgetting what the question was, nor did I resort to pretending that my one weakness was ‘being a perfectionist’.

But a couple of days after the interview I was informed that I had been unsuccessful. I tried to think of the positives, but other than not (audibly) crying or exploding during the interview, my frustrated brain struggled to come up with anything.

That was a few weeks ago and I haven’t had a response from any application since. Even with huge improvements to my CV it seems that I just don’t have what recruiters are looking for in this highly competitive industry.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again but expecting a different result, it’s time for me to shake some of the madness out of my brainium. I need to get the fuck out of this cycle of applying, getting nowhere, getting pissed off and trying again. Fuck journalism, fuck London, fuck Britain and fuck gratuitous swearing. There must be something out there in this vast planet that I’m qualified for and would actually enjoying doing. I don’t care where I have to go; all I need is the money to get there. And a bit more for a place to live. And maybe some for a visa. And a few hundred to get out of my phone contract…

…Maybe insanity is underrated.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Damn Right Frustrating

Job Applications: 15
Interviews: 1(!!!)
Pitches: 4
Commissions: 0

Well, well, well. After months of fruitless job applications and crippling bouts of self-pity, I have finally landed an interview. Huzzah! But before I fill you in on the details I have a few more tales of whimsy to tell. Actually, I'm not entirely sure what 'whimsy' is, but it probably doesn't have anything to do with the events that follow...


Like all the great stories of our generation, it began in a chaotic bedroom in north London. Fuelled by Monster, Mountain Dew Energy and the depressing realisation that I should sign on the dole, I had spent the morning firing off applications for every vaguely writing-related role I could find. Then in the afternoon, after the obligatory trip to Costcutter to clear my head and stock up on Space Raiders, I sat at my laptop, opened my e-mail and found this:

From: An editor at a large music magazine
Subject: URGENT: Fancy going to Ibiza tomorrow night?

Hi I need someone to go to Ibiza tomorrow night and see X Big Name DJ and X up-and-coming DJ/producer play, do a quick interview with them and then quickly turn around 300 words on each.
hit me back quick if you want to do it!
The guy at the magazine.

The e-mail had been sent at 15:15. It was now 15:16, so there was hope. I hit the reply button and briefly pondered what my response should be. By 15:17 I had decided on 'yes, yes and yes!', which I excitedly sent. Then, I waited...

...and waited...

7 second later and the tension was too much. I figured that the logical solution would be to continually press 'refresh' in the hope of somehow teasing a positive response from the editor through the electro-psychic medium of e-mail. Bizarrely, it didn't work. If anything, it just made it more frustrating. But I couldn't stop. I just kept on refreshing the page again and again for 15 minutes; surely enough time to develop an RSI in my index finger.

Then, the inevitable happened. The editor replied with the bad news. I had been pipped to the post by a matter of seconds.

Balls, balls, balls. Big hairy ones.

I tried not to think about it, but letting things go isn't exactly one of my strong points. I began irrationally berating myself for taking too long to reply. If only I'd typed just one 'yes' instead of three! I could've been winging off to the White Isle the next day instead of sitting in my bedroom losing at virtual chess to a 6 year old Japanese boy.

It wasn't all bad though. I had a trip to the Job Centre to look forward to.


I had been dreading this day, but I knew it would come. There's only so long you can survive on the remaining dregs of a student loan before you have to leave your pride at the door and dip your hands into the pockets of the honest working people of the UK.

I had been on the dole before, back in 2004 when I was living in Nottingham. Although I had only signed on for a month, the experience was enough to put me off ever visiting a job centre again.

The day I signed on I was greeted by the cliche yet inevitable sight of men in trackies drinking Special Brew outside the entrance to the building. It wasn't much better inside, either. You could smell the apathy (or was it stale beer and smack?) reeking from the pores of most of the people in there. But as depressing as it was, it was enough to give me the motivational kick up the backside that eventually led to a very exciting job as a filing clerk for which I received the princely wage of 10k.

Fortunately, things appear to have moved on since then, if Palmers Green Job Centre Plus is anything to go by. The interior of the building is just two massive open-plan offices, rather than a holding pen for criminals like the Nottingham one had been. I suspect that the relative plushness of the building is a by-product of this seemingly-endless recession. If there's any public sector industry deserving of government funding at the moment, it's the Job Centre.

After a rude and disinterested woman made me sign a few forms I sat down on a comfortable leather sofa and awaited my interview. I twiddled my thumbs for a bit, desperately trying not to think about the trip to Ibiza that never was.

A couple of minutes later a wirey guy sat down on the sofa opposite and began staring intently at me. I couldn't be certain that he was actually looking at me as my eyesight is a bit dodgy these days (well, I am 25...) and he was a good 10 metres away, but I was fairly sure that he was fishing for an eye-joust.

My first instinct was to stare back in some pathetic attempt at demonstrating my masculine dominance. I managed to keep it going for about 30 seconds before the awkwardness became too much. Short of darting my eyes from left to right like an anxious squirrel, the only option was a book, so I dipped into my bag and began re-reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation despite only finishing it the day before. That showed him!

The interview itself was pretty uneventful. All I had to do was jump through a few hoops (metaphorical ones, fortunately), sign another stack of forms and pretend to be interested in the terrible jobs the interviewer suggested and I was officially registered :)

The Job

So, yes... this interview. I can't go into too much detail about what the job is due to the completely irrational fear that my prospective employer will find this blog and decide that they don't want such a cynical person working for them. But it involves creating TV network transmission schedules, writing enticing spiel to get people to watch the programmes and doing a few other administrative and vaguely creative tasks. It's not exactly a dream role, but it would at least give me a foot in the door of the media industry and the opportunity to mix with wacky Shoreditchian Nathan Barley types :)

Monday, 28 June 2010

Swindling Scientologists

Job Applications: 8
Interviews: 0
Pitches: 4
Commissions: 0

In an attempt to distance myself from our slack national football team, I got straight in on the job-hunting act at 10am this morning. By midday I had pitched four feature ideas, e-mailed one job application and contacted one potential business contact about an idea that has been simmering in the back of my mind for some time now.

Once that was out the way, I gave myself a pat on the head. Literally. I felt a bit weird doing it, but I knew it was deserved. I had done more in those two hours than I had in the previous two days.

After the head-patting-induced endorphins had dissipated, a crashing realisation hit me like a bus to the balls. I still wasn't doing enough. Despite my (albeit sporadic) job applications and feature pitches, I was still just doing the same as every other graduate of this uniquely-unfortunate academic year. I needed to try something else.

I also needed/wanted American Dad! Season 5 on DVD and some nice shorts, so I headed to central London to make some purchases and consider my next course of action.

As I exited Oxford Circus station, I was handed a card by a creepily chirpy-looking man. It was an invite to a screening of The Story of Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health at the Dianetics and Scientology Life Improvement Centre in Tottenham Count Road.

Excited at the prospect of 'achieving my goals' by doing nothing more than watching a short film about 'the most popular book on the mind ever written', I quickly made my necessary purchases and headed for the Centre.

On arrival I was greeted by an enthusiastic and attractive girl called Natalie. She had a glint in her eye, a spring in her step, and a whole host of other cliche characteristics that suggested that she was far from the brainwashed cult-member that I had been expecting. After reassuring me that, no, I wasn't too late for the film, she showed me to the empty screening room, switched off the lights and disappeared...

...at no stage did any sacreligious thoughts enter my mind.

As the film started, I began to get a sense of why this philosophy/cult/religion/pseudoscience had obtained such notoriety. There were odd symbols on the walls of the theatre, the chair was suspiciously comfortable (as if it didn't want me to leave...) and founder L. Ron Hubbard's name was mentioned in the opening sequence at least 10 times between blinks.

Overall, the film itself was pretty uninspiring. It didn't really answer any questions about what Dianetics or Scientology actually were; rather it just relentlessly bigged up the supreme master of the mind (L. Ron Hubbard, in case you were wondering), for a good 20 minutes.

I exited the film unconvinced. Despite his incredible observation that the mind could affect the body, and even though he had been awarded an impressive number of scout badges in his youth, L. Ron Hubbard seemed no closer to solving my unemployment problems than any of the disinterested temp agency workers I'd encountered in the past 6 weeks.

A different, less enthusiastic-looking woman called Margaret approached me in reception to ask if I liked the film. "The production values were surprisingly good," I answered. "There must be a lot of money in this business". She wasn't amused, and after failing to persuade me to buy a copy of Dianetics, she ushered Natalie over to answer all my questions.

To her credit, she did very well. I could tell that she was intelligent and well-read, and was quick to answer many of the questions that I raised. However, this made it all the more tragic that she believed the pseudoscience that she was so readily preaching.

Before leaving, I had a go on an e-meter. I held the metal things while Natalie asked me to think of something that was concerning me. This would be the starting point of my therapy. By identifying the problem, my journey to enlightenment could begin.

Of course, I thought about the job situation and waited for the dial to move.

It didn't.

Maybe I'm not worried about unemployment after all!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A Small Boost

Job Applications: 7
Interviews: 0

Yesterday was pretty constructive, all things considered. The daily job hunt started early, some time between two teenage boys discussing the physical attributes of a substitute maths teacher outside my window ('nice rack', apparently) and me finding my Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back DVD despite the fact that I'd lost it in a different house some six months previously.

I managed to find three jobs that were of vague interest to me. To be perfectly frank, none of them really tickled my pickle. But as I have previously explained, pickle-tickling is no longer my highest priority.

If that wording unsettles you, I can only apologise.

I spent a good 40 minutes tailoring each C.V to fit the requirements of the job. I emphasised the vast array of skills I developed throughout the three-year admin career that preceeded university; such as misfiling documents, 'accidently' hanging up on difficult customers and walking away nonchelantly when the printer jammed.

Although I consider it to be testament to my independence and negotiation skills, I decided not to mention the annual office debate about why I should be *forced* to pay for and bring in cakes for the office ON MY OWN BIRTHDAY...

Once that enraging memory had found its way back to the nook of my mind reserved for the likes of George Bush's re-election, Bono's face and Theo Paphitis's general smugness, I checked the uni intranetmajig to discover that I had received a first in Journalism and Creative Writing from the 117th greatest university in the country.

It might not be Cambridge, but it is surely at least as academically and vocationally valuable as an A Level in General Studies from one of the country's better sixth form colleges.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Will Write for Food

Job Applications: 4
Interviews: 0

I rolled out of bed at about 12, much later than usual and definitely not the sort of time I should be getting used to. Unemployment is no excuse for such behavior. Even bums like me need to make trips to Costcutter for Ross pizzas and beef Space Raiders before lunch time. However, this is not my usual getting up time. Due to the chronic insomnia that hangs over me like a simile that I’m too inarticulate to put together, I tend to fall asleep at stupid o’clock and awaken at barely-past-stupid before falling into the odd state of semi-consciousness that’s not quite as enjoyable or spiritually productive as lucid dreaming, but still manages to eat away time marginally quicker than full consciousness.

Today I decided to start keeping a log of my progress on the road to employment. Seeing as I have semi-realistic dreams of being a journalist, many people have encouraged me to write a blog as a means of whoring my writing skills unto the world. I feel kind of strange doing that though, particularly as I rarely read blogs myself. They mostly seem to be written by the kind of people who yammer on about some issue at a party, despite having very little idea of what they're actually talking about.

My blog won’t be like that, of course.

So how is my journey going so far? Well, if I were to employ my GCSE English skills I’d be inclined to use the following metaphor: Imagine you were obsessed with Formula 1 (I find this very hard to imagine, but stay with me). For years and years you watch the cars go round and round the track, (in my case, secretly hoping that there’ll be a crash or two to make it actually worth watching). You intently study how it all works - the mechanics of the cars, the tactics of the drivers… After 3 years of this you can fully intellectualise F1 in intricate detail.

Then an opportunity arises.

A genie (an entity which is known to frequent vehicle-based sporting events) offers you the chance to race in the British Grand Prix. Wow!, you think. Of course you’ll do it! So you chisel away at your ribcage so you can fit into the tiny cockpit (is that the word?), squeeze your way in and get ready to go. Everything in the car is in order: The steering wheel is sort of round, there are dials on the dashboard and there's a cup-holder that can endure forces of upwards of 4G. You put your foot on the accelerator and BANG! You flatten the guy with the chequered flag.

It was his last day before retirement.

Having spewed that nonsense onto the page, I’m not sure that the metaphor is actually relevant at all. Oh well, my point is this: You can spend three years at university learning the how’s and why’s of something, but in those three years the people with any sense will actually be out there *doing* it. Okay, so I actually do have some writing experience, both paid and unpaid, but even with severe C.V tinkering, I am well below the ‘3 years of editorial experience’ that the decent writing jobs seem to require.

After more than a month of fruitless searching, I have decided to lower the bar. I am now pretty much looking for *anything* writing-related. My dream of a desk job at Mixmag or Empire has evaporated. With unemployment at such a ridiculous level and with that greasy, smarmy Etonian pulling the strings at 10 Downing Street, 2010 is not a year for wishful thinking. It is a year for reluctant doing.

With that in mind, I have decided to start offering to amend the grammatical errors displayed in shop windows for a small fee.

So if you see any adverts for ‘fish and chip’s’ on your travels, do let me know.