Jobseeking experiences: Jobcentre Plus

Jobcentre Plus logo

As part of NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) I’ve decided to blog about my experiences of finding a new job. Despite the late start I hope to make this as daily as possible, so check back soon for more posts.

As some of you may know, I recently finished my job as Communications Manager for LexAble and moved away from Cardiff. I’ve now relocated to Nottinghamshire and currently living with my fiancée Anna and her parents. The two of us hope to move to Sheffield, Wakefield or Leeds in the near future, depending on where the right job is found. Despite being among the 21% of young people who are currently looking for work, I count myself very fortunate that I left my job out of choice, and that I have 18 months of commercial experience under my belt. As part of this I’ve decided to blog about my personal experiences and jobseeking in general. I’ve blogged about this topic previously, albeit only in retrospect. This post will be the first of many in the month of November.

My situation

I’ve been searching for a new Marketing role for about 3 months (1 month full-time). So far I have applied to about 50 different jobs, had a dozen phone interviews and have been to a few in-person job interviews as well. All par for the course in the current climate, but I wanted to get some additional advice and support. My local Jobcentre Plus seemed like a good place to start.

Jobcentre Plus – my experience

Jobcentre Plus logo

At the Jobcentre I spoke to the welcomer at the front desk. Here’s roughly how the conversation went:

Me: I’ve recently moved to this area and have been looking for work for about a month, but I was hoping to get some additional advice and support.
Welcomer:
Have you registered for the Universal Jobmatch website?
Me: No.

[The welcomer explains what Universal Jobmatch is and how it works, then gives me a leaflet]

Welcomer: Are you claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance?
Me: No, not at the moment.
W: Would you like to claim it?
M: Possibly, but not necessarily*.
W: Are you a graduate?
M:
 [I explain my situation and tell her that I have worked in Marketing for the past 18 months.]
W: So how did you get your last job?
M:
 Through work experience.
W: I expect that most of the jobs you’re looking for are available online, either on job boards and our website.
M:
 [I agree.] Are there any other services you offer?
W: It depends what you mean by services.
M:
 Face-to-face advice, for instance.
W: Well, we don’t apply for jobs for you, but we can point you in the right direction. We can also help you to make a CV; do you have one?
M:
 Yes. [I gesture to the folder in my hand.]
W: Is it up to date?
M:
 Yes.
W: If you registered for JSA then you would attend regular interviews. We could help you with your CV and point you in the direction of some jobs to apply to.
M: Are there any services that Jobcentre Plus can offer to people who aren’t claiming JSA?

[The welcomer talks about the Universal Jobmatch website and something called Futures, but doesn’t go into any more detail.]

And that’s pretty much where the conversation ended. Unfortunately I don’t think I got much out of this meeting. I also went back a few minutes later to ask about temp agencies but they weren’t able to help.

Thoughts

  • Even though Jobcentre Plus’ advice wasn’t much help to me, all the staff were friendly and helpful. It was a pleasant environment and they had an open-access computer which people could use to search for jobs.
  • It’s clear that Jobcentre Plus (or at least the branch I visited) is primarily set up to offer advice and support to JSA claimants.
  • It’s unfortunate that there isn’t currently any alternative careers advice available in my town, nor any recruitment agencies. Obviously this isn’t Jobcentre Plus’s fault; I’m sure they would have pointed me towards these places if they existed.
  • As a graduate with pre-existing work experience, an up-to-date CV and access to the internet, I didn’t feel that there was much the Jobcentre could do to help me.
  • Although not stated explicitly, it was implied that I would need to be a JSA claimant to access face-to-face advice. This seems counterintuitive; why should not receiving government benefits exclude me from some of their services? Furthermore, surely it’s better value for the taxpayer if Jobcentre Plus just gave me advice, rather than ask me to claim JSA and give me advice?
  • Universal Jobmatch is a perfectly good job site. But despite being run by the government it is still just one of many and by no means a silver bullet.

JobCentre Plus – how could my experience be improved?

My experience at my local JobCentre Plus branch wasn’t what I’d hoped for, so here’s a few suggestions for improvement:

  • I expect that many Jobcentres are equipped to offer information about other services and advice that may be available (even if it involves travel). That being the case, it should be ensured that this happens no matter where the Jobcentre is located, how big it is etc.
  • My experience with the welcomer was frustrating mainly because I had to ask several times about the services they were able to offer. It would have been better if they had given me an initial overview of what was available. This would allow me to ask about the specific services I was most interested in.
  • Jobseekers’ Allowance is obviously an important part of what DWP offers, but it’s not for everyone. It would be better, therefore, to offer face-to-face advice independent of the JSA scheme, tailored to individual need and circumstance.

Further Discussion

This post is of course just my experience, but I’m sure there’s others in a similar situation to me. If you’re currently looking for work I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Twitter. Was your experience of Jobcentre Plus similar to mine, or completely different?

Tips for graduate jobseekers, from a recent graduate

Unemployed graduates

The following post is partly a personal reflection based on my own experiences; a combination of things that worked for me and things I wished I’d known when I was looking for work. I’d welcome your thoughts and contributions, in the comments below or via TwitterI’m also grateful to the wonderful Aimee Bateman of CareerCake for contributing to this blog post!

Finding a graduate job

Getting a graduate job in today’s world is no easy feat. The so-called milk round of our parents’ generation is long gone and will probably never return, and as of July this year the average applicant per graduate job is a whopping 52, 11% more than 2011. We’re constantly told that we have to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd, but this is often easier said than done when everyone else is given the same advice! So here’s my take on the subject:

Embrace social media

If there’s one key skill that employers of all shapes and sizes are seeking today, it’s social media savvy. Recent research has found that companies who embrace social media across their organisation (not just in the marketing department) are reaping the benefits. Use this knowledge to your advantage by demonstrating to potential employers that your use of this medium would be an asset to their organisation. If you’re going to do this though, you have to do it properly; populating a LinkedIn page or Twitter bio is one thing, but for it to have an effect you have to use these channels to engage with others and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry (or industries) you are working in. Great places to start include LinkedIn groups and Twitter Chats; both of these will enable you to target relevant industry sectors, engaging with thought leaders and practitioners. Your social media presence should also act as an interactive CV and Cover Letter combined, a personal brand if you will; for more on this topic see my blog post Cultivate your Personal Brand using Social Media. See also this Guardian article for even more practical advice. Of course, this strategy requires a considerable investment of time; don’t expect results overnight.

Find a ‘career sponsor’

The word ‘sponsor’ has obvious financial connotations, but in this case I’m talking about something completely different. The concept of a career sponsor was first introduced to me live on the air when I appeared as a job-seeking graduate on BBC Radio Walesmorning show. A fellow guest, an HR manager at BT, described a career sponsor as:

A person you know who is successful, who you can go to for advice and support whenever you need it, and who will sing your praises to others.

This is perhaps the most useful piece of career advice I’ve ever been given. A career sponsor, in other words, should be your rock, someone who knows you well and who understands your unique strengths and limitations. Chances are, you know someone like this already; if so, use them! Of course, it’s just as likely that there are several people who could each fulfil one part of this role. On a personal note, my Dad has always been a great source of inspiration to me, helping me to see the bigger picture and to understand my own abilities and strengths. A Cardiff University School of Music lecturer has been another source of wisdom for me and many other students, so much so that I nominated him for an award! And finally the wonderful Aimee Bateman (as featured in this post – see below) has helped me to re-evaluate my approach to job-seeking and my career and I’m very proud to count her as a friend. Basically, the key message of this bullet point is:don’t go it alone; seek out and make use of a person or persons who will keep you motivated and help to show you the bigger picture.

Success is found in unexpected places

This is perhaps the most abstract piece of advice in this post, but bear with me; when it comes to finding a job, imagination is just as important as determination. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, or to think that there really aren’t any jobs that you’re suitable for, but more often than not you just need to change tack. Apply for work experience (if you live in Wales, GO Wales is a great resource for this), even short-term placements, and don’t be afraid to go after opportunities in different sectors. As a music graduate I gained my current job (Marketing Executive for LexAble, a software company) through a 2 week work experience placement. Part of this was being in the right place at the right time, but it was my transferable skills (namely IT proficiency, a working knowledge of web design and the ability to write well) that got me the job! Another important message that I would share is to never overlook small businesses; when I started my placement I never thought that my now boss would have any need for a permanent employee, but I was quickly proven wrong! After months of applying for advertised jobs in the arts sector with well-established and much larger organisations, it was in a completely different sector, with the smallest possible company and in a role that was yet to exist where I found my first big career break! In brief: be creative in your job search, don’t be afraid to look outside your sector, and ignore the ‘little guys’ at your peril!
To finish off this post, I asked career guru Aimee Bateman what the most important thing graduate job-seekers should be doing to ensure their success. Here’s her reply:

Make it personal and adapt your cover letters and applications to each employer. Don’t ever make an employer feel like they are just one of many companies you are contacting (even if they are). If you want an employer to be genuinely interested in you, then you must show you are genuinely interested in them

For more advice, check out the videos on her site or the CareerCake YouTube channel.

What about you? Are there any job-seeking strategies that worked well for you? What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given? Let me know in the comments.

How Social Media helped me raise £1900 for charity, by Carol Fry (@CVFry)

Carol Fry after her skydive
Carol and Dale skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal

Carol Fry (with her pilot Kev), Skydiving to raise money for the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal.
Carol was born and raised in Wiltshire but has always loved Wales. In September 2011 she finally realised her dream to come ‘home’. She currently teaches in a primary school in Tremorfa (Cardiff), living near Pontyclun (Bridgend). Carol loves to explore Wales, visiting both new places and those that she knew as a child. She also enjoys baking, concerts, shows, musicals and opera.

This is a guest  post by Carol Fry (@CVFry on Twitter) on the subject of online fundraising. I first found Carol on Twitter through our shared love of classical music and opera, but was quickly amazed and inspired by her ability to harness social media to raise money and awareness for good causes. She was also a key figure in the promotion of a charity single recorded by Mark Llewellyn Evans and the Band of the Welsh Guards. Carol is a personal source of inspiration to me; I think charities and good causes (big and small) could learn a lot from her creativity, enthusiasm and determination.


It’s amazing where a casual remark can land you! On April 1st – I should have known to keep quiet – I was in a car with Mark Llewellyn Evans, a gifted singer who has worked tirelessly to raise funds for our wounded soldiers, recording a CD with the Band of the Welsh Guards for their regimental charity. We were travelling along the M4 towards a sunny (yes, really) Swansea when I mentioned I’d always wanted to do a sky-dive. I don’t really remember how the conversation started but two months later I was tumbling from the sky with a member of the Paratroop Regiment strapped to my back, raising funds for the Welsh Guards Afghan Appeal

Through Mark I met Dale Leach, a former Welsh Guard and one of the most amazing men anyone could wish to know. Dale was seriously injured by an IUD in Afghanistan in 2009. His story made me determined to keep my promise to undertake the sky-dive.  I told him about it and, despite having lost a leg, fractured his spine in 3 places and suffered numerous other injuries, Dale agreed to dive with me. Our friends in the Band suggested using an online giving site and set up a page for us on Virgin Money Giving.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive.

Carol and Dave suited and booted before their skydive!

Using this site, my Twitter account and through friends promoting our dive through retweets and on Facebook we reached far more people than if we’d just been collecting by word of mouth. I have even made new friends through the collection, as total strangers read Dale’s story and made contact, wanting to help out.

I’m not a particularly confident person and would have found it hard to ask anyone other than very close friends and family to sponsor me. Using Twitter, Facebook and online giving meant that I could put out general appeals without feeling that I was badgering people. I probably drove my followers mad over the month or so before the dive but I have been overwhelmed by the generosity shown by people in their giving.

Using social media also enabled my friends who couldn’t help financially to chip in. They could retweet and post messages on their Facebook walls, spreading the news of what we were doing even though they couldn’t give money.

Using online giving and social media also got some press attention. One newspaper story and 2 radio interviews later, including singing live to Mr Go Compare (the wonderful Wynne Evans) on his radio show, we had picked up sponsors from overseas and parents from my school asked to support the jump.

Carol after her skydive

Carol after her skydive

We did make some money for the Appeal by ‘traditional’ means but I am absolutely certain we would not have raised anywhere near as much without the news grapevine offered by social media.

It was also helpful to tell people regularly how much we had raised. As each little goal approached I could Tweet again, “Can you help us find £51 pounds to get us to our next £100?”. This gave people the chance to give £1 or any amount that they could afford. These small steps towards the final total seemed to prompt many generous, lovely people to donate. I am sure this was more of an incentive than a huge goal. At least one donor said, “I can help you get to a nice round number.”

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

Dale (and pilot) parachuting back to earth.

We originally set a goal of £1000. In the end we raised just over £1900 and nearly £1700 of that came from online giving.  My friends and family are spread all over the UK and the site made it really easy for them to give and for us to gather Gift Aid. I am certain it would not have worked without Twitter, Facebook and the kindheartedness of people I have never met face to face.  If you are planning a fund-raising event I’d strongly recommend using social media to help you. Get out there and Tweet – there’s a world filled with generous people who will help your cause however they can.  

Carol and Dale’s fundraiser has now ended, but you can donate to the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal by following the instructions on their website.

By 2023, most people will be too young to remember the Berlin Wall!

When will we forget? (Based on US Census Bureau National Population Projections)

Comic courtesy of XKCD

The title of this post is a very strange thought indeed. I was born literally 10 days after the Berlin Wall fell, yet in just over 10 years time the majority of the population won’t be able to remember the wall itself or the repression that it represented. A few other historical milestones in this comic particularly strike me: Princess Diana will be mostly consigned to the history books by 2036, and only 4 years later the same thing will happen to 9/11. Of course, by 2036 I’ll be well into my 40s, and it won’t be too long before I’m educating my own grandchildren about communism, mass terrorism and other important parts of our heritage and culture (some if which are yet to happen, of course). Nonetheless, it’s impossible for me to imagine what that will be like. How about you? Is there anything else in the table opposite that strikes a chord with you?

There is one bright side, however: it’s only 28 years until Crazy Frog, Proper Crimbo and My Humps are erased from living memory! And not a day too soon.

The Pros and Cons of Introversion: a Personal Reflection

Introversion

People who have never met me in person will probably never realise this (because I’m such a loudmouth online), but I’m actually an incredibly shy personIn fact some people who have met me may not realise this at first, because I do my best to hide it, forcing myself to start conversations and ask questions.

I’ve learnt the hard way that forcing myself out of my comfort zone is the only way I’ll ever get noticed, and before coming to university I experienced first hand the consequences of not doing so; namely loneliness, isolation and, ultimately, bullying. My university experience and my embracement of social media has truly changed my life for the better, but deep down I’m still cripplingly self-conscious.

This blog post outlines the perceived positives and negatives of my introverted nature. I’ve written this blog post partly for the purposes of personal reflection (getting things down on paper, as it were), but also for the benefits of any fellow introverts who might stumble upon it, in the hope that they may take some wisdom from my thoughts or think about themselves in a different way. The post tackles cons first and pros second, in the hope of ending on a positive note!

The negatives of introversion:

  • I often worry that people, even my own best friends, don’t like me or don’t want to spend time with me.
  • I’m reluctant to speak about my own achievements, anxious of being seen as arrogant or boastful.
  • A fear of confrontation makes it difficult for me to be assertive or hold people to account. This is particularly problematic when dealing with external business partners on behalf of my company.
  • My self-awareness regarding the above issues often causes me to overcompensate, to embarrassing/disastrous effect.
  • I could never work in sales; I’d spend every waking moment worrying about causing my client even the slightest amount of disruption or inconvenience!
  • Sometimes I will avoid doing things simply because they involve some kind of social contact.

It’s not all bad, however: 

The positives of introversion:

  • My crushing self-awareness has given me a high level of emotional intelligence: knowing what to say and how to say it, no matter what the medium or context, is something that comes naturally to me. This is an obvious blessing not only in social situations but also as a marketer.
  • I consider myself fortunate to be able to do things by myself, giving myself space to think. People who spend every waking moment in the company of others are missing out on valuable thinking time, in my opinion.
  • My slight tendency to avoid social contact makes me appreciate spending time with friends and family all the more.
  • As a teenager, spending more time than was normal in front of a computer and not out on the streets is definitely a contributory factor to my relative success with social media and web technologies. My first and only MySpace layout, for instance, was built completely from scratch using pure CSS/HTML, made to look like iTunes, and it was how I learned to code. I would love to show you what it looked like but sadly it hasn’t been preserved in the archives 🙁 Anyway, back to the point: I probably wouldn’t have the job I have today if I hadn’t been such a web nerd from an early age!
  • Finally, I think social media is much easier to get right if you’re an introvert: sharing the ideas and content of others (something I’ve always done without thinking) is the best way to use this medium, and social media is a great way to have focused discussions with like-minded individuals. Perhaps the hardest bit (on a personal level) is successfully making the jump from online to offline by drawing upon the connections you make.

To summarise, I think introversion plays a large part in shaping who I am as a person and how I think about the world. To any fellow introverts who stumble upon this post: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section below, or via Twitter!
(Extraverts are also welcome)