Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Good morning, London #Day1

Friday, 12 August 2011

#DearCommuter - brief notes on commuter rage and catharsis

I've just been elbowed twice by a loud-breathing man in his mid-50s, reading "One for the Money" by Janet Evanovich, listening to Lily Allen loudly, and occupying one-and-a-half train seats. I was elbowed when the fabric strap of my canvas bag had the audacity to fall off my shoulder with a jolt of the train and graze the sleeve of his plain white tee. I was elbowed twice because I failed to react the first time.

My initial thoughts were of quiet indignance, but the more I thought about how I'm sitting twisted in my commuter seat, elbows-on-pelvic-bone and legs-in-the-aisle, the more I realised I was suffering a small bout of what, in larger portions, can be seen as commuter-rage. One quick message to a friend, and all my pent-up resentment towards the man vanished (I retain my resentment towards train manufacturers who promote size-zero seating and National Express East Anglia for its own set of reasons).

It's interesting how, often, all that is required is a quick comment to a friend for the event to be forgotten. In the best cases, the situation can lead to a good chucke and be turned into a comical anecdote, albeit probably not one you'll still be telling at the dinner table in 3 weeks time. I wonder if this ability to quickly project something into the aether, were it not to cause more obvious damage than good, be of help to dispel road-rage too.

For those of us who do not risk the lives of others by picking up our phones in the heat of the moment, we can find catharsis through a quick sms message. However, it must be borne in mind that friends have no "unsubscribe" option and can't politely opt-out of your commuting first world problems bursts, and so if they are to remain friends you might want to consider a somewhat less direct option. The wonderful world of social media has brought us, amongst other tools, Twitter. Maybe the next time three people ram into me as I try to alight, I'll remember to write an open letter to my #dearCommuter and not notice too big a drop in followers.


The essentials of interview preparation

I was offered a job after my last interview in London, on Wednesday (I’ll tell you who with once I’ve signed a contract.). Until this point I have been very reluctant to write anything about the process of applying for jobs, writing applications, or attending interviews. As someone who is unemployed it is easy to feel that you lack the credit to be able to write something and deserve to have anyone pay you any attention. On occasion, you'll find many guides on how to get through an interview, but many of these are full of unhelpful platitudes which aren't much help.

Here are my brief tips. Of course they’ll be of varying use to you, depending on what job you’re applying for, so be sure to tweak them accordingly.


1. Visit their website.
It’s a very basic suggestion, but you really ought to have done this while you were writing the application. If for some reason you didn’t do that then, do it now. Read all relevant publications they produce – know how they communicate to potential clients. Know what their working hours are and what services they offer.

2. Talk to people.
See if you know of anyone that has worked there. For example, if it’s a job at a University or a Council try to speak to employees, ex-employees, students, clients, ex-clients, or anyone that can give you a little more insider knowledge of how they operate.

3. Know the team.
A few companies have staff pages/profiles. Give them a read, know who you’re working with. Search for the organisation’s name and see what they have been involved with recently, and whether they’ve been in the news.

Part of any application process is letting an organisation know why you’ve picked them. They’ll want to know why they ought to hire you, but also why you want to work for them specifically and how you can make their organisation better.


1. Choose your attitude
This is really the biggest point I can make. An interview is about giving the employer a snippet of your personality. They’ve seen on paper what your qualities are, but they want to know if you’re going to drive them round the bend during day-to-day activities. If you come across as snarky, jaded, facetious, or just annoying as hell, then you can forget about it. Key point: strike a balance with everything. Don’t be unbearably arrogant but don’t be insecure; don’t be happy-go-lucky without a care in the world, but also don’t be negative.

2. Keep a professional distance
The relationship your employer is looking to establish with you is (one would hope) not a romantic relationship. Whilst there needs to be a foundation of trust, they do not need to know all your deepest darkest secrets and they are not committed to loving the true you. Even if they ask you what your biggest regrets are, what your worst qualities are, or other questions that could easily lend themselves to long life stories: avoid this at all costs. Which brings me to my next point.

3. B+!
Be positive. This isn’t the sort of recommendation that says: you can do anything if you put your mind to it! No, this is meant to be taken literally. Whenever you’re asked a question, try to reply with a positive answer. If you come across as someone that can’t stop moaning you may find that people are somewhat less eager to share a work environment with you, day in, day out.

4. The nitty-gritty
You have to know why they should hire you. If you’re iffy about yourself, they’ll be iffy about you. If you can manage the previous 3 points, then now is the time to know yourself. Before your interview go over everything you sent in your application and your CV; write a long list of all your professional and personal achievements. Know what you have done, know what you’re most proud of.

For any interview, these are the things you should know so well that you can recite on queue at any time:
  1. the main projects you’ve worked on, how you went about organising them – what action you took, what your results/achievements were. Make them tangible. 
  2. your greatest personal achievement (success in sport, success at University, success with a personal project, etc)
  3. when you’ve worked alone and with others – this crops up repeatedly! 
  4. your strengths, know how to tie them in with your experience.

5. The tricky questions
It is common to be asked what your weaknesses are, and the usual recommendations for this are as follows:
  1. pick a weakness that isn’t really a weakness
  2. pick a weakness that everyone has
  3. pick a weakness that is unrelated to your job
  4. whatever your weakness is, mention how your strengths make up for it (ex.: my weakness is [x], but I see it as a vital part of [y] which I’m really good at) 
Other “trick” questions include “where do you see yourself in 3/5/10 years?” and “what is your ideal job?”. Try not to be overly idealistic. In the case of the first question don’t tell the interviewer that you want their job – find an answer that encompasses good personal development and that shows that you’re willing to commit and grow with the position you’re being interviewed for.

In terms of your ideal job it can be wise to not be too specific and list elements common to the job you’re applying for. So, for example, if you’re working with people or developing a certain skill, you might say that your ideal job incorporates more of this. 

Key point: Whatever they ask you, keep in mind points 2 and 3. Don’t get too personal and maintain a positive attitude.

6. Be prepared
If you’re reading this, then this is likely to be a moot point, but take the time to properly prepare for an interview and not just wing-it. For a specific interview make sure you know exactly what you can bring to the workplace and why you’ve picked them. Being familiar with the ins-and-outs of the organisation will allow you to do this well.

Think of all the questions you’d ask yourself, and again use online resources to find questions that are most asked. Ideally, get a friend with some experience in your field to give you a good grilling the day before.

7. Ask a question
If you’ve thought of a question during the interview, then great. If not, try to prepare an open question for your interviewers. Don’t ask any questions about yourself (how much you’ll be earning, what benefits you get, etc) because that sends off all the wrong motivation signals. Try to take the opportunity to find out more about the job you’re going to do, about how the organisation typically go about a certain task, or something that shows curiosity. Do not ask a question whose answer would take 30 seconds on their website to answer.

My notes for my latest interview

Friday, 5 August 2011

8 quick tips on how to pick a Twitter username

Before decided to turn my private Twitter account into a public one, I tried creating a new one to allow me to maintain separate streams. I quickly ran into trouble. Tips for creating a Twitter username include:
  • Use your real name
  • Use a company name
  • Use your existing domain name
  • Don't look like a massive spammer
  • Don't act like it's a Hotmail account from the year 2000 (x_hotStuff86_x)
  • Don't brag like an idiot (PUAmaster... oh wow, that exists. On second thoughts, not surprised.)
  • Don't use the same username you've been using on forums and game sites for the past 10 years. Remember that one quick google search may reveal more than you wanted to share.
  • Don't use easily forgettable keyboard mash. You're not Randall Munroe so unless you have a site as clever as xkcd, all you're going to do is get yourself forgotten.
Given that Twitter does not work like an e-mail provider, where you can just select a different service if you can't find an alias you like, it is slightly reminiscent of those early Hotmail days where everyone scrambled for a decent name and then ended up resorting to birth years and numbers to distinguish themselves.

Overall, unless you were an early adopter, you're likely to find that all the best names are taken and the number of reasonable available combinations for the 15 character limit is pretty small. Still, keep trying eh?

Well this isn't what I expected to be famous for

Times Higher Education, August 4, p.15

Paying for labour: pay your interns and your stock photographers

Graduate Fog is part of one of many new websites aimed at helping graduates feel better about their unemployment by collating careers-related articles and advice. Despite the overwhelming about of websites that share the same aims, Graduate Fog still manages to have some interesting and useful contributions, and moans appropriately about the state of un(der)paid internships.

Unfortunately, they don't always seem to appreciate that "the creative types" also need to earn a living, and thus rather than pay for their iStockphoto they have displayed it along with one of their articles, watermark and all. Oversight? Edit: A reply from Tanya de Grunwald of GraduateFog.co.uk is posted below, confirming that this was indeed an oversight. Apologies for jumping the gun on this one.

On a better note, I highly recommend their satirical intern glossary: Do You Speak Intern?. Highlights include:
  • SERIAL INTERN Intern who has completed several lengthy unpaid internships, has bags of experience but – crucially – no actual job.
  • INTERN SUFFIXING / PREFIXING Practice of putting the word ‘intern’ before or after a regular job title, thereby avoiding the need to pay this member of staff a salary for doing this job.
and my personal favourite given my current state of yearning for a minimum wage job:
  • NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE Formerly the rock-bottom wage that we agreed the lowest-skilled workers in society should not earn less than for their labour (cleaning toilets, etc). Today, the NMW is now considered a hefty salary by many interns who are used to receiving no salary at all for their work – despite having just spend £27,000 on a university degree.
Reply from GraduateFog.co.uk under the break.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Broad and in-depth knowledge

There are always lots of interesting job vacancies floating around, although not always for the best reasons. This particular vacancy with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office wants broad and in-depth knowledge:

  • The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) relies heavily on in-house specialists on the European Union to inform the UK's policy towards the EU. If you have a broad and in-depth knowledge of the EU, then we could soon be relying on you.
Of course it could always be that they have more than one vacancy but simply failed to make that clear. That, however, would not be amusing.

Feel free to share your own findings in the comments.