Resting in the Interim (Part 1)

6 Aug

Monday morning the clock says 7.30.  I woke up just before 7 and I start getting that awful feeling over my whole body.  Dread that half paralyses you to the bed.  A feeling of hopelessness.  The breaking sun could pass through the gap in the curtains but that morning jog to burn off the seaside bucket sized hot chocolates you promise yourself the night before holds no appeal or which you feel you have any physical ability to do. 

 A Monday start like thousands across London only they’ll shuffle out of bed if they haven’t done so over an hour earlier and are now squashed sardine like into a tube carriage making their way from zone 3, 4 or further out into the capital. 

 8 o’clock and I’m still paralysed to the bed only mustering the will to get out just before half past to see what’s on Lorraine. 

 This is my Monday, my Tuesday right the way through to Friday.  This almost drowning feeling is the start to my day and has been for the last three months since I was laid off from my last role.  Everyday hoping someone will call with news of an interview that can you make that day for an immediate start.  Welcome to the world of being “between assignments”, “considering new opportunities”.  Welcome to being plain unemployed.

 I relocated to London just under two and a half years ago redundancy package in hand which was pretty much swallowed up relocating.  I always said if I didn’t give London a shot by the time I reached 40 I never probably would be able to and here with about six months to spare I did it.  I had no ties such as a family or a partner and so many opportunities be it work, entertainment, shopping or a great social life were in London…  I’ve never regretted moving down not even now.  My situation could be the same in Birmingham, Manchester wherever.  At least I’ve got better shops and markets to wile away the hours in even if I cannot afford to buy any of their wares.

 When I moved down there was a fixed term role in a central government dept. in the pipeline but it became apparent it was wasn’t going to come into fruition.  So I registered with a number of agencies as a back-up and before my money ran out got a role in a council not paying the “we’ll market you out at £200 a day” the consultants had initially said but better than I’d been on before.  A couple of months on I got an interview for a role with another council and I got the job.  Better location.  Better rate. Sorted.  Again interim or temporary but it was a rolling contract.  Many councils whilst they decide what their long-term plans are will not recruit to vacant roles that may not be in existence after that financial year.  Usual fare in any council be it London or Aberdeen.

 Like most I’d like a permanent role or as permanent today as any role can be but interim management, oh let’s stop making it sound grander than it is, temping, is, or rather was a good way of making a living.  Paid weekly and often getting the chance to do roles that were you to apply for via the usual recruitment channels you wouldn’t stand a chance of even getting an interview for.  However if you were the only person available, fulfilled 60% of the person spec and could start within a week.  Bob’s your uncle.  You certainly could get a better rate than your employed counterparts by depending on the role up to the equivalent of £10k FTE a year as holiday pay is paid upfront.  If you have any industrious work ethic you find the end of your annual leave year you take time off for the sake/principle of not losing it.  30 days a year is not something you’ll die without as anyone running their own business will tell you.  OK you don’t get bank holidays as they won’t pay if you don’t work and it isn’t the career path I’d advise anyone to go down if they take more than the usual 7-10 days a year sick leave but if you’re well and can negotiate working longer hours in exchange for the odd flexi/TOIL day then it is great… well was great.

 I was at that council for nine months during 2010.  2010 when we had an election and a new government coming in that looked at the public sector balance sheet and went whoops, one giant whoops.  Three words: Comprehensive Spending Review.  My contract ceased the end of October 2010 amidst mass public sector tightening of the purse strings and I didn’t secure my next till mid-January 2011.  This was my first spell of unemployment since my early 20s post college and then I was living at home, no bills etc.  A desolate time with jobs yes in the pipeline only a pipe with a constant leak and water disappearing.  Not a nice Christmas and New Year with no money to go out or to treat yourself in the sales. 

 My next assignment, in a council again, only lasted few weeks as there was a restructure to cut a long story short… the details are superfluous.  So the start of March again I found myself without gainful existence until the start of May.  However I’d got used to living frugally so had managed to save a bit.  This next role to date was my last one and was only three days a week… my perfume collection was hardly going to expand but the work was what I enjoyed doing, the team lovely and I had two days a week to do what I wanted even if not the money on which to do it on.  I constantly searched for something full-time, a higher rate or on par with what I’d been on the year before. Nothing came into fruition.

 That role came to an end mid-November as that council having mid-year cuts decided to get rid of temps, sorry interims, bar essential ones such as social workers.  At the time things seemed more optimistic than they had the year before but having not secured a role by the start of December I knew I wouldn’t get anything then till the New Year as no-one recruits or has anyone start in the run-up to Christmas.  Another desolate festive season both financially and in terms of colleague interaction somehow valuable that time of year.  We all get sick of work colleagues and say we’d give anything to work from home but it isn’t until they’re no longer there you realise what you get out of working with people despite their faults.  Oh well some role more ideal than those I’ve had before will be released start of the New Year I told myself.

 As I write heading towards the end of February I’m still “resting” as the luvvies would say.  Oh plenty of jobs come on the job boards just as plenty more people like me come into Job Centre Plus offices across London daily and plenty of these jobs subsequently disappear into the ether.  Filled internally or cancelled as having not got round to the pile of CVs agencies have sent them weeks earlier on seeing the team are muddling through managers decide to not recruit after all.

 The Public Sector has not been a good place to seek work the last year or so.  However my experience has always been working in councils so I wouldn’t know now two decades in where to start in the private sector.  Oh I could work in a consultancy that serves councils etc. and I’m sure I could win them business.  Coming from a commissioning side of things I know what commissioners want to see in tenders and what they want delivered.  But without a track record of winning contracts it would take a brave company to take me and you fail to win a couple of contracts you soon find yourself decommissioned.

 You may ask why I don’t apply for a permanent role in councils if that’s where my background lies. Well yes jobs are advertised, some of which I may be suitable to apply for but it’s often said in council recruitment 85% of the jobs have already gone or have a “preferred candidate” before the job even appears on the website.  Usually there’s a second in command who is the natural successor or someone that has been acting up in the role, sometimes years, and now the funding has been secured to recruit to that role permanently.  Such jobs however have to be advertised in the name of equal opportunities. Well if equal ops are about being fair and just there’s nothing fair about leading people up the garden path when they have no chance of getting the role.  Increasingly you’re seeing the caveat now of “Internal candidates only” or “Deployees will be given first consideration” and rightly so.  There’s a fair few of those at the moment. Not everyone has enough years service to take the redundancy package and run… and if they did then councils’ coffers would be screwed hence trying to redeploy them.

 I’ve been on and am looking for roles around the £40K mark, yes way above the national average but hardly on par with the City.  So you may ask why I don’t apply for something a little lower level to tide me over.

 Well one of reasons that I’m in the place I am now where if a job I’m put forward for isn’t internally filled or cancelled it is because it’s filled by “a more suitable candidate”.  A former service head or director doing exactly the same thing, taking something a little lower level to tide them over and taking the roles I once so easily got.  If you have a £10 and you’re in the charity shop and can spend £8 on a M&S jumper or £10 on a Marc Jacobs one donated which will you go for?  However for us resting public sector middle managers i.e. those on around £40k give or take £5K each way it’s not so easy for us to downshift as then the market really does open up. 

 I’m not proud I’ve done basic admin work in the past and I’d do it again but then for any such job recruiters will get 100s of CVs.  There are more people on that level than higher ones.  They won’t go passed the first half dozen CVs and they’ll turn round to you and ask when was the last time you did anything like this?  Well like nearly 20 years ago vs. someone who was doing such till last week and won’t naturally up and leave if something better comes along.  Oh you could promise to stick it out for the duration of the contract but you know you wouldn’t if something better came along and so do they.  As for bar work and shop work again no recent experience and for the latter why pay the full rate if you can get in someone equally equipped of 18 you can pay less to.

 Another problem with taking a low level job is paying for your rent if you rent privately and like me live alone.  At the moment I’m signing on and get full housing benefit.  If I got a job that left me with £250 a week after deductions then at roughly £200 a week rent I’d be left with £50.  I would be entitled to housing benefit but not full entitlement and the way they calculate things it is on the basis that the government says anyone over 25 needs £67.50 a week to live on plus £5 disregard.  So without giving people a benefits entitlement lesson which I’m not qualified to give by the time they’d done the deductions I’d in fact be probably working for less than £75 a week and that to cover any other living expenses including travel to work.  You’re better off either claiming full benefit or be on a salary where you have no need to claim any.

 If I lived in council or housing association accommodation where the rent was much less then yes, assuming I could get such work, I’d work in a bar or in a shop, whatever to bring the pennies in as I could cover my rent and still live to some degree even if it be a job I wouldn’t put on my CV.  But I live alone in the private rental sector so this is out.  I’m just grateful unlike so many my rent is under the capping threshold as otherwise I’d be doing my Flanagan and Allen Underneath the Arches routine.

 So my days are spent searching as Hazell Dean would sing but not for a man though, one would be nice if only to share the bills with, but for work.  Every morning it is checking Reed, CV Library, Total Jobs e-mail mail outs that come in overnight and applying for anything suitable and getting the agency auto-reply back and that’s often the last you hear.  Ringing agencies I’m registered with asking if anything new has come in.  Now if it had they would contact you believe me.  By phone, e-mail and text all within the space of 5 minutes to get hold of you.  After all their salary is quite a lot commission based so they want to place you and in my case I daresay place me only to stop my e-mails, phone calls even if only for a few weeks respite. 

 But as I’ve said many roles just disappear into the ether.  If you do get an interview it’s not just you any longer with the hiring manager hoping you’ll take his/her job offer like a dog at Battersea hoping you’ll take them home.  No you’ll be competing against several others like you, perhaps better.  Formal interview with a plastic cup of water if you’re lucky, no longer the cosy chat over a cuppa and a plate of Hobnobs.  I was never a bridesmaid as a kid but by have I made up for it the last year or so.

 I’m reading this and beginning to think I’m going on and if I am you will too.  The message here is when you read all about youth unemployment and initiatives to get 16-24 year olds into work spare a thought for us 40 somethings also signing on every other week, and there’s a fair few of us.  Unlike someone 21 we’re unlikely to be living at home rent free with that living room cash machine known as Dad’s wallet or Mum’s purse.  Top Shop will not want to employ us, come on as we won’t fit in with their young brand image, nor will any trendy club which we’re still young enough to enjoy going to when we’re working and having the money to do so.  Even if they did we couldn’t afford to take their offer and professionally it could be seen as suicidal as you’re only as good as your last role.

 Off to check the e-mails, peruse the job boards, join in the LinkedIn discussions with fellow resting interims, in between finding out who is the father of Chloe’s baby.  Perhaps get away for an hour from the same four walls and take a walk nodding hello to others in the same boat before Carol and Co appear at 12.30…

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1 Mar

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