Thursday, 24 November 2016

On anxiety, being over 22.5, and unemployed

I could blog about how great my time in China was, earlier this year. About the friends I made, the places I went, the things I saw. If you want to read about any of those things, you can find them here.

However, it's been over four months since I returned from China, and the travelling that I did afterwards (northern Thailand/ Chiang Mai really does deserve the hype...). Since then, things haven't been quite so great. I've made more than 40 job applications, and had over 20 interviews, but I'm still searching for work. I've done dozens of online tests and assessments, written scores of covering letters, and re-drafted my CV numerous times. And it starts to eat at you.

For the first few months I remained calm and patient. I was happy to be back in the UK again, seeing family and friends, plus, I knew that people often searched for a suitable job for "months". That's fine, I thought, I can wait a month or two. But progress was painfully slow. Many of my applications never received any kind of response. Sometimes a company might take a month to get back to me - with a rejection. I started to despair as October came to an end, and I was bored of living at home again and being mildly broke.

Every new months that has come around since August I'd keep muttering to myself "THIS will be my month, I know it, I can feel it". Now December is approaching, and I don't say that kind of thing anymore. There honestly comes a stage when you stop telling friends and extended family about job interviews, and even job offers, because you've become so used to things not working out. I've had a number of "near-misses" in the past four months, and they've been tough. Some examples;

  • Doing what I thought what a good face-to-face interview, after sending in my CV for a vacancy and having a telephone interview. Then I received a phone call asking if I "would like to continue with my application". I was confused, "yes, of course!" I replied. I never heard anything from that company again. 
  • Being really excited that I was about to be paid for a blog article I was writing for a student website. about the benefits of living and working in Asia after graduation. I had written the draft article, and the chief editor gave it the go-ahead. When I sent in the final copy, complete with an infographic that I'd made, I got an email from another editor that I'd never corresponded with before, telling me that the chief editor was away, but my piece had been cancelled, and I wasn't getting paid for the work I'd done. 
  • Flunking out of the Civil Service Fast Stream application after getting rejected after the first round - which was an online "Personality Questionnaire". Awkward. 
  • Being offered a tour-guiding job in China, only for my potential employers to then get back to me by saying that, actually, I didn't qualify for a Chinese work visa after the job was a no-go. 
  • Having to cancel an interview and decline another interview for two different Social-Mobility charities in London, after realising that, with the salary that they were offering, I couldn't afford to eat and commute to London and back for the internships. Irony. 
  • Not getting an interview for a job that I kind of fell in love with (NOTE: Never do this whilst job-hunting, at least until you get an interview, don't even get attached to the idea of yourself in a certain job). The job in question combined Schools partnerships in the UK, Education/ Charity work and SE Asia. I felt like my previous experience matched every specification point on the job description, but no luck there. 
I could write more examples, but there's little point - the purpose was just to highlight some of the many reasons why it's not always as straight forward to find "a job" as people might think. At the moment, I'm technically employed in two different part-time tutoring jobs. But I really do regard these as temporary employment, not something to really base my career on. I've had another two temporary jobs since the start of September, but I only lasted about a month each in each of them. One was in a "learning centre" where the behaviour of the children was so bad (and the disciplinary procedures so absent) that I was too stressed to continue. Another was an online/ Skype job, with a Chinese company, which started out really cool (with me writing for their blog, editing articles and doing product research) and ended with them trying to force me to make sales calls to their UK customers. I refused. I resigned. That wasn't what I had signed up for at all, and no other team members were made to do it.

However, I've actually learned a great deal in these last couple of months. I feel like I've become a stronger person after having to constantly re-evaluate myself after every Competency form, every hopeful application. On top of that, having more free time has meant that I've been able to revisit some old hobbies, and develop some new skills, including;

  • cooking/ baking (especially Thai and Indian curries!)
  • watercolour painting (especially natural scenes, plants and flowers, at this time of year)
  • Hindi (basically revising that things that I knew off by heart in India, this time last year!)
  • Mandarin Chinese (Trying to keep up my current level of reading/ writing/ listening)
  • Reading stuff that I never got round to at uni, Sense and Sensibility, Midnight's Children, and more modern classics like Orange is the New Black.  
I've also learnt some random things from the temporary employment that I have had. I've had to revise aspects of GCSE Maths for Numerical Tests, and for tutoring. I've learnt how to make infographics on different websites, and how to use online software like Trello. On a simpler level, I've even learnt how to use secondary platforms, like LinkedIn, to search for jobs, rather than relying on the already-crowded watering holes of Indeed, and Guardian/ Target Jobs etc. 

Things are looking up. Next month there's Christmas and New Year to look forward to. I'm resigning one of the tutoring jobs that I'm doing at the moment, as I'm not really enjoying it and I don't make that much money from it. I'm also hoping to hear back about some travel grants that I've applied to, and even if they fail, then I'll probably still book myself a trip somewhere nice (somewhere sunny in Eastern Europe? Or I could push the boat out further...Cambodia?) for 2017, so that I can take a real break from obsessively checking my phone and emails, diary in hand. Of course, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that some of the jobs that I;m currently applying for might turn up trumps next month! 

On the whole though, I think one thing that the last 1/3rd of a year has really taught me is that there are a lot of graduates in my position. I had this naive idea all through university (and probably school too) that I'd graduate, and somehow walk into my dream job, whatever that might be. I underestimated the competition, and just how excruciatingly slow the process can be. Yet I also underestimate myself. A year ago, or maybe even six months ago, when I was first sending out those tentative initial job applications, I'd have never believed that I could really learn anything whilst I was living back in my old room, dependent and fairly isolated. But I have, and I'm still learning. Everything happens for a reason, and clearly something is still waiting out there for me, I just need the courage and patience to seek it out. Good things come to those who wait, right?