Thursday, 26 August 2010

Other Interests

I had a couple of meetings at the DHSS, as I used to know it, today - it had had logos of 'Job Centre', but they're not fooling anyone. It was pleasant and efficient. I was as well, except for the latter; Sheffield has two Job Centres about 5min walk from each other. I went to the wrong one and was consequently late (tho seeing ex-colleague Rich on the way to the wrong place made me pleasurably late to start with). They were good humoured about it all.

I had been asked to take various artefacts and proofs that I was who I said, and that I had a legitimate claim to not being employed, as one would expect. I had also been asked to take a CV with me for them to check that I was giving myself a reasonable chance in the rough and tumble world of the job market. I did as I was asked, and updating my CV caused me to reflect upon them & their nature.

In various provinces they are known as a Resumé, the etymology of which I must look up one day, but here in the U of K we use the abbreviated Latin for 'List of Life.' It is a curiosity. As I recall, my life has been rather more than just desk space that I have occupied for the last 15+years..

I wrote my first CV at the Win3.11 powered PC of a then (and still) ex-girlfriend. I filled it with all that I could - a degree, 18months of temping at Proctor & Gamble, musicking, shop work.. to be honest, I hadn't done much that should get me a job. It was effectively nepotism that got me the first proper job I went for, rather than anything I had typed. My friend Abi had been working at a place in Chertsey, and they needed a data inputter. I was interviewed and started shortly thereafter. The database system Access 2 was the new kid on the block, and I started to find my way around it.

<BackStory>I started with a Sinclair Spectrum in the early 80s, and enjoyed the company of RML 380Z & original black 480Zs at school. I got through BASIC very quickly & took to writing stuff in Z80 machine language not long after. As time progressed, the challenges before me dwindled, not that I was some great whizz, but that opportunities to go further were not as apparent - I could do all that was asked of me at school; I had taken books about COBOL, FORTRAN, ComAL, Algol, Pascal, C, and some others out from the library and learned a great deal from them, but had nowhere to try out what I had learned. For various reasons I didn't do CS at A-level, taking Maths, Physics and English, which made me a scientist who could write essays. I had got interested in Psychology, so went to the fabulous Royal Holloway and Bedford New College to study it, got bored and drifted back towards computer courses and very music orientated things for my final year.</BackStory>

So I worked at this place, and over the next nearly 18 months gradually took on more responsibility in the database upkeep, and expanded it as required. The company were a subcontractor to a contractor to Thames Water. The contractor didn't get continuation of work, so I was made redundant (first time of three), but a chat with the boss of the contractors secured me more work, and a little more to put on my CV. The majority of the next 10years work came from that chat. I wrote databases & job management systems for utilities contractors. I kept my CV up to date, but word of mouth, occasional chats and doing a good job got me work, rather than anything formal, and no-one was the slightest bit interested in my CV. Finally, it did dry up, and I actually needed that list to get me work, but now it looked a rather more substantial affair, such that when the accounting software firm Sage (UK) Ltd saw it, they were interested in talking to me, which was nice.

I must confess - I don't like CVs that much. Conversations with both prospective employers and employees over the years have suggested to me that in many ways they are a necessary, but largely useless annoyance. Many seek to sell themselves as the best thing ever on their CV, that they can be the panacea that a company needs, that they will be that missing cog that will keep the wheels of industry running that bit more smoothly. All sorts of airbrushing, exaggerations, deep breaths and pulled in tummies are employed to project that perfect, employable, image.

I'm more interested in how I word the 'Other Interests.'

A CV is an entrée, a foot in the door, no more no less. It is a way to start a conversation, but for me it's the nature of that conversation that is paramount in working out what jobs to take and which to question.

It should be assumed, in any sensible world, that folk would only apply for a job if they consider that they have the skills to do the task [for the moment, we will skip the fact that neither the world is sensible, nor do folk always apply for what they are able to do]; in which case, the job history and skills section of a CV would be something of a null contest, since all the participants can do what is to be asked of them. It then comes to what the folk are like.

After a certain level of job, if a company is only interested in whether or not you can do a job, they probably aren't the sort of people worth working for. I want a company to be interested in me, in the same way that I want to be interested in them. This isn't an egotistical thing, it's industrial self-preservation on my part and that of the employer - I need to know that my employer is willing to take me on, invest time and energy in me, nurture, whatever, such that I can be the best that I can be and contribute to their bottom line within the extent of my (hopefully growing) abilities. If I can't see that they are interested in me as more than just a cog, I'm never terribly sure I want to be there. Thus, their response to 'Other interests' is more important to me than any code test I have to pass.

When I lived in Watford, I discovered Dunstable Downs. This is a fantastic place, somewhere that attracts a lot of wind, and consequently a lot of kite flyers. I kinda became one, really liked it too. I wasn't very good, and with small children to look after not something I could hone my skills with, but it touched my heart sufficiently to make it into 'Other Interests.' We also kept three bunnies, until the charming foxes of Chorleywood decided they liked them more than we did. So having bunnies was on the CV. It was part of my life at that time.

The places that happened to mention, even in passing, the items that I had listed at the end of my CV are the places I ended up working. Those that didn't, either didn't offer me the job, or I passed them over in favour of the ones that did.

At one time, my previous employer had taken each employee's CV in turn and condensed them down to a single page each. They did a good job of it too, I was very pleased with how mine turned out (thanks Sue!) In getting my CV together for the DHSS today, I put aside my 15+ year old CV that had done its job as required through the years, and used this newer version. However - 'Other interests,' or 'who is this guy?' was missing. I know why it was done, the purpose of the CV rewrites wasn't for a charm offensive, it was to prove that  the company could deliver what it claimed it could; but it was still a sad thing that perhaps the most pertinent section (so far as I can tell) had been left on the cutting room floor.

So I put one on. I no longer live near a decent kite flying place, and we no longer have bunnies. Those items are replaced with my audio coding and that I have started making cuddly toys.

The agent looked over my CV and was very happy with it in content, structure and presentation. What was the thing they wanted to talk about first?

Postscript
I know this is a long post, but I wanted to pick up about not having needed a CV for many years early on. I realise how blessed I was to have had that situation, and have it perpetuated for so long. For the work I actually want to do (and it looks like I will be doing it too) my traditional CV is no longer relevant. Yesterday I was offered work based on more important matters than anything a 'list of life' can ever show. In less than a week I have had emails from two people asking for drum lessons, coming from recommendations of others, rather than a piece of paper which might or might not have any 'Other Interests' listed.

It feels like I have taken a step back a few hundred years, and I like it. I can't be the only one for whom this happens. Maybe places like Monster and JobSite wouldn't exist if it happened more.

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