Saturday, December 1, 2007

Penny's Hints 'n' Tips for working in the Captial

In celebration of my new job, I have decided to write a post on my experiences job hunting in London. This is because I received a lot of advice on this subject before I left home, some of it useful and some of it a load of old tosh.

The said new job is in the Comptroller and City Solicitor's department of the City of London. According to the website, my new job aim is to be 'committed to serving the needs of international business and maintaining the environment in which organisations and companies from all over the world can play their part in financing global trade and development'.


Anyways, here's my two cents on job hunting in London.

How much experience do you need?

It is infinitely useful to have some good experience in a 'real' job under your belt before you come over. This is because you then have a better chance of earning more money, which is crucial given that the cost of living over here is much higher than at home. London is only fun if you have money. It is no fun to be living in a share house in Putney with 15 other Australians, with your greatest indulgence being buying your weekly travel card and not being able to afford to go out and do anything. Unless you have a trust fund behind you to cushion the blow, I wouldn't recommend coming over when you've just finished uni. For reasons I shall expand upon below, it is even harder to get a decent job as a uni leaver than when you have had some experience.

There is no world outside of London

Notwithstanding that it helps to have experience, you quickly learn that the only experience people care about over here is UK experience. Experience in Adelaide means nothing to them. I could have been a Partner in my old firm in Adelaide, it's small fry to these people. From what I understand from friends, it's like that in most fields, not just law. So a large part of the challenge is trying to convince someone to take a chance on you even though you don't have any UK experience (for some people this takes a few months; I lucked out early on). All you can do is play up the experience that you've got and try and convince people that it still means something and can easily be applied in the UK.

This is utterly ridiculous because in a lot of ways, Australia is more advanced in its work practices than London and there is certainly a stronger work ethnic. But try telling them that.

If you don't have any work experience at home, therefore, getting your foot in the door to do anything other than crappy admin work is practically impossible.

The 2 Years PQE Myth

This bit is directed to the lawyers: the myth that you need to have 2 years Post Qualification Experience before you come to London is complete rubbish, perpetuated by the law 'scene' (for want of a better word) and your employers in Adelaide who want to discourage you from leaving, or at the very least, delay your leaving until they have had a few years making obscene amounts of money out of you while managing to get away with paying you like shit. Do not listen to them - you don't need 2 years PQE! You need good experience, but there is no magic number. I had 15 months PQE when I came over and I got a job in 3 days. Enough said.

The Temp Market

There is a significant market in London for temporary workers. No one ever really told me about it before I arrived. There are some advantages that I can see to being a temp. For starters, the pay is generally a bit better to compensate for the lack of job security, you can take leave whenever you want and there is plenty of work. Also, if you are a Pay As You Earn employee, you still accrue annual leave, which is a minimum of 24 days a year.

The downsides include the aforementioned lack of job security. Most jobs have a one week notice period for either side. Also, you are always on the outskirts of the work place as the temp worker, which can be a bit disheartening.

The Scourge of Job Hunting

The job market in London, for every field, is completely dominated by recruitment companies. They are a real double edged sword. The benefits are that the job hunting process is significantly faster - different recruiters specialise in different things so if you are signed up with the right ones, they will be contacting you all the time with jobs. In other words, they take all the effort out of job hunting. And because the application/interview/offer process is so fast, you don't have to bother with pesky stuff like application letters. They do the leg work for you.

But you always have to remember that recruiters will put their own interests ahead of yours. Most often they get a hefty payment when they find you a job and, this shocked me when I first got here, they take a cut from your hourly rate as well. To emphasise: every hour you work, they make more money. I know for a fact that my previous recruiter was skimming a whopping £8 an hour off what my employer was paying them for my hourly services, and think of what that adds up to over 10 months of work. It makes me sick.

Recruiters can be extremely cunning and manipulative creatures. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up, they have to be or they will get screwed over by a fellow creature who is. I have had recruiters ring me about the same job offering completely different rates. This depends on the standard size of the agency's cut. They are all over you like a rash when you are looking for work, but you hardly ever hear from them again once you're working. They are terrible at giving feedback - don't expect to hear anything from them when they put you forward for a job unless you get an interview. They can be very pushy and will try and encourage you to apply for jobs that are totally unsuitable, just so they have a sufficient number of CVs to show the employer.

What can you do about this? Not much. You just have to play the game and make them work as hard for you as possible. Sign up with a lot of different agencies and make them compete to be the one who puts you forward for a job. Don't let yourself be put forward for jobs that you don't want. Ask them if rates are negotiable and push them to get you more money. They will always be trying to get as bigger cut as possible.

Well, that's all I have for the moment, but if I can think of anything else that is useful I'll post an update. Not much else going on generally, as I have gone into semi-hibernation for the winter. My chosen place of hibernation is our lovely new flat, which is very warm and cosy and as a friend says, much more 'something out of a Richard Curtis film' than our previous place of abode:

Cozy. Hope everyone else is enjoying the summer....don't let the blue sky in this photo deceive you, it's freezing here.