Saturday, April 18, 2009

I just love Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from the musical "Les Miserables" on "Britain's Got Talent". 19,233,462 views in 5 days... and counting.


I cry every time I watch it. Completely fabulous.

Then have a listen to her singing "Cry Me A River". Woah. What a voice!

Susan, I think you're completely wonderful.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's not what you know...'s who you know - of course.

Well OK, what you know is important too - but you can be as skilled and knowledgeable as you like - and still not find work because you're either only applying for jobs once they're advertised, or you're relying on recruitment agents to find you work.


Or at least - that's been my experience so far this year.

I have come to the conclusion that in these tough economic times it's really quite hopeless applying for advertised jobs. A year ago in IT it was a workers' market - we could all be pretty sure that we would be able to walk out of one job and straight into another - but boy, how things have changed. Now it's an employers' market, where every job ad receives applications from dozens and dozens of eager web dudes desperate for work.

In the past I don't think I've ever applied for a job that I didn't get - now I'm not even getting as far as the first interview - and for some jobs they haven't even had the grace to tell me I've been rejected - I simply never hear from them at all.

Tom applied for a job the other day with some web design company we'd never even heard of - and they told him they'd had tons of applications and they might get back to him (but then again they might not) - so it's not just the ones I've looked at - I think it's happening all over.

And recruitment agents - don't get me started on recruitment agents (too late - I've started!)

My experience is as follows. You send them your CV in response to a job they have advertised. They call you, wildly enthusiastic, and arrange a meeting. You turn up for an interview with them, they take lots of notes, wax lyrical about your CV, maybe introduce you to one of their colleagues. You leave feeling pretty good about yourself, certain that a new job or contract is virtually within your grasp.

And then you never hear from them again.

Alternatively, they call you excitedly with three completely unsuitable jobs within the first week ("oh I didn't realise 'programmer required with .net, C++, and PHP experience' was different from 'front-end developer wanted with HTML/CSS and jQuery skills'...")

And then you never hear from them again.

There's only one recruitment agent who's actually found me work this year - and I've known her for years. Ironically enough, if I had reached out earlier to all my networks I'd have scored the same contract without needing her at all - it was with a company I used to work for.

OK - so applying for advertised jobs is no good because by then you're competing with half of Wellington. Recruitment agents are crap (unless you've known them for ages) because they don't seem to know what they're talking about half the time, and they rarely follow through.

In my experience, the secret to finding work these days is via your networks.

Let's look at the facts. So far this year...


  • Building a website (which Tom integrated) for Origin Design, where I used to work. Score 1 for the recruitment agent (hi Michelle), and score -1 for me because I should have called Alex at Origin myself (hi Alex).

  • Finishing the build with Tom for WM Bamford & Co's website (hi Noeline). Score 1 for my WebWeaver Productions website, where Noeline found us.

  • Contract work with Optimation, advising them on HTML and CSS best practice. Score 1 for having worked occasionally with them on various projects over the past year or two. Score another 1 for having been introduced to them by a colleague (hi Lulu) in the first place.

  • Building the Round Peg website, designed by my best friend's dad (hi Alice and Shelley). Score 1 for best friends with designer dads.

  • Building a major commercial website as a contractor at DNA. Score 1 for keeping in touch with ex-colleagues (hi Felicity).

  • Finishing the Round Peg website.

  • Finishing the DNA website.

  • More work with Optimation.

  • Building a second website for Origin Design. Score 1 for a new contract.

  • More work with Optimation.

  • Contract with Badger Communications (hi Matthew), building Flash ad banners. Score 1 for best friends (hi again Alice) with brothers who own communications companies.

  • Finishing the second site for Origin.

  • Alterations to the Bamford website.

  • Fix to the Office of Film and Literature Classification website. Score 1 for former employers passing on a little bit of work to me.

  • More work with Optimation.

  • More work with Badger Communications.

  • Looks like I have some work coming up with Shift (hi guys). Score 1 for maintaining good relationships with former employers.

  • Potential of some work coming up with an old colleague from years back (hi Brenda). Score 1 for keeping in touch with former colleagues.

  • Potential of two new clients for WebWeaver Productions. Score 1 for recommendations from existing clients.

  • Potential of some work in the future with a former employer who sees me as a web evangelist - "Web 2.0 before there was Web 2.0" (hi Jill).

  • Job lead from a former colleague (hi Sally) about a potential contract with a former client.

Number of different contracts I've had since the beginning of January: 9

Number of these contracts that have been advertised: 0

Number of contracts obtained via a recruitment agent: 1

Number of contracts gained via my WebWeaver website: 1

Number of contracts obtained through personal contacts and my network: 7

Number of additional potential contracts obtained via my network: 5

Number of advertised long-term NZ contracts applied for: 3

Number of interviews secured from these applications: 0

Number of thanks-but-no-thanks emails I have received in response to my applications: 1

Number of contracts I have applied for where no-one has bothered to contact me at all: 2

See what I mean?

If there's one thing I've learned in my 12 years as a web designer and developer, it's that if you work hard and always do the best job you can possibly do, people will remember that - and they'll come back to you when they have spare work that needs doing - as long as you let them know you're available. That's all I mean by "networking" - it's just the people I know, the people I've worked for and the people I've worked with. It's not rocket science.

The other thing I've learned is to never burn your bridges. Never ever. You must always leave a job on good terms - even if it's a job you're totally fed up with (or a job you wouldn't have left if you'd had the choice).

And it's a good idea to remember that former colleagues can have as much influence on your future employment as former employers. You never know when you're going to come across an old colleague in a new position of authority or influence. Wellington's a small town, and the web industry is a small and close-knit industry.

March was a pretty tough month work-wise. I think that's what's hardest about being a contractor - the up and down, all-or-nothing nature of it - and the total lack of predictability. But things are looking better so far in April.

I realise now that much of my February work was a continuation of stuff I'd sorted out in January - and that I didn't really take the time to hustle for new work which would fill my calendar once the other work was done.

It's tough to find the time when you're working really hard, but you have to do it, you have to keep on revisiting your networks, just to ensure that the work keeps on coming in.

And in my experience so far this year - it's your networks that will keep you going through these tough times. I hope they continue to work their magic for me.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

(Not the greatest) customer service at WINZ

So March wasn't a great month, work-wise.

January and February I was going gangbusters - heaps and heaps of work on, and some weeks I was actually doing two jobs at the same time - one project during the day and a different project in the evenings. It was good - and I figured I needed to accept as much work as I could handle, because you never know when it's all going to dry up.

And in March it (almost all) dried up. Thank goodness for Matthew at Badger Communications who kept me out of trouble for at least some of the time, building 64 Flash banner ads for Expedia in Oz.

In addition to getting so bored I thought I was going to go MENTAL, I spent a good deal of time updating my (already up-to-date) website CV, endlessly reviewing TradeMe Jobs, Seek and NZ Govt jobs (and even applying for some) - and sorting out my Australian Business Number so that I can do telecommuting work with companies in Oz.

Absolutely no luck there so far - I don't even think the Australian recruitment agents are bothering to put my CV forward, which is a total bummer cos I could do all the contracts I'm applying for standing on my head with my eyes shut, but there you go. Nothing ventured, and all that. Maybe it will be easier now I actually have my ABN. We shall see.

As a result of all this non-job-getting I got a little freaked out and started worrying I would never find work ever again. Silly I know, but when you're looking at the same job site over and over and the only jobs you can find to do are ones in another country where they won't even look at your CV, it does get a little dispiriting.

I finally decided last week that I should swallow my pride and look into signing on for unemployment benefit. I have never ever done this in New Zealand before - I've never needed to - but I figured I should be practical, face facts, and accept help from the government if and when it gets that bad.

Herewith, my experience so far... I'm not very impressed at this point, sadly...

Last week I went onto the WINZ website and found a section all about this thing called ReStart - a "package of payments and employment and job services to help if you’ve recently been made redundant from full-time work. You may also be able to get this if you're self employed and entitled to Unemployment Benefit."

Kewl! I'm both of those things - guess I should call them up and find out more...

So I did, and spoke to a very nice man who asked me all sorts of questions about my income and job prospects and outgoings and stuff - and determined that yes I would be eligible and yes I should come in for an appointment on Monday morning at 9am. Note that he said "appointment", and that the word "seminar" never passed his lips. This will be important later, dear reader.

I asked him about the list of stuff it says you have to bring to your first appointment - passport, driver's licence, 26 weeks' worth of bank statements, and a whole host of other things - should I bring all that on Monday? Oh yes, he said.

On Monday I turned up at WINZ at about 5 to 9, lugging this massive folder with all the stuff I needed to bring (as well as all the things I needed for my day's work at Optimation - hooray! I'm doing some work at Optimation this week!) and joined the queue at the front desk.

"Are you here for the blahblah seminar?" they asked. "No," I said, "I have an appointment at 9 o'clock". They looked my name up on their list and told me to take a seat. At 5 past 9 some guy came over and said "Everyone here for the blahblah seminar please come this way" - and most of the people waiting got up and headed off to the seminar. Not me of course, because I had an appointment.

You can probably guess what's coming...

Of course I was there for the seminar - I just didn't know I was there for the seminar. So I missed it.

In the 15 minutes I was waiting (before I/they figured this out) I was treated to the spectacle of the extremely bad-tempered lady at the front desk shouting at this poor Asian man (whose English wasn't great) who was late for the seminar - "No you can't go to the seminar now! You've missed 10 minutes of it and the facilitator can't be expected to wait for you to arrive - you have to be here ON TIME like EVERYBODY ELSE. No you don't have a one-on-one appointment! [aha - see I'm not the only person who made this mistake!] - it's a GROUP SEMINAR!"

Poor guy - I felt so sorry for him - how humiliating to be talked down to and shouted at like some errant schoolboy. What a welcome. Not.

Eventually a very nice smiley WINZ man came over to see why I was still waiting, and he figured out that I'd missed the seminar. Then I had to wait in line to speak to the ANGRY LADY AT THE FRONT DESK again. Fabulous.

Ahead of me in the queue was another Asian dude (whose English was also not very good) trying to explain something and asking to see someone for an appointment. He got through his whole request and was treated to "I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU JUST SAID! What do you want??? You can't just turn up here - you HAVE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT to see someone!"

Bloody hell. What's this woman got against Asian men? I imagine that he may not know you can't just turn up - I didn't know that, I just randomly called them first because the number was on the website. Plus, if his English isn't particularly sophisticated it's a lot easier to communicate in person than it is over the phone, isn't it? Anyway, eventually he got sent on his way with an appointment and it was my turn.

I was grumpy and pissed off, she was sarcastic and condescending. It was a discussion full of warmth and mutual respect. Or not.

So now I have to go back again another day - this time without my massive file full of personal info because THIS IS A GROUP SEMINAR. We get told our rights and responsibilities, then apparently we get a massive pack of forms to fill in, then if we're lucky we might be able to book an appointment and THEN we might be allowed to sign on. Whooppee! Welcome to your friendly and supportive government agency!

As a self-employed person I think I can sign on and then if I get work I just have to tell them and then I don't get any benefit that week, but if I didn't find any work, then I get my benefit. I think. I haven't found that out yet. Because I missed the seminar :)

Afterwards I staggered under my load of personal info down to Optimation and it was so heavy I pulled something in my back and had to go see my lovely acupuncturist John Xu to get it readjusted. Fantastic.

I HATE not working. It really does my head in.

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