I’m finally working full-time!

Around 15 days after my previous post went up, my colleague and I asked to have a meeting with our boss. Since the two of us run the shop in Ghent by ourselves, he had to swing by especially to meet us, and during this (two hour) meeting we were able to negotiate somewhat of a promotion.

We noticed that there is currently no active company website, and from what we were told, there hasn’t been one for quite a while. So we pitched an idea to do the research and content writing as well as the photography and photo-editing for a company website. He agreed immediately. Shortly after that, we were able to meet with an independent graphic designer who had already worked out a beautiful lay-out a few years back, but due to lack of content it never went live.

So I went from working three days/week to working full-time. Three days of my week are dedicated to shop duties, and the two remaining days I come in and work on the website (as does my colleague, but in a mirrored schedule). We transformed the space behind the shop into a make-shift office, where we now have almost everything we need.

honey comb shaped shelves

Appropriate office decor

With the website, things are coming along quite well. The Dutch version should be going up at the end of this month, after which all the translating work begins. I speak fluent English, and my colleague is fluent in French and German – handy right?

The largest portion of work left to do is gathering and editing photo material of every product the company offers.

When the website is finished, we will be adding a web shop, doing the web maintenance, as well as setting up and maintaining some social media pages. I will link all of those to this blog once they go live. The boss also has some other projects lined up for us to do, from working as a company representative to product management. It’s nice that I’m at least doing something related to my degree now, and that there are still some growth opportunities within the company.

honey jars

Honey, honey everywhere

My personal writing projects have been put on hold a bit, since I’m somewhat busier. On top of working full time, I also try and squeeze in two to three runs a week (as well as playing volleyball). I also recently joined the board of my volleyball club.

Financially things are finally becoming a bit more stable. After a few months of unemployment and a few unexpected costs, earning a full wage rather than 60% does make a difference!

(pro tip: do not park somewhere you shouldn’t and get your car towed if you’re having financial difficulties. This is not a cheap event.)

 

- R.

So now I’m a shop manager.

Pretty soon after the furniture company let-down, I was contacted by the general manager of a chain of niche shops. I say niche shop, because the stores he owns sell nothing but honey, and products associated with honey. This was yet another part time position I had applied for; managing the shop based in Ghent.

He called me on the phone and asked me to come in the following day for a short interview. About ten minutes into the conversation it seemed he had heard everything he needed to hear, and asked me when I was available to start. Considering I was unemployed and eager for work, I agreed to begin my job training the very next day.

After three days of on-the-job training, I was handed the keys to the shop and the shop’s banking card for making the daily deposits. I now run the shop together with a colleague (another master graduate unable to find diploma-related work, hired one week after I was). We each work three days a week, keeping the shop up and running Monday through Saturday.

I’ve been working here for about a month and a half now, and I can certainly say I’m enjoying it. I enjoy the calm, kind nature of the people who come into the shop. I enjoy the responsibility and independence given to me from day one on the job. I do everything from sales, stocking shelves, managing the money that comes in and goes out, placing orders, and doing the required accounting and administrative work. Is it the most challenging job ever? Certainly not. Is it a job for life? Not that either.

But after all the disappointment I’ve faced over the past 6 months, it is nice to finally come up for air and relax a little. It’s wonderful not to have to write application letters on the daily, and it’s especially great not to get rejected every five minutes. Since handing me the keys nearly two months ago, I haven’t even seen the general manager once, which to me says they’re happy with the numbers my colleague and I are laying down.

But of course, that doesn’t mean I’m settling and forgetting all about writing. The free days that initially were going to be spent on further studies, I am now investing in following one of my life-long dreams.

… But more on that later.

- R.

Neutral recruitment officer meets biased business owner*

One of the positions I applied for was a part time marketing job at a furniture company. I was very keen on this job, and thus very excited to hear I had been invited to come in for a first interview with the appointed recruitment officer.

The first interview went really well. She clearly liked me for the job, and told me so several times. As I shook her hand to leave, she told me she would phone the business owner and let her know another candidate would be coming in for an interview (I was one of three). She was going to let me know a time and place.

A few days later I received an email saying the interview would have to be postponed, as the business owner unexpectedly had to attend a convention abroad. Because, you know, conventions do turn up out of the blue…

Let me give you one piece of advice. When job interviews need to be postponed, for whatever or whichever reason, it is usually a bad sign. And that was certainly the case here.

Bad sign

As I was already dreading, I didn’t get the promised e-mail with a new date and time for the interview. And because I only had the contact details of the recruitment officer, I was forced to phone her with the obvious question: “when is this thing going down?”

On the phone I was told that one of the other candidates had already been hired for the position. Apparently the business owner had felt “such a great connection” with him/her, that she felt it unnecessary to even meet with me anymore. Just like that.

I have never even met this woman, yet she makes me want to tear out my own hair. If you’re only interviewing three people, is it really so much to ask to actually meet with all three before settling on one? Though people in management write this off as “time pressure”, I know for a fact it’s actually pure laziness, as the person who got hired wouldn’t have to start for another month and a half anyway. Plenty of time to meet with three people.

I found out that the person who got the job has a degree in interior design. I know, sounds perfect for a marketing and communications job, right? I also know from the recruitment officer that the business owner, a mum herself, preferred hiring another parent for this part time position, and based her decision mostly on this.

The sad thing is, if she was so biased and set on the candidate having a family, then why bother using a neutral recruitment officer? It’s a waste of resources, and more importantly, a waste of my time.

To be continued…

- R.

* Note: This post follows chronologically on the previous one (“One huge load of disappointing news“)

One huge load of disappointing news*

I came home from my appointment at the faculty of economics in tears. Things had not gone the way I had anticipated. Sense of tranquillity: gone.

Because I come from a background of zero economics (except for one economics and one business management course I took during my bachelor), I was told I have to do a “preparation year” in order to gain entry to the master year. For those who aren’t familiar with the Belgian university system, I’ll explain.

One regular, full-time year at university consists of 60 credits. Most of these 60 credits are compulsory courses (each worth between 3 and 9 credits depending on their importance). Usually a standard year of 60 credits comes down to around 5-7 courses per semester. Some are elective, meaning there is a variety of courses from which you are allowed to select one or several.

Naturally one cannot simply roll into economics; therefore I had expected some extra courses to be required for me. But I honestly didn’t expect this. This “preparation year” consists of 86, rather than 60 credits. Basically this means that doing it full-time would require an insane amount of work to be able to pass. Doing it part-time? Impossible…

course outline

18 coursers crammed into one “prep year”. Impossible to do as a part-time student.

Seeing as I don’t have a bottomless pit full of cash or a donkey that does his business in the form of gold coins, going back to school full-time is not an option for me. Basic needs such as shelter and food require me to work at least part-time. Furthermore, what I expected to be one extra year of study, quickly turned into at least three, if not more. Simply put: this meeting was one huge load of disappointing news.

I haven’t wiped the idea of going back to school off the table completely. I haven’t looked into other nearby universities, such as the universities of Leuven or Antwerp, and the next academic year doesn’t start until September/October. So perhaps there is still a chance… But that will come later.

While all this was going down, I had shifted my job hunt from full-time jobs to part-time positions, to coincide with my back-to-school plans. I also broadened my search a lot, including office jobs, jobs in retail and sales positions. And what do you know? This wider search for any and all part-time positions brought with it a few positive responses.

Phew, I was finally lined up for a job interview here and there.

To be continued…
– R.

*Note: This post follows chronologically on the previous one (“Bye-bye 2013, hello unemployment (again)“).

Bye-bye 2013, hello unemployment (again)

2014 has brought with it some nice developments, as the past two months have been those of change.  Though I can honestly say things have changed for me for the better and I’m currently working, I still find myself in the “in between”. My university time is well behind me now, but as of yet, the future remains unsure.

First thing I’m very happy to share is that I am no longer a call agent! I took the plunge in January and decided to up and quit, for a number of reasons. The company I was working for is one that values numbers much more than they value their people. When you’re a call agent, you are 100% replaceable. The people I worked for used that to scare employees into doing a good job, rather than motivating them into doing their best. Those who were able to achieve high numbers were sometimes rewarded, but those who didn’t, or those who got onto the wrong side of the people in charge, were excused from the job, no second chances.

In the two months that I worked there, I saw at least five or six people get laid off. I trained two or three newcomers myself, and then watched them go again only a few weeks later. This form of management, along with the horrific repetitiveness of the job, was slowly but surely pulling me into a state of indifference and despondency. I woke up each morning dreading the day ahead of me, and I decided that it really wasn’t worth the income.

homeless

So I quit. Without any prospects of another job. Incredibly scary as this was, I had the full support of my boyfriend Michael. Together we carefully weighed my options, and together we decided that working there full time was holding me back more than anything else.

The reason I didn’t write in the first month after I quit, was because of the heavy feeling of insecurity and doubt I was carrying around in my stomach. I was applying for jobs on a daily basis, yet I was also receiving rejection letters on a daily basis. As the days go by, the money in your bank account decreases, and so does your self esteem.

At this point I decided that perhaps I needed to broaden my foundation, and go back to school to do a subsequent master. Studying part time and working part time, in my mind it seemed like the perfect idea. I spent some time browsing the university website, and decided that my interest in marketing made applied economics the only logical choice. So I booked an appointment with a guidance person from the faculty of economics to further inquire about my options. Having this appointment set gave me a sense of tranquillity, as I now felt like I had a purpose again, something to work towards.

I could not have been more wrong.

To be continued… (soon!)

-R.

Note: You can find more hilarious e-cards or even create your own by clicking on the image in the text.

The L-Box

As mentioned in the previous post, graduating university involves more than ‘just’ finding a job. You also need to get your own mode of transportation (no more using daddy’s company car), and of course your own place to live.

Most people will agree that living in the safe, warm nest that your parents built for you is quite comfortable and above all, cheap. But after the buzz wears off, the time has come for you to spread your wings and build a nest of your own.

I always told myself I would move out of home as soon as I finished university and had found a means to finance it. Whether I was single or not, living alone, with a partner or with friends, moving out was always on the top of my to-do-list. Don’t get me wrong, I loved living at home. Home is where our three beautiful dogs live whom I love and miss very much. Home is where the fridge and cupboards are fully stocked every week and where the cooking is top quality. Home is where the wardrobe space is the largest and where mum does your ironing. Home is… where your parents live. And you often don’t realise what that means until you’ve left.

Left - Cuddle session with Kira and Loes Right - Cara as Shrek

Left – Cuddle session with Kira and Loes
Right – Cara as Shrek

So now I have my own home. My boyfriend and I live in a tiny studio flat that is shaped like the letter ‘L’ in the centre of Ghent. For obvious reasons we call our wee little place “The L-Box”. When you flick through an Ikea catalogue or take the time to wander through the showroom, you will find our L-box setup under the category “small space living solutions”. Yes, we basically live in an Ikea catalogue, but we really do love it. And having a high-sleeper double bed does give you more room for activities! Included below are a few pictures of our place and of Ghent. All pictures of Ghent were taken less than five minutes walk from here. Just to give you an idea of why it is very much worth living in an L-box in the city centre.

Our L-Box

Our L-Box

A few snaps of the City!

A few snaps of the City!

I also bought my own car (see below!). Second-hand, of course. Having a car is not cheap. Insurance and petrol costs never end, but having a vehicle that is registered in your own name makes you feel quite independent.

My Peugot

My Peugeot

I have to say, having your own nest comes with many responsibilities, but they are actually a nice part of growing up and finishing school. And when you start off, having a huge flat and a shiny car is not the most important thing. I’ve really grown to appreciate our small space solutions, and I know that in the future I will be able to appreciate everything I have even more… (cue the violins).

- R.

Unofficially, I’m a call agent.

It’s been just under a month since my last post. Bad form, I know, but it has been an incredibly busy month.

I officially moved out of my parents place on the 13th of November. Now I’m living in a very tight, but very cosy little studio apartment with my boyfriend (more on this in the next post). Moving out of your parent’s house is also a very good reason to find a job. If you want to make it “on your own”, you kind of need an income. Badly.

So on the 14th of November I started my current job. I’m working at a firm that does the external marketing for two major companies, all of which shall remain unnamed. Officially my job consists of b2b prospecting and lead generation via telephone, and managing the schedules of sales representatives. Unofficially, I’m a call agent.

Cyanide and Happiness comic

“Work-Week” – Cyanide and Happiness by AP

I’m sure you can already tell, this is not my dream job. But I needed to start a job fast, because after a while, one can only be so picky. And there are certainly some upsides. First of all, this job gives me the much needed “first working experience” I’ve been lacking. Also, before this I had an incredible angst of phoning strangers, which is now already completely gone. Furthermore I’m constantly working on my communication and commercial (read: persuasive) skills.

At my job I also deal with a great deal of assholes on a daily basis. You know, the kind of people that feel confident swearing at you so long as they don’t see your face. But after a few days of feeling bad about those calls, I can now actually thank the assholes. They are responsible for making me more and more resistant and perseverant everyday. And nothing feels better than wishing someone a good weekend after their angry tirade, in the most sarcastic tone you can muster.

But the best part of my job, are my colleagues. Though I have to honestly say I don’t always enjoy the work itself, my colleagues make it a hell of a lot easier to get through the day! They are young and they are funny, not to mention pretty helpful from time to time.

How long I’ll be doing this work? Only time will tell… Stay tuned.

 

- R.

Note: Visit the official Cyanide and Happiness website by clicking on the comic!

Setbacks

Searching for a job has taught me how to deal with setbacks. Or actually, it is still teaching me how to deal with it now. Getting shot down by rejection guns (or being blatantly ignored) doesn’t really become easier over time, but you do learn how to compartmentalize. After a while you’re able to lock the negativity away in a part of your brain, knowing that this kind of rejection isn’t personal. You aren’t being rejected as a human being; you are merely being rejected as a suitable candidate.

Okay, that isn’t exactly nice either. I really hate it when I apply for a job thinking that I’m perfect for it, and that the desired profile description fits me to a tea, only to finally be rejected with the cliché sentence “Other candidates were more suited to the desired profile”. *Face palm*

What those words actually mean is “other candidates have more experience than you do”. And well, they do. So for that reason I decided to apply for a marketing traineeship at a company based in Antwerp and Ghent. Only two hours (!) after sending in my CV and motivation letter they called me up and asked me to come in for an interview. I’m sure you can imagine I was pretty happy at this point.

I spent four hours the next day preparing for the interview. I learned what the company was about, what they stood for, what their vision for the future is, and so on. I researched all the common interview questions, prepared answers and basically conducted the whole interview in my head about 10 times. After this I felt truly 100% prepared and confident I would do well.

On the day of the interview I made sure to leave very early, to give myself plenty of time to get there. I planned in about 1hour and 45 minutes for the drive, even though Google Maps had told me it would really only take 35 minutes. But better safe than sorry, right!

As it turns out, I should have left 3 hours early. Once I was on the motorway I got stuck in an insane traffic jam that caused me to stand still for over one and a half hours (an accident had just happened that closed up all three lanes). Naturally I phoned the person I was supposed to be meeting and told her about the situation. She was incredibly kind, even apologetic that I should find myself in such horrible circumstances, and finally we agreed to reschedule the interview. Pfew! Lucky me!

traffic

Traffic jam @ Kennedy Tunnel, Antwerp

… Not.

She never got back to me with a new date for the interview and she ignored my e-mail reminding her of our agreement. So finally I phoned up the company and asked to be put through to my contact:

“Ooooh right… Riet. Hmmm. We actually already hired someone for that position… Sorry. But thanks for calling, I’ll be sure to keep your CV handy should anything else open up.”

Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath for that one. Talk about your setbacks…

-R.

Temp agencies are not my friends

After the buzz wears off, a good thing to do when looking for work is signing up at as many temp agencies as you can find. After all, it’s better to do temporary work rather than nothing at all while applying for something permanent. And perhaps they will even help you find the job of your dreams. After signing up, they will send you e-mails and call you up for available jobs that fit with your personal profile, so basically helping you with the search.

Sounds like a great system, huh? While temp agencies work very well for some, they haven’t worked so well for me. Every recruitment officer I have had on the phone has had the same reaction: “Oh. Communications. Journalism…. *awkward silence* … Is there anything else you would like to do? How about a nice job working at a call center?”

The answer to the first question is ‘yes’. Of course there are other things I would like to do. I may have majored in journalism, but as Boromir would say; one does not simply walk into journalism. So I would happily branch out. In fact, after reading about 200 job descriptions I have realized that I would probably enjoy working in marketing or sales even more. (How about sending me some of those vacancies, huh, temp agencies?)

Boromir

Boromir

The answer to the second question is partly also ‘yes’. After being invited, I attended an info session on becoming a call agent while applying for other positions. After all, beggars can’t be choosers. But then I found out that I would have to work evenings too, and that means missing volleyball training…

Don’t get me wrong! For my dream job, missing volleyball training every now and then would be a small sacrifice. In my application letters I say I’m happy to work flexible hours, and it isn’t a lie. But missing training to become the annoying girl that calls you up and tries to persuade you to switch internet providers? Not so much.

Other than that one call agent job, I haven’t heard anything from any of the five temp agencies I created a profile for. I understand that perhaps they don’t have any jobs that fit with my profile description, but when merrily searching job websites myself I did find some really awesome jobs (which I applied for!). So I have yet to find a temp agency that takes each job-seeker to heart and truly tries to help you personally. But until then, I happily continue the search on my own.

-R.

Note: There are some excellent job and recruitment websites out there that also allow you to create a profile for easy application, or allow you to really narrow down the search so you don’t have to sift through jobs that won’t suit your needs. Here’s a short list of some websites I check on a daily basis (most are for Belgium only):

General:

Specific job or region:

 

Letters into the void

Taking a nice long holiday after graduating university is an important thing to do. After that tiresome thesis, you deserve a break. So take a moment to recharge those batteries and just relax! Or maybe that’s just something I told myself to excuse the first two months of travelling, catching up with friends and doing absolutely nothing.

Enjoying holidays in Switzerland

Enjoying holidays in Switzerland

 

You see, I actually finished my thesis at the beginning of July. I wasn’t able (allowed) to hand it in until the 5th of August, however, and my grades wouldn’t come out until September 13. Technically I could have spent those two months applying for jobs. But I decided to wait and see whether or not I had actually graduated and to enjoy the break for as long as it lasted. But after the buzz wears off, there comes a moment when it becomes increasingly difficult not to feel guilty about those continuous days of leisure.

I sent out my first application letter in August. Having majored in journalism, I naturally first had a look around for jobs in that sector. After a full day of researching job websites, I found merely two journalism positions. I know, good sign right?

One of them demanded about 10 years of experience, and I wasn’t exactly expecting them to look the other way on that just for me. But the other job called for a social, enthusiastic person with the will to work hard. For them, experience seemed to be less of an issue. I felt I was perfect for the position, so I immediately applied.

Anxiety hits you once you press the ‘send’ button. When it’s your fist application, you’re still naive enough to believe they will get back to you within a day or two, so every e-mail you receive in the next few days will make your heart stop just a little. Unfortunately, you will be disappointed again and again. “Aha, another e-mail from Facebook. Oh, ASOS has a new collection in. Hunkemöller too.” E-mails galore, but none to do with your application.

When you don’t get selected for an interview, more often than not, you hear nothing back from them, ever again. It almost feels like sending letters into an empty void, to be lost forever. Companies must get hundreds of applications for each position, but I can’t help but wonder if sending a two-line automated rejection e-mail is so incredibly difficult. “Thank you for your interest in our company. I’m sorry to inform you that you have not been selected for an interview. Best of luck with your future career.”

Rejection letter

Although these two lines are a bit of a slap in the face, they are also a slap back into reality. You did not get selected. So stop waiting around and get moving again.

So to companies everywhere:

If you’re not giving me a chance at an interview, then at least give me the slap of rejection. Because I think I speak for job seekers everywhere when I say:  I hate the empty void.

-R.