Volunteering and Working in the UK (part 4)

By my observations, however limited they are (and you can just slap “anecdotal evidence” over this post, I won’t judge…), the interview process for working in the United Kingdom appears to be more or less the same as one could expect in the United States. I cannot and will not say that any of this is conclusive; I simply do not have enough examples to draw from.

Why is that? Well, in this case it is because I went to all of one interview for a volunteer position at a local NGO (Non-Governerment Organisation, better known in the USA as a Non-profit or Not-for-profit Organisation; the terms do exist in the UK, but they are not used as widely) and three “normal” jobs so far. Not exactly what someone would call a large data pool.

Many of you may recall how there appeared to be glass-ceiling for immigrants when it came to obtaining work in the UK in a previous post on this same topic. For those who don’t want to bother to go hunting for it (i.e. folks like me) I’ll spare you the pain and summarise:

Some companies in the UK do not like people who do not have UK-based references. I have been told over the phone by one perspective employer that I would not even be considered for a position without them. For those who have studied in the UK, often they will accept school references, but for those of us who have not and did not come here under a work-based visa to start with… this poses a significant problem. One cannot get references without working and one cannot get work without references. We won’t even talk about the horrifyingly serious suggestions thrown out by UK Citizens I’ve gotten to try to remedy the problem (yes, they are that bad). If they were joking, they were being needlessly cruel, but it’s even worse if they were just outright sarcastic. Okay, you’re curious: they suggested that I lie/fake my references.

I don’t need to tell you that it’s just not a good move. That said, while a lot of NGO’s do require references as well, thereby limiting one’s options, they are more likely to be flexible because, let’s be honest, volunteers are hard to come by and if a lack of UK references is all that’s stopping a good candidate for an unpaid position… you see where I’m going with this?

So, with these thoughts in mind, I refined my search and started looking for positions in NGOs with the hope that eventually one would bite and, by working with them, I could thereby acquire the necessary references down the road to obtain a job that can offer more in reward for a good work than warm-fuzzy feelings at having helped others.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and have had a long history of both volunteering and working for non-profits; warm-fuzzy feelings are awesome, like, seriously awesome. Like kittens lapping from a bowl of cream awesome (you’re welcome). But it doesn’t exactly pay the rent, savvy? And while that’s okay for now, at some point I would like to make an actual living again, you know what I’m saying?

Of course, by now, you have likely guessed that I have managed to obtain a volunteer position – and you would have guessed correctly. I will not be naming the place, but it is well-established and I have a great deal of respect for their cause. I feel like I could learn a lot by working with them.

So if anyone was secretly dreading (or hoping) that there would be shameless plugs in relation to the NGO I would be affiliated with, let me clear the air right now and say that there will be no such things… err, barring the occasional PSA that I do of my own volition, but hopefully that won’t become anything so painfully obvious to warrant an actual disclosure.

Its just unfortunate that, while I managed to procure volunteer-based work fairly easily, on a personal level I wasn’t actually ready to go back to work in any real function as our newborn was, at that time… err, still a newborn. Bad timing on my part, despite my good intentions, the volunteer work had to take a back burner to family life.  By the time I was ready to re-enter the workforce, life happened further and made it all the more important that I focus my attention on paid ventures.

So back to the job boards it was for me. If companies talked to each other, they likely would have learned that I essentially spammed the interwebz (just go with it…) with my CV/Resume; trying to “sell” myself as the perfect candidate for any position that remotely fit… however loosely.

Without exaggeration: I’ve submitted enough applications to wallpaper all of Downing Street… and landed a total of three interviews. Sounds like my CV was pretty good, compared to the averages. It should be noted that I only seemed to score interviews with places that were advocates for diversity. Maybe next time I’ll limit my search to places like them; it would save some trees.

In the States, when I didn’t make the cut, I would often get the famed “please f*** off” letter. These letters were designed solely to assuage any bruised egos. The UK, by the most part, does not care about your feelings or ego. You will be lucky if they tell you in advance that, if you don’t hear from them after X-number of days you can just assume you weren’t successful.

The new normal in the UK, best as I can figure is, evan for entry-level jobs, one should expect two rounds of interviews. Excepting the NGO position, all of my interviews were conducted this way. So if you make it to the second round, chances are you’re one of the few and more likely to be one selected.

Like many people, for me getting into the interview is the hardest part. Once I’m in the room, I generally do well; one reason for that is likely my demeanour. I have been told (by interviewers, so it’s legit) that I have “a quiet confidence.” The reality of that is I’m just sitting there telling myself that I wouldn’t be in the room if they didn’t think I could do the job – that knowledge alone seems to help me chill out.

I guess, then, if I were to offer anyone any advice on interviewing, it would be that. Followed by researching the company prior to going in and remembering to ask hard questions – if only because that will make you rememberable (as in: “that’s the person who really thought about what they wanted to ask”).

All that said, the next question is: Now what? Well, like most first-days on the job site, one can expect that there will be training and meet-the-team jitters followed by a slow acclimation to the routine… but really I won’t know until I start. My next big thing to focus on will be Childcare in the UK – which is a whole other kettle of fish and I will be covering it in future posts.


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