Posts Tagged ‘work’

Mental Health and the Benefits System

Andrea sits down in front of her careers adviser, John, clearly very agitated.  She rushes to get her words out.  “I’ve just come from the Job Centre, and they say I’ve got to have a CV.  Can we get it done today?”

“Yes, we could work on a CV,” the adviser replies.  “But it sounds like it’s the Job Centre that wants this CV.  What do you want?”

Andrea insists that she must have the CV today, otherwise her benefit will be cut. It’s clear that this is the only reason for the CV, and the threat of having her money cut is uppermost on her mind.  She’s typical of many clients referred by the Job Centre.

John has met Andrea before, and when they met a month ago, Andrea had told him that she was on medication for depression and anxiety and had been on Incapacity Benefit for a few years, but had recently been switched back to Job Seekers Allowance, as a result of a medical assessment. Her GP, however, doesn’t think she is ready to work yet.

When they last met, they talked about Andrea’s ideas for the future.  She was once a Care Assistant, but she said “I can’t go back to that work.  Because I just don’t care and it’s not fair on the older people for me to be in that job.  I need to do something else.  Something practical with my hands, so I don’t have to talk to people all the time.”

John offers to ring up the Job Centre and negotiate a more sensible deadline for the CV, and Andrea immediately relaxes.  After some haggling on the phone, it is agreed that the Job Centre will give Andrea more time to create the CV, provided she spends time with the Careers Adviser on “preparation”.

With the immediate threat of being left without money tackled, Andrea is now able to tell John what has happened since they last met.  Her sister-in-law told her that there were jobs going in a local meat-packing factory.  “I really thought about it, ” says Andrea, “but then I got so worried, I had to take more medication, and just go off for a walk.  I was gone all day. My husband knows me, he knew I was getting worse and he wanted me to go back to the GP.  I don’t know why thinking about that job set me off, but it did.  I didn’t feel right for a couple of weeks.  I think my sister-in-law thinks I’m just lazy.”

They talk about the reasons she wants to work – to be busy, to have more money, to get back to a normal life, to be out of the house.  They also talk about the reasons that she doesn’t feel ready.  She can’t face crowds of people.  Some days, she can’t get out of bed in the morning.  She lacks energy.  She has panic attacks when things feel out of control.  “It seemed like a good job for me, just what I wanted, but it just felt like too big a step.”

Andrea and John spend some time thinking about “small steps”.  Andrea comes up with the idea of an exercise class, a craft class at the adult education centre and ringing her friend to go to a nearly town for a shopping trip on the bus.  John suggests voluntary work – maybe in a charity shop to get used to being around people and having a regularly place to be each week.  Eventually Andrea creates an action plan that includes calling into the adult education centre and a local charity shop.   They agree to meet again in a few weeks to review progress and do the dreaded CV.

Andrea looks anxious as soon as the CV is mentioned.  “A CV isn’t just for getting a job,” John reassures her.  “We can use it as a way to think about all your experiences and what you can do.”

This is real career guidance.  Professional careers advisers work from a Code of Ethics, and putting the client’s needs first is at the heart of this.  A professionally qualified careers adviser will explore the deeper issues that prevent people from achieving their goals, rather than focus immediately on job applications.

Professional career guidance, however, is being cut back all over the UK, and replaced by “job search advice” or “employment support”, offered by staff who are often trained only to a very basic level, and who often work in a very target-driven environment – if they don’t get clients into jobs quickly, their organisations won’t fulfil  the targets in their contract and they will be out of a job.  Some of them are on temporary contracts or have performance-related pay, so the can’t afford not to get their clients into work quickly.

You can’t really blame these advisers for pushing their clients to get back into work quickly, but it’s often a very inappropriate approach for clients with mental health problems, who may need to take many small steps towards being “job-ready”.  The process of getting back to work has to proceed at a pace appropriate to the client – it can’t be rushed. Many clients with mental health problems do want to get back to work, but they recognise that they need support (perhaps part-time or flexible hours, a reduced workload or social support), and many employers would rather just employ someone else.  A paid job is often a very the long-term goal.

Clients who are pushed back into work before they are ready, without appropriate support, may find that they can’t actually perform the job at the speed and standard expected, they may feel socially isolated and often find that their condition is exacerbated by the pressure to “keep up”.  Their attendance at work may be poor, especially if they don’t get appropriate support from their employer.  They are unlikely to hold down the job, so the cycle begins again – they are back in the benefit system with even lower levels of confidence.

How The People You Hang Out With Can Make You Happy (Or Not)

There is a theory which I have heard more than one life coach put forward that goes like this: you should hang out with people who are richer and more successful than you are, so that the attitudes and habits that have made them rich and/or successful will rub off on you.   Hanging out with these people will create a healthy amount of dissatisfaction with your life and therefore motivate you to set goals and achieve great things.  Mixing with people who have achieved the things that you want to achieve will motivate you to achieve more.

On the other hand, psychologists researching the field of “happiness” are finding that the more we compare ourselves to others (particularly others who are richer, more successful or “better” in some way), the less likely we are to be happy.  The more we read about the rich and famous, the more advertising we watch that shows us all the things we could have, the more we mix with people who have more material wealth than we have, the less content we feel with our lot.

When I worked in South London, the majority of my clients were either on benefits or were asylum seekers.  Many couldn’t even afford to pay the bus fare to college or to buy a sandwich in the canteen at lunchtime.  I talked to them every day about their lives, and when I went home in my old car to my small flat, I felt rich.  I had plenty.  But when I took a year off on maternity leave, I started spending my days with a group of new mums I had met in antenatal classes.  They all seemed to be investment bankers, lawyers or media types, and they worried about parking their smart cars outside my flat.  I suddenly started to feel that what I had wasn’t good enough, and I didn’t like the feeling.  I can’t say it inspired me to be more ambitious – it just introduced a low level of discontent into my life.  It made me realise that, pleasant as they were, they weren’t the people I wanted to hang out with every day.

Now I’ve done what most people do, and surrounded myself with friends on a similar level of income.  I feel quite content again, and rich in the things that matter – health, family, job satisfaction and friendships.  People like to have friends with a similar income level because it’s comfortable.  You don’t have to be embarrassed about not being able to afford an expensive night out and you don’t have to hide your wealth for fear of embarrassing your friends.

We have also got rid of the television in our house.  We still watch programmes on DVDs and on the iPlayer, but we no longer have advertising pumped daily into our house.  And what a difference it makes!  It’s subtle, but I find myself wanting much less.  My children, when asked, couldn’t even think of things they wanted for Christmas (apart from an invisibility potion that really works – not easy to procure!)

I try not to make comparasions with others at all, because thinking about who has the better house, car, holiday, job or children doesn’t lead to warm and friendly feelings.  It just leads into a way of thinking that marks out some people as better or worse than others (and there will always be others better than you).  If I catch myself making comparisons, I will stop myself.  But I can’t say I never do it at all.  Maybe a few Buddhist monks manage it, but most of us make comparasions, whether we are aware of them or not.  And it’s the subconscious comparasions that are very hard to challenge because we don’t even notice we are making them.

Societies where there is greater inequality tend to be less happy, because people are comparing themselves to the very rich.  And the interesting thing is that even the richer people in unequal societies are less happy – after all, there is always someone richer than you, and the values in unequal societies promote the acquisition of wealth rather than the sharing of it.

So if we really do want to be happy, maybe we should be choosing jobs and activities that bring us into contact with people who have less than we do.  Voluntary work is one way of doing this.  Interestingly, the research on happiness also shows that altruistic acts increase our happiness levels too.  We should also be avoiding careers that will have us mixing with with those who are richer and more successful than we are (unless we can develop the strength of character to avoid getting into negative thought patterns and comparasions).

Of course, if we think that wealth and success are more important than happiness, then we should do the opposite!  Bring on the social climbers, and let them get on with it.

There is a pervasive narrative in society that we should all achieve and succeed to the best of our ability, and in the process earn as much money as we can, but really, it’s time to think a bit harder about what we value.  Most of us say we want to be happy, but we don’t always choose things that will make us happy.  Many people will choose a job that pays more money rather than a jobs that offers flexitime or shorter hours.  Many people relentlessly chase promotions without thinking about whether it will actually bring happiness.

I’ve had a few clients who have given up (or thought about giving up) well paid jobs, to do something they enjoy more but pays less.  They worry about whether they are doing the right thing.  They probably are.  But they still worry that they won’t be happy with less money than they are used to or less money than their friends have.   It’s a brave decision to make.

Having made that decision, they may find that they are really enjoying the new job, but struggling to get used to the new income level (although this often isn’t as difficult as they anticipate).  If it is a struggle, they could help themselves by cultivating friendships with people on a similar income level, making time to meet and talk to people with much less money than they have and limiting the time they spend with those who have more money than they do.

Top Ten CV Blunders

When I say, “My Top Ten CV Blunders”, I don’t mean the obvious blunders – the phone number missing, the spelling mistake, the dates that just don’t add up.

I mean those blunders that make your CV OK – OK enough for your friends to say it looks good, OK enough for you to feel confident as you put hndreds of them in the post, OK enough to make it into a that big pile of CVs that are the long-list for the job of your dreams.  But the problem is, it’s just OK. And it is going to end up in a pile of a 100 CVs, which are all mostly OK.

It’s so totally just OK that the bored HR Assistant will drift off as he reads it, get to the end, remember nothing about it, put it in the “no” pile and move on.   HE will go on reading that long-list, that pile of over 100 CVs that are mostly just OK.  And most of those OK CVs will end up in the bin.

Because if you are applying for advertised jobs, you are competing against 100s of other applicants.  Your CV needs to be more than OK, it needs to be stand-out fantastic!  And these are the hidden blunders that you might not even know you are committing:

1. Failing to link the CV to the job description. If the job description asks for experience with spreadsheets, experience of interviewing people, experience of managing a diary and experience of report writing, then this is what should be in the first half page of your CV – all these skills, with examples of how you have used them.

2. Writing about your employers and your job description, rather than what you actually brought to the job role and your  achievements in the job. Anybody can work for an interesting employer with an interesting job description, but describing what was in the job description doesn’t tell the reader if you were any good at it.  Most people fail to extract the maximum impact from their achievements when they write their CV.  Graduates, for example, often fail to make the links between the skills they developed (maybe through writing a dissertation or carrying out practical work) and the jobs they are applying for.  And many people describe themselves using really weak action words like “assisted with, helped, sorted out, reviewed, completed, collated, inputted, talked to” when surely they should be using more dynamic words like “responsible for, organised, re-designed, led, managed, co-ordinated, marketed, researched, analysed, interviewed, consulted” instead (don’t be afraid to use these words – everyone else will be!)

3. Hiding the best bits on the back page of the CV. The employer will read the first half page of your CV with full attention, but if the first half page doesn’t grab them, they may never make it to the second page.  Use a CV format that allows you to put your best achievements in the first half page.  This might be a profile (a few lines about what you have to offer), an Achievements section or a Skills section.

4. Not putting your name and the page number as a footer on every page of the CV. It’s really easy for pages of a CV to get mixed up, and having a footer means that if this happens, the hapless work experience student doing the photocopying will be able to reunite the pages of your CV rather than hide them in the recycling box.

5. CVs that are too long. Remember that poor HR Assistant with 100 CVs to read…  A CV should not be more than 2 pages long (unless you are an academic or techie geek with a lot of research/projects to list).  Anything that happened more than ten years ago can be summarised.  You don’t need to repeat your skills when describing each job you have done – once you are back a few years, only list skills that are relevant and that you haven’t used in more recent jobs.

6. CVs that are full of tiny font and dense text – it’s not very inviting to read, especially if you are that bored HR Assistant. Use headings, font size 12, Arial, and leave plenty of white space between the sections and columns.

7. Writing Curriculum Vitae at the top of the CV, and then emailing your CV with the file titled “CV”. What if everyone else did this too?  That HR Assistant would have a folder full of files titled CV.  Use your name and the job title as the file name, and put your name at the top of the CV.

8. Putting lots of irrelevant personal information on the CV. You don’t need to put your date of birth, your ethnic origin, your photo (unless you are an actor), your marital status, your health problems, your age, your sexuality, the number of children you have, where you were born, your wedding date or when you plan to have children.  All of these things are potential reasons why an employer might discriminate against you, so don’t give them the opportunity.  However, if you have spent time outside the UK, you should state that you are a British Citizen or that you have the right to work in the UK.

9. Failing to use key words in an electronic CV. If you have been asked to send your CV electronically, the company may well do an initial search electronically, with the computer simply looking for key words from the job description or person specification.  If you don’t use these key words, you won’t make it past the first sift.  Some naughty jobhunters even type loads of potential key words in white text in all the blank bits of the CV just to increase their chances (although I wouldn’t recommend this strategy, as an employer may not feel kindly disposed towards you if they spot it).

10.  Dodgy email addresses, like CeriLovesSex@virgin.net or VampireVanessa@btinternet.net  Keep it professional!  And while you are at it, keep your answer machine message professional too.  And google your name to see what comes up (25% of employers will do this, you know!)

Help! Job Interivews Just Make Me Go To Pieces…

Q.  I get really nervous in job interviews, and I just go to pieces.  My mind goes blank, my voice shakes and I just can’t think straight.  Consequently, I never get the job, even though I feel I’m well qualified for the jobs I’m applying for (and I am getting interviews).  Help!

A. Job interview nerves are very common, and you need some strategies to get them under control.  Many people hate job interviews, and few people look forward to them without any nerves at all.  However, a little adreneline can be a good thing, prompting you to prepare properly, think fast and rise to the occasion.  Your task it to get your anxiety levels down to the level where they are working for you, rather than against you.

What sort of conversation do you have in your head about job interviews?  Chances are, it goes along the lines of “I’ll never get the job, I’ll make a fool of myself, I can’t do it, I’m going to mess it up.” Well, it’s time to change that, because this sort of negative talk just puts you in a very unresourceful frame of mind.  It’s the perfect excuse for messing up.

You need to replace this negative conversation with something more like “I’m well qualified for this job, they must think I can do it because they’ve invited me for an interview, I’m just going to go in there and do my best, and I’ll show them all the skills I’ve got and why I could do the job really well.” It’s not enough to say this to yourself once, you have to say it consistently until you believe it.  Whenever you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, replace them with positive statements.  Put reminders to yourself around – post -it notes on the mirror, an elastic band on your wrist, so you do this consistently.  This way, you can use your “self-talk” to put yourself in a more positive state of mind.

The other key thing is to prepare really well.  Read all the information you are given and research the company to get background information.  Think about why you want to work for this company, and what you could contribute.  Look at the key skills and experiences that the employer is looking for, and think about how you can demonstrate that you have these attributes.  Finally, think of three key reasons why you are the best person for the job, so you can be absolutely sure to weave these three things into your answers.

Practice talking about your skills and experience with a friend or in front of the mirror, so you are actually saying it out loud.  As you practice, pretend to be a more confident version of yourself, who doesn’t suffer any interview nerves.  Then try recording your answers and play them back to yourself until you do sound like this more confident version of yourself. It’s really important to say things out loud so they become real to you.  The more often you practice, the more likely it is that an answer will come to you even if your mind is a bit blank.

Put some care and attention into how you dress on the day.  You should dress a little smarter than you would actually dress for the job (so smart casual for a nursery nurse, suit for an office job).  You want to feel smart, but comfortable, and if you do, it will add to your confidence levels.  A good haircut and a new suit that fits you really well might earn their keep.

Practice relaxation exercises in the run up to the interview.  Try deep breathing – slow and deep breaths will calm your body down and reduce the physical feelings of anxiety (the shaky voice, the butterflies in the stomach).  Sit in a quiet place, and breath long and slow for a few minutes a day until you get used to this way of calming yourself.  Another relaxation exercise is to lie comfortably (perhaps on your back) and then tense and relax each part of your body in turn.  Then lie quietly for five minutes, with your body fully relaxed (remember the muscles in your face!).  There are also many relaxation and self-hypnosis CDs that you can relax to.

On the day, you can use deep breathing as you travel and while you wait to be called in for the interview, and this will reduce your physical feeling of anxiety.  You could also do a full body relaxation before you leave the house.

Once in the interview, smile and greet the interviewer/panel.  Remember they are only human too. Some people say you should imagine the interview panel naked, but I wouldn’t recommend that – too likely to lead to a fit of the giggles, and no good at all if the panel are unexpectedly attractive!  But it is worth remembering that the panel may be as nervous as you are, if they don’t have much experience of interviewing, and you should think about how to put them at ease.

If your mind does go blank, it’s absolutely fine to ask for a question to be repeated (better than answering the wrong question).  If your voice is a bit shaky, stop and take a deep breath, then start again.  Remember to speak slowly.  It may not be the end of the world if you do confess to being a little nervous, as a good interviewer will try to put you at ease.  Afterall, almost everyone gets nervous about job interviews, so you are only being honest.

You might also think about doing a course or getting some one-to-one help, particularly if anxiety or a lack of confidence impact on other areas of your life:

  • Yoga, tai chi and mediation – all would help with reducing general anxiety levels and increasing your sense of calmness and wellbeing
  • Drama or public speaking – would help with confidence in making presentations and appearing confident in interviews
  • Hypnosis or Neuro-Linguistic Programming – would help you train your mind into a more positive and resourceful state
  • Careers advice – to help with preparing for tough questions and perhaps practicing in a “mock interview”

Good luck with this!  Remember, you are getting interviews, so you do have the skills and experience to do the jobs you are applying for.  An employer wouldn’t bother to interview you unless this was the case.

 

To Plan Or Not To Plan?

I recently asked a group of professionals how many of them had a long-term career plan.  About half said yes, about half said no.  Perhaps you would expect that the go-getting dynamic characters would be the “yes” group, and the plodders would be the “no” group, but it wasn’t the case.  There were plenty of able, ambitious people in the group who couldn’t really say clearly what their long-term career goal was.

Traditionally, career guidance assumes that having a long-term goal is a desirable state, progress towards vocational maturity.  We expect teenagers to be able to work out what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  We write action plans, detailing short, medium and long-term goals.  When a client doesn’t have a long-term goal, we struggle.  What should we write?  How can the client plan?  Is there a plan at all?  We feel there is something wrong with our guidance if the client emerges without a long-term goal.

And clients tend to book career guidance sessions because they feel they want a long-term plan.  The more high-achieving the client, the more pressure they feel to have everything mapped out.  Clients tend to leave a guidance interview with a goal.  But when you start to follow-up those same clients, you find them split, between those who have more or less followed the plan, and those who have ended up doing something different, perhaps because circumstances changed, perhaps because another opportunity presented itself or perhaps because when they started to research in a little more depth, they found out things that put them off.

I only need to look around at my friends and acquaintances to see that real life career planning is rarely so neat as identifying a long-term goal, a progression route and moving towards it in a series of logical steps.

Of the people who have planned in this fashion, many are now established in the more traditional, structured professions but complain that they are stuck in a “sausage factory”, moving onto the next step without ever thinking about whether it is the right one.  They diligently climb each rung of the career ladder, yet when they finally get to the top, will they like what they see?  Or will they just feel they put all their effort into climbing the wrong ladder?

A much more common pattern is to make decisions without much of a plan in mind.  Many of my friends chose university courses because they liked the subject, took a job because it sounded interesting, went travelling because they wanted the experience, had children by mistake and then went part-time, jacked in a job because they couldn’t stand the boss, got made redundant, found a better job through personal contacts, retrained because of an advert they saw in the paper, moved to a new city so they could afford a house.  It’s a random hotchpotch of decisions, each one seeming right at the time but not leading towards any long-term goal.  And yet some of my friends are extremely successful.  Most of them have jobs that they enjoy and pay the bills.  So they must be doing something right.

Modern approaches to career guidance are divided on the benefits on having a long-term career goal.  The  Neuro Linguisitic Programming approach (often used by life coaches, amongst others) is clear about the benefits of knowing what you want.  A common NLP technique is to visualise how your life would be in five years, if everything had gone as well as it possibly could.  What sort of work will you be doing?  What will you look like?  Where will you live?  Making this visualisation very clear, and returning to it creates a long-term focus.  And by focusing on what you want, you will pay more attention to things around you that could help you achieve your goals.  Your energy will be directed to where your focus is – your long-term goal.  The more you visualise your goal, the more you will move towards it.  It’s a positive self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s certainly true that without any goals at all, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same old things and never moving on.  Lots of people do the same job year in year out, feeling bored, but never finding the incentive to do anything different.  They get comfy, they enjoy the security and don’t feel motivated to trade this security for challenge, variety or fulfillment.

There is something very inspiring about allowing yourself to dream about what you really want to do – what you would do if the mortgage, the kids, the pension plan and the bills weren’t an issue? What you would do if fear of failure didn’t get in the way? What you would do if you had plenty of time and money on your hands?   A lot of the time, we don’t allow ourselves to dream about things that seem unrealistic, fearing that it will only lead to a sense of frustration and failure.  But sometimes, allowing yourself to dream can lead to small actions (or even big actions) that actually do take you in a new direction.  The challenge can be to find a manageable, bitesize action to get started with.

An alternative approach is “Planned Happenstance” (see http://www.plannedhappenstance.com), an approach to career planning which encourages people to plan without having long-term goals.  The “happenstance” is a reference to the role of chance and luck in real careers – jobs found through acquaintances, random adverts responded to, life changes that we have no control over, experiences stumbled into.  However, there is an acknowledgement in this approach that we do “make our own luck”.  And this is where the “planned” comes in – we can consciously seek out experiences that we enjoy, network with interesting people, research things that interest us, develop our skills and interests, do plenty of the things that we enjoy most.  By doing all of this, we put ourselves into situations in which opportunities are likely to come up.

There are a lot of advantages to this approach – by concentrating on doing things we enjoy, we are likely to be moving into fulfilling and enjoyable work.  By networking and seeking out new experiences, we are putting ourselves in line to discover the “hidden jobs market” – the 70% of jobs that are never advertised.  It’s also approach that is more likely to lead to being “in the moment” – just enjoying the present, rather than deferring happiness until some distant goal is achieved.

I’m not sure that NLP and Planned Happenstance are entirely inconsistent.  It depends on how specific you are about your dreams.  If you use NLP to identify that your dream job is to be the HR Manager of your company, that is pretty specific.  But if you use NLP to identify that you want a job where you can be an expert, have good work-life balance, have enough money for a bigger house or help others to sort out their problems, your goal is pretty broad and there is plenty of room for Planned Happenstance in there as well.

Both approaches encourage people to move in the direction of things they want and enjoy, to seek out people and experiences who can help them.  Both approaches encourage a proactive stance, looking out for opportunities and making the most of them when they present themselves.  Both approaches encourage a focus on developing skills – in research, networking, managing emotions and communication.  And afterall, the world of jobs and careers is always changing, and surely it is these skills that will enable people to better manage their careers, to find themselves doing work that they enjoy (and also paying the bills while they are at it).

Incapacity Benefit Or Fit For Work?

A lot has been made in the news this week of the new medical assessments for Incapacity Benefit (renamed Employment Support Allowance last year) and the number of claims that are being dropped or turned down as a result.

I find this rather alarming, for two reasons:

The Fairness of the Medical Assessments

Firstly, I have seen for myself how totally random these medical assessments are.  Recently I spent a morning with an adviser working with clients on Incapacity Benefit/ESA.  The first client had “passed” a recent medical; he suffered from depression, and as he talked, it was clear that having a supportive job, some voluntary work or a course to attend would have actually been beneficial to his mental health.  He wasn’t incapable of work, but would need support to find work and then to remain in that job.  The second client had recently “failed” a medical.  He had cancer and was regularly attending medical appointments and chemotherapy, and as a result, was constantly suffering pain, fatigue and nausea.  Yet he had been told he was fit for work and could no longer claim.

From talking to the adviser, I learned that these seemingly random decisions are very common.  So what is the explanation?

  • Is it lack of competence on the part of the doctors conducting the medical?  They are after all, not specialists.  But surely even a GP could distinguish which of the above two clients was more capable of being in work?
  • Is it a lack of guidelines?  Perhaps one doctor only passes those too sick to walk out of the office, while another happily passes everyone?  This seems unlikely, given the amount of burocracy in typical public sector organisations.
  • Or is it targets?  Maybe if you get seen at the beginning of the month, the doctor is reasonable, but by the end of the month, he has to make his targets, so fails everyone until the target is met.  Call me a cynic, but my money is on this explanation.

Support To Get Back Into Work

Even if these medical assessments were fair, I would still have concerns.  Some distinction does need to be made between those who are genuinely too unwell to work at all, and those who could work in some form, given the right support.

Many people on IB / ESA suffer from chronic conditions – often mental health problems (maybe depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder) or chronic pain (typically, back problems or arthritis).  Many of these people could work, but need a lot of support to become “job ready” and would then need a lot of support from their employer to stay in work.  Simply, taking away their benefit is not going to get them back into work.

Most clients need a whole package of support,which might include:

  • Confidence building
  • Social skills
  • Emotional Intelligence (e.g. anger management)
  • Support to manage their condition
  • Job search skills
  • Basic skills (literacy, numeracy and IT)
  • Guidance in finding a new career direction compatible with their condition
  • Vocational training
  • Counselling
  • Voluntary work

Even with this package, they will find it hard to compete in the jobs market, where a period of poor health is often viewed with suspicion by employers.

Should they find work, they might also need an employer who is sympathetic to their needs and prepared to make enough adjustments for them in the workplace.  They might need part-time hours or flexi time to fit around flare-ups in their health problem.  It’s not always easy to find this sympathetic employer when you need it.

So I do worry.  I worry that we are just moving people off Incapacity Benefit and the Employment Support Allowance and putting them on Jobseekers Allowance.  And this is important for two reasons. It’s not just because you get less money on JSA.  It’s also because the Labour government initiated programmes like Pathways to Work, to give claiments on Incapacity Benefit some of the support they needed to get back into work, and claimants loose their eligibility for these programmes as soon as they are switched to JSA.

I don’t see this government putting in place any of the support that people with ongoing health conditions need to re-enter the labour market.

How Do I Go Self-Employed?

Q. I’m currently jobless so this blog is of great interest to me. I want to start a research consultancy and see how it goes. Can you recommend any companies that help you build job websites/ cards etc. Or anything that generally gives advice re becoming self-employed?

A. Interestingly, there are more people going freelance than ever before – perhaps as a result of redundancies or because developments in communications technology have made it easier to work from distance and communicate with large numbers of people.

Support With Getting Started

In most parts of Britain there are organisations that offer help to people who are starting up their own business or going self-employed.  Organisations may offer support with creating a business plan, training (sometimes covering market research, finance, legal aspects of self-employment, marketing or web-page design), office facilities, networking opportunities and/or mentoring from more experienced entrepreneurs/business coaches.

Try http://www.businesslink.org.uk (or Business Eye in Wales) to find out what is available near you.Small businesses that have professional support have a better success rate on the whole, so this really is worth doing.

Market Research

You will need to draw up a shortlist of organisations that might use your services.  It makes sense to start locally, as you can build a personal relationship with people more easily, but there is no reason why all your clients should be local.

Then try to arrange a visit (with the person who would commission your services if possible) to find out more about them and what services they require.  Yes, you are selling yourself, so you’ll need a good CV and examples of your work, but you also want to listen well – what problems do they have?  How could you solve their problems?  By really understanding the problems and needs of the company, you will be better placed to market yourself to them.

By doing this, you are also creating a network of people you can keep in touch with, and they may be able to introduce you to other people who might need your services.

An Online Presence

Employers will often simply google your name if they want to find out more about you.  Try this now and see what comes up.  If there is anything unsuitable take steps to get rid of it!

You can also give yourself a positive online profile by:

  • Joining professional associations
  • Joining professional networking sites, like LinkedIn
  • Reviewing professional books (e.g. on Amazon)
  • Writing a blog
  • Writing articles for journals or getting research published
  • Creating your own website

You asked about creating your own website – this does require some time and expertise, so you might need help. There are some simple templates that you can use if you want to make one yourself.

But if you want to get started quickly, I would recommend a blog like this one.  Go to http://www.wordpress.com to see how to do it – you can get it up and running in minutes.  You could use it to showcase examples of your research and your CV.  It’s also easy to keep up-to-date and add to as you do new things.

Networking

Start by using all your existing contacts – friends, family, former work colleagues, friends from university, teachers, parents at the school gate – and let them know what you are doing.  Ask them if they know anyone who works in the sort of organisation that might need your services, and if so, whether they could introduce you.

Go to conferences and meetings where you are likely to meet other researchers and the people who might commission research.  You can also “cold call” organisations that you know commission research.

Aim for face-to-face meetings as much as possible – they have far more impact than phone calls (and emails should be a last resort!)

Once you have made contact with someone, keep in touch at regular intervals – a quick note to let them know what you are doing and thank them for their help.

A bit of inspiration!

If you want a bit of optimistic inspiration to get you motivated, I would recommend reading “Screw Work, Let’s Play” by John Williams – see http://www.screwworkletsplay.com

If any readers are self-employed and have tips, please leave your comments!