Interviews and a laboured analogy

A few years ago, I joined a running club in the States. A great group of women, encouraging and pushing one another to achieve various running aims, many of whom have become life long friends. I hadn’t run much before we moved, and I certainly hadn’t run with much conviction, but I found a passion and I nurtured it. 7 marathons later, I’ve learned a thing or two as well. Some things about running, some things about the world and a lot of things about myself. When I’ve trained for a marathon, I’ve (mostly) followed a training plan. The first one seemed like witchcraft, but since then, I’ve got the hang of the rhythm they follow. There are long, steady runs where you increase your distance week on week but at a comfortable pace. There are tempo runs, where you run uncomfortably fast but for a shorter distance. There are interval sessions, where you run very hard and fast, but for short times / distances with rests in between. Then there are runs that you just do to up your weekly mileage. So you do this every week, increasing distance, hopefully getting faster, but after 3 or 4 weeks, you step back and let your body recover a bit, with the next big push in sight.


I decided I needed to take the same strategy to my job search. I’m not going to labour the metaphor, but I thought that I should take a range of different approaches, cultivating my network, gaining new skills, and working on my application / interview skills. And I needed to ‘up my weekly mileage’ and just spend more time working on my job hunt. Anyone who has been in my situation knows it’s a truism, but looking for a job really can be a full time job in its own right.


For a few weeks, I tried really hard. I started this blog, I networked like crazy and mostly I applied to at least one job a week. Nothing fancy, all jobs I thought I could do, and do well and find interesting. It doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it? Rejection followed rejection. I wasn’t even getting interviews for jobs I felt I was overqualified for. And although this was demoralising, I persisted. I looked back over applications, honed my ‘competencies’, worked on my covering letters and just plugged away.


Reward eventually came in the shape of not one, but two interviews. On consecutive days, the day after I was due to run a 30 mile race. I spent a couple of days researching the positions further, wrote two different presentations back to back and lined up 2 sets of interview clothes. Even that wasn’t straightforward! I have some nice clothes, but mostly they are nice for evenings out, not smart for an interview. I also had the slight problem of very grazed and scratched legs from my race the day before, so skirts and dresses were definitely out. Looking like my legs had gone to Fight Club without me isn’t really the professional demeanour I’m aiming for.


Both interviews went reasonably well. I felt I was able to deliver my presentation adequately, answer most of the questions and then ask some searching-but-not-too-challenging questions when it was my turn.

Neither were successful.

But it’s the process I want to talk about particularly.  One was a local position, one national but with a local office. The local one is in an area not accessible by public transport (and it would be a brave pedestrian or cyclist who attempted it). The assumption made was that I would drive to it. It was also later in the day, so that there was no way I would make it back to school in time to pick up my kids. The national one was held in London. In a particularly trying twist of fate, I actually had to walk past the local office to get to the station to get to London, where I met another candidate who had also traveled in from Bristol. I went on the train which is expensive (nearly £100) but quick. She took the bus, which is cheaper but takes twice as long. Neither of us were reimbursed for our attendance. I don’t even really know where to start with this as a barrier to equal opportunities (and both organisations were public sector ones with an ostensible commitment to them). The time, the cost, the travel. Fortunately I have reliable childcare, but without that, a whole day in another city is inconceivable for a stay at home parent.


I would like to say it was a useful learning opportunity, and that the feedback provided has enabled me to take steps to improve my performance in interviews to come. Sadly, the local job feedback was ‘you interviewed very well, but there was another candidate who interviewed better’. The national job has yet (maybe 10 weeks later) to provide me with any.


Needless to say, I am rather demoralised by this. I had a good hard push at applying for jobs, but following some interim success (getting interviews at all) perhaps it’s time for a few step back weeks for a bit of recovery before starting to push myself again.

Climbing the ladder (on my own)




Earlier in the year I went to a fundraiser for Zimbabwe as a friend’s plus one. It was a gloriously shabby whilst well heeled affair, the sort Bristol excels at. One of the money spinning ideas was an exchange of an hour of labour for a nominal contribution. I realised the event must be full of contacts I hadn’t made yet, and decided to ask for ‘career advice for a mum going back to work’, which I would exchange for a loaf of home made sourdough bread. I threw my requests into the hat and thought little more of it until next morning, when I woke up to a charming text from a man called Alan, offering to work on a mind map with me.


Nothing venture nothing gained, a couple of weeks later, we met on neutral territory for a coffee and a chat. Alan is a retired NHS psychiatrist, and you can hear his philosophy on mental health here. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak with him and just discuss how was working towards job hunting. Hearing someone acknowledge that my situation wasn’t ideal was a surprising relief. You can see the map Alan made me above. One of his ideas was about a ladder. We saw me in the middle of the ladder, and whilst I have plenty of people behind me – to extend the analogy, pushing me up – there is no one for me to reach up to above. There are various reasons for this, a significant one just being time: it’s been nearly 6 years now since I left my research job to move to the US with my family.

Finding people on the rungs above has now become a focus of my job hunt. I’m still looking at ads, and going through standard recruitment processes, but I’m also trying to be more proactive and work on some networks.

How do you extend your network?

What’s the point?

Once upon a time, I had a great job. I did consultancy work. I had a baby. I did a Masters degree.

Then I got made redundant.

So I did a PhD. I got published. I won prizes. I rode around in fire engines. I got funding for a post doc and then for further research.

Except we moved to America.

And now we’re back. And even with my masters, and my PhD, and my fundraising experience, I’m struggling to find a job. This blog is about that.

This is the default wordpress picture. This blog isn’t likely to have a lot of pictures.