When a degree and experience means nothing on a résumé

Guest post: Elliot Harrison, with many levels of decent experience in writing and photography, along with this degree. What do they mean for the employment agencies? Diddly squat.

Zack Whittaker unfortunately melted in the heat today, and is being solidified by medical professionals as you see this. This guest post was written by Elliot Harrison. Normal programming on Monday: that is, if they can separate this gooey mess from this inconveniently placed bowl of Ramen noodles.

If you had come up to me today at two o'clock in the afternoon and asked me how my day was going,  I would have told you it had been just awful. The university's summer semester has been completed and a host of graduates, fresher’s and second year students have all descended upon the job market to either continue with their lives or try and find some kind of summer job.

Naturally, despite my experience in journalism and professional photography, I decided to hit temping agencies galore in an effort to find some work, anything to get me out of the house and into credit.

However, it wasn't until this morning when I realised just how difficult this notion can be. I had managed to get an appointment to register with a temping agency in my home town, and after being told there were a few forms to sign and a couple of computer tests to take, I was confident I would be on my way home fairly swiftly to watch the tennis; the work would come and find me.

The temping job red tape

The reality was I sat there two hours, which is an hour and a half longer than I think was actually necessary in a place where much of the process seemed ridiculous, invasive and unnecessary.

Firstly, I was taken through my details and confirmed that I am Elliot and not in fact an impostor, by producing my passport - a fairly usual procedure. However they soon became a little more absurd. Many different opt-out forms and a myriad of separate declarations were shoved under my nose, and most bizarrely a declaration of confidentiality with Sony.

This got my brain ticking, so I asked: "Why am I signing a confidentially agreement with Sony?". The 'employment expert' replied that Sony is one of their largest providers of employment at the agency, and that if I did get a job there (which in my pessimistic eyes was unlikely) I would need to promise to be on my best behaviour and not send Sony secrets to other companies or individuals.

An utterly bizarre moment: why bother preempting employment (which ironically I almost certainly will not get on a temporary basis) and then ask me to sign some kind of confidentiality agreement with a company who will not employ me? I have to admit I was a little spooked by it but I signed the form to get on with the process which was being constantly interrupted by system failures on the network and phone calls, presumably to IT, who never answered, the problem persisting.

Then there was, in my opinion, the extremely invasive process of compiling all of my current and past data onto the system, meaning the need for the temping officials to get in touch with my university to confirm I am registered, the addresses and phone numbers of everywhere I have worked in the past two years and the addresses and telephone numbers of two personal referees who have each known me for five years. I asked what all this was for and I was told that previous employers and referees will be contacted and asked to rate me out of ten in terms of performance, like-ability, motivation, relationships with superiors and a host of other different categories.

I felt like I was doomed from the start; set up to fail, almost, and honestly believe that this is a ridiculous amount of time to spend on detail when I am likely only to work a job, if they find me one, for about two months, then leave and utterly forget about it.

It was rather overwhelming, and I was certainly not comfortable with giving that amount of information about me and my life to a girl in a temping agency so early on in the morning (for a student) who I had never met before nor could accurately vouch for her appeared authenticity.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the whole experience was how very unimportant I was made to feel as a person by the agency. I'm not being a wimp, but I was addressed with lots of sentences like "keep your phone on, we'll call early in the morning to offer work", "...if you won't pick up on a regular basis, I'll put you down on the system as not looking", and, "there are a lot of people who need work so I don't have to time to do...". I felt like an absolute inconvenience and this concerned me.

However I did understand, I am only looking for temporary work and I understand that the influx of students in the summer makes this a stressful endeavour. I may not be a graduate, but I am proud of my achievement in that I attend and study at a good university. Yet it dawned on me today that this means very little to these people, or in fact anybody because, truth be told, I could have gotten away with not having a resumeat all;  just as long as I can type 80 words per minute and can successfully copy and paste in Word or Excel.

I realised today that all of the work I have done in reporting technology news in the hope to boost my career prospects and even the fact I am a professional photographer means absolutely nothing to the temping agency - even in this technologically booming day and age. And that fact, whilst I am aware is very true for the majority of graduates and students, is still extremely frustrating.

The iGeneration is a select group of talented and technologically enhanced individuals– young and impressive, and essentially go-getters. I have realised today, much to my disappointment that the opportunities for them to be able to create inside of the workplace are actually narrow for the majority. They are instead, forced to carry out their individual project work within the confines of university and are unable to easily enhance their everyday jobs with their skills and creativity.

The technology is aged

The Microsoft Word and Excel test was nothing more than a historical joke . All of it was computerised and ran off of a virtualisation process from what I could see; either that or some web based creation designed to imitate the interface.

My first issue was that the test was on a very old version of the software - Office XP, nearly a decade old, and not one I was entirely familiar with any longer, not only that but the system of testing was sluggish, unresponsive and crashed a great deal.

For half an hour, at one point I was staring at a fragmented screen, listening in to a conversation between the lady interviewing me and a budding Bristol graduate, toffing a great deal about his "inward facing" work with Toyota during his "Gap Yah" and looking very impressed with what he was saying; utterly convinced in his Cambridge-reject mind that he was paralysing the girl with impressive sounding business jargon – convinced that Alan Sugar would come waltzing in any minute saying "you're hired!".

He was then cut dead in a way which made him look like a forty year old depressive drunk by being told that his resume wasn't comprehensive enough and that he needed to give more information about his telemarketing experience when he was at school.

I turned back to the screen and by then the system had defrosted itself and I was eagerly clicking away and then  moved swiftly on to the typing test which could not respond to my keystrokes fast enough – the result being me stamped as distinctly average.

Just another 'student statistic'

Then the bombshell. I had completed the tasks and was about to leave when she offered me a job saying she's got some data input work. "Great", I said, to which she replied, "yes well actually, you've scored quite average on the typing and I'll have to offer it to someone a bit quicker than you first. Oh, besides you can't do it anyway, its for next week and you told me you need to keep the first three days free, how silly! Just ignore me."

I was utterly dumbstruck. She doesn't give a toss about the personal achievements I've accomplished, barely mentioned my degree and completely ignored my specialist fields of work of which I have specific and detailed experience in. They are little more than hobbies in the agency's opinion. She just wants to know that I can use ancient versions of Microsoft products and can type 80 odd words a minute – which I couldn't because the computer kept bloody crashing.

The day was doomed from the start and a sad one, for the increasingly unrecognised skills of the iGenreation. Every cloud though: I left and bumped into one of my neighbours in town, an elderly lady who had a computer problem. I said I would fix and it earned me a quick, tax free £100.

As a student - either of this generation or that of the older generation - how does this tale cope with what was before? Have you had any useless temping agency jobs and has problems like Elliot? Get in touch and have your say.