Checking in (part one)

One of my main goals of using mindfulness is to help prevent an overwhelming build-up of stress throughout my working day. For me, stress comes a little too easily. I get myself worked up over simple tasks and beat myself up over easy mistakes. I’ve only recently started working full time and now suddenly I am getting migraines regularly when I never used to get them at all.

When I first started exploring mindfulness, I figured it was just a thirty-minute meditation per day and then that was it. I actually began to worry I would never find the time to do it. Thankfully, my course taught me to “check in”. This involves stopping for a minute, or two, or three, during your working day and grounding yourself in the present moment. This can be done through focusing on your breath, but it is also encouraged that you check in with your thoughts. As Penman and Williams put it, checking the “weather pattern” of your mind. Are you panicking? Day-dreaming? Planning? Once you’ve established where your mind is, gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

I’m still working on this. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to remind myself to check in when I’m busy. When it’s quiet, however, it’s easier. Don’t worry, it’s not essential that you close your eyes, you can simply lower your gaze. If you work in an open plan office, like I do, that’s quite a relief!

Earlier this week I was forced to call in sick due to my newfound migraines. When I went into work the next day I had tonnes of work waiting for me. I was determined not to let it get the better of me and made a point of checking in whenever I could. It helped, that I can say for certain. I kept a headache/potential migraine from building as I continuously focused on my breathing. I took one task at a time depending on priority and I left that evening feeling content.

How I Survived A Nightmare Interview

4607149956_6590a07e0d_zWhoever said it’s easy to get a job when you already have a job has never worked in recession-clad Ireland. No matter what your situation, getting that call to say that you’ve been selected for an interview feels like a privilege rather than an achievement. And I got that call quite recently from a well-known English franchise that shall remain nameless. And I thought, great! I can wow them with how I’m perfect for this job in the standard 10-20 minute interview, right? Wrong. Little did I know I was to embark on, what I would consider an obstacle course and I had to do it all in my formal ‘interview’ clothes that I had thoroughly dusted off.

The interview took place in a very fancy hotel which made me wonder if they could afford to pay me more than their “non-negotiable” €22,000 a year. To me, and to anyone applying for a full time job today, that’s a lot of money, almost double what I’m receiving now in my current job. Not to mention the benefits on top of that. If I was successful, I would be given eight weeks training during which time I could not have holidays booked (and I didn’t).

It was just me and another young woman in the lobby and at 11.30am on the dot, we were called inside and placed in a meeting room together where we were offered glass bottles of still and sparkling water (fancy). To our left there was a large chart board outlining four categories: Why [company name]? Why you? Why role? Driving factors. My colleague and I discreetly exchanged looks of slight apprehension. Obviously that chart was for us.

We were given the outline of the day ahead of us: A standard interview, then two smaller interviews and a 15-minute presentation- Wait, what? My potential colleague and I were given a minute to take this all in, well, not to take it all in but instead to wait to be called for the first stage with sweaty palms and our flight instinct suddenly kicking in.

The standard interview was what I had prepared myself for. Even though it had been a while since I had a job interview, it was basically the same as always: Experience, why you want this role, any holidays booked, etc. Then came the question I was ready for and convinced it would make me look just that little bit better: How would you commute to [company]? I immediately declared I had my own transport and a full, clean driver’s license.

“We have no parking facilities,” said the interviewer.

…Wow. I never thought having your own car would be seen as a negative in an interview. I assured her I had relatives nearby (which was true) and that I could park there. Between interviews I was allowed a couple of minutes to relax and sweat in the overwhelming heat of the meeting room. The two short interviews that followed involved discussing scenarios. Firstly, where I showed empathy to a customer and, secondly, when I persuaded a customer to my way of thinking. Thankfully, this wasn’t difficult for me, as I have worked in retail for over three years.

And then came the presentation. Using post-its, I had to fill in each of the sections on the chart board and then present them to the interviewer when they returned. I’m always surprised when I do well in a presentation, seeing as I spent a total of five years in college struggling to do exactly that.

“We would like you to come back at 3.30pm for the role play part of the interview.”

This was 1.00pm. After many encouragements that I had “passed” the interview process, how could I refuse? I felt sure I had a real shot at this job, so I relented. Before I left, they asked me to be discreet about making it to the next stage with my colleagues, so I presumed the other girl didn’t make the cut. I drove home and then came back in two and a half hours.

It was now me and another young man. Again, we were brought into a meeting room and given an outline of the final stage of the interview. Another presentation and then the role play. To be honest, I was getting pretty fed up but I had come this far, how could I possibly stop now? The second presentation involved me drawing up a storyboard of how I would persuade a customer to keep their subscription with the company. I was given the information sheet, a chart to draw on and markers. I had thirty minutes to do this.

Twenty minutes in, an interviewer came in with “extra information” of the scenario I was working with. Now, if I had been drawing on a white board, I could edit the scenarios no problem, but I wasn’t. How could they possibly expect me to adjust anything in just ten minutes? I understood why, but I couldn’t help but find it… What’s the word? Stupid! Test or no test, it was a dick move. Once the half an hour was up, I was given the chance to explain my storyboards and demonstrate my lacking in the extra information I was given. Suddenly I didn’t feel so confident, but surely they understood, right?

Finally, the role play. Me and the other young man were brought back together and given two mobile phones (one each). In half an hour, they would ring and we would have to demonstrate our ability to deal with a customer complaint. We were given information on the products the company had to offer in order to assist us. In fact, I had studied the products prior to my interview but I didn’t consider myself savvy enough to know them by heart. I was sweating and shaking, staring at the phone like it would combust at any minute.

Mine rang first. Posing as an irate customer, the interviewer complained that she had experienced rudeness from one of the company’s employees and that she had been on hold to me for over twenty minutes. She wanted to cancel her subscription, as she had found it cheaper elsewhere. I struggled, I’m not going to sugar-coat that. And at one stage I went completely silent, leading the interviewer to check if I was still there. I was scanning the information sheets we were given, trying to solve this problem. I had to offer the customer a cheaper rate with various different products. I did so badly, it was laughable, but I figured I would be given eight weeks training to improve myself, right?

Because they were recruiting almost immediately, my phone interviewer informed me that I would either be told there and then or later that evening. My person-to-person interviewer, however, said it would be five to seven days, even though the start date was a little over a week away.

Deep down I knew I didn’t get it, but when I got the rejection email the following morning, it still hit me hard. I had really tried during that ridiculous excuse for an interview. But I learned something in the end: No future interview could possibly be as bad as that one…

All work and no college: finding the balance when working part time

College fees seem to go solely in one direction: up. Even the grant system can only help the average student so much by merely paying a percentage of the fees. Where does the rest come from? Perhaps your parents can afford to pay them, or you were smart and started saving early and have the money sitting in your Credit Union account. For the rest, a part time job seems to be the only way to make ends meet, not just for college fees, but for basic needs such as food, and in some cases, accommodation. It almost seems like the norm that students struggle financially.

It is not just the stress of having no money that inflicts a majority of Irish third level students, but having a part time job can also be quite stressful. Now you have to find a balance between two almost equally stressful situations. It’s a catch-22: you can’t afford not to work and you can’t afford not to attend classes. Fees are so high that it can almost feel like you’re throwing away money not attending your evening classes for the sake of making your 5.00pm work shift. Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Fortunately, a lot of employers will do their best to arrange your shifts around your college schedule, but is that really enough? You can’t ask more of your employer, but working evenings and weekends can take its toll. Suddenly you have no time to do your assignments outside of college hours and you can’t remember when you had a day that was free of work and college. A good idea is to book your work holiday entitlements when you have a week off college also, for example, the reading weeks. You can get assignments done and still have time for yourself.

Finding the balance

It all depends on how much money a week you can live on. Some may find that they have to take on extra hours just to pay off loans or rent. Others find they can work just two days a week and still have money left over. Everyone needs a balance, but it’s not the same balance.

Working weekends only may not seem ideal because you’re guaranteed no weekends off for the duration of the terms. However, the upside of not working the weekdays means you have rest periods as well as time to do your assignments, because face it, if you had weekends off you wouldn’t waste them doing assignments anyway. Another plus is that most college courses provide at least one day during the week in which there are no classes. Think of the possibilities!

On the other hand, if you would prefer not to spend your weekend working long shifts, then working evenings can be manageable. Ensure that your employer knows when you can and cannot work. Also take into account the time it takes you to travel from college to work. If, for example, it takes you two hours in heavy traffic to get there in the evenings, chances are you won’t make it for your 6.00pm shift after finishing college at 5.00pm. However, if you finish at 4.00pm, you will more than likely make it; just don’t pressure yourself if you feel it is too much.

College and work can be stressful in their own ways, but they are manageable as long as they don’t clash with each other. No one can tell you what way to arrange your timetable, the only advice is to arrange it so that you’re comfortable and that you are no longer dealing with unnecessary stress.