After the honeymoon period.. finding a job

Tony Smith and friends
Tony Smith
By Tony Smith: June 14th, 2012

Okay, so you’ve returned home after volunteering, full of new experiences, new friends and a boxful of photographs to make sure you remember your time with VSO. Great. So first there’s the honeymoon period, catching up with the family and friends you left behind. However, reality soon catches up with you. Unless you’re retired, wealthy or have been on sabbatical from your employer, you probably don’t have a job and the job market is not as healthy as you’d like it to be.

This is what I was faced with recently, following four years of working in Ghana. ‘Four years?’ I hear you asking. Yes. I was with VSO for 18 months and was then offered a permanent role with an NGO, where I stayed for a further two and a half years. Returning home was not an easy decision, but my son informed me that I was going to become a grandfather – so that confirmed it, I was coming home.

You’ve probably now realised that I’m not that young. Correct, I’m 57 and expected job hunting to be a major challenge.

So let’s look at my working life. Starting at 16 as an apprentice motor mechanic, at 20 I moved into accountancy and was lucky enough to be employed by a large medical company. After 20 years in finance I was offered a secondment to their PR department, where I eventually became head of PR and Communications. In 2003, I took voluntary redundancy and set up my own PR business, which I later merged with a bigger company and became one of their directors.

You’re now thinking, ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. You’re probably right. However, I could do roadside repairs on my VSO motorbike and pick-up truck, I was able to produce financial accounts and I was able to write press releases and run campaigns.

When I arrived back in the UK I was expecting to be unemployed for at least three months, particularly in light of the recession. I decided to start my work-search effort with four questions:

Firstly – What would I like to do? Did I want to go back into PR? Did I want to return to the private sector? Did I want a career change?

Secondly - Income. Did I want to go back to the salary I was earning four years ago (plus a bit more for inflation)? Was I prepared to take a lower salary?

Thirdly – Was I prepared to relocate?

Fourthly – How would I go about searching for a job?

If we take these four questions individually, let’s see what answers I got:

Question 1

I’d already made the decision that I did not particularly wish to go back into PR. My heart was following the not-for-profit sector. Four years of knowing that I was making a difference to people’s lives in a positive way, however small, made this my first choice. The type of role I wanted in the not-for-profit sector? Possibly PR, possibly a senior role, possibly an administrative role.

Question 2

To earn my previous salary would have be wonderful, but what was more important – salary or job satisfaction? I gave myself a minimum salary limit, based on my needs, without undervaluing my experience.

Question 3

I had no ties. After four years in Ghana, I knew I could make my home anywhere in the UK and I knew the jobs market in my home city was not good.

Question 4

Everything is web-based now, so it was only a matter of deciding which sites to browse for the type of roles I was interested in.

I registered with the local government site, and the charity sites and I also browsed recruitment agencies that fitted my requirements.

Each weekday I sat at the PC between 9.00am and 1.00pm browsing jobs, Googling recruitment agencies, and changing my CV for each job I applied for so that it fitted with the job descriptions.

Three weeks later – Yes, after only three weeks, I was offered the perfect job. So, let’s see how it fitted with my four criteria:

  1. It’s in the not-for-profit sector
  2. The salary was within my defined limits
  3. I have relocated to Cardiff
  4. I found the role via

It can be done! I still think I was very lucky, returning home at the right time (most not-for-profits were preparing for their new financial year – April to March – and would be actively recruiting if they had roles available).

I know it’s not always that easy, but don’t stop looking, stay motivated and Good Luck!

Tony Smith in now Executive Director of Journeys Toward Recovery


2 comment on After the honeymoon period.. finding a job

  1. Harmeet Singh says:

    Hi Mr.Smith,

    Greetings for the day!.

    Its an honor for me who is new to Volunteering in the the overseas through VSO. I have applied recently for a suitable volunteer program overseas, for which the telephonic interview is scheduled soon. So , i was just going through the, got to see your blog. Quite inspirational and full of excitement too. I was wondering till now is financial crunch or flexibility an issue or a challenge for volunteering. As i am the only bread winner of the family, I have ot leave my dad, wife and a month old daughter back in India before I go out for a Volunteer program. I am presently working with an NGO in India serving for Free Ambulance Care. I want to know more from you about future of Volunteering with VSO at this age of 32?.

    Looking for your support and guidance.
    Harmeet Singh,
    Lucknow. India

  2. Oly Shipp says:

    Thanks for an optimistic blog!

    Your four points are really helpful. I found returning hard, and wish I’d spent more time considering your questions before I returned…

    1) What do I want to do? – well if I knew that, I might not have volunteered! At least I came back with a stronger idea of what I *don’t* want to do…

    2) Income – this was a real dilemma. I eventually took a lower-paid, temporary post, in return for a vastly improved work-life balance and a boss I respected – priceless, and both based on learning and reflection whilst volunteering.

    3) Relocation – my partner had already gained a place to study midwifery in Oxford, so I didn’t move back to London. But relocating is hard– the shock of returning is great enough, so removing yourself from remaining support networks is a risk.

    4). Searching – whilst I was away the economy nosedived, and the job market all but dried up, so I stuck with websites I knew already (in my case, but haven’t yet taken the plunge for a career change…

    A final thought: I went away on quite generous career break terms from my NHS Trust (since tightened up!). I didn’t actually return there, but it was good to have the option. I’ve met several returnees who resigned in haste and repented at leisure, so would be good if VSO urges new volunteers to consider this carefully.

    The broader point is that things will change whilst you’re away – the economy, your sector, and most of all yourself and your own priorities.

    For me returning was hard – but also a great opportunity to move to something better. Thanks again for the post, and good luck to all fellow returnees!

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