About Stargirl62

I am an Employment Advisor whose job it is to support the unemployed into sustainable employment. I'm also a keen taker of pictures. I'm not saying 'Photographer' as I feel I have a long way to go. My partner, The Bunnster, once told me I had a very keen eye and I should take up photography. To help me along, he brought me a camera. I bake cakes when I'm depressed, stressed or otherwise unhappy as it allows me to focus on something else. My colleagues at work love them and, although they would never want to see me unhappy or stressed, they do admit to loving the results. I love cocktails - Mojito, Vodka Martini, Long Island Iced Tea etc., - wine (preferably red) and Thai food. I like travelling. I recently came back from a trip to Cuba - a lifelong ambition. I fell totally in love with the people and the place and asked the Guide if I could become a Cuban citizen. He replied that only one foreigner has ever been allowed to become a Cuban citizen - Che Guevara. I enjoy crime thrillers and actively watch as much as I can on TV. Poirot, Miss Marple, Lewis, Morse, Frost, Vera, Luther, Sherlock, The Killing, Spiral and even repeats of Rosemary and Thyme. When it comes to books, having recently finished 'A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and 'The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, I'm dedicating myself to my friend Mark Hodder's 'Burton and Swinburne' series. My blog focusses on my exploits in baking and picture-taking, where I've actually earned money (much to my surprise) and also my job where on any given day I'm discussing, with my clients, the best way to "write your CV using the medium of photography".

Shoe Time!

I remember it was reported last year that someone moon-walked with the Mace.  I remember seeing a student take a selfie with the Chancellor as he collected his degree.  I remember another student conducting the audience in cheers.  But, first and foremost, I remember the shoes.

I suppose when you’re indistinguishable in your gown, mortar board and colours from the next student, the one thing you can do to reclaim your identity is to put your best, most glamorous, foot forward.

Last week I attended my second GSM London graduation at the Barbican and the ladies did not let me down.  I believe it was Marilyn Monroe who once said:  “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world”.  And with these statement shoes our students really were ready to conquer the world.  Add a BSc/BA/MSc/MBA to that and you can guarantee some serious universe-conquering action is going to follow.

I first noticed ‘graduation shoes’ when I attended my nephew’s graduation.  All the women were wearing vertigo-inducing heels in shapes, styles and sizes that made this flatty-loving individual’s eyes water.  I asked him what was behind it and he replied that they had all made a pact to do so.  It was impressive the way they carried themselves across the stage.  As each one came up I was convinced a trip was on the cards, but it didn’t happen.  It was plain sailing all the way.

The internet offers a whole host of tips when it comes to dressing for graduation and a lot them focus on shoes. Teen Vogue: pictures 13 heels it states you can “actually walk” in. Looking at them I would say that’s a matter of opinion.  Pin Interest:  has several boards dedicated to these skyscrapers of the feet and, in an article illustrated with an image made up of gown, mortar board and teeth, David  Ellis in The Telegraph suggests that wearing new shoes to the ceremony could indicate you’re not as bright as your degree makes out.  From my point of view, If you can hit the ground running in gravity-defying heels, traverse the stage with your head held high, shake the Chancellor’s hand and manage the steps the other side, yours is world, my friend and everything in it.

Purple and silver shoesGSM London students owned the stage at Graduation, making it their own when it came to footwear. For me the star of the show were these purple and silver beauties. The student wearer was impressive gliding across the stage, offering her fans a rather queenly wave.

Black and whiteFollowing hot on her heels were these strappy little numbers that reminded me of ‘101 Dalmations’.  Cruella De Ville would have been proud.  Their owner told me that she bought them then she built a whole wardrobe of clothes and accessories around them. I shared with her the fact that I did the same with a pair of earrings.

Silver bowsThese stunning peep-toes in silver, showed off elegantly painted nails and two very cute bows at the ankle finished off the look nicely.  They certainly came a close third in my Graduation Shoe Stakes.  The soon-to-be-graduate was completely bemused by being asked to show them off.

White block platformThis GSM London student wanted something to match her jumpsuit and she felt these were the perfect pair.  Questioned as to whether she had any concerns about getting across the stage safely, she crossed her fingers and smiled.

PinkLast, but by no means least, a pair of incredibly pink peep-toe stilettos.  There is pink, then pink, then there are these.  Their owner, a Human Resources Management student, was also up for a special award and thrilled that her shoes had been noticed.

I think back to my graduation and remember a rather sober affair with sensible shoes and dress.  The one flamboyant act was the graduate who sported shocking pink hair and received a spontaneous round of applause for her daring.  Now, it would be seen as just par for the course.

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It’s Good to Work/Walk

A number of years ago an article in a Sunday newspaper (I can’t remember which.) started me on the road to ‘Blogdom’.  It was entitled The No Diet Diet.  There was also a book (There’s always a book.), written by Professor Ben Fletcher, Dr Karen Pine and Dr Danny Penman.  The simple lesson was this:  “People are over-weight because they are imprisoned by their bad habits…break these hidden habits so you can effortlessly lose weight.”

At the time my evening routine, on returning from work, consisted of plopping myself down in front of the TV and ‘chilling’.  The article suggested that to break this kind of ‘bad habit’ you should write something – anything – for 15 minutes, then stop. It didn’t matter whether or not you had come to the end.  You did your 15 minutes and you stopped.  So, one evening I sat down and wrote about starting The No Diet Diet. Once I had finished I realised I could do this every day in a Blog, sharing the different ways in which I was trying to break my bad habits.  Thus I found myself on the road to ‘Blogdom’.

So, what has this got to do with it being good to work/walk, you’re thinking.  Well, in previous jobs I considered lunch breaks to be for Whimps.  For me there always seemed to be so much to do that it was easier to pop to the canteen, get a sandwich and be back at my desk in minutes to carry on working.  But now that I’m at GSM London as a Careers Adviser I have two very good reasons to break that bad habit.  With campuses in Greenwich and Greenford, two great London locations, my preferred option is to go out for walks at lunchtime rather than sit at my desk.  I may change my mind come the summer and the tourists, particularly in Greenwich, but for now these legs are made for walking.

It is good to go to work because, not only can I enjoy beautiful walks, particularly in the spring and summer, I can also indulge my other passion – photography.  The images below were taken on my mobile in Greenwich and Greenford.  It was a beautiful sunny day in Greenwich a few days ago and I was on a mission, along Trafalgar Road, to find a leisure centre to practice another ‘good habit’ – lunchtime swimming. In Greenford I discovered a path along the canal which is beautiful when the sun’s out. You have to make way for and dodge the odd member of what looks like the senior citizens’ walking club but it’s a pleasant, not too strenuous walk with lots of photo opportunities.  I’m thinking of taking my big camera on my next outing.

As a Careers Adviser I get the opportunity to do a job that I can say I honestly love doing in an environment that has opened up a host of other possibilities for me to use and craft a range of skills.  I can be creative with stills and videos to help students with their career strategy, I get to experience the health benefits of walking and I can improve my swimming.

So you see, for me, it’s good to work/walk.

Tree bridge bridge 1 bird Greenwich Walk 4 Greenwich Walk 3 Greenwich Walk 2 Lunchtime Walks

League Tables

They are everywhere – from the green playing fields of England to the hallowed halls of academia – League Tables are presented as a measure of performance and are studied avidly by those who actively participate and those who have a vicarious interest.

School League Tables – navigate to the Education Website, pop in type of school, post code, school name and region and voila! you get to know everything about the school, bar the colour of their politics.

Guardian University League Tables – it’s name, rank and number time for our universities. A few clicks will inform you that Oxbridge still holds sway at the top and Bath, Imperial College and Surrey are moving on up.

Premier League: on the Barclays Premiere League website currently. you can go back as far as the 1992/1993 season to see who was top of the League – Manchester United, who else and, when the season starts again chart your team’s progress.

So if you’re looking for the best school for your child, a top-rated university for your young adult or want to see how your team compares, league tables are very useful. But how about in the world of work? Is it right or fair that your performance (good or bad) should be open to public scrutiny?

There is a huge amount of accountability in my work. There is a high level of admin and minimum standards must be maintained and targets achieves. However attempting to balance these two aspects of the job can sometimes be overwhelming and, in the long run, detrimental to performance.  To get a client who has the triple whammy of 1) never having worked, 2) speaks little or no English, 3) has multiple health issues, into work requires a formidable arsenal of skills, in terms of progressing that person, which a league table with its concentration on percentages can never fully illustrate.

League tables may be employed as a way of monitoring accountability within the workplace and are great if you’re at the top, high-flying your way to bonuses and rewards, but what if you’re near the bottom? Do you really want your dirty linen hung on a public line for all to see? And, is this more an exercise in naming and shaming people into better performance rather than accountability?

By all means send out ‘hero-grams’ to the high-flyers but managers should also offer constructive help those who are ‘failing’ – not by naming and shaming but by taking a realistic look at the tasks to be performed by employees. Managers should help employees to prioritise and get organised in line with business objectives. Is there a level playing field in operation? Do some members of staff have more to do than others? Does the technology need upgrading to allow for more automation and less manual input?

More importantly managers should take every opportunity to demonstrate their own accountability – after all they are also employees. If you are publishing a league table to illustrate accountability and to be open and transparent managers should be very much present. Showing that managers are also accountable will certainly help in fostering a culture of accountability which would in turn go a long way towards increased performance and perhaps negate the need for league tables.

Customer Service

“Good customer service means having thorough knowledge of your inventory, experience with your products, and being able to help customers make the best choices for them.”  Job Search

An episode of what can only be described as bad customer service went viral earlier this week when a Customer Service representative for an internet provider, put a customer through phone hell by seeming to refused his request to stop his internet service.  Some reports indicated that the representative was simply carrying out the company’s instructions.

In my line of work most of the jobs my clients are likely to get will be in retail with a strong emphasis on customer service.  This got me thinking about my personal experience of customer service and how that translates into working with my clients to ensure they have the skills and attributes to successfully compete for jobs in this sector.

One morning, a few years ago, I stepped into a branch of one of Britain’s leading supermarkets in the Media Village in West London.  I was one on of my many diets – this time, the South Beach – and Phase II demanded copious amounts of grapefruit.  A quick scan of the fruit & veg section showed a distinct lack of the yellow balls so I asked an assistant.  I was met with a confused, furrow-browed stare.  In the end he got the Manager to help sort it all out.  Here’s what happened.

Me:  “Do you have any grapefruit in the stockroom?”

Manager:  (Puzzled look)

Me:  “Grapefruit.  Shaped like an orange, but yellow?”

Manager:  “Oh, I see! No, madam, there is grape which is a fruit but no such thing as grapefruit.”

I made my excuses and left.

This incident came into sharp focus this week as I helped a client tweak their CV to apply for a retail role.  The target company waxed lyrical in its literature about competencies, skills and abilities it required from staff in order for them to deliver exemplary customer service.

Most of the big retailers have complex online applications where job seekers have to go through many hoops before even being allowed to get their mitts on the application form.  When they do, and are successful, there’s an equally robust system of screenings followed by interviews and hopefully a job offer.  This is all to be commended as any employer would want the best people working for them.  However, sometimes when I visit a food or clothing retailer I’m absolutely convinced that something gets lost in translation between the employer’s expectations of its staff and the reality on the shop floor.

For example, in the last month I visited the same DIY store twice.  The first time the Assistant brought his scanner round to my trolley and scanned each product. On the second visit the cashier couldn’t even bring herself to look at me, so interested was she in applying some sort of cream/ointment to the back of her hand.  I had to lift everything out for her to scan and put them back again.  On the company’s careers page on its website, under “What *** expect from you” was this:  “The right attitude to deliver the best possible customer experience”.  Zero out of two.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Almost daily I visit a well-known sandwich and coffee establishment and can give you the names of four members of staff who will take your money, put your food and drink in a bag, give you change and yet keep up a running conversation with their workmate and never once look you in the eye.  Also not forgetting the food retailers who employ staff with little or no knowledge of the products they stock and sell.

Of course if I’m getting this service so are my clients and some are at a loss as to how certain Customer Service Assistants actually get the role. Not an easy one to answer, but my role is to do all I can to ensure my client understands the requirements of each stage of interview and does well enough to get the job and ring that Job Start Bell.

Entrepreneur states that:  “Good customer service is made, not born. Most companies find that employees require training to provide good customer service” and goes on to list four areas where employees can benefit from training.

With this in mind it might be useful for Managers and Human Resource specialists who write job descriptions to do a bit of floor walking to see if those on the ground actually do practice what those in the offices preach.

 

The Job Start Bell

Today, the Bell played a significant part in the life of one of my clients and a smaller, but no less important part in the lives of about 20 others in the office. But before I get to that, what thoughts does the ringing of bells conjure up?

• Big Ben – deep, sonorous
• Liberty Bell – independence
• School Bell – dragging you away from play
• Wedding Bells – uniting two people

According to the History of Bells website, “Bells are one of the most influential percussion instruments, whose powerful sound and simplicity in communication managed to become one of the most important instruments in the world”.

It goes on to say that “earliest examples of bells can be traced to ancient China, some 4000 years ago”. Travelling to all the corners of Europe over the next few centuries they were popularised by the Venerable Bede in the 8th Century when he “introduced the tradition of ringing bells at funerals”.

Today bells are everywhere, acting as a symbol of the changes in our lives. In my work it has equal significance. Like wedding bells, usually depicted as tied together at the top with a bow, the “Job Start Bell” represents the ‘marriage’ of employee to employer.

My job is to place the long term unemployed into sustainable employment. When one of our clients gets a job they are encouraged to ring the bell. In that one, two, three or more rings you have mass communication that goes beyond words. The Ringer is usually beaming from ear to ear. All the staff clap and cheer loudly and the other clients look on, nodding wisely. For those who’ve never heard it done before, this little scene usually ensues:

Client: “Why are they ringing that bell and why is everyone cheering?”
Advisor: “That person has just got a job”.
Client: “Can I ring it when I get a job?”
Advisor: “Absolutely”.

A body language expert would have a field day cataloguing and categorising each of our apprentice campanologist’s approach to this small exercise. There’s the:

• Shy One
• Bewildered One
• The REALLY Happy One
• The Quietly Confident One
• The Loudly Confident One – looking like Ali after winning a fight
• The “I just can’t do it” One

Today my client was The REALLY Happy One. With her rings she not only announced the change in her life but in the lives of all the people in that room and the lives of all the people she knows.

Some have been known to call the ringing of the “Job Start Bell” a cliché, I say: “When the Job Start Bell rings, my client get their wings”. (Apologies to It’s A Wonderful Life.)

Commitments

This evening I’m off to see The Commitments at the Palace Theatre with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  It is a belated birthday present and, although I’m really looking forward to it, I can’t help but wish it wasn’t on a Sunday evening. I don’t know about you but I always like to end my weekends at home.  From 7pm I want to be sitting in front of the TV or computer with a glass of wine or rum (7 anos Havana Club brought back recently from a trip to Cuba) just chilling and preparing the brain for work on Monday. 

Today it’s even more so as I can’t keep my hands off my new camera.  Currently I’m struggling to get the exposure compensation right and must have taken 100 photos of The Bunnster in my efforts to conquer the big EC. 

Tomorrow’s challenge is Live View Shooting and Manual Exposure and Focus.

New Camera, New Start

It has been known for me to earn a few pennies from taking pictures. Yesterday my partner, The Bunnster, gave me an late birthday, early Christmas present.  It is an EOS 6D and I used it to take a picture of this plant that was also given to me for my birthday.

Anthurium Madural

A first image from my new camera