My benefit has run out and the Job Centre want me to be a cleaner!

I was an £80k a year professional, made redundant last summer. I’ve just had my six-month interview with the Job Centre and been told my jobseekers allowance (JSA) benefit is being ceased. That means no Government money unless I qualify for means-tested benefits. They also said I now have to apply for any job – I can no longer only apply only for managerial jobs. They have sent me for an interview as a cleaner. Can they do this?

Unfortunately, yes, they can. Contributions-based Job-Seekers Allowance (JSA) only lasts for 26 weeks. After this time, you will only receive benefits if you don’t have the means to support yourself. When you apply for means-tested benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions will take into account all income you receive from any source, including all savings and all assets (including rental property and shares).

They have the right to go through your bank accounts and to ask you for proof of things like household bills and expenses in calculating what benefit you are entitled to. It is a soul-destroying process and not one that I’d recommend anyone to go through unless there was absolutely no other option.

I have a suspicion that the Job Centre sometimes like to try and bring home the reality of your situation in less-than delicate ways, hence making a point in this case with the cleaner job, but the message they are trying to convey is a serious one. Unless you have private means, at some point you have to start working again, even if it’s not a job you want.

Beat the system – do something different

My strong advice is to create several new CV versions and approach interim and temp agencies for work while you continue your high-level job search. Temp work may not be very glorious and neither will it pay well, but it will pay a lot more, and be a lot less humiliating, than applying for means-tested benefits.

It will also get you out of the house, meeting new people and gaining valuable ground-level experience that could be very useful in your next major role. Who knows – you may meet a new spouse, new friends, a new mentee or even a new business partner.

Become an interim

For an interim position, most of your current CV can probably stay as-is, as interims are usually highly-qualified people who are simply brought in on a specific project or to cover between post-holders.

However, you may have to commit to a minimum contract period in order to secure the job. This is no different to giving notice from a high-level job, and should not put off any potential employers who might have to wait a few weeks for you.

Going contracting

When applying for temp or lower-level contract work, take time and care in preparing a suitable CV, tailoring it carefully to the content of the temp job. You are going to be a rare applicant for this kind of work, and you could easily scare off potential hirers who might be more comfortable with less experience and less potential threat. You have to prove that hiring you would be hiring someone who will really roll up their sleeves and get on with the job, and wouldn’t disrupt things by trying to pull rank.

Be honest about your situation in your profile section. Say that you are usually employed as a high-level professional in your field, and you are looking to use your experience and skills in contract work while you seek a new permanent post. Next, make yourself sound like an efficient joiner-in with no airs and graces. Make it clear you are not afraid to muck in, and say that, ideally, you’d like to work somewhere you could use your experience to make a real contribution.

When setting out your stall, put yourself into the shoes of the person you’d be being hired and managed by. You don’t want to steam-roller them with your experience and qualifications. Take out all the detail about the roles you’ve had, and consider reducing them down to a simple list of posts, employers and dates.

Instead, focus on creating a list of the skills you can bring, written in plain English rather than corporate-speak, and using the terminology from the temp job description wherever possible. Make sure you actually say you have the skills they are looking for (for instance, if they want someone who can do telephone interviews, say you can do telephone interviews, not just that you are skilled in recruitment).

Include something in your ‘about me’ section that makes you sound friendly and approachable. Be unthreatening. Focus on what could make you an asset to the hiring manager and a fit with their team, so that they feel attracted to you more than the other potential candidates.

Once you’ve secured some work, make a bee-line for the tax office for a more appropriate tax code that drops out expensive benefits-in-kind like a company car and health insurance.

Optimise the experience

On a personal level, try not to see this as a career low-point. You are still the same experienced professional with the same skills and capabilities as you were last week or six months ago. Sometimes life sends us unplanned experiences to test our mettle and add to our kit bag. This is one of those times – and it’s important to make the most of it, and be able to optimise it when you next go for interview.

January 17th, 2010 | Category: benefits, between jobs, CV, temporary, unemployment | 3 comments


  1. David Bayley

    I was humiliated at Hyde Job Centre by a woman who showed me how to use the terminal. I had gone in to find some extra work to get me through this recession, I was told”there is nothing for you, go and clean toilets”.”go and knock on neighbours door and do the gardens”. I sais nothing, I was gob smacked a young woman could speak to me as if I was dirt. I wrote to complain and got know where, it was like I was wrong. The current threat to my working tax credit will put me back on the dole, or with having savings over £6000, I may have to live on my equity release, which I took out because I could not run my buisness on nothing.I dread dealing with these people they are absolute morons, and Hitler like, when will we stop being accuse of all being lazy, it has to stop.

  2. Heather Goodwin

    David, I am sorry you had such an awful time. The job centre is just not set up for professional people, hence this site. Don’t give up; if you run the best job search you can, and your CV is designed to stand out, you will get interviews. Fine, maybe you will need to do something at a slightly lower level for a while, but this is an exceptional economic situation. I firmly believe the cream always rises to the top. Good luck.

  3. dolescratcher

    I have been on the dole for about 5 years on and off. 6 months on a job placement.
    Equates to minimum wage with long holidays!
    Lots of free time…

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