Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Guest-post: It takes a village for one girl to get a job

Cupcakes from the assignment
By: Christelle du Toit

A friend of mine has been looking for work and landed an interview with a top digital agency. 

It’s become pretty standard for applicants to have to do some writing or an assignment as part of the application process, but the brief sent by this agency blew my mind. 

They asked this young woman to create social media content for two clients, one being a producer of a product used in baking, the other a top-end restaurant. She had to create a Facebook post with a 60-second video for the baking product, and three Instagram posts for the restaurant. 

My question to this agency is: are you clinically insane? Or just unusually cruel and mean? Do you realise that you are setting talented young people up for failure? Do you know yourselves what is required in resources and skills to do this? 

Please note, as an agency, you have resources at your disposal. If you were to create this content yourself, you would have a professional camera person, a food stylist, a lighting technician, a video editor, a production co-ordinator, cameras, computers, data, money, etc. etc.  Exactly how is a young person, who doesn’t have an income, is unable to pay rent or buy food for themselves, supposed to pull this off? 

To give you an idea of what it took to pull this off: my friend does not have the money needed to buy ingredients to bake and is not a professional baker. Both her parents are dead and her family is not well-off or geographically close to her. I was able to buy what’s needed, but needed another friend of mine’s help to buy the finishing touches and decorations as this had to happen a week before pay-day. I have a kitchen that is camera-friendly (and suits the look and feel needed for this specific product and target audience), but my oven has been acting up and I am not in a position to replace it. I had to find the time over the weekend preceding the baking to get to the right shops where I can buy the ingredients required, and make sure I have time to bake despite having to be at work at 5am in the morning. 

Fortunately my friend does have a high-end smartphone that can shoot HD video as well as a laptop with the video editing programmes needed. Another friend had to help us out with taxi money to get to the restaurant while the baked goods are in the oven where the applicant had to sweet-talk the waiters to help her set up food and drinks shots for things she certainly can’t afford to actually order – thankfully, the patrons who had it didn’t mind waiting a few minutes longer. 

The skill-set required of the job applicant is daunting in itself: you not only need to have a good visual eye, you need to understand the nuances of social media and what content works best on which platform, hot to compliment your visual content with relevant, enticing copy, have technical editing skills, sound mixing skills, understand marketing and audience differentiation, and be a good writer. This, of course, is before you start dealing with issues like data costs and being able to send the product to the agency – on time.

What happened to just having to worry about looking presentable in the actual interview and knowing what to answer when they ask you what your greatest weakness is? All of this, for just one job application! Looking for work is work in itself and it can takes month to land a job – it is simply not possible to go to this effort for every single job application. Clearly, young people have to jump through burning hoops while doing cartwheels and holding a plate of cupcakes (smiling) just to stand a chance of getting a job that, hopefully, pays a decent salary. Like, seriously?

It takes a village for one girl to get a job, but that village has to be in the city (where the jobs are), have money, have time on their hands, have skills and experience, and have resources like technology and transport. Most young people don’t have this available to them.

The face of poverty in South Africa is known to us: poverty is a young, black woman, often from a rural area, with little to no family support. Women end up financially dependent on their partners, often in abusive relationships, and spend all their time and money on their kids, families, and communities. They are damn lucky if they have a proper education, and probably had to go hungry many a night and day in order to get that education.

What this digital agency required of my friend has become the norm and no, they don’t pay for the content they received. I did tell my friend that, should she not get the job but they want to use the content she gives them they will then have to pay for it (i.e. she should make it clear that rights are reserved on it), but quite frankly, she’s not as senior as I am and it takes guts to take such a stand. I have the luxury of pulling rank in this kind of situation – she doesn’t.

As a society, we are failing our young women. To this digital agency: I really think you need to do some introspection about what it is you are requiring of job applicants. Yes, you are the ones holding the power, but I can promise you this: you will be poorer for not hiring this girl and if you are putting her (and my village) through this for one job, how many other people are you doing this took? People who do not have the means to rally others to help them? People who would be amazing at the actual job, should they be given the opportunity to actually do it in the framework of a monied organisation that can – and should – support them, not break them down? Enough now. Ubuntu is alive and well and I am confident that this girl will get this job, but that is in spite of all your efforts.

All I can say to my friend is: I am proud of you for sticking it out. For working hard, for tackling taxis at Bree in peak commuting times to get your Instagram shots, for putting in the hours editing the video, and for staying bubbly and optimistic. Slay away! And let them eat cake!

Christelle du Toit is an award-winning journalist, a communications expert with more than a decade’s experience in the media industry, and the founder of social-upliftment campaign called Don’t get mad, get pretty!  She co-authored an ebook on How to get quoted in the Media with Damaria Senne Media, and is currently working on a second ebook on job-hunting skills and strategies, called The job-hunt…IS ON!

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