Nish Kumar is a comedian you may have heard on Radio 4 or seen at The Soho Theatre, countless other theatres, and at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year (he made one of Dave’s Top Ten Jokes of the Fringe). He is also, to make sure the rent gets paid, the bona fide king of admin. This is his advice:
Being a comedian isn’t all “Live at the Apollo” and buckets of kissing. In fact, being a comedian is essentially an unpaid apprenticeship that can last anywhere between 6 months and 10 years, so you’re going to need to make some money in the interim to avoid starving, selling your organs or eating your organs to avoid starving.
I chose to do temporary admin work. Most jobs involve data entry and/or filing but there have also been some more unusual tasks; I’ve spent a day tying pink ribbons for a Viagra marketing campaign, I’ve gone to pick up a company director’s laundry from his house, and helped organise a conference on nuclear power. I’ve also been fired and rehired within the space of an hour, but that’s another story.
HOW TO DO A BLOODY GOOD JOB
Practicality-wise, you don’t really need any specific skills to do entry-level admin. Your first day might take a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of filing those papers/putting in those numbers/using that photocopier, it’s all about keeping your morale up.
1. The people
You will have a lot of boring tasks. Photocopying and data entry are unlikely to ever be awarded the Oscar for “Most Interesting Thing”, but that’s why you’re there to do them, and not one of the proper employees. Focus on the fact that other people need them done. Most of the people I have worked both for are hard working types who like doling out tedious admin tasks as much as you like doing them (i.e. not much). Think of what you’re doing as a favour to them. Albeit one you’re getting paid to do.
2. Take regular breaks
It is difficult to maintain focus when you stare at the same spreadsheet for so long it starts to look like all the cells contain the phrase “The end is near, be ready”. To avoid a ‘Shining’-style meltdown, make sure you do take breaks and get out of the office at lunch time. Have a lovely sandwich. Look at the sky.
3. Don’t feel sorry for yourself
Self pity is a seductive mistress- resist the temptation to wallow in her sweet, sweet embrace. That analogy may have spiralled out of control, but do remember – you’re funding your dream job/the flat you need so you’re not homeless and unable to apply for your dream job, so keep that in mind. If you’re not harbouring such lofty/ridiculous ambitions, given the current economic situation (the scientific term for which is “@*&*ing awful”) it’s worth bearing in mind that you are lucky to get paid work, so appreciate it.
HOW TO AMUSE YOURSELF WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE CRYING
Why you’d need to amuse yourself during admin is beyond me, in fact, it’s probably one of the most fascinating jobs I’ve ever done (this is all a lie, the below tips may save your life/livelihood/late afternoon).
1. Make a game of it
If you’ve got to do a load of filing, try and beat your own hourly total. If you have to enter a load of data, pretend you are in a film and that the data is actually the codes to decrypt a nuclear bomb.
2. Use your lunch break to achieve something
Try and do one thing related to your wider life goals. Apply for a different job, write a joke (if you’re a comedian. If not, this may not be useful) or work on your sniper skills (again, only if it’s relevant). That way you can feel you’re moving forward in other aspects of your life. If you have no life goals then this is a good opportunity to start thinking about some.
3. The wonder of podcasts
If you are allowed to put on your headphones (NB always ask your line manager – if it’s a task that you don’t need to chat to other people about, they will invariably say yes) then you can keep your mind occupied with podcasts or the radio.
How can admin help when it comes to applying for a less soul-sucking variety of job?
Facing a stack of paper as tall as you that needs to be scanned and then shredded (this is a job I actually had to do) can be a dauntingly dull prospect. The true administrator meets that pile with a zen-like state of calm. Once you can focus on a task this boring, you can focus on anything. Before I went into admin, I used to have the attention span of a I’M BORED OF WRITING THIS NOW BYE. An excellent joke there.
2. Admin stuff
It’s amazing how many of these tedious skills are actually incredibly useful in any office-based job you go into in the future. Those without a background in admin will be befuddled by mailmerges, Excel spreadsheets and how to get the photocopier to stop making “that weird noise”. You’ll actually look pretty damn cool when you swan over and say “guys I’ve got this”, then solve their problem, act like it was no big deal and swan off to prom with the prettiest cheerleader like the Fonz of admin. The skills that you think are a waste of time now, will be invaluable in the future.
3. Absolutely anything you want
Here’s the joy of an admin job – it can be spun any you want on your CV. For example:
CV: “My last role required me to show great leadership skills”.
Reality: You “lead” some paper into a bin.
CV: “I have learned to maintain composure in high pressure environments”
Reality: I didn’t smash my computer in when it crashed at 16:55 on a Friday, thus flushing my entire week’s work down the technological drain.
CV: “I’ve improved my interpersonal skills”
Reality: After six months the Latvian cleaning lady learned my name and stopped referring to me as “Curly Hair Nice Boy”