Hurry Up and Wait   2 comments


Unemployment is never fun.  It’s even less fun with the holidays looming.

Plans for a Thanksgiving feast at home went out the window.

In 2001, I assumed operation and maintenance of a weekly prediction contest for the Packfans discussion group on Yahoo! Groups.  Every week during the NFL season, players receive a copies of the week’s schedule and contest from me via email, usually complete with my wry commentary.  Remaining cheery about the fortunes of the 2010 – 2011 Green Bay Packers was difficult anyway; the number of key players injured and gone for the season could have filled a M*A*S*H* unit only midway through.  Now it was nearly impossible.

Still we had to soldier on.  Paul downloaded an INS form to request a change in visa status from TN (Temporary NAFTA) to “visitor” (essentially a temporary vacation visa).  Following a conversation with his former employer’s lawyer (who seemed to think that the short lapse in legal status wouldn’t present much of a problem if dealt with ASAP, Paul dashed the application off to Fort Worth.  Done!

Or so we thought.  Two days before Thanksgiving, it came back, marked “incomplete”.  Whoever marked it notated that the type of visa currently held was missing.  Paul couldn’t find any missing information.

I compared the notation against every question on the form.  Plain as day, I found “TN” inserted into the proper blank.

That led to a call to the Twin Cities INS office, coincidentally located near our Bloomington home, for assistance.  An officer asked to review the original completed form.  Unfortunately, that had to wait until after Thanksgiving weekend.  An inspection confirmed our suspicions:  someone in the Fort Worth processing office cannot (expletive deleted) read.

A ‘reviewed’ notation was affixed to the form and dated.  Back to Fort Worth it went.  At the very least, a request for change of status would buy us time to get our ducks in a row.

Christmas filled us with dread.  Neither of us felt cheery enough to go to the annual Christmas party held by our complex.  Never before had we missed it.  Our absence would be noticed, so off we went.

Eventually, we knew we would have to explain to my dad and Paul’s adult children why there would be no Christmas this year.  After stalling as long as possible, we got it over with.

Discussing the high likelihood of having to move abruptly to Canada, we tossed around the idea of where to move or apply.  Tech jobs in Paul’s area of expertise were most plentiful in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.  Thoughts of moving to Calgary filled me with dread.

I lived in Texas for many years.  Been there, done that, snapped the pictures.  Happiness was Dallas, Texas in my rear view mirror.  Alberta (and by extension Calgary) is Texas with better skiing.  By further extension, Calgary is the Fort Worth of Alberta.

The analogy fits like a glove.  Calgary and Fort Worth are nearly mirror images of each other.  Fort Worth’s biggest annual event is the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo.  Calgary’s is the Stampede, the world’s biggest rodeo.  Fort Worth is home a few of the best museums in the American southwest.  Calgary is host to some of the best museums in western Canada.

Alberta and Toronto are continually contentious subjects of banter between Paul and I as to which place is most influenced by American culture and attitudes.  From his vantage point, it’s Toronto due to its proximity to American media centers and geography.  From where I sit, Alberta wins by a landslide.

Of all Canadian provinces and territories, Alberta attracted the highest numbers per capita of American citizens immigrating to Canada during the 20th Century, drawn largely by money to be made in oil, natural gas and ranching.  With them came rugged individualism and evangelical Christianity.  Politically and socially, Alberta marches to a different drummer than most of Canada.  Except for the passion for hockey, which permeates every corner of Canada, Alberta and Texas aren’t overly different.

I couldn’t see Alberta being much different from a place I had already lived, but if I had to, I would.

Except for a participant in my contest, we didn’t know anyone in Toronto.  Neither of us has actually been there.  If we had to, we would.

Vancouver was likely choice.  Paul’s kids live in Abbotsford, about 40 minutes east of downtown Vancouver.  He has friends throughout BC’s Lower Mainland.  Although originally from Victoria on Vancouver Island, Paul lived in Greater Vancouver for many years.  After working summers doing road repair with BC Highways while in college, he knows the province with his eyes closed.

As part of his severance package, Paul received resume-writing advice by telephone.  Once done, job searching in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary commenced.

It was not without a few bumps in the road.

Recruiters from ‘headhunting’ firms (HR consultants) to whose Canadian offices Paul sent resumes contacted him about Twin Cities openings.

This dance is a delicate one.  INS law forbids work visa holders from seeking other employment while in the U.S.  Second jobs or continuing education for academic credit are not permitted.  Setting up a home business to turn a hobby into extra income is off-limits.  Seeking work while on an expired TN or on a visitor’s visa is forbidden – unless another party initiates the contact.

Paul received calls for two Twin Cities-area openings.  Perhaps we weren’t leaving after all.

Job hunting during the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a ‘hurry up and wait’ proposition.  It the slowest time of the year on most business calendars.  Lots of hiring managers take vacation time.

It’s manaƱa without the urgency.

Meanwhile, Paul called everyone in BC he felt could be of help in his job search.  One such call led to pursuit of a prospective opening in Vernon, BC for which Paul had applied roughly a year earlier.  This would be his third go-round with this one company.  The first ended with an in-house promotion instead of new hire.  The second went on indefinite hold.  Both decisions, we concluded, were partially due to Paul’s inability to give “face time” for a personal interview on short notice.

Years earlier, we laid out plans to eventually move to Vernon, at the northern end of BC’s Thompson Okanagan wine country.  During an extended trip to BC during the summer of 2010, we visited the city.  By the time we got there, we were sorely disappointed.  The northern and central Okanagan Valley became an expensive place to live and work.  Albertans with pockets laden with tar sands oil money snapped up second homes for vacations and income.  With money and absentee landlords came increased crime in the forms of gang activity and drug trafficking.

Still, Vernon had lots going for it.  Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in North America in which to live and work.  By contrast, Vernon requires a beer budget.  Sadly, with beer budget costs come beer budget salaries.  Supplies for our stained glass hobby (hopefully a stained glass business) were easily available a relatively short drive away in nearby Armstrong.  Silver Star, one of BC’s best-known ski resorts is right in town.

Surprisingly, the company willingly granted Paul a telephone interview. Afterward it was hurry up and wait all over again.

Christmas came and went.  New Year’s came and went.  After New Year’s, Paul received calls from a couple of firms in Vancouver, all of which agreed to interview him by telephone.

Paul moved to the States 14 years earlier after securing a position via phone interview.  He wasn’t required or expected to interview in person.

Canadian employers, however, don’t want to hire without face time.  They want to see smiling faces in their places and to press palms. Another peculiarity was the desire to hire candidates who could begin work immediately.

One by one, doors in Vancouver closed.  The position in Vernon went on another indefinite hold.

By late January, a single position in the Twin Cities remained a possibility.

Paul was their perfect candidate.  The hiring manager was excited about his qualifications.  She couldn’t wait to meet him in person.

His interview began as a coronation and soon went cool.

Paul is a quiet person with a demeanor of quiet confidence.  The Minneapolis recruiter who attempted to match him to this position disclosed in an interview post-mortem that his interviewers interpreted Paul’s manner as being one of disinterest.

Quiet confidence was not what they had in mind.  They wanted energy and enthusiasm.  Perhaps they also wanted Zippy the Chimp.

Perhaps they just wanted somebody younger.

“I’m done,” I announced.

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2 responses to “Hurry Up and Wait

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  1. Although I have grown children who seek employment and nervousness comes over me waiting for their success, it is times like this I wish the youth without experience would not be chosen for a job (except for my children) and someone with quiet confidence, and great qualifications would succeed over them. With age, experience and knowledge shouldn’t there be a reward, a job?

    How aggravating to know Zippy stands a better chance!

  2. This job was for a senior level IT professional. No way a newbie could land that job.

    Definitions of ‘senior level’ vary. At some firms, it’s merely 5 years experience; at others, more.

    Increasingly landing a job requires the sales skills of a crack used car salesperson. Corporate America is rife with employees in all areas having great sales skills, personality and qualifications to land the job, but not the actual skills necessary to perform the duties. At least one position for which Paul applied was re-posted, possibly because of this. It’s what brought Zippy the Chimp to mind.

    In the IT industry, making people in the HR office swoon is easy; their computer skills and knowledge are rudimentary at best. Swaying hiring managers who are often IT pros themselves is a lot harder.

    Yet it happens. I wonder if at times more emphasis is placed on whether a new hire will ‘fit in’ with all the personalities in the existing group rather than whether that hire can really do the job.

    Personally, an excitable or really energetic person is probably not the best choice for an IT job. If I were the one hiring, I’d choose someone quieter with the ability and determination to sit still in front of a screen and bash code with dogged perseverance. I’ve worked with high energy social butterflies in that profession who can’t stay mentally or physically still long enough to execute a quick-and-dirty program without errors. It’s not efficient for the people who have to use those programs and ultimately for the company. For what IT professionals in the U.S. are paid, it’s not financially efficient. But…that’s not my call.

    As a former database programmer, it’s frankly hard for me to imagine a IT pro with a scant 5 years experience to be considered ‘senior level’. I wouldn’t expect every programmer to know every skill associated with the programs with which they work. Technology improvements and upgraded versions preclude that. Most programmers aren’t required to know the whole gamut of skills associated with a single program on a day-to-day basis. (For example, I worked with FoxPro 2.5 for four years but never had to write an array statement – an advanced skill within FoxPro programming.) You learn those through working on a wide variety of projects having vastly different criteria. Not all IT jobs require that.

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