Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alternative plans

I have no idea why I feel this way, but I've made the grand assumption that I should not expect a job offer from the last set of interviews. So, I'm thinking of alternative plans.

No other interviews are on the horizon but I do have work for another 5 weeks. I haven't heard anything from my current employer regarding additional projects, so I'm assuming there's no follow-up work right now.

What I think I'll do when my current contract ends:

Take a week to visit an old friend in Sante Fe. There have been some good air fare deals to get out there, so if all goes well, I can get out there without spending a fortune. Once there, I don't expect to spend a lot of money. My friend is on a fixed income and lives very simply. She's also a very centered, down-to-earth person who seems to be very content with her life. Overall, a good influence for me right now.

Once I'm back, I'm going to register for some type of education program. Either the online Masters program for Technical Communications at Northeastern (they have courses that can help me get a foot in the door with medical writing) or a database development certificate. Signing up for an educational program will also help to extend my unemployment benefits. (actually, I might do this before I take my mini-vacation). I'm beginning to suspect I'll need them.

And of course, continue bugging the recruiters and anyone else I can think of about a real job. Right now, that future is exceptionally uncertain. I'm really at a loss as to who to contact or what type of networking to do at this point. Need to think about this some more. A former colleague is offering free life coaching/career counseling services for the unemployed. Maybe I'll see how he can help out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

All's quiet on the Western Front

This is the hard part of a job search. When everything goes quiet. You've gone through all the interviews on the calendar. There's nothing else scheduled.

You wait.

You wait to hear if the last interview went well and whether a job offer will be forthcoming.
You wait to hear if a resume submitted to another company was accepted or rejected.
You wait to see if any new job posting will arise that match your skills.
You wait for that recruiter who keeps promising a job is about to open up to tell you that it finally did.

For some reason, I'm thinking that I did not land the job I wanted. The second interview seemed to go well, but I just couldn't tell if they really felt I would meet their needs. I felt more optimistic after the first interview.

Once again, I am so grateful for the work I DO have right now. It's something to focus on, it's income for another 5 weeks or so.

But, what happens then? There are days when I can put the uncertainty in a box and ignore it. Then there are days like today, when the horizon seems empty and all I can do is return to the search and wait for something I can grab and work on.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cooking experiment - beef short ribs

I used to cook on a regular basis. Somewhere along the way, I got into scrounge mode and either bought something in a box or ate breakfast food for dinner.

Tonight, I'm cooking! I received an offer for a free 60-day membership at BJs. I needed toilet paper and wanted to take advantage of buying in bulk (one of the few bulk items I can store). While exploring the store, I cruised through the meat department. Voila! Beef short ribs!! I rarely see them in the store and I love them. I found a manageable package; easily divided into half...half now, half at another time.

I typically cook short ribs in my crock pot. Here's what's cooking right now:

4 seasoned beef short ribs (paprika, oregano, and garlic powder), browned on all sides in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

In the pot:

1 3/4 cups of water
1 tablespoon Better than Bouillon concentrate (this may be too much, we'll see).
Cherry preserves ...several teaspoons.
Mushrooms...well, they were hanging around for awhile, I threw them in to get rid of them. I expect they'll cook down into nothing, but I'm hoping they'll leave some flavor behind.

If I had them, I would have added onions or shallots.

Cooking time on low: 6-8 hours.

I'll serve them with green beans, I think. Possibly mashed potatoes (good with the gravy) or rice.


Monday, April 27, 2009


One of the difficulties about the contracting business is the need to coordinate the ending of one project and the start of another. Right now, I don't have a specific end date for my current project. I'm guessing I have another 5 weeks to go. The trick is, when does one start looking for the next gig? I was called last week about submitting my resume for another contract job. It pays quite a bit more than my current job (but it also involves serious commuting), but I suspect they don't want to wait 5 weeks to get started. Or even 4 (you figure it will take a week or two for the hiring company to interview and select their candidate).

Now, one doesn't want to get in the habit of ducking out of contracts early. Professional suicide, really. On the other hand, a better paying job that has the potential of being long term, is useful. I know the company...they tend to hire for 3 months and if all works out, renew the contracts for quite a long time.

My original plan was that I would break my current project only if offered a good, direct employment job. Not sure that's happening though (yes, I do have a second interview coming up, but after last week's disappointment, I know that I can't count on hunches or rumors of success). Now, I'm thinking that if a better contract falls in my lap, I'll consider it.

The other possibility on my mind is to just let this contract play out and try to arrange to have a short break in between gigs. An old friend of mine has invited me to visit her in Sante Fe. I haven't seen her in a few years and I'd love to get out there. She's a very centered person; a calming presence. I could use that kind of escape right now. Lately, I just go 'round and 'round with decisions, never really settling on a real plan.

Friday, April 24, 2009

don't be overconfident....

Lesson learned (or relearned) today about job hunting -- don't get overconfident.

I've had a couple of very good interviews this month. In both cases, I had very good reasons to believe that I would get called back for second interviews. In fact, in one case, a friend of mine who has an internal contact assured me that I would be hearing about the second interview any day now.

I didn't get the interview. The recruiter was kind enough to call and let me know that I didn't make the short list of candidates. If, for some reason, the first bunch of candidates don't work out, then they would reconsider my application. The chances of that are slim to none (although it has happened to me before).

I'm disappointed. More than I thought I'd be since I was not totally convinced that this company was a place where I wanted to work. BUT, I was confident that it would be a good Plan B job in case my Plan A didn't work out.

Now, I don't have Plan B. Plan A is still in progress as I DID get called back for a second interview there. But, geez louise, competition is tough. The Plan B company had a really, strong bunch of candidates and while I did well on my interviews, apparently other people did better.

Now, it all depends on me really amazing the Plan A folks. I'm feeling very anxious all of a sudden. I'd really love to get the Plan A job, but, I don't know what my competition is at this point.

And while I seem to be doing well on my interviews, I'm not doing well enough. I need to figure out what I need to do better. I'm going to spend some time doing some research that I can use to wow the technical team at the Plan A job.

In the meantime, I'm back to responding to recruiters about contracts and next week, I'll start poking at the recruiters again. Confidence is good, but really, I must learn to not get over excited about any one possibility. Two many variables and a lot of them are not under my control.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The little things count...

You'd be surprised at how little things make a difference during an interview.

One of the things that I try to do during that short blip of time I have with a potential employer is to find some common ground that helps form a bit of a bond between us. So, if I notice that my interviewer has an iPhone, I make sure I find a moment to mention that I also have an iPhone and how much I love it. At one job interview, it turned out that just about all the employees had an iPhone, which give us something fun, yet technical to talk about. (eventually, I did get an offer for that job, but the timing was off and I had a contract that I decided not to break).

Recently, at an interview for a job that I want very, very much, I mentioned that I had recently purchased a MacBook and was using VMware on it. Turns out, most of the employees also have Macs as their home machines (and the CTO is an iPhone user as well, we had a nice little chat about that). Again, something that makes me look like I could become "one of them."

So, while it may seem that splurging on an expensive laptop while unemployed and keeping an expensive smartphone is an extravagance, these items are turning out to be beneficial in demonstrating that I'm keeping up to date on the latest technical gadgets. And for the potential employers that I'm considering, it seems to make just a tiny bit of difference. In this time of fierce competition, that tiny bit of difference can make ALL the difference.

I might now be able to justify buying a Wii now. All the cool startup companies have one on site these days. If I get one of those jobs, I think I might need to have some Wii expertise:-)

Still on a positive trend with the work scene. I expect a second interview next week and still expecting to hear from another company about scheduling a second interview. And, more calls from recruiters about contract jobs. Unfortunately, most of the contract jobs are ridiculously low-paying. Barely above minimum wage. I'd rather stay on unemployment while I still have $$$ in the bank.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

too quiet - waiting, waiting, waiting...

Back into quiet mode again. Last week was a bit more exciting as I was anticipating being called about setting up some interviews for this week. Alas, no action on that front. Still waiting. And, there's nothing new to apply for right now. Which is a little troubling as I only have another 6 weeks or less on the current contract gig.

It's too quiet.

Working at home is fine, but it's quiet. When I do get out socially, my brain seems to be moving more slowly. Weird.

Still waiting to hear about the Federal Subsidy for COBRA. Employers were supposed to send out notifications by April 17th but I haven't seen or heard anything yet. From what I can tell, (having recently done my taxes), I'm eligible for the subsidy as I meet the salary requirements (under 125,000). Sure would be nice to get that settled as I have another payment to make soon.

It's a time of waiting. I'm not really a very patient person, though. I don't like it.

UPDATE: I just checked my COBRA account and the subsidy was applied, automagically! No phone calls, no forms to fill out. Poof -- magic. The subsidy went into effect last month. Since I payed the full amount due last month, it ended up being an overpayment (due to the retroactive application of the subsidy), my account has a credit balance and I don't have to make another payment until June. And, a substantially lower payment. Thank You, Mr. Obama!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Feeling more relaxed

I'm not feeling so stressed out these days. My current contract job is working out well (and the take home pay isn't bad, considering I'm working from home). I have two, yes TWO, potential jobs in the works. Waiting for a second interview at one place (and from what I hear, I should be getting a call very soon) and an in-person interview at a local startup is being scheduled for next week.

Cool. Both of these opportunities have pluses and minuses, but at least I'm getting a foot in the door and doing well on my interviews. And if neither of them works out, I think I won't panic. Between unemployment, severance, contract job, and careful money management, I have a nice, extra nest egg to rely on. And, I just have a feeling that in the next few months, the job market will start to turn around.

I could be wrong...but right now, it's all OK. The Federal Subsidy for COBRA should kick in soon, so my insurance costs will be reasonable.

The weather is getting warmer, plant sales will be starting soon, kayaking will be starting soon. Maybe it's the extra sunshine...maybe it's just the passage of time and adjusting to the brave, new world that I inhabit. Whatever it is, I'm feeling more optimistic today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Learning to love my MacBook Pro

It's been a couple of weeks and I'm learning to love my MacBook Pro. Or, I maybe, I just like the idea of having a laptop. :-)

Things I've discovered:

Apple was very clever when it came to designing the power cord (friends of mine pointed this out to me and I heartily agree). The connector to the laptop is magnetic, rather than a plug-type connector. So, if you trip over the cord, it disconnects from the machine instead of dragging it off the table. Cool! On the other hand, the plug that goes into the outlet is a bit wonky. The adapter part is clunky and keeps the plug off balance a bit. It never seems very secure in the outlet.

Working on a laptop outdoors on a sunny day is hard! The other day, I was waiting for a call on my cell phone, and the best place for a strong cell signal was out on the back patio. So, I grabbed the laptop and moved outdoors. Way cool that my wireless network was available. But it was too sunny! There has to be a way of adjusting the screen display so it's visible outdoors (switch to white text on black background??)

My Mac seems to be clever about installing Windows application. Even if I start the install from outside my virtual machine, it knows to run it the installer IN the VM. Took me a bit to realize that's what it was doing. I'd click on the installer .exe and wouldn't see anything happen. But, then I opened the VM and there was the install prompt.

Finding Windows keyboard equivalents on a Mac keyboard has been annoying. I found solutions to most of them, but there are times when I really miss my PC keyboard!

I suspect that eventually, my laptop will become the main machine. My desktop is on the old side and doesn't have enough memory. As far as I can tell, there's no way to upgrade the memory to where it needs to be. I wish there was a way of moving the applications from the old machine to the new one. But, I don't have the CDs/DVDs for a lot of them so I need to purchase all new copies of what I want to keep. Sigh.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Am I lazy or what? :-)

I've long held the theory that I should never put a TV in my bedroom, out of fear that I would never leave the bed.

But, I've been tempted to buy a bigger screen for the main TV and move the smaller one upstairs. I'm thinking now, that maybe that's not such a good idea. My original theory seems to hold some truth to it.

The culprit is the new laptop. I have a wireless router, so I can be anywhere in the home and get Internet access. I'm sitting in bed right now, tapping away at this blog entry. It's almost 10:00 on a Sunday...and I'm still in bed. And tempted to stay there. Sure, I need to get work done. But, I can do that right where I am. And, when I need to take a break, I've got the Internet to entertain me. I have a Hulu account, so I can even watch TV shows that I've missed (my MacBook has a lovely display!)

So, why leave the comfy bed?? Sure, the thought of being out in the sunshine is appealing, breathing the new-born Spring air. would require me to get out of bed. And it's comfy. I can take naps when I want and then go back to doing work or playing in the Internet.

At the end of the day, it just feels soooo wrong (especially on those days when I don't get dressed until 2:00 pm or later!). And compelling to indulge.

Here's hoping I find the inspiration to throw back the covers and get out of bed!

Lack of organization

Well, I did it again...managed to delay filing my tax returns until close to the last minute.

I file electronically so I try to make sure I leave a couple of days before the final deadline in case the government decides to reject the returns. I cut it pretty close this time around.

Because of the extra contract work I did this year, I had a pretty hefty salary. It's only when I do my taxes that I become aware of what I earn. It was a little tough to see these numbers this time around as I am expecting to have a significant decrease in salary this year. Even if I do get a regular job this year, I have no doubt that I'll be earning quite a bit less than I did last year. Sigh. It seems so unfair to finally get to a really nice salary level and then have to give it up. And what's really hard is knowing that if I didn't lose my job this year, I'd still be enjoying that very nice salary.

All gone. Likely gone for a long time, if not for good.

But, back to the original theme...every year, I swear I'm going to be more organized. But I'm not. This year was no exception. I suspect I missed a few of those charitable donation deductions simply because I didn't find all those bits of paper stashed away (yes, I know, start a new folder/envelope at the beginning of the year...).

I use paperless billing for as many of my accounts as possible. Convenient, but I suddenly realized I didn't know where my mortgage end-of-year statement was since I didn't have a hard copy of it. Did I save it somewhere on my computer? I couldn't find it. I'll probably find it a few months from now. So I had to try to get it from the mortgage company. Which involved several phone calls (I accidentally exited out of live chat, had to go through the automated voice system several times to get to the right option, blah, blah, blah). Since I had set up my online payments and paperless billing through my bank, I didn't have an online account set up with the mortgage company. So, once I figured out that I needed a new account and went through the enrollment process, I discovered that the mortgage company sends the passcode in snail mail, which takes several days! Which I didn't have as I had to get the tax forms done today. So, another phone call to get the passcode reset and voila! I finally had my information. Another revelation is that my interest deduction is smaller than my property tax payments. I'm running out of big deductions! Maybe I need to buy a new home (or get a job first that will allow me to get a mortgage!).

The next snag was finding the information to prove I have medical insurance (Massachusetts requires all residents to be insured). Oy...where WAS *that* piece of paper? I had a vague recollection of seeing it, but where did I put it (no, it was not in the Medical folder...that would be way too logical)? Luckily, a quick search of the "papers to be filed" resulted in the magic piece of paper which is now tucked into the 2008 Tax Envelope.

Overally, the process took a bit longer this year as I seemed to be even less organized than usual. But, the end result wasn't too bad. The extra income I earned resulted in a larger than normal payment but it turned out to be about $1,000 less that I had estimated. I can live with that.

Next year, I swear...I'm going to be more organized (ha! promises, promises...)

Friday, April 10, 2009

gratitude again...and the job market picks up

As time goes by, I'm more and more grateful that I picked up the contract job that I have right now. OK, so the pay isn't fantastic, but the flexibility is very useful for someone who has to work AND look for job.

I took the new laptop with me when I took a few days to visit the parents. It kind of worked...only it turned out to be hard to find enough time to actually do the work I wanted to do. After all, the parents DID deserve some attention. :-) Would have been better if I had access to a Wireless network, but in the end, it worked well enough. I'm a bit behind on my hours, right now, but I'll catch up (somehow, I don't know how I'll get in 30 hours in the next 2.5 days). Having the iPhone really helped with the lack of wireless access. I could still do the email thing as needed. And, of course, when I needed serious Internet access, I used my Dad's machine.

On another note, my resume is starting to get noticed and I'm getting more calls from recruiters. Oddly enough, all this activity happened while I was away. Would have been more convenient to have it happen while I was at home. I suppose that now that I'm home, all the activity will die down. Some sort of weird karma?

I'm becoming convinced that the only people looking to hire right now are part of a conspiracy of oddness. I've been trying to get a phone interview scheduled for several weeks now. It was supposed to happen while I was away, but the manager never seemed to be available at the times he set for the conversation. So, maybe next week.

Today, I had an interview that consisted of driving an hour to the office and then speaking to all but one person over the phone (apparently they used to use the video conference equipment for the remote interviews, but it freaked out the interviewees :- ) ). I did well on the interview and several people assured me that I will likely be called back for a second round. Cool. On the other hand, based on my conversations with the team, a few red flags went up. When a company is proud of calling their way of operating "managed chaos," especially one that's over 7 years old, one needs to tread carefully. Also, a company that touts the wonderful benefit of providing employees with dinner every night (read...we're understaffed and proud of it!) requires careful examination. Why do companies spend so much money feeding their overworked employees instead of staffing appropriately? On the other hand, the teams are scattered all over the place, so they do have a liberal work from home policy. Time will tell if I actually get a chance to find out more.

It IS encouraging that I'm getting more calls and a few interviews along the way. I am very grateful for that -- even if some of the jobs are not appropriate (and some of the contracting rates are ridiculously low). And, in general, my interviews are going well. So, this week, I'm feeling more optimistic.

Let's see what next week brings as the search continues.

Monday, April 6, 2009

offline for a few days...

I'll be offline for a few days (oh yes, I do know that I have a regular reading audience...*very* small, but I do know you're there...not necessarily WHO you are, just that you are there :-) ).

It's time for the regular spring visit to the parents. Sort of an awkward time as I really need to keep a contract worker, if you don't work, you don't get paid. Although..if I pushed it, I could make up the time once I got back by working on the weekend., that's not would be hard to cram 40 hours into three days. Not impossible, just difficult.

So, I'm bringing my new laptop with me to see if I can actually get work done while away. Unfortunately, the 'rents don't have a wireless router, so getting online will be tough. I now understand why people want to be able to tether their smart phones to their laptops!! I'll have to rely on my phone for email and such. I can do my work while offline--I have all the files on a thumb drive and loaded onto the laptop.

Not sure how the 'rents will deal with me working while visiting. I don't plan to work a full 8 hours while there, but I should certainly be able to put in a half day's worth of work. And certainly, while in the airport, I'll have a wireless connection, so it's easier to manage.

It's really not a good week for me to be away, though. I have a phone interview on Tuesday and I'm missing the first status meeting for the contract job. It's making me feel stressed. I'd much rather be at home for these calls. But, it's not to be, so, I'll muddle through. Actually, I'm not in the mood to travel at all...but I've put off this visit way too long. So between guilt, resentment, and stress, it's turning out to be a fine day :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Autopilot email?

Google has announced that it now has AutoPilot responses for email and chat.

Because people might want to send computer-generated responses to people instead of answering their email in person.


According to the description, the email AutoPilot will determine your writing style and use it to respond to incoming email. In fact, AutoPilot email can respond to someone else's AutoPilot email (up to 3 rounds of messages). Thus, computers can have conversations with each other, without any human intervention. Yup, theoretically, your computer can accept a dinner engagement on your behalf...and unless you actually READ your own email, you'll never know.

There's something about this that disturbs me in a very big way. It seems so, well, deceptive. If the person on the other end thinks you're actually communicating with them but it's really your email program that's making up something, then you might as well just tell them lies. Personally, I'd rather get an "I'm away on vacation" message than something that's made up by a machine. Well, unless we're talking about sentient robots, but I don't think we're there yet.

Maybe people should communicate with fewer people (less quanitity and more quality?) rather than being so horribly busy that they have to put their email (and CHAT!) on AutoPilot.

Insanity in the job search

I've attended a number of talks, workshops, and so forth, that talk about how to go about a job search. Network all the time, cold calls, recruiters, resumes, blah, blah, blah.

What none of these so-called experts touch on is how to deal with the insanity that potential employers are exhibiting. On more than one occasion, I've been asked for my availability for a phone interview. Which I gladly provide. And the potential employer disappears. As if my listing of times and days when I'm available (and I'm rarely NOT available) is offensive.

And then there's the potential employer who seems to keep hiring other people and not being satisfied so they open the position again...and again. The second time, they reopened the position, they did call me but I was already settled in my "survivor job" and wasn't available right away. And they just *couldn't* wait for me to come up with an exit plan for the current job. I just saw a revised posting on one of the websites that I watch...based on the new description, it seems that they're looking again ...only this time, they have a writing test. Eh, what?? How is it they keep hiring people that are not what they want. Do they want the impossible? Are they not willing to pay for a really good person? Should I do the writing test and resubmit myself as a potential candidate? They might really be crazy people who are offering a chance to descend into Hell as opposed to a good place of employment. Or, maybe I'm the right person for the job and they just haven't realized it.

I have no guidelines here. For the people who contact me for a phone interview and then disappear -- how much should I chase them? In one case, after several emails and phone calls, I did eventually get the phone conversation. Not sure what to do with a current situation...I suppose I could call -- at this point, there's nothing to lose because the person refuses to set up a specific time for the phone interview. Or maybe one more email??? What's the correct protocol here?

What I wish I had is a class that explains how to chase after these jobs without offending a potential employer and without feeling totally humiliated as one, essentially, begs the king for an audience.

I don't get it. Is it really that hard, even in an employer's market, to treat other people with conmmon courtesy and respect? Has everyone gone mad? I just might join them.