No Surrender, Yes Retreat

Some of my friends and former co-workers are of Japanese ancestry, so I picked up a few Japanese words over time. “Ganbare” is one of them, and it means “persevere”. I’m not Japanese, but I understand from those friends and former-coworkers the Japanese sentiment of “no surrender, no retreat”. In fact, it was extreme action taken by the Allies during World War II that finally forced Japan to surrender.

Giving up is something I don’t consider as an option, but when the amount of time and effort exceeds the benefits of resolving an issue, or introduces a new issue that is equally problematic, it’s time to wave the white flag. What happened to me over the last two weeks is an example of the “no-win scenerio”.

Earlier this month, I was invited to a group interview at a company that had positions available. I can’t tell you the name of the company nor can I tell you what the job was about because of the many non-disclosure agreements I signed in good faith. All I can tell you is that the job paid minimum wage, it was not an I.T. job, and that right after the end of the group interview, everyone who attended, including Yours Truly, was hired on the spot.

This was not a scam. The company is legit. The shock of being hired right at the end of the interview stayed with me even after I got home. I couldn’t believe it, but I had the employment offer and all those documents I have to sign in my laptop bag as proof it was true. I was hired, and was scheduled to report for (in company) paid training. Once the training was done, I and the other new hires would be doing real work. Overtime was expected, even weekend work, but that’s fine. I did my share of overtime and weekends during my 20 year I.T. career, so stuff like that never bothered me.

I didn’t know what the format of this training was going to be like, but I’ve been on lots of in-office training sessions during projects and skill upgrades with the last three companies I worked for. It was either held in a conference room if not a main seminar room, equipped with speakers and a large presentation screen so everyone could hear and see what was going on. I assumed it was going to be no different for this company.

Wrong. The training had no speakers or presentation screen. The acoustics were horrible and the overhead vents made a racket. The only way I could hear was cupping my hands behind my ears to hear better but even then I was missing key points and giving myself a tension headache by the end of the day. Despite this aggravation I decided to tough it out.

Next morning I woke up with a stiff neck and shoulders from trying to listen with my hands around my ears, but a hot shower fixed that. I arrived on time for work and it was the same thing all over again. I was getting very concerned. I’m not learning anything. I can’t understand half of what is going on, and I can’t get anyone’s attention because the acoustics were that bad.

The format and execution of the training session was causing other issues not related to training as well. I was spending so much time trying to understand what was being said, I didn’t have enough time to properly learn how to log on and log off  the company system. For that, I got a reproach.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I worked for 20 years as an information technology professional on various ERP solutions at my last job and I was an absolute stickler when it came to security. I made sure users were forced to change their passwords often and configured the system to disallow previously used passwords. If a user wanted access to a system, they didn’t get it until the Sarbanes-Oxley process was followed and approved by my manager. If someone in my information technology department wanted to change the system, again not until I get approval from my manager. My manager also had to approve the change to travel from development to production. Every year when an audit was done, no fault was ever found on my end about a change being allowed by myself without approval. Never, ever. I always had my manager’s signature approving it. As I said, I was a stickler when it came to system security and proud of it.

Yet, here I am, working at a minimum-wage job that had nothing to do with information technology, and I’ve just received a reproach for not logging off because the training session was getting in the way of learning how to follow computer security policy as a user. I was sick to my stomach.

I knew what I had to do at this point.

I returned the job-related items to my manager explaining it was not going to work out. I was asked if I was all right, and as I turned toward the door I said, “Yes, I’m fine”.

And I was fine. I had the good sense to leave well before the real job started, more than enough time for the company to find a replacement. I also felt that if I could not learn what was needed from the training session, I was not going to deliver the quality of work I would be proud of. That’s unacceptable in my book. When I’m on the job, I do nothing but a good job.

I don’t view this as a surrender. It’s more like a tactical retreat from an unsolvable, unwinnable scenario. Come Friday morning, I’ll fire up the job search war machine again and it’s back on the hunt for employment (*ugh* after I take another hot shower for my stiff neck and shoulders!)

Who knows: if I was hired this month, another job could be right around the corner!

Thanks for reading!

David

P.S. Because I did actually earn a paycheque (even if it was for training), I was employed for two days. This means my longest unemployment streak ended at 1017 days. That’s 2 years, 9 months, 13 days. Now the counter is reset 🙂

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Pass The Salt

The bowl was created by Cynthia Guajardo of Colorado Art Studio, with all copyrights for both the photo and the bowl belonging to the author. As a courtesy, I’ve linked the image to her studio web site for others interested in seeing more of her work.

I held my last job for 17 years because I consistently did things right. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If you are a complete screw-up, you’re not going to last long on the job. Even a sense of humour and being approachable and friendly only goes so far before you’re shown the door, regardless of how much your co-workers like you.

At the risk of tooting my horn too much, research and experience are the foundations of how I do my job. I ask questions, try to understand what’s going on around me, take notes for analysis, and determine future trends based on previous actions. This approach has served me well for so long, most of the time.

Still, despite my best efforts to get the facts straight before coming to a conclusion, sometimes the problem does not get solved, or the situation is not as crystal-clear as I thought. When that happens, two words are spoken, the first beginning with a vowel, the second beginning with a consonant.

No, not those two words. These words: I’m wrong.

For many, it’s one of the toughest phrases to say in the English language. I admit it’s not easy for me to say it, but as I said before, doing things right is important to me both professional and personally. This includes admitting I’m wrong when I am indeed wrong.

For those of you who follow my blog, you know I’m not a big fan of employment assistance centres. I’ve registered with three since I started my job search and I wasn’t impressed with any of the contacts my case was assigned to. They rarely replied to my Emails or returned my phone calls. They gave advice that was useless. Their previous work background did not lend well to their ability to help unemployed people like myself. When I was told by an assistant of MPP Kathleen Wynne’s office to go see a fourth employment assistance centre (Skills For Change), my past experience led me to the conclusion this was going to be a waste of job search time.

I was wrong. The career coach/counsellor handling my case both surprised and impressed me. She offered suggestions that were fresh and out of the box, and not the tired old script of using action words to market myself like some product. Instead of sending me off to do more workshops, she went through my period of unemployment with a figurative fine-tooth comb and identified what worked and what did not. In short, she didn’t talk with me, she talked to me. I wasn’t treated like a case number on an assembly line, but like a person. She spent time working on a new design format for my résumé. Best of all……she answers my Emails!

I still feel employment centres as a whole really need to work closer with government and the business community to help people like myself find work. They need to standardize methods that are proven to work and give advice that actually does work. In specific, some staff at those places really need to go easy on people’s personal property, like my USB fob.

Having said this, I’m guilty of tarring a profession with the same brush based on my past bad experiences. While my concerns and issues with employment centres are valid, judgement on performance should be based on an individual basis and not as a collective whole. For that, I was wrong to assume otherwise, and it’s time to say I’m sorry.

It’s the right thing to do.

Thanks for reading!

David

An Attitude Of Gratitude

I absolutely love this. In the words of the author “Vana4x4” who posted this on Wikimedia Commons: ‘This is the hand gesture “fonkos”. It is the exact opposite of giving the middle finger…..instead of pointing the middle finger up with all other fingers in, the middle finger is the only one pointed down, with all other fingers up. It also has the exact opposite meaning. Fonkos stands for friendship, friendliness, peace, forgiveness, understanding, life, respect, agreement, and thanks. Fonkos is trademarked.’

Monday, October 8th is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. While it’s a holiday for those working, to me it feels like another day of unemployment. I’ll admit, in a conversation with my mother, I initially did not feel I had much to be thankful for. I felt like the proverbial mouse on a wheel, running and running with all my might but not really getting anywhere. As with all mothers innately blessed with the gift of clarity and the ability to say the right words at the right time, my mother gently reminded me, “you still have your health”.

Mom’s right. A pessimistic attitude makes things a lot worse than they appear. You feel like everyone and the planet they reside on is out to get you. It’s soul-draining, self-defeating, and confidence-killing.

This morning (Sunday October 7th), while sitting at a table at my local Tim Horton’s with a large coffee, I wrote a list of things I should be thankful for on a 8.5 x 11 inch notepad. It didn’t take long to fill out two pages, single spaced.  I could repeat what I wrote down on that notepad into this blog post, but I’m not going to. Generating a list of things to be thankful for wasn’t the point of the exercise.

The list I jotted down established a benchmark of where I truly was in the “O.S.” Scale  —- and when I say “O.S.”, I don’t mean “Operating System”. While things could be better in terms of finding work, my situation is not the train wreck I sometimes think it is. I have my health, a support system of friends and family, and the time, resources and means to still aggressively look for work. When compared to the mentally challenged fellow who came to my table at Tim Horton’s to try to sell me nail clippers so he can have something to eat, a friend of mine who still has a smile on his face even though he needs a scooter to get around, and a neighbour who still has her amazing sense of humour despite her battle with a chronic illness, I’m not doing that badly. These people don’t allow their personal challenges to get in the way of what they want to do in life. Neither should I.

It’s people like these, and not what I wrote down on the notepad, that help me remember the meaning of Thanksgiving I sometimes forget in a down moment.

On that note, Happy Thanksgiving, even if you do not celebrate it today where you are, if at all.

David

No Bother At All

Most costly trip to an appointment, ever.

In my previous post, I wanted to describe the state of mind I was in on my 1000th day of unemployment. I couldn’t bring myself to write a blog post about it after trying for a few hours, since I was in my self-coined “emotional flat tire” moment. I decided the webcam was the next best thing.

When I record videos intended for release on the Internet, I write down what I’m going to say first on a notepad document, or just memorize it in my head. After I know what I am about to say, I record several times until I like what I see and hear, edit where necessary, then upload.

This video was different. It was unscripted and recorded in just one take. When I was finished, I played it back. The video was close to 25 minutes long, though I swear it felt more like 10. The man in the video looked like and sounded like me, but it sure as heck did not seem like me. I was taken aback by my tone and the look on my face while I was speaking.  The first thing that came to my mind was “this is what a carpet would look like if it was a living thing and having the dust beaten off of it”.

Yet it was perfect. It captured my state of mind on being out of work for so long. Satisfied, I uploaded the video to Google+ (YouTube will not accept videos longer than 15 minutes). I knew it would elicit a reaction from anyone watching it but I did not expect for even one second the amount and type of reaction I ended up receiving.

I received lots of comments through the blog, through my Gravatar avatar, and through my Gmail. While the comments were of varying lengths, they all asked me one question: are you all right?

I am all right. The video helped get a lot of bile out of my system. I’m still not quite myself, and I’ll explain what I mean later, but I am all right. To those many people who contacted me, I want to say, “thank you for caring to ask”. Some of you never even heard of me until you saw my video, yet you took the time to ask. You do not know how much that means to me.

When Monday morning came around, I was right back at the applying for jobs, browsing through the want ads in my newspaper, networking with friends and family and co-workers, and visited in person both Bulk Barn and Sobey’s to present my resume along with the job application form I filled out. After that was out of the way, I went to my appointment at my fourth employment assistance centre in nearly 3 years, “Skills For Change”.

When I arrived, I told the receptionist that I had an appointment to speak to someone. She couldn’t find it on the books even though the appointment was made over the phone before last weekend. The receptionist said I should fill out the Employment Service Participation Form while she looked for someone to see me. I explained to her I already filled out an electronic version of the form from my last three employment assistance centres and I have a copy of it on my USB fob. She said they used a different form and I had to fill one out in order to get assistance. I shrugged and asked to use a computer to load the form so I could write down on the hard copy what was presented on my electronic copy. As I suspected, it was an identical form. Normally I’d be a little annoyed but instead wrote word for word what was on the form onto the hard copy. That took 15 minutes.

After I was done, I was introduced to the Information and Referral Counsellor.  I didn’t really have a chance to explain what I did for the past 1000 days to find work, as I kept getting cut off in mid-sentence. She then asked for my résumé, which I explained was on my USB fob, so I handed that to her. She inserted the fob into her computer’s USB port, and noting her monitor was out of alignment, did a quick twist of the screen. I suddenly heard a loud snapping sound and saw the protective cover of my USB fob go flying onto her desk. She looked at it, handed it to me and asked, “Is this yours?”. Not a sorry, just, “Is this yours?” I looked down at the now detached cover with the broken hinge, then back at her, and simply said. “Erm, yeah”.

Fortunately, we were able to get the résumé off the USB fob. It later died when I tried the fob at home but I’m getting ahead of the story. She looked at my résumé and said it’s completely wrong. I tried to explain to her that this was the format used by the previous employment agency, One Voice, but she still insisted it was not a résumé that marketed me. Okay, so it was marketable before at my previous employment agency, just not at the current one. Fine, then.

We ended the meeting with instructions for me to send all copies of my résumé to the employment assistance counsellor that I have an appointment on October 9th. I asked for my fob back, which was still in the USB port of her computer. When I got it back, I looked at it. The connector was bent 5 degrees and there were stress marks on the plastic. I didn’t say anything. I put it and the protective cover it was once connected to into my jacket pocket and left without a word.

So let’s recap:

  • I had to buy a new USB fob out of my own pocket.
  • I have yet to get an apology from someone for a staff member breaking my current one, which, aside from being the only USB drive I have, had sentimental value as it had the company logo of my last place of employment and was given to me by a co-worker I really liked.
  • I have to wait more than a week to actually see a real employment counsellor to help me, spending over an hour there for —- really — no reason at all.

I should be pretty mad about what happened…but I’m not.  I’m not sure what to call it…indifference? Apathy? Numb? I know it is not depression since I’ve had a very productive job search on foot and online over the past 2 days, and even typed up this blog without much effort.

But something’s off. This is not the me I know.

Thanks for reading.

David

Know Not, Have Not

Puzzled Icon released under GNU License by Christophe Dioux, obtained through Wikimediacommons

In my country, Ontario is now classified as a “have-not” province. What this means is that Ontario is not generating enough revenue to cover the cost of provincial government services. To compensate for this, we have an equalization payments system  (handled by the federal government)  that helps out those provinces considered “have-not”.This wasn’t always such the case for my home province. At one time, Ontario was Canada’s economic engine. Toronto once had enough financial clout to be seriously considered a “province” of it’s own. Ontario used to have a vibrant automotive industry in Windsor. That was then. Between a domestic shift of economic power to the West, and the continued outsourcing of jobs overseas to Europe and Asia, Ontario is not the darling of Confederation it once was.

A good chunk of the blame can be laid on the last three governments of Ontario. What has gone horribly wrong is an issue of leadership. More specifically, government no longer wants to take ownership of a problem and tackle it head on, such as unemployment. This trend began with the NDP in the early 1990s, the Progressive Conservative Party that followed, and now the Liberal Party, who are currently in power but as a minority government.  Let me share with you a personal example of what I mean.

TUJA of the “The Unknown Job Applicant” suggested in a comment to one of my posts that I contact my immediate representative in government about my dissatisfaction with the employment agencies. I thought it was a great idea, so away I went to prepare to do just that.

Kathleen Wynne is the MPP for the riding I live in. I’ve talked with her a few times in person and even participated in a couple of her “Earth Day” cleanups. She’s pro-transit and pro-clean energy. She’s a very approachable and likeable person, and is the first openly-gay cabinet minister in Ontario’s history — (Seinfeldin’) not that there is anything wrong with that! Nor is it relevant.

I’ve seen her ads on the elevator wall which says to contact her if anyone had questions or problems with government services, so I jotted down her Email address and wrote her a somewhat lengthy but well-paragraphed Email outlining my unemployment situation, outlining all the things I’ve tried (and mentioned in this blog). This included my three unsuccessful associations with employment agencies. I bolded this for a reason, which will become apparent later at the end of this post.

I won’t post the full Email here — as I said here, it is somewhat lengthy — but the closing paragraph of my Email stated the following:

I get the impression I’m missing something, but I can’t seem to find it. Perhaps there is a government service that works for mature workers like me, or maybe I need a suggestion that will get me to think out of the box. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to let me know.



In simple plain English, suggest something I haven’t done on the list in my Email. Don’t ask me to network with friends, co-workers and family members. Don’t suggest I use Workopolis, Torontojobshop, or Monster. Don’t tell me to peruse the newpaper classifieds. Don’t (especially) recommend I sign up with an employment agency. I’m doing all that already.

Give. Me. Something. Fresh.

Within two hours I got a reply back, which for government is surprisingly fast. My spirits were buoyed and my hopes were raised. What a shame that feeling did not last long.

I didn’t get a response back from Ms. Wynne, but instead from the Constituency Assistant of the Office of Kathleen Wynne, and here was her reply:

Hi David, 
 
Thank you for the e-mail. I am sorry to hear you are having a difficult time obtaining employment. I would recommend you contact a very good employment agency in Don Valley West: —– and ask for an appointment with an employment counsellor.  

Thanks,

Oh, for f—udge’s sake! I wrote in my Email I’ve been to three employment agencies, and now I’m getting a suggestion to contact a fourth one? Was my Email even read? Come on!

This is precisely what I meant earlier. This is not a government that solves problems, or even listens to the concerns of constituents like myself. This is a simple “pass-the-buck” right back to where I started.

Jethro Tull. No wonder Ontario is a have-not province.

Thanks for reading

David

P.S. I did make an appointment with this employment agency for next week. I don’t have a lot of optimism this fourth one will be any different than the last three, but I am going to give it a try. I’m willing to give anything a shot to get back to work.

Masquerading As A Job Application

Having your résumé stored electronically on job search sites like Monster, Workopolis, and Torontojobshop is a real time saver when applying online for advertised job positions. All you need to do is enter the user ID and password you use on any of those sites during the Submit Application part and your résumé is sent. Indeed has a lot of job openings spidered from those three I’ve mentioned, so it looks like from my end I’m dealing with one big job search engine and not three smaller ones.

Before I actually enter the real user ID and password, though, I try a fake one first. Why? Well, I did mention in another blog post there are indeed job scams on the Internet, even through reputable commercial and government services that host these ads. To date, I caught one scammer where my fake user ID and password actually went through like a real one. For that unlucky scammer, I sent the screenshots and URL to the service hosting the ad.

Monster, Workopolis, and Torontojobshop are not the only source for online job postings. For example, some positions are advertised on a corporation web site using a separate web page, usually spartan in design. It describes what the job position is about with either an upload option for your résumé or just an Email address you can click to compose an Email containing the résumé. It’s barebones but it works.

Some companies have gone the way of creating their own little Workopolis’ or Monsters by running a separate employment database. They work the same way as the other services. You create a profile and upload your résumé and cover letter for the hiring managers within that company to review. Job seekers can use their online profile to apply for open positions within the company.

I call them “island job banks” and I hate applying for jobs through them for a few reasons. First of all, some of the software used on these services is coded in-house and not as user friendly (or reliable) as the bigger job search sites. I remember on more than one occasion using the résumé upload feature to import my work and education history into my profile, only to wonder in frustration after seeing the mangled mess why I just didn’t manually enter the data in the first place.

There’s also the question of convenience. When I look for work online, I want to spend as less time as possible finding open job positions so I can spend more time applying for them. Creating yet another online profile and uploading my résumé is a time waster, especially since I’m not going to return again to check for any open positions. I have a tab formatted text file containing a list of nearly 50 of these island job banks where I created a profile just to apply for a job. My job search day is between six and eight hours long. Do you seriously think I have time to return to each of these sites on a regular basis?

My final comment — more of a concern — is what the data, stored on a corporation’s private network, is going to be used for. Consider the following terms of conditions statement from one of the companies where I just created a profile on their job bank:

I hereby authorize [omitted] to communicate with appropriate third persons in order to ensure the accuracy of any and all information I have provided during the application process. I hereby release from liability any person giving or receiving such information.

That basically says a third party that associates with the company offering the open position that I’m applying for can use my information as they see fit, whether it applies to my job application or not. There’s a lot of marketing and sales data in my résumé and online profile that can be useful to mass marketing companies: my education, my past work experience, where I live and my telephone number, my hobbies and interests, and so on.

It makes me wonder if I’ve applied for a job, or unknowingly filled out a sales and marketing survey….

Thanks for reading!

David