Friday, March 30, 2012

this blog needs a new title...

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, but since I clearly have time to write comments on other people's posts then I have time to write my own post too.

Week Two at work now. So obviously I am no longer unemployed. I have even received my first pay  cheque (Yesss!) and begun plotting all the fun ways that I can spend it. Theatre tickets, restaurants, new clothes, more books (for fun, not research). You know, all the things that you tell yourself you can't have because you're on a very strict budget. I am so innured to not spending money though, that so far I have only gotten as far as a new pair of sunglasses, adult beverages and a fancy meal out to celebrate my amazing luck success. Maybe this weekend I will be able to, gasp, go out!

hooly dooly. I am getting waaay ahead of myself.

I don't really have much to say. I don't mean to make anyone jealous at my new exotic life or anything. (I work for a not-for-profit, so I am hardly earning the big bucks either). But it does feel good to do something somewhat complex (yet simultaneously quite straightforward), that does require intellectual labour, utilises some of the skills I developed while I was an academic, and is doing something good for the community. My issues with the whiteness of the place that I mentioned last week aside, it is a good organisation that produces positive outcomes. And now I get to play a part in that. And get paid for it too. That's a pretty good outcome in my book.

I have been thinking too about what not being an academic anymore means too. And you know what: it means F*** All. Just like that, all those years of labouring under the weight of producing all those research outputs, diligently networking my arse off and listening to some old codger drone on about how terrible students are in committee meetings don't actually mean anything to me anymore. I am free from the tyranny of the academic calender (YESS! I can now book holidays when I want, not to fit in around teaching and conference schedules).

But more than that, I am free. I still have the majority of my working life ahead of me. And now I am free to decide what I want to do with it. Given that I am still turning down invites to interviews for jobs I applied for before starting my current one, I am not stressed about being on the job market again. The simple fact of getting one job means that I now know that when the time comes to move on, I will get another one. (note how different this is from the academic threat - that if you don't take ANY job, you will never get another chance?)

For now though, I am going to relax. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

My first week at work

Phew. What a week.

It's been very up and down I must say, but on the whole, ok. I accomplised things easily, got a lot done, and at no point have I felt obliged to worry about things that are not my responsibility. Ok, I lie about the last point - it's a very complex organisation that everyone seems to think is a highly challenging and stressful environment and keep giving my lots of extraneous information that has no relation to my job. But for me, my new workplace doesn't hold a candle to the nuances of academia. So far at least (I think they are breaking me in gently...).

Perhaps the wierdest part of the whole experience has been that I don't know what my professional identity is any more. Sure, I know what my job is, and that's all fine. But when I had to fill out a form outside of work that wanted my 'occupation', I had no idea what to put. So I left it blank.

Then there is the whole business of staff development. Not that anyone has broached that topic with me yet, but I was idly wondering what the hell I want the next step to be. Week 1 and I am all over my job already. Perfectly straightforward. I am just worried that it is actually too easy for me. I know the really hard parts are yet to come, but I don't think they will be as complex as everyone is making them out to be. I think it's just what they perceive to be the hard parts of the job are actually where all those years in academia will have given me far more patience and resilience for certain aspects of the job than my colleagues who can do amazing things in other areas.

And you know what else? all those surveys and studies of gender at work and women's careers etc etc etc etc etc etc ad nasuem (although I do find them interesting) are TRUE! (I don't know why the data didn't sink in, I guess I felt I was lucky that my workplaces had never been like that). I had no idea just how true until this week. Same goes for race and ethnicity. I can't remember the last time I saw so many white people in one place! Scary. Let this be a note to myself to actually be myself at interviews instead of the conservative persona that you are advised to be in advice books and columns.

Flexible hours is a myth too. Everyone is in there at sparrow's fart. Except me. I saunter in and everyone is frantically typing away. I do my requisite hours of course, but it still seems like everyone else is doing more than that. Oh, and they weren't happy with me doing any volunteer work either, even though I explained how I would still do my requisite hours and they don't actually have any rules about core hourse. Another myth dispelled there.

Speaking of typing, what's with emailing a meeting request when the person concerned is sitting next to you in an open plan office? Is this some special office thing? Is there a no speaking rule? I am used to far more informality about these things. If you want to meet someone, then you go and find them or ring them up. If they are right next to you then you ask them if they have a minute at a mutually conveninent time. I am not used to this frantic emailing.

So anyway, how did I get to this point in my life? I attended seminars, I networked, I read blogs (and reflected on feedback from mine), I thought about my values in life, I volunteered and I went to the library. And here is what I did:
1. I wrote a list of my skill set and thought about what I really liked best.
2. I reflected on whether a new role in the same industry or a similar role in a different industry was what I wanted to do.
3. I started to improve my skill set (writing resumes and interview practice)
4. I started volunteering in the sector that I was most interested in.
5. I cranked out those applications.

And what did these exercises show?
1. That my values were not aligned with being in academia
2. That I have an excellent skill set around education/research
3. That I could improve my resume and interview techniques
4. That I needed my volunteering activities to reflect my values
5. That it is hard work getting a new job

And how did I get a job?
1. My skill set, my values, my non-academic background and my committment to volunteering were what got me across the line. Once I honed down how I was transitioning from one role in one sector, to a similar role in another sector, the interview requests started stacking up. I did three in two weeks before accepting my job and have been offered three this week after starting.

As James from Sell Out Your Soul frequently writes, wishing and applying for jobs you think you can do are not going to get you a job. You need to have a plan of action.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

And just like that I have a job.

I am super excited to report that I have FINALLY been offered a fulltime, continuing, paying position that is close to home.

Yay, yay and yay.

No relocating. No doing work for free. No contract. No juggling multiple part-time or casual positions while doing the rest of my work (ie writing and research) from my kitchen table.

A proper, honest-to-goodness, actual job that involved searching for opportunities, writing a cover letter explaining how I meet the selection criteria (note: no ten-page statement of claims about how brilliant I am required), an open discussion at interview about the role (not hula hooping through abstract, obscure, technical and pointless questions designed solely to prove that a committee has done it's job) and a concrete offer made within a reasonable time frame (I won't tell you about the consipracy of the phone companies that meant a lovely voicemail went unheard for several days while I continued to mope/write further applications). Who would have thought it?

My goodness. If this is what it's like working in the real world, then sign me up baby. Why didn't I do this years ago?

Now I am debating whether to have an awkward coversation about wanting more money or just take what they're offereing and get on with it. Such a grown-up dilemma.

And BTW - let me tell you about a little work-life balance perk of the kind of organisation I now work for: if you use your lunch break to exercise, you get to take an extra half an hour! far out. Who are these people? Super fit freaks is who, that much I noticed in the interview.

I can NOT believe that this has finally happened. I think I am going to spend my probation period (only 3 months, not 3 years or the 6 or 7 for Tenure Track) walking around wondering when I am going to awake from a dream to find out that this was in fact too good to be true.

I will confess to slightly freaking out every so often about whether this means I will be permantly leaving academia and what working an actual 38 hour week in 'smart casual business atire' and not my pyjamas and ugg boots or sports gear will feel like. How do I break the news to my academic colleagues? Does that mean I am out for good, or will I continue to look for another position (I still have about a year or so of competitiveness built into my CV due to publication timings and other things)? What the hell is smart casual business attire anyway? Will I miss teaching and research? Is this going to be a career killer or a career builder? What if I don't like it afterall? Etc etc...

But on the whole, I am just fucking relieved that I will have some money coming in. My questions will be answered in due course.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Being unemployed is really boring.

I live in a great location, with beaches, parks and mutiple opportunities for attending free talks, museums, art galleries, live music and comedy. I am perfectly healthy and capable of getting out and about. I have multiple forms of accessible transport options. I have reliable access to old and new media forms. I am securely housed.

I exercise, I volunteer, I go to the library, I go to talks, I visit mothers of new babies and take baked goods when I do. I do the housework and have got my finances in order. I have time to chat. To anyone. I have time to give detailed directions to people who are lost. Hell, I have time to walk them to the nearest bus stop and wait with them until the right bus arrives.

Fuck I'm bored.

After spending more than a decade under intense pressure to get stuff done ALL THE TIME, I now have more free time than I know what to do with. While on the one hand, it's been great to finally get around to doing all the things that somehow never get done when you're working all the time, on the other hand, once they are done there isn't a real lot else left to do.

Hell, I am so bored I have almost finished reading David Foster Wallace's unfinished and posthumously published novel The Pale King, which in itself is a treatise on boredom. And tax. I now know a lot about the IRS. I thought our tax system was complex, but the IRS is positively Kafkaesque.

I digress.

I am so bored I have even started writing a journal article. Something I swore I was never going to do again. But hey, I have free library access and a few colleagues who think I am still into the academic thing so I might as well keep going. Maybe it is just one more paper that will get me across the line... (I am joking - I know it won't make a difference).

I am so bored that I looked up interest groups at our community centre the other day and briefly entertained the notion of joining the knitting and sewing group. I still might re-learn how to knit (I can already sew very  well thank you), but the group time clashes with my volunteering duties.  

I have spent a lot of time upskilling, writing job applications and attending interviews too, so it's not as if I am just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.

But there is one inescapable fact that I can't avoid - I actually liked being under pressure to get stuff done. Unlike most people who feel guilty that they're not working or who feel like a fraud if they leave the office early, I actually had really good work life balance, a challenging role and a good income.

I miss those things. But most of all, I miss work. Heaven help me when I have to retire. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Interviews suck.

There is a lot of information available from all and sundry about how best to prepare for an interview, but there is one inescapable problem that no-one has an answer for: interviews, in general, suck.

Yesterday I had an interview for a fulltime permanent role that went for 20, yes twenty, minutes. Not only did I want to describe, using examples, how I have loads of experience and transferrable skills in every area that could conceivably covered by the job, but that I also wanted to talk with them about what the organisation does and how interesting I find the challenges ahead. In other words, all of the things that you are supposed to do in an interview. But I didn't have a chance.

Now, before you tell me I should have found out in advance how long the interview would be, I will tell you that the person I did ask told me it would go for an hour. This is the person who rang to invite me to interview, and who presumably would have been told when to schedule interviews and what time to allow between each one. Since she also works at the organsiation, she might have even been basing it on personal experience. Next time I will ask for the caller's interpretation of the interview schedule and their reasons for why it might be so.

After the obligatory interrogation of me, in the end, I was only allowed two questions of them. Doing a good job of immediately picking the two most important (to me at least) each one was met with a vague "we think the job description covers that". Well, perhaps it did to the person who wrote it, but really, no, it didn't. Maybe it was me who made the error of interpretation, but I really don't think so. After all, I have built a very successful career out of interpreting the written word. And yes, I did speak to the contact person listed in the job specs (who was not on the interview panel btw, which might have made a significant difference to my ideas about the role).

By this time I am still wanting the job, because, well, I am unemployed, so frankly, I need it. But then, in the wrapping up/summary, they killed it for me, by saying: "Of course, at this level and this salary it is a VERY senior role that requires a lot of responsibility and accountability". Well, yes, that would be why I want it.

Which part of being given hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money, doing research with atual live populations of people, publishing a book and loads of articles, consulting with industry, conducting public engagement, teaching up to 200 hundred students at a time, supervising administrative and junior teaching staff, mentoring PhD students, and generally being a collegial person in both my department and discipline does not require responsibility and accountability????


Oh, and BTW - my fulltime equivalent salary would be WAAAAY higher than the crappy wage your organisation is offering. So don't patronise me by telling me how highly paid I would be.

Given that for every part of my written application and interview, I used examples that demonstrated responsibility and accountability, I think I am justified in being a little annoyed.

I think they thought that I was just some kind of a student looking for my first job. Clearly the bureaucratic cogs don't allow for lateral thinking about transferrable skills.

We'll see what happens with the outcome. It would be just my luck that I end up working there after feeling so insulted at the interview. What they don't know but I do though, is this: once I did start working there they would quickly learn how fanstic I am and how grossly they have underrated me. All I need is to start work.

And what have I learnt from all of this? All interviews are different. No matter how similar the organisations, and how much research you do, be prepared to be surprised. Who knows? Maybe that guy that was so insulting is just socially awkward and is actually really nice and a great person to work for. Or maybe he's just really dumb, but it won't matter anyway cause he's too senior himself to hang with the newly employed hacks.

In the end: who cares - it's just a job after all. A chance for me to be entirely selfish and take what I need from them and move on if I don't like it. And that's the best part about not being an academic. You have options. Always.