Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Dudley Chronicles - Week 2

Sorry, I have to explain - I stay in my place of work in a Bed and Breakfast (B&B) then drive home on weekends to my family. Then I repeat the whole cycle come Monday. On the first week I drove Sunday evening, I did the same on the second but I reckon I could drive very early morning on a Monday to save a night's board and lodging.

Anyway, I moved to different B&B because the previous can't accommodate me. This one is in the Sedgeley area. Although the elderly lady and her partner were very nice, the location wasn't so ideal for me. It's right on a busy road which caused me to have difficultly in getting sleep. It would have been okay if I keep the windows closed but as some nights are quite warm I had no choice but to open them. Another is the difficulty in coming out of their narrow driveway which is made doubly dangerous because of the amount of traffic. I could see why it's popular, mainly due to its walking distance to a popular computer training school. So she gets lots of students from there. But it might be my last stay here unless everybody else is full.

This week I get to use the cheap Volvo car we bought specifically for my weekly commuting. I'm not pointing fingers but it's really what my husband want not my choice really. And it's turning out to be a nightmare. There are lots of smoking coming out of the tailpipe, engine is underpowered, no radio, key (which is computer chipped) is broken, side lights not working, etc. You may say, that's what you get out of a cheap car but really I'm not expecting this much problems with it. What's worse was when my husband took it to our local official Volvo repair centre who were either grossly incompetent or just ripped us off our hard earned cash. It should have been just a case of checking if everything's working fine and fixing whatever minor problems it has. But it left the place with more problems than when it came there! My husband has to ferry to and from different garages to patch up the glaring problems (including my thinning patience). One advantage of the Volvo saga is that cars stay well behind me to avoid the copious smoke it's belching.

Our family's car problems did not end there. The Toyota Lucida decided it had enough and developed engine problems. Upon inspection, they found out that a gasket is broken. Price for replacement and fix = £1000. We decided it would be more practical to replace the whole engine which costed $1100 only £100 more than just the gasket. There were a few minor hiccups but it was smooth sailing for the most part. Hopefully this would extend Lucida's working life for a few more years.

As for my homesickness, by Tuesday I have well and truly kicked it. I can think of my kids without almost breaking into tears. Things are looking up at work as well. They've finally given me something to do!

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Dudley Chronicles - Week 1

Several weeks had passed since I started here in my new job. At the risk of being redundant, I just want to record some extra info on my early days here in West Midlands. It was not all a bed of roses in my first week as far as I am concerned. Terrible homesickness set in right on the first day. Doubts about the job arose by the second day. And as expected I am left in zombie-like state while reading manuals and documents to kill time due to lack of computer and database access.

As a saving grace, everyone I meet here have been lovely and very friendly. Even people on the street and shops were amiable. I guess the adage that, the further away from the city you are the friendlier the people, hold true.

My travel, rather driving, this week has been excellent since I had to get a hire car. Though driving was a breeze, my pocket is not breezing so much what with this added expense mainly because the cheapo car (Volvo) that we bought is not up to scratch. Actually I got a shock when I got the hirecar expecting only about £150 to pay. But insurance and VAT inflated the price to £200! *groan* Just what I needed when I should be saving money.

I stayed in a B&B with a family in their relatively new 4-bedroom house in the Milking Bank area. Dennis, Dang and family even accompanied me there the first night I 'checked in'. Everything was very pleasant including my friendly landlady. Only minor irritation is the lack of a shower room in their lovely spacious bathroom. So everytime I had to sit in the bathtub while scrubbing and very carefully rinsing myself with a shower attached to a hose (I don't what they call that).

Friday, June 02, 2006

Job Interviews

My recent job hunt made me face job interviews for the first time in more than 10 years. The amount and variety of these interviews I went into is such a wealth of experience to me that I have to write it down for posterity.

The line of job I'm in is a bit technical so there are a lot of quiz-type of questions that usually have absolute answers. Interviews I went into are usually divided between technical and the more HR type. Usually you have to hurdle the technical one first before you are put on the second HR type which gauges more of your personality and suitability to the current team and company culture.

I can't tell you enough of my nervousness in the techie interviews because I know if I got 1 or 2 wrong - that's it I'm screwed. Especially for contract jobs since they expect you to plunge into the job right at the start so they want you to be extra sharp. So just imagine yourself in like a 'Mastermind' type of scenario where the person opposite is asking you questions and probing everything you say in a technical way. Worse still is if you're doing it over the phone. Well actually that has advantages such as you can hide your nervousness since they can't see you. Also you can rummage thru your notes (very quickly) as they fire away their questions. But it still boils down to whether you would appear and sound like you know what you're talking about. I think that's where my weakness lies because I'm a bad liar. I can't bluff very well. Whereas some of my colleagues were able to blag themselves to plum roles even though they don't have all the required work experiences.

Besides those points, going on interviews after more than 10 years in a job can be quite a shock. I'm not really good at it since I am by nature an insecure person and as everyone knows it is very important to appear confident and sure. There were also times when I have a 'mental block' where I forget even the simplest things that I do.

The solution to this is to prepare and to prepare well. Think of all the things they could ask you and if possible write down your best answer. Don't just try to remember everything in your head. You're bound to forget one or two things. As for technical questions, you definitely have to revise via textbooks in libraries (even in bookstores) or in the internet. Unless you have a photographic memory of everything you read and click on your computer you might be in for a shock when at crunch time you realise that you forgot the collective name of the suite of software you're using and some other everyday work stuff.

As for my actual interviews, there were times then that I feel like a multitasking operating system. I had interviews almost everyday for several weeks. Sometimes I have two at a time. Sometimes one phone interview in the morning then a face-to-face one in the afternoon.

First one, I was so unprepared I forgot to answer one fundamental thing about Packaged Procedures in Oracle Forms which I was using everyday in my work. Duh! Be prepared! I learned later that an ex-colleague was getting interviewed for the same position so I gave him all the questions they fired at me and all the tips I can muster. He did get the job, which I was genuinely delighted, but was troubled that he was only asked 2 quite easy technical questions. Waahh, not fair!

Second one, I went thru all the trouble of commuting to their offices and back for a series of exams. Spending almost £50 of my own money. Then after repeatedly calling them for 2 weeks to get an answer, they came back and said they're not recruiting afterall. Arrrggghh!!

Then followed a series of phone interviews:

One was for a job in Belgium, which was so intense they were asking about syntaxes of Oracle commands. They really need one with photographic memory.

Another was for a bank up north, which I really liked but it turned out I was beaten by an ex-colleague. Oh well ...

Then came this job for a software house in East Midlands whose interview was done by an agency person who didn't have a clue on what Oracle was. So I had to continually ask her to repeat the question and often ask her to spell it. As you can tell, it's one of those quiz type of interviews - one wrong answer and you're fried. Not surprisingly I didn't get a followup phonecall from them.

A software house up in Scotland liked my first interview so they sent plane tickets for my second interview. I didn't the job but I got to ride an airplane. :) They said they want someone with more customer facing experience. Maybe that means they want someone who's not fat. hehehe!

Next one is a university who had the temerity to ask for so many years of experience and technical skills then pay you peanuts. I thought it could do for the meantime but when I saw their offices - my God! It was really grim. They are in a tower block that didn't seem to have been maintained much since the 70s. Halls were dark, there were piles of boxes and paper everywhere. What's worse were the holes and cracks I saw on the window panes then patched up higgedly-piggedly with cello tapes or electrical tapes. Yikes! And everyone had a personal heater by their desks. It must be freezing up there in winter.

A financial investment firm in the City called me for an interview. Offices were a stark contrast from the above - very posh, quite new, sleek and trendy, all reeking money. I think I did well in the written technical exam but I did not gel well with my interviewers. Besides one of them was so glum I think he had made up his mind even before he'd seen me. Though I was not sorry to see that job go because even if they're paying top money, the work was all about maintaining their legacy system (read: old system). Not much development work so no real prospect for growth.

Then I had a couple of 'long-shots' - meaning I really didn't have all the core work experience they need but were interested because they were in the insurance industry as well. The one in the south coast is the one I really covet. All new system with lots of development needed and lots of new technologies being introduced. Sadly they said they like my personality but needed someone with experience on the new ERP technologies. I know they're still looking but with the salary they're offering I think they'll have a tough time.

Next one is an insurance company near where I live. I really think I am a good fit in that position but my hunch is that the boss who interviewed might have been intimidated by me. She's well experienced and all but still quite young.

This is a funny one, the guy emailed me for an informal interview in an address in the City. So I went to the designated place expecting an office building. I kept circling around the area but couldn't seem to find it. Just then I saw one of the shop awnings with the number of the address. It was a wine bar !! I have heard of jokes about interviews in pubs but I never thought it would happen to me. I couldn't believe it that I must have walked by about 4 times unsure of whether to come in or not. To be fair, they were a decent bunch of people and wanted to see mainly my personality since they are a very small consulting company. Still, I think they should have done better than having it in a wine bar. That one would really stick in memory. :)

Did you have a meeting where everything seems to go wrong? Well this one was in the Docklands and I don't know what happened but I ended up being late! Tsk tsk, one of the cardinal sins of interviews - never be late! I made sure to leave home in plenty enough time but I think there were train cancellations and I ended up almost running from Canary Wharf tube station across a mall, over a bridge, then sprinted the last 250 meters (my PE teacher would have been proud). As I opened the glass door I was sweaty, panting, and looking particularly haggard. The interview was all right but it's just as well that they didn't call me back because from what they described me the job is mainly doing technical sales. Not for me!

Another software house that developed a multi-media broadcasting ERP software called me for an interview. Location was in North London high tower block office in a not so nice part of town. Though the inside of the office is nice enough in stark contrast to their surroundings. The people there looks laid back and were smart-casually dressed. The senior techie guy I met gave me a written test after only a few minutes of questioning. It wasn't a problem. I was confident of my answers so I handed it in after about half an hour. I thought that was the end of it but no! He sat down and dissected each and every answer I made and questioned me on why this why that. It turned out more exhaustive than I thought. After 2 weeks still no answer but I was not too bothered.

The interview I got for my current job was quite an ordeal really. I have to travel a total of about 6 hours to get to and from the site. Then a project manager and a senior techie guy grilled me for 1 1/2 hours on probably anything they can think of in Oracle. Minutes after all that, they had me take 2 45-minute verbal and numeric assessment exams. I tell you, I felt like a pulp when I got home. Good thing they offered me the job otherwise it would have been all for nought.

So there they are, all my interview experiences this year. Aren't you exhausted yet? It may not be over yet. I might repeat the whole circus in a year or two, who knows?