Leaving Austin Essay: So Long and Thanks for All the Foobars

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3. Before the Door Stands a Doorkeeper

By Robert Nagle, October, 2003
Summary: Part 3 of this essay about a laid off geek-wannabee describes the waiting.

The last month in Austin was a blur, but what I remember most was the waiting. Amazingly, a flurry of employers had indicated interest, wanting to schedule interviews (and even second interviews). Things were looking bright...sort of. I literally had no money, no credit left on credit cards, and my parents no longer wanted to help me meet expenses, demanding simply that I move in with them in Houston to save money. Immediately. I hesitated. It meant breaking a lease, incurring moving costs and walking away from opportunities before they had time to pan out. I'd always had a nightmare vision of getting a job offer after I had already started packing off for Houston. So I gave Austin another week before moving. I waited. On one promising interview, the manager gave me a date for his decision. That date came and went, with the manager not responding to my email inquiry. But in the meantime, a short-term opportunity for a government contract became available. It was a great opportunity and probably paid well, but the contract's duration was iffy. It could last as little as 3 months or as long as a year. I was passed along to the second interview with the big boss, who gave me until next Thursday (8 days away) for a final decision. If I was hired, I would start the following Monday (12 days away). I told the manager that I would check back Thursday. "That won't be necessary," she told me. "I'll remember to call you that Thursday whatever we decide."

Those 8 days were full of stress. Every day I waited for that phone call. I looked at the job ads (especially in Houston), played around with several scenarios in which I would stay in Austin or Houston. I made tentative moving plans, sold everything I could on ebay, researched technical areas in preparation for this job, and worked on my website. And yes, I organized information about debts and researched bankruptcy.

Of course, my parents wanted me out of Austin immediately, having had to subsidize me for the last few months. But a few more days...I just needed a few more. But I was clinging to false optimism; as Thursday morning came along, I dreaded the wait and the silence. I would give her until three o'clock, and then call her myself. But she didn't call that morning or that afternoon. So I called at 3:00. She wasn't in. I left a message and called the person I'd interviewed with initially. He was surprised to hear from me and said the position had not yet been filled. The boss was out on vacation and would be back tomorrow. Tomorrow came, and the woman called me at 9:00AM, apologizing for not calling the day before. Here was the situation: the government had postponed the call for bids by a week and would release the bid guidelines next Monday. After the company read these guidelines, they would make staffing decisions. So what did that mean? I asked. She couldn't say. So then, assuming that the bid guidelines presented no obstacles, when would she be able to make a decision? And when would the project start? Sometime next week, she said. Without giving details or trying to hide my desperation, I explained that I was planning to leave Austin and this was the only opportunity I was waiting on. What did she recommend? She couldn't say. I had to make my own decision. But was I going to be chosen if the go-ahead were given? She hesitated to say. Was she still considering me? Oh, most certainly. Did that mean that I was the only candidate being considered? She wouldn't say that, except to add that I was the only candidate who had made it to the second interview. I told her that what I needed was a punctual decision, regardless of what it was. She said she could not promise me a date, but would certainly contact me when a decision was reached.

So what did that mean? Was she encouraging me to keep waiting? Or dropping subtle discouraging hints? I honestly had no idea. I told the woman I would call her in a few hours. I called my parents to see if they would lend me more money for another week in Austin. But no, my parents put their foot down. I should leave Austin immediately. In fact, I should have left Austin a few weeks ago. I should have left Austin in February (when my lease needed to be renewed). I should have left Austin in October (when I cashed in my IRA as a way to support my job hunt). But I hated to forfeit this job simply because I could not wait a few more days. It was ridiculous. So I called the woman, and said I could wait until next Wednesday for an answer. The woman agreed to call me on that date with an answer one way or another. I told her that if I didn't hear from her by Wednesday, she should withdraw my name from consideration. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll let you know."

This was a common refrain, and yet even in an age of painless instant email, managers seemed woefully incapable of notifying job seekers. Part of the problem has to do with perception of time. For the manager, hiring people is a tedious, time-consuming task; it competes for the manager's time just like a dozen other work activities. For the job seeker, the hiring decision is urgent, critical, and demanding immediate attention. If any hiring managers are reading this, remember this one thing: job seekers seek certainty, negative or positive. Sending a brief "Sorry but no" email to candidates might not make the job seeker start celebrating, but it will win his gratitude. Nothing is as pathetic as a hope that is later revealed as groundless.

So I gave the woman three extra business days to "think about it" (which of course was five days for the unemployed; every day was just another day that cost money). And although deep down I already knew it, the woman never called. And by Wednesday I not only resigned myself to having to move back to Houston, I cursed myself for giving this woman --and Austin-- five extra days to prove that she wanted me.

Once the Wednesday deadline had passed, I moved quickly: giving notice where needed, selling furniture, saying last goodbyes. I wanted to get started on my Houston job search as soon as I could. I wanted to get out before other (illusory) job opportunities coaxed me to stay.

An hour before I was to drive the moving van to Houston, the phone rang. I almost dreaded answering it. It was a man calling about a part-time graveyard shift tech support job I applied for several months ago. I barely remembered it. I replied that maybe a few weeks ago this opportunity mights have interested me, but now I was in the process of moving out. The man on the telephone said he understood, but went ahead and provided more details. It's part-time for the next month or two, but at the end of the summer some full-time graveyard shift jobs would be opening up. I don't know, I said. That's quite all right, he replied. But if you want a way to stay in Austin, this could be exactly what you need. It wasn't the dream job, he admitted, but at least it was a way to stay in Austin.

"How much does it pay?"

"Oh, about $8.50 to $9 an hour depending on experience."

Two weeks later, I was doing temp work in Houston. The pay was not bad, and I'd already lined up interviews with two big high tech companies. Within a month, one of them had offered me a job.

NEXT: 4. Delusions of the Creative Class

Robert Nagle is a writer, creative geek and weblogger who lives in Houston, Texas. . Most recently he started a share the music weblog .

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