SNOWMG!

SNOWMG!

Terrible pun.  Sorry.

If you haven’t already guessed from the wacky title, this post is about snow.  Or more specifically, strapping a board to your feet and travelling over the good stuff down a mountainside.  And Vancouver is one of the the best places on earth to be located for such activities, snow joke!

Okay I’ll stop now.

So my snowboarding career until recently has been patchy at best.  It all started in 2006 when I decided to take part in the university ski club annual trip to the French Alps.  Having never gotten around to upgrading from sledging down the Campsie Hills, my flatmate and I decided to go and have some ski lessons beforehand.  Things were coming along nicely when I began to notice a burning/tearing sensation on my Achilles tendon at the end of each lesson.  Cue seven hours a day in ski boots when we got to France, I realised that this wasn’t happening so on the advice of a friend I switched to boarding half way through the week.  So after a quick lesson, I could pretty much stand up and go down on my back edge.

Then I had a four year break, as professional athletes do on occasion.  Now in Edinburgh, one of my old uni friends had booked a cabin in Aviemore, the most popular ski and snowboard spot in the UK.  A friend and myself decided to tag along after having a dry slope lesson beforehand.  By the end of my day in Aviemore I could get up, go down on my heal edge and turn.

One year on…I randomly decided to try out one of the indoor ‘real’ snow runs, so again I went along for a lesson and a couple of hours practice session.  By the end of that I could get up, go down on my back edge, turn, and go down a little on my to edge.

Herein end of my career until…

Snowboarding in Vancouver

So if you want to start/continue/excel in your snowboarding or skiing career, Vancouver is clearly the place to be.  According to a semi-reliable source (i.e. my roommate), there are 81 mountains in British Columbia set up with lifts and runs.  Vancouver was also the location for the 2010 Winter Olympics, with events being held at the three local mountains; Cypress, Grouse and Seymour as well as the renowned Whistler Mountain a few hours north of the city.

I was lucky enough to move in with three people who were uber keen to get up to the mountains, so when the first week of decent snow came…of to Cypress Mountain we went.  Now, a day on the slopes for those of us with only public transport to rely on is not for the faint hearted.  A typical day at Cypress has us up and out of bed by 6am, on the Skytrain by 6.45am (usually after a 10 minute walk unless the buses are behaving) and on the Cypress Express by 7.15am.  Then it’s nap time until we finally get to the mountain at around 8.45am.  By the time we sort lockers and lift passes out, we’re usually in queue for the first lift by just after 9am.  Then repeat in reverse at the end of the day.

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As you can imagine, we would not be doing this every Sunday if it wasn’t totally worth it!  Having said that, my first day up there was a little disheartening as I thought I would remember more from the previous four beginners lessons!  My first bunny slope run (aka the newbie slope) had me falling over like a drunk all morning.  As the day progressed, I braved my first green run, which seemed like an exercise in self-harm by the time I made it to the bottom.  And the next day…ouch!

My next trip up I was slightly apprehensive about the impeding beating that was surely awaiting me.  Between trips, I had talked to some people about the length of board I should be renting – and it turns out that the one I had used the time before was longer than what some of the 6ft + guys ride!  Shorter board and smaller boots this time please.  To my immense surprise, I made it all the way down the bunny hill without falling over….on my edge the whole time but hey progress is progress!

I think I’ve had about five days of boarding now, and it’s a really great feeling to see yourself improve each time.  I even upgraded to a couple of blue runs on my last trip! And I bought my own board and boots as a Christmas present to myself…at $70 a time to rent it works out a better deal to just hunt for a good deal on Craigslist, especially mid-season as the injuries start to pile up.

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Catching a Moment…

One of my absolute favourite times on the mountain was when I went up in the evening just before New Year.  It was an amazingly clear day, and the view from the top at sunset was unreal – I’ve included some photos but I really don’t think they do the experience justice.  Later on I was riding down the same run with two of my friends, we stopped to have a look at the awesome view of the city at night and it was amazing reminder as to how far I’d come in the past three months.  I’d travelled across North America, saw some unbelievable places, met some amazing people, managed to establish a new life 3000 miles away from home and here I was cruising down a mountain in the snow, with my new friends, looking down at one of the world’s most incredible cities at night.  Definitely what I’d call a moment.

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Off to the mountains with you…

If you are heading to Vancouver, or you’re here already it would be insane not to up to the mountains during the ski season.  Pretty much the only other thing going on outdoors during that time is rain, so may as well give it a go.  If you are new to snowboarding (as I remember, skiing is slightly easier to pick up), it can be frustrating the first few times but just persevere and you will find yourself getting better.  You can pay for lessons but you’ll get on just as well if you have an experienced and patient friend.  At the very least you should get up there and make a few snow angels…!

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes” – Part II

So this is basically an update from my last post about jobs and finding work in Vancouver, which I’m sure you’ve read with fervor and enthusiasm… but just in case it slipped through your readings somehow, you can have another look here.

So after upping my alcohol intake as suggested by Mr Wilde, it seems that some misguided soul has decided to employ me!  This wasn’t without a few bumps and near misses along the way, but as things always seem to…it all turned out alright in the end.

So this is how it went…

Encounter 5 – The extended cut.

  • Organisation: Expert Recruiters – Recruitment Agency
  • Job Title: Receptionist
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: Yes
  • Outcome: I had a good couple of reception assignments with these guys, however work isn’t guaranteed.  I did almost end up with a permanent position with one of their clients, but I received my current job offer beforehand.

Encounter 6

  • Organisation: Teach Away Inc
  • Job Title: Teacher Placement Coordinator
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: No
  • Outcome: I was a little confused about this one.  They gave me a telephone interview, invited me in and asked me the same questions.  When I asked for feedback as to why I was unsuccessful I was told that I didn’t have enough experience teaching abroad…which they would have known from my resume before even speaking to me.  Never mind.  Onto the next one.

Encounter 7

  • Organisation: Enterprise Rentals
  • Job Title: Trainee Manager
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: N/A
  • Outcome: So these guys found my resume on monster.ca and gave me a call.  I passed the initial telephone interview, and found out that the job was basically a management trainee program for their rental stores and the talent finder had picked up on my sales background.  After the interview, I checked the company and program out on Glassdoor (a really great website for checking up on what it’s like to work for companies – not so big in the UK yet but pretty huge in Canada and the US) and didn’t really like the sound of the program.  Long hours, intense sales, below average salary.  I decided that I would go to the second interview if nothing else came up, but that same week Expert Recruiters offered me a decent assignment, so I cancelled the interview.

Encounter 8

  • Organisation: AppleOne Recruiters
  • Job Title: Office Layout Coordinator at BC Hydro
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: Yes
  • Outcome: Definitely the best recruitment agency I have come across out here (I’ll detail a few others later) – this job pretty much found me!  AppleOne’s online application and tests are a little more detailed, lengthy and difficult that other recruiters…so I started it, got half way though and decided to come back to it later.  A few days later one of their recruiters called me to arrange an interview the next day.  I went to the office, completed the application and tests, had my interview, and had word of a six month position with BC Hydro within 10 days.  During that 10 days, my recruiter was on the phone almost every day updating me with progress – extremely efficient!

So I arrived in Vancouver on the 18th October, and I started my new job on the 7th January – that’s eleven and a half weeks to find something long term.  I will admit, however, that I was being slightly fussy.  I declined a couple of jobs and was really holding out on having to work weekends unless my situation became dire.  It paid off though, now I have a sweet little job that pays over $20 per hour and gives me my weekends.  And temp work did keep me floating along in between.

As far as temp agencies go, most of my contact has been with Expert Recruiters and AppleOne.  However a few others I am registered with and have friends who work with are:

  • Miles – offered me an assignment which I declined, as I was already on assignment.  They do seem to be quite negative about the visa situation, giving the impression that you will only ever get temp work whilst you have Working Holiday Visa status.  This completely not true, and I get the feeling that they are just looking to have a decent bank of temps to choose from.
  • Executrade – I signed up with these guys as one of the clients I was working at for Expert Recruiters switched agency while I was there, and I wanted to stay at the job.  They were very good at getting me in for interviews etc and setting the job I wanted up for me, but I got the BC Hydro call before the assignment started.
  • AngusOne – My roommate has worked with these guys for the past 6 months and recommends them – I’ve not really had any contact though.

So that’s been my experience so far – I hope that it helps some of you guys who are planning on coming over in 2013.  My advice would be not to get too caught up in the line of work you end up in…as long as you are happy and you can pay your way.  Once you have been out here and working for a few months, you will see how easy it is to slip back into the work-home-sleep cycle.  So why bother living in a different country if you are doing exactly as you would back home?  You really do need to take the time to appreciate where you are and why you are here.  Luckily for me, the views from my work are a constant reminder that I’m loving every minute of life right now!

Enjoy…

My view from work 18 months ago.

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My view from work now.

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New Year, New Outlook, New Plan!

Well Happy New Year to you all!

So I was going to write a New Year themed blog based around New Years resolutions and 2013 goals etc, but it’s been done, and done again, and again, and a few more squillion times after that.  Anyway how many of your resolutions did you keep last year?  I can’t really remember mine, although I can guess it went along the lines of lose weight, get fitter, find a new job, learn a new skill, get to Canada…meh maybe a couple of ticks in there,  better than any other year!  Still, the whole thing needs a shake up.  So I have one for this year.  And here it is.

Live more in the moment, without worrying about the past or the future.

No I have not been captured and brainwashed by some hippie commune, nor have I been taking advantage of Vancouver’s relaxed smoking laws.  Basically what I’m going to try to do is enjoy what’s happening right now, and not get lost thinking about how the future will turn out.  After all this is it, this is life, right now.  Obviously some forward planning is always required in life i.e. what time shall I wake up, how will I get to my destination, one foot in front of the other etc…so it’s not too literal, but you get the idea!  I was out snowboarding on Cypress Mountain the other night, and the view from the top was just unreal.  I did take some photos (to be included in a later blog), but they really don’t do it justice.  It was real ‘Holy crap, this is my life!’ moment.

The New and Improved 2013 Plan

So when I first set out on this adventure, although I had no solid long term plan, the general idea was to live and work in Canada for as long as my visa would let me, and then decide if I wanted to go down the Permanent Residency route or head back to Bonnie Scotland.  Although I love Vancouver, I mentioned in an earlier post that I did miss the excitement of traveling to a new place, discovering a new city.  Well it looks like there will be more travels in the pipeline…

My current roommates arrived in Vancouver in June 2012, and set out with the plan of working in Vancouver for a year before traveling through South America for six months and then applying for a Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand.  After two months of living with them, the excitement of such adventure has completely rubbed off on me.  After a few weeks of thinking about it, I asked them if they would mind me tagging along…and they didn’t seem too traumatised by the idea.  They are going to apply for the second year visa just to give them some extra time to save, which works out perfectly as my visa will be up in October, our estimated date of departure.  This means that I wont be applying for the second visa, which works well for me as it means that I could always come back to Canada again.

So what with living in the moment and plans to travel to some of world’s most stunning places, 2013 is set to be a good one!

The Apocalypse, and then Christmas.

What were you doing when the world ended?

I was at the end of my first full week of work since leaving for my travels, looking out at the rain, attempting to nurse a hangover that for once, didn’t belong to me.  And then the world didn’t end.  I kind of had an idea that this would be the case, due to having some people on the inside (i.e. Australia) who assured me that, as the one of the first countries to see the dawn of 12-21-12, there was no sign of impending doom on the horizon.

ImageIndeed.  Not that I wanted the world to end, of course not!  I just managed to get my ass out of Scotland after ten years of trying – it would be incredibly annoying if the whole world went away two months later.  No – I just expected more pre-apocolypotic craziness…stores selling out of candles and Spam, cardboard signs written in ketchup and maybe a nice string quartet like off of Titanic.  With Vancouver’s abundant supply of crazy people, I have to say I expected more.

A Very Merry Vancouver Christmas

My first Christmas away from home!  Something that I wasn’t all that excited about, but wanted to experience at some point.  And a very good experience it was.  Most of this was down to my uncanny luck with finding my current housemates.  Christmas Eve was spend showing our lovely new house guest, Glenda (Jay’s mum), around Vancouver.  Some local beer samples at the Granville Island Brewery, a trip around the Christmas Market finished off with an unexpected piss up courtesy of Captain Morgan

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Christmas Day we had a proper Christmas dinner, with a few variations on the traditional ingredients (i.e. pigs in blankets had to be replaced by pigs in duvets!).  We had all arranged a Secret Santa, which I totally lucked out on with my new super-cool snowboarding helmet, thanks Mark!  The obligatory Skype call back home was made, with my mum ducking behind the sofa in the background despite me insisting that she looked exactly the same on Skype as in real life.  A round of the new Michael McIntyre and Kevin Bridges (little bit of home), and then more drinking to see the night away.

You can’t really beat Christmas at home, but I did not too badly in Vancouver.

Going solo!

Having recently found myself pining for that adventurous feeling of arriving in a new city, knowing nothing and no one, I realised that it may actually be worth sharing my thoughts on this subject.  It’s the ultimate adventure, but at the same time solo travel can seem pretty scary.  It was something that I had always wanted to do, disappear into the horizon on my way to meet some great adventure (in a very poetic manner of course!).  But when my plane landed in Toronto with no one to meet me at the other side of immigration, shit got real!  What if I don’t meet anyone?  How will have fun at night?  I can’t go to a bar on my own, can I? What if I leave my passport somewhere and there is no one by my side to run through the obligatory what-has-Caroline-forgotten check list?  And the ultimate scary scenario, what if I have to dine alone??

Thankfully my experience was completely positive and I have now found myself planning some more solo trips.  I have a sketched out plan of traveling back to Glasgow in May for a visit, but passing through Banff, Edmonton and Calgary on the way.  I’m also keen to spend a couple of months in South and Central America at the end of 2013 when my visa expires, nip home for Christmas, and then come back into Canada in January 2014 to activate my new visa. All just plans in my head for now, who knows where life will take me in the next few months, but there are definitely some more adventures on the cards!

Of course my solo traveling experience so far has been limited to the relatively safe towns and cities of the USA and Canada, so I can’t offer much advice on the likes of trekking alone through the Amazon, the Nepalese mountains or surviving Mexico City (yet!), nevertheless I will share some nuggets of advice I found to be useful along the way:

  • Hostels:  Use hostels and make the most of them!  They are the perfect environment for meeting new people just like you – regardless of who ‘you’ are.  During my time hosteling I met a girl and her mum who were backpacking together, a 30-something year old local woman who wanted to see what hostel life was like, a guy on release from the army, a 72 year old political activist, a French guy who only started learning English two weeks before, a girl who was a performer for Disney, a 22 year old who was traveling on her own for six months and lots of other fun and interesting people in between.  You get the idea.  Hosteling isn’t just 18-30 year olds looking for a party (that scene is there though, worry not!) or pretentious Rastafarian wannabes looking to compare travel resumes.
  • Tours and Activities:  This ties in with the hostel thing…get out there…participate!  You are traveling alone to push yourself out of your comfort zone, no?  Well that’s not going to happen if you spend every night in your hostel watching Netflix (I’ve seen in done!).  Most hostels will run tours and activities around the local area, Hosteling International Hostels are pretty good for it.  Daytime tours are a good way of meeting people as you immediately have something to talk about.  On the Freedom Trail tour in Boston, I met a group of people who by later that night, I felt like I had known forever!  If you are in a hostel over the weekend, it is very likely that there will be a bar crawl..and there is no social lubricant quite like alcohol!  Just don’t get too carried away, remember that you are in a strange city with people you don’t know, keep your wits about you.
  • Dorm Living:  If you have some extra travel money, it may be tempting to book a private room at your hostels.  I would recommend against it.  I almost did it for my Seattle stay, as I thought that after sharing for so long (only child here!) and traveling across the US I would want some private space.  When I went to book, the price was more than expected so I just went for a smaller dorm.  I’m so glad I did, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have met, Claire, my travel buddy for the next few days!  General dorm etiquette is to introduce yourself when you arrive in a new dorm, or someone new arrives in yours.  You will no doubt get chatting about your travels, it’s a very easy way to meet people.
  • Find a more confident you:  If you are an introvert (and let’s face it, no matter how confident we are able to act, most of us are), then striking up a conversation with a stranger can seem intimidating.  You just need to bite the bullet, and once you have done it once, it becomes much easier.  If you see a group of people chatting over lunch/dinner at the hostel, ask if you can join them.  If you are cooking in the hostel kitchen, rather than squishing past everyone awkwardly, start a conversation about food, cooking, whatever.
  • Social meetup websites:  Since being in Vancouver, I have used the Meetup.com website a couple of times, and I have met some great people.  It is very popular here for reasons detailed in this post.  It’s basically groups of people with similar interests, or who just want to meet new people, who arrange it through the website.  Also, although I haven’t used it, I have heard good things about arranged meetups on the Couchsurfing website – usually this is where you would find yourself a couch to crash on for the  night but they also have a massive international community of travelers just looking to meet new people.
  • Eating alone:  The situation will probably crop up when it’s time for food, but you haven’t met anyone yet to grab something with.  There are a few options to get around this if you’re not so comfortable with ‘table for one, please!’.  Most hostels will have a food prep area where you can cook your own food and just hang out in the hostel.  However if you’re not hanging around for very long this may not be so cost effective, you don’t want to be buying a full bag of pasta just for one or two nights.  Also, when you’re in a new place, part of the adventure is sampling the local cuisine!  When I was on my own, I would usually just make do with casual dining i.e. coffee shops, cafes, street food etc.  This way you can sample some local food, get out of the hostel and just take a book or something to keep you entertained.  Or just people watch, which is always fun when you’re somewhere new.  One girl I met in Seattle was perfectly happy dining in the city’s finest restaurants on her own, which is great, and if you’re happy doing that then you’re onto a winner!  However you will probably find that most of the time you wont have the option, as you’ll be inundated with people to share a meal with!

All in all, traveling solo is a great experience and if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do…but..forget the ‘but’.  You wont regret it!

Canada: The good, the bad and ‘culture shock’.

There are various schools of thought out there that describe the various stages of culture shock.  Now, the idea of culture shock may seem a little melodramatic when talking about relocating from the UK to Canada, are they really that different?  Not in a bigger picture sense, no not really, however there is always some adjusting to be done when you find yourself a long way from home and living somewhere where things work slightly differently.

To keep things simple, I’m going to refer to four stages of culture shock that I have read up on:

Stage 1 – Wonder

Often referred to as the “honeymoon period”, and is overwhelmingly positive.  The traveler is filled with excitement and can’t wait to see the sights, meet the locals…the general sense of adventure that travelers tend to get hooked on!

Stage 2 – Frustration

This usually occurs when the traveler begins to settle into his or her new country/city.  Some of those local quirks which seemed endearing at first can start to become frustrating i.e. language barriers, different accents, weather etc.  At this stage the traveler will often refer back to their home country and remember all of the aspects that are better than this new, foreign land.

Stage 3 – Feeling down about the experience

At this stage the traveler will often call into question their entire reason for embarking on the adventure, longing for the “honeymoon period” to return.  This can often lead to depression or thoughts of homesickness, which become difficult to rationalise when in this state.

Stage 4 – Acceptance

After potential weeks or months of struggling on the roller coaster of thought and emotion, and lots of looking inwards, acceptance and a maybe even a feeling of love for your new country/city will embrace you like a long awaited hug!

I would probably see myself as leaving Stage 2 and entering Stage 3 right now.  Having said that, in no way I am I depressed, and I make sure to count by blessings every day that I have ended up in such an amazing city.  I wouldn’t even say I’m homesick, however being able to relate to some of these feelings has placed me in unique place in my adventure where I can look back at Scotland, look at Canada, and point out some differences…some which suit me, and some that really don’t…

The Good

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  • Bar and restaurant service: This may be a result of the very generous tipping system in this country, but when servers offer you free samples from the menu, split bills and outstanding service in general all I can say is…the system works!
  • Transport:  This may be Vancouver specific, I didn’t use public transport very excessively anywhere else in Canada so can’t really comment.  However transport here is fast, efficient and reasonably priced, definitely more so than back home.
  • Energy prices: Right now petrol in Vancouver is sitting at around £1 per liter. When I left Scotland, it was £1.47!  In Scotland the average monthly winter energy bill for the flat I was living in was  £150, my bills are included with my rent but I’ve spoken to people to pay around £50 each month for a house or condo.
  • Bi-weekly pay cheques: This is standard in Canada, and it’s an amazing system.  Get paid weekly?  Money goes too quickly. Get paid monthly?  No money at the end of the month. Bi-weekly – it works!
  • The people: Canadians are generally great people.  Of course it’s difficult to generalise an entire nationality, every barrel has it’s share of weird, rude and smelly apples, but the general mood here is a positive one which I like.

The Bad

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  • The Cheese! Seriously, why is it so difficult to come across just bog standard cheddar here?  Most of the mass produced stuff is very much like plastic, and most uncheese like!
  • The tipping culture: I like to tip good service, but it doesn’t sit so well with me that service charge is expected regardless of the level of service.  At bars, the general rule is $1 tip per drink.  Why not just charge an extra dollar for a drink? This can however work in your favor…if you are a good tipper say goodbye to bar queues!
  • Bank charges:  This is a big one amongst new comers to Canada.  In the UK, the banks will look after your money for the interest they receive from it.  In Canada, usually you have to pay a monthly charge and your number of ATM and debit transactions are limited.  And you need to withdraw from your bank’s own ATM or you are charged. Crazy!
  • Buying alcohol: I’ll never take Tesco Express or Scotmid for granted again, where you  can buy your dinner and a bottle of wine all under one roof!  In BC, and in Ontario when I was there, you need to buy your booze/liquor from allocated government liquor stores.  There are a few private chains starting to pop up around Vancouver, but still the inconvenience applies!
  • Cell phone charges: Right now I have a SIM only deal from Fido…200 local minutes (unlimited after 6pm and at weekends), unlimited texts, 200MB of data and international texts all for $42 each month.  Then I bought the ‘extras’ package which includes free incoming calls, caller ID and voice mail…totaling $62 after tax. So that’s around £50 each month for a deal I used to sell in Orange for £15 or £20 a month.  Oh and because I signed up to a longer plan, they waived the ‘activation fee’ and SIM card charges.  Sorry, the what fee and you charge for SIM cards??

I’m sure that when Stage 4 kicks in all of the bad will seem like long forgotten, insignificant details.  But probably not the cheese thing.

“Work is the curse of the drinking classes” – Oscar Wilde

So curse me already!

So, a little like the rain situation, I decided that all of those tales of good jobs being hard to come by when you first arrive in Canada was just rumour and hearsay.  I will arrive in Vancouver to glorious sunshine and employers begging me to work for them.  There’s nothing wrong with a little optimism, right?

Okay so it’s not been all that bad. I have been in Vancouver just over 5 weeks and so far I have had five interviews, three job offers and two actual jobs – but it seems that quantity is overtaking quality in this department.  Here is a breakdown:

1st Encounter

  • Organisation: Swatch Retail, Metrotown
  • Job Title: Assistant Manager
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: No
  • Outcome: I wasn’t too excited about the prospect of getting back into retail anyway.

2nd Encounter:

  • Organisation: Public Outreach
  • Job Title: Door to Door Canvasser
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: Yes
  • Outcome: Job declined.  I don’t quite have the stones or the inclination for door to door fundraisng

3rd Encounter:

  • Organisation: Donorworx
  • Job Title: World Vision Fundraiser, Capilano Mall
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: Yes
  • Outcome: Job accepted.  Seemed like a cool organisation, but I wasn’t too keen on the job which was asking mall patrons to sponsor children.  Quit when agency work started coming in.

4th Encounter:

  • Organisation: Vancouver Chinese Gardens
  • Job Title: Volunteer and Event Coordinator
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: No
  • Outcome: Really disappointed that I didn’t get this, they told me that I was in the final 3 and that I was a really strong candidate, but the person they hired had more Vancouver experience.  Not much I could have done about that I guess.

Encounter 5

  • Organisation: Expert Recruiters – Recruitment Agency
  • Job Title: N/A
  • Interview? Yes
  • Job Offer: Yes
  • Outcome: Now doing temp work whenever these guys can offer it.  Work is usually fun but inconsistent.

So considering that most people I have spoken to spent at least a month looking for work and at least three months before anything career related came along, I’m not doing too badly.

I’ll just need to keep drinking, and according to Mr Wilde, my curse will soon arrive 😉