Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lux travel

Or, how I tried something new and it paid off.

Let's fill in the backstory. As you probably know, I got hired for my current job starting in April, until the end of August. At the time, whether they believed it or not, there were many positive words about how my contract would "probably" be renewed, the subcontractors I am working for just had to iron out the formalities of their contract, etc. etc. Fast-forward to the beginning of June. I have two months left on my contract, the subcontractors' contract runs out the end of July and hasn't yet been renewed, and the UK project I was hired to work on will probably not get off the ground until 2014. Plus I have gotten rid of the entire backlog of documents that, when I arrived, filled about 7 shelves (with more arriving every day), and there have been days where I've finished all my work by 11 am and literally played Candy Crush for the rest of the day. Which isn't as fun as it sounds.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that things were not looking rosy for a contract renewal. Now the last time this happened, it was a great shock to the system and I ended up depressed, on sick leave, and ultimately unemployed. This time, I was determined to be proactive and start lining up something else while I still had a day job. So I marched into my manager's office, asked him about my contract, got the response I was expecting ("I don't know, but things don't look good") and told him that, with the clock ticking and no offers on the table from their side, I had to start looking elsewhere.

Cards on the table, I started firing CVs off, deciding to be confident and just go for anything I saw that looked vaguely appropriate, unlike when I was depressed and kept telling myself "you can't apply for that, look, you're underqualified/overqualified/probably the right amount qualified, but they won't want you anyway because x, y, z". Almost straight away, my phone started ringing and recruiters started doing that horrible, horrible thing French people do of ringing you out of the blue and submitting you to a mini-interview over the phone. I had one complete disaster where there was a bad line, I couldn't hear a thing the woman said, had to ask her to repeat everything, and actually spent the whole phonecall thinking it was another job entirely that was ringing me. (By the way, I find it incredibly rude that, even after I sent an email to apologise and explain again that I just couldn't hear, this woman hasn't got back to me to at least say "sorry, we're not going forward with your candidature".) Several others went a lot better, but they told me to get back in touch closer to the end date of my contract.

The one that actually paid off, however, was what I would have thought of as the longest shot of all. For I think the first time in my life, I submitted a candidature spontanée - I even had to look the term up in the dictionary to find the English equivalent (they suggested "spontaneous" or "unsolicited" application, neither of which I think sounds all that great). That is, I found a company online that looked like they might regularly hire people a bit like me, and sent them my CV even though they weren't advertising any vacancies. I've been to the seminars before where they tell you to do this, but honestly, I'd never really believed it would work. Even when they called me, I half expected they would just say, "cool, we'll keep you on our books", but the next thing I knew, they were inviting me to Luxembourg for an interview.

So, after hastily wangling two days off work, booking (reimbursable, thankfully) last-minute train tickets, spending a weekend of debauchery in Toulouse then having two much-needed sleeps in my own bed, it was off early in the morning to take a train, metro, train, and two-bus journey, spanning three countries, to my interview. The bus, from Germany, arrived at the Luxembourg city train station as scheduled, two hours before my interview, and after changing into my interview clothes and touching up my makeup in the train station loos, I decided to head straight up to the vicinity of my interview location. Thankfully, since of course I took the wrong bus (it went to the right area, but by a different route that didn't go past the stop I needed). The bus driver told me to go round the corner to the main road and wait for a different bus back down the road, but when I got there and looked at the map, I decided that it was just one straight road, it didn't look far, and the next bus wasn't for 10 minutes, so I'd just walk.

This was a bit of an error in judgement. What looked not far on the map turned out to be, I later verified, a 2 mile walk (by the way, it annoys me no end that I can't figure out how to change from miles to kilometres on Apple Maps). 2 miles in the blazing c. 28°C, humid sunshine dressed in a wool suit (well, I took the jacket off of course) with a full knee-length slip underneath (cos otherwise that woollen waistband is itchy!) on one of those long, straight roads that just seems to go on and on without you ever getting any nearer to your unknown destination. Pulling a wheely suitcase. Altogether, it took 1 1/2 hours from my arrival at the train station to reaching my destination, so thank god I always leave myself a lot of time. I used the spare 20 minutes before heading inside to try to sit quietly and stop sweating. Always a good start.

After checking in to the front desk, I headed into my interview with a woman about my age who had not only been very friendly over the phone and by email (signing off, unusually, Bien cordialement instead of just Cordialement) but turned out to be gorgeous, and wearing a dress that was tight and low-cut even by general office standards, let alone French women's standards. (Yes, this was Luxembourg, but she and her company were French.) I swear I spent the start of the interview just staring at her thinking "please hire me and be my new best friend". (There was also a man and another woman there, who were not candidates to be my new best friend/girl crush.)

The interview started off on a bad/confusing note, when it emerged that they had decided I wasn't experienced enough for the position we had discussed on the telephone. The good news, however, was there was a more junior post, that they weren't interviewing anyone else for (yet). One of the bad things about living in France is it's really hard to get a job as a librarian, as my training, experience and inclinations would normally lead me to do. So I have to apply for jobs in records management, which in fairness, I am rather comically clueless about (despite actually working in a records management position right now, and having studied it a bit at uni).

Obviously, I'd tried to brush up before the interview, but things started off slightly dodgy when she asked if the term "classification code" meant anything to me. "Yeeeeeeees....", I replied, praying there wouldn't be any follow-up questions (in which case I would have gone for the obvious, but probably hopelessly undercooked reply of "a code for classifying stuff?"). Thankfully, probably sensing that I in fact didn't really know, she moved on. More horror to come, when she inquired about what I had studied relating to archives/records in my Masters degree. I just kept naming random concepts - "authority control!" "authenticity!" "records lifecycle!" "preservation!" "retention schedules!" - like a mad person who had swallowed a records management glossary until she finally interrupted me and said "so, those are things you covered in your course?" "Um, yep..." We did get back on to firmer ground when the other woman asked why I'd applied and I think I did a pretty good job of pointing out how the values espoused on their website matched my profile and how although I might not have a lot of experience in records/archives I've proven my adaptability and ability to learn quickly on the job, but it was still something of a surprise when, at the end of the interview Miss Franco-Luxembourgeoise said "okay, well take a few days to think it over, then if you want the job, let us know". A triumph for my personal skills over actual knowledge and experience, or a reflection of the fact that they weren't interviewing anyone else? Who can say?

They only told me AFTER I accepted the position (which only runs till the end of the year, boo, but it's a start) that it was subject to confirmation by the IO (international organisation, arguably not quite as important as the IIO), so it was a semi-nervous wait for a couple of weeks until the news came through that I officially got the job! So now I need to fit in the last month at my current job, a trip to Belgium for the Grand Prix (woohoo), a week and a half in England and Italy, and then move to somewhere in the vicinity of Luxembourg (still thinking that through) and start a new job, in the space of the next six weeks. Help!

As for the rest of my short time in Luxembourg, I just wandered around really. The weather was gorgeous (once I was out of the the wool suit), and it turns out Luxembourg is really pretty! I knew nothing about it, but it's set between a couple of plateaux and valleys, so there are amazing views everywhere (and some steep hiking up and down hills), and it is so so green. I swear, you're in the middle of the city and you'd think you were looking out on an alpine village. I think I read somewhere that there is 30% green space in the city, plus it is dotted with the picturesque remains of the old city walls and other fortifications.

The Luxembourg Philharmonic (right)



View of the city from Kirchberg. Yep, the old self-timer on a wall trick.

Fort Thungen with the Musée d'Art Moderne designed by I.M. Pei, he of the Louvre pyramids. (I suppose once you've hit on a winning theme, you may as well run with it, eh?)

The Adolphe bridge, whose central arch was the largest stone span in the world when it was built at the beginning of the 20th century

Tiny village nestled in the Swiss Alps? Nope, just the central valley between the city centre and Kirchberg (facing a completely different direction from the picture above, but just as green)

View of the Grund quarter from the Bock promontory

The Grund again

Looking from the Bock towards the Grand Duchess Charlotte Bridge


The gorgeous Luxemboug Cathedral, a new favourite of mine




Valley with the (little) skyscrapers of Kirchberg in the background
Panoramic video from the Bock promontory, featuring the music of Elvis Costello (as in they were playing a gig, not as in I dubbed some in)! PS, if it is just looping at double-speed, it's not meant to do that...

War memorial


21 comments:

  1. Wow that's awesome! What will happen to bob-cat? I wi come & visit! xxx

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    1. Quick off the mark! Yes, please do, although I'm not yet sure where I will be living. Current plan is to bring Bob along! xx

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  2. Congrats, that's amazing - good luck apartment hunting!!

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    1. Thanks, it is a bit stressful trying to figure it all out!

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  3. Woot! Congratulations! That's awesome! Good luck with everything!

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    1. I got a woot, thanks so much! ;)

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  4. Check you out! You put yourself out there with fantastic results! Best of luck with it all. I'm sure you'll be amazing and won't have anytime for Candy Crush :)

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    1. *No* time for Candy Crush? Woah there, let's not go crazy! :)

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  5. Love that photo in black top (with sunglasses) - you prob would've been fine in that for the interview. All credit to you doing a successful interview whilst stewing in a woollen suit, though!!! xx

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    1. On good, because that is what I was wearing for the interview! X

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    2. Oh you were wearing only the skirt and top, that sounds better! xx

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  6. Congratulations! Looking forward to hearing about life in Luxembourg...or will you live in France?

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    1. Ummm, good question, I'm trying to figure that out!

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  7. Great news! I'm not sure if you know Andromeda or not (blondeinfrance.blogspot.com) but she lives in Metz (moving to Thionville soon) and both her and her hubby work in Luxembourg. She's super nice IRL & would probably be more than happy to answer any questions or lend a hand for the apartment hunt. Good luck with the new job & can't wait to hear all about your new adventures :)

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    1. Oh thanks, that's super helpful! I knew I'd seen a blog of someone in the area, but couldn't remember which it was. Will definitely check it out when I have a minute :)

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  8. Congratulations! I've never been to Luxembourg but it looks beautiful in your photos. I'm ashamed to say that I don't know, but what is someone from Luxembourg called? Good luck taking care of everything that you need to do before your move. This is so exciting!

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    1. I think it's a Luxemburger but I always want to say Luxembourgeois à la française. Thanks!

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  9. Luxembourg looks beautiful, you must be excited to move to a new city!!

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    1. Yes, excited but also sad to leave friends and STRESSED, as I'm sure you can sympathise with!

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  10. Oh, how brilliant - new country (possibly just to work in - 'just popping across the border to work darling' but maybe even to live in), new job (you'll fit right in with the low-cut tops then), new flat (ok, boring but nexcessary). Really really well done.

    P.S. I think it's probably a 'speculative application'.

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    1. I know, boobs ahoy! Yes, speculative application sounds much better x

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