Sunday, October 10, 2010

Reflections From My Cage

Air kissed but not handshook.

The past month has been pretty interesting. Since the bid list came out on August 5th, I've been lobbying various Posts and Bureaus in an attempt to find my next job. Initially, all my lobbying was done by email and one of my good friends at post kept encouraging me to call the Posts in which I was interested. "You've got to set yourself apart," he said, "and let them get to know you a little more personally. You've got to let them know you're really interested. " 

"Look," I said, "I've bid fifteen jobs and my references are really strong. I've written a decent letter of introduction to each of the fifteen Posts and to each of the Post Management Officers at the responsible Bureaus. I've followed up with another letter explaining why I want that particular job and why I'd be a good match for it. I think I'll just wait to see what happens." My rationale was that, surely, out of fifteen jobs, I'd get one on the strength of my experience, my EERs and my references. 

What happened was that, in short order, I received notification from four of the more interesting Posts on my list to "direct your energies towards other positions because, due to the volume of interest we've received for our Management Officer vacancy, we will, unfortunately, not be able to further consider your bid." I even failed to make the short list for a Post that only had five bidders! The whole process seemed to be open, transparent and above-board in a closed, secretive and pre-determined sort of way.

There is an online bid list that we can access to see how many total bids there are for each job to date. The problem here is that our bids don't have to be submitted until October 12th and many people spend a lot of time lobbying prior to actually submitting their list. So, you may be looking at a job that only seems to have five people interested in it and feel you have a pretty good shot at it, but twenty other folks might be calling and writing to the Post expressing their interest prior to putting in their bids. Posts and Bureaus begin to cull their lists of candidates long before the bid lists are officially submitted. Although no jobs can be offered or accepted prior to the date stated in the bidding instructions (in this case it will be November 8th), in reality many decisions are made long before the bids close on Oct. 12th.

Since I wasn't being considered for jobs that were at my grade, I realized that the 'stretch' bids on my list were not going to even be a remote possibility. That took care of six more bids and, suddenly, I was down to five potential jobs out of the original fifteen. It was time for some drastic measures. It was time to follow good advice and begin making phone calls.

As I mentioned once before, the object of lobbying is to get a 'handshake' which is an official agreement between the Post, the Bureau and yourself that they'll offer you the job and you'll accept it. Handshakes can only be given after November 8th this year. How, you may well ask, does one begin to narrow the field down and focus on jobs that are actual possibilities? The easy ones are the Posts that let you off the hook early by telling you that you haven't made their short list. Then, much like at a high school prom, you begin the process of trying to figure out where you stand with the ones that are left. When I was in high school we sent our ambassadors out to find out if one girl or another would actually consider dancing with us before summoning up the nerve to go and ask her. In the Foreign Service we use phone calls, but it's the same concept.

I began calling Posts and Bureaus and soon learned which jobs were, in fact, positions that I would be competitive for and which weren't. In this phase of lobbying, both bidder and Post/Bureau try to determine where they rank on each others list. And, just like in high school, you don't want to be the guy who tells all the girls/Posts he loves them. Only one Post can be your top choice, it's a fact. At some point in the process you have to make that decision and then you let that Post know. Then, if all the stars are properly aligned and the gods smile down upon you, the Post let's you know that you are their top choice too. Then, my friend, you have just received an 'air kiss' otherwise known as a 'wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more' (the Foreign Service is eternally in Monty Python's debt).

Nothing is official yet, so you continue to lobby for other jobs but with the understanding that, should your top choice change, you will immediately let the first Post know and they will do the same for you. Closer to the handshake deadline, commitments become much firmer and Posts might actually tell you that they intend to offer you a handshake and they want to know if you're going to accept it. This is a 'hug'. Hugs really do make you feel warm and fuzzy, they're nice. Still, a hug is not an official offer either and all that those who have received them can say is, "A Post seems to be interested in me now but I'd better wait until handshakes are given before I say any more."

There are a couple of Posts that seem to be interested in me now. I am in a fortunate position because I don't have any strong preferences about where I live. I am much more interested in landing a job as a Management Officer than I am in trying to go to or avoid any particular country. There are one or two places in the world that most people do not want to go to, so I have a pretty good shot at a couple of those countries. One of them is so remote that Telecom Italia doesn't seem to be aware it even exists and doesn't have its country code in the system. Making that call was an interesting experience. I am, apparently, the first person ever to attempt to call from here to there.

If I don't get a handshake on one of the remaining positions on my list, I'll be asked to re-bid from what's left or I'll just be assigned somewhere, so I'm taking my air-kiss very seriously. 

Reservoir Dogs?

This photo was taken at Marica's wedding by one of her guests and she sent it to me with a note that said that it reminded her of that movie, "Pond Dogs". Before anyone begins to mistake the characters in the photo for Quentin Tarantino type tough guys, the guy on the left got lost in a tunnel on his way home from the reception. Admittedly, it isn't all that common for people to get lost in tunnels, but I managed to do it. I blame my GPS.

There is a tunnel in Rome, or rather on the outskirts of Rome, that leads, I am sure, to the River Styx and the gates of Hell. Virtually every tunnel I've ever driven through has been a pretty straightforward experience. You enter the tunnel, you drive a while, eventually you see the aptly named "light at the end of the tunnel" and you exit the tunnel. After leaving the wedding reception late in the evening, I followed my GPS's directions and drove into a tunnel I didn't remember driving through on my way to the reception. The tunnel was a long one and the road curved steadily to the left. Ten seconds after my GPS announced that it had lost satellite reception (because I was in a tunnel), I rounded a curve and saw that the road forked. Who puts options in a tunnel? And, if you're going to build in options, don't you think it would be polite to put up a sign or two? Whoever built this road didn't think it was necessary at all.

I randomly chose left and began an odyssey that lasted over half an hour because that wasn't the only fork in the road in the tunnel. None of the forks had signs and none of them led to an exit. It was about 2:00am and mine was the only car in the tunnel, so following someone else in the desperate hope that they knew how to get out of there wasn't a possibility. Eventually, after making a completely random series of rights and lefts, I wound up on a ramp leading out of the labyrinth and broke free into the dark night air. I was in a part of Rome that was totally unfamiliar to me. My GPS clicked back on and said, "Re-calculating. Make an immediate U-turn and drive 25 miles." Making a U-turn would have 'immediately' put me back into the tunnel so I opted to ignore the annoyingly insistent GPS, drove through the deserted streets of Rome for another hour before I saw a familiar road and finally got home. When I described my experience to my colleagues at work they said, "Oh yeah, well, when you go into that tunnel you just turn right, then left, then another left and then go straight a bit and make a hard right, then go past the sign that looks like it's warning you not to go that way but it isn't and you'll be fine." Simple when you know how.

If you peer through this window long enough, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I'm being sent TDY to Naples next week for ten days. TDY stands for temporary duty and it means I'll be helping out at the Consulate there while one of their officers is away. I'll be doing much the same type of work I do in Rome and I'll get to experience life in Naples for a short while. It should be an interesting change of pace. I was up in Ravenna a couple of weeks ago with friends and saw their famous Byzantine mosaics (Ravenna's, not my friends'). Ravenna is also the burial place of Dante Alighieri or, more appropriately, the burial places of Dante Alighieri. He has a very ornate tomb with his name on it, an ivy covered mound with a sign stating that his bones were hidden beneath that dirt during the 40's and a crypt of some sort also claiming to have held some part of his mortal remains at some distant time in the past. Dead for over six hundred years and the man still has three places to sleep.

The perfectly perpendicular tower of Ravenna. 

I've spent some time relaxing on my 'terrace' lately. It's really the cage that OBO built to give me access to the fire escape, but I enjoy sitting there and smoking my cigar in the fresh air. The whole lobbying process seems somewhat inefficient to me but I'm not ready to begin suggesting improvements because I haven't really completed the whole process and I'm still learning some of the steps. Recently, due to a grave oversight on the part of the responsible authorities, I was given tenure and last Friday I was promoted. As I've always said, I'd rather be lucky than good! Now, if I can just get a handshake on that job in "wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more", I'll be the first to say that the prom was a success.