I Declined a Job Offer

I’ve been keeping myself awake at night these past few days thinking about a job offer that I declined earlier in the week. After not working for almost two years (and not interviewing in nine), I got my first offer here in Hong Kong and I declined it. I’ve had some feelings of guilt and remorse, but ultimately I know it’s the right decision, so I’m writing this down as a reminder to myself that I did the right thing (because I’m so prone to forgetting and then getting depressed again).

As I said in the one year update, I’m not going to game the system, i.e. I’m not going to say the right or politically-correct things nor am I going to send out five million resumes just so I can get a job. I’m going to be myself (as much as possible, because I admit I sometimes still fall into the “say the right thing” trap), and I’m going to only apply for jobs where I mostly meet the requirements and where I think I’ll fit in. This one was an IT support job at a primary school. I’ve always been fond of the school environment (sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid; JC would probably say that I am still a kid), I’ve enjoyed working around kids, and it would be a nice change of pace from my last job, so I went for it.

This was one of those applications where you fill out a form instead of sending in your resume. So, you have to re-type information that’s already on your resume into a web form. I spent a weekend doing that, pouring out my life story and explaining how I’ve spent the last two years going on Adventure 2012 and moving to Hong Kong. I realize that because I haven’t worked in almost two years, I have to try extra hard to convince an employer that I won’t be a risky hire.

A few days later I receive a call from the HR manager asking to set up an interview. Awesome. He says that the compensation would be relatively low (75% less than my previous job, 50% less than my market value). I’ve already said that money isn’t super important to me, plus I always knew that in absolute terms I would never make as much in Hong Kong, so I told him I was fine with it (I really was fine with it).

The next day I decide to actually go to the school and check it out (it’s usually a good idea to scope out the location of your interview so that at least one thing feels familiar on the day of). From where I live, it’s a single-transfer trip on public transportation and takes an hour without traffic. Ouch. Still, I thought it didn’t seem so bad because on the second leg I’d always get a seat and it’d be a single-seater so I could use my laptop or tablet during the commute (or that’s what I thought). Was I rationalizing already?

On Monday morning I take the same route to the school. It was a pretty bumpy ride (forget about using a laptop), and I felt relieved once I got off. I was glad that I had already done the commute once so I didn’t have another thing to worry about. Good thing too because it was a 3-on-1 interview! One little chair right in the middle with my name on it, and three interviewers getting ready to grill me.

It actually wasn’t bad because they were some pretty cool guys that I could see myself working with. We talked about teamwork, a difficult task that I have faced at work, prioritizing service requests, and even Star Trek (because Captain Picard runs a tight ship and everybody is happy to work under him). The only obvious blunder I remember is asking about holidays for my first question. I was only curious because it was a school (you know, with summer vacation and all), but it could have come off as I hadn’t even gotten the job yet and I was already concerned about holidays. It was a relatively short interview; I got the feeling that I was asking too many questions at the end, so I finished up quickly. When I walked back outside, it had only been 45 minutes. All the thinking about it over the weekend, the preparation, the commute, and just like that it was over. I was expecting more and wasn’t sure what to do. When I realized there was nothing left to do but to go home, I crossed the street to the mini-bus stop.

On the trip back a smelly lady got on and sat behind me. Actually, I don’t know if she was smelly or if her breath was smelly. Either way, I was the subject of an offensive-smell bombardment for 45 minutes, and I couldn’t open the window (sealed for the A/C). I was tired from the interview and had barely eaten anything for breakfast (my fault, of course). I was crashing from the caffeine I had earlier. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, and I had to wonder, would it be better or worse after a long day of work?

When I got back to the transfer point, I took the bus instead of the tram so I could get home faster. On the bus, one of the interviewers called me with some follow-up questions. He asked me the dreaded “where do you see yourself in 3 years?” question. I said that I wanted to live a happy and stable life. I also got into how I hadn’t worked in two years and that I’d be grateful to whoever hired me and wouldn’t jump ship, because he mentioned that one of their concerns was long-term retention. I think at that point I did say some things that I thought he wanted to hear. It was definitely different from when I was alert and ready during the interview.

Once I finally got home, I was glad to put on my normal clothes and re-energize with a nice lunch.

A couple of hours later, I received a call from the same interviewer. I got the job! Wow, that was quick. They wanted me to start in a week, and come in for a short orientation a couple of days before that. Damn. At that moment, I wanted to say yes, but I knew that it was a good idea to see the offer in writing first, so I asked for it to be emailed to me. I got the email a short while after.

Strangely, the only detail the email had in it was the monthly salary. No contract, no agreement, no work hours, no attachment. They wanted me to reply by 1600 hours the next day, less than 24 hours later. The lack of a detailed offer combined with the rush got my alarm bells going. I mean, I understood that someone had resigned and they needed someone, but at the same time the interview had been pretty quick. I had neglected to ask some important questions, such as what my specific work hours would be, who my direct supervisor would be, and whether I could look around the campus. I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, and I wondered how they could expect me to make one.

I thought about emailing them and asking them those questions, and asking for a tour of the school prior to my final decision, but it was already the end of the work day. I would have to write the email quickly. I kept composing, deleting, and composing a draft email trying to squeeze it in, but it just didn’t come out right. Being the end of the day, even if they had received my email, they probably wouldn’t respond immediately, so I decided to sleep on it.

That night, I tried to tell myself that no job is perfect and that this was a great opportunity. I could be working in a week’s time, not worrying about having to eat away at my savings anymore, not be in a single-income family anymore. That part of it was definitely appealing. But that could be said of any job. I tried to tell myself that this was a school job, that it would be less stressful and less political. But would that really be the case? From what I’ve seen of school jobs, they can be just as stressful and political as jobs in non-educational sectors. By themselves, the commute and the pay were fine. You have good commute days and bad commute days, and even on that salary we would still be earning more than what we’d spend. Together, though, the commute and the pay became a negative. I’ve talked a lot here about how time is my most important asset. Even under ideal conditions, I’d be going through two hours of travel time each day. If the pay was higher, it would have made the commute easier to swallow. If there were other parts of the job that were really appealing, it would have made the commute and the pay easier to swallow. But I didn’t have all the information, and I had to respond, fast. The question was whether I thought there was any hope of me taking that job, based on what I had seen in the interview, the commute, and the pay. If there was, then I could ask the questions and do the tour, and then decide. If there was nothing that could overcome those factors, however, then it would be best to save everyone’s time and decline.

For me the experience was like seeing a car on a website, really liking it, then going to the dealership to find out that it has an old-man style foot-activated parking brake (vs. a handbrake). You want to justify taking the car, but every time you set the parking brake, you’d be reminded that you’re driving an old-man car. You keep clicking and clicking around the website, hoping that somehow the foot-brake will magically disappear, but it doesn’t. In your heart, you know you can’t do it. It sounds kind of silly, but we all have our baselines, of what we can and cannot tolerate. You have to know what these are and be honest to yourself, and then do what you have to do.

I did what I had to do and declined the offer, thanking them for the opportunity and the learning experience.

Looking for a job can be tiring and stressful. This week I’ve been talking to my recruiter (the one I stood up back in September), and she’s been sending me job descriptions from various financial firms, and I’ve been wondering whether I did the right thing. I could have had a job in a school, helping kids, being next to kids. They really do say the funniest things and it’d probably be a blast working with them. Instead, I might be going back down the path I was on before, doing a job in a company that helps rich people get richer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but obviously it’s not the same as working in a school. Not so obviously, is that really me and what I want to do? I wonder if I’m being overly idealistic and naive, again. This past year I’ve peeled off so many layers of my old self, getting closer to what I think is the real me. Would I be taking a step back? Is it really possible to do what you want to do in life? Or are we all doomed to a life of wage-slavery? The answer is somewhere in between, or completely outside. I’m going to keep looking for it while I do my own thing. Thank you for reading.

Batch File Renaming – One Method

Like a dummy, I recently accidentally deleted all my DuckTales episodes (photo of my collection so that the FBI doesn’t get on my case) from both my desktop and my portable backup drive (be careful when using robocopy with and without the /mir switch). Fortunately, I still had a backup on my computer at home back in the Bay Area, so I have been transferring these files back onto my desktop. Because I’ve been using IRC to send the files, one side effect is that spaces in the filename turn into underscores, like this:

DuckTales_#67_-_The_Duck_Who_Would_Be_King.mkv

I could go in and manually remove all of these underscores (on occasion I have, sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to do it that way), but with 75 files overall it’s worth it to create a system for quickly renaming the files.

Here’s a quick rundown of the tools used:

  • Windows 7 Command Line
  • Microsoft Excel
  • Notepad++ (get it here)

Ultimately, we want an Excel spreadsheet that will generate the ren commands. It will have 3 columns: one for the source filename, one for the destination, and one for the command.

We start by generating a list of the files in the folder/directory. This can be done with the classic dir command, with the /b switch (/b for “bare”, resulting in filenames only; otherwise you’ll get dates, times, and filesizes). In Windows 7 (and Vista and 8, I believe), if you hold SHIFT and right-click the Explorer window, you can open up a command window that already has the proper path. In XP, you can download a PowerToy that does the same thing. Otherwise, you’ll have to navigate to the path using the CD command.

Once you’ve opened up a command window with the proper path, input this command:

dir /b *.mkv > list.txt

The command above lists all the MKVs in this folder in bare format, then redirects (the > sign) the output to a new file called list.txt (as opposed to the screen; if list.txt already exists, it will be overwritten). Without the *.MKV, dir will recursively list list.txt inside list.txt. You could manually remove it from the list, but I like to keep it clean so I use the wildcard.

Now we open up list.txt with Notepad++. You can use any text editor you like, maybe even Microsoft Word (though over the years I’ve found its spell-check and auto-correct features can sometimes cause issues), as long as it has a search/replace function. Before we do the search/replace, however, we want to copy this list of files into column A (our source filename column) of our spreadsheet. Use Ctrl-A to quickly select the entire list and then Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V it into Excel (obviously I like keyboard shortcuts, but you can copy/paste using whatever method you prefer).

Column A

Back in Notepad++, do a search/replace for the underscore, replacing it with a space. Once again, select-all and then copy/paste. Now you should have a list of original filenames in column A, and a list of desired filenames in column B.

Column B

Column C is where you will input the formula for creating the ren command. Here is the command that we want:

ren "DuckTales_#67_-_The_Duck_Who_Would_Be_King.mkv" "DuckTales #67 - The Duck Who Would Be King.mkv"

Notice how the filenames are inside quotation marks. When a filename has spaces, it’s best to use quotation marks to avoid ambiguity. I know that on occasion I haven’t used them and commands completed successfully, but there have also been times when they haven’t. So, quotation marks.

The formula for creating this command is:

="ren """&A1&""" """&B1&""""

In Excel, if you want to represent a quotation mark as text, you need to escape it using another quotation mark. That’s why there are 14 of them in the formula above. You have 6 for the formula itself, and 2×4=8 for the filenames (and if you look at the example above, you’ll see 4 quotation marks total in the command). The ampersand is used to concatenate text, so basically we’re concatenating a bunch of text to create the command.

Review the command to make sure it’s correct, and then copy/paste the formula to the rest of the column. In Excel, there’s a convenient way to do this. Select the cell with the formula, then double-click the little black square on the bottom right. I don’t know what the square is called, but it will autofill the rest of the column for you.

Excel Autofill

A convenient side-effect of the autofill is that the entire column will already be selected afterwards. Now you can quickly copy this text back to Notepad++. If you had left it open after the search/replace function previously, all you’d have to do is paste over, since the text would already be selected. Ctrl-S to save, then quit Notepad++.

Back in the Explorer window, you can now rename list.txt to list.bat*. Confirm that you want to change the file extension, then double-click or hit enter to run the commands. Wow! The files are now properly renamed!

*This assumes that your system is configured to display file extensions, which IMHO is something that should be enabled by default. To enable it, type ALT-T-O in any Explorer window, then uncheck Hide extensions for known file types under Advanced Settings in the View tab.

At this point you can delete list.bat or rename it back to list.txt for later use. I usually just delete it. I do save the Excel spreadsheet since I now have the formula in there. I suppose I could save it permanently since it’s a generic formula for renaming any two files, but it’s so easy to re-create it that once I’m done renaming all my DuckTales episodes, I’ll probably just delete it along with the temp folder I’m using to hold the episodes.

So, there you have it. Though it may seem like a long procedure (this is a pretty long post, and I tried to explain everything thoroughly), it’s actually quite a time-saver once you’ve set it up and get used to all the keyboard shortcuts. I’ll summarize the steps below:

  1. SHIFT-right-click to open command window
  2. dir /b *.mkv > list.txt
  3. Open list.txt, copy/paste filenames to column A of new spreadsheet
  4. Search/replace list.txt, replace underscores with spaces
  5. Copy/paste new filenames to column B
  6. In column C, enter formula ="ren """&A1&""" """&B1&""""
  7. Autofill formula
  8. Copy column C back to list.txt
  9. Save and close list.txt, rename to list.bat
  10. Run list.bat

Not too bad!

I first used this method back at work, when we sometimes had to rename hundreds of files at a a time. There are probably utilities and/or creative ways of using wildcards to make this happen, but when I tinkered around and looked online, I couldn’t find anything that didn’t require buying something or learning something new and esoteric. These are the tools that I had and knew at the time so I made do. The cool thing is that most people already have them on their PCs, so anyone can do it.

Sometimes, you never know what you might come up with when the need arises. I hope you found this post useful!