Monday, August 30, 2010

On Becoming Blatantly Optimistic

Optimism is never something that's come easy to me.  Perhaps my penchant for reading Stephen King novels at the tender age of 12 has something to do with my tendency to mistrust people... or perhaps it was the merciless taunting that I received as a child at my religious private school that made me become guarded.  There is also the torrential downpour of reading that I ran through during my college years - Freud, Palahniuk, Welsh, Schopenhauer, Bukowski, etc. - which blends together into a potent combination of nihilism & angst and swirls through my blood whenever I go on a re-reading spree.  Whatever it was that made me this way, I struggle every day with feelings of awkwardness and self-pity and this taints my view of an otherwise rose-colored world.

However, it seems that recently my moods have taken a turn for the better.  I give full credit to my adorable offspring.  There really is no way to describe the feeling of utter happiness that comes when I get to show her the things that I find beautiful and wonderful in the world. With each wonderful book we read or park we go play in I find myself more and more able to lose the "In 10 years this won't exist anymore because global warming will suck us all up" voice in my head and just focus on the beauty and happiness that is in front of me.
This is her seeing Can-Can Dancers for the first time at our local French Festival.   

The problem lies not only in all the times that she's not with me, but also in the realization that basing your happiness on any one person - no matter how important they may be to you - is not true happiness.  True happiness is a lifestyle choice.  It's being able to set aside the pessimism, the sarcasm, and the downright nihilism that plagues your mind day in and day out and focus on finding the good and the beautiful every single minute of every single day.

This will be a struggle, but it's a challenge I think I'm up for. 
No wait... I AM going to do it.

(There, see?!?  Right there!)

I know I have the ability to see the good in people to a fault.  When I hire people that seem unusually nervous because I think to myself Hey, they could work out.  They're just nervous... and then one month later I've had to fire 50% of them because their nervousness was actually a sign that they couldn't read too well.  When friends fight I think Hey, it's ok, if we talk about these things and try to be rational and understand where each person was coming from it'll all be good again... and then a few hours later I've got to pick a team of friends to keep and a team to get rid of because nobody worked anything out.  But I also know that those times when that little voice is right - when the other 50% of the nervous folks I hired turn out to be awesome employees who save us in a pinch or when my friends do manage to let bygones be bygones and get the hell over whatever squabble they may have been having - those times are AWESOME.  It is my new goal to listen to that kind, optimistic voice inside me more and more each day. 

Two days ago I was driving home from the store with Sadie and I saw a man on the side of the road in a motorized wheelchair.  As I got closer I noticed that he was starting to lean over to the side a lot and didn't seem to be moving much and as I drove past and saw him in my rearview mirror I realized that I needed to pull over and help him.  I flipped a U the minute the road had space for me to do so and by the time I got back to the guy there were two other men who had stopped their cars and were helping the man right himself and get back on his way. 

Even thinking about this encounter now, two days later, my heart still swells with happiness.  Not because the man didn't need my help, of course, but because there were good people out there who would stop what they were doing to help another person in need.  Others who would take the time to say, "How can I make the world a better place today?" 

This needs to be my mantra.  And it needs to be yours too.

So, I post a challenge to the 2 of you who will read this: Spend tomorrow saying only positive things.  Try to eliminate the word "No" from your vocabulary.  (Yes, I recognize the irony there.)  The day after tomorrow we can all go back to our happy sarcasm holes and glower at the world, but for one day - just one - become blatantly optimistic with me.  I'm pretty sure we won't regret it.  (Damnit,I mean we won't regret it!) 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Abby’s Handy Guide to Getting a Job: Or, How Not to Look Like a Douche When You’re Unemployed.

It’s hiring season at my job again which means I have a whole bunch of job applications to look through and a whole new group of people to interview and, subsequently, mock mercilessly on this blog.  

As a disclaimer:  I work as a supervisor at a UC Library and am in charge of 32-36 student employees all at once, so many of these tips will be no-brainers for adults who’ve held career-type positions.  Since I am one of the people who hires people on the lower rungs of the job hunt ladder, that's who this is aimed at: those young folks just looking for a job to pay them while they drink - er- study their way through college.  (Of course, this is also advice that you can take to the next level of a career job hunt... but if you need this guide at that point you may have bigger problems than I can help with.)  For those people, these tips may prove both helpful and, in some cases, even shocking.  But in a time when jobs are tight and our state has double-digit unemployment rates, the market is increasingly competitive so either bring your “A” game or get the hell out of my applicant pool.
The Job Application:
1- This is the first impression anyone on the other side of the hiring table gets of you, so for god’s sake make it as neat as possible.  Use your “adult” handwriting if it’s a handwritten application (after all, if people can't read your name they're probably not going to call you) and if you mess up and spell your last name wrong, don’t scribble it out and keep going – kill a tree and start a fresh application!  Or use white-out!  Scribble marks on an application only show that you were too lazy to fix something you knew was a mistake.

2- Follow directions.  If the form asks you to circle only one thing, do it, don't circle three things and write a sentence above it explaining why you didn't do what they asked.  Most jobs want you to be able to follow written instructions for something – prove to them that you can read by doing just that.

3- Don’t ask the person giving you the job application if the company administers drug tests.  I mean, come on people, do you really think people who aren’t using drugs ask that question when they apply?
(Also: Employers are required to disclose drug tests as a condition of employment either on the application or during the interview so they’re not going to blind-side you with it, you stoned mofo.)

YES, all of these things MATTER.

The Resume:
1- Unless you’re applying for a career position and all your job experience is relevant, there is no reason your resume should be more than one page long.  I don’t care how many pizza parlor jobs you’ve held down since you graduated high school, trim that stuff down so that you don’t end up with two sentences on the useless second page.  Format these things, people!

2- Spell check is not god.  Pay attention to what your computer replaces your misspellings with, as having a job in “costumer service” may not be pertinent to a job where you deal with customers and not giant spools of tulle.

3- Your photograph has no business being on your resume, especially if the photograph is taken by a webcam while you’re in your PJs in your dorm room.   I don’t care how many times you watch Legally Blonde, being a cute white girl without a bra on should play no part in the hiring process (and if it does you may have just landed yourself a position in Sexual Harassmentville). 

The Interview:

1- If you shake hands with your interviewer, I don’t care what gender either of you are, don’t be a limp fish!  Your handshake says a lot about how eager you are to meet the person who’s hand you’re shaking and you should ALWAYS be excited to shake the hand of a potential employer. 

2- Dress like you care.  I know this is cliché advice, but if I have to chose between one person who wore a polo shirt and jeans and another who wore dress slacks and a button-up dress shirt, I pick the snazzy-lookin’ one almost every time.  Unless you wear a tuxedo or formal ball gown to an interview there’s really no such thing as over-dressing for a job interview at any level, so why not make it obvious that you dressed to impress the person interviewing you? 

3- Ladies, if I can clearly see your nipples when I'm not even looking for them, that’s a deal-breaker.

4- Show up sober.  And no, stinking like booze from the night before but not actually “feeling drunk” does not count as sober.  Neither does taking “only 3 bong rips” before you leave your house.

5- When you open your mouth to talk, have a plan.  Don’t ramble on and on without thinking about the question they actually asked you and for god’s sake, don’t go into painful detail about your previous jobs.  Using phrases like “filing, answering phones, and organizing” go a lot further than “I filed reports that people wrote up for the city and then submitted for review with our company, I answered the phones and transferred calls and took messages if the people they were calling for weren’t there, I organized their drawers of pens and pencils and put all the pens in one tray and all the pencils in another…”  Chances are that if you got bored just reading that last sentence your interviewer will get bored listening to it too.

6- Try to think like your interviewer and answer things appropriately.  For instance, if you’re interviewing for a position at a library, you might not want to stress how friendly you are and how much you love talking to people. 

7- If you were fired from your previous job, don’t start trash-talking your previous supervisor, unless you had a lawsuit against your prior boss and can prove that they were a total jerkwad.  No matter how wronged you may feel you've been at your previous job, the person interviewing you will always be thinking about how well you take supervision and admitting that you've argued with previous managers is like waving a flag around saying, "I like conflict!"  The phrase “A personal/scheduling conflict forced us to part ways” is your friend (and if they want more detail they will ask for it).  The phrase, “My manager had anger issues and wouldn’t give me the time off that I asked for” is not.

8 - Turn off your damned cell phone.  Texting during the interview = dealbreaker.

 9-  Do not scratch your nuts immediately before shaking the hand of the person you're about to be interviewed by.  Really, you shouldn't be scratching your nuts at all during an interview, but if you do have to do it, for god's sake wait until you're sitting down and can be more discreet.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, I have encountered each and every one of these things in my 4 years as a hiring supervisor.

Thus concludes my instructional guide to getting a Joe Job.  There may be more "don't"s than "do"s but it's important to take the time to learn from other people's failures.  You're welcome, world!