Friday, January 29, 2010

Mysteries of the HR back room

Sarah E. Needleman (WSJ, Jan 26, 2010) says many people wonder what the heck is going on with their application.


Some companies notify applicants that they have not made the cut, from others, crickets. Creeek, creeek, silence.

Many larger companies use a team of recruiters to weed out applications, winnow them down.

Some look at every submission, some scan for keywords. Some look at cover letters, others don’t.

Someone referred by someone in the company may get preferential treatment.

Most companies don’t interview more than 20.

Nowadays a phone interview at first is quite common.

This will determine whether the job is in the salary ballpark and how good a communicator the applicant is. Sometimes there will even be a second phoner.

You might also have to take a personality test—this is sometimes being done now.

Often, said one, it comes down to which applicant was most pumped up about the job.

As I have been saying…

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Whoa, hold up on the soap

We get laundry detergent—it says good for 70 loads—then it’s gone in a month.
We do not do two loads a day or more.

Ellen Byron writes about how we are OD-ing on soap in this country (WSJ, Jan 27, 2010). This stuff ain’t cheap, broke people.

More soap does not mean cleaner clothes. In fact, with today's water-stingy washers, it can mean scummy, grayer clothes.

The Whirlpool woman says these days we have to be more precise. Do you measure? I slop. Fifty-three percent of people are with me—slopping it in—or else they fill the cup thingie to the top—twice as much as you need. (Not accidental—the more you use, the more you buy.)

Still, yucky results can also hurt a company. Procter & Gamble is going to issue clearer little measuring things—with lines you can see.

Detergent with a pump dispenser is coming.

Europeans like those little pre-measured “sachets” of soap. Not so much here. Laundry habits are ingrained early.

Some tips: Divide by color. Be sure there are no pens or lipsticks in the load. Don’t overstuff. And if needed, apply stain remover before tossing in.

Have you seen the new premeasured sheets from Purex—fabric softener, detergent, and non-static agent all in one?

Even a moron could do it. Even I could do it.

My kid says I am bad at laundry.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fast cleanup

Just feel like feeling clearer, less distracted? You could always declutter.

This reminds me of a friend of mine who is a sound engineer for rock groups. A restaurant in DC invited him over to look at their space and tell them how to make it less noisy and clattery. He looked at the exposed duct work all over the ceiling, the wood floors, the chrome, and said, “A grenade.”

This is how I feel about my garage. Scary. Ellen James Martin, Universal Syndicate, talks about decluttering.

You really need to do it before showing a house, but it also can be good while you live there.

Sell unneeded possessions (the yard sale, oh, yes, we have talked of it many times).

eBay if you have anything worth anything.

Before tackling some major doo-dah, get boxes. No need to spend a fortune on fancy containers.

Do it room by room—and do each room like a clock face—1:00, 2:00, etc.

If you are doing it to sell the house—make closets look EMPTY almost.

If you have kids, explain it all—you don’t want them thinking their world is going in the dumpster.

Clean out those kitchen cupboards—buyers look in those.

And if this is for a home sale—take the prescription bottles out of the cabinet. They could get stolen—or even worse, the prospects could wonder what germs are in there or how nuts you were.

I liked a comment a Dane made to Oprah. Apparently, she just loved Denmark with its chummy health care system and super-helpful govt. She was in someone’s house and said, “It’s so neat, where do you keep your stuff?”

The reply? “We don’t have stuff.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

References--pro and con

Many job hunters long to get to the stage where the employer asks for references—it’s always a sign of serious consideration.

Some experts say to just put the references in the resume—instead of that tired line, “References provided upon request,” how boring is that one?

Russ Wiles writes about this in the AZ Republic, Jan 24, 2010.

First, your old company may have asked current employees not to talk about past employees. Ooops. Ask references first if it’s OK to list them. Try to list their personal emails, so the employer won’t have to be bothered with knowing what they say.

Try for a couple of past supervisors and maybe a coworker or customer.

Call your references, make sure they know someone may call, update them on your situation. Send them your resume, in fact.

Put references on a separate list—not in the resume itself.

Above all, be sure you use articulate people who don’t hate you or harbor a grudge.

I tell my references to tell anyone who asks that I kicked drugs on my own. Yeah, pretty funny. This is why I am self-employed.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mental $=physical $

Over time, insurance cos and employers have treated mental illness as the stepchild of physical illness.

Sort of like it’s not “real” and too expensive to boot.

Higher copays, fewer allowed visits, that sort of thing.

Now the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 cuts in.

Depression and alcoholism are two things that make it hard to work and be productive. About 8% of adults suffer from major depression.

Anorexia, bulimia, drinking disorders…all plague the work force.

These changes may result in some rises in premiums. Companies with more than 50 people are affected. Companies with fewer than that can get out of it if they can prove the new rules will raise premiums more than 2%.

Many cos already offer smoking cessation, weight loss, alcoholism treatment and other benefits—now more will.

Will any stigma disappear? Who knows. If you need the help, get it, and forget worrying about stigmas. Most people think about themselves and not you.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing samples

Shocking, I know—but some thoughts take more than 140 letters to express.

I read one of those job hunting advice things recently that said a job hunter had been asked for writing samples—what did that mean?

Of course, the key is to think of what writing you would do in the job and try to find a sample keyed to that. If it’s a sales job, how about a proposal you wrote? If ou will be writing press releases, send some.

Include maybe three things of different lengths.

Also be honest—was this revised by someone else? Was it crummy to begin with? In such a case, it’s better not to use it. If you get the job, it will come out that you can’t put two thoughts on paper.

When I got my lobbying job, I showed them my senior thesis on the navy’s use of submersibles. It was an aerospace job—but the paper was technical enough to count.

Come on, grads, you have something to show. What do you have to lose?

Unless it’s one of those professionally written papers and not your own work. None of my readers would be this tacky, would they?

When I see ads for writers to write these, I write back and say, “I hope your mother doesn’t go to a doctor who cheated in school.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Failure shmailure

We’ve lost some of our money and can’t find a job. Some people I know say they feel like a failure.

Of course, the self-helpers have the answers…Harvey Mackay always seems to know it all. But in case he doesn’t, he quotes Shiv Kera, writer of “You Can Win.”

Apparently huge human failures have seven things in common. The first is lack of persistence. These are people who quit or read some handwriting on some wall and change direction.

Lack of conviction is a failure trait. You get run over in the middle of the road (cliché!). These people conform.

Rationalizing is bad. Winners analyze, never rationalize.

Not learning from past mistakes is a no-no. What if your past mistake was not giving up or changing direction? What if a mistake was trusting a friend—do you never trust friends again?

Lack of discipline accounts for failure. Self control, sacrifice. Focus. These are all good.

Poor self-esteem is a failure-maker. This author says people with self-esteem issues are always trying to find themselves, rather than creating some new person they want to be.

Fatalistic attitude can sink you. These are people who believe in luck or that others did it to them. Well, I think others did do a lot of this mess to us.

There are kernels of truth—little snacks for thought—in this. But I think one of the worst things leading to a feeling of failure is that any one setback is IT, the end, doom, destiny.

It takes all kinds of things to really be a failure. Take heart from that! You probably haven’t done enough of them to really qualify.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fore! Um...three?

No need to be golf –deprived. It’s a buyer’s market. Peter Corbett writes about this in the Arizona Republic (January 19, 2010).

In Scottsdale AZ (we hoi polloi call it Snotsdale), fewer members are joining the tony clubs, while many are leaving for financial reasons.

Golf Club Scottsdale charges $110,000 for membership and dues of $800 a mo.

Some people are turning to lesser courses, though. One cut membership from $135,000 to $75,000.

Others let members get back part of their fee if they leave—but they may have to wait their turn to sell, so it’s not a quick way to get cash.

See? It’s all relative. Everyone is hurting.

I know, boo-hoo. But still... I am sick of everyone hurting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More women are sole wage earners--but housework beckons

Mothers who are also sole support of their families rose to an all-time high last year.

More stay-at-home dads, too.

One researcher said women are really stepping in and helping the family financially. I’ll say, guy!

In fact, a Pew poll showed now—for the first time—men as a group benefit more financially from marriage than women.

This may be because the male-oriented sectors such as construction and manufacturing have been hard hit.

But—researchers wonder—are dads at home picking up more the child care and house chores?

One researcher said gender roles are “more flexible.” Yeah—but not reversed, I guess.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dinosaurs, 'zup, dudes?

When someone calls me a dino for not having a cell phone or thinking writers should be paid for writing, I just knock them over with my big green tail.

But I do vaguely realize technology is passing me by.

Never more so than when I was watching The Middle—a very offbeat sitcom on ABC that purports to be about “the middle,” the flyover states. It’s pretty subtle and funny—I watch it every week. (When a family member comes in with fast food bags, that person always says, “I made dinner.”)

This week, Dad gets laid off and the teenage son Axl (who puts his puts his whole body into his eyerolls or pantomimes himself hanging by a noose every time his parents speak) is also unemployed. Father father and son go to a Job Fair. While in line, the father speaks to the son, and the kid, who is on his cell, holds up a finger..”Interview.”

Interviewing for a job on his cell? Sure.

Eventually, the kid helps his Dad upload resumes, and finally the kid gets a job, shrugging it off saying something like, “This dude from Facebook, like you should work here, man, and I am OK, sweet!”

I don’t tweet. I saw some tweets by people and they didn’t blow my skirts up. I always figure tweeting will blow over and maybe I will catch the next one.

Sweet? Well, sometimes I don’t know.

Friday, January 15, 2010

For fun--bad things happen to nice houses

A guy came to fix my vacuum cleaner and had to go in my laundry room where there is a dusty area…I felt like such a loser…

Then, I read a story by Kara G Morrison (AZ Republic, Jan 14, 2010) about a realtor who put up a website of ugly house photos. It’s a riot!

Pretty reassuring, people—at least I hope it is for you. One house had so many roaches, he says, he had to tap his feet while sitting there.

One pix was of graffiti—he said someone came in and did it. My daughter did something similar while living there…so…I have nowhere to go on that one.

Some big offenders on Ugly House Photos: refrigerator magnets, hoarding-level clutter, and weird faux painting.

I wonder what he would say about the “chandelier” I made out of black cords and Italian streetlights (viz, above).

Seriously. It looks better now that we poached off all the blue light bulbs for other uses.

Pssst. Don’t tell the Ugly House guy, but I also have an orange Jetson’s coffee table.

Mid-century Modern. That's my story and am I sticking.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Chinese have a saying

“Keep your broken arm up your sleeve” is a saying attributed to the Chinese (no, not Charlie Chan or Confucius). It means don’t spill out your personal troubles or display emotional behaviors.

Desperation would be one of those and is in no short supply these days. Anthony Balderrama,, says desperation isn’t good in the job interviewing situation.

One HR pro said one applicant became so desperate after not hearing back from an employer, he waited for the CEO in the parking lot. “Security!”

Now, though, in this crappy economic mess, people more often show desperation in being willing to take any job.

Or they often to tryout ot temp—without waiting to see if this is even an option.

Don’t say—money doesn’t matter. Desperation play.

Being too pushy is also bad. I agree with that one big-time. Companies are on their own time clock—sometimes these things take weeks or months, or get tabled, or they have an annual meeting, and things slip.

Don’t nag.

But do always leave them with the clear impression that you want the job. Have I said that a few dozen times?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We're old--wanna make something of it?

Seriously—want to make something of it? Like money?

Have you employers ever realized that older workers have been around, know what works, what doesn’t, how to act, and so on.

Some companies know this. They have programs to FIND 50-plus people. Check out

At-home or other health care groups serve older people—and hire older people.

Temp agencies like the seasoned (by that, I mean salty and peppery).

Public sector employers tend to like older people better than the private sector, which thinks of itself as trendy and sleek. It's usually not, but...

Transit authorities are fast growing now. Schools. Waste management. Vocational ed. Think about it. Got to or

Think! Try!

That impulse knows no age.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More ways to doll up your house

Kara G. Morrison (AZ Republic, Jan 10, 2010) talked to HGTV’s Designed to Sell’s host Shane Tallant about how to move the hut in a down market.

I have never seen this guy—I am too involved in my fantasy moment, the cute Yard Crashers guy asking me if I want a free landscaping makeover.

We have already talked about decluttering (speaking of TV, there is now a show on hoarders and I am happy to report I am nowhere close).

Tallant does say to increase your curb appeal with a new doormat. I did. It faded in about a week.

He is also a fan of carpet cleaning. I have had misadventures there, too—funny story, shampooing rounds up pet hair but does not remove it. Oh—don’t ask.

Tallant (his real name, I wonder?) also suggested changing hardware on outdated vanities and kitchen cabinets.

Update light fixtures, too. Oh, no! The lava lamp is out?

Work all the senses—a nice smell, music playing, clean windows.

Which reminds me—I was pricing windows. Yes, I am broke but our dear govt has some sort of sale on weatherization working…you can get a tax credit UP TO $1500—not AT $1500. You learn a lot when people come to bid.

I also learned that plastic-looking vinyl windows are ugly. This won't be happening at Chez Star.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Volunteering can lend structure

Remember when our moms told us to get up in the morning—that it gave us structure?

Andrew Johnson (AZ Republic, Dec 20, 2009) talks about the benefits of volunteering.

First, basically, getting up and going somewhere gives your day a centerpiece.

Volunteering helps someone else—you might even work up a nice little glow over it.

Sometimes volunteering looks decent on a resume.

You could meet a good job contact.

People out of work are now out 28 weeks or more. That’s a long time with no structure—you could turn to animated goo.

Volunteer at the animal shelter if you like critters. Or the thrift shop—busy these days.

Be honest about how much time you can give—don’t go overboard.

And for heaven’s sakes if a place is making money, don’t give yourself away for free.

That is my one rule.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Now, about that gym thing

Enough fruitcake—time to at least talk about going to the gym.

Exercise improves your mood (sex hormones!), cuts risk of many cancers, keeps your heart on track, and so on. And SO ON. Now is the season to be lively.

Lively can cost.

Kelli B. Grant (WSJ,Jan 6, 2010) has some tips for keeping gym fees down to a dull roar.

The median annual cost for a new gym membership is $775. Ongoing members get it down to An average of $43 a mo.

First, check out gyms near you for a week or two…Most offer “no-commitment” passes.

January is the month for deals! So deal. If you find a better price nearby see if the gym you want will match it. Even if it’s the same chain, prices can vary.

Check with your office’s HR dept. You may have a discount waiting.

If there is a health club in your building, see if the landlord will give you a perk.

Some health plans also offer discounts.

Start off month to month—stats show people may only go 50 times a year. See if you are going.

Some people pay for a year thinking it will make them go. It just makes them guilty.

If you are unemployed, though, going to the gym can be a good thing. You will be more energetic and rosy at your next interview.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Man, that interview can be a minefield

Lots of interview stories right now—or did you want to hear about dieting?

Joann S. Lublin, WSJ, Jan 5, 2010, says little things can count for a lot. One company interviewed 40 of 400 applicants and a woman was rejected because she mispronounced the HR guy’s name four time—after being corrected three times.

Who would correct someone three times—maybe that’s just me.

The head hunters say there is more anxiety now—more chance for small “errors.”

Prepare better for interviews is the advice. Know the company cold. Dial up your sensitivity—what does the place look like when you come in, casual dress or not, noisy or not.

One woman wore a low cut blouse with a panther tattoo showing as she leaned forward. Well, gosh, gal, that isn’t hospital management style!

If you eat out with these people, don’t order messy food. Don’t order the most expensive thing you can find.

If someone asks when you could start if you got the job, don’t say, well,I have to give two weeks notice. Just reiterate how interested you are—act like you want the position!

One candidate supposedly jogged over and asked did they have a shower? Come on! Really?

Try not to spill your coffee or water. Yeah, got it. Also, one interviewer did not like male applicants putting a hand on her shoulder—she took that to mean, “Thanks for your time, sweetheart.”

Guess interviewers have their issues, too. And how.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Resume is a start

Every time I print out my kid’s resume, I think, “Darn! This person should be working.” She is 28, has worked in retail, has taken a full-immersion German summer class, has worked a production assistant on an indie film, even got a govt paycheck at age 14 for working at the National Zoo in Washington.

But alas, such experience is not considered “meaty,” just mildly interesting.

Still, I contend, you need to pop out of the stack somehow. So if you have interesting items, include them. (No, not your height and weight.)

One way to strengthen a lightweight resume is to get the exact titles at your desired place of work. Figure out what the position entails and match your snippets of experience to this.

If the desired position or company has a trade group, see if you can join or attend meetings. Get known, get identified with the industry sector you seek.

If you are a recent grad, maybe move education down below the experience you can claim—although young people command less money, being a fresh grad can work against you.

How about your local chamber of commerce? Do they have monthly mixers? Might be worth a pop-in.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to please interviewers

Let’s see—I have told you I used to hire people. I think I mentioned I once hired someone because she said she had once had lunch with Mick Jagger. So my advice on what people are looking for in an employee should be considered in context, as they say.

Erin Zlomek, AZ Republic, Dec 30, 2009) reports on a survey of 498 Society for Human Resources members.

70% said they would hire someone who took an unpaid internship in their exact field versus someone who worked for paid in an area outside theirs.

28% aid they decided yes or no in the first five minutes. 30% took 15 mins.

A quarter said they do check social networking sites.

86% said inappropriate social pix, such as drunken antics or bad mouthing of former bosses, would sink a candidate.

Also: Typos in the res, flashy clothes, lateness, ringing cellphone, or bad remarks about a former boss—not good.

39% said to talk salary if the interviewer brought it up or else leave it for later.

Don’t say: “This is my dream job.” “I think outside the box.” “I am results oriented.” “I am a team player.”

Do say, “I once met Mick Jagger.”

Kidding, kidding….

Aren’t you sick of that box thing? And the table—as in “This is off the table.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Feeling off? Why not get help at work?

Did you know that under a new law, work health plans will need to cover mental health services the same as physical health?

Companies are reacting by putting short-term counseling in place, according to Shirley S. Wang, WSJ, Dec 15, 2009.

These would be the EAPs—Employee Assistance Programs. You may be able to get more free sessions.

A problem can be that by asking people to go to the EAP first, before outside help, companies may keep people who need more help from seeking it.

Plus—those same people will have one therapist, then need to adjust to another one.

Often EAPs offer a few—3-8 sessions, and these may be telephone sessions.

Now this may be more with adoption counseling, elder care, and other services added.

If you are in a company with more than 50 people, watch for changes—thought for once, they may work in your favor.

Crazy-making, right?