Thursday, March 31, 2011

Simplifying the Job Application

Where I work, we do not have a centralized Human Resources department to handle all of our hiring. Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in the hiring process several times and have witnessed some of the ups, downs, and just plain weirds of certain applications & resumes.

For anyone out there looking for a job, I've got some tips.

Your job application and resume are your time to shine. You have the opportunity to make a spectacular first impression and to confidently state, "I want this job and here's why you should give it to me."

This being said, capitalize your name. Particularly in the Midwest, an uncapitalized name like "john smith" doesn't look edgy, artsy or otherwise captivating. It just looks like you don't know grammar. When you're famous, then you can take artistic license with capitalization.

Make every effort to answer every question truthfully on a given job application.

Actually read every question on a job application. Pay particular attention to a question that might read something like, "Are you eligible to work in the United States?" Carefully think through the given syntax before you check Yes or No. You would not believe the number of born and bred Americans who indicate they are ineligible to work in the US.

Do everything in your power to fit your resume on one page. You can definitely hit the high points of yourself on one page. Anything past two pages is narcissistic. The resume is intended to give a brief history of your academics and pertinent experience to see if you have the basic skills and training for the job. Your resume does not need to include itemized lists of every training class, project, software program, and certification. Hit the applicable high points. Unless they are associated with the wanted job and you have extra space to fill, do not include your hobbies on your resume.

Don't lie about experience. Don't even stretch the truth about experience. Under no circumstance should you say you know Microsoft Access if you saw a coworker open the program once. It is much better to report your experience truthfully than to look really stupid if they ask you how to set up a report feeding from a T-SQL left join query also utilizing the count function.

If you are actually serious about wanting the job, include a cover letter. If you are applying for a job outside your community, include a cover letter. If you want to make a good impression with your writing skills, include a cover letter. If you want the employer to know you're not simply submitting the application so you can continue to receive unemployment benefits, include a cover letter. In your cover letter explain three topics-

  1. Specific, good reasons why you are applying for the job, especially if you don't live in the area. The phrase, "I want to work in this field to improve my skills," is not a winner around here. "I have been in this field for the last three years, but am looking for a position closer to where my bed-ridden mother lives," is much better (but realistically skipping the sob story, even if your story is a sob story, it's not a good idea to try to gain a job out of pity).
  2. Specific, good ways you have used your skills to benefit your current workplace or someone in your life. Don't say, "My mom says I'm really good at this." Try, "In the last six months, I've been able to use my experience with such and such to improve so and so's workflow by twenty minutes." This isn't the time to rehash the resume, but here you can include personal examples and stories. Keep it short though.
  3. Specific, good reasons for time gaps in your resume. Employers want to see a continuous timeline of your activities. They want to be able to easily see timely transitions from places of study to places of employment to other places of employment. If you have a conspicuous gap of activity from August 2007-February 2009, it's best to explain truthfully that you were deployed, started a family, needed to care for a relative, were incarcerated (yes, get it out there in the open), quit your fulltime job to pursue a blogging career, etc.

Whether or not you are confident in your writing skills, have someone else proofread your cover letter and resume. I am not joking. I don't care if you've won a flipping Pulitzer. Get them proofread. This is a cover letter we received; specifics have been edited, all spellings, capitalizations, and syntax are unedited.

"To whom it concerns
Would Like to obtain a position where I and can use and expand what I have learned at XXX. I completed training for XXX but have not received all certifications yet and have no experience in the field. Have been interested in XXX since I graduated high school, and have worked on my own for many years. I am a quick learner and love a challenge."

Just get it proofread.

Another perk of having your resume and cover letter proofread by a colleague is to see if you are over or underselling yourself. If you really want a particular job, have a colleague read the job ad before checking out your application packet to see how well the two match.

Some resources instruct job applicants to drop by the employment agency or to call to check on the status of the application. If you decide to do this, know that your "interview" starts the moment you initiate contact with anyone at that place of employment. This could potentially not bode well. If you do decide to repeatedly call, know that your approach, tone, and general demeanor could come off as harassing to the receptionist. Additionally, if you call, do not try to manipulate or guilt said receptionist into providing details of the application process that s/he doesn't know. Do no ask how many people have applied for the job. Do not offer additional reasons why you should be hired. Furthermore, do not threaten suicide to the receptionist, even jokingly. This will not help you get the job. If they drop any line about, "We will contact you," it's code for "Stop calling. Seriously." It's generally better to represent yourself well in your application packet and to let your skills speak for themselves.

If you want to drop your application packet off in person, dress like you're going to an interview. Look in a mirror before you leave. Check button alignment. Check your teeth, check your hair, check your collar, iron your shirt, check your breath, don't use too much hair gel, don't look creepy, don't talk too loudly, don't insist on meeting the boss, don't flirt with the receptionist, don't try to chat up anyone. Look good, pleasantly drop off your application packet, and leave.

Prior to applying for the job, it’s a good idea to Google yourself & see what shows up. It’s also a good idea to see what shows up on Facebook. You might want to change your profile pic from you with a duckface or you holding a beer or a stripper to something slightly more responsible. And you might want to double-check your privacy settings. People have been skipped over for interviews and jobs based on what’s on their Facebook or MySpace, particularly their photos. Take the time to present the image of a hire-able candidate.

But above all else, please properly capitalize your name.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buying in Bulk

Sometimes in life, values compete.

I grew up going to Sam’s Club. Why would you NOT want a 10 pound bag of the most delicious chocolate chips on the face of the earth? That doesn’t even touch the joys of 56-packs of toilet paper, 5 pound bags of cheese, and 8 pound bags of pecans. My favorite part of bulk stores? I love cart-watching other patrons and wondering why they are buying five 56-packs of TP, six 10 gallon drums of motor oil, or 50 packages of 12-count candy bars.

When my mom was feeding a family of five plus a Japanese exchange student, it made more economical sense to buy in bulk. Plus, it was fun to take our Japanese exchange student and her friends to Sam’s Club to watch their minds be blown at the sheer size and nature of bulk stores. Realistically, for families with plenty of storage space, it makes the best financial sense to buy in bulk especially for non-perishables like toilet paper. Not only is the price per unit cheaper, but trips to the store are reduced which means less gas, less overall chances for impulse buying, and more time spent with family (or cooking something that uses a 1 gallon can of green beans).

This is unfortunately where my values of frugalism and minimalism butt heads. I want to make the best financial decisions I can. I also want to minimize. At this point in my life, me and my worldly possessions exist in about 300 square feet (yes Mom, that’s including my storage in your basement). Unless I want to store 48 of those 56 rolls of toilet paper in said basement, I just don’t have space for buying in bulk. Plus, being a single female, housing 56 rolls of TP kind of brings on feelings of hoarding and suddenly I feel like adopting all the cats at the shelter. Ok, whew, the feeling passed, good thing too.

At this time in my life, I must pick minimalism over the simplicity of buying in bulk. It kills my math mind that I could have saved a dollar or two or three buying pasta sauce by the gallon versus eight 16 oz containers. However, my math mind also has to realize that a gallon of pasta sauce is 32 four ounce servings. 32 servings is no problem for a family of teenage boys plus friends, but I would end up wasting food thus wasting money.

So it goes. But I still enjoy visiting CostCo when I’m visiting relatives in Texas. Hey look!!! You can buy a 10-pack of Venus razor refills for only $20!!! Wait, my legs aren’t that hairy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Thai Shrimp Noodles

So I never quite got around to finishing up the amazing cuisine of my DFW trip a few weekends ago. On our last night together, my sister cooked Thai Shrimp Noodles. As some delicious recipes go, there was indeed no "recipe" so here's her approximations.

Flex the quantities as necessary-

Shrimp marinade:
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. chili/garlic sauce

3 Tbs. peanut butter
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbs chili/garlic sauce (spicy!)
1/3 c. soy sauce

Other Ingredients:
1 pkg Thai rice noodles
enough peeled shrimp to feed your group
1 pkg broccoli slaw
1/2 or 1 sliced onion (depending on taste)

-boil Thai rice noodles
-saute shrimp until pink, remove to another dish
-saute 1/2 pkg. broccoli slaw and sliced onion in 2 Tbs. vegetable oil until tender
-add cooked noodles to skillet
-pour sauce over noodles and vegetables and stir until evenly coated
-taste and adjust as desired
-put shrimp on a serving of noodles, garnish with chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice

It's quite delicious!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Look So Much Better When You Smile

GAAAAA!!!!!! March is SUCH a difficult month especially living in the Midwest. Everything is still grayish-brownish-beigeish-blah (but green is starting to peak through!). The Jayhawks just lost to VCU. We were taunted with 70 degree weather, but right now it's snowing. And overall, March has been a strange but beautiful month in my life. So I'm turning once again to a major source of encouragement and emotional support in my life- MUSIC.

Last year, I released my inner longing for spring in my Is It Spring Yet? playlist. I am awesome at creative titles like that. That's why I robbed Kirk Franklin for this year's title.

Here goes for Year 2 (new and improved with direct links to songs on! In no particular order, these are the debatable gems of various genres I've been jamming out to recently (and if the link doesn't want to work at first, try refresh):

You Look So Much Better When You Smile- The Playlist:

Cave In- Owl City
I Smile- Kirk Franklin (if you listen to one song, make it this one. UPDATE- The previous Grooveshark link went bad, so now it's going to Youtube instead)
Mountain Man- Crash Kings
You and Me Are Gone- Jamie Cullum
Say You'll Be There- Spice Girls (heh)
Healing Hands- Citizen Cope
Back Against the Wall- Cage the Elephant
Jai Ho!- Pussycat Dolls
Seven Days in Sunny June- Jamiroquai
Don't Phunk With My Heart- Black Eyed Peas
Till I Get To You- Nikka Costa

And a lovely from this afternoon's snow:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wardrobe Simplification: The LBD

Yes, the Little Black Dress is a traditional fashion staple of sophistication and simplicity. It's the perfect dress that can easily transition from day to evening with a simple swap of accessories, simultaneously being a comfortable staple of a woman's wardrobe, yet an article that subtly draws attention to the sleek elegance of the physique underneath. It's the Holy Grail of the closet. It's....MAGICAL.

Confession: I don't have an LBD.

I don't really read mommy blogs, but I ran across this entry from "Where in the ME is Mommy?" that articulated some of the do's & don'ts of finding the perfect LBD. It's a great, quick read with fantastic picture examples.

Favorite Guideline: "If a dress creates the sort of drama that might leave you with an STD, it's the wrong LBD."

I personally haven't invested a lot of time in looking for the LBD, but I think I might start keeping my eyes open. I cleaned out my closet (again) this week, and I definitely have some gaps in the "simple, versatile, transitional" categories of clothes. And why wouldn't I want a magical dress?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Green Minimalism: Electronics

So you cleaned out. Where can you take all the stuff?

If you've got a bit of time on your hands, there are some better options that just bagging up everything for the trash. Particularly for pieces of electronic equipment, recycling is a better option than sending things to the dump.

Once or twice a year, my city hosts a recycling program and generally for free (there's a small fee for those ridiculously huge TV's and computer monitors), they will just take the items for recycling. It's worth asking your community about it!

Also, many tech stores have recycling or trade-in programs. Again, there's sometimes a small fee for huge TV's or computer monitors, but certain stores will give you a gift card equal to that fee.

Here's some links for a few of the major recycle programs:
And if you live in a larger community, you can check out additional options through the Electronics Recycling Directory.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Helping the Clutter

This post is a cop-out. I really want to write about how people are making my life very complicated right now (not bad, just complicated), but I can't figure out how to do that without sounding like I resent having people in my life.

So instead, to bring around the concept that the stuff in our physical realms affects our emotional world, I return to Feng Shui! I'm not an FS purist, but I think certain principles apply to our everyday environments.

My favorite piece of the article- "Do I use it? Do I need it? Do I love it? Does it invoke a positive memory and make me happy? If your answer is no, then it’s time to go."

Second favorite- "Remind yourself that you are opening yourself and your space to new passions, interests and opportunities. You might also ask a friend who is not emotionally attached to your stuff to help you."

PS- If you live near me & know me, I'm more than willing to be the friend who is not emotionally attached to your stuff. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Green Risotto & Herbed Flatbread

Last night, my brother cooked. He normally does some kind of grilled meat amazingness, but yesterday, he surprised us by going with the vegetarian amazingness that is Spring Green Risotto. He used a bit more leek than the recipe called for and made the risotto how he normally does (?), but otherwise followed the recipe. Here it is in process (and my brother's DSLR camera takes WAY better food pics than my point-&-shoot at home)-

It's a lovely dish, both to look at and to eat!

Paired with some Chicken Wine (technically Rex-Goliath Chardonnay), it makes a delightful dish celebrating spring vegetables.

My brother also was inspired by the Potager Cafe to try some herbed flatbread. He found a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. At a later date, I'll probably try baking it like the recipe I found for homemade wheat thins to try a crispier texture (a recipe I thought I blogged but didn't, it's added to the list).

For dessert, I made my favorite food, chocolate chip cookies. I cheated. They were from a Betty Crocker mix. They are quite tasty.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tortilla Soup

From "The Ghost & Mr. Chicken"- (picture awkward guy talking to bombshell girl...)

Luther: "I just love good food."
Alma: "So do I."
Luther: "Do you?"
Alma: "Uh huh."
Luther: "You know, you & I are a lot alike."
Alma: "Oh?"
Luther: "My mother liked good food. She always used to say, 'I'd rather eat good food than bad food any ol' day of the week.'"

I like good food too. For the weekend family get-together in the DFW area, my siblings & I are each taking a night to cook dinner. Last night, I decided to make one of my favorite meals, tortilla soup & apple crisp. Over twenty years ago, my grandma started the quest to find the perfect tortilla soup & ever since, my family has tried bowl after bowl & recipe after recipe in our search. I found this recipe last fall & have made it several times. It's really pretty good. I don't know if it's the "perfect" recipe, but it's very easy (if you can wield a can opener, you can make it) & quite tasty.

Check out the link for the recipe. I add at least a teaspoon of cumin & a whole can of both corn & hominy since I don't really have a venue for leftovers of those. Last night, we topped ours with cilantro, avocado, tortilla chips, & cheese.

And my brother made some delicious salsa, using (basically) the same recipe I use.

As for the apple crisp, I forgot grandma's recipe at home (SAD! I'll post that one later), and the replacement recipe I found for the topping just wasn't the best ever. Oh well!

Side conversation on the subject of hominy-

My sister- "So what is hominy?"
Me- "I think it's some kind of corn product? But then they do something to it."
My brother consulting his smart phone- "Kernels of corn that have been soaked in a caustic solution as of lye..."
Me- "Lye??? That's probably all I need to know."
My brother- "I guess they also use it in lutefisk, green olives, and pretzels. And look, it can do this to your skin!" (caution, don't open link unless you really want to see what lye can do to your skin, it's NOT pretty!)

I love brothers. :)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Potager Cafe

"As much as possible, we try to use local, natural, & organic products, so we're not feeding you poison." That's what I like to hear from a restaurant- no poison!

I'm in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a family get-together and, as always, food is one of the focal points of the weekend. For lunch today, we visited the Potager Cafe, a quaint bistro just across the street from the University of Texas - Arlington campus.

The chalkboard menu changes daily. No prices are listed. You simply go up to the counter and order what you'd like in the quantity you want. Today, they were featuring dishes made with ingredients the owner picked up at this morning's farmer's market. You pay what you'd like as you're leaving.

In the words of the owner, "I don't know why more restaurants like this exist. It makes sense. Why not be able to order what you like, in the quantity you like, and pay what you like? It stops wasting food."


Instead of feeling obligated to finish a lot of food my body doesn't need, I was able to order in the portions I prefer. I felt satisfied & happy with my bowl of Southwestern bean soup, a big spoonful of rice primavera, and a small piece of apple cake. Between all of us, we tried everything on the menu including vegetable & goat cheese quiche, salmon & pasta casserole, green salad, and herbed flatbread. It was all delicious! Even my 18 month old niece approved of everything & said "Mmmmm!" with every single bite of apple cake she tried.

It's very refreshing for me to know a place like this exists. I voluntarily paid as much as I would have paid at a mainstream restaurant, but knew I was getting food that was good for me (and delicious to boot!) & supporting a business that follows earth-friendly, sustainable, & healthy practices.

Note: If you're thinking of going there, they've had some issues lately with their landlord so they might be moving to a different location.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Buying Diet?

This article featured on relates our natural instincts of stuff-accumulation to the pre-historic ways of being a hunter-gatherer. The author compares our draw towards stuff to our draw towards eating.

"If you've ever tried to lose weight, you know that willpower isn't enough: Crash dieting never works against deeply primal instincts. What goes for eating goes for acquiring, too.

You see, our hunter-gatherer ancestors survived by collecting pelts, sticks, fibers, hunks of peat -- whatever might keep them comfy in their caves. Thousands of years later, acquiring, just like eating, still flips the switch that tells our primitive lizard brains we're well supplied for hard times. To sustain a balanced buying diet, we must flip that switch without actually accumulating more stuff."

I also cracked up at the author's differentiation between the natural stress responses of men & women.

"Men's stress response says "Fight or flee!" Ours says "Fight or flee -- and make sure everyone has a nice warm sweater!" There's a reason why, when anticipating nerve-racking social events, most of us go directly to "What will I wear?""

So is there an Atkin's version of a buying diet?

Monday, March 7, 2011

An "Arg" of Attempted Minimalism

So I've done all the good minimalist things of de-cluttering, de-stuffing, shedding certain consumerist views, experiencing freedom from stuff, & fully enjoying the items that I choose to keep around me. Despite a few minor setbacks (why are free t-shirts so easy to acquire in the Midwest?), I've stayed true to the ideas of minimizing stuff.

And then I discover a shortcoming of my minimalist path: what do I do when the items I rely on daily start breaking & malfunctioning?

For example, I have two standard pairs of work heels. They're nothing fancy, but are comfortable, walkable, versatile, & basically exactly what I need. However, in the last 6 months, both pairs have worn out.

I need clones of my shoes.

But that doesn't exist. I guess there's no way around it. One must go through the effort of shopping, buying, & trying, knowing that the first few attempts might not be the perfect fit.