Monthly Archives: May 2013

Avoid the Black Bra: Seven Tips for Job Interviews

In a prior life, before I entered into academia, I once spent a few months working at a temp agency. Not like they sent me out on jobs, but I actually temped at the agency as a hiring and placement specialist. My job included interviewing and testing people, matching temps with positions, and training people how to be appropriate employees. Limited as that experience was, it taught me some good basic skills about interviewing. I’ve been on a number of interviews in my life, most of which I landed (although some, thankfully, I didn’t). Since those days as a temp, I have been on the other side of interviewing for both business and academic positions. One of the things I find fascinating is some of the stumbles people make that may not be deal breakers, but don’t do them any favors. Some of these things might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised.

  1. Know where you are interviewing. No matter the job, know the company. Someone is going to ask why you want to work for their company (not a company, but theirs) and you should have an answer to that. That doesn’t mean you need to memorize their information, but today most companies have websites with some sort of mission statement indicating their goals and values. Answering why do you to work here with, “My husband does and I want the same vacation time,” or “I need a job so the bank won’t take my house,” may seem honest to you; however, it is incredibly off-putting to potential employers.
  2. Know the position for which you are interviewing. Not just the title, but the actual job requirements. If you aren’t clear on what something is, ask before the interview if at all possible (probably before you apply). Companies would rather you ask for clarification early in the process than waste their time interviewing someone who clearly has no idea what the job will entail.
  3. Know who you are interviewing with. Most of the time when the interview is scheduled someone will tell you the name of the person(s) you will be interviewing with. If they don’t, just politely ask who you will meet with and if there will be any others present. Interviewing with an HR screener is different than interviewing with a manager. While both should be taken seriously, knowing the interviewer(s) helps you prepare. When the interview is over, within 24 hours, send thank you notes or at least emails to all the people you met with.
  4. Use that website to set the tone. Many companies have images on their websites. Look at those for how people dress and present themselves. One of the number one complaints I hear from managers is people showing up to interviews looking like they are going to the movies or the beach. We once interviewed a girl who claimed to be a professional administrative assistant who showed up to the interview in leather flip flips, a white blouse, and a black bra. I would go so far to say that even if the company doesn’t have a website, avoid the open-toed shoes, visible underwear, jeans, anything dirty or worn out, overly bright make up or distracting jewelry, and anything too low or too short. An interview is not a fashion show; be clean, comfortable, and professional. (Of course if you are interviewing at Vogue, that’s a different animal.)
  5. Be honest, but not Judd Apatow honest. Don’t lie in interviews. If you do, it more likely than not will come back to haunt you if you’re hired. That being said, keep your jokes and your self-disclosure to a minimum. If you didn’t work for a year because you were dealing with your alcoholic brother who ruined your life, rephrase that into something like, “There were some family issues with my brother that required my attention. Once those were resolved, I was ready to return to work.” This type of answer indicates that it was a personal issue (and rarely will anyone push for more information) and it is now over, so the company doesn’t need to worry about you leaving for more family issues.
  6. Have extra copies of your information. Many times, the interviewers will be seeing a number of candidates. They may have been emailed your information or seen it in passing, but don’t have it at a glance. Bring several copies of your current, error free resume, list of references, and any other supplemental information you were asked to provide. You don’t need a fancy briefcase or anything like that. Buy a nice, simple black portfolio (you can get one at an office supply store for about $20). Use it to bring copies of those elements. It should also include a working pen and notepad for . . .
  7. Your questions. Every interview I have ever been on I have been asked, “What questions do you have for us?” When asking those questions from the other side, I am shocked when people have no questions or ask something completely inappropriate like if the schedule can be adapted to their needs or what the salary will be. Avoid HR questions unless you are talking directly to HR. Instead, ask for clarification on something that was brought up in the interview (“Would you elaborate on the training program you mentioned for your networking software?”). Always, always, always have something ready to go if nothing comes up in the interview for follow up. Some of my favorites are “What qualities would your ideal applicant for this position possess,” “Why do you enjoy working here,” or “What do you find most challenging about working at this company.” These all show interest in not just the job, but the company and your potential place within it.

Happy Hunting!



Categories: Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Atwood on Audience

With two days until my Atwood experience, I am basking in her wisdom.

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Snap: Ten Things My Son Gives Me

Mommy and AlexLast week, I gave you ten sound bites from my six-year-old daughter, Liliana. While I would love to provide the same for my two-year-old son, his would consist of mostly growling (as he is part dinosaur) or saying his cheek is “broken” in order to get a kiss. He is a giver though, and here are some of his favorite things to pass on to me:

  1. Boogers (either handed to me or wiped on my face)
  2. Poop (animal)
  3. His favorite toys (which he wants me to kiss and hug, but then when I do, he gets mad, pushes them aside, and takes the hugging/kissing for himself)
  4. Poop (his)
  5. Pants (his)
  6. Pats on my back when I hold him
  7. Gravel (or any other rock, including chunks of sidewalk)
  8. Dead mice (regifted from our cat)
  9. Food (half-eaten)
  10. Kisses (pretty much anywhere, although my face and hands are his target zones)
Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Five Things that Rocked May 19-25

  1. I’ve been looking a great deal at blog design for inspiration and come across a number of fab destinations. My current obsession is with A Beautiful MessSo many fantastic ideas.
  2. Lucky me was published twice on Cinefilles this week. Check out my review of Star Trek Into Darkness and my retrospective on Cleopatra.
  3. Next week, aside from basking the glory of Margaret Atwood, I’m getting my second tattoo. While looking for the perfect font, I found this fantastic piece about why a mother got a tattoo with her daughter.
  4. It was also my week on The Baraza where I share my favorite graduation themed pop culture moments.
  5. On The Review Review, this article on Twitter Fiction had me thinking and working on my brevity.



Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Diving into Atwood: A Beginner Reading List

File:The Year of the Flood-cover-1stEd-HC.jpegA friend recently asked me how to get started reading Margaret Atwood. My head was immediately swimming with a million directives. However, to avoid overwhelming a prospective reader, I’ve come up with a selection of Atwood works for those wishing to dip their toes in the wonder of her writing.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale–By far her most famous novel, it still feel incredibly relevant today. It’s a good indicator of some of her themes and techniques.
  2. The Blind Assassin–Find out why here.
  3. Alias Grace–Based on an actual events, Atwood skillful takes us inside the mind of a convicted killer, looking at themes that apply to a number of women.
  4. Oryx and Crake/ The Year of the Flood–These are technically the first two books of a trilogy, but they can be read solo or out of order. But hurry up if you want to be done in time for the final book, MaddAddam, to be released next September
  5. Good Bones and Simple Murders–This collection of short works combines two of her previous publications into a strong, wildly varied collection. “Gertrude Talks Back” is a particular favorite.
  6. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing–Atwood’s book on the art of writing is useful while still reflecting her unique style.
  7. The Positron Series–Atwood openly embraces technology, as evidenced by this fun ebook series.

Happy reading!


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Snap: Ten Things My Daughter Says

Photo by Amy Cerka

Photo by Amy Cerka

At age six, my daughter Liliana already has a mouth on her. This is probably not a surprise to people who know us, but sometimes the things she comes up with leave me battling to keep a straight face.

  1. “It came from my own imagination.”
  2. “Awkward.”
  3. “Do we really need this drama?”
  4. “If [blank] happens, I will cry to death.”
  5. “Just let me be who I am!”
  6. “That was 100 awesome!”
  7. “Oh, you’re tricksing.”
  8. “Winner, winner. Tofu dinner.”
  9. “You are repressing me!” (usually coupled with number 5)
  10. “I am a delight.”
Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Five Things that Rocked May 12-18

1. I wrote this post about The Blind Assassin. I got this tweet in reply. Swoon.

2. My Wromance (writing romance) A.J. Kandathil wrote about the Five Pillars of Place using Park and Rec on Ploughshares. ‘Cause that’s how she rolls ( awesome, that’s how she rolls).

3. While you are on the  Ploughshares blog, take a gander at the piece I wrote about Cowboy Poetry. You should read it. It’s okay, you can click now. This list will wait.

4. The Office aired its final episode. I cried. I’ll write about it next week. In the meantime, rewatch The Office or watch it for the first time. Either way, win-win-win. In the meantime, enjoy this:

5. Two of my favorite shows growing up were Designing Women and The Golden Girls. This article reminds me why I loved Dorothy and may be like her in about thirty years.



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Guide to Cowboy Poetry

The fifth part in my series on Literary Cowboys is live on Ploughshares today. Mosey on over and give it a look-see.

“The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 5: Cowboy Poetry”

Categories: Get Smart, Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

My Love Affair with The Blind Assassin

Before I fell in love with Margaret Atwood, I fell in love, as readers often do, with one of her books.

Perhaps as an American female writer I should be more enamored with Joyce Carol Oates, but I just can’t help myself. Our (one-sided) romance took root in the autumn of 2000. Newly graduated from college, I meandered into a Santa Monica bookstore in one of those rare moods where I had no purpose other than to wander through the world of literature, seeing what caught my eye. At the front of the store was the display of New Releases. There were other works there, but the cover art of this particular book called to me.

Perhaps it was because the image reminded me of LA Confidential, one of my favorite films. Or it might have been the title–The Blind Assassin. Already so intriguing, particularly juxtaposed with an image that seemed completely disconnected. The book found its way into my hands. Rather than reading the jacket, I flipped to the first page:

The bridge

Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

I shut the book and bought it. In that single sentence, she had me. Although I knew Atwood’s name from The Hand Maid’s Tale, I had never read the book and knew almost nothing about her. I bought a non-discounted hardcover book based on three things: the title, the chapter title, and the first sentence.

While the title is intriguing (how does one become a sightless political murderer?), the other two were what harkened to my wallet. Here was a decidedly adult text that used chapter headings instead of numbers. It automatically gave the text, to me, an almost fairytale quality. It reminded me of books I had read as a kid that were completely engaging, so much so that I lost track of hours and weeks because I was captivated by this world. There again was that promise.

The first sentence is, without question, simple. In that is the beauty. We have a simple subject (Laura) and a simple verb (drove). Atwood establishes a rough time period (sometime around a modern war–one might guess World War II at the earliest), a point of view, and a mystery. Notice that Laura’s car did not drive off the bridge. It did not swerve or fall. She “drove” it. That indicates intent. Did Laura drive off of a bridge on purpose? Is the time period, ten days after the conclusion of a war, significant?

The answer to both is yes. The why to both takes roughly 500 beautifully rendered pages to fully grasp.

The Blind Assassin is on that short list I mentioned last week of life changing books. It is as if Atwood took everything I love, shattered it into pieces, and constructed a narrative mosaic that displays flashes of the familiar in ways I could never have imagined. The use of newspaper entries, flashback, nesting, and somehow even science fiction to tell a historical romance should not work. And yet it does. After reading more of her work, the themes and style are decidedly Atwood; I’m rereading Cat’s Eye right now and feel bits of Iris in Elaine, even though they are different characters.

Beyond the beauty of the prose and the stellar storytelling, the novel has sentimental ties. It is one of the last books my grandfather read before his sight was too far gone. Although set in Canada, coming from Michigan, he responded to the time period and sense of place. After reading it he couldn’t wait to sit down at our weekly dinner to discuss it with me. But it was more than just the WWII period that engaged him: I think he felt connected to Iris as he counted down the years of his life. I remember him needing his handkerchief to dab at the tears as he recounted in gasping chuckles one of his favorite sections–Iris reading graffiti in bathroom stalls. He never admitted that he did it himself, but his reaction tells me he did.

One of my grandfather’s habits that I have acquired is signing the front of books. When he finished a book, be it the Bible or Harry Potter, he would initial (or sign) and date the inside cover. It was his mark, his way of remember what he read. For me it has been a way to connect with him after he died. Many of his books came to my keeping. When I  begin them, I can see those letter and numbers telling me when he held the pages. Eventually, I sign my name under his. For all that I love technology, I doubt I can ever completely give up the actual book, if just because it would mean giving up my books as documents of those I’ve known and loved and the books we’ve shared. (It’s a rule, by the way, that if you borrow a book from me, you have to sign and date inside the front cover. Don’t like it? Don’t borrow my books.)

When I teach Atwood in my classroom, I usually do “Happy Endings” because it is in our textbook, although recently we also looked at “Backdropp Addresses Cowboy” as part of post-colonialism. “Happy Endings” concludes with this thought: “True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it’s the hardest to do anything with. That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why.” Atwood addresses our fixations on beginnings and endings without focusing on the meat of the subject. My favorite line from The Blind Assassin mirrors this thought in even more poetic terms:

“The living bird is not its labeled bones.”

As a writer, I try to keep that in mind. The skeleton of the story can be the same as ten thousand others. It is the living bird that we strive to capture with our words if only to show that it not just brittle remains with labels.

Thus, I take no hesitation in naming The Blind Assassin as my favorite book. That copy I bought out of college (that I couldn’t really afford) with my grandfather’s signature is priceless to me, as priceless as the story inside.

Categories: Objects de Art, Write On | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Last One on the List

Last Friday marked the end of another year for me. Although I have a summer of online teaching, reading and writing, and program review ahead of me, for now the tide of never ending responsibility is ebbing. Since my kids are still in school, today I have the pleasure of time to myself. In taking stock, I realize I have let myself sink to the bottom of my list of important things. My professional life, while certainly an important part of me, has overrun the rest. What has suffered is my mental and physical health. Bottom line? I’m burnt out.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but health and well-being manifest in the physical in addition to the mental. Case in point, my high levels of stress and poor eating habits have caused my face to break out. My muscles ache and my digestive system feels off. I need to reboot. Therefore, the first order of business is to return to the eating habits my body needs–simple, unprocessed foods, water, actually sitting down to put things in my mouth. Physically I crave walking, which has always been a reprieve for my body and mind. And mentally, well, the best cure for me is reading.

I hate that I let myself get to this point, that I become so consumed with work and stress that I can’t stop and help myself. Perhaps because of the nature of the academic year, I feel like I need to ride out the semester and pick up the pieces later. What a triumph it would be to balance my personal needs with all of the other elements of my life. Here’s hoping one day I figure it out. Until then, I’ll take my summer reboots.

Excuse my brevity; I have a border collie in need of a walk and a book that won’t read itself.



Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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