Did You Finish It?

Doyle, Dale, and William "Butter" Haren c. 1987
Doyle, Dale, and William “Butter” Haren c. 1987

I have about three other articles I really need to be writing at the moment. However, I couldn’t get my heart into it for some reason. Looking at the calendar, it finally dawned on me what has been floating around the edges of my consciousness since my eyes flew open pre-alarm…

I have never forgotten the extraordinary luck I had in having so many in my life that were supportive. I’m not sure exactly how many of them believed that I could accomplish my goals or dreams, but at least no one ever discouraged me from pursuing any particular path that suited my fancy. However, there was one who always seemed as invested in my future and my aspirations as much as I was myself.

My paternal grandfather and I had a very close relationship. It wasn’t that any of my other known forebears were less loving or that I loved them less; it was that for a good portion of my childhood, he and I spent most of the time together. Before and after school, summers, and when I was sick with chicken pox or other childhood ailments, my pappy was my companion. I have very strong memories of hearing my pappy sing to me. I think he actually knew more than one song, but the one he always sang to me was “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” His voice was one of comfort. It was a baritone that sounds in my memory to this day much like Bing Crosby. Perhaps this is why I love those old songs so much. Pappy was a trickster. He liked playing jokes. He loved to laugh, even if he had no part in the cause. And he loved me… The only time I ever saw this man who retired after 30 years in the Navy cry was the day my parents took us across the seas to live for what came to be about 20 years. My pappy cried that day. I saw it when I turned for one last look before walking out on the tarmac. I remember being puzzled and frightened because I had never seen him shed a tear.

We made visits back to the U.S., at least once per year. Eventually, I moved back to the states permanently after the first Gulf War, before my folks retired, to complete school and start my own path. I lived in Atlanta for a while and would drive up to Tennessee for visits to all of my grandparents. Living in North Carolina, the trip to Northeast Tennessee to see my paternal grandparents was significantly shorter than the long drive to Southeast Tennessee to see my mother’s parents. I tried to make it back as often as possible to spend time with all of them. Pappy had some significant health issues, not the least of which was bone cancer. I never consciously thought about it, but perhaps living away from family so long made me realize that time is precious.

I moved back to Tennessee eventually to become a student once again and get a Master’s degree. I did well enough in school, but working multiple jobs and going to school full time wasn’t always without its bumps in the road. Nevertheless, my pappy was the person who was always my cheerleader on the sidelines. I never really knew why that degree seemed to mean so much to him. No one else in the family seemed to pay much attention to what was going on with my classes or progress, but my pappy would ask every so often, “How much more do you have?”

It became our own little game. Eventually, I was able to tell him that all my classes were over, and all I had to complete was the thesis. If going to classes and trying to work full time (plus some at times) was difficult, trying to conduct a research study and write it up in any resemblance to scholarly work was a bit of a nightmare. I admit, I became a crispy critter. I was burnt. I procrastinated. At one point, I considered just leaving it where it was. I had a full-time job by then working as system administration and technical management for an internet company. It wasn’t precisely what I had dreamed of doing, but it would pay the bills and put food in my mouth. I was tired of school, and I just didn’t care anymore. One voice kept me going. One simple question that I heard every day, “Did you finish it?”

Every day, I would go to see my pappy. We had a hospital bed in the den for him by then. The cancer than he fought off and on for years had gotten into his bones. We had home health nurses who came to take care of him. I always kept my appointments, though. I would go by after work or take a little detour if I had a meeting that took me closer to their house. Every day, he started the conversation with “Did you finish it?” And every day I would tell him, “Not yet, pap. Not quite yet.”

Eventually, something changed. Slow though it was, I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some part of me saw it and started, like a long distance runner, to push a little harder in the last leg of the race. My committee chair saw it as well and scheduled my defense. I took the whole week off that week to finish up the final chapters and edits and prepare for the “grilling.” I saw my pappy the day before my defense, and he said, “Did you finish it?” To which I replied, “We’ll see…”

The following day, I’m still not sure how I got through. I think I threw up three times before going into the room before the committee to defend my work. As you have probably gathered, it was all right. They passed me. I was congratulated and moved into the less “nail-biting” but more frustrating portion of trying to get through the graduate school’s editing requirements. Regardless, I was DONE!

I drove, miraculously without breaking the sound barrier, to my grandparents’ house. I walked in, and heard the familiar question, “Did you finish it?” But that day, I said, “Yes, Pappy Dale. I did.” It took a moment to sink in, but then he laughed. It was the same laugh I had heard my whole life. It was a contagious, deep laugh. Then, I sat down and we watched some pre-season baseball and discussed what we thought would happen with the Braves pitching staff.

The next few days involved multiple trips to the graduate school offices and the stationery store to make sure I had the correct weight white paper. On the following Monday, I was back at work. I had a week of catching up to do. On Tuesday, close to quittin’ time, I got a call. They needed me at my grandparents’ house. They said my pappy would not make it through the night.

I don’t remember the drive over there. I remember a house full of people. I remember when we could no longer feel a pulse and my father and I performed CPR, though there was an order for “no heroic measures.” I remember my father and me, standing silently together and hearing the life leave my grandfather’s body. The rest of the evening was a blur. I was elected to break the news to my grandmother and Pappy’s sisters (who were at the house). My cousin and I managed to put dinner together… I think we made taco casserole. The rest was the usual ritual and responsibility of providing that last goodbye for one who has departed.

That was 16 years ago today. I don’t miss him any less. I think it was his voice in my head during the last difficult months of my doctoral dissertation. “Beth, did you finish it?” I think it was realizing that I had neither him nor my father with me this time when I finished my defense successfully that prompted the unexpected tears. I can imagine that he laughed and laughed, just as he did that day more than 16 years ago when I gave him the news. Other challenges have faced me: Personally, professionally… Each one that I faced and continue to face, I feel that part of me fights to overcome the obstacles because I still want to be able to say, “Yes, Pappy Dale. I finished it.”

Salary & Skilz

So I was thinking about something. In my experience, and most especially my experience of late, it seems to me that the subject of salary (how much an employer is willing to pay you to work for them) is becoming more and more of a taboo subject. Yes, we all know that you shouldn’t discuss what you make – and especially not with your co-workers – but what about with prospective employers?

Well, here’s one person’s thoughts on the matter, should you be interested.

Let’s take me, for example. I have a very specific skill set that fits a very specific need in the corporate world. I am an Executive Assistant. Or, an Administrative Assistant. Or Receptionist. Secretary. You get the idea. I possess the skills one needs to support one individual, or several other individuals, so they can do their own job and so things can run more smoothly. In theory. (I’m over-simplifying this. Anyone who has ever had an admin job knows there’s a lot more to it than that and that administrative folks in general usually wear multiple hats.) I know what I can do; I know what I cannot do. I know when it comes time for me to seek alternate employment that I am worth whatever salary I am requesting. Or, alternately, that I am worth more than what an employer may offer me.

So why is it not okay to talk about this up front? During the interview process, why is it always such a touchy subject? Why do the job seeker and the interviewer always skirt around the very subject that is integral to the decision making process? Yes – skilz are cool. Skills are important. Hiring managers want to know what your skills are and how you can put your skills to work for them. But they don’t want to talk to you about what they’ll pay you to use your skills for their company?

Consider this conversation:

Friend 1: So, what’s the salary?

Friend 2: I don’t know yet. We didn’t exactly get around to that.

Friend 1: Why? Aren’t you afraid you’re wasting your time? What if they come back and offer you the job, but at much less than you could afford to accept?

Friend 2: Yes, that’s definitely a concern but I want them to want me for me – for what I can offer them in the skills department – not because they can afford me. If they want me, and want me badly enough, they’ll pay me what I think I’m worth.

Friend 1: Risky.

Friend 2: Yep – but all part of the process.

But what if it didn’t have to be part of the process. What if employers were up front with regard to what they were willing to pay for an employee? What if job seekers could look at a posted vacancy at Company X and know, immediately, if they should apply because the salary was right there for everyone to see?

Consider this conversation:

Friend 1: So, what’s the salary?

Friend 2: $12.00 an hour. Way less than I can afford to accept if I want to stay current on all my bills. I’ve already cut back to the bare minimum. The job itself looks great, but if they’re not going to budge on that salary, I don’t think I’ll even apply.

Friend 1: Well, at least you didn’t waste your time.

Not only did Friend 2 not waste her time, but the employer doesn’t waste his, either, by weeding through hundreds of candidates who applied for a position they might not have gone after if the salary was posted up front. This, therefore, leaves it wide open for the field of candidates who are not only qualified for said position, but are happy at the prospect of said salary.

In a perfect world, right? But it certainly is food for thought.

Now, I’m sure you’re sitting there, after having read all of my musings, thinking to yourself, “Yeah – that’s all great, but now I have more questions than I did when I started. Where do I go from here?”

Here are a few helpful tips:

Know what you’re worth. Know, in any given market, what a person with your skill-set would make and do your research in advance of any possible interviews.
Do your research. If you’re changing jobs, changing marketplaces, moving from state to state, or town to town, research the pay scales in your chosen area and be thorough with your research. Not all pay-grades, salary grades, pay scales (whatever you want to call them) are the same. For example: A Pay Grade 30 on the East Coast could be a Pay Grade 54 on the West Coast (I’m making that up, but you get the picture.)
Consider cost of living. If you are a Pay Grade 30 on the East Coast, is the same salary (remember the example above?) going to be enough to cover the cost of living on the West Cost?
Have a bottom number in mind. After you know what your salary level is for any given area or market, come up with a bottom number. This is the lowest number, the lowest amount of money you would be willing to accept if offered a position. This way, when you’re negotiating your salary you know when the time is right to accept a position, and when it is time to let something go.
Consider For Profit vs. Not For Profit salaries. They are not the same, even if you are doing the same work.
Get comfortable with negotiating. It’s your salary, and really, you shouldn’t be afraid to haggle over it regardless of the look that may cross your prospective employer’s face when the subject of salary comes up. And I believe it should come up whether you bring it up, or they do. You will find an employer respects you a lot more if you’re not only willing to discuss this subject up front, but able to do so in a thoughtful, accurate, fully-researched way. This is where knowing what your worth really comes in handy.

And…to get you started, check out:

Salary Dot Com

Relocation Essentials: The Simple Solution
Cost of Living Calculator

CNN Money
Cost of Living: How far will my salary go in another city?

Putting your best facebook forward: Social media in the modern job market

Some of the readers may actually know that technology and social media are actually one of my areas of expertise from a psychological viewpoint. I spent about five years of my life and considerable efforts of research looking at how different people approach technological socialization. However, in that five years, technology changed and the impact of socializing through the internet became a much broader phenomenon than perhaps anyone with the exception of Heinlein and others of his ilk may have expected.

I’m sure some visionary souls saw the implications and potential of the information superhighway, but for the majority of humanity, it was a fad, a fluke, a diversion to entertain the technology enthusiasts. It couldn’t possibly impact things in our grown-up worlds? Could it?

The adventurous back in the early 90’s started creating their own identities on the internet. Between the bulletin boards (BBS) and internet relay chat (IRC) people of all ages were developing handles and becoming personalities around what would become the World Wide Web. Eventually, the urge to express theirselves combined with expanded graphic interface options led to the personal web page. People used hypertext markup language (HTML) to put their words and images up for the internet savvy to see, often accompanied by dreaded musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) files and animated graphic interchange format (GIF). I still cringe at the thought of some of the midi-file animated gif pages that would give you a seizure if you looked too long.

It soon became evident, even to the most itinerant cave-dweller, that the internet was the big thing in communication, commerce, education, and entertainment. Technology moved right along and expanded with faster processing and more real-time interface options. More and more of the regular everyday Joe’s and Jane’s out there, who were not necessarily of the geek persuasion, were drawn to the internet for learning, growing, talking, and shopping. People who may not be so skilled in the languages of the computer were given the same opportunities as programmers with new platforms such as MySpace and Facebook. People could share their interests, their talents, and their enjoyments with like-minded folks… and the rest of the world. No HTML (or any other languages) needed. Businesses found that not only was the internet the place to advertise and sell their wares but also to look for potential employees.

So, where is the downside? Broader market equals more opportunities to find the best options available, right? I wouldn’t argue that point, but along came social media. Gone are the days when your private life is kept private. Imagine what would have happened if J. Edgar Hoover had a Facebook or Twitter account. I’m not here to tell you that social media is the enemy either, but all that desire to express our individuality and free speech (among other freedoms) online have resulted in privacy breeches that make the British paparazzi look restrained. Seriously. As a friend of mine recently paraphrased, “Don’t put anything on the internet you wouldn’t want to see plastered across the front page of the New York Times…”

This is where so many people are failing to truly comprehend the impact of their self-expression. I believe in free speech. I believe in freedom of expression. I also believe that you still need to understand that the freedom you relish is everyone’s freedom, not just yours. That means that others have the freedom to not agree, to tell you to @#$% off, to have a less than shining opinion of you as a human being, and to not hire you as an employee… or discipline and fire you as an employee. What?!? Did she just say that?!? That’s discrimination, you say? No, it isn’t. It is the same right as you demand for yourself applied on a less restrictive basis. You have every right to express yourself however you choose… as long as you are content to experience the consequences, whatever they may be.

The next contradiction I can hear your little keyboards screaming at me: It’s my page! Only my friends can see it, because I know how to use my privacy settings! Well, I will refer to what my friend said about anything you put on the internet, and I will raise you the fact that no matter how private you think you are being about things you put over the electronic airways, once it is out there… it’s out there for good an all. Things that you would never expect to can go “viral” in the blink of an eye and click of a mouse. The only way you can insure that something is not visible to current or potential employers? Make sure it is never on the internet at all.

One of the more recent tactics in guarding the personal from the public has been to use fake names. It works… to a certain extent. Aliases are great, but remember that contrary to common belief, not everyone on the internet is a moron. There is a prevalence of facial recognition applications available. Also, you may have changed your name, but your friends and connections through the social media are not as a whole embracing the alias movement, are they? Adoption of a fake name or alternate profile will baffle some of the more amateur profiling attempts, but a good HR recruiter worth their salt can easily read between the nomenclature.

Am I saying you should avoid social networking via technology and the internet? No, I am not. There are some significant benefits to having an online profile, for many different career paths. Aside from having a social profile like Facebook or Twitter, there are professional social network sites like LinkedIn that provide an excellent resource for job search and connecting with professional recruiters and “headhunters” that can help expand your career options. I am saying that before you take the next selfie or post the next inappropriate meme, consider your potential audience. Employers are taking more stock of what current and potential employees are putting on the internet. Human resources policies have been written to address appropriate content or inappropriate as the case may be. Many employers will take the opportunity to search potential hires to see what profiles appear online. It can help or it can hurt. Keep in mind your professional goals and how your profile can speak to the people you see to impress with your skills and talents. Think about this: What does your online profile say about you?

Because I am also a proponent of neurolinguistic programing and know that the human brain pretty much ignores “no”, “not”, “don’t”, “won’t”, “couldn’t”, “shouldn’t”, and “can’t”; I am focusing primarily on the Do’s and not so much on the Don’t’s.

  • Do use privacy settings. Just because they won’t keep everyone out or everything in doesn’t mean they aren’t useful. They show that you have some sense of decorum and aren’t permanently on public blast like an exhibitionist.
  • Do use different types of profiles. For instance, I have Facebook, which I use for what I might call my “private life.” In other words, it is mostly friends and family and people I socialize with outside of business. I share jokes, interests, pictures, rants about traffic and people who don’t observe the 15 items or less sign… you get the idea. I use LinkedIn for my professional profile where I say where I work, include my resume, and I rarely turn down a link on this. All connections can be useful in this job market.
  • Do use some common sense in posting pictures of yourself or allowing others to do so. Right now, that picture of you participating in the wet t-shirt contest might be hilarious. Next week when a potential employer sees it or the guys down at the break room discuss the size of your assets… yeah, not necessarily the professional image you wanted to put out there.
  • Do check privacy settings and policies of social networking sites regularly. Updates have been known to change the broadcast options and settings.
  • Do change your passwords occasionally to deter hackers. The last thing you really want is for someone to get hold of your profile and represent you in a way you would never wish to be portrayed.
  • Do avoid negative comments about co-workers, supervisors, or corporations for whom you work. Sure, everyone wants to gripe occasionally about the usual trials and tribulations and basic asshatery that we experience in the world of what I like to call occupational hazard, BUT think about how that might appear to others. Even if it is not me or my company about whom you choose to vent your vituperative spleen, I’m highly unlikely to want to employ someone with such a negative attitude, and I may assume you will bad-mouth me and mine in the same way you do your current co-workers. Save the venting for your buddies at the pub like the rest of us.
  • Do be wary of friend requests from people you do not know on Facebook or the less professional networks. These can be phishing techniques, and they may not be people with whom you would necessarily be honored to have connection.
  • Do be wary of even private messages to individuals. Take for instance the cautionary tale of the young lady in the U.K. who passed along an email she received from her fiance’s step mother (The Daily Mail, 2011). The bride to be passed the email to a few “trusted” friends and she ended up having paparazzi at her wedding. So, take heed, and watch what you put in any format that might be taken “viral” or used against you in future.
  • Do searches on the internet for yourself periodically and see what comes up. You might be surprised what you find. Also, take a long hard look and try to see your own profile from the perspective of a potential employer or someone you might want to impress. What would a complete stranger assume about you if they found your profile on the internet?

There are a lot more specifics out there. I’m sure some of you probably have a lot of other tips that I have missed. The bottom line is that once you have put something speeding out there on the information superhighway, you may not be able to throw the breaks on or put up roadblocks to prevent specific people from seeing it. For some, you may not be concerned with the perception of professionalism, or possibly infamy and even bad attention is still attention and works for the career you are hoping to promote. However, if your purpose is to obtain gainful employment in any field where a professional appearance, reputation, maturity, and decorum are part of the “uniform,” you may want to reconsider the plethora of inadvisable selfies or vituperative rants rife with expletives, racial slurs, or political extremism. Your personal profile can easily become a professional nightmare if you are incautious. We’ve come a long way from the BBS, IRC, midi-files, and animated gif pages out there. With all the freedom of expression and opportunities for connection, there are incredible benefits for finding jobs and getting the word out there about your mad skills on a variety of topics. You can attract employers with the right kind of profile in the right places. Treat your online profile the same way you would your interview wardrobe. Make sure you aren’t scaring off your next opportunity for advancement with the wrong impression in your personal profile. Keep it classy out there!

Carolyn Bourne: Mother in law from hell. The Daily Mail. June, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2009518/Carolyn-Bourne-Mother-law-hell-sends-email-bride-Heidi-Withers.html

A Good Memory is Unpardonable

We met at nine, we met at eight, I was on time, no, you were late
Ah, yes, I remember it well
We dined with friends, we dined alone, a tenor sang, a baritone
Ah, yes, I remember it well
That dazzling April moon, there was none that night
And the month was June, that’s right, that’s right
It warms my heart to know that you remember still the way you do
Ah, yes, I remember it well
How often I’ve thought of that Friday, Monday night
When we had our last rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?
That carriage ride, you walked me home
You lost a glove, aha, it was a comb
Ah, yes, I remember it well
That brilliant sky, we had some rain
Those Russian songs from sunny Spain
Ah, yes, I remember it well
You wore a gown of gold, I was all in blue
Am I getting old? Oh, no, not you
How strong you were, how young and gay
A prince of love in every way
Ah, yes, I remember it well
~Frederic Loewe, Gigi (1958)

Many people say that we are the sum of our experiences. What makes us who we are as individuals are all the myriad of joys, sorrows, traumas, and enjoyments to which we have been exposed through the years of our existence in the world. From this perspective, it seems that our personality and the core of who we are is more about the sum of our memories.

So, what happens when our memories start to fade? Do we lose who we are with the loss of each experience recorded? Is it possible to change the true being of a person merely by wiping the memory slate and giving them new memories, even newly created ones? Sounds like something out of a science fiction horror show, doesn’t it?

Lately, I’ve been giving the concept of memory and identity a lot of thought. In part, I believe it is because my own memory has been slipping a bit. Additionally, working with people who have varying types of dementia or other brain injury or illness that impacts cognition and recall has made me aware of the differences. I was watching a program on the Science channel recently that talked about memory being part of what makes us who we are. It made me think about personality changes that occur in people with dementia and fictional accounts of people with amnesia who create whole new lives for themselves. What about the ethical dilemmas of punishing someone for their past when they don’t remember it?

More interesting to me was also the social impact of memory. There have been studies that show that memory and recall are heavily influenced by the social impact of peer groups. The details of your own recall can be influenced and even overwritten by the approbation of your peers. It is true. People who were shown a picture of a little boy in a cowboy hat eating ice cream were more likely to get details wrong (for example saying that the boy was not wearing a hat) if they were informed that the majority of their peers answered with the wrong answer. What was even more astounding was that the information that was overwritten by peer pressure was enduring and later the same people got the answer wrong again even when not influenced by the fake social pressure.

So, um… why do we even care about this? Well, it means that details and facts in our memories may not be accurate. They may be just what someone else wants us to recall. Scary, right? It actually started me thinking about social interaction and popularity from the aspect of whether memory agrees with that of the peers around you.

Are people who succumb to the memory peer pressure seen as more agreeable and pleasant than those who might question the details recalled by their peer group? Think about it. So, everyone is talking about some event or occurrence and each witness to the event (as they say on all the cop shows) recalls things differently due to their individual perspective. Listening to the group reminisce, eventually all the stories start to drift towards agreement in detail. All tales resolve to the norm… and that norm is defined as what? That is probably set by the person with the most stock in the story or the highest charisma. Everyone else starts matching their impressions to that person. It is a human evolved characteristic that insured congruence in social groups and structure.

Now, what about the one person in the group who has eidetic memory? Yeah, it is rare, but for the purposes of this hypothetical, we’ll say there is one in every group. They listen to everyone and think, “That’s not what happened?” While everyone else in the group would swear that they recalled the same details as their peers, this one person knows that the details are not correct. Their memory isn’t being socially rewritten. This individual has a choice. They can sit quietly with their psychic dissonance, or they can contradict the group recall. Socially adept individuals will accept the psychic dissonance and let the group continue blithely on with their incorrect assumptions. However, if there is significant repercussions to the accuracy of the recall or if the dissonance is too uncomfortable, the individual will speak up and create a conflict of information. If they have enough charisma, people may accept their details or may even overwrite the incorrect memory encoding, but if not, the person becomes “that guy” or “that gal”. They may be seen as odd or even unpleasant, a troll. They may be ostracized for non-conformity with the consensus of their peer group.

Even in this age of relishing the non-conformist spirit, the truth is that most social groups do not want a nay-sayer. They like for everyone to get along and hold the same opinions. Contradiction breeds contempt and discord. Thus, having too accurate a memory, specifically one that disagrees with the majority, results in social distortion among peers. Perhaps this is the real reason the “nerds” were ostracized in school. Accurate recall is remarkably helpful for making excellent marks in school, but it tends to be awkward when the mean girls know you remember every incident of their rule infractions, remembered precisely when they said something less than erudite, or possibly even recalled a heinous wardrobe malfunction. No one likes being reminded of or knowing that people remember their mistakes or humiliations. The mirror of their imperfections is unlikely to garner affection or esteem.

It is possible that as more and more of our lives are captured digitally and immortalized on the internet that having accurate recall is less of a social blunder, but it is often wiser socially to observe Jane Austen and know that a good memory is unpardonable to the preservation of good rapport in amicable society.

Dress for Success -or- Professionalism vs. the Interview

Dressing professionally is never more important than when seeking employment.  When a hiring manager gets their first look at a prospective employee – for the sake of this article that would be you – what do you want them to think?  Let’s see if I can help you make them think, “Wow! I want that person on my team!”

I am constantly amazed by just how casual this world has become.  I have seen prospective employees wearing jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, ill-fitting clothing, dirty clothing, sporting all manner of piercings and tattoos (more on that, specifically, later) unkempt hair and a general outward appearance of apathy.  I find myself wondering about the thought processes of these individuals while they are dressing themselves.  It seems to me that in order to get a job – a decent, well-paying, respectable job – one needs to actually care not only about what skills one can offer (which is obviously important) but also how one appears to a prospective employer.  A good first impression is not necessarily the most important thing in the corporate world, but it certainly helps.

In my opinion, it does not matter if you are applying for fry cook at McDonalds, a call-center representative, a sales manager or the company CEO – it is always a good idea to dress professionally for your initial interview and then let your employer dictate the dress code thereafter.  Also, once dress code has been discussed, stick to it!  This, of course, applies to all jobs, unless you are applying for a position with a company that promotes self-expression such as the little store on the corner that specializes in original vinyl recordings or the little bead and yarn shop with the wacky owner, or the trendy art gallery downtown.  Even then, it is better to ask how you should dress for an interview than risk showing up in something inappropriate and being turned down solely based on your appearance.

Speaking of the corporate world, I’ve been in it for quite a while now; long enough to have a good idea of what the word “professional” means.  And while I may not be a hiring manager, or one who has any say in hiring practices, I have observed much and have had multiple discussions about this very subject with those who are in such positions.  I made copious mental notes and serve them up for you now, on the virtual silver platter. 


  • Go easy on the make-up and jewelry.  You are there to discuss how your skills can benefit the company, not show them how well you can accessorize or demonstrate your skill with an eye pencil.
  • Do not wear perfume.  Seriously.  This one is pretty important, folks.  If you must wear perfume, go easy with the application!  Keep in mind that many people are sensitive to artificial or overwhelming scents; an allergic reaction can end your interview before it starts.  Also, if you have a thing for patchouli oil…just don’t.  OK?
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and fits well.  Clothing that is tight, revealing, loose or ill-fitting is inappropriate.  Not only that but if you are fidgeting with your clothes (or jewelry, or hair) during the interview, you run the risk of seeming insincere.  It’s okay to be trendy, but make a concerted effort to do it in a professional, well-put-together way.
  • Wear your hair away from your face.  Think pony-tail, French twist, clip or barrette.  Having your hair in your face during an interview is a distraction to both you and your interviewer.  If you are constantly tucking stray tresses behind your ear, your interviewer is more likely to focus on your movements than your words.
  • Skirts should be no shorter than one inch above your knee.  Seriously.  I realize that short skirts are the thing right now and that some companies don’t care if you wear them – but do you know that when you go in for an interview?  No, you don’t.  Short, tight clothing just isn’t appropriate, so let’s not and say we did. 
  • If you wear a skirt, always wear nylons.  Forget comfortable and go with professional and modest.
  • If you wear nylons, please, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, do not wear open-toe shoes or sandals.  In fact, open-toe shoes, sandals, flip-flops and other footwear such as this appear on the “inappropriate” items list of the dress codes of most professional places of employment.


  • Shave.  Unless you have a fully-grown beard or mustache, please shave.  A five o’clock shadow at nine o’clock in the morning is just lazy.
  • Make an attempt to tame your Harry Potter hair.  If your hair naturally sticks up at all angles, and you have done everything to tame it with little to no success, that’s one thing.  However, if you look like you’ve just rolled out of bed…well, I’ve already used the word lazy.
  • Wear slacks or freshly laundered khakis – with a crease!
  • Wear lace-up shoes.
  • If you wear lace-up shoes, you must wear socks.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a well-dressed man come in for an interview wearing no socks!  Do I need to call your attention to that dreaded “inappropriate” items list?  Believe it or not, a lack of socks is considered inappropriate on most dress codes.
  • Wear a button-down shirt.  Ironed and creased in all the right places, please?  If you do not know how to iron, take your shirt to the dry cleaners well before the day of your interview and don’t forget to pick it up the day before!  The cost of dry-cleaning one measly shirt is a small price to pay for looking crisp, clean and professional.


  • Wash.  Wash yourself and your clothes.  There’s nothing worse than sitting in a small room with someone who smells less than awesome.
  • Clean and clip your fingernails.  Yes, believe it or not prospective employers do, actually, look at your hands.  They’ll probably shake your hand, too.  Dirty or ragged fingernails are a small sign that you don’t really care about yourself.  If you don’t care yourself, why should a prospective employer think you’ll care about your job?  Details, people!  Details!
  • Iron your clothing.  Wrinkled shirts, pants, blazers or any article of clothing only shows that you are…oh – there’s that word again…lazy.  No one wants to hire someone they view as lazy.
  • Jeans, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, and sneakers are unacceptable.  Period.


I told you I’d say more on this subject.  I have no issues with tattoos and piercings in general.  Hey, whatever floats your boat, right?  And, not to ooze clichés but, it’s your body and who am I to judge?  Tattoos and piercings are a bit more widely accepted these days, but tread lightly with prospective employers with regard to body personalization.  (Go me with the political correct-ness!)  I’m also not saying you should hide who you are – an employer needs and wants to hire the real you – but until they get to know who you really are, do you really want to flaunt that?  Well…maybe you do.  Maybe you’re a take-me-as-I-am kind of person, and that’s fine.  I guess what I’m trying to say is this is a touchy subject and use your best judgment.


  • Don’t arrive 30 minutes early and sit in your car smoking, or fixing your makeup, or chatting on your cell phone.  If you are there early, go in.  Let the receptionist (if there is one) know who you are and why you are there.  You may even say, “I know I’m early, but…”  Most places of employment have a lobby or waiting room and will encourage you to have a seat inside.
  • Go over your resume so you know it in detail and be prepared to answer for any lapses in employment.  (Keep your eyes open for an upcoming article regarding Master Resumes.)
  • Give a firm handshake.  Don’t present a limp or “wet noodle” handshake.  You can almost guarantee that you will be passed over for another candidate.  Now, the flip-side of that coin is to try not to break your prospective employer’s hand, either.  Many hiring managers base their entire opinion of you solely on your handshake. 
  • Eye contact is always extremely important.  Look your interviewer in the eye as you shake their hand, as you answer questions.  Use caution, however, as too much direct eye contact can be viewed as hostile or defensive whereas not enough eye contact can be viewed as evasive or untruthful.  Easier said than done, but try to find that happy medium.
  • Drive someone else’s car.  I realize this one is a long-shot, but think about it.  If you drive a beater, or something with a smashed rear quarter panel, or something with a hood that is a different color from the driver’s side door, which is a different color than the trunk, what impression are you making.  You know these people are watching you, right?  They’re judging you from the moment you pull into the parking lot and thinking about things they could never say out loud, legally speaking.  So consider borrowing someone else’s car, or possibly having someone drop you off.  This is not to say that once you have been offered the position you should hide what you drive, but just another way to put forth a professional first impression.


Do you really need to send a thank you note to your interviewer?  Not really, but it’s a nice touch.  This is usually reserved for higher-level positions.  Does receiving a thank you note (for your time and consideration) tip the scales in your favor?  Maybe.  Just maybe.

The New Cheese: The every-person’s guide to the functional job market

In light of a number of conversations I have had with friends and colleagues of late, it has become more apparent than ever that the world of occupation has changed and continues to evolve. Every day, I still see in the news reports that unemployment and the economy are not particularly healthy in our nation. Layoffs and expenses have hit very close to home for me and others close to me. The impact of losing income and searching for ways to meet the expenditure needs of family have increased my own attention on how the job market and occupation focus has changed since I first entered the workforce.

Additionally, I have recently had exposure to the hiring side of the job market as well. What I saw, to my dismay, is that the ability to compose a coherent resume and the art of the interview appear to be a dying. In conversation with my co-author (yes, Tananda.com is welcoming a new contributor… more about that shortly), I noted that technology has not only changed the function and focus of the occupations available, but it has changed the ways we judge and are judged by employers.

The new job market has presented prospective employees with some challenges in the form of needed job skills and public displays of their private persona in the form of social media. The same job market has presented prospective employers with a dwindling pool of potential hires with an understanding of professionalism that outshines a sense of entitlement. Sadly, the people entering the job market today have frequently never been taught to fill out an application much less build a decent resume, or due to layoffs or delayed retirement due to financial constraints, individuals re-entering the job market are lacking familiarity with new technology and procedures.  Even those who previously had the marketable skills and were taught to present themselves in resume and interview find now that they may not have the knowledge they need to put themselves into the current market in the most attractive way, or they are lacking the technological comfort to use all the tools available to them.

The idea came to us that people might actually appreciate a little information or instruction about the new, modern job market including the benefits and challenges it presents. And so… this is The New Cheese. It will be a series of posts from me or my colleague about everything from applying for employment to telecommuting. A series of this breadth and magnitude would not be done justice from a single perspective, and the idea was a collaborative effort as well. My co-author is a dear friend and colleague who has generously agreed to contribute to what I feel is an worthwhile project for helping people navigate the new working world. We hope to include interviews from others who have faced the obstacles of the modern job market, changing career paths, technological advances impacting job function, and mining for gems in the pool of potential candidates for hire.

A new “About” page will soon be available to give you a little more information about my co-author. We are both excited about this series, and we hope that it will be informative, helpful, and even a bit entertaining. Stay tuned…

Finding Spring


Spring is here

Spring is here

Time for joy

Time for cheer

Little children love to sing

The happy song of spring

For most, there is something inspiring and rejuvenating about spring. The temperatures increase and the light lingers. Yes, some will be complaining about the heat before too many weeks have past, but for that brief glorious time, Mother Nature seems to give us a tiny glimpse of hope that at the end of every difficult time, there can be a reward.

My mother always had a saying about this time of year. She would always say, “Spring is just around the corner!” It was her little way of greeting the new season with a childlike aspiration of starting fresh. In my own childhood, she attempted to instill the same wonder and joy of nature in my heart and mind. To that end, we had our own special ritual. Each year, she would drag me out to go look for spring. It wasn’t nearly as much of a chore or punishment as I made that sound, but as the years passed, it became more difficult to pretend the same innocent wonder that she was able to incite when I was 3 or 4 years old.

Magic often loses its power to awe when you see behind the curtain of how the trick works. As a child I was so excited to find the joy of those signs that spring had made an arrival and summer was on the way. My mother always miraculously knew just were to find it… Yes, I figured out that she had planted the crocus bulbs in that particular corner where they would “wake up” first. However, it never failed to impress me that we had managed to sneak up on the Printemps and catch her just waking from her long winter’s sleep.

Now, passing through some remarkably dreary winter times of my own this year, I wish that I could recapture that sense of discovery and glee at something so simple as a planted perennial. Perhaps it is also that I find myself approaching my own autumn that my mind turns so frequently to my younger days, or perhaps it is that the darkness of my own responsibilities has pushed me to flee to the time when I had none and could truly enjoy the world around me. Whatever the reason, I started noticing some of the little gifts of nature that signal renewal.

Living in the south has its benefits and its challenges, but there is nothing that quite compares to springtime in the south. The glory of redbuds with their almost lavender pink blossoms that coat the branches in beautiful pastel foam; the dogwood in white or pink that line subdivisions and the edge of wooded groves; the glorious riot of tulips and crocus in beds everywhere, and the fields of daffodils that line even interstates. It is as if the whole landscape is putting on taffeta and crepe accented by the faintest green that is only seen in spring. Lastly, the carpet of white and purple violets that most consider weeds reminds me of running and laughing in the days when I did such foolish things as running and laughing…

When did it become foolish? When did I lose the time and joy of just being and noticing?

So, today… I went looking for spring around the corner, and I thought I would share it with you…