Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Science of Interviewing

You'd think this tough economy would knock the stuffing out of the more obviously psychotic job seekers. I'm reading about job candidates rejected for minor typos and taking 10 minutes to return a call. But apparently some nutcases are still landing job interviews, and a few are using the opportunity to conduct elegant psychology experiments on their prospective bosses.

One of my favorite blogs, Ask a Manager, has this job search tip from a reader. This person likes to call a half hour before a scheduled interview, say he's running late and asks to reschedule. (After reading the post, don't forget to check out the comments.)

Once the rescheduled interview begins, this veteran job candidate will narrowly observe the interviewer's response. The best managers, in his worldview, will immediately gush about his thoughtfulness in calling to reschedule when he realized he was running late. Subpar managers will simply ignore his thoughtfulness, or worse, actually have the nerve to be annoyed that he was late.

Ask a Manager treats this suggestion with the disdain it deserves, and at first glance, I also wondered if this guy also expects a standing ovation for breathing in and out. But perhaps I'm being churlish. This is a whole new job-hunting paradigm, my friends, and the old habits of punctuality may be hopelessly passe.

So I've developed my own set of experiments for the discerning job seeker:

- Interview for a job that is strictly on-site and in-office located 3,000 miles from your home.
- Bring a laptop.
- Whenever the interview mentions a duty you must perform, flip open the laptop and cry "Why, I can do that at home! See, I have headline-writing software right here! Look, I'm instant-messaging you right now!"
- A good manager will be instantly impressed and offer a telecommuting job and extra benefits. Subpar managers will insist you actually edit articles in the newsroom.

- Arrive 40 minutes early to interview.
- Demand to receptionist that you be seen immediately.
- Deduct points for every minute you must wait for the interviewer to appear.
- Deduct points if there are no interesting magazines in the reception area.
- Deduct points if the receptionist does not offer you a lemon diet Snapple.
- Good managers will arrive instantly and apologize profusely for keeping you waiting. Bad managers will make you wait or worse, be absent from the building entirely 40 minutes before a scheduled interview.

- Submit resume and land an interview.
- Arrive on time and professionally dressed.
- As soon as the office door is closed, announce that the resume you submitted is a "decoy." You are only comfortable releasing professional information in person. Hand out a copy of your actual resume.
- Allow interviewer 15 minutes to read resume.
- Eat resume.
- A good manager will value your discretion and prudence in these dangerous times. A bad manager will show you the door and thereafter refer to you as "Secret Squirrel" among his or her colleagues.

This mindset reminds me of a hilarious sales columnist who used to run in the Business Times. His mantra was "Don't sell, make them want to buy!" One of his cold-calling tips was to hang up halfway through leaving a voicemail message to whet their appetite. (Presumably he did this after saying his name and number.)

It's a brave new world. Feel free to suggest your own experiments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Benny's First Day

Monday was Benny's first day of kindergarten — yay! We hopped on the No. 6 Muni bus and took a 10-minute ride to his Lucky School. He was very cool about the whole thing. All the kids were, really — the only ones crying that morning were the mothers. As you can see there's quite a difference between his freshly scrubbed, buttoned-up look before school and his wacky after-school chipmunk impersonation with his shirtails hanging out. The last picture is Benny telling his Aunt Cindy all about his day.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Moving On

Benny's Dinosaur School held its "Moving On Picnic" on Sunday. Benny has officially "graduated" from preschool and kindergarten is only two weeks away. Each outgoing child received a crown, a certificate, a big sunflower and a plate that he/she designed. It was a great event, mostly because it was so low-key. My hair stylist's niece's preschool had a big cap-and-gown event with printed portraits that looked better than my high school senior pictures. (Actually, I liked my cap-and-gown portrait; the mortarboard covered my big hair.)

Anyway, it's a big transition, and Benny's not the only one leaving a big emotional security blanket behind. I don't know how I'll get through life without chatting with his teachers nearly every day, not just about Benny, but about work and traveling and why parking just a tiny bit on the sidewalk warrants a $100 parking ticket.

I truly don't understand city life at times. On Sunday I boarded a bus with a new magazine and I found a seat near the back in the nearly empty bus. Then I started doing what I always do when I open a new women's magazine, tear out the 4 zillion two-sided advertisements. This reduces the size of an average magazine in half and there's something satisfying about thwarting the advertisers this way. (And I wonder why the media industry is struggling.)

Anyway, this lady a few rows up turns around and starts glaring at me. Repeatedly. I just couldn't believe it. I mean, just in the few weeks I've dealt with fellow Muni passengers scribbling on windows, sticking their legs across the aisle and holding loud conversations with friends sitting in another part of the bus. I've seen drunk people, homeless people, crazy people, people with no shirts, people with no pants (just some strange skirt-thing, do I really need to elaborate?) ... and this lady is offended by me?

So I did what any self-respecting Muni passenger would do. I ripped each page even more loudly. Sometimes twice. So there.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009 Managing Expectations

(Image of gluten-free acorn muffins from the Book of Yum.)

So what if I came to you one morning and said:

“I’ve got a great homemade muffin for you. I’m not going to tell you what’s in it or how big it is or whether it comes in a little paper muffin cup, but you’re gonna love it. Just love it. It’s like no muffin you’ve seen before. We’re throwing out the book on muffins. The old muffin paradigm is dead. What’s more, this muffin is going to be about you, you and the ingredients you care about, you and the ingredients your entire community cares about. Everyone, just everyone, will love this muffin.”

Well. I imagine your first response would be “Who are you and what have you done with Christine?” because I never talk that much in the morning, not until I’ve had two Snapples and three cereal bars.

But besides that, you’ll be drooling, right? You can’t wait. On the Morning of the Muffin, you skip breakfast and show up with your special Muffin plate, ready to be amazed. The result, of course, is predictable. The Muffin will never be as good as the glittering Muffin of Your Mind. You stalk off, disgusted, and eat a 6-month-old granola bar out of your desk. has a Muffin problem. Touted as a “local news service and social networking site,” it replaces the daily Ann Arbor News, which closed in July. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I’m familiar with the Ann Arbor News. My husband was involved in launching business weeklies with this bunch and we know many of the players. So we’ve taken a lively interest in from out here in California.

Bless their hearts, they haven’t changed a bit. They still think you can generate excitement through breathless announcements: “We are pleased/proud/thrilled/practically hysterical to announce our fresh/revolutionary/molecule-changing way to present news/dialogue/rambling blog posts ...”

Look at us, they say. We promote ourselves relentlessly in the name of “transparency,” posting long, laudatory biographies of the lucky Ann Arbor News alumni we decided to hire at (presumably) fire-sale prices. We bury the city in an explosion of paper flyers. We draw kicky graphics on sidewalks. We are nothing you’ve ever seen before!

Maybe you can generate excitement that way if you’re the Cartoon Network. (Remember their little ad gizmos in Boston that looked like bombs on bridges?) But you can’t with something as vital as local news which depends on credibility above all else. It’s like going on a first date and raving the whole time how great you are. Actually, it’s like calling your date every day beforehand and raving about how great the evening will be. If your date has any judgment, he or she will run like blazes.

So there you go. hyped itself up to the nines leading up to its July 20 launch date. Then postponed the launch date. Then it launched July 24 and the whining began. Admittedly much of the whining was from the readers, who couldn’t give the site a full 20-minute read before blasting it about layout and comment moderation. But there were some serious concerns, prompting much whiny self-defensiveness from staffers.

Oh, you thought that was a real launch? asked. No, no, it’s just a beta launch. Wait a few weeks, let the reporters really know their beats, then you’ll really see something. Then the site went down.

I could list’s journalistic weaknesses all day (hey, why don’t you shorten the headlines and actually edit these stories?) but what’s the point. is trying to create something brand-new with the same tired old crowd they had before and that can’t be easy. They have to appeal to a readership still reeling from the loss of their daily newspaper and they had only four months to put the whole thing together. So why not admit it from the beginning?

So what if I came to you one morning and said:

“I’ve got a homemade muffin for you. It’s just a practice muffin before I make the good ones for Benny’s preschool. It’s a pumpkin-and-chocolate-chip muffin, but there aren’t many chocolate chips because I ate half the bag while mixing the other ingredients. My oven doesn’t heat evenly, so the muffin’s kind of lopsided as if it was trying to escape its pan. Oh, and I burned it a little too.”

With all those caveats in mind you might like the muffin. You might have some suggestions for a better muffin. You sure as hell will trust me to give you the straight dope about my baking prowess.

I wish we could say the same for