Archive for March, 2011

Hints for Federal Job Seekers

March 31, 2011

Thank you, Derrick Dortch of the Washington Post.  Today’s column says what I have long explored with clients, only he says it more succinctly.  Don’t be hampered in your federal job search by the title of the agency.  Dortch mentions that teachers will think of the Department of Education.  And I think ex-military people will think of the Departments of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, etc.

Fine.  But it’s not enough.

For teachers:  every agency has a training department.

For security-minded people: every agency has a security policy, force, and role to play.

For writers: every agency handles grant applications, press releases, and information requests.

For young people: you don’t have to buy into the prejudice of your elders.  I’ve heard a young person say, “my parents say everyone who works there is crazy.”  Really?  Everyone?  Care to rethink that?

For older people:  you have experience that can take you in a wider range of options than you may have recognized.  You are the sum of many accomplishments, which can be rearranged to appeal to multiple hiring agents.

Times are tough.  Federal jobs are obtained after unbelievably hard work.

Dortsch and I agree: expand your options.  Reach beyond your current perceptions.  Read job vacancy announcements from all kinds of places.  You’ll surprise yourself.

What do you wish you could do?

March 29, 2011

What capability do you wish you had?  What talent has passed you by?

Can you imagine being asked this in a job interview?

Try preparing yourself for an answer, something beyond the capability of sleeping all day.  Even worse would be there’s nothing I can’t do already.  Yuck

Remember, you want to be truthful, impressive, willing to learn, and active.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • I wish I could carry a tune.  It’s embarrassing at the ball park when I’m inspired to sing the national anthem.
  • I wish I had a better sense of direction.  When driving to a new place, I need directions, maps, and lots of help.
  • I wish I understood more about science.  I read articles, trying to make up for all the daydreaming I did in biology and chemistry classes.

By the way, these wishes are not all mine.  I can carry a tune.

Maybe the best way is to relate the lack to the present job opportunity and why it appeals to you.

  • I used to be timid about public speaking, thinking I just wasn’t any good at it.  Then I joined Toastmasters and learned a few techniques.  I realized that when I have something to convey, I am really helping my audience learn something they need to know.  That’s why conducting employee orientation is appealing to me, and I look forward to the chance.

What about you?  Are there capabilities that you lack that would be relevant to the discussion in a job interview?  How would you answer that question?

Talk or Text: what’s your preference?

March 28, 2011

WordPress asks us to ponder our preference for the talk vs text debate.

I’m not sure my opinion matters much (it’s talk), but the question is significant for the job hunter.

I believe the pro-text argument goes like this:

  • it’s fast,
  • it’s less disruptive to the other person,
  • it’s a contemporary communication tool used by millions.

How about pro-talk?

  • you can give more details,
  • yes, it takes more time, but it allows for nuances to be exchanged,
  • it’s warmer and friendlier.

So, did I miss anything?

If you are on your way to a job interview and need to touch base, which will you use?

If your office has just announced a position vacancy for which your friend would be perfect, which will you use?

If you are meeting with a client and a problem arises, which will be the more professional method to use in reaching your manager?

I’m interested to hear your views on this talk/text debate.  Comments?

Real help for LinkedIn

March 26, 2011

Have you notice how many people are talking about LinkedIn?  This professionally-oriented social website offers free memberships and connection services for probably millions of people.  I’m one of them and I truly enjoy it.

I’ve found elementary and high school friends as well as college classmates as well as folks from earlier jobs.  Hey, this is fun!  And it’s not really taxing to use.

My interest also extends to encouraging clients to join and update their online profiles.  Here you don’t run into party pictures, baby shots, and vacation stories, just professional publications, conferences, job openings and meetings.

I’ve read varying stories of the percentage of hiring managers who check potential candidates on LinkedIn, and the numbers have moved from 40% to 80% in the past year.  Given this, I don’t see how any job hunter can ignore this tool.  If someone is checking you out, you had better be there with an impressive, truthful, and appropriate profile.

How to do this?  I was recently alerted to a fascinating article  called 50 Intelligent Linkedin Tips that could Change your Life, produced by  Check it out – please – and update your profile and your use of LinkedIn.  It can’t hurt.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

March 25, 2011

Today marks the 100th anniversary of a horrendous event – the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in lower Manhattan.  I read that 146 people lost their lives, either by fire or by jumping out their 9th story window.  Exits and elevators had been locked to prevent unauthorized departures and possible pilferage by workers, and when this was discovered after the tragedy, workplace reforms were enacted.

The reforms were not enthusiastically greeted by some pillars of industry.  It was argued that no business would come to New York with these restrictive measure in place.  And so on.  According to Harold Samuelson in an article in the Washington Post, one of the pillars of the reform was Frances Perkins, who had witnessed the fire as a young woman in New York and who became Secretary of Labor under Franklin Roosevelt, in fact, the first woman to hold a cabinet position.

Today, when workers’ rights are being assailed on several fronts, I hope we honor the memory of those seamstresses, one as young as 14, by continuing efforts to maintain and improve worker safety.  Those women should never be forgotten.

Finding your career muse…

March 19, 2011
  • How are you guided?
  • How do you find a direction?
  • How do you get from here to there?

This is a tough question. Personally, I’ve generally found direction through good friends. ” You’d be great at this.”  “I heard about an opening at…”  “Let me introduce you to…”

This is what I hear from clients:

  • I’m so angry that I went ahead and applied for…
  • I was so bored that I started searching online and I found…
  • I was complaining to a friend and he said…

So it’s friends and emotions that motivate many of us.

It doesn’t sound very romantic or very logical, does it?  So help me out.  Who or what is your guiding career muse?

The Worker’s Haiku Lament

March 18, 2011

Here’s a gloomy thought, published on a breathtakingly beautiful spring day here in the mid-Atlantic.  Local poet, worker, and blogger’s daughter Amy Headley offers the following reflection on a too-busy day at work:

Flickering blue screen.
Lunch delayed again.
Plodding home, head aches!
Yes, Amy, we’ve all had those headaches, missed lunches, and tedious drives home.  Thanks for using your creativity to craft an ironic commentary.  Here’s to a better day today!

Modern Art, Modern Music; armed for a modern life

March 15, 2011

WordPress challenges us to blog about our favorite college courses.

Easy to answer, as long as I can name two.

Oberlin College, the early 1960s.  A course in modern art, making great use of the Allen Memorial Art Museum.  A course in modern music, drawing on the resources of the renowned Conservatory of Music.  Great teachers, inspired collections, historical perspectives.

In each course, I learned about not only the key players (Kandinsky, Picasso, Brancusi, Neel, Stravinsky, Berg, Hovhaness), but also the evolutionary roles they played.  I learned that critics often get it wrong.  That “not getting it” is not an excuse to stop looking and listening.  That the arts need our support.  That our eyes and ears are often more comfortable with the masterpieces of previous times, making it difficult to appreciate cutting edge art and music of our times.

Did these courses contribute to my French major? Rarely.

Did they prepare me to be a career counselor? Well, yes.  They taught me that my way is not the only one, that my perceptions are only mine, that standards of expression are constantly moving on.  And they gave me an abiding sympathy for the artists and musicians around us, who have trained intensely and who now compete for the few jobs in their fields.

Did they prepare me for other aspects of my life? Yes, they turned me into a concert-goer and museum attendee.  And for the past decade, I’ve been a docent at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.  Here it is my pleasure to introduce visitors to a collection of the works of women ranging from the Italian Renaissance to today.  I could not do this work unless I had learned to grow comfortable with discomfort.  This I learned in my favorite classes a long time ago.

Thanks for asking, WordPress.  It’s a fascinating question.  Do you suppose they ask this sort of thing in job interviews?

Books as Life-Changers?

March 11, 2011

WordPress asks us what book(s) changed our lives.

If I’m being totally honest, I have to say that books read in childhood leave the biggest impression.  Here’s my list from many years back:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  I was given this book when it first came out in the 1950s.  It was my first aha moment – experiencing something called symbolism.  The sacrifice of Aslan.  The mourning of the girls at the stone table.  The deeper magic from before the dawn of time.  Oh, I got it!

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  Fisher was a devotee of Maria Montessori.  She wrote this story about a little girl who was brought up by anxious, overprotective people who sheltered her from anything that might cause distress.  Circumstances caused the child to be forced to move to the other relatives who lived on a farm in Vermont.  These hardy, hard-working folks believed in leaving people to manage their own lives.  And so Betsy moved from feeling abandoned to trusting in her own abilities.

Animal books.  From Black Beauty to Jenny Linsky to Beautiful Joe to Lassie Come Home, emotional stories about clever, wonderful, hard-working animals have always moved me.  They gave love, worked hard, trusted their instincts, suffered adversity, and triumphed in the end.  They transcended culture and age and remain among my favorites today.

Parents, grandparents and godparents, choose your gift books carefully for the young people in your life.  You’re shaping their values and faith in our world.

When I read a new book these days, I can only faintly hope to enter such an inspiring world as those books of my past.  I look forward to hearing about what books the rest of my fellow bloggers and readers name as life-changers.

Jo March, come back!

March 10, 2011

If you could bring one fictional character to life for a day, who would it be?  What would you do?

WordPress challenges us to consider this question today, and I didn’t hesitate.  Of course, it would be any of the March girls from Little Women, but which one?

  • Meg because she always knew the right thing to say or do?
  • Jo because her independent ways took her amazing places for a nineteenth-century New Englander?
  • Beth because everyone loved her?
  • Amy because she was so impulsive, she was creative, and in the end, she got Laurie?


I’d welcome Jo most of all because she’d be the most fun.  She used slang (I recall that she said “Christopher Columbus” on occasion). She whistled, and was distinctly unladylike.  She wrote, she brooded, she managed just about everything, and she went to New York to live on her own in an era when few women did.

If Jo came back to the twenty-first century United States, she’d be surprised by how much access most of us have to education and work that we choose. My guess is that she’d challenge me to make more use of my opportunities. Christopher Columbus!  Wouldn’t she have loved blogging?