Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Richard Bolles, the Dean of Summer

There's something about the summer that turns me away from my job search. Again, if the EDD (Employment Development Department) is listening, this is only meant on a metaphorical level. Mostly, it's about the weather, those days when in reverse backward I'm a kid at the beach with the incoming tide lapping at my toes, or in the country with the incessant scream of cicadas drowning out every other sound: hills brown, grass dry. Everything slows and nothing seems particularly important except a cold drink. Lemonade or a cold beer will do fine.

The warm weather puts the job hunt into perspective, sun bathers at the pool discussing the merits of various floatation devices, those that require complete or partial inflation; exchanges that deflect me from more grave matters in the world like the oil spill in the Gulf,  hearings for a new Supreme Court Justice, and certainly the whereabouts of my latest job application. Everything becomes more stretched out on an event horizon.

These are days when I smell oatmeal and scrambled eggs wafting from some imaginary kitchen, a hunger for elementary days, for a song that grabs me from a set of speakers and won't leave me all afternoon on a blanket. Which is why I enjoyed listening to Richard "Dick" Bolles this morning speaking at the Experience Unlimited Meeting in Contra Costa.  In different ways he advised against being frantic. His publication nearly 40 years ago of "What Color is Your Parachute," has been updated over the years, a kind of bible for job seekers in 26 countries and translated into 20 languages.

Bolles looked like my stereotype of a Texan, 6'5" with pristine white sneakers, which except for their color were big enough to double as planters. Bolles exuded a kind of Bob Hope warmth,  a kid on the first day of summer camp looking for friends.  At 83, Bolles has been entertaining the troops long enough on the job search trail to have won a lifetime achievement award. If he hasn't already, he should. Bolles said he owes his longevity to drinking a swig of formaldehyde every night.

Basically, he told us to relax into our job search, to do the assessment, the personal inventory.  Of course that's also called doing the work, but he made it sound simple. He told us to take the time to get to know ourselves.

"The secret to having hope in a job search," he said, "is having alternatives." Instead of relaying on the resume to be the foot solider opening doors, he counseled to develop a number of strategies, least of which was to "capture your own vitality, your own energy. All the world conspires to rob your of that."

It was enough to make me jump into the swimming pool.

Tonight I'll don my new summer dress that I bought with the idea of an interview in mind -- blue flowers on a white field -- (I wanted to visualize the occasion). I'll go amongst the minions of policy makers and network like I really meant it. But not before creating my next dish made with orange soda. After all, it is summer.

Stuffed Orange Chicken: Summer Side Up
Approximately 1 pound of boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup of orange soda
1/2 cup of orange juice
2T orange marmalade or apricot jam
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1/2 onion
5 cloves of garlic minced
2T of olive oil
1/2 cup of fire roasted peppers from the condiments aisle of your refrigerator
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1-2 sprigs of rosemary that you brought home from your friend's garden
A bunch of fresh thyme from the patio garden
Slice of bread (whole wheat is best)

Saute onions and garlic in oil on low heat.  When onions are clear to partly brown, add peppers and saute together for 3 minutes.  Add rosemary that you've plucked from the stem. Add the thyme. Pour in all the liquids. Tear slice of bread into small pieces. Cook on a low to medium heat for about five-ten minutes more. This is not your deduction of olden days, but the reduction.  We are reducting.  Remove from heat.

Wash chicken thighs and place in 8 X 10 baking dish.  Pour liquid over chicken.  Open the boneless thighs and make sure you place some of the pepper/onion/garlic/herb/ bread mixture inside.  Fold thighs over the goodies.  Bake in a 350 oven for an hour or until golden brown.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Water Fountain

Igloos in the schoolyard
metallic with sour milk  
poured on stockpiles 
of wet tissue paper bombs
where a quarter-size button  
made a snake dance
like a boy’s pee on the sidewalk

Friday, June 25, 2010

An Opening the Size of a Bread Basket

I had one of those  job-seeking days that motivational speakers like to hold up as a model: networking meeting in the morning, interview in the afternoon,  trip to the gym mid-afternoon, and a glass of wine with an old friend in the evening.  Most of the time I manage to do one or at most two of those things. But not all of them combined.  What followed was unpredictable. The next day I hit the doldrums. I suppose I had it coming. I looked at the parking attendant as I walked to the gym and thought how lucky he was to have a job. I smiled at the woman behind a glass booth who took my parking ticket and wanted to trade places. The interviewers of the part-time job I had gone to suggested that I check job possibilities on another web site, which I took as I sign that I wasn't going to be invited back.  How positive and upbeat can one person be about not having a job without falling apart every so often? There must a corollary for that sort of thing. The bank called for the umpteenth time about my mortgage restructuring, offering me an escrow account for the privilege of my being considered, and allowing me to pay $300 more a month than I am currently paying.  I needed to wallow in self-pity, to moan to my cat every time I lifted up my head from the computer. If nothing else, I had earned it. All my going to meetings and making phone calls, really, what good had any of it done me? I remained in my pajamas the entire day and did nothing, crawled into a hole and stayed there until I got dressed around 6pm, put gas in my empty tank at a pricey station near my house and drove to an event.  On the way back, the sky was fingerpainted in orange. I sat on the couch and listened to dogs bark.

So what happened to my support system?  I had landed in an area that hadn't been zoned for despondent job seekers. There's a first time for everything. The next day I managed to pick myself up with several cups of coffee and opened the folder that I had set up several weeks ago. I sighed. I remembered my burst of positive energy that had led me to Costco to get a new black printer cartridge. Here were the names of individuals from green-based companies.

So didn't I hear one of the career consultants say at a meeting several weeks ago that networking alone wasn't going to get the job, cold calls were the way to go? I dialed the head of the company. A real voice answered the phone. I gulped.

"Hi, I'm one of the many unemployed who's looking for an opening the size of a bread basket. I'm calling to see if you can use my services." I could hear that he was hooked. Oddly enough, the voice on the other end of the phone waited for me to continue. I explained my background.

"We just finished a large project," he said, almost apologetically.

Then in a burst of resourcefulness that came from some unknown place deep within the recesses of my memory bank, I said. "Is there a list you can add me to in the event that another project comes up?"

He said, "Why certainly. I'd be glad to." I felt better, refueled for my quest, a saga on YouTube with foootage of me sitting in front of the computer screen with my cellphone to my right, the landline to my left, bubble voices overhead flying out in 3-D, The Beatles' A Yellow Submarine in the background, episode 1, 2, 3, following into infinity, cutting my Shepherd's Pie into increasingly smaller squares. I need so little encouragement to keep me engaged, to keep me going.  I'm also a cheap drunk. So what's on the menu for tonight? I didn't feel like cooking. Horror of all horrors. Microwave popcorn.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Interview

I knew something was going to happen, but nothing did. Of course, Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart announced their wedding and British Petroleum agreed to give the victims of the oil spill 20 billion dollars, and of both events I am very glad. Plus a Steller's Jay landed on my patio and waved its crown of feathers around for several minutes, which I thought was quite spectacular; the handset I needed to return to the store suddenly changed its erratic tune. The day wasn't totally uneventful.

It started out with the interview. I had stayed up the night before reading about the company on the Internet, a web design and consulting firm with a killer website,  a nice mash-up of solid content and unique design. It was like Goldilocks' porridge bowl: they got it just right.  The company needed a person to come on board as a Web Content Project Manager and although they had listed a certificate in Project Management as a highly desirable, the agent had assured me that this wasn't a "deal breaker." The more I read, the more I liked the company. The fact that it was located near Fisherman's Wharf made it seem like a position that included a view. I found my zip drive and went through my portfolio, downloaded a variety of files to demonstrate my ability to project manage. I arranged the files in folders for quick retrieval and rehearsed my explanation.

The next morning I showered and donned my interview outfit. I wore a pair of slacks with a shirt trimmed in metallic gee-gaws and an upbeat jacket. My daughter, home from college, had gone to the mall to help make the selection.

The only thing that I'd left open-ended was whether I was going to take public transportation or drive. Since the interview was scheduled for mid-morning, I figured I could miss the commute  traffic and arrive less ruffled. The only wild card was in finding a parking spot, but I left myself plenty of time, an hour and a half including a quick stop for gas. All was well until I approached the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. Not having commuted to the city for years, I wasn't familiar with the traffic patterns. Smooth sailing turned out to be  slowly moving grid lock. I took my position in the lava flow of traffic, nervously glancing at my GPS device. It kept reassuring me that I would arrive in time. I did and found street parking without a meter. I was five minutes early.

I entered an office with large windows and lots of light. The receptionist was on the phone so I sat down. In a few moments a man stepped outside his office and invited me inside. This was J.E., the managing director who looked like he couldn't be more than 35 and had already served as a vice-president and a technology director, which is not to say that I was intimidated, but only to appreciate that this current generation has mega smarts. We talked for a half hour.  At the end, he told me I wasn't the one. I lacked experience in financially managing a project. We exchanged business cards, thanked each other, and I drove home.

Although I knew the job was not for me and it had been a case of two people feeling each other out and not liking what they found, still I couldn't help but feeling lousy. Once again I had come up short in the job market. I bemoaned my misspent years as a full-time employee, unable to find a mentor who could appreciate my talent and dedication, someone who would help me make sense of the corporate culture and direct me into greater areas of responsibility. Or maybe I had been fooling myself and I had resisted guidance all along.

The usual ring-tones went off in my head. I hadn't been one thing or another--worked in a marketing agency or on a development team. My specialty was in serving as the link between different user communities and development groups. I wanted to be valued for who I am without the embellishment of PMIs,  or the need to know some one thing or another.  I'm not sure I'm being realistic.

Like I said. I knew something was going to happen, but nothing did.  You've heard about the whole lemon thing. Here's my recipe with lemonade:

Lemonade Chicken Drum Sticks
Package of drum sticks (about six)
Juice of one lemon
1/2 cup of lemonade
1/2 cup of dry vermouth standing in the corner from New Years
Salsa of some kind (1/4 to 1/2 cup)
Molasses (1/4 cup)
Salt, pepper to your taste

Mix everything together. Turn drum sticks around in the lemonade soup.
Drizzle the molasses over everything.
Bake in the oven at 400 degrees until chicken legs are brown and caramelized.

Give Me an Extension

Lately what excites me is hearing that my unemployment benefits have been extended.   But before I get myself into big trouble,  let me make it perfectly clear to the Employment Development Department that Yes, I want to work,  and No, I have not misrepresented myself on any of the paperwork that I've sent back to your office.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's say that I've changed.

In the past, raising young children made taking any kind of job okay. As long as I got a regular check and benefits, I could endure an amazing amount of corporate dysfunctional nonsense, a typical parent who put my kids first, glad to have the financial stability and structure, plus I liked what I did well enough to make it all acceptable. As long as I came to work every day and responded to the requests of a manager whose primary modus operandi was to cover his own posterior, I could tick off the months into years. 

In a way, the job and I used each other. But now that my children are grown, for the first time I have a chance to demand something else from my job, something that matches who I am, something that might allow me to be a singer instead of slogger, if I could only find the right stage.

For example on my way to a real interview, a plum position for a major health organization, I shuddered as I entered the building. It was the first thing in the morning, one of those typical sleek and sterile office monoliths. I walked into the lobby and signed in at the security desk, as instructed. This involved being photographed, after such time, I was handed a white identification badge to stick on to my clothing. Properly identified, I climbed aboard one of the stainless steel elevators as people crowded inside. I got off at the 22nd floor and followed a circuitous route until I found the hiring manager who invited me to sit down.

Without going into great detail, I bombed, nervous, tongue-tied, a maniac. I beat myself up about it for several weeks afterward, having made the cardinal error of handing over a less than perfect resume.  After healing from my self-inflicted stupid wounds, I realized that shutting myself away for another long stint inside a corporate castle, sitting at a computer all day and walking back and forth between my cubicle and the bathroom with only five o'clock to rescue me, was no longer appealing.  I didn't want to do that anymore. But I hoped I could find out what I did want to do before my unemployment ran out.

So in the language of genre writing, I had a "a ticking clock," something that Alfred Hitchcock built into his plots. The birds are going to invade the town, Mrs. Danvers in going to go off any moment now,  the other shoe is going to drop. In my particular case, I had only so much money and time, but isn't that what we all have?  Ask not for whom the clock ticks...Nevertheless,  how was I going to plot the journey between Point A and Point B and be ready for the  journey to points unknown?

I could not rely on the universe to drop something into my lap. These days, the universe seems to be in serious survival mode. Networking, success teams, and job clubs were helping, but I needed to back up a bit.  Maybe I was the kind of girl who needs to finish the peas on her plate before attacking her potatoes. I wanted to find out who I was at this juncture of my life. I wanted to believe that I could create a new way to work. I wanted to know what I wanted.

I Need Something Sweet Chocolate Croissant

Sliced whole grain bread
1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips (dark chocolate is good for us)
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Lightly toast the whole grain bread.  At the pop,  remove from toaster
Sprinkle the semi-sweets on the bread.  Depending upon your appliance situation, heat a standard oven to 250 degrees until the chocolate is melted or place in a microwave for 30 seconds.

Spread the softened chocolate on the bread. Sprinkle on the cinnamon.  Roll up. Ummm.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gray and Groovy

Many people at job meetings look like me: "mature," fiftyish, and whose children are about to enter or finish college. Our idea of a great gift is a remote to find the last place we left our eye glasses. We're not too sure about text messaging, video gaming, and social networking  although out of necessity, we do get LinkedIn.  Having survived the predominance of corporate influence in many of our democratic institutions, we are now asked to brighten our teeth to remove years of coffee, wine, and other forms of abuse, the very things that have made us who we are. But oh, how times have changed.

To be competitive in today's market place we are advised to create a brand as though we were Post Toasties right out of the box. Our joblessness has spawned a new industry of counselors, coaches, advisers, and marketing professionals who are lining up to tell us what to do with ourselves as they collect our money. Don't get me wrong. Someone has to work.

Initially, I toyed with the idea of getting several tattoos to update my image.  A butterfly on the back of my neck.  Or maybe a rose cascading down my forearm. Body decoration is in. My job counselor gave me a card for his own tattoo parlor, highly recommended, guaranteed to run a clean ship.  And then the ultimate recommendation.  "This guy is a real artist."

But as much as I wanted to show that I had not mildewed in the corner with my copies of "The New Yorker,"  I backed off from tattooing in favor of highlighting my hair. It was much easier.  I could always shop for a new outfit, being sure to bring along my daughter to to guard against my buying the same black suit.

Once I only wore blue jeans.

We are the baby boomers, the ones who created the generation gap and proclaimed "not to trust anyone over 30."  Now we are hoping to be called for the first round of interview hoop-jumping. No longer radicals storming embassies and marching down the streets of metropolitan cities to protest wars and demand civil rights,  we desire a job with health benefits to ferry us through the gap between collecting retirement (if we're lucky) and MediCal. Let's be honest. National health care is an apparition that may materialize within three years, but no one seems to know what the heck it will look like.

Now we have something else we never had before: an understanding of how time is finite. Maybe instead of getting just any old kind of job, we are seeking a position in the nonprofit industry where we can "contribute something back to the community."  Because while we were stuck for years sitting in commuter traffic, we have become a society that no longer can afford social services, adequate health care, and teachers. Isn't that something? Maybe the legions of unemployed baby boomers will fill social service and educational posts that have been cut to the rib cage. You know it could happen.

This past week when I attended my aunt's 100th birthday celebration, I noted how every one of the flight attendant's had wrinkles. A charming blonde with crowfeet, a bald guy who kept passing out peanuts and pretzels like they were going out of style. Is the sixties generation revolutionizing the spirit and style of aging in the same way that we created political shock waves with Bob Dylan's "The Times They are Changing" as our personal anthem?

I'm not sure we're quite there yet. I can envision two half-time employees sharing a full-time health benefits package.   I can see researching cultures where age is valued for itself, and not just for being a pool of accumulated wealth, although there is that, too.

I am convinced as one of those aging boomers, there is a great need to create new ways to work and for that, even the Leftover Chef has no easy recipes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Elevator Pitch

Then there's the emphasis on having an "elevator pitch," a 30-second summary that tells a person who I am and what I do. But I rarely talk to anyone inside an elevator.  Maybe I should. But my conversation is usually limited to figuring out if "S" means basement or street-level.

Wedged at the back of an elevator, I've been known to ask a person standing near the button panel to press a floor. Of course, in the days when I did have a job, traveling in the elevator meant knowing the location of sandwiches and salad left over from an earlier board meeting. Of course, many Monday mornings it was more about catching up on football or baseball scores listening to Tony from the mail room comparing notes with  other the Tony from the seventh floor. Inside elevators we are all captive audiences waiting to run out.

Maybe elevator speeches can be effective depending upon who is traveling inside an elevator.  But how are we really supposed to know? Maybe the best thing is to come right out with it: "Does any one know about a job opening, preferably one with benefits?"

If  someone speaks up, I would want to know more. But with my luck the doors would open, my source would leave, and I'd be left kicking myself for including the benefits part as a deal-breaker.  Timing is always important. But I could always follow him, assuming a him, and ask, "Excuse me. About that job..."

"I've got to go to the bathroom," he says, holding on to the chrome door handle.

"This will be real quick," I say, and notice that he's beginning to unzip his fly.  The man is actually going to flash me. How uncouth.  Instead, I turn back to the bank of elevators. I'm thankful when one lands on my floor. I go down, all the way down to "S" or street-level and find another office building. I'm hoping this time I'll get lucky and I enter the elevator.

This one is packed.  There's some kind of management meeting on the 24th floor. I know this because a number of people are holding agendas with the name "Bill Briggens" on top, and something about "Meeting Your Quotas."   It's now or never. We're passing the 19th floor and I have exactly five more floors to go before the crowd bails.  "Does any one know about a job opening?" I ask, and this time forget about the benefits stuff.

"Gee," I don't know, answers this one guy with a tattoo of a dragon blowing flames over his collar. He turns to the back of the elevator. "Any of you guys know anything?" Silence.  I know what I can do with that.  But then the dragon guy looks at me and says, "Why don't you just come to the meeting and ask?"

"Really?" I say.

"Sure," he says. "Anyway what do you do?"

I think for a moment. "I give speeches inside elevators."


Eggs Long Hand

My Aunt Jeannette first cooked this breakfast dish for me in her trailer.  She had long hands, hence the name of the dish, and made the dish with the last two eggs in her carton. When I've found myself in similar circumstances,  I think of her.

Two eggs
one slice of stale bread
1/2 a red or yellow onion or even two scallions
Handful of blueberries or strawberries
Pinches of Salt and Pepper
1 T Oil

Heat pan. Pour in oil. Heat oil.
Dice onion.  Saute in oil until soft and shiny.
Tear bread into one-inch pieces and cook in onion until crusty.
Mix eggs together with a Tablespoon of water or milk
Pour eggs over the bread
Put in your pinches of salt and pepper
Throw blueberries in the pan like you're rolling dice
Wait for eggs to set and serve immediately with lots of black coffee.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Floating Oil Spill of Indifference

Monday means going downstairs to the parking lot in front of my house and seeing the empty parking spaces of my neighbors who have left for work. Then there's my car.  So why is this a big thing?  Because I'm at home as scores of people brave the highway and use mass transportation to begin their week at work.

Monday also means I need to organize my game plan, to come to terms with this week's quota of phone calls and meetings. To network is a thing to be wished for, but according to the English version of the Job Seeker's Bible, remaining in front of the computer all day completing online resumes is not a productive use of time.  These last few days I've sworn off the computer and decided to enjoy the pleasures of house cleaning, discovering dirt where I never looked before, repotting plants, washing linens, and remembering to eat carrots every single time I reopen the refrigerator--to find something.   

So today I want to write an open letter to the kindness of strangers. It seems as good a place as any to start. I'm convinced there are many out there because as hard as I am looking to find work, surely they are working equally hard to keep their jobs. Possibly, they have a family member who like me is unemployed. We're expressions of the same economy, Jacks and Jills sitting on either edge of a see-saw. And even as this fact seeps into my brain, I become less fearful of reaching out into that undifferentiated miasma, want to break it down one email at a time. So...

Let me take a moment to thank a speaker at a forum for saying that when your company has an opening you will consider hiring me, even if you didn't mean it and your only motive was in having me scratch your name off my contact list. Your kind gesture offered a brief ray of hope on an otherwise uneventful day. Likewise, many virtual hugs to a woman whom I contacted after hearing a presentation by the San Francisco Business Times about reaching people who are leaders in their field, for distributing my resume throughout her organization, and emailing it to someone who was recruiting for a particular job.  She took a moment to believe in me in this vast floating oil spill of indifference.

A shout out to an instructor of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques who is connected to everyone there is to know on LinkedIn, who allowed me to attend his class for free and blog about it, a magnanimous gesture that provided me with my most successful headline to date: "Beer, Wine, and SEO Techniques." And also to the hiring managers who wrote to tell me that I was carefully considered, but did not get the job. It means a great deal to know where I stand.

I will get through my Monday, which will undoubtedly become the weekend, not because there's no work for me to go to, but because that's when I get to stay home like everyone else.

Can-do Salmon Croquettes
One can of salmon that you bought six months ago in an effort to change-up from tuna fish.
One onion grated
2 T fresh (or not) lemon juice
One scallion diced (if you have any)
One grated carrot (if you have one)
One clove of garlic diced
2T Parsley (if you have any)
One egg
1 T Mustard
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Pepper
Pinch of Paprika
Any combination of capers, pickle relish, or pimento olives (if you use olives, dice 'em.)
Breading ingredients: Seasoned bread crumbs, oatmeal, flour or cornmeal (about 1/3 to 1/2 cup)
Olive or canola oil

Leftover Chef recipes are always flexible.  Mix some combination of the above ingredients with the canned salmon.  Form into approximately six patties.  Coat with cornmeal or any combination of the breading ingredients.

Heat pan. Heat oil.  Cook on medium heat until brown, approximately 5 minutes on each side. Have a tomato around? Slice and serve on the side over a leaf of lettuce.