08 Oct

Derby Life: Bird Style

I last wrote about roller derby after bird try-outs. Because I’m the kind of woman who leaves you hanging for four months, I am only now coming back to writing about it. I think aspects of my life that focus on improving incrementally are difficult to write about. There’s no great climax like there is in a movie. In the end, it’s just a lot of practice. That is hard to turn into something interesting.

Anyway, I did make the birds. I have made the most of it, but in retrospect, I think I may have advanced prematurely. The first month or maybe month and a half of bird class was incredibly hard. I almost cried a lot of times (and one time I really did cry). I dropped out of the warmups (and I still do sometimes) because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore or because my quads/back/calves were burning. Actually, I talked to my coach one night and she leveled with me and said that I probably wasn’t quite ready to move up, but my work ethic convinced the coaches to let me anyway. That damn work ethic, always making trouble.

I think in June I was not truly ready to move up, but I am so glad that I did anyway. After a month or two, I lost my “baby giraffe” skating style (an observation from a fellow skater) and a teammate told me she felt safe skating with me (the implication: I was unsafe until then). By August, I moved beyond being a hazard to myself and others. I am sure I made 100 times more progress by moving up to the birds than doing another round of rec league. And for what it’s worth, I went to a few rec league classes over the last few months too.

A baby giraffe

Me, circa June

The last month or so, I have started feeling more confident about my skating. I’m not a beast yet, but I think I have recognized that I have the potential to be a little fucking beast. The best thing has been discovering what I’m good at: not getting knocked down. Once I stopped skating like a newborn foal, I found that I am very stable. I credit this to the two years of weightlifting I have casually engaged in and to being a larger-than-average human. Now, anytime I find myself sucking spectacularly at something, I try to remember that no bitch on the track can take me out. It’s a small comfort.

The thing is, I do suck at a lot of things. I am starting to suck less at some of them. When I started the bird class, I thought my biggest problem would be speed. It seemed like I couldn’t keep up in any drill and I was always the slowest one out there. I think I am still relatively slow if we’re factoring in endurance, but I am getting a little faster. We recently tested how many laps we could skate in a minute. I managed to roll out 5.5 laps, which is actually a respectable pace. Can I do that for five minutes (or, okay, two minutes)? No, but it’s progress. The first time we did that test in rec league, I think I skated 1.5 laps. That means from April to September, my speed increased by 5 laps/minute. That will probably never happen again!

At this point, I think my biggest issue is actually stopping. I can stop, but not fast enough and not accurately enough. My current nemesis is the tomahawk stop, which rather than trying to explain, I will refer you to this video. Being able to stop and change directions fast is actually more important than just skating fast when you’re playing. Unless, perhaps, you are a jammer, which does not seem to be my calling right now.

Probably the most telling for me in terms of perspective and feeling like I’ve made progress has been skating with newer skaters. Last month the bird class helped out with the rec league scrimmage. And last week, a group of new skaters joined the bird class. I could see the difference between where they are now and where I am now. My stride is more solid, I can skate close to people, block, and stop without drifting halfway around the track.

Bird class is twice per week, but the title of this post also promises “derby life.” Derby has already begun to take over my life. I’m not fighting it though; I figured it would be one of those things that is a life commitment. I’ve been volunteering at bouts, usually with setting up the track. I recently learned how to set up a track without any guidelines on the floor, which is a handy skill. It makes me feel like I could play derby anywhere. I’ve also been helping out at bouts and scrimmages as a non-skating official (NSO), which involves tracking penalties, scorekeeping, etc. Everyone says that NSOing is a good way to learn the rules. I sort of doubted, but it is helping me learn the penalties and what to pay attention to during games. Last weekend, my league hosted a tournament and I spent the whole weekend alternately NSOing and making sure the track didn’t get fucked up. It was a full couple of days.

WFTDA Track Dimensions

WFTDA Track Dimensions

Another side effect of derby life is that it is making me more committed to being a badass in everyday life. Well, my own definition of badass. I started learning Icelandic earlier this year. It’s possible that I might have naturally become more serious about it over time regardless, but the last few months I have been studying like crazy. It’s fun and interesting to me. Plus, I want to be able to do justice to the name Rosetta Stone. I’m also going to the gym more consistently and eating a little healthier. For example, I always want to get a Slurpee after practice, but I know it’s not actually going to do anything for my body (and that the 7-11 near our practice area is probably unsafe, but, okay), so I don’t.

If you’re still reading this, you may wonder what’s next. Well, as my coach has reminded us, birds isn’t supposed to be forever. My next goal is to move up onto my league’s B-team, the Folsom Prison Bruisers. They just held try-outs for the Bruisers in September, but I didn’t try out because I knew I wasn’t there yet. One of our weekly practices is combined with the teams, so I have a fair idea of what I would be getting into. I still can’t make it through their warm-up. Although, I’m told that most everyone feels like they’re going to die and it’s not just me. A 25-woman paceline is probably enough to make most women want to fall over.

The next try-outs are (I think) in January. I am going to be tomahawking my fat ass off between now and then. I think if I can master that, and keep improving my other skills, I’ll have a respectable chance of moving up.

Hopefully, I’ll stop being ridiculous and write about this at least a little more often. I had been thinking about writing more lately. Yesterday I received the best “write more!” sign that I could ever possibly get. One of the rec league skaters told me after practice yesterday that she had read my blog and it made her feel better about trying rec league. I was surprised that she had not only found it and read it, but that she happened to be in the same practice with me. I was both stunned and pleased to have made a difference for a new skater. So, if you’re new and you’re reading this (and you made it this far), here’s the truth: roller derby is fucking hard and it hurts like a bitch. Just keep working and you will definitely improve. That sounds cliché, but it’s true. Now, go skate!

11 Sep

Icelandic Update, or Is It Really an Update If I Haven’t Told You Before Now?

Here’s the thing: I decided to start learning Icelandic in January of this year. I had every intention of writing about the process. As even a cursory glance at this blog reveals, I have not done so.

Somehow, I’ve been chipping away at a basic understanding of Icelandic for months, but it seems like it’s only started to coalesce in my brain in the last month or two. Like I couldn’t have corralled meaningful thoughts about it until maybe last week. What’s up with that? Brains, I guess.

Icelandic is the first language that I’ve learned totally on my own. I’m not in school and I have no plans to learn it in school. I’m also not in Iceland—I’m in Sacramento, which is probably the opposite of Iceland. I mean, it was 108 degrees yesterday. You know, in September. Enough preamble, here’s what’s up with Icelandic.

How I Am Learning

There is a surprising amount of free material available for Icelandic. I think there are a few groups working to spread the language and generate interest so Icelandic doesn’t die off. It’s not in danger, but there are only about 330,000 people in Iceland, and from what I understand, most of them also speak English.

I started out with the Colloquial Icelandic textbook. I even paid for the audio CDs that accompany it. This book is well scaffolded and had good explanations of the grammar. Each chapter has two or three long dialogues, which are the main material for the lesson. They’re not really that long, but somehow, these seem incredibly long to me. The hardest part of working with this book is taking the time to carefully go over each dialogue. I struggle with starting tasks. Once I start, I don’t want to stop for the next three hours, but knowing that I have a long dialogue to parse makes it hard to start working. I’m only on chapter 5 of this book. I got a little frustrated with it a few months ago, but I’m slowly getting reacquainted with it.

What I’ve really had success with the Icelandic Online course. This is a free online course from the University of Iceland. There are 5 levels, each divided into 6 chapters. The chapters are further segmented into 5 lessons, and each lesson has 3 section. I really like this course because it’s in small pieces. I can usually get through a section in the evenings after work, if I don’t waste too much time on the internet. I also like that it’s interactive. It has activities and a way to check if you get the answers right. The hard part about this course is that immersive—there’s no English. Luckily, Icelandic Online also has an online dictionary. I look up a lot of words, but for the most part, I am learning a lot.

The work part of learning involves a steno notepad and a flashcard app. I write down the words I find and some grammar notes in my notebook. Then, I use the Anki app to drill it into my brain. This is the first time I’ve incorporated as many pictures as possible into my flashcards. It makes things more interesting and I think I’ve been learning the words faster.

An image of the front and back of a flashcard for the word 'girl'.

One of my flashcards.

Why Icelandic Is Great

I knew Icelandic was going to be challenging and fun (because I find this kind of thing fun). I did not know enough about it when I started to know why it’s great. The thing I most like about Icelandic right now is that it is full of words made from smashing other words together. For example, remember that big-ass volcanic eruption a few years ago? The volcano is called Eyjafjalljökull. If you break this apart, it’s actually three words stacked together. Jökull means ‘glacier’, fjall means ‘mountain’, and eyja means ‘island’. This is literally the island-mountain-glacier volcano (the word for volcano, by the way, is eldgos, or fire + eruption).

Now that I’ve got enough words in my head as a foundation (about 1,000 words, if you’re wondering), I’m starting to notice how words combine. Some don’t really seem noteworthy from an English-speaking perspective, like hjólastígur (hjóla is ‘bike’ and stígur is path, so: bike path). But it still feels good to figure out a word based on its components. I’ve also started thinking about the components of words that might not seem to split apart (again, from an English perspective), like borgarbúi, ‘citizen’. Borg means ‘city’ and búi is ‘to live’. So, citizen is kind of like city-dweller.

Pulling words apart doesn’t always have the desired effect, however. I learned the word rafmagn (electricity). I looked up ‘raf’ and found that it means ‘amber’. I don’t think this has anything to do with electricity. It would be like saying that the ‘win’ in ‘window’ is semantically meaningful.

Why Icelandic Is Hard

Icelandic has four cases, which I guess isn’t that many, but they can be complicated. The declension of each word depends on its grammatical gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter) and whether it is singular or plural. Icelandic is particularly weird, because case isn’t necessarily derived from the role a word plays in a sentence. Case is dictated by a noun’s preceding verb or preposition. Some verbs are accusative, for example, so the object of the verb takes the accusative case. This is new for me. It’s tricky, but interesting.

Other Thoughts

It’s very cool to be learning a language in an age when we have the Internet. I can get multi-media instruction for free, have native speakers critique my writing, compile a playlist of music in Icelandic, and find tons of Icelandic text online.

I’m definitely more committed than I was a few months ago (I mean, I knew I was going to do it, but now I feel like I’m actually doing it). My current plan is to finish the first-level Icelandic Online course, and then take their “Plus” course for the second-level class. That costs around $300, but you get a tutor and more practice, which sounds pretty worth it to me. The long-term goal is to be able to read books and news in Icelandic, and to be able to use the language like a badass when I eventually travel to Iceland.

I am also going to write about what I’m doing more often. This post was long because it was long overdue. The next one will be more focused.

08 Jun

Things I’ve Been Meaning to Blog About: Roller Derby

I have been meaning to blog about roller derby for about two months now. Or maybe three months. In any case, this is the blog post about roller derby.

Yesterday, I tried out for roller derby with the Sac City Rollers. The try out is a first step; if I did well, then I can join the “bird” class, which is rigorous training for players looking to join an SCR team in the future. When I started rec league (a somewhat casual, basic skills derby course) eight weeks ago, I knew I would try out at the end, but I didn’t know that I might have a realistic chance of making it.

On my first day of rec league, I strapped on all the derby gear I had just purchased. I was terrified of getting up off the bench and joining the women warming up on the track. I had gone skating at a local roller rink once a few weeks before. The results were not inspiring. After Coach Skella (short for Skellawhore, of course) encouraged everyone to get out and warm up, I gingerly scooched my way out onto the track. I moved my skates, trying to emulate the videos I’d watched on YouTube before class. Most of the other skaters were confidently gliding around the track like they had been born with silver skates on their feet. I have never wanted to give up so much in my life as I did in the first 15 minutes of rec league.

Fortunately, the rec league class is designed for people like me, who have the skating abilities of a 95-year-old woman. The first day we learned how to fall and how to stop. I drifted about on my skates while we listened to the instructions, lacking the dexterity to stay in one place, but I did learn how to fall with grace. As nervous as I was, I felt so much better after the first class. Knowing how to fall meant that even if I had no idea what was happening, I could stop and hit the floor without dying.

In each of our weekly classes after that, I only felt more confident. The first few weeks were rocky, but after every class I knew I had improved a lot. After I finished getting my skates adjusted in week three or four (including putting in some insoles so wearing skates didn’t hurt and loosening my trucks), I was definitely ready to take on the skills we covered in the rest of the class, like jumping, hitting, and skating as a pack.

Trying to summarize eight weeks of roller derby practice is difficult. The classes were all two-hour sessions, in the heat of a warehouse that SCR rents here in Sacramento. There’s no air conditioning and the floor is coated in a grimy film. Despite the temperature and the dust, everyone is working their asses off to be a badass and you can feel that everyone wants everyone else to succeed. Everyone is chill. There’s no room for dicks in roller derby.

The individual drills like learning how to crossover or transition or skate backwards were alright, but the most fun parts of rec league came from group activities. We spent one night almost exclusively learning to be in close contact with each other. We skated circles around a partner and then formed a line hands-to-hips and made the person in the back push. We raced. I hauled more ass than I knew was possible.

The last—and best—night of rec league we had our first scrimmage. Each rec league skater was paired with an experienced skater. My partner, Moaning Lisa or Mo for short, was friendly and awesome. She skated up to me during our warmup, asked my name (“Stone,” she immediately nicknamed me), and then we raced around to gather up the rest of our team. Playing a full scrimmage, even with a skilled partner, was incredibly taxing. I have a long way to go in building the endurance to play properly. The scrimmage also made me realize that, even though I have improved a ton, I still have lots to learn. I spent a significant amount of the scrimmage wondering what the hell I should do to make someone stop hitting me.

Amid all this rec leaguing and scrimmaging, I have been getting more involved in the league. I started going to watch their bouts (the derby name for ‘games’ or ‘matches’) at the beginning of the year, but for the last few months, I have also volunteered. I help set up chairs, move people through the will-call line, and sell raffle tickets. I’ve even started introducing myself by my derby name, Rosetta Stone. It feels strange but cool.

So, back to try outs. I’m still awaiting the results. I feel like I did well—I did my best in any case. I’m dying to hear. I hope I made it so I can go on to get my ass kicked twice a week as a bird.

08 Jan

2015: The Year Ahead

This post is a little bit late becuase it took me a while to figure out just what I wanted to say about the upcoming year. I feel like I accomplised a lot in 2014. I didn’t exactly accomplish all of my goals for last year, but I definitely did more than in years past. So, for 2015, my main goal is this:

Keep going.

I’ve been going to the gym 3+ times a week. I want to keep doing that. I’ve been walking a lot and I want to keep doing that too. Last year we went on a few camping trips and did some other outside things, which was fun. I started a new job that is actually someting I want to do. And, of course, I read 90 books, which is pretty great, especially since my goal was to read 52.

Other than “keep going,” I’m planning to read a lot again this year. I don’t know if I’ll hit 90 books again, but knowing that I can read that much is encouraging. I think I will probably read a lot.

I have decided to learn Icelandic this year. This I have already started. In the last week, I’ve studied the phonemes of Icelandic and started learning a few words and phrases.

I’m quite excited about Icelandic becuase this is the first new language I have started since graduating college. I considered doubling down on languages I already know something about, but I wanted a new challenge and I want something to look forward to–like visiting Iceland! So, Icelandic it is. I expect I’ll blog about the langauge learning process throughout the year.

This year I am also hoping to give roller derby a try. My local team, the Sac City Rollers does a newbie class. Once they start up again, I intend to participate. Soon I’ll be an Icelandic-speaking roller derby chic. Here’s to 2015.

01 Jul

Articles I Wrote at ALA Annual Conference 2014

I attended the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. Becuase I am not content to just sit and listen to everyone, I signed on to work as a stringer for American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association. I wrote articles about the sessions I attended and submitted them to the American Libraries
“The Scoop” blog.

In no particular order, here are the pieces I wrote while at the conference:

26 Jun

Wayfinding in Las Vegas: Walking Shortcut from the Riviera to the Las Vegas Convention Center

I’m in Las Vegas for the American Library Association Annual Conference 2014 (#alaac14). I’m staying at the Riviera and I can actually see the Las Vegas Convention Center, the location of the conference, from my hotel room. I discovered a short way to walk from the Riviera to the Convention Center. I took a few pictures to share the route with my fellow travelers.

Exit the Riviera through the doors near the hotel check-in desk. When you walk out, you are facing the parking garage. Stay on the sidewalk and walk past the parking garage. Keep walking past the tennis courts.

Riviera backlot

Follow the sidewalk past the parking garage and tennis courts.

Near the end of the sidewalk path, there is a sign that points to the right. Cross the street and turn right into the small, fenced-off parking lot.

Follow the arrow. Turn right.

Follow the arrow. Turn right.

Walk straight through the fenced-off parking lot and through the gateway to the Convention Center parking lot.

20140626_133512

Walk through the gateway into the Convention Center parking lot.

From here, you can cut diagonally across the Convention Center parking lot. Enter the Convention Center near the visitor’s center. Go up the escalator and walk through the causeway to get to the main area of the Convention Center.

I hope this helps a few people get where they’re going. Enjoy the conference, everyone!

31 May

How to Give Good Interview: A Post That Goes Beyond Getting Dressed

Today, a friend told me that her 18-year-old daughter wanted my advice for job interviews. My knee-jerk response was “Why does anyone want my advice?” Then I remembered that I have interviewed a ridiculous amount of times in the last few years. Hence, I write this post.

This afternoon, I clicked one of LinkedIn’s many clickbait articles about job interviewing. I always want new advice about interviewing because it was difficult for me to learn how to interview well. It frustrates me that most interview tip articles read something like “Wear clothes! Know where things are! Don’t offend people at the office!” These tips are insulting. Of course you should know where you’re going before you go there. Yes, you should wear appropriate clothes. Do people not know this? There are literally thousands of articles about this. We can move past telling people to dress appropriately for job interviews.

Interviewing is a skill. It is a skill that you learn. Like most skills, you improve by practicing. The year I got my first teaching job, I went on approximately 15 interviews. It might have been as many as 20. I lost count. The next summer was more of the same: I went on a lot of teaching interviews and some State of California job interviews too. Now I interview for all kinds of jobs. I am definitely positioning myself in librarianship and writing, but you never know who might be interested in what you have to offer.

You can prepare for interviews. An interview is not a spontaneous presentation. It is not a test of quick thinking and wit.  When I realized that I could prepare for interviews, my strategy changed completely. I used to show up for interviews hoping that it would not be horrible, thinking there was not really anything I could do to prevent it from being awful. Now, I show up for interviews ready for battle.

Before we continue, I have to admit something: interviewing is hard. It is hard emotionally. After an interview I am tired. I analyze the things I said and the things I did not say. I usually schedule interviews such that I don’t need to return to work after. I spend the time afterwards sleeping, playing video games, and eating baked goods.

The preamble is over. This is what I do when I have an interview.

Phase 1: Preparation

Analyze the Job Description

Knowing the job description is the most important factor for interview success. The most common opening question in an interview, in my experience, is “Describe your education and experience as it relates to this position.” If you know what is in the description, it is much easier to answer this question.

If your English teachers ever made you annotate a text, recall those skills now. Print out the job description. Yes, print it, like physically on paper. Get your hands on that job description! As a former English teacher myself, I go over mine in red pen, but you can use a rainbow marker or whatever makes you happy. Get ready to mark this business up.

Read the job description. I underline key things like what they want me to do in

the job. I circle skills they want. In the margins, I write a one- or two-word note about what I did or learned related to this. If the description mentions “presentations” I make a note like “teaching.” If it says “MySQL” I write “MLIS classes, Stanford MOOC” because I took a database management class and a MySQL/PHP class during my MLIS (masters in library and information science) and I did a MOOC (massive, open, online course) from Stanford University called Introduction to Databases. Sometimes I don’t have a good note, but I can mark something so I can think about it later. Go through the whole description making notes.

Start Your Notes

When I make notes for an interview, I usually write on paper because I remember what I write better than what I type. However, typed notes are neater and can be easier to read in an interview. If you have bad handwriting, try writing your notes first and then type them later. Then go learn how to write properly!

I start my notes by writing what kinds of tasks a person in the job has to do and what information a person in the job needs to know. For an example, I did a screening interview for a technical writing job today. According to the job description, the employee needs to:

  • Learn the product.
  • Write product descriptions.
  • Define standards.
  • Interview SMEs (subject matter experts).

And the employee needs to know or have:

  • Analytical skills.

  • Strong communication skills.

  • PHP, MySQL, C++, or Perl.

That is an abbreviated list, but hopefully you get the point.

Research the Company

This part can be the trickiest, depending on what the company is. I have interviewed at a lot of public agencies (schools, libraries), which have a lot of easy-to-locate information online. If you are searching for a privately-owned company, this is more difficult. Some things you want to know because they help you frame your responses (think mission or vision statements) and some things you want to know so you can understand what you might be getting yourself into. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of the types of things to look up:

  • Mission and vision statements: You want to know what the organization’s goal is. This seems like a straightforward concept, but there is a lot of variance. A school’s mission, for example, is generally to educate people, but the mission statement might include something about fostering diversity, creating life-long learners, or preparing students for college. Whatever the things are, you should talk about them. Work them into your responses when interviewers ask why you want to work there.

  • Strategic plan: Where is this organization heading? What are its specific goals? The strategic plan tells you this. Again, strategic plans are usually online for public agencies. They may not be online for private agencies. I have found strategic plans to be helpful when preparing for library interviews, in particular.

  • People: Who works here? This is where a LinkedIn account is handy. I look up people doing the job I want to do at the organization and look at their LinkedIn page. Try not to look at their LinkedIn page more than once or twice because LinkedIn tells people how often you look at them. You don’t want to look like a stalker (I worry about this. I’m not sure if others really care). If you can, look for blogs written by the employees. You might not find exactly the people who you end up facing in an interview. That’s okay. This research can give you an idea of the type of people who work at a place. It can help you decide if you think the organization is a good fit for you.

  • Blogs and social media: What does this company say about itself? They almost certainly have a blog. They probably have a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and maybe even a Pinterest or YouTube channel, depending on the field. Read the blog. How does this company portray itself? Reflect those values back to the people interviewing you. It will make you look like a good match for the company.

  • Glassdoor and related sites: I like to check Glassdoor when I prepare for an interview. Glassdoor does not have data on every organization, but it can help you figure out how much people get paid. There are sometimes reviews of the company by employees. Remember that people tend to review only when they are really impressed or really distressed. Consider the reviews, but do not take them too seriously. File them away in your brain. If you see any warning signs in your interview that the organization is as bad as people say, feel free to run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Research the Job

You will not be the first person in the history of the internet to interview for your type of job. Use the internet. What is the job title? Google “Interview questions for [job title].” I searched for “interview questions for technical writers” and found a ton of pages full of questions. This can be overwhelming. My advice is to skim the questions and think about the kind of answer you would give. I don’t write answers to everything because I take writing too seriously and I overdo it if I write practice answers, but I do put a few sentences together in my head and then say them out-loud. This helps me remember what I want to say and it keeps me from stumbling over the words in an interview.

There are way more potential questions than there are questions employers actually ask. Think about your specific job and what they are likely to ask (note: guessing accurately takes practice and you will still be wrong most of the time). Also consider some common, general interview questions. One I like to be ready for is the “What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?” It is difficult for me to answer this question spontaneously. My real greatest weaknesses are not something I want to tell an employer (reveal nothing to the enemy!). I like to be ready with things that are true but not crushingly accurate. It’s also a good idea to discuss how you overcome your weakness when you answer this question. I usually go with noisy environments and perfectionism as my problems. For noise, I say that it is hard to work in a noisy environment, but I get around this by wearing my headphones or sometimes even earplugs. For perfectionism, I say that it can be hard for me to get started writing or to finish something because I want to do so much research to be sure I have not missed anything. I solve this problem by setting a strict project schedule, moving on when I know approximately 80% of what I need to know. Your answer to this question should be personal, but know that it isn’t cheating to have something in mind in advance.

Finish Your Notes

Now that you are done with your research, you can finish your notes. I list the stuff I need to do and stuff I need to know for the job and next to those things I write something to remind me what to say. I also note the basics of the mission and vision statement, strategic plan, or any other relevant organization-related concepts. Don’t get too crazy with this. I keep my notes to one or two (hand-written) pages at most.

I sometimes write a list of “talking points” in my notes. This is a spot where I note anything that I think I should focus on or bring up in my interview that is not necessarily related to the job description. My talking points are usually based on what I find in the mission statement or strategic plan. For example, if a strategic plan mentions that the organization is updating its policy handbook, I would mention that I am studying technical writing and just finished a class on policy and procedure writing. This is something that might not come up in the course of, say, a librarian interview, but I would want to point out because it is a skill they probably want and can use.

Make sure your notes look decent. You will be sitting at a table with the interview panel. They can see your notes. If you have drawings of weird things or anything unprofessional, they will notice it. Type your notes if you need that to have things look tidy and don’t scribble on them!

Phase 2: Interview

Pre-Game

Try to take some time to relax before you head to the interview. Listen to some upbeat music, play a video game, go for a run. Do something that makes you calm. I don’t think I need to tell you what to wear or to show up on time. However, be aware of what you take into an interview. You don’t need a big purse or backpack. I take a folder or notebook (I have this folder from Staples) with my notes in it, three or more copies of my most recent resume, and a pen. Do not bring your phone. Leave your phone in your car. Personally, I do not want a potential employer to see my on my phone first thing when they walk into wherever it is I’m waiting for them. Spend the time in between when you arrive and when they summon you to review your notes and practice saying things in your head.

The Actual Interview

Interview! It is upon you! Shake hands with everyone and say things like “It’s nice to meet you.” I am not good at pleasantries, so I stick with the basics. After everyone sits down, hand the people interviewing you a copy of your resume. I say something like “Before we get started, here is an updated copy of my resume.” Just keep it simple.

They will ask you questions. In my opinion, the best interviews are when they provide a list of the questions. It is a lot easier for me understand questions that I read than questions that I hear. It is okay to ask the panel to repeat questions! You can ask for them to repeat it whether you really need it or if you just want some time to think.

One of the best realizations I made about interviewing is that you do not have to say everything perfectly if you know when to stop yourself. When I start answering questions I want to say a lot. If I feel like I am getting off track when answering a question, I stop myself and say, “I feel like I’ve gotten off track. Can you repeat the question?” It’s okay to do this. I think it looks good when you have the self-awareness to know when you’re not really addressing the issue anymore. I have not received any negative responses when doing this. I do not recommend using this strategy for every question, but if you do it two or three times, that is okay.

Your Questions

After the panel is finished with their questions, they ask if you have any questions for them. You should always have questions ready. This is something you can research in advance. I have some questions that I use in most interviews because there are certain things I want to know about. My questions usually include:

  • How do you train new employees?

  • Tell me about the organizational culture here.

  • What is your management style (especially good if they asked you about what type of manager you work well with)?

  • How do you see this position developing over the next few years?

  • What do you do to support professional development?

  • What does success look like in this position?
  • What is your first priority or the first project you want done by a new employee in this position?

Asking questions is important not because you care about the answers (you probably do though), but because it gives you more chances to respond. Take the management style question. If the manager’s style is different than what you said you like, you can take some time to clarify. You can explain how you would work with this manager. Interviews are a process. Both parties want to know more about each other. You have to look for places where you fit in. You cannot passively let others decide you are a good choice.

After you finish your questions, you need to ask one more to close the interview. There are several ways to phrase this, but you want to ask something resembling, “Based on what we discussed, do you have any concerns about my ability to do this job?” This gives you one last chance to make an impression. Going into an interview, you probably know what your weak points are. For me, I know that a lack of experience in the field is my worst thing, so I expect an interview panel to say they are worried about my lack of experience. They could say anything though, so be ready. If they have a concern, explain why it is not a problem and why you are great anyway. Tell them how you will overcome it and why you are worth hiring.

Finally, say thank you to everyone one more time. Tell them that you are really interested in the job and you hope they will choose you. If you didn’t already, ask when they expect to contact you with their decision. Try to get at least one person’s name or business card on the way out so you have someone to contact with questions later.

Phase 3: Decompression

Relax

After the interview, get some lunch (or whatever meal you’re on), go home, and relax in whatever way suits you. Interviews are draining as hell, so you should take the rest of the day off and not feel bad for doing it.

Follow Up

The next morning, send an email to the manager or contact person. Remember that business card you maybe grabbed on the way out? Use that to get in touch with someone. In your email:

  • Say that you appreciate that everyone took the time to talk with you.

  • Reiterate your interest in the position.

  • Ask if there is anything else they need from you. I typically offer more writing samples. What you suggest varies based on your field.

Forget Everything

I say this because I do not want you to go crazy. I go over everything in my brain after an interview, but after a day or so of that, I try not to think about it. There is no guarantee that anyone will call you or even send you a rejection letter (I know, it’s incredibly gauche). I assume that if I have not heard anything in a week, I will probably not hear anything ever. Do not maintain high hopes for long periods of time. This results in sadness.

The End

There you have it. My comprehensive guide to interviewing. I am sure there are other strategies, but I find this to be effective. I welcome questions and constructive criticism.

02 Apr

A Special Request and a Long Rant: Coda

After the response I received to last week’s post, I feel I am obligated to pen some form of update.

First, I want to say that my network of friends/acquaintances/people who read my internet ramblings is pretty chill. When you post a piece that is emotionally honest like that, a lot of people respond to it. I know there are a lot of us who are in this job-seekers’ purgatory. I feel for all of you. I hope that we can collectively get out of this one day.

Second, I want to tell the rest of the story. As I had stated, it seemed that my workplace was jerking me around in regards to the matter of a full-time job. Their apparent lack of communicative acumen was too much for me. I almost didn’t even interview for the position, just out of disdain for the system. After I was done feeling miserable, I decided to go to war over it. I was mad that I was being treated this way. I studied up on some of the aspects of the new position. I decided I would give a damn good interview. I wanted to make it difficult for whomever they had decided to hire.

I interviewed on Friday morning. I thought I did a good job. I’ve probably been on more interviews in the last three years than most people have in their entire lives, so I do have a significant amount of practice and at this point. I typically give good interview. I closed my interview by asking if they had any concerns about my ability to fill the position. The response was a “no” delivered with zero hesitation. I found that odd, since I don’t really have any experience with the work of the position. I thought there would be some concern (there is always something). I left the interview unsure of how to interpret things. I knew I had done well, but I thought the final comment could either indicate that they had no reservations and intended to hire me, or they had no reservations and it didn’t matter because they were hiring someone else.

Two irons on stage

Searched for dramatic irony. The internet did not disappoint.

Well, with an almost predictable sense of dramatic irony, they offered me the full-time position that afternoon. Although, not until after telling me that it was a stressful position and that I would have a big learning curve. I’m not daunted by that. I accepted.

This is good because I’ll be making a little more money (I can pay off my student loans faster. Yay?) and I’ll be getting benefits (finally).

But as with basically any development that would be construed as positive by a normal human, I have some mixed feelings. I am glad I got the job because that means I can be a bit less stressed about my life. I question whether I really want to become entrenched in the State bureaucracy (spoiler alert: I don’t). A lot of people at work have been congratulating me on the new position, but that feels awkward to me. I don’t feel like I actually accomplished anything. I am still in the same classification. I convinced people they should let me work full-time, but a few of the administrators there had already been pulling for that anyway. In any case, it is more money and it is an opportunity to evaluate how I intend to move forward with the job search.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs plus WiFi

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and WiFi

So, in the ongoing quest to find a job that I actually like and that fulfills me in some way, here’s the current plan. I’m still applying to library jobs (obviously) and pursuing professional development opportunities when I find them. I’ve stopped applying to writing jobs, since they don’t seem to be taking me anywhere. However, this week I started classes for a technical writing certificate, which I am taking through the University of California, Riverside extension. I had been planning to do this since the beginning of the year. As my Plan C, I am still working at the State, and I’m planning to move up as rapidly as possible, assuming I stay there. After another six months, I can ascend to the next classification and make more money. I guess working for the State wouldn’t be the worst thing, assuming that I can get into something that is research- and writing-focused.

I know there are people who see moving up in my job as unequivocally a Good Thing. I get where they are coming from and I wish I could just let my brain calm down and see things that way too. I have this deep and abiding need to be true to my own sense of self. Anything less makes me feel like a sell-out. I really just want to be in a job where I can research and hook people up with information. I think that would be awesome.

So, there it is. I hope the fact that I got a full-time job does not diminish the righteous anger of the last post. My feelings were genuine and my exhaustion was real. In fact, I would say that I still feel that way about the job search in general, but those feelings have been somewhat mitigated for now.

26 Mar

A Special Request and a Long Rant

On behalf of job-seekers everywhere, I would like to make a request. If someone you know is looking for work and describing to you the ongoing struggle involved in doing so, if you immediately have an idea, if you just know it would really help this person’s life …

DON’T SAY IT.

Yes, don’t say it. Close your mouth. Listen. Think. I hear you thinking, “but my idea is so good! I just want to help.” We know. I know you just want to help, but here is the situation. There are a lot of people in my demographic who are in the trenches, so to speak, as I am. This is what I am going through, what I have gone through, and what I suppose, I will continue to go through (I know I am presumptuously making this request for job-seekers everywhere, but I will illustrate with my own life).

I quit teaching last February. I threw myself into the unwelcoming embrace of the economy. I started looking for work immediately. I applied for jobs in librarianship, in writing, in California’s state bureaucracy, in anything that looked remotely promising. I put out at least 500 applications, I estimate, in a six-month period. During this time, I finished my masters degree (I graduated last May) and I worked as a freelance writer, which ended up being a lot of effort for not a lot of money. I did some phone interviews here and there for writing jobs in Seattle. I went on probably a dozen interviews for state jobs. Inevitably, no one called back.

In July, I was offered an “intermittent” position in one of the many offices that comprise the State of California. Intermittent jobs are essentially part-time. You can work 1,500 over the course of the fiscal year (July to June). For comparison, the state defines a full-time “year” of work at 1,920 hours. I didn’t want to take the job. I took it anyway because trying to hustle up writing clients was more exhausting that I had expected, no fairy godmother of librarianship had appeared to me to turn me into a real librarian, and the due date for my student loans was looming.

Hermes Conrad, bureaucrat in

It’s bureaucracy time.

I started working for the State. I didn’t (and still don’t) have health insurance because when you’re intermittent, you don’t qualify for insurance until you work a certain number of hours (I could qualify now but I have been informed that it is “hella expensive.”). I eased up somewhat on the job applications. This was partly due to exhaustion and partly due to a prospect. I had been invited to interview at the University of Virginia Library for an excellent librarian position. I spent time preparing myself for the interview and presentation. I was somewhat optimistic.

Predictably, I did not get the UVa job. I spent a month being reluctant to apply for things and make a real effort, but soon after I traveled to Seattle to interview for the librarian pool at the Seattle Public Library. I was accepted. I have since received approximately two notifications of open jobs. I have not been asked to interview for either. Sometime amid all this I also interviewed at the California State Library. Within a week, I received a letter saying I didn’t get the job. As is common in state service, I suspect they already knew who they intended to hire.

Since I am creating a litany of job-market lamentations, I suppose it is only fair to include the one about New Mexico. I did a phone interview for a position at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. They called my references and decided they wanted to interview me in person. Only when my librarian mentor, Kathleen, told me that it was a paraprofessional position did I realize why I was seen as such a good candidate—and also why the pay was so low. I declined a second interview.

At this point, I re-evaluated my application carpet bombing strategy. I realized that I could not afford to take a job that paid less than $40,000 (or more than that, depending on the location). I also realized that I did not want to move somewhere that I would want to leave immediately because one day I would like to stop living like a gypsy, make friends where I live, and buy a house (in any order). I narrowed my parameters for job searching. While I limited my scope geographically, I expanded it in terms of work type.

By December, I realized that I had about a year of freelance writing experience. This, I reasoned, could help me get a full-time writing job. Despite numerous applications, I don’t have a writing job beyond the ongoing part-time gigs I already had. I nearly got a junior technical writer position in Seattle, which is exactly what I want if I can’t get a library job, but it fell through when I told the recruiter I would need a week or two to move. He said that they needed someone sooner. I revised my stance and told him I could move immediately, but a week later, I found out that they had hired someone else. How dare I not be available to start a contract position with three-day’s notice! It is really my own fault I don’t have a proper career.

Since then? I continue to apply. Every weekend I send out at least five applications, but some weeks it can be as many as 20, depending on what’s available. I have about eight active job alerts from ineed.com and myriad alerts from other services that occasionally surface in my inbox. I check LinkedIn weekly. I browse INALJ (I Need a Library Job) and the ALA JobList, plus several library job-related Twitter feeds. I now have my resume listed on Mensa’s job board, for what that’s worth. I check certain organizations to find out, specifically, if they are hiring. I browse through a list of every librarian job in the country that has been posted in the last week. And I do this EVERY WEEK. It is exhausting. It is like running a marathon except instead of being done after 26 miles, you will be done when you reach some as yet undetermined distance. You don’t know what it is. You get tired and want to quit, but then you remember that the end could be just another mile away and you wouldn’t want to have stopped when you were so close. So you keep running.

But the final indignity, the last straw, the gust of wind that tipped me over the edge this week was back here at my stupid state job. I treat state work as a tertiary career plan. If all else false, my father reassures me, I can move up in state service (because it is full of complete idiots, he tells me). In February, I interviewed for a position that was in the next classification up from my current one (the state takes is classifications very seriously) and in the office where I work. It turned out that I was not yet qualified for this particular bureaucrat level, which was irritating, but something I could live with. Finding this out also brought forward the information that my experience doesn’t actually count as much as I think it does. One way to move up is to accrue a year of experience in my current class. Well, a year for me at my limit of 1,500 is only about 78% of a real year as the State counts it. Again, could have lived with this information, even though I was seething that no one felt the need to me. The hiring manager for this position told me I could have a different full time job, within my current class. They wouldn’t even need to interview me. This seemed like an appropriate consolation prize. It didn’t come out until this week that they were actually scheduling interviews for this position and that they “unintentionally mislead” me regarding my path to full-time, health insured bliss. I am scheduled to interview, but apparently there are some very competitive candidates, which I understand to mean “We like these other people more.” Even that would have been fine, had my administration had the emotional maturity to let me know this could be a problem in the first place. I can’t tell if they are being malicious or incompetent, but I am at a point where tolerating either is just too much to bear.

the California State Library building

California State Library, a magical place that provides jobs to all the worthy, newly-minted librarians

So, when I say that I am frustrated with the job market and that I just want to be a librarian or maybe a writer. When I say that I am a bit cynical, having a rough go, exhausted, or somewhat depressed and people respond with comments like:

“Have you tried the state library?”

“Have you looked at any of the UCs?”

“Is the Sacramento Public Library hiring?”

“What about volunteering?”

“Why don’t you talk to some people in the field?”

“Did you look online?”

I have a strong urge to kick the shit out of them, no matter how nice they are trying to be. What you don’t understand if you haven’t tried to get a job lately is that it is god-damned near impossible. I have done everything “right.” I have experience in more than one field (teaching, writing, and now … bureaucracy?), I have two bachelors degrees, a teaching credential, a masters degree, I have published academic work, I go to professional development, I participate in library organizations, I prepare thoroughly before interviews if I am lucky enough to get one, I have an active social media presence that promotes me as a person of note in my field, I apply for SO MANY JOBS.

So, when people try to “help” by offering the first idiotic thought that occurs to them, it is, to be blunt, fucking insulting. For the last year, getting a job has been my job. I have applied for things that I never would have imagined I would apply for. I have interviewed. I have networked. I am exhausted with my life. I would never have thought it would be so difficult. If I had a time machine, I would tell my 18-year-old self to get an associates degree, get a full-time job and get my education while I work because I would probably be better off right now.

Next time one of your friends or loved ones is telling you about their job search-related suffering, stop yourself. Choose your words carefully. Please don’t offer advice. Listen to what we have to say. Commiserate with us. Tell us that you support us and ask if there is any way you can help. Offer to take us out for frozen yogurt. But for the love of whatever god you subscribe to, don’t fucking make suggestions.

 

06 Mar

On Fluency: Spanish, BYU, and All the Words

My first Spanish class in college was during the fall. It was my second year at Brigham Young University (a year which was unexpectedly abbreviated due to having my “ecclesiastical endorsement” revoked for lack appropriate levels of Mormonality). I had taken some placement test that seemed remarkably easy, but it turned out that without taking a much more intense test, the best I could place was in the high-intermediate class. I had taken three years of Spanish in high school, but decided to roll with it.

At this time in my stint at BYU I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be Mormon anymore, but I was telling people I was “taking time off” to evaluate my positions. Participation in Mormonism is not measured on a spectrum, but uses a binary. You are Mormon or not. Something is of God or of Satan. So, things were not going that well in terms of interpersonal relations. The problem with being halfway out of Mormonism at BYU is that there are so many ultra-Mormon things happening that everything begins to grate.

And so it was that I was in this Spanish class. It was, naturally, taught by a returned missionary and one of the requirements for the class was to get a hymn book in Spanish. I seem to recall buying a tiny one. It probably matched my scripture set. In BYU language classes, it’s customary to pray at the top of the class in the target language (as we did in my intermediate Arabic class, much to my annoyance—Arabic is not the language of Mormon god, in my view) and sometimes there are hymns. What better way to immerse yourself than with church? It really engages the students, I’m sure.

This class had one of those people in it, as all classes do. So self-important and self-assured, she would act the expert and make claims about things like always using the subjunctive mood at the appropriate times in English. Predictably, I found myself contradicting this girl with frequency. What can I say, it was a rough time and there was little to lash out at. My anti-prescriptive grammarian nature obligated me to that I tell her that it was highly unlikely that, were she to even use the subjunctive in English, she would always apply it where prescribed. She didn’t like that.

cover of the

The offending textbook

The worst of her pronouncements, and the one that I remembered today which spurred this post, was the time we had a chapter’s worth of vocabulary about banking. I won’t defend banking vocabulary as interesting. It’s hard to make much out of terms like ‘checking account’ or ‘mortgage’, but I will defend the importance of such terminology. If you want to be fluent in a language, well, you better know how to get money to and from the bank.

So when she indolently raised her hand and asked “Why do we need to know words about banks? I mean, seriously?” I obviously could not ignore it. “Are you serious?” I called from my back-of-the-classroom perch at the very moment the thought entered my mind. With my now much-improved swearing skills I might have said “Are you fucking serious?” because that’s the level of ridiculous it was. I probably also would have rolled my eyes and mentally appended “This bitch,” but I still had a lot of catching up to do with the vulgarisms of English.

This Bitch (I wish I remembered her name, but for narrative purposes, we’ll go with the aforementioned) was stunned. She turned around to look at she who would dare issue a challenge to someone righteous enough to sit in the front row. I, probably really assholishly, said, “Do you think you won’t ever need to go to a bank?” We engaged in mutual scoffing and class continued. I think our instructor ended with a scripture about Joseph Smith’s first vision. Typical BYU.

What I like about this story (other than everyone, myself included, being a bitch) is that even though I had only just started studying linguistics, I feel like I had a pretty good attitude about fluency. In fact, my basic attitude still hasn’t changed. For me, the goal is to know as many words as possible. Duh, that’s being fluent. However, I will say that I have added some depth and contour to my opinions in the intervening eight years. Banking terminology is pretty essential if you want to be a functioning adult in a society. If you ever moved to Ecuador, you would probably have to deal with money and the bank at least once in a while. I mean, if you wanted to be able to eat and stuff.

But here’s the thing about fluency that a lot of people miss: you don’t know every word in your native language. If someone asked you to explain how the brain works, you might not have the terminology to do it, unless you’re a neuroscientist, psychologist, etc. That’s okay because you can live your life without ever having to understand your brain (if you like to live ironically). The same is true when you learn another language. You probably won’t have to discuss the intricacies generative grammar or economics. So you can be fluent and still not have all that terminology. The goal is to have a general lexicon on which you can build. As such, if you want to learn how to talk economic theory, you have the words in your brain that let you understand the definitions. You don’t have to know everything.

But banking? Every bitch is going to need to bank.