How Not to Get a Job, Part 2

Getting in the hiring mode has got me started on a screed about mistakes that far too many job applicants make.  In my last entry, I detailed faux pas on resumes and application forms.  Now to interviews.

I start with something that many people forget to do before the interview and that is research the company. Once you learn the identity of the potential employer, find out something about the organization. Since most companies have websites, researching a prospective employer has become relatively easy.

Employers always appreciate it when job applicants have taken the time to understand their businesses. Knowing something about the company can help you formulate questions and guide you in answering the employer’s questions. It enables you to present your experience and capabilities in terms of the employer’s needs.

What else? Focus on what you can do for the employer. In interviews (and also in cover letters) too many job candidates want to talk about only what they want out of a job.

One job applicant sent a press release, the lead of which was that he was sitting at home watching TV since he couldn’t find a job; another compared herself to a frog on a pond waiting for the “kiss of inspiration” from an employer to turn her into a princess of creativity.

I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if these were fresh, creative approaches; one thing I know is that they demonstrated a self-centeredness that does not make for a competent professional service provider.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, ask not what the employer can do for you, ask what you can do for the employer.

How Not to Get a Job

We’re hiring again at Jampole Communications, and for the first time in a few years it’s because the business is growing past the resources of the existing staff.

Growth is good, but I think I’m not the only businessperson who has more fears approaching the hiring process than when involved in any other aspect of managing an organization, large or small.

Job applicants don’t make it any easier. Perusing through resumes and interviewing candidates makes me more aware than usual that the overwhelming majority of job candidates shoot themselves in the foot and don’t even know it.

I wrote in 2002 for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the many mistakes jobseekers make are a problem for them, but an even bigger problem for employers, especially at small businesses.

Virtually all my fellow employers tell me that hiring is the hardest thing they have to do. It’s made harder by the numerous missteps that most job applicants take.

In the interests of making life a little easier for the many people seeking jobs in the current tight marketplace as well as for the businesses doing the hiring, I want to present a few tips on applying for a job. What I have to say applies specifically to seekers of professional positions, but it should help other job applicants as well.

Make sure your application is error-free. About half of all cover letters and resumes we receive have grammatical, syntactical or spelling errors. If there is one mistake only and we like what we see on the resume, we will sometimes contact the applicant and ask that he or she find the error and resubmit. If there is more than one mistake, the resume goes into the trash bin.

Follow all directions. When a prospective employer asks you to provide something or do something, if you want the job, you had better follow the directions (assuming it’s legal and ethical).

For example, one time we placed a classified ad for a public relations writer, in which we asked that applicants send resumes and writing samples. We received 150 responses, but only 20 of them had writing samples enclosed. The other 130 went right into the trash bin.

Keep it relevant. While I may personally be intrigued by the job applicant who writes poetry or paints abstract images on guitar cases, it isn’t really relevant to the job we have to do every day.

Deciding what is relevant often involves a judgment call.

For example, participation in extracurricular activities and holding summer jobs are relevant when a job applicant has just graduated from college. They are no longer relevant five years later. But getting a full academic scholarship covering room and board for four years (as my son did! says the proud dad) or winning a Fulbright Fellowship—these kind of academic achievements are probably relevant until the end of your career.

No time for more right now, but next time I really should also write something about frequent interview mistakes that are killers.

Good Taste is Not Selling Out

“Good taste is knowing how to eat right,” is the headline for a Diet Coke ad I found near the back of the GQ through which I recently flipped.  The ad depicts Tom Colicchio, supposedly an award-winning chef, seated in a plush restaurant booth, before him a luscious and healthy salmon dish that we are to assume he created, with a side of what looks like gorgeous red peppers.  In his hand is a glass filled with ice and a brownish substance, which we are to assume is Diet Coke.  Also on the beautiful redwood table is a glass bottle of Diet Coke.  The ad copy recommends that if we want some stylish and delicious healthy cuisine, we should visit the Diet Coke Kitchen at

Once a chef suggests any sweet carbonated drink as the perfect liquid to accompany anything other than barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers, he or she loses all credibility to me, and to most educated people (I think… I hope).

How much money did Chef Tom get to endorse Diet Coke, or to pretend that it’s just right for a nice piece of salmon?  On the off chance that he really believes in the culinary virtues of Diet Coke, though, I recommend that my dear readers avoid his restaurants in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Las Vegas.

Note to Tom: Good Taste is Not Selling Out.

GQ: The Bible of the Other Directed

Someone in my household bought the latest GQ to read the feature on Vladimir Putin, so naturally I took a look-see at this slick rag. 

The ads in GQ were just as I remembered them from the last time I perused a copy, probably some 25 years ago: very sharp photographs of highly-chiseled models in stylish clothing against nondescript backgrounds or in plush environments, all body imperfections whisked away electronically. 

What shocked me was the contrast in the sophisticated classic designs of the ads and the almost sloppy, thrown together look of most of the design of the editorial—except for a few features, most were bulletin-board arrangements of paragraphs, pull-out quotes, mini cartoons, clip art and factoids, in primitively primary colors and tiny type size, all presented with a kind of studied camp irony, as if the bulletin-board design were making fun of itself.  Bite-sized and well-sugared pieces of knowledge.

To use David Riesman’s terminology from his seminal work of sociology, The Lonely Crowd, GQ readers are upscale versions of the “other directed,” always seeking to follow the crowd and changing their opinion with the crowd changes.  Most of the magazine is dedicated to selling fashion and high-end consumer goods.  The underlying premise is that the purchase of consumer goods will attract the opposite sex.   Funny, GQ’s politics tend to be left of center and supportive of our left-of-center president, but the subtext, even of the politics, is inherently sexist.  Women in GQ become another possession. 

I was trying to figure out how GQ gets away with putting dozens of pages of advertising near the front of the magazine, page after page after page.  In a way, GQ forces you to flip every page (and thereby see all the ads) because editorial content is so sparse until the back of the book.  I suppose if the primary motivation is to understand what to buy and how to act to be cool, then you don’t mind looking at ads.

Harvesting the Sunday Newspapers

As usual, there were a lot of disturbing trends to note in last Sunday’s newspapers.  Let’s skip the small stuff, such as the increasingly common misuse of “but,” “though” and “nevertheless” by reporters and public relations writers, and instead look first at a weird bit of “celebriosis,” and then at a long-term trend that has put serious literature on life support.

Celebriosis is the disease that makes editors want to connect a celebrity to every trend or cause, and Parade Magazine has had an advanced case of it for decades.  The issue dated September 4, 2009 is dedicated to helping people find a job, including articles on how to ace an interview and features on five people who were “winners” in the job market. 

The expert on job-seeking whom Parade put on the cover and who reminisced at length about his own job search was neither an economist nor a human resource professional, but Jay Leno.  Jay tells a few anecdotes, from which jobseekers and our nation’s youth can learn two lessons:

  • Work for free (which Jay did to get a job at a car dealership)
  • Work two jobs and save all your money from one of them. (Hidden message –you need to work two jobs to save).

Jay, and I call him Jay because after he bared his job-seeking soul I now feel as if I know him like a brother (sic), had the space in his 500-word pep talk for the unemployed to shill at great length for his new TV show.

Now to a trend in serious literature and poetry, which I believe is one of leading causes behind the growing disinterest in the literary arts.  The center spread—the absolute middle of the magazine—of the New York Times book review contained two reviews of recent fiction:

  • The Anthology by Nicholson Baker, about a man writing an introduction to a book of poetry.
  • Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez about an editor.

The trend of course is to make writers, writing, teachers and editors the central subject of a novel or a poem.  If you peruse any literary journal, at least 10% of the poems are about poetry and poets, and in another 10-20%, the poet reminds the reader that the narrator is a real person who is a poet.  Writing about the writer infected the novel decades ago.

My objections:

  1. Anyone can write about him or herself.  It’s so much more challenging to write about other people.
  2. I’m a little tired of the inherent navel-gazing that writing about writers and writing involves.
  3. Since it’s been done to death, it’s akin to replowing farmland of which the soil has been depleted decades ago.  That usually yields a scrawny and inedible harvest, which pretty much describes most poetry and fiction these days.
  4. It turns off readers, although when I mention that notion to my friends who write poetry, they say that only writers are reading literature nowadays.  How depressing, but even if it were true, why not try to write beyond your audience? Why not try pushing your audience, as Joyce or Stevens and virtually all writers who are remembered and read after their death have always done?

The reviewer of the Baker book said the reason he liked it was because instead of making the novel about some first-paragraph straw man—hokey stories about poets—, this one is “actually about poetry.”  I would prefer if instead it were about some aspect of the human condition. 


Maybe the Times Deserves to Be Picked On?

In the wake of two recent stories about people on Medicaid in which all the case histories were African-American, the New York Times today presented a story of brave and highly skilled Americans who have been looking for jobs so long that they have became discouraged and are no longer looking.  The four people, whom the Times drew from four distinct parts of the country, represent what may be a total 1.4 million people who want to work, but are not even considered as in the labor force and therefore are not counted among the unemployed.

All four of the people in the article, which in the national edition is a third of the first page plus one other page, are white (one with a Hispanic surname).  Just as the Times could not find a white who is on Medicaid in two articles on cutbacks hurting clinics, so it could not identify one black who wants to work but can’t find a job.

Interesting to note that both Medicaid articles limited the case histories to one city, whereas today’s article roamed from Kansas and Houston to North Carolina and Florida.  

You can blame it on the reporters, but editors are also to blame for what is looking more and more like a subtle attempt to reinforce traditional racial attitudes by the Times.

Doonesbury Copies a Master

There are many variations on the old saw that there are relatively few patterns in human communication.  Some examples:

  • Jack Benn told only six jokes.
  • There are only 10 basic plots for all stories.
  • The theory of Theophrastus (371 b. c. e. – 281 b. c. e) that there are only 30 basic character types in drama.

A Doonesbury that I saw earlier this week reminds me that there are only a limited number of jokes and punch lines.  It represents a perfect example of reinvigorating a basic cartoon joke, one that has been around for millennia and is an important building block in the language of the cartoon. 

I remember first seeing this piece of cartoon rhetoric in the late 60s: Under a voluptuously wide tree, a young man and woman sit on a blanket.  His balloon is crowded with images that show he’s talking about everything from the theory of relativity to the possibility of happiness in a world haunted by death, his total monologue covering perhaps 25 distinct topics.  Her think balloon is a photo of the two of them making out on the blanket in the buff.

The trope is the dissonance in thinking between two people who share a moment together: one has his head in an ethereal and rather wordy place, the other is fixated on a basic instinct.  The joke relies on irony and the restatement of a widespread belief.

Garry Trudeau does an admiral job of breathing new life into this old trope, putting his new wine in an old rhetorical bottle.  His version comprises four panels, in each of which a CIA station chief wearing a cowboy hat makes a series of depressing comparisons between our current war in Afghanistan and the Viet Nam war.  He speaks a total of 54 words, which is really a lot for a newspaper weekday cartoon.  In the last panel, the think balloon above the incompetent slacker kid to whom he’s talking reads, “I could go for a kebob.”

Same joke delivered using the same rhetorical device.

Note that Trudeau communicates as his subtextual message one of the mainstays of ideological subtext in virtually all periods and all societies about which I remember reading: That the young are less competent and have less drive to succeed than their elders.  Interesting to note, in many civilizations such as our own, major subtextual themes involve both despising and worshiping young adults.


La plus ça change

The old French expression, “la plus ça change,” or “the more things change… (the more they remain the same)” certainly applies to the health care reform debate.

While looking for something else on the bookcase in the Jampole Communications office today, I found a very intriguing soft cover book titled “Health Care Reform Terms” from Tringa Press, by Vergil N. and Debora A. Slee, both medical doctors.

What was both so fascinating and alarming about this 115-page dictionary of terms deemed important for the understanding of the health care industry and health care reform was that the Slees wrote and published it in 1993 during the period in which the Clinton Administration was developing its health reform plans.

Two depressing observations:

1.  That it took 115 pages to define all the terms and acronyms that someone needed in 1993 to be a knowledgeable participant in the debate.  I perused the terms and virtually all I recognized are relevant to the healthcare debate today.  Some examples: “standard benefit package,” “Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” “assignment,” “area wage adjustment,” NHSC, OBRA, OMB, “procedure,” “right to die,” “case management,” “single-payer system,” “smart card.”

2.  That the objectives of health care reform, as proposed in the Slees’ introductory overview, remain absolutely the same.  The Slees present these objectives as a series of single words, followed by short paragraphs of explanation. Here they are:

  • Cost
  • Waste
  • Equity
  • Access
  • Accountability
  • Quality
  • Prevention
  • Security

The single word headlines are enough to make us realized how foolishly our society has squandered the last 16 years when it comes to creation of a modern health care system that ensures that everyone gets the health care that should be the basic right of all peoples while controlling cost.

Ideological Subtext, Part 3

The New York Times today offered two examples of ideological subtext, which roughly speaking is the embedding of a basic value, belief or social axiom into the subtext of a communication.  The reference to the belief usually is unnecessary to the understanding of the article, and sometimes runs counter to the facts that the article is exploring.

Here are the examples, both from the national edition, published in Canton, Ohio:

  • Here is the description of Erich Kunzel in the first paragraph of his obituary: “Erich Kunzel, who conducted the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for more than three decades, undermining the pretensions of symphonic music in more than 80 recordings….” The ideological subtext is that classical music has “pretensions.”  The writer could have just as easily said,”…and dumbing down people’s understanding of music by conflating ‘Pops’-style orchestrations with legitimate classical music in more than 80 recordings…”  Or more even-handedly, the writer could have written, “…popularizing ‘Pops-style’ orchestral music in 80 recordings…”
  • The lead story on the “National” page concerned another Medicaid clinic in trouble.  There were three photos and all were of African-Americans (one also had a physician who clearly looked either subcontinental or middle eastern).  I have now seen five photographs in two feature articles in the Times on Medicaid clinics in trouble in the past few weeks and all the photos focused on African-Americans.  Again, the overwhelming number of Medicaid recipients are white.  Now it is possible that across the country only clinics serving African-Americans are in trouble; if so, that’s the real story and the New York Times should cover it.  As is, the ideological subtext to the story is that only Black people are on the public dole.

I’m not picking on the New York Times, but it’s the newspaper I read everyday.  I am going to start giving examples of ideological subtext from other news media over the next few weeks.

Wake Up the Copy Editors

The New York Times may be going a little too far in trying to make its Tuesday “Science Times” section accessible to the mythical average Joe-and-Jane.  I’m sure many of my (perhaps mythical) readers know the section I’m talking about: It’s the one with all the health care and technology/engineering articles with some occasional science thrown into the mix.

The beginning of two articles in today’s “Science Times” both take a chatty, “here’s what the in crowd thinks” approach to introducing the subject, a writing style that really belongs in gossip, society and fashion magazines.  Neither article offers up any study or expert to support the assertions made at the beginning of the article, but rather presents them as self-evident, at least to those of us who are “in the know.”  Both articles go on to present theories of experts that contradict or stand in contrast to the ideas presented as known gospel in the first paragraph(s).

The first article concerns recent theories on the “evolutionary” advantage of sleep.  Before we go any further, I must state that I am a firm believer in the theory of evolution and the fact that humans and all living things descended through time and mass extinctions from single cell creatures.   I just don’t like to see pop-Darwinism thrown around to make silly conjunctures about the complex behavior of humans.

 “If there is a society of expert sleepers out there, a cult of smug snoozers satisfied that they’re getting just the right number of restful hours a night, it must be a secretive one. Most people seem insecure about their sleep and willing to say so: they would like to get a little more; maybe they wish they could get by on less; they wonder if it’s deep enough.”

This next story, from the same issue, also is about the evolutionary origins of an aspect of human behavior, in this case, the serial monogamy that many people in western societies practice.  The assumption that “we” (or at least “our crowd”) believe the ridiculous sexist nonsense proffered in the first two paragraphs is its own kind of reinforcing ideological subtext, and an offensive one to my way of thinking.  And note again the lack of any expert or study to support the “theories,” or even support the assertion that most people believe these theories.

“In the United States and much of the Western world, when a couple divorces, the average income of the woman and her dependent children often plunges by 20 percent or more, while that of her now unfettered ex, who had been the family’s primary breadwinner but who rarely ends up paying in child support what he had contributed to the household till, climbs accordingly. The born-again bachelor is therefore perfectly positioned to attract a new, younger wife and begin building another family.

“Small wonder that many Darwinian-minded observers of human mating customs have long contended that serial monogamy is really just a socially sanctioned version of harem-building. By this conventional evolutionary psychology script, the man who skips from one nubile spouse to another over time is, like the sultan who hoards the local maidenry in a single convenient location, simply seeking to “maximize his reproductive fitness,” to sire as many children as possible with as many wives as possible. It is the preferred male strategy, especially for powerful men, right? Sequentially or synchronously, he-men consort polygynously.”

While we’re on the subject of leads, I’ve seen another sign that cutbacks in newsrooms are leading to a lowering of editorial standards.  Here are the first two paragraphs in today’s Associated Press story on the Yankees-Orioles baseball game last night:

“Andy Pettitte retired his first 20 batters before a lamentable seventh-inning sequence spoiled both his perfect game and no-hit bid, and the New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-1 Monday night.

“Pettitte (12-6) was poised to finish the seventh without allowing a baserunner, but former Oriole Jerry Hairston Jr. let a two-out grounder by Adam Jones slip through his legs for an error. Hairston was playing in place of Alex Rodriguez, who was given the night off.”

Now here’s the entire story about the game that ran in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and many other newspapers, which have taken up the practice of using the first sentence of the A.P. article as the compete story in a round-up section of baseball games:

“Andy Pettitte retired his first 20 batters before a lamentable seventh-inning sequence spoiled both his perfect game and no-hit bid, and the New York Yankees beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-1 Monday night.”

Someone at the Post-Gazette really should have taken the time to revise “before lamentable seventh-inning sequence” (not such a great phrase to begin with, but acceptable when followed by a sentence of explanation) into something like “before an error and a hit…”