Monday, February 28, 2005

Try looking for a job here

Twice a year I do a workshop for International Students about conducting a US-style job search. I have done this for probably ten years, usually by myself because I think the other staff people are afraid to do it. It doesn't really call for much, just patience and understanding and a certain sensitivity and maybe a little research.

Here's the thing: last fall I brought in a guest speaker, a Chinese man whom I had met at a conference, who volunteered to do it after I told him about my efforts to get the students to listen to what I had to say and take it to heart. I wondered if I had any credibility with the International Students and if I had the most current information for them. Well wouldn't you know it? He proceeded to tell them the same darn things that I tell them, but they listened to him, and even took notes!

I invited him again to come and do it today, but he didn't show up for some reason. This was puzzling because he seemed like the kind of person who lived up to his commitments. Later I checked the confirmation letter I had sent him and I had told him to come on "Monday, February 25", and of course it's Monday February 28 today. So I went ahead and did it myself.

We had a group of twenty or so students, a few of whom did participate when I asked questions, so that made it much easier. I asked them what their first impressions were of Americans when they landed in Cleveland. They said some kind things, remarking on the friendliness of the people, and their directness. (An International Student advisor once told me a less flattering impression: that Americans smell funny because we eat meat, while Hindus, for example, do not.)

I then took this and used in the workshop to show that they, too, have to be more direct in their dealings with Americans if they are to be perceived as confident and competent candidates.

Anyway, now I'm very tired, but it was kind of fun talking to the students--India, China, Greece, Venezuela, Taiwan, Malaysia--an interesting group.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

She's leaving home...bye ...bye

That's how the Beatles' song ends. I was a normal teenager, about 14 or so when I discovered rock and roll. Turns out my younger sisters had been listening to the radio and I heard this strange sound coming from their room one day. I loved it. 'You mean you've been listening to this and you never told me!" It became the soundtrack of my life. School, dates, homework, basketball games, time alone, driving my dad's car, long talks with friends--there were songs playing all the time.

Now I have this mechanism in my brain that tells me about my feelings before I am even aware of them. All I have to do is listen to whatever is playing in my head. So, today it's "She's Leaving Home" from Sgt. Pepper.

Yesterday Daughter Ann called and talked to Kathy for a few minutes and then said, '"Is Dad there? I have something I need to tell both of you." Well, if that's not enough to stop your heart as a parent! Here was her news: She and husband Peter are selling everything and moving to Ireland.

Peter is from Dublin, and his parents, brother and one sister still live there. Ann and Peter were married in Ireland last May, but came back to their house in Chicago. They had talked about making this move "some day" and now it's here. They are confident that they can find work there and start over. After all, they carved out a life for themselves in Chicago starting off cold, so they can do it again.

At their wedding they had a traditional Irish band named "Osna" playing for the guests. I bought the CD in Dublin and playing it always made me happy, remembering our wonderful trip. I put it on today and unexpectedly, tears streamed down my face. I'll be OK, they'll be OK--it's just sinking in now.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

One person can make a difference

Ever notice how it only takes one person to really louse up your day at work? I used to have to depend on this one secretary for important work, but she was very difficult to work with. She somehow made everyone feel like they had to walk around on eggshells in her presence. You were afraid to approach her--if you did, she would blatantly ignore you and then after fifteen seconds or so perhaps acknowledge that you were there. We used to wonder if she sometimes "went off her meds" and got goofy. Some days she was fine, but then she'd slide into weirdness. It didn't matter what you did for her, it never bought you any more than a passing pleasantry.

You could work with anyone else in the office, we all knew we were there to accomplish the same thing--helping our students, and that we were a team. She never understood that. She has since been transferred to a different office, and now the whole atmosphere has changed. The shadow that hung over our halls is gone, and we move a little more freely now.

You might say that no one can "make" you feel a certain way, that you choose your reaction, but darn it, some people are just too weird. Even now, I think we are "recovering co-workers of the crazy person."

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The Mark of Cane

Today I went to something I called Big Boy Camp. It was a chair caning class at a woodworking store . There were ten of us, counting the instructor. Four women were in the group which made it more interesting. There were several characters in the class, including the old codger who already knew it all, the man who was stressing over every move, and the woman who would say to someone else in the class , "Shouldn't you make that tighter?"--criticizing her as she was working on her chair.

We signed in at the cash register and then proceeded to the basement of the store where there were four waist high work tables and all the tools we would need. I was the only one who had a pressed cane chair, the kind where there is a spline that holds the cane in place. Everyone else had the kind with circles around the perimeter, where you had to weave the cane yourself through the holes. What they were doing looked a bit more interesting than my project. Amazingly, you stick one end of the cane into a hole, plug it with a wooden peg, and then thread it across to the opposite hole, and keep moving pegs around the perimeter as you go.

My chair required soaking the spline in hot vinegar to loosen the glue. Most appetizing. All I needed was oil and maybe some lettuce. I managed to chip the chair in a bad place as I worked on it. I think it can be fixed with some glue, though.

These are all chairs from Kathy's mom's house. There are four of them with the cane broken out. Maybe when I get to the fourth one, I'll finally figure out what I'm doing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

It's Raining Puzzle Pieces!

In our lives we play lots of different roles, some at work, some at home, some in the community--who we are depends upon where we are. Tonight I was "da", my grandson's name for me. His dad wasn't feeling well, so I went over to their place to be the entertainment for the evening. Max is two and a half, and full of energy, even at the end of the day. We love to be "kitties", which involves crawling on the floor and meowing. We sit in the "kitty house", which is a corner of the dining room piled high with toys. We chase each other, give horsey back rides, play kickball in the living room, put puzzles together, try out the monkey flashlight in a darkened bedroom, and pretend we are "The Incredibles". Tonight he put on his "Dash" slippers and showed how fast Dash can run. I tried to put together a big alphabet puzzle on the floor, and Max came over and wrecked all my careful work, taking handfuls of pieces and dropping them on his head proclaiming, "It's raining puzzle pieces!"

We took a break for a Valentine's Day cookie and some milk, and then it was back to mischief. But not for long, as he finally crawled to a stop and laid his head down on the dining room carpet. Dad (Shane) got him dressed for bed, and then Max showed me how he brushes his teeth. For the first time, I was able to tuck him in and give him a goodnight kiss. He curled up under his blanket with his stuffed Nemo and drifted off to wherever little boys' minds go as they fade into sleep.

Being a grandfather is the funnest thing I do. When he jumps into my arms after a long separation ( usually a few days), I'm flooded with endorphins. I don't even have to see him--just thinking about him causes me to start smiling like a simpleton. I know someday he'll be a sullen teenager busy with his friends, but right now he is a lovable bundle of snips and snails and puppy dog tails with an endearing brown eyed innocence that has charmed us completely.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

So, you're from India?

In my work as a career counselor in a university, I meet all sorts of people. Most of our students are from the northeast Ohio area, but we do have about 750 International Students. Many of those students are from India. Some do plan to go home after they graduate, but lots of them would like to stay in the US, at least for a while. Working experience at a US company can be worth a lot to their careers when they return home. I should know more about them than I do, since I've met so many, but often I only concentrate on the questions they ask me about their US job search and I neglect to ask them about their home.

Lately I met a couple of students who were willing to tell me about their lives in India. Sometimes people meet someone from India and think they know all about them, just from that one fact. If I tell you I live in Ohio, you might have a preconception about what that means, but you can't really tell much about me from that. Certainly, you cannot characterize everyone in the whole United States as being a certain way any more than you can capture the essence of a person from a country as complex as India. With over a billion people living in a space about one third the size of the US, it must be an amazing place.

We were talking about how to be successful in a US job search, and how important the ability to be understood in English is to their networking and writing. I remarked to one student that her English was very good and easy to understand. I thought that her parents probably made sure that she worked on that proficiency. She said, "No, we always spoke in our native language at home. I went to a British school and practiced my English there." Another student explained that in India, every state speaks its own language, while Hindi is the "official" language. The accent you might have, the pace at which you speak, are determined more by where you live and the customs of that area.

You may have had the experience of calling technical support for your computer, and find you are talking to someone in India. They try to train the people to speak in US accents, and even assign them American sounding names, but it doesn't always work. Offshoring of US jobs is common in some industries, and it is a sensitive issue for people in the US who are looking for the very work that is being sent overseas. Instead of paying a US worker $25-30,000, companies can get someone in another country to do the work for a couple of thousand dollars--its' awfully tempting. Anyway, I once tried to get the person on the other end to talk about other things besides technical stuff, but he didn't really want to talk politics. He got a little nervous, so I dropped it. For one of my technical problems the person said he had to transfer me to their "Internet expert." I said OK--and then found I was talking to a community college student in Florida!

Back to the topic (there was a topic?). I think I'll try to learn more about the people I meet from other countries. One place to start is .

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Let go, let God--does it work?

It's probably a cliche, that saying, "Let go, let God", but that doesn't make it any less true. I told you this was my crazy time, with pressure building at work with this giant job fair coming up. Today the 100th employer registered. There will be 420 company representatives there, and we're still two weeks away from the registration deadline.

The other day, one employer called and said she wanted to register but she didn't want her name and address to appear in the booklet that we hand out to students at the career fair. I said, "OK, go ahead and register and I can clear the information before we print the booklet." Well, I didn't take notes on our conversation and that night I couldn't remember her name or what company she was with. I woke up at 3am this morning worrying about it. All I could think of was how angry she would be if I did not do as I had promised. I was frantically trying to think of a way to save the situation.

Then this morning, sitting at work at about 7:30am, I just said, "Dear Jesus, please help me find out who that person was! I am going nuts thinking about it, but I know you can help me." I decided to let go and let Him do it. Moments later I found the email that spelled out who the company was and what they wanted. No kidding--it happened just that way. I immediately called another Christian at work and just said, "Kathy, I just wanted you to know that our God is an awesome God." She was pleased and agreed, saying she needed to hear that.

Want to hear more? My mom taught me a prayer probably 40 years ago: "Jesus is lost, Jesus is found--please help me find my _____________" and put in the blank whatever you have lost. I am proud to say that He has never failed me. I have found keys, money, shoes, all sorts of things. Once I lost my keys which was baffling because I always put them in the same place--on top of the refrigerator. Where could they go? After I said the prayer, I discovered they had fallen into the freezer compartment when someone had opened the door.

I have a lot fun teaching that prayer to skeptical people, like a woman at work who had lost hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards. She said, "OK I'll try anything." Sure enough, that night there was a message on my answering machine--she was so pleased that the cards had turned up--in a place where she was certain she had already searched.

The secret is to relax and turn things over to God. It's certainly not easy--we like to think we're just so smart and so capable that we don't need help, but we really do.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

My Crazy Time

This is my crazy time. At work I am in charge of producing the annual Spring Career Day. It's the biggest thing we do all year. The past few years it has been hard to convince employers to come out for the fair. This year we didn't have that problem. I'm beginnning to wonder where I'll put everyone. Anyway, this is my crazy time. I have this pressure building as the event draws nearer. I just start to be a little odd, not being able to concentrate on other things since this planning takes over my life. I develop this maniacal giggle as the time gets closer. I obssess about every detail, so it's good that that is my usual way of doing things.

Several things make this year a little easier. We have a terrific software program, written by one of our alums, that automates the whole registration process for employers. They just go to and fill out a form. This has saved us a tremendous amount of time since confirmations and invoices are generated automatically, and we can get a neat report in Excel detailing all the registrants. Also, we have wonderful people working in the office who are a great help--Irene and Peggy especially.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of the day, we will have over 100 companies there and over 1,000 students come through the doors. It's like planning a giant party and you hope people come. If you want to see who's coming, just go to If you're in Cleveland on March 4, 2005, come on in!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Stupor Bowl Sunday

My sister once asked me if I meant to spell it that way. Yes, I did. I did go to a Super Bowl party once years ago, at my then boss's house. I brought my son who was probably about 12 years old. We stayed for the first half, but then made some excuses to get out. Not much of a party person. Now it's down to Kathy and me and some hot hors d'ouerves (never could spell that) and shrimp and cheese and crackers. This year we might even watch half time with Paul McCartney. Last year I wasn't paying attention for the big moment that seems to have dominated the news for an entire year. But that's not important.

Yesterday Shane and Max and I went to the zoo. I invited myself along, since I knew they go almost every Saturday. Max is our two and half year old grandson and Shane is his father. Shane jokes that Max has no inner dialogue, since everything he is thinking seems to come right out immediately. He is quiet for brief periods as he tries to puzzle out something new he's never seen before. "What's that?" "Tell me!" are his favorite phrases now. The other day Kathy made him some microwave macaroni and cheese and he declared, "You're the best food maker in the whole world!" How nice for her to finally be recognized.

So what does this have to do with careers, the supposed topic of this blog? I'm not sure, except that being a kid is a career for a two and half year old. His job is to explore and question and figure things out as he makes his way in the world. His job includes learning and practicing what he has learned. Everything he hears is part of what he is learning, so watch out--he's liable to repeat anything you say. He'll blurt an occasional "Dammit", just to see if we react, so we have to be cool about it. That seems to have faded, so our tactic worked. No one can pick out hypocrisy like a little kid, and I suppose that's part of his job too.

Saturday, February 05, 2005, what do you think I should do?

", what do you think I should do?" After listening to someone describe their current career dilemma, this question used to bother me. I felt this great pressure to have an answer, but I learned that even what I consider to be the best possible solution will probably fall flat. The idea is to turn it back to them and have them come up with an answer. This involves a lot of listening and prompting, but eventually something good will come of it. The other day I had a thoroughly enjoyable appointment with a student who was anxious to finish up school and move to Michigan to join his girlfriend (hey Darlene--I said 'girlfriend!'). All I did was listen to him batting things around. That's all he really needed--a quiet place to talk out his options and hear how they sounded.

Sometimes people feel that it is somehow a sign of weakness to seek counseling, that they should be able to figure out things for themselves. Actually, it's sometimes a very good idea. Just find someone with whom you are comfortable and see how it goes.

Friday, February 04, 2005

How do you decide what to do?

How do you decide what to do with your life? What goes into that decision? Did you even make that choice or was it made for you?

There was a great TV show on in the late 80's, I think it was, about dinosaurs. Remember the one? The father was a tree-pusher for the Wesayso Company, the mother was a stay at home dinosaur, they had two teenage dinos and a younger one whose tag line was, "I'm the baby--gotta love me!" It was kind of a combination of "All in the Family", "Father Knows Best", and "The Donna Reed Show". As always, the mother was the one who had it together and was the level headed one, while the father was clueless but kind, wanting the best for his family, befuddled thought he might be. The teens would spat, the baby would make some insolent comment and the mother would make it all better again.

So in one episode, it was time for the teenage male's right of passage. He was taken by his father to see the guy who decided what career the kid would have. The boy wanted to be a rock star, of course, but he was relegated to his father's line of work: tree pushing. He recoiled at the decision,but gave it a try, but it was evident that he was not cut out for that sort of work. He got into terrible trouble with the boss dino one day--and this was a boss who could actually eat you if you got out of line. He was allowed to quit, or got fired, I forget which, but he did survive.

In America, the theory is that you can do whatever you choose in terms of a career. Some people have that choice, others don't--could depend on your family financial situation, your family dynamics--all sorts of things could get in the way of an autonomous decision on your part. In any case, what your parents do might certainly impact your career path. The doctor parent forcing the children to go into medicine, the scientist parent steering the children into engineering, or the blue collar parent insisting that the children do better and go into business. These are possible scenarios.

In my family, my dad was a civil engineer who sold steel for Republic Steel, all through New York City, North Jersey and Connecticut. My mom stayed home with us for many years, but then went to work for an advertising agency and then a Christian book publisher as an editor. So what did their children do? My youngest brother was an artist, the next younger brother is the president of a publishing company in NYC, my sister is a nurse practitioner and my other sister is a French and math teacher. My father just shakes his head. Not a math mind among us, though the teacher is something of a math prodigy, but never used it in her career till the teaching gig came up.

So, how did you arrive where you are now in your career?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Where I used to work

Darlene ("What would Jesus blog?" commented on one of my posts, talking about how close we become to people with whom we work, but once we leave the job, they quickly become strangers. It made me think about how I once visited a place where I had worked for seven years. As I wandered around the different offices visiting people, I realized I was looking for something. Later I realized I had been looking for myself! I wasn't there anymore.

Focus Group

Tonight I was part of a focus group for one of those opinion poll places. It consisted of six men with an English woman named Sarah as facilitator. The topic was diamond jewelry. They qualified the members of the group by trying to find men who had been married for a certain length of time, who were somewhat creative and who had either recently given or planned to give diamond jewelry to their wives in the near future. It was interesting to meet some new people and talk about ideas like surprising our wives with presents, and the meaning of romance.

We had a homework assignment to do before we came in tonight. We had to make a one page collage describing our relationship with our wives. If yours was judged the best, you got an extra $50. My collage was a picture of a stream winding through the woods (because you never know what's around the bend), surrounded by the frame of a puzzle (because women are puzzling), with an image of the internal structure of a conch shell (representing the way we balance each other). They wanted you to use different textures and such, so I made my stream a river of denim. Surprisingly, I didn't win. The guy who did win drew a stock market chart of ups and downs with Hershey's kisses marking the peaks and valleys. It was a good idea.

The discussion was rolling along when it came to a grinding halt as Sarah proposed a new jewelry design to us: two disparate metals joined with a diamond in the center. Only one person thought it might work. The rest of us thought it was a dumb idea, but she kept pressing.

I thought Sarah had an interesting job, though she did have to work at night. She kept prodding us with questions, carefully summarizing what we had said, probing for more information--everything a good facilitator should do to our credit, we were a good group, where just about everyone participated without much prompting.