Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sweating The Details


I cringe just hearing it.

Ever since I was 10, trying to enter a competitive Middle School in New York - one that required an interview, portfolio, and placement test - I've been weird about interviews. And okay, maybe the fact that I'm a bit of a misanthrope adds to that discomfort just slightly but interviews are inherently meant to make you self-conscious and nervous.

These are the general things I worry about with interviews:

1. Should I shake hands with my perspective client?

Now I know that this shouldn't be such a big deal but after the Middle School interview trauma, handshakes have becomes a silent form of communication. Trying to better my chances to get into Middle School, my mother hired an interview coach (which was very thoughtful of her). And honestly the only thing I remember, other than lying about what the school had to offer me (I don't know what 10 year old would know the answer to that question), what I had to offer the school (again, drawing a blank), and why I chose this school out of all the rest (because my mom told me to), the only thing I remembered was the handshake thing.

"If your handshake is too soft you'll seem weak willed," I remember the tall professionally dresses woman saying as I gripped her hand harder.

"Too hard and you'll seem bossy and mean," she explained as I dropped her hand all together.

It was like there was no winning. Handshakes were like a Goldilocks fairy tale all of a sudden. Not too soft, not too hard, but just right. And the idea that you could be defined by the way you hold and then pump someone's hand freaked me out. What exactly would they know about me? I became ridiculously embarrassed shaking hands with people and till this day, still subconsciously judge people on how they shake my hand.

2. What exactly do I say?

Everyone has this problem but I think its particularly bad for the socially impaired. Typically I like to plan ahead, try to figure out what I can say to sell myself as best as possible while still being genuine. But with the field I'm in, private tutoring, there's only so much that can be planned, and even then it's regurgitating what you've already put down in your resume.

But more than that, should I speak first or should I wait until they ask me questions? Should I prepare a speech and then let them speak or should I just answer their questions as best I can?

And on top of that, what's with people asking you to tell them a little about yourself? Several of the places I've interviewed at have asked me that question and the first response I have to that question is drawing a big blank. At this point, I've found having a default answer to this question would be wise.

3. If you are interviewing in someone's home (which you will generally do if you're a tutor, babysitter, or nanny) should you compliment someone on their home?

I usually feel pressured/compelled to do so but always feel that the words coming out of my mouth would be completely dis-genuine of me and would probably sabotage me more than anything.

4. How long should an interview generally be?

Maybe interviews are too closely linked to court hearings for me - I just want to hear the verdict. I feel like a short interview indicates that I don't have enough evidence and that the jury won't pay attention to the few facts I've laid out. A long interview is obviously not good either as you annoy the jury/your future benefactor. Again, like handshakes, you have the find the "just right" timing. I find this to be a 15-20 minute mark. This is the sweet spot that generally works for me.

Instances that throw you off during interviews:

1. Being told that other people are being interviewed for the same job.

You are automatically disheartened - at least I was. I went into an interview thinking honestly that it was just a formality, a meet and great before I officially got the job and once I sit down for my interview (at the very beginning too), I was told two other people were being interviewed the next day. This of course puts you on edge, makes you more eager to please your prospective client, and in a way makes me feel overly silly - a complete freaking panderer and that's just not who I am generally.

Thankfully all of these things got me the job which honestly I didn't think I was going to get.

2. Being asked for certifications and paperwork you weren't told to bring.

This one seriously upsets me. Generally you are told to bring two copies of your resume and references and just the procedure which is fine. But showing up to an interview and being asked for you teaching certification, background check form, etc when you weren't notified beforehand just completely throws you. You sit there like a floundering fish.

"N-no. I wasn't aware I was supposed to ah, bring one of those. I'm sorry."

All of a sudden, I'm an eight year old child apologizing for breaking something or forgetting to lock the door or feeding the cat or whatever it may be.

3. Having a completely new set of responsibilities told to you during the interview process.

This recently happened to a friend of mine. She went into an interview for an unpaid internship at a dog centered blog. She thought she would be helping out not acting as website manager. She had an interest in writing, not web design. And all of a sudden she is told she was to maintain the website among other computer savvy necessities as well as writing two articles a day.

Now this bothers me for several different reasons:
1) Job responsibilities are generally listed on job posts (especially if found in websites like craigslist) and so changing those responsibilities reveals a lot about one's boss - unorganized.

2) Giving an intern that much work makes me wonder what exactly it is that the boss is doing.

3) Internships these days are about slave labor for no wage. It's ridiculous. I understand that the economy is cycling down the toilet bowl but I'm tired of companies and people in general saying that they're paying you in experience.

"This'll help you build and add to your resume."
"We're paying you in experience."

I don't think so. Most places that say that to you either give you the same workload as someone who would have gotten hired three years ago meaning that you should be getting paid way more than just a free lunch here or there (that your boss makes you feel like you should be thankful for - like a dog wagging its tail at a bone). Or the experience you're "getting paid with" is something as simple as filing. What kind of experience is that? I can file my own paper work at home. I don't have to commute to an office (which requires train fare out of my own pocket since you don't pay me) where you'll have me filing your paper work and picking up coffee for people who do actually get paid.

What kind of indentured servitude is this?

Working as an intern somewhere that doesn't pay you is like being a girl who sleeps with a boy and hopes that he'll eventually ask her out. Don't hold your breath. People are selfish. Get out while you still can.

Or - and this is just my opinion - bum it out for at least two months so you won't look like an idiot for including the horrible unpaid job in your resume.

Well its seems I've lost steam. I guess the only parting words I have is to not psych yourself out before your interview. I do it to myself all the time and always take a few deep breaths before going in so that I'm not in negativity-land.

No matter what, stay calm. If a curve ball is thrown at you, if you are asked for more, if anything changes, take a few seconds and then respond so that you're not acting unprofessional.

Be friendly but not vapid and superficial.

And prepare as much as possible.

And good luck! I know you'll do well!

(Sorry this post wasn't too uplifting)

Till Next Time

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Hard Part

Is doing two things simultaneously.

I know that most of New York has experience working and taking classes at the same time - at 22 who wouldn't be able to handle all of the responsibility at once? Well, me for one. Working and going to school at the same time is a completely new experience and I have to say, it's just all sorts of draining. I feel like Superman near kryptonite and the side effects aren't very pretty.

But even before the taxing workload and insomnia facilitated by your need to get things done without enough hours in the day, there are preexisting reasons why sometimes people like me just shouldn't try to do too much at once. Firstly, my expertise in procrastination. Ever try to take four English classes in one semester while tutoring two different sets of children with completely different grade levels? It's a lot of research, a lot of reading, and most of the time, you feel like you're doing three times as much homework as you're assigned. Which means more often than not, something's not getting done, or is getting done late and usually that something is your school work. Sure the answer would be to break the bad habit instead of letting your responsibilities fall by the wayside but its a shody habit to break. Ever try to quite smoking? Well quitting procrastination's just as hard. Just, instead of me cancering up my lungs, I'm banging out gray hairs thanks to stress. Awesome.

Secondly, I have a migraine condition. Now I know this one isn't too relate-able, but you imagine getting sharp pains around your temples, being sensitive to light and sound, getting nauseous enough to want to throw up anywhere (unless you're a pro like me and know how to hold out until the nearest toilet - fun fun) and then get back to me about how easy it is to work and do school at the same time. Sure people are always telling me that there are way to control the condition.

"There are triggers," they say. But when your main trigger is stress, what else can you do but try to ride the wave and hope the migraine ends soon?

"Take medication," they say. And I do but migraine medication is tricky. To begin with the side effects are ridiculous and the people prescribing overlook the most important details. Once, I had a doctor give me migraine medication where the side effect was shortness of breath. Doesn't sound too horrible unless you have asthma.... I was gasping for are, unable to gulp down even a drink of water, let alone solid food - and this for about three hours after taking the medication. So now at the earliest signs I either become an avid pill-popper (which can last for days before the migraine gets tired of my fighting it) or I'm sleeping for ten hours straight, hoping I won't wake up sick (which happens all the time).

So now on top of falling behind on school work, I'm missing classes because I'm stressed out about having to keep up with everything and worse, I always feel like I should be doing better than I already am - as a student and as a tutor. And the sad thing is, even when I'm on top of everything the feeling doesn't go away. The need to push and be better is this suffocating bubble of "don't be mediocre" I must have picked up somewhere like a bad disease.

Also, my addiction to manga (I'm a real loser on the down-low) and teen drama shows like The Lying Game and The Secret Circle probably don't help.

As far as real problems are concerned, taking 4 high level English classes, being on top of all your reading, writing papers, and making lessons plans for other students isn't exactly a walk in the park. It requires (for me anyways) getting my hands on hundreds of textbooks (materials to be used for tutoring), going through all the applicable files of textbooks depending on the student, deciding from there what specifically a student needs, what pages to assign, how much paper you're willing to waste on the whole thing, figuring out how to get from class to a completely different borough in an hour (while trying to read as much as you can for class tomorrow), being met with kids who half the time are distracted from learning because of their need to play (which isn't so bad) and then students who just don't want to learn at all (the worst to deal with - discouraging and a complete pain), and then coming home after that and telling yourself there's more work to be done, that you still need to read 150+ of text for tomorrow. And those are the good days when you're not sick and calling your father (pathetic I know) to come pick you up because you can't afford a cab and are so sick you can't walk straight.


It's a bit overwhelming and I'm getting stressed out just writing about it.

But this is not to say that I don't appreciate all of the things that come with this hardship. I mean, everyone has to grow up sometime, take on more responsibilities, move outside of their comfort zone, make their own money so they don't live as adults mooching off of their parents. And when all's said and done, I enjoy my classes, how much they're challenging my mind with critical essays, and offering new interpretations of texts I thought I'd already understood. I like teaching and tutoring (especially when children are willing to compromise with me), like feeling like I'm a part of the learning process and that I'm helping kids with something their understaffed, underfunded schools are failing to do.

I like feeling like I'm contributing to society and the education process.

I like trying to make a small difference in all of the problems that plague me about the American education system.

And despite the stress, I like feeling like eventually, I'll get a handle on all of this stuff and be better for it.

So if anyone else out there is having a hard time juggling two things at once, and I don't just mean a job and school but maybe friends and your boyfriend, or school and a social life, or what ever it may be, just keep fighting the good fight.

Till Next Time