Monday, June 27, 2011

There's No Question for This

I have spent these past few weeks dropping off a lot of resumes, writing batches of cover letters, and filling out many, many job applications. I found myself getting tired of writing the same information over and over (though now I have several of my references' phone numbers memorized). When I started feeling that I was repeating myself, though, I began wondering about the things that don't appear on my resume or that do not come up in my most recent work history. After being trained for several years on how to make every activity into a bullet-pointed section that will get me a job, I'd like to share a few things that might not come up on job applications.

Favorite moments from my last job

If you were reading this blog back in March, you might remember that one of my all-time favorite things is when my coworkers checked out popular titles at my library job. I really enjoyed many aspects of that position. While in interviews I do discuss how much I liked building relationships with library visitors and working with the (often hilarious) other student staff members, the smaller details of the job do not necessarily come up. How can I explain in an interview how satisfying it was, after sorting through stacks of DVDs, to discover that someone had swapped the cases for two discs from Dexter Season 4? That after half an hour of finding all the DVDs in the correct boxes, I was justified because I had found a mistake and fixed it? Or another good moment: someone came in asking for a comedy, and I suggested Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, one of my go-to movies. The guy said he'd already seen it on my recommendation and liked it, so that's why he was asking me for more movie ideas. (That also made up for all the times I recommended Dog Day Afternoon and no one rented it.) While these get blanketed under "working with customers" and "problem-solving," they were moments that made my job a lot of fun.

Learning the hard way

At job interviews a good attitude is absolutely necessary. So far I haven't found too many interviewers asking about what I haven't liked about past jobs, and even if they did I would most likely downplay any bad experiences I'd had. (Though truth be told, I've been very lucky so far!) My first ever job was at a fabric store in Massachusetts, and it has taken me years to get over the fear of answering phones that I developed there. At a fabric store, customers call for the usual questions: What are your hours? Where are you located? Are quilt squares on sale? and so on. But they also call with very specific questions: Do you have red buttons that have four holes and are a quarter-inch wide? Do you have a blue marble that may have fallen out of a lawn ornament from your seasonal section? When I worked at this fabric store, there was often one manager on duty, one person at the cutting counter, and maybe one or two associates at the cash register. If it was a busy afternoon, any mad dash to look at the wall of buttons would result in a line at the cash register and angry, impatient customers. If I didn't dash, though, the bright red "on hold" light would remind me that soon I would have to confront the angry, impatient customer on the phone. It was lose-lose. After my next job (not at a fabric store), I got over my fear of phones. Also, after answering phones in France last summer, I have found that if a phone rings at my work in the U.S., it can't be as intimidating as talking to angry, impatient French mothers.
Red makes it that much scarier.

And for my next trick...

People often have talents that do not appear on their CV. Not all of us may be able to send out video resumes like Barney Stinson, which demonstrate our skydiving skills or commitment to America. For example, one of my good friends can do a spot-on Macy Gray impression. Another can make chocolate chip cookies in less than 15 minutes. From my job applications, interviewers can tell that I can speak French, but they don't often learn that I make good crepes. They also can't tell that I have an internal radar system that lets me know when I'm within 100 yards of an adorable small dog. (Someday this talent will come in handy, I just know it!) They also might not learn that I like to think I can take pretty good travel photos. (Though my sister has the photography talent in the family; check out her picture of the Law Quad!)

Photo credit: Dr. Rebecca A. Chanoux
(She's also really smart)

So while writing cover letters and sending out applications makes me feel a little boxed into the different bullet points on my resume, I do like the chance to think back on my various jobs up to this point. I'm looking forward to more favorite moments and interesting stories!

What are talents that don't show up on your resume?
What stories do you have that might not make it into job interviews?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

City Living

It's been a while since I've updated this blog, partially because I've been busy trying to find paying work and partially because writing about my favorite places in Ann Arbor, my go-to theme, makes me miss U of M too much. I've also run into the same feeling that I encountered when I first moved to Michigan for school. Most of my friends were scattered around the east coast, and while they might have loved to visit me, getting to Michigan was much harder than, say, hopping a bus to Boston or New York. Now many of my friends are in the midwest (though now I am closer to my east coasters!), and the cost of a flight to Philly is a little daunting. So while writing about places in Philly on this blog will happen, at this point it feels like I would just be trying to convince my midwestern friends to come visit me. (But please do! We would have so much fun!)

So, tonight's post is about the past few weeks. This has been my first time living in a large American city. Though I like to say I'm from Boston, I'm from the suburbs. While Ann Arbor was certainly bigger than my home town, it was not as large as Philadelphia. Moving down here has been a bit of an adjustment, due to both the lifestyle (I don't have to go to class? What?) and the location.

Philadelphia - at night!

While I'd gotten used to the sounds of ragers on my street (and, for the last year, my crazy neighbors' fireworks displays), there are new noises here. There is a gate across driveway of my apartment building that beeps whenever any cars enter or exit. For the first two weeks, I thought it was my neighbor's alarm clock. I kept wondering why it took them the exact same amount of time to shut it off and why it went off at such odd intervals. There is also more traffic noise overall, which freaks out my mother when I call her as I walk around the city. Over the phone she can hear the honking horns and high-pitched wailing of police cars, so she often interrupts me to ask, "Are you watching where you're going?!" or "What did you do?!"

There are the small things, like how I have to force myself not to arrive places on Michigan Time. Ten minutes past the hour in the rest of the country is not just on time. Also, whenever I see a bar that has Oberon on tap, I feel like I must order it to drink in all the Michigan I can. Sadly, none of the bartenders here have served it with an orange slice. I also have yet to sing karaoke at a bar, but I'm not sure it would be as fun without the normal Sunday night crowd.

There are really good things, too. I have heard some hilarious conversations on public transportation. On the bus last night, a teenage boy was sitting near me, talking on the phone with a friend. He was on his way to Burger King, and after a pause I overheard, "What? You want me to buy you a burger? We in a recession, times is hard." It made my night.

Happily, I also really like my internship. I'm learning a lot about publishing, and am feeling slightly less terrified about choosing a career path. To make interning even better, there is a nest of baby birds outside the front door:

Smart birds nest in trees.
Book smart birds nest in publishing houses.

I am still just finding my way around the city and adjusting to life after college, but so far I'm enjoying the direction I'm headed. I'm getting used to the noise and bustle of the city, and even though I miss Ann Arbor and Boston like crazy, I'm excited to make Philadelphia my own.

How have you adjusted to new cities? What stood out most to you at first?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Music

The idea of music reminding you of specific parts of your life is not original. In fact, Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity, devoted an entire book to it. But because yesterday it was nearly 100 degrees outside and I recently rediscovered how much fun it can be to dance around while I cook, here is some of my favorite summer music, with explanations:

1812 Overture - Tchaikovsky

Every summer, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs the 1812 overture at the huge 4th of July celebration at the Hatch Shell. The army lines up and fires cannons off over the Charles River, and the fireworks start soon after. I always associate this piece with Independence Day and Boston, and my sister made fun of me recently for not knowing the real history of the piece. It has nothing to do with America or the War of 1812. Rather, it was written to celebrate Russia's defeat of Napoleon in 1812. If you listen to the full piece (I just linked to the finale here) you can hear snippets of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise. I love when history and music intersect!

I'm all for fireworks, but who decided that Statue of Liberty hats were a good idea?
(And why do so many people agree?)

Lambé An Dro - Matmatah

Last summer, I spent two months living with a family in Nantes, France. They were also renting a room to a guy who was attending the university nearby. My host mother complained that he didn't study that hard and spent all his time at his girlfriend's place. The guy was really nice to me, though, and gave me a bunch of music from his favorite French bands as well as some classics that he thought I needed. This band is from Bretagne and according to him, the opening guitar hook is a traditional Breton melody. It's extremely catchy, so even though I don't understand all of the lyrics, it's one of my favorites. Listening to it always makes me think of riding trains around France.

Look! A baby train!

Another picture of France for good measure

The State of Massachusetts - Dropkick Murphys

The summer after my freshman year, two of my girlfriends and I went to the Dropkick Murphys concert in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was held at the Lowell Spinner's stadium, so it combined baseball and music, two of my favorite things. (I also love that as many people were wearing Red Sox gear as were wearing Dropkick Murphys concert t-shirts.) Part of the reason I love this song so much is because Massachusetts is right there in the title. After I left for colleges, summers were the longest periods of time I spent back in Massachusetts, so any song that discusses my home state makes me think of sunny days sitting on the Lexington Battle Green, or, in this case, LeLacheur Park.

Boys of Summer are also a perk of the season.
(Photo taken from

Jesus on the Radio - Guster

There is not much to do in my hometown after 8:30 pm. (Please see previous post.) Because of this, I often found myself driving around in friend's cars, blasting music. We'd end up at playgrounds or parks around Lexington and Arlington, or we'd find ourselves in Davis Square in Somerville. Many of my summer memories from high school and the first summers after college involve sitting in my friend's silver Camry, windows down, singing along to whatever song she was blasting. Admittedly, a lot of these songs were whatever was Top 40 at the time (lots of Rhianna and Black Eyed Peas with some classic boy bands thrown in now and then). However, there was also a lot of Guster. This song is acoustic and has always sounded light and summery to me. I hope you like it as much as I do.

What is some of your favorite summer music and why?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer: Part III

Commuting is a recent addition to my summers.
In 2009, I took the bus and the T into Boston for an internship; in 2010, I hopped a bus and a tram in Nantes, France; this summer I'm taking the subway and a trolley in Philadelphia. I've been lucky to have been able to take public transportation, where I can entertain myself without worrying about accidentally rear-ending someone on a highway off-ramp. Sure, often I find myself jammed too close to sweaty businessmen or my feet almost get crushed by an old lady's high heels, but riding public transportation can be unexpectedly fun.

Regular readers of this blog might remember one of my previous commuting stories about crossword puzzles. Another one of my favorite moments that same summer also happened on the T. My sister Becky went down to Philadelphia for a few days to look for a new apartment. She found one she really liked, but when she decided to sign the lease, it had already been taken. She ended up with an apartment way down on her list. (Even thinking about that apartment makes my mom shudder, but somehow Becky survived a year there.)

It seemed like Becky could use a happy surprise, so after work I walked down to Sweet, a cupcake shop a few minutes from where I interned. I picked up a small cupcake for her, which the cupcake girl carefully packed in a box for me. I made my way back to the Green Line T stop and headed home.
C is also for Cupcake.
(The one I got for Becky did not look like this.)

Somewhere between the Green Line and my transfer to the Red Line, I started to worry that I hadn't been holding the cupcake box perfectly upright. Between trying not to hit anyone with my bag and racing to catch the right Red Line train, I may have jostled the surprise dessert. Once the train started clearing out as we neared the last stop, I peeked inside the box and found that Becky's cupcake had dented frosting, but still looked appetizing.

At this point, a man sitting next to me leaned over. "Is it okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, a little squished, but not bad," I answered.
"Is it for a special occasion?"

I explained Becky's dilemma, and he agreed that the cupcake would be good both for celebrating getting an apartment and helping with not getting the one she wanted. We ended up talking for the rest of the ride to Alewife. He had grown up in the town next to mine, and so we chatted about growing up in suburban Boston until we both got off the train to continue on our ways home. It made my trip feel more pleasant than if I'd spent the whole time with my headphones plugged in. As he left, he told me he hoped my sister would like the cupcake. She did, despite the imperfect frosting.

What kind of commute do you have?
Have you run into anyone or anything interesting during it?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer: Part II

When I was growing up, I never went to camp. I mean, there was one summer that I spent a week at day camp, where I learned to make bracelets and keychains out of gimp, but I never went to sleepaway camp in the wilds of New Hampshire or Vermont. Many of my friends disappeared for the summer to houses on the Cape or in Maine, and while I did see them occasionally, I often spent my time curled up somewhere with a pile of books. My older brother also played summer league baseball, and for a long time I would bring books to read during his games. (I was not the most supportive little sister.)
The Lexington Library! (in winter)

So, for today's installment of the summer series, here are some of my favorite summer books from over the years!

The Key to the Treasure and other Liza, Bill and Jed books by Peggy Parish

It has been years since I've read these books, but I loved them because the first couple centered around years-old scavenger hunts that the three main characters had to solve. Each summer, siblings Liza, Bill and Jed stayed with their grandparents and stumbled upon old mysteries. The first book primarily focused on their grandparents' house, but in the rest of the series, they met the other residents of the island. These made perfect summer books partially because they took place in the summer, but also because they were great, innocent adventure books. Even if you're a 20-something college grad reading this, it might be fun to pick one up for an afternoon.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

In this story, the first in a series, a little boy runs away from home, lives in a hollowed-out tree, and generally wins at nature. He lives with a falcon and a weasel and survives a tough winter in the wilderness of upstate New York. After I read this, I'll admit, I absolutely wanted to figure out how to live in a tree in the forest (well, conservation land, so I'm pretty sure it would be illegal) behind my house. Reading this in the summer makes it seem like a more realistic possibility. Leaving my warm, cozy house in the middle of a nor'easter? No thanks.

Other favorite series included the Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown. I was really into books about children who solved mysteries, and so I tried to find criminals around my own neighborhood to bust. The old P.I. notebook I used to keep had "clues" like "A truck drove down the street at 100 M.P.H." Not necessarily the most helpful set of evidence ever, and my judgment for speed was not so accurate.

My interest in mysteries has stayed with me, though, and my summer reading during college often consisted of Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, and cheesy paperback mysteries from the library. After two semesters of serious texts, they made for a relaxing break. Plus, I felt extra smart if I could guess the ending.

What's your favorite summer reading from when you were a kid or more recently?

All she needed was a magnifying glass
and some charm...