An Open Letter to Big Employers in this Crap Economy

Dear Large Company and/or Corporate Giant,

My name is Zoe. I am not currently looking for work (thank the Lord Jesus) but I am writing to express my grievance about a particular concept that has infuriated me and countless others since its inception. I am sure that when it was proposed at the Important Management Conference in [fill in outrageously ritzy location of your choice] some number of years ago, that it astounded, awed, and the person behind it got a really colossal bonus. Or at least a standing ovation.

I am talking about the decision to construct an online employment application process through your own particular company’s website, one in which each person who is interested in applying must create a User Name that can not be one’s email address and a unique password consisting of at least ten characters, with one uppercase, lowercase, symbol, and Alt code included. You know, something “easy to remember.”

Another stellar quality of this idea is giving the potential employee the option of importing his or her résumé through your special “X Company Résumé Importer!” function. The person who writes your codes/algorithms must also be sure to omit something or add something extraneous that will make the user want to take a mallet to his or her computer – because of course the uploader will not work. Conversely, if it does work, it must import all of the information incorrectly so that one must manually go through and take more time to correct the errors than if one had retyped the résumé from memory into your convenient boxes. (As we all know, résumés all look the same because no one is an individual. If a person opts to use bullet points in his/her résumé, anything next to one will either show up in the Title area or be omitted altogether.)

(I liken the online employment form to Hell Week at a sorority or fraternity. You’ll do a lot of things you would never do in any other situation and you’ll proclaim that you enjoy it. It’s some BS rite of passage.)

Some brainiac also suggested not letting a person have any symbols in the text of one’s résumé (especially a / mark), uploading a cover letter is a joke, or it’s left as Optional. (Note to anyone who doesn’t exercise this option: it’s a test. ALWAYS upload or write in a cover letter!) If you get one of those boxes where it asks you to simply type or paste in your cover letter from an actual word processor like MS Word, the formatting will be so messed up that it completely erases a person’s chances of ever getting a call back. It’s physically painful.

By the time we get to the end of this nightmare, the relief is palpable. But then, you sneaky bastards, you have one more trick up your sleeve. Two options are before us job seekers: take a completely obvious, mandatory personality test survey or ask “interview questions” that are incredibly strange and limit a person’s response to 250 characters. Please – I beg of you – if you have to force us to do these things, at least spring it on us when we’re called in for an interview. It gives us some sliver of hope that this “system” works and we didn’t waste an entire afternoon spend all that time on your employment site for nothing. Spending an additional 30-45 minutes at home on a personality test with questions like this makes me grind my teeth into dust. (Who actually says Strongly Agree to “I can be cold and aloof.” ? Does anybody fall for this?)

I understand that you may be testing people’s basic grasp of following instructions and “computer skills,” but there are better ways of gleaning this information from your candidates. Also, please don’t resort to this tactic: don’t insert an easily overlooked instruction such as, “YOU MUST PUT Code 4UX937P in the reference area to be considered!” somewhere in the fine print of the description of the position. Throwing away someone’s application that took him or her two hours to complete because of an easy mistake like that is flat out asinine. You look like a jerk before you even get someone to apply. Wait until the third interview or the first day to reveal that you’re not that great of a place to work, in fact.

This is an employer’s market. Do you get that? You, the Big Corporation, can be choosey! You don’t have to put us through these ridiculous hoops! Please take the time to make it appear as if you give a single crap about the type of person you are going to hire. I don’t know about other people, but I avoid even applying for positions with companies that use these methods strictly on principle. I immediately put you on that list of Top 100 Douchebag Places to Work Every Single Year Running.

It is only under times of desperation that I have submitted to this process because I trick myself into thinking that it must work. Surely someone is attaining a job in this manner. However! I can’t actually attest to this because despite my being a very qualified person with more than reasonable articulation, not once have I ever gotten a call or an email back from one of these places. It always makes me wonder who is on the other end of these things. Is it some poor sap whose sole job is to sort through the barrage of poorly copied/pasted résumés and personality tests? Is someone reading these things line by line and highlighting those who put down Strongly Disagree that s/he can be cold and aloof?

Under normal circumstances, I am not this cynical. But let’s be honest: this market sucks whale junk and it’ll be years before it dramatically improves. We know you employers are going to be inundated with umpteen more applications per available job than you would have received five years ago. But one thing you can do is make it a teensy bit easier on those who desperately need work and are applying to as many positions per day as they can find: if you are not going to use a staffing firm or headhunter to scale down the applicants for you, simply set up an email address where people can easily attach a cover letter, résumé or CV. Not having the ability to read attachments is ridiculous. It’s 2011. And if nothing else, if you are unable to designate an email address at your company, e.g., jobs@bigcompany, make it a Gmail address. Sending in a résumé to Hotmail screams, “Please e-rape me.” Seriously.

I implore you to heed this advice from an experienced job seeker. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

Happily, gratefully employed,

Extraordinary-ness Du Jour (A Photography Post)

What I am discovering about taking up photography, even on an amateur basis, is that it takes what we consider everyday, ordinary things or occurrences, and transforms them into visual pieces that we can ogle for…well, ever. I know, this doesn’t seem like news. But when you’re the person taking the photos, you realize just how much there is to consider when sizing up your shot. Why one photo strikes a person on a deeper level over another is purely subjective; I think that’s really what the magic of this process is. (Apparently this also goes for commercials. See my recent post about that weird VW/Darth Vader ad.)

As a Film Studies major, I took all the theory classes and dissected Film As Art, and I know how to pick apart a film down to the nth degree. And I still love doing that.

Now, as a budding digital photographer, I am learning about what it takes to capture a great shot and all the technical stuff that goes along with it. I will say that if I didn’t have a strong affinity for the visual arts, I don’t know that I would be so passionate about taking out my camera every chance I get and snapping photos in hopes to get something really good. I’m surprising myself at which pictures turn out to be the best.

It took more dedication for me to get to the point where I am writing something on here at least once a week. With photography, I am finding that I don’t need to give myself a pep talk. I get excited to pick up the camera and see what the cat licks up, so to speak. (Ha, sorry, that is such a random phrase that a dear friend of mine says.) I’m discovering that I wish I had more time to go and find settings, people, places, and things to photograph. I now know why on some level it’s easier to do a food blog because everything one will photograph will be produced in one’s own home. I have loved taking photos of food and I am really enjoying that macro or “XCU” type of photography. (XCU is a film term for extreme close-up.)

But I want to get out there and explore. I find there is something really magical about capturing a landscape. Changing up the angle and filling the frame differently are also interesting challenges. And then there’s photo editing, a universe unto itself. I love editing as much as I love taking the photo. It feels good to have found a niche that I might actually be good at. Perseverance is the only way I’ll find out.

If you’ve made it through my photography manifesto, is it were, then please enjoy some of the recent photos I have snapped and edited. Any feedback is, of course, welcome.

This evening I take my first course in Photoshop Elements with my latest favorite photography blogger, Amanda Padgett of Everyday Elements. If you have any inkling whatsoever to pick up a camera, start with her. I’m so excited to be on this journey!

Please Reheat Responsibly.

The following may or may not have had to do with my experiences in several offices in my lifetime. This is long overdue.

While bringing in leftover tuna casserole seems like an incredible idea, because you know, it tasted oh so delicious when it was fresh out of the oven last night, you have no idea what this is going to smell like when you microwave it in an enclosed space. Indeed, an entire small office or whole section of a large one will definitely reek of day-old baked fish and cheese for hours if you make this decision. Kindly don’t.

Who doesn’t love the smell of buttery popcorn? On the other hand, burnt popcorn smells like one of two things: a) Satan’s indigestion or b) burning hair. Ergo, please know how to make popcorn in the microwave (i.e., listen for the slowing down of the popping kernels and check that a burn hole isn’t being made on the bag).

Mmm, leftover spaghetti with meatballs. What’s that? You underestimated how quickly the tomato sauce would heat up and now there’s an explosion of red sauce clinging to every available surface on the inside of the microwave? Please grab some wet paper towels and wipe it down. The question, “Do you do this at home?” shouldn’t be asked because it’s clear that it is what you do at home. So the real issue is that you’re NOT at home and you SHOULD be courteous to anyone else who wants to use the microwave after you. It takes way less time to clean up freshly exploded sauce than dried on sauce.

Use your best judgment. If it is made with lots of salty chemicals and preservatives, most likely it’s going to make the entire kitchen and surrounding area smell like reheated cat food. Unless you’re this lady, none of us are interested. In fact, some of us may become severely nauseated.

Other no-nos:

Cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, have I mentioned fish?, sauerkraut, etc. These are NOT to be microwaved in a communal setting.

And for the love of God, please don’t use the microwave as a drying agent. A friend of mine actually had a coworker attempt to dry his wet shoes in the office microwave. Needless to say, it created a foulness that no human should ever have to witness through his or her nose.

This has been a public service announcement. Please pass along as appropriate.

I Don’t Get It. (VW “The Force”)

Um, so I plain don’t understand why this Super Bowl ad is so popular.

I get that it’s cute, I guess….But the ad just didn’t trigger my “Awwww” button. Granted, a miniature Darth Vader, kid’s using his imagination, blah blah. What am I missing?

I’m honestly asking because I looked at the full length version when it was strategically leaked and I kept waiting for the big finale where I would crack up or want to cry. Neither happened. And I’m a huge Wall-E fan so it’s not like I can’t appreciate a scene where there isn’t any dialogue or anything.

Seriously, though, what is it?

I feel like Rachel on Friends when she gets her ultrasound and she can’t see the baby. Ross has to keep pointing out where it is. “I don’t see it!” she cries. That’s me. I DON’T SEE IT!


The Pizza Phenomenon

Papa Del’s Pizza!

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do….“*

This has been my attitude towards consuming pizza since I began to eat it. It’s been one of my favorite foods since I was a child. I always thought it was so strange when I would see people who could eat ONE slice of pizza at a meal and claim to be satisfied. Granted, it depends on the size of the slice and if you live in New York City, one slice can certainly be the equivalent of two. But let’s say one is eating thin crust. I mean, come on. Like Imo’s from St. Louis and Monical’s from Central Illinois, a person simply can not be satisfied with one slice of thin crust. They’re cut into small squares and are designed to be eaten in larger quantities. Even Domino’s has capitalized on doing this.

Between that and the other non-New York slices, I just find it dumbfounding that people exist who can merely pick at pizza or take one and say, “I’m good.” Forreal?

Then I moved to Illinois, home of Chicago style pizza. I’d had this style before, if you count it when one frequents the chain called UNO’s. In Champaign-Urbana, there is a Chicago style place called Papa Del’s. There is one close by to my office and it’s very convenient to go and pick up a slice during the day.

Well. I am a changed woman.

I can actually consume one slice of this pizza and be totally satisfied. I never thought it would happen. I guess that’s why there’s that ‘never say never’ phrase. Oh, I can eat two or more slices, but for a quick and portion controlled lunch, it’s not exactly the best decision when one is working. The slices are thick and hearty with plenty of robust tomato sauce; even one topping suffices and I’m a multiple topping kind of gal.

I must congratulate the universe (or just those who invented Chicago style pizza, perhaps) because in all my decades of pizza consumption, I have never been able to stay away from eating multiple slices. And with this satisfying type of pizza, I don’t need to. I will say this, though – if you do not like thick crust, don’t bother. Then this won’t work for you if you’re similar to me regarding the “can’t have just one slice” thing. Thick lovers need only apply.

A nice side benny: I don’t feel like a piece of garbage when I’m finished because I’ve kept the portion reasonable and I take my time eating it. It’s….actually incredibly satisfying. And at the end of the day, I get to say I had pizza for lunch. It’s win-win-win. (The Office reference, for those of you familiar.)

There is hope for me yet as I go along with this portion control business. Win.

*Lyric from Harry Nilsson’s song “One”

Groundhog Day Cake

Nothing could have made for a better week than having an Adult Snow Day (read: working from home) on Groundhog Day AND  having my other half home with me since all classes at the University were canceled.

It is a real privilege to be able to work from home on an insanely cold, icy and snowy day when the roads and parking lots are treacherous. Many a company would flat out refuse their employees to do this, even in dire conditions. So if my boss is reading this, thank you. I am exceedingly grateful. You are very kind.

To celebrate all of these factors coming together divinely to provide me with a work day in slipper socks and pajama pants, on one of my breaks I decided to make something special.

That’s right. I got out the yellow cake mix from Ms. Crocker (purchased on sale for $.75 during the holiday season) and its accompanying super chocolatey can of frosting.

I read labels. I know that both of these items have corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and other crap in them, of which 99% of the time I steer clear. But sometimes, you just can’t beat being able to mix, bake, and frost a cake in an hour.

Yellow cake and chocolate frosting is a classic combo, at least in my book. A couple of friends of mine confirmed this when I told them I had a yellow cake in the oven. Also, yellow cake + chocolate frosting + glass of cold milk =  trifecta of goodness. This should be a theorum somewhere.

If nothing else, yellow cake baking makes your house smell so insanely good that even if you don’t end up eating it, just bake it for the smell.

I don’t regularly make cakes — regular or boxed — but today is Groundhog Day, a day I revere ever since the uber popular film released in 1993, as it became one of my all-time favorite movies. And so, in dedication to Punxsutawney Phil, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, the town of Woodstock, IL and the fact that it is balls cold out — a fluffy, delicious cake was made in my oven.

And isn’t it just handy that I snapped some “artsy” photos of the results?

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What’s Your Montage Song?

An open road usually signifies the beginning of a montage.

We’ve all seen movie montages; someone is getting something accomplished (makeover) or multiple characters are preparing for something (a prom).

I was driving in my car not too long ago, singing along to something or other that now escapes me, and it occurred to me that I had never really asked myself the question of what my montage song would be. (Considering I was a Film Studies major this is rather a large faux pas.)

My friends who know me will tease me for saying this, but I’d have to say that at least one of my montage songs would be one by Ms. Dolly Parton. I just love her! Say what you will about her makeup and plastic surgery and all that but she is truly a wonderful person. She makes it easy to look past the outside and see her big heart. (I know, I know, really easy joke about seeing something else big on her. Ba dum bum.) In all seriousness, even though I am not a huge country music fan by any means, there is just something about her music that really speaks to me and I’d have to choose one of her songs for a possible Zoe Montage. It just so happens that it’s from her film Straight Talk.

[Waits for laughter to die down.]

The song is The Light of a Clear Blue Morning. It’s an oldie of hers but she updated it for the film and made it more upbeat so its message is still good for a montage but doesn’t drag you down while listening to it. It’s a really good pick-me-up song to get one out of the doldrums. I could see this one playing in a montage of getting through a breakup, working hard at a job and succeeding, or even your classic weight loss montage. WOULD that I could lose weight quickly in a series of varying activities that each lasted 3-4 seconds.

The other song I couldn’t not pick is Tom Petty’s Running Down a Dream, which has been a favorite of mine since I was 18 or so. The lyrics lend themselves well to a road trip montage but I could also see it useful for trying to get something important accomplished in the Movie of My Life.

It never ceases to amaze me how personal music is and how it speaks to people so differently. Just in taking a poll of a couple of girlfriends, one immediately named Mariah Carey’s Hero as her montage song and another listed Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen (amongst three others she couldn’t choose between).

Imagine me and you, I do, I think about you day and night...

Oh my God I almost forgot the love montage! My brain immediately zeroed in on the one from the movie Happy Together, starring Patrick Dempsey and Helen Slater, with the song being….you guessed it. Happy Together.

That’s it; that is what I want my love montage to be like, rollerskating in the park and all. Now I want to go home and pop in this movie, which still has yet to come out on DVD, much to my dismay. (Amazon, hellooooo, get on this!)

Do you have a song or songs you would instantly choose to be in the Movie of Your Life? Which one(s)?