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by Karen Fayeth

The One Thing

Last month I found myself in Chicago attending a writer’s conference. The event was sponsored by a large publishing house and I went to learn more about the publishing industry. Boy did I.

Part of the weekend also had us working on some writing exercises. We were given a topic and told to write about it for ten minutes.

I’m pretty good at these off the cuff wind sprints, so I was sailing along nicely creating the words and feeling all of those blocks melt away.

That was until we got to the prompt: “What’s the one thing you won’t write about?”

Ugh. Well. The snarky voice in my head kicked in, saying things like “well if it’s something I won’t write about, why would I write about it here? In this uncomfortable chair. With 500 of my closest friends in attendance?”

Bah.

Then I started thinking, what really IS the one thing I won’t write about?

I know what it is, but I’m still not ready to write about it.

It’s grief. My overwhelming grief is the one thing I just can’t write about. Not yet.

Both December and January ushered in tremendous losses for me, one after the other, and though I’m told I have to “just grieve” and “get it out” and “go through the stages” I find myself a bit at sea. There are times it shows up inappropriately and I cry so hard I wonder how I will ever stop crying.

When I do finally stop, I become near catatonic for the rest of the day.

There are times I know it’s sneaking up on me and instead of trying to head it off, I am able to find a way to hide in the bathroom or outside or in my car and let it happen. A little.

And sometimes I simply have to tell the freight train that no, it doesn’t get to run me over today. When I head it off, push it down, it only means the grief builds up a bigger head of steam for the next time.

It is a demon and I am wrestling with it. And no, I’m not ready to write about the details. It’s too tender, too fresh, too painful.

One might argue that since writing is my thing, I should be writing about it. I should be writing it all out furiously and fast and working through all of those darn steps, up and down the ladder until I’m free.

As if one can ever really be free of grief. Actually, that’s part of the problem. This fresh and overpowering grief has ripped the lids off of the many other losses I have experienced so I get to go through all of that again. As if it’s new and present and today.

So yeah, letting it all out, that’s probably what I should be doing.

But I can’t. Not yet.

And it remains the one thing I won’t write about.

But I will write about it. Someday.

Maybe this post is just one small step in the right direction.









Image found here.




A Conversation

(A conversation between the warring factions in my brain. From about an hour ago.)

What’s this?





Duh, it’s a screwdriver.

Go deeper.

A flat head screwdriver.

Keep going.

A Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.

Bingo. Now, why are you holding this in your hand and staring at it so intently?

Because this Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver is not mine.

Yes. This screwdriver isn’t mine. I mean, I found it in the bottom of my toolbox. I was looking for some electrical tape to repair my iPhone charging cable. Because I’m too cheap to buy a new one.

Yes, I have a toolbox. Mine. And I’ve got some nice tools. Only, I don’t have any Craftsman tools. I’m also too cheap to buy good quality handtools. What, am I building a skyscraper? No. I have never bought a Craftsman tool because I make do with discount store goods.

Except for this screwdriver. My lone Craftsman in a sea of cheapies.

And?

And when I look at this tool, I can tell it’s been used. A lot. It’s not new. It’s scuffed, the handle shows traces of white paint. The tip is scratched to hell and someone has used the base to try to hammer something.







And?

And I just remembered where I got this Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.

I stole it from my father.

Okay, stole is probably too strong a word, but I did lift it from his toolbox and did not return it.

I kind of feel bad about that. He used to get so ticked when his tools didn’t find their way back to his toolbox. Can you blame him?

I wish I could give it back. Only I can’t. He’s been gone for ten years and I’ve been carrying around this stolen property without even knowing I still had it.

But I do. Still have it. Now. Today. In the bottom of my toolbox, nestled next to the electrical tape and a bent hand saw blade. The saw blade is mine. All mine. Cheaply made, hence the wrinkle in the metal.

But that Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver that came along with me from New Mexico to California. That’s a quality tool. The logo has rubbed off and the metal is a bit rusty. And it’s filled with memories, both good and bad. A lot of memories. So many I got a little lost.

What is Vanadium anyway? It says that word on the handle. Ah it’s a mineral. It’s a fancy word used to make this tool seem important. A simple Sears Craftsman flat head screwdriver.




It is kind of important, in its own way.







All photos used are Copyright © 2015 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons license in the right column of this page. Shot with an iPhone 6 and the Camera+ app.




A Tip of the Cap

How does one eulogize a legend? I’m certainly not qualified, but my sincerity, hopefully, will win the day.

Over the weekend Major League Baseball lost a Hall of Famer, and it’s given me quite a few moments to pause and reflect.

Lon Simmons didn’t play the game but is as integral to the sport as any home run champion.

Simmons started out calling San Francisco 49er games in 1957 and then also began calling games for the San Francisco Giants with longtime partner Russ Hodges in 1958. This was just after the Giants had moved west from New York.

Lon’s deep resonant voice is iconic in its own right as is his very dry sense of humor. So dry that occasionally athletes and other broadcasters didn’t quite get it when he’d lay down a quip. In my opinion that sometimes led to awkward encounters, but Simmons was so affable that he could always save the moment.

Any baseball broadcaster worth a damn also has a signature homerun call, and I believe Simmons’ call is the foundation for any good call you hear today.

It went something like this *crack of the bat* “…that ball is way back, way back….tell it good-bye!” and he said with a rising inflection that built the tension, made you clutch the steering wheel in your car, hug a loved one or just squinch down waiting for the payoff. Then yesss! Tell it goodbye! Now that’s iconic.

In the early 2000’s Lon was still broadcasting pretty regularly for the Giants. I have a confession to make, back then I was starting to get pretty frustrated with Simmons. He was of course legendary but his game calling had lost a step. Perhaps it was the impatience of youth, but I used to turn it off if he was calling the game and listen a different way. Sad but true.

When he retired from the Giants broadcasting, I was relieved. I believed then as I do now that it was time. There are other legends, Jon Miller among them, ready to carry on the legacy that Lon Simmons began.

Over the last decade or so, Lon could often be seen at the ballpark and we’d always give him a hero’s welcome. Retirement seemed to suit him and when he’d come on the air, I was a lot more forgiving of his slow style and sometimes awkward pauses.

There is not a doubt in my mind that Mr. Simmons deserved his Ford C Frick award and his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His voice, his storytelling, his homerun call, they are all a part of the fabric of the game that I love so much.

So on this second day of the 2015 Major League Baseball season and the first day of the San Francisco Giants season, I salute Lon Simmons for his service, for his style and for bringing baseball to life for me with his voice and his words.

I tip my cap to a great man. May he rest in peace.




Russ Hodges (l) and Lon Simmons (r)




Image found here




Crib Notes – Oddball Interview Questions Answered!

You wanna cheat a little? I’ll help you. C’mon, over here.

You didn’t get this from me but…

Yesterday in the SFGate I read an article that gave examples of “oddball” interview questions asked by Silicon Valley companies.

Interview Questions


As I read through them, I found them quirky (like most Silicon Valley companies) but not really that all that odd.

Given that I’ve got twenty years of being a manger under my belt and for most of the twenty years I have been recruiting in one form or another, I actually was pretty on board with many of these questions.

For the past two years at my current employer I have consistently either been interviewing for myself or sitting on interview panels. I’ve thought a lot about the all truly terrible candidates I’ve seen and how I wanted to take each of them aside for some coaching.

So many good people just can’t find their way around a curveball interview question and that can really hinder their chances at getting hired.

When I started reading these so called “oddball” questions in the article, I thought about how I would answer them (or I would want a candidate to answer).

From there I decided to make a cheat sheet. Think of this as my free interview coaching and mentoring for the people out there hustling and trying to get a job. We all deserve to earn a paycheck and sometimes that barrier seems unreasonably high.

I have shown the question exactly as stated in the article and in parenthesis is the job role that this question applied to.

Here we go:

1) Describe the color yellow to somebody who is blind? (flight attendant)

First off, as a longtime interviewer, I think this is a genuinely lame question. You are just trying to throw the candidate off their game. Perhaps that is the goal.

However, since this applies to a flight attendant, I believe the interviewer is trying to see how you can apply complex concepts (such as, oh I don’t know, FAA regulations) to someone with no frame of reference for those concepts (such as any clueless airline passenger).

Here’s how I would answer it:

Since a blind person does not have visual cues to reference I would want to reference their other senses. When I think of yellow in other sensory terms, I might, for example, ask the person how it feels when they are outdoors and feel the sun on their face, because that is how yellow feels to me. Or ask them to think of how a freshly cut lemon smells because that also invokes the color yellow for me.

2) What is your favorite 90’s jam? (customer care)

As this is a customer care role, they are looking to see how relatable you are. Instead of trying to impress the interview panel with your knowledge of obscure indie rock, I suggest going a bit mainstream with an edge to show you have some verve but you can also relate to the common person.

Here’s how I would answer it:

There are so many groundbreaking artists from the 90’s but I have to go back to the band that for me really defines the 90’s music, and that is Nirvana. Kurt Cobain’s complex musical genius stands up today. I can’t help but crank up “Smells Like Teen Spirit” every time I hear it, even if it’s just playing in Muzak form on the elevator.

3) If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jellybeans, what would you do? (IT support manager)

The interviewer is trying to get at the candidate’s thought process for solving big problems. I suggest giving them a pretty detailed answer to show how you assess the root cause of the issue and put a plan in place to resolve the problem.

This is one area where A LOT of candidates fail, in my opinion. Almost all interviewers ask some form of this question, i.e. show me how you solve a problem. Most candidates are unable to show me how they get from point A to point B to final completion. It drives me batty.

Here’s how I would answer:

First I would need to assess in what form the jellybeans were loaded onto the 747. Are they neatly wrapped in boxes? Then I would assess how many and what size boxes and then form the appropriate team to efficiently load the boxes onto pallets and schedule forklifts to quickly remove them from the plane then work with logistics to get them delivered to their proper location or locations.

If the jellybeans are loose on the plane, that is a much bigger problem. First I’d have to assess if they are piled up to the doors and how I can crack open that door without losing a lot of the cargo. I’d consult with experts in the jellybean packaging field to understand how to load out the jellybeans into boxes or other appropriate packaging and then obtain that packaging and other equipment that might be needed. I would then form the work team to first package the jelly beans then find the right crew to offload the packaging onto pallets and then forklifts to allow logistics to them move them their final destination.

4) What did you have for breakfast? (retail clothing sales associate)

This question is just intended to get a candidate out of the rote answer and response mode. Fine. Kind of a lame way to get there if you ask me, but okay.

How I would answer:

This morning I had a homemade breakfast burrito that included eggs, non-dairy cheese since I am lactose intolerant, green chile and some pinto beans. I like a nice mix of protein and carbs to start my day. And I washed all of that down with a nice soy latte. Gives me a good base for the day’s energy requirements without pesky drops in blood sugar.

5) What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plane crash? (Trust and Safety investigator)

Okay, given the job role being considered as a safety investigator, I don’t really consider this one an “oddball” question at all. This is right in their wheelhouse and I think anyone with these skills applying for this job would have a solid answer.

Here’s how I would answer it but I may be off base given the job function where I have no experience in this function:

Immediately following the incident I would quickly determine that I truly was the only survivor and would make sure I gave aid to any other passengers who may still be alive. If I am genuinely the only person alive, then I would stop and assess the situation. First I would look to see if the communication system of the plane still works. Am I able to contact someone for assistance? Then I’d also look for flares or other ways to flag down help.

From there I would study the surroundings. Where am I? What are the prevailing conditions, i.e. am I in the water? Am I in the snow? Is it very hot or cold? I would begin by constructing some form of shelter against the elements. Then I would search the plane’s remnants for food and water and collect those together in a single location. I would also begin looking for a source of heat. Then I would need to consider the potential dangers and find ways to prepare. For example, am I in the woods and is there potential for bears or wolves to attack? Then I must take proper precautions with my food and water and maybe a means of defense if needed.

(this response could really go on and on in my opinion, but you get the idea where I’m going)

6) If you woke up and had 2,000 emails and could only answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer? (Rotation program candidate)

This is just another form of “here’s a problem, show me how you would resolve it”

Here’s how I would answer:

I’d take a first run through the email to see if any of the subject lines list “RUSH” or “URGENT” and attend to those first looking to be sure there was not a long chain of conversation on the issue and if it was already solved.

Then I would sort the email to look for groups of long chains of email conversations and then review them based on subject line to determine which take priority then only open the very last item in the conversation chain, as that will contain all of the prior information. If that last email resolves the problem then I’d move on to the next chain of email.

7) What’s your favorite Disney princess? (fast food crew member)

I personally balked hard at this question, I think it’s not really a suitable question, but again, designed to throw the candidate off their game to see how they think on their feet.

Here’s how I would answer:

While every Disney princess has their merits and detractions, I think I would say my favorite is Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Why? Because for better or worse, she had a clearly defined goal and a clearly defined methodology for obtaining that goal. While I may or may not completely agree with how she went about it, I respect that she got results, i.e. marrying the Prince.

8) Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman? (medical simulationist)

This is another of those not really oddball questions given the job role. In this scenario they are genuinely looking for the candidate to create a simulation and then run it through.

I have to admit, this one is going to be a bit hard for me as I’m not that well versed in the superheroes, but here’s my shot at it.

Here’s how I would answer:

What we’re looking at here are people with different sets of skills and tools at their disposal. Spiderman’s talents are a bit more organic, he’s strong, he moves well and he’s got that webbing that he can use very well to his advantage.

Batman comes fully loaded with a lot of sophisticated gadgets that he can employ at his disposal.

So who would win the fight? Well, that’s tough to say, but given the backstory and maturity of the superheroes, I tend to lean toward Batman. He’s older and more experienced and very savvy about the world. Spiderman is a bit younger and more impetuous. He has moments of brilliance but also has made some big mistakes.

Also, Batman has very little to lose while Spiderman has more family and a girlfriend to fight for. Given the battles, usually the one that has nothing to lose will fight the hardest.

9) How many people flew out of Chicago last year? (software engineer)

Ugh. What a question. What the interviewer is looking for is not that you can quote the number off of the top of your head but how you will go about getting to the number. Again, solve a problem and show me how you’ll do it.

Here’s how I would answer:

Well, since I don’t retain this sort of data off the top of my head I cannot give you an exact answer, but let me tell you how I would go about gathering that information. It could be as simple as a Google search of the question, but I’d want to be sure that in addition to O’Hare and Midway that I am accounting for all small regional airports and airlines.

If a simple Google search could not net me the answer then I’d expand my search. I am sure that there are many statistical bureaus (often used by marketing agencies) that have this kind of information readily available either for free or at low cost.

If that doesn’t work I would then try contacting FAA personnel to find the answer. I suspect that the FAA would be curious as to why I’m asking the question, so I’d want to be able to define the use of this data and make any assurance that I’d keep data confidential if needed.

As a last resort, I would compile a list of every airport in Chicago and then call each airport directly to request the information.

10) If you had a machine that produced $100 a day for life, what would you be willing to pay for it today? (research analyst)

Another question that doesn’t seem so oddball when you look at what job role is being recruited. This one is pretty hard to answer off the top of my head. And another example of here’s a problem, show me how you’d solve it.

Here’s how I would answer:

This machine would provide me an extra $36,500 a year. I would then want to consult actuarial tables to understand my personal life expectancy and then run a value analysis of that $36,000 over the remaining years of my life to understand the total present value in today’s dollars.

Then because I am a negotiator I would set a range of 15% to 30% off of that number because I think that while the machine has value, there is also upkeep and maintenance to consider and also I just like to get a deal. I’d also investigate why the person selling the machine would get want to get rid of it and bake that into my negotiation plan.

(Probably not the right answer for the job role but that’s how I’d play it. If they wanted me to actually quote a number I’d ask for a few moments and some scratch paper to work it out.)

11) If you were a Muppet, which would you be? (Executive support)

This is kind of a cute and fun question. I like it and wonder if I can add it to our list of questions for candidates. This gives a moment of lightness and shows how the candidate thinks on their feet.

Here’s how I would answer:

This is a tough question because each Muppet has their advantages. I like Fozzie Bear because he’s funny and very kind and incredibly supportive of Kermit through trials and tribulations. I like Gonzo because he’s a risk taker and doesn’t get discouraged when he fails. But ultimately I’d like to be Kermit, he’s talented, smart, kind and he knows how to keep that show running show even when chickens are flying out of cannons and monsters are eating the guest host.

12) Why is the earth round? (software engineer)

This must be an engineering question because this one stopped me in my tracks. That will really throw a candidate off their game.

Here’s how I’d answer.

The earth isn’t actually round, it’s more of an elliptical shape.

If they follow up with why is the earth an elliptical shape I’d take what tiny bit of knowledge I have and say it’s because of gravity. For example, when I put a magnet in a pile of iron shavings it will pull them into a circular shape. The oval shape is easiest to form for nature to build and highly aerodynamic as earth hurtles through space.

(starting to drift into making things up at this point! Time to wrap up this answer.)

13) How many gas stations are there in America? (Senior financial analyst)

This one again seems to fit the job role they are recruiting for. They don’t expect you to know the number but to explain how you’d get there.

My answer is going to be very similar to the number of people flying out of Chicago question.

Here’s how I would answer:

Well, since I don’t retain this sort of data off the top of my head I cannot give you an exact answer, but let me tell you how I would go about gathering that information. It could be as simple as a Google search of the question, but I would want to be sure that I understand that all gas stations are included in the data set. Do we include Hawaii and Alaska or just continental America? Do we include the US territories?

If a simple Google search could not net me the answer then I’d expand my search. I am sure that there are many statistical bureaus (often used by marketing agencies) that have this kind of information readily available either for free or at low cost.

If that doesn’t work I would then determine if there is a government oversight agencies for all gas stations that may have this information available.

I would also want to ask the person requesting this information if they need a precise answer or a ballpark. That makes a significant difference in the level of effort to get this data.

14) You have a 1 mile long x 1 mile wide private island you wish to turn into a resort. A plane requires a 2 mile long runway to take off. What do you do? (QA analyst for a gaming company)

Another question that seems oddball until you see the job function. A good QA person should know how to look at a problem and look at a lot of possible solutions. I am not a QA person but I can take a good run at this question.

Here’s how I would answer:

Simple, I’d see about getting a seaplane to transport guests to and from the island. No terrestrial runway is necessary.

If the seaplane is not feasible, then I’d consult with the proper experts in building sturdy runways over water (many exist, the San Francisco airport is but one example). I’d need engineers to assess the ground under the water to see if it can support the pylons. And I’d need to understand the cost to build such a runway and run through my business plan to see if the expected income from the resort could cover the enormous debt outlay to build the runway. I’d also check with the airlines to see if they would help subsidize some of the costs to build the runway.

15) Given 25 swimmers and a pool with five lanes, what is the minimum number of heats needed to determine the three fastest swimmers in the group? (data scientist candidate)

I’d suspect a data scientist would rattle the answer off the top of their head. I’m just a lowly MBA so I would ask if they want the exact answer or understand my thought process on how I’d get to the answer. Assuming they want a number I’d ask for a few moments and some scratch paper to figure it out.

Here’s my answer and I’m pretty sure it’s wrong:

5. I’d run each heat with a swimmer in every lane, which would take five heats to get all 25 through. I’d time the heats and then I’d know who was fastest. If I’m not timing the heats then I’d need a sixth heat for all of the first finishers from the beginning five heats.

16) How much do you charge to wash every window in Seattle? (sales operations candidate)

Okay, this is a really long list of questions and I’m getting tired and a little cheeky at this point. I’d probably snap off something like “enough to cover costs and make a reasonable profit” but what I do know is that, like many of these questions, they are looking at how the candidates will show how they get the information.

Here’s how I would answer:

First I would need to do some data mining. How many windows are there, how much is my cost per window, how many windows can be washed in a day, how many crew members do I need per buildings and how fast does the window washing need to be completed? Then I would run some data modeling to understand my costs and establish my projected profit margin on top of costs.

Then knowing that any customer wants to negotiate, I would work to understand where my gives and takes are. Can I cut costs back in some area (i.e. smaller crews that would take longer to complete)? I would pad my profit margin going in with the original quote knowing I will give some of that up.

I’d also look to see if any or all of the work can be subcontracted out if window washing is not my firm’s core competency.

————
Okay, I can’t believe I was actually inspired to answer all sixteen of these questions, but I was. Mild OCD can be a beautiful thing sometimes.

But to be honest, if this even helps one person get their thinking straight so they can go in and knock out an interview, than I have done a good thing.

I actually had fun with these questions. I suppose I like a good (quirky) challenge.

I’m curious if anyone out there has better ideas for some of these questions. I’d love to hear your take!








Image by Barun Patro and used royalty free from FreeImages.com.




Coming Around To My Way of Thinking

It’s been said before that I’m a little “different” from your average employee. The streetcar of my brain runs a little off the beaten path. I use words and phrases in unusual ways. Occasionally only words in Spanish can convey my sense of the sentiment and my coworkers don’t always understand that.

With each job I’ve had in my life and each place I work, there always seems to be a breaking in period. A timeframe whereby things evolve from “what did she just say?” to “oh, that’s just Karen.”

I think today was turning point at my current place of employment. I just celebrated two years here and they are finally coming around to my unique way of looking at the world.

This group was a little more resistant than my last few employers, but I finally succeeded in breaking them down.

Here’s how I know. Below is a real and genuine account of events that happened just moments ago:

Scene: The office breakroom. Several of my rock star employees and I are gathered around the new vending machine. The selections are different from what the old machine offered and we are discussing the merits of each.

At the moment where we tune into the scene, my employees and I are quite racously discussing the positives and negatives of sour gummy worms. And we are laughing…a lot (we tend to do that on my team).

A one level up management-type person (not my direct boss, but a bossish kind of person) and a rather serious sort walks into the room. My employees all go still and their eyes drop.

She says, “What are you all doing in here?”

Without missing a heartbeat I match her serious tone and reply, “We’re negotiating with the vending machine.”

She pauses. Says, “Oh.” Then she spins around and walks out. I’m pretty sure she had a reason to come into the breakroom but I derailed her mental train. It was awesome.

Oh yeah, I’m going to be running this place soon. That kind of think of your feet, can-do attitude going to take me far.

Also, it’s important to know that the sour gummy worms were delicious.











That there is my photo, Copyrighted by me in the year of 2015. © Karen Fayeth. Don’t steal, though I don’t know why you’d want to rip off a photo of an empty gummy worm bag. If you do want to appropriate my work, do pay attention to the Creative Commons license in the far right corner of this page. Taken with a iPhone6 and the Camera+ app.





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