meeting hell : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

When the Perfect Metaphor Raggedly Flies By

So yeah, I’ll just cut to the chase, I’ve been having a hard time lately. Moving, work, life, storms, general state of politics, hades-like heat in the Bay Area, all of it. Stress. Anxiety. Insomnia. It all just got on top of me, and stood on my neck.

Some days I’m stronger than others, but last week the final drop of strong independent woman inside of me got used up, and I broke. I had been in a prolonged email squabble with a really challenging coworker and I hit a wall. I totally collapsed into tears.

Sobbing, heaving, inconsolable tears. Not in front of the coworker, at least. But still. It was what I believe the kids these days call an ugly cry. Full on.

For a while I was so down, ragged and lost that I thought I might be losing that small tenuous grasp I have on sanity. I was actually pretty scared.

But through some tough love from The Good Man, some actual sleep (I swear lack of sleep would make the most calm person into a raving psychotic), and doing a much better job taking care of myself, I found my way back. Mostly.

I mean, it’s still there at the edges, the crazy I mean. This is the absolutely busiest time of year at my job and things always go a little pear shaped in September anyway. Tempers are quick for everyone and feelings are a little raw.

This too shall pass, it always does. I mean, October 1 is only three weeks away. I can survive three weeks, right?

Today, this lovely Saturday afternoon, when I should have been doing work but just couldn’t bring myself to sit in front of a computer, I instead sat on my back deck with camera in hand, trying to photograph hummingbirds. Not an easy thing, and I’m learning a lot about both the birds and who I am as a photographer.

I shared one I really liked on all the social medias.

Here is another:





Today as I sat and watched and listened and kept my eyes open for the hummingbirds, another animal caught my eye: A Monarch butterfly.

A sure sign of pending Autumn, the monarch. They are special to me in so many ways, not the least of which is how closely tied they are to Dia de los Muertos in the Mexican culture.

I silently wished for the Monarch to land and let me get some photos.

Well, I got my wish, just not quite in the way I expected.

The butterfly flew in listlessly, bumped into a wall, ricocheted and then landed on the side of the deck.

As I got closer, snapping quickly with my telephoto, I soon realized the issue.




“We have an injured warrior out here,” I texted to The Good Man.

I wondered what had happened to this beautiful animal. Did it go through a rough storm? Get batted at by a sporting cat? Fight for territory with another butterfly? Or was it just at the end of a good life?

What sort of hell had this little guy gone through, and how was it still flying?

After some Googling, I tried making some nectar and coaxing it into a box, but alas, no. It mustered up some of its last strength and flew off.

I was left sort of sad, wanting to give the injured insect a safe haven. Wishing I had just left it alone.

But as it flew off on one good wing, I couldn’t help but admire its tenacity.

A tenacity I wish I could find. Or perhaps find a little more of.

May I (and you and we) find the strength to fly on our own battered wings. May my poor ragged butterfly inspire you as it did me.





Where Good Memories Are Made

This is where I ate my lunch yesterday:



Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth

A velvety red couch by the beautiful Douro River in Porto, Portugal.

Wednesday was a beautifully clear warm June day. I sat on the pleasantly comfortable couch with two other people who are counterparts from another company. Two people I genuinely like.

We sat together companionably and talked and laughed and told stories. We couldn’t believe our good fortune that the couch seating was open on such a gorgeous day.

Inevitably, time passed and it was time to go back inside the Alfândega Congress Centre, a historic former customs house, and go back to work.

Deep in very businessy conversations inside the cool stone structure, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering back to that place. That seat. That sun. That perfect moment. A delicious lunch with good and decent people on an oddly but fortuitously placed couch by the Douro river. In Portugal.

On the next break I wandered downstairs and back outside. After taking a photo of that now empty red couch by the river, I went down a few granite stairs and sat closer to the water. Small wakes from passing boats gently lapped the bottom step.

Then I started thinking. Lovely thoughts on a lovely day. A workday, no less! What a lovely city in a lovely country. Just that easy. Just that difficult.

And that, my friends, is how a good memory is made.




What? No. Thinking Businessey Things.

My employer is weird. This is known. And one of the weird things they like is to have portraits done of all of us minions every couple years.

The employer has a professional, award-winning photographer on staff and in addition to his amazing photos of amazing science, the poor guy also has to sit in a conference room while a parade of geeks, nerds, scientists, engineers, and dorks like me clomp through.

Last time I had a work photo taken, it was two years ago. It was a humid day. I had to walk up a steep hill to get to the place where the photos were being done. I was running late because I couldn’t find a parking spot.

I’d sweated my makeup off and my hair frizzed to cotton candy status. Then I sat down and had my photo taken. It’s awful. And it’s published on my department’s website for all to see.

We’re encouraged to use that photo as our email avatar. Nope.

Today is the day when new company photos are being taken. Argh. I have been, to put it mildly, obsessed about this. I want my new professional work photo to be something I am willing to look at.

Yesterday I carefully examined all of the photos of my coworkers in the photo archive to assess what works and what doesn’t. This morning I curled my hair. I put on makeup. I fussed.

At about twenty minutes before my appointment time, I sat at my desk fretting. I decided to open Photobooth on my Mac to get a real look at how things were working and what needed fixing.

I gazed into my laptop camera and took a couple shots. I evaluated the smile, the hair, the lipstick then I went back in to try again.

I was staring the camera dead on, trying to smize when in my peripheral vision I see one of the auditors come walking down the aisle. The very serious big 4 outside auditors here doing serious stuff like auditing financials. And here I am, a manager, supposed professional, at my desk selfie’ing.

So I tried to play it off real quick. I looked away and was acting all like “no, no selfies here.” And “Yeah it’s cool, ain’t no thing.”

And then the Photobooth “flash” popped (it flashes a blank white screen). Busted.

Yeah. Um.

Anyhow, I took that photo of my shame, cropped it, sent it through an Instagram filter and now it’s arty. Thoughtful. Meditative.

Nah, it’s just me trying to look cool and failing miserably. Welcome to Dorkville, population me.

I sure hope my professional photo turns out a lot better.




Thinking so hard right now.







Photo Copyright ©2015 Karen Fayeth and subject to the Creative Commons in the right column of this page. Please don’t use this photo elsewere. I’m asking nice. Photo made with Photobooth, Instagram and my special brand of genetic dorkiness.




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.




Not Really So New

Welcome to the sixth day of the year 2015 but only my second day back at the ol’ place of work.

While technically the first of January is the first day of the New Year, it doesn’t really feel like the New Year has begun until I go back to work, i.e. get back into the “real world.”

My employer is ever so kind in that they shut down operations from December 24 through January 1. That means with a little planning and a little curation of vacation hours, I can eek out full two glorious weeks away from the office.

I look forward to this two-week break from work all year long.

All. Year. Long.

In my career, I’ve rarely taken two weeks of regular vacation time, so these two weeks at the end of the year feel beautifully indulgent.

My first priority for the break time is to sleep. Nap. Sleep more. Rest and then do nothing too taxing on brain and body. That usually lasts about three days then I’m rested and raring to go.

The rest of the break time is spent with family, exploring the world with The Good Man, cleaning up my home office/studio and working on creative projects.

I find I’m able to fully and completely forget about work and live the dream of a creative life. Sleep until my body is rested, rise and work on creative projects, fill my head with creative inspiration and plan forward for the projects I want to work on in the coming year.

It’s a beautiful place to be, a place I’d live all year round if those darn lottery numbers would just break my way. It feels solid and satisfying and clean and pure.

And then sixteen days of being my own boss pass too quickly and Monday, January 5 arrives. I have to figure out how to get back into the flow of “regular” life. I have to metaphorically merge into speeding traffic with no running room and only two of four cylinders in working order.

Yesterday was that day. Yesterday I woke up with the help of an alarm clock (bleah, sixteen days of no chirping alarm was REALLY nice) and sat up in my comfy bed, bleary eyed and lost.

I tried hard to find the muscle memory to rise, to make some breakfast, to put on some clothes, where is my work badge?, move out the door and get to work on time.

When I arrived at the office it was all too familiar and all too unfamiliar.

It felt like I had changed. I was a different (and better) person as I swiped my badge and entered the office. Then I realized that work had not changed.

I came to my own little gray cubicle and there was all of my same stuff I’d left behind, but it looked alien.

The laptop machine asked me for a password and I had to think very hard about it. Took a couple tries at it and finally remembered.

Have you ever seen baby ducks when they are following their Mama Duck into the water? It often looks like this: Mama slides effortlessly into the water and her eight to ten ducklings slip, slide, belly flop, and unceremoniously plop themselves with a splash behind her.

For a moment, the water crests over the top of their head, then the ducklings one by one pop to the surface like popcorn and start swimming.

It was very much like that yesterday. I fell uncoordinated and perilously off the vacation ledge into the bracingly cold pool of work. I grasped for stability for a little while and then I found my feet and began to paddle. By the afternoon I was moving more or less in a forward manner.

So that’s the New Year. A little bit new, a lotta bit old. I suppose all of the inspirational quotes are true. It’s up to me to make 2015 a really awesome year.

Forward into battle! *splash*cough*splutter* Okay. Now, here we go.




“Hoooooly craaaaap”





Image found here.




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