All My Pretty Hair

This morning I woke up to mounds of soft hair all over my lovely white pillowcase. Gross. It’s been seven years since I experienced this – one of the most dehumanizing side effects of chemotherapy: total hair loss.  And here we are again.  I knew it was coming. I’ve been to this movie before. So I have to wonder why it affects my psyche so profoundly, so differently than all the other nightmares that befall the human body during “treatment.”

For example, just two weeks ago I was as sick as I can ever remember being in my life. Completely broken. The cocktail I am on is extremely toxic and once in my bloodstream, it did its best (including landing me in the ER with a fever over 102) to try to kill me. Seriously, that is what it feels like.  It’s as if it is programmed to determine how many bodily functions can it break simultaneously and still keep you alive. Barbaric.  But that was two weeks ago. And at least I still had my hair.

I realize and appreciate full well that the chemo is supposed to be eviscerating the tumors in my liver and chest and help me extend my survival. This is the goal of course, and it does not ever escape me. Even when I am so miserable I can’t answer a text because the backlighting on my phone makes me nauseous, I hang on to that threadbare shred of hope. So in the wake of all this misery, how can it be that my hair, my ridiculous, magically disappearing hair, has made me so depressed and pathetic today?

Because, dear reader, sick as I am, I still care what I look like. There. I said it. Vanity, thy name is me. I have been programmed my whole life to care deeply about what I look like; my hair, my skin, my nails, the works. I am an unapologetic fashionista. I love looking at beautiful things. I like to make myself beautiful. It’s absurd. I’m fighting for my life, or rather, to extend my life, and a pillow full of hair quietly reminding me that it’s time to shave my head again, destroyed me. Full throttle tears.

I don’t care how hard you or anyone else tries to make a bald head synonymous with “strength” or the soul of a “fighter.”  I don’t care if you, other cancer survivors out there, “embrace” your new visage or think cool earrings will really make a difference in how you feel about yourself.  This is me; and it makes me look old and sick, full stop.  I have an amazing husband who I still want to look nice for. I have friends and family that I don’t want to scare and make uncomfortable. Yes, I can wear a wig. But c’mon, it’s a fucking WIG. And for pete’s sake, it’s cold outside. So now I have to wear one of those hideous soft caps to stay warm, that no one, I don’t care who you are, can rock. It’s physically impossible. (I don’t have them often but when I throw a Pity Party, it’s a rager.)

So when I stop hyperventilating, I try to make sense of this. I used to be a beautiful woman on the outside. And now I have breast cancer. Again. So I have to make peace with all annoyingly balanced people who say and believe that beauty is really on the inside; that it’s only what’s in your heart that matters. Even though I know this to be true (on my good days) and I am sure I will come around to believing it again, today it sounds ….well, lame. Because it does not change the sad fact that we are still, after all these years, battling this disease with surgery and harsh poison. It doesn’t change the fact that today, I have to breathe in and accept another loss in my world as a woman, a human being. Nor will it change that I am going to look like a scary chemo-zombie for the next few months while I wade through this new round of “treatment.”

So despite all the platitudes I know will be in my future from well-meaning loved ones and total strangers staring pitifully at my head – I will still miss all my pretty hair.

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2013: Rockwell’s Newtown

I was in Sacramento recently and went to the Crocker Museum to see a Norman Rockwell exhibit. His Saturday Evening Post covers were displayed chronologically spanning the years from 1916 to 1963. As the years progressed, he added more depth to the physical background framing his characters and levels of complexity of the storylines. But what struck me was his utter genius for attention to the most mundane details of everyday life; the tousled hair out of place, the untied shoelace, the telling expression on the family dog.  To some, his early work seems ordinary or trite. To me – it unfailingly evokes sweet nostalgia for an America I never knew.

Yet, as each era passed, I noticed a darkening of the domestic landscapes; patriotic pride tinged with the danger of the war years; his shame and anger when JFK was gunned down, and his disillusionment with humankind during the Civil Rights struggles toward the end of the cover series. It was a very intimate walk through recent American history – and a bittersweet look back to when the most hope-filled artist our country has arguably ever produced, finally addressed the ugly truth about America at its worst. He tried warning us through his art that hatred and intolerance toward each other, begets violence, and more hatred, and so on.  That was fifty years ago.

The flight home from California to get me back to Redding, Connecticut, landed in JFK on the morning of December 14th. I had flown on the red-eye and was anxious to crawl back into bed so I could make up for five hours of trying to sleep sitting up. Friends on Facebook had just started reporting that there was a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, the next town over and just a few miles away.  I have friends who live there, teach there and were raised there. I used to work in Sandy Hook and have sung at weddings and funerals at St. Rose of Lima Church. Now I am learning that a gunman has killed one and possibly more, inside a school; my friend’s children are in lockdown all over the area and terrified parents are waiting to hear news about their children.

The horror kept escalating while friends frantically shared information about what we knew; who was safe; how many were admitted to Danbury Hospital, which schools were still in lockdown and if the shooter had been apprehended. Then, we struggled for air when the smoke cleared and the first responders filed their official reports. The heartsickness and wrenching pain was palpable even in the resolute silence of those who unplugged to keep from hearing those unthinkable words again and again. The media descended and soon the entire world knew what a gunshot wound to the heart must feel like.

I drove to Newtown a few days later to sit in the diner as I had so many times before, and ordered my standard chocolate milk to see if it would taste the same.  Much like September 12th 2001 when I drove to the eerily quiet Bronx to sit on a park bench and stare at the city’s smoldering city skyline, hoping it had something to say to my heart that I could take home and reflect on instead of crying all day.

As I drove through Newtown, I saw camera crews camped out across the street from Honan’s Funeral Home, St. Rose Church, and the Sandy Hook diner, where I sat quietly, waiting for my beleaguered internal compass to tell me what I should do next because doing nothing didn’t seem like an option for me anymore, (or for anyone, really). This time we could not wait for our breathing to return to normal or our grief to subside before we expressed rage. This time, the whole world felt proximity to Newtown.

We all feel like we have children and loved ones in the crosshairs of a gun now, and it’s not going away. Not because, as some will argue, that this is a mostly white New England community, or because we don’t believe in our constitutional rights. It’s because brave women and innocent babies died the death of enemy soldiers in their school classrooms, far exceeding our worst imagined fears, and their deaths re-opened the wounds of every memorial, for every family, in every single community shattered by gunfire across America. We finally reached critical mass. On a cold Friday morning, in a hail of bullets, this small Rockwellian town in the Connecticut hills now swarming with media trucks became the new Ground Zero.

I don’t believe that we as a people can never look back on this time of the proliferation of deadly weapons in our neighborhoods, the glorification of gunplay and firearms; the politicization of health care, and the wholesale purchase of our government by lobbyists and corporations, with anything other than shame. I am looking into the eyes of the faces of Newtown and seeing what it has wrought.

I drink my chocolate milk, walk to my car and decide to take the scenic route, the back roads that will take me safely home to Redding.  I drive past the white steeple church where friends were married and the famous flagpole rightfully at half mast; past the General Store, Edmond Town Hall and the cemetery where a dear friend is buried.  As I ventured through the meandering hills I took mental pictures of the green and white ribbons and American flags; the roadside memorials, and residents offering heartfelt and lengthy embraces to neighbors they passed each other on the sidewalks. The sun was finally breaking through after two days of rain and was changing the purple and gray clouds in the distance to three shades of orange.  I thought again of Mr. Rockwell.

I wondered how he might paint this beautiful yet shattered New England town and which details he might include to tell this story. If there was ever an artist who could capture strength of community, civic pride, neighborly love, family bonds and good old American resilience, it was Rockwell.  He would feel right at home with his paintbrush amidst the black-shuttered antique clapboard houses, post and rail fences and Christmas wreaths waiting for snow.  Although I never met the man, I could easily picture him with his cup of coffee at the diner, taking in the enormity of this town’s pain and translating it into color and shape and details that only he can see.

But he would also know that the horrific truth of what occurred here on December 14th requires an immediate and unwavering demand for change on the part of all Americans; an unsentimental allegory that does not point fingers but reminds us that we are all to blame for our inaction after every senseless gun tragedy that came before.

If every person who pinned on a ribbon, lit a candle, had their heart broken or posted a comment about Newtown – committed to real and sustained action for change – fifty years from now we could be admiring a picture of 2013 in America with nostalgic pride.

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I Would Like A Cooler Title Than Stepmother

Originally posted in The Huffington Post “HuffPo Divorce” 11.28.2012

Here’s a quiz: What words or images come to mind when you hear the word Stepmother?

Wicked? Evil? Cinderella cruelly banished from attending the ball? The over-dressed woman who married Dad too soon after the divorce?

Or is your brain’s rapid response: Step-Mother; one step removed from real family?

Regardless of where this mental exercise takes you – I’m wagering it’s not a whimsical, happy place. Step-motherhood in literature, popular culture and somewhere deep in our psyches, is littered with bad seeds, cloying wannabes, pathetic outsiders, and jealous, revenge-wielding nut cases. We rarely hear real success stories or see role models bearing this tarnished yet common designation.

Everyone’s favorite folk tale, Cinderella, has an entire stepfamily of females synonymous with wickedness, but her stepmother will be forever imprinted on our brains as cruel, selfish and ugly. And can we talk about Snow White or poor Hansel and Gretel? The Brothers Grimm, when seeking to illustrate the Ultimate Villainess chose “stepmother” once they understood that no one would read their stories if real moms behaved so viciously. Awesome.

So, where does that leave the rest of us – the legions of women who make every conceivable and reasonable effort to integrate within an established domestic hierarchy, compromise at every turn, graciously accept whatever comes (that doesn’t ruin the couch), embrace, feed, clothe, cleanup after, and grow to love deeply, our husband or partner’s children?  Where do we fit in to this wicked narrative?

Better yet, how are we supposed to feel when we’re engaged in proud conversation about our families, and are forced to concede, “Well no, I’m her stepmother,” when the dialog veers off into a place where only true moms can tread. I don’t ever begrudge making the distinction, in fact I am proud to be so close to my stepdaughter’s mom; I just hate the actual words for the very reasons outlined above. So much so, I had taken to calling my stepchild, quite simply, my daughter, because honestly, I don’t make a separation in my mind or my heart, nor does her father, so why is it anyone’s business in casual conversation? Besides, I don’t like leaving my kid stranded on that step unnecessarily. I actually visualize her standing atop a large, white rectangular step that separates us and I do not like it (plus she’s taller than me to begin with, which doesn’t help).

The whole concept makes me feel like I’m on the Mom Farm Team, playing second string, or fiddle; unavoidably one step down on the Family Importance Ladder and wholly insufficient as a parent.

Not that I in any way wish to compare my meager, late in-the-game, quasi parental contributions to the years of love, trials and sacrifice of her mother and father, who by all accounts have done a stellar, downright remarkable job raising this young woman. There has to be a better way to identify a relationship that I treasure, than the Grimm’s Fairy Tale appalling brand of stepmother.

I have heard some people use the phrase “my daughter through marriage” which is entirely too formal, does not roll trippingly off the tongue, and would look stupid on a t-shirt. It also includes a preposition, which seems like overkill.

And I’ve cringed when hearing clarifications such as, “daughter from my second family” or “third marriage” which are both absurdly long and positively too much information; any reference that must include how many times I’ve been married seems pretty intrusive. So that’s out.

Now, if you will indulge me further, I would like to propose an idea that I hope will resonate with you, because I have been searching for something that my Child on the Step can say to her friends at school that blends easily with her vernacular and style, and just might be considered, on a good day, cool. And selfishly, I want something that I can attach to and feel good about.

I probably don’t have to tell you that the college-age lexicon is more than just informal; it’s rather like a series of abbreviations strung together with no punctuation, uttered at the speed of latte. There is no room for anything other than instantaneous comprehension in all forms of communication so swiftness and clarity must rule the day.

Therefore, from this day forward, I should like to be known as Mom2; pronounced MOMtoo or MOMtwo, if you like, inferring that I am the second Mom in her life but still warrant a Mom title because it’s hard work playing shortstop between Mom and Dad, and I refuse to be banished to the Steps (wherever they are). As long as they are all cool with it, I would like to begin right away. I daresay we might begin a new trend.  We could even shorten it to M2 when texting and tweeting, and yes, I could get t-shirts made for Christmas and post embarrassing pictures on facebook.

“Hi, I’d like to introduce you to my Mom2. She and Dad are visiting for the weekend.”

Or, “Sorry, I have to take this; it’s my Mom2 calling from California.”

I could introduce her by saying, “This is Julia. I’m her Mom2. Her mother is visiting next weekend.”

I truly believe this could work. Best of all, it’s easy to text, tweet and reduces unnecessary syllables while retiring a wicked, old brand; and it emphatically indicates, without question, we are all family.

After all, she’s my Kid2.

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The Unavoidable Truth: When Your Kids Can Google Your Prognosis

Originally published in ModernMom, October 2012

The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was already Stage II. I was in the middle of a divorce and had no children. The non-stop drama of those events are chronicled in my new book, “Breast Left Unsaid” – and despite all the difficulties of managing to the disease and divorce on my own, there were, believe it or not, some minor advantages. The young people in my life; niece and nephews, and children of friends, were largely shielded from the more frightening aspects of the disease. I made sure they didn’t have to witness the day-to-day misery of watching me muscle through a very powerful chemotherapy cocktail. Yes, it was hell. But it was my hell and I could close the shades, ignore the phone, and be entirely alone if that’s what the day demanded. Besides, I dreaded making people feel sad or helpless, and I certainly couldn’t abide knowing I was inflicting those emotions on a child. I knew I couldn’t control their fears, but I sure as hell tried; I put on my best bandanna, foundation and happy face whenever they were around. As long as no one ran to the bathroom for tissues and someone in the room was joking about something, I silently declared victory.

That was six years ago. Today I am happily re-married and a “wicked step-mother” (she calls me WSM for short) to a 20-year old attending college in Vermont. Julia came into my life when she was just fifteen and we bonded like Crazy Glue the first day we met. Her father and I married in 2009 and when I look back at the pictures, I can see pure joy in her eyes that her dad finally found love again.

However, the first time they both came to my house for dinner, Julia noticed a picture of me, completely bald. I kept it on my refrigerator as a reminder of what I had lived through and usually found it very motivating. Not so much for a 15-year old who was just getting to know her dad’s new girlfriend. She innocently began asking very pointed questions and even though she was so new in my life, I instinctively wanted to protect her. I pirouetted around questions such as, “Are you okay now?” and “Did it hurt?” Her dad was carefully observing how I would treat the subject matter – but was wholly empathetic and knew just when to re-direct the conversation.

Later in our relationship when Julia learned that I visit the oncologist every three months for blood tests, she of course wanted to know why. I explained, “To make sure everything is okay and there’s no sign of it coming back.”

“It can come back?”

“Yes.”

“But then you’ll just beat it again, right Jude?”

“Yep. That’s the plan.”

Two weeks after I finished my manuscript this past January, I was not feeling well.  My husband and I were in yoga class (yes, you read that right) and in one of the more pretzel-like poses I had trouble breathing. Several weeks later, and after many tests, I was back in the hospital with a recurrence of breast cancer that had spread to the pleura and liver. The world I had struggled so hard to rebuild had shattered again and my life was now playing out the scenario I feared most: I am Stage IV. When breast cancer spreads to other organs, the horse is not just out of the barn; the stables are on fire. After my husband and I waded through the first few days of shock and all-encompassing loss and fear, we knew we had to tell Julia.

I am very close with Julia’s mother. She and I had a long discussion over tea and Kleenex one day about trying our best to make sure she can stay focused on her studies rather than dive head first into the muck of this disease. She advised that “less is more” in this situation and I agreed entirely. So we all “co-parented” on the communications and tried to ease her into the idea that I was indeed fighting again but that she shouldn’t worry; which was like trying to tell my dog not to chase squirrels. She’s a bright college student with access to non-stop information, everywhere, and would quickly dig in and draw her own, private conclusions. There is no hiding, really, from the truth of about it.

But being a parent now, I can now see why the whole truth matters. I can feel in my heart the need for her to be prepared; to help; to be the grown-up she wants to be. She and her dad have honest conversations about my condition because I can sometimes hear them whispering when I’m out of earshot or when she calls to check in. So I know she’s Googled enough to stay informed, and understands all too well, there is no Stage V.

We went to see Julia at college this weekend to see her new off-campus apartment and take her out for meals that didn’t include Ramen Noodles. She had not seen me since August and I have lost a bit of weight, but still have my hair and cosmetics for all manner of lighting. Talk of the new chemo I am on took up less than two minutes of our first dinner together; her eyes filled up instantly so I changed topics to the excitement about my book being published, which was just about the best diversion anyone could hope for.  It was a beautiful, warm autumn weekend in Vermont and magical in every way. Julia kept grabbing me for spontaneous hugs, and held my hand when we walked; and was being the warm, wonderful kid she’s always been; but let me know she’s grown up to stand in the ring with me this time.

Ready to fight.

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The Rape of The Green Jacket

Amidst all the recent noise about Todd Akin, the Republican platform, the non-stop political War on Women and all the hateful news masquerading as journalism attempting to capture it all – I finally caved. I could not read anymore. I don’t even want to talk about it, really.  It’s exasperating. Flat-out, stomach churning.

But the new story a few weeks back that pushed me over the edge was not about “legitimate rape” or some other nonsensical fantasy-theory offered up as fact. It was not about abortion. It wasn’t even about Obama or Mittens.  Nope. It was about golf.

I was flipping through my on-line news as I do every night when there she was; smiling a wonderful, victorious smile for the cameras: Condi Rice. The former Secretary of State under George W. Bush was “thrilled” to be invited to Augusta National, “Home of the Masters”- and the picture of her could have easily been captioned, “I DID IT. I BROKE ANOTHER BARRIER FOR YOU, LADIES.”

Golf’s Ultimate Boys Club of some 80-odd years invited its first black member in 1990 and finally got around to including women in August of 2012. Two women to be exact. Ever so big of them. And one of them formerly held the job of most powerful female leader of the free world. And she was grateful for the honor. I finally let myself have a good cry. We are doomed.

We are asking for permission to play a course that wasn’t built for us and was never intended to be. I keep expecting that other women with political clout will help us reshape it so it’s more conducive for us to actually win a round or two – but they don’t.  In fact, the ones with strong right-wing convictions do quite the opposite in the name of religions that by all accounts don’t believe in women having any power at all other than in their cleaning products and kegel muscles.

So, Ms Rice shows up with her putter and irons to the private club built for men and run by men, and is asking us to be proud of her, and for all women really, that she gets to don a man’s ugly green jacket now. Because they allowed it. Fantastic. There was a time that I would have thought that was progress on some level. Now I just see it as pathetic. And I try to understand how we arrived at this place when it seemed to me that not too long ago there were glimmers of real hope for gender equality and respect in this country.

As much as I loved this new kid Obama a few years back, I pored over the NY Daily News every day on the train to find stories about Hillary kicking his ass on the campaign trail. And although she’s now in Condi’s old office, I just don’t have high hopes for Mrs. Clinton coming out of the back nine swinging hard. She’s learned to play the game and knows the rules of etiquette better than anyone. She’ll get to the 19th hole, swig a beer, write a memoir and enjoy her home in Chappaqua. And who would blame her?

We need a leader who will change the conversation and women’s orientation to power in general. We need a President of the United States with a vagina who believes in the separation of church and state. How else do we expect to argue the insanity of mandatory, state-regulated vaginal wands?  We need a President with boobs who pays higher health insurance premiums than her husband (if she has one) to fight the good fight with Big Insurance and Big Pharma. And we need a Leader who will publicly humiliate and dismiss the first reporter in White House press corps who asks about her hair. Flogging would not be too severe.

Put a mother in the Oval office (who is not from Texas or Arizona) and watch what happens to gun laws. Give me someone to vote for to lead my country who will put fear into the hearts of men and women who have a hateful agenda against my human rights – the way they put fear into mine every day. This shouldn’t be some idle fantasy – this is still America.

We women are half the population and are becoming more powerless instead of powerful. There was even a recent article in the New York Times about the fact that Google can’t understand why their female leaders are going down in numbers and women are dropping out of the interview process with them. http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/23/daily-report-at-the-top-of-google-fewer-women/

Their fancy algorithms tell them it might be because (wait for it) women aren’t being promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts. Promotions equal power. Game over. I wonder how long it took them to figure that out when they just could have called me and asked. Or they just could have googled it, really.

Frankly, until we have female leadership in the Oval Office and executive board rooms across America who truly understand and respect the serious topics of rape, abortion, women’s health, and equal pay for equal work, from a personal, dare I say, feminine perspective – we’re left cheering for Condi Rice’s Augusta membership and a god-awful ugly green jacket.

Someone ought to tell her – it’s never going to fit.

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The Dirty Little Secret of Interviewing

There aren’t many things that I can say I know a lot about but this is happens to be one of them. Over the last 15 years I have interviewed, hired, or overseen the hiring of literally thousands of employees – both from an internal talent acquisition position and as an external recruiter.  I have hired people across the enterprise from the C-Suite to the reception desk in just about every job family in between. I currently provide coaching and feedback to people who are trying to change jobs, careers, or move from the ranks of the unemployed.  But I don’t consider myself an expert based on sheer volume; I like to think it’s because I have a passion for it. Nothing gives me more satisfaction professionally than knowing I helped someone find and do their best work in a job that is right for them. It’s gratifying beyond measure. 

Last week while I was in a coaching session with a colleague who is trying to maneuver from his own consulting firm back into a corporate role, he talked about his ability to secure first interviews but his lack of success at getting asked back for a second date. 

I am writing this post today to share some of the content of that session by illustrating the single most important weapon in your fight to best your competition and win the job. This also holds true for consultants who are trying to get past the initial free consultation and secure a lucrative engagement with a prospective client. Get ready, because this will really rock your world:

              The interviewer has to like you.

What!? How can that be?? Isn’t it based on my outstanding credentials and practical experience? Why, I can go through the job description point-by-point and cite examples of my work; success metrics, references, and awards. I am PERFECT FOR THIS JOB, DAMMIT.

Yes, you are. But the screener – whether they are a Junior Mint HR intern or the head of Recruiting or the Hiring Manager – will not you move you to the next step in the process unless they like you.  And you can imagine how subjective that criteria is. But it’s such an essential component of standing out from the huge crowd of other candidates that I strongly suggest you start paying closer attention to it.

I cannot tell you how many times as the head of recruiting, I would deliver a slate of qualified candidates who all passed muster with me – including the general likability factor which might also be described in less subtle terms as having no visible signs of being a jerk – to a C-level hiring manager and had the following conversation:

Me: So, what did you think of So-and-So?

Them: Eh, okay I guess. I didn’t love him.

Me: Why not?

Them: I don’t know. Can’t put my finger on it. I liked Such-and-Such better.

Me: Why?

Them: Don’t know. I didn’t hit it off with So-and-So. Not a fit for me.

And that was the sum total of the complex decision process to extend an offer. I had already provided in-depth detail on both candidate’s credentials and alignment for the role – but the winner was Such-and-Such because of the likeability factor. Which is usually cleverly disguised as “fit” or “energy.”

Why is that? Well, for one, no one wants to work with someone they don’t connect with. Period. Oh, I know all you diversity experts will be screaming that people prefer to hire in their own image which is why corporate America is so white and male. Please know that I was a head of Diversity too, and while there is certainly some truth to that, I think it may have more to do with a visceral and personal connection than someone’s conscious or subconscious preference for a particular gender or color in a role.  Connections can be completely blocked by hateful bigotry, yes, but that’s not something a candidate can really battle against in any meaningful way nor would they want to. Who wants to work for someone like that anyway? 

This guidance is really meant to speak to the candidate who is always a bridesmaid. If you’re doing a lot of interviews and not getting called back the law of averages says it’s not your gender, ethnic origin or any other visible differentiator that you have no control over; it’s something else. And that something else could be the dirty-little secret: they’re just not that into you.

So when you know you’ve nailed down a date for the first screen or interview, and you know you want the job, remember that the interviewer wants to like you. Really and truly. They don’t want a long protracted process and they need to fill the position with the best possible person. And one of the key factors will be if you measure up when they ask themselves: Do I want to be working with this person every day? Do I like them enough?

To help your chances, think about the following tips. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will get you moving in the right direction.

1 – Ask questions. Right off the bat. Before they even take your resume out of the manila folder. Get the conversation started and be your genuinely pleasant self; smile and keep a calm but engaged demeanor.

2. Get them talking about themselves and listen for what’s important to them as a person.  It shouldn’t be deeply personal but with a little coaxing, most interviewers love to go off the reservation a bit to break up the monotony. And most people, when asked in the right manner, do love to talk about themselves. The more they do – the better chance you have of building that connection.

3. Eye contact is great but don’t stare like a robot. Blinking is encouraged as is the occassional lighthearted attempt at humor. Stiffness or appearing uncomfortable in your own skin is the kiss of death. So is trying too hard.

4. Get to their pain: what are the top things that this person cares about relative to filling the position. LISTEN. Listen and listen some more. Then ask more questions. By the end of the first five minutes you should know exactly which of your fabulous bullet points speaks to their pain; feed your targeted experience into your narrative and keep it conversational.

5. If they immediately start grilling you – resist the temptation to give rapid fire answers to keep up with them. They are probably just a bad interviewer or believe in that tough-love crap to see if they can throw you off your game. Don’t let it.  Reflect on one or two questions – tell them it’s a great question, and then ask a clarifying question to create a better balance to the meeting. But do not be defensive. Prepare for this.

6. Don’t be cheesy and don’t suck up. Practice your “genuine interest” face in the mirror and bring it with you on game day. Not everyone will like you and that’s okay. But don’t give the interviewer a reason to suspect you might, deep down, be a jerk who just happens to interview well.

7. And last but not least, remember this lesson I learned from my acting days: the most powerful person in the theater is not the director or the producer; it’s the stage manager. If you are not kind and professional and engaging right through to the lowest level person you encounter in the process, you are shooting yourself in your loafers. When interviewing  I would typically ask the receptionist or administrative person what they thought of the candidate. If they were rude or condescending to anyone in the interview chain – they didn’t get the offer. I mean really, can you imagine what they’re like on a bad day?

So there you have it. I hope the next time you interview you remember to bring your best, most engaging, honest and groovy self to the meeting.  You’re already marketable and smart – now go work on being likable. And get the offer.

If anyone is interested in hearing more on this topic – please leave a comment and I’ll respond here on judesthinkin’ or to your personal email if you prefer.

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We Can Hear You.

In the last few days I have had the misfortune of being on the receiving end of not just bad customer service, but glaring examples of employees who don’t believe they can be heard. When they are speaking. Right in front of you. Or maybe they simply don’t care.

On Saturday night I was at a very white-table-cloth, trendy farm-to-table, Chef has her own book, kind of restaurant. It was my first visit to the place and it was over an hour from where I live.  While waiting in the drafty foyer – for longer than we should have – our party was treated to one of the most shocking displays of rudeness I’ve seen in quite some time. The chef’s brother, who I recognized from the eatery’s website, came out of the kitchen or somewhere else that caused him to sweat profusely, and began yelling at the elderly hostess who was trying to get all her cold and hungry patrons seated. Yelling. “I TOLD you, the group in the BAR was supposed to be SEATED at the FOUR TOP. Didn’t I TELL YOU?!!” The woman he was screaming at inches away from us was not only in her seventies or better, I later found out, was his mother. His mother.

He saw us standing there. He did not apologize to her or to us. This Neanderthal just stormed back to the hell-hole from which he sprang and left us staring at our shoes. The poor woman was so deflated; she had a look on her face that could only be described as pure humiliation.  This was my first impression of the place and I was tempted to leave except I was with my husband and guests who very much wanted us to try one of their “favorite places.”

In my heart of hearts, I wanted to follow this guy back down the hall, tap him on the shoulder and explain that his outburst was not only the opposite of customer service, it was customer death. I will not go back there. I don’t want him touching anything I will eat.

Two nights later on Valentine’s Day, my tres romantique husband made reservations at our favorite restaurant, another farm-to-table, ultra-fresh and always unique eatery that is a high-rent treat for special occasions. It’s a small place and there is really nowhere for staff to hide other than the kitchen.  I was dropped off at the front door while my husband parked the car, and walked into the very small foyer where there is usually someone to take your coat. There was a young lady I had never seen before with a very surly look on her face and I was not sure if she worked for them or was a patron, but she was standing in front of the coats. I didn’t do anything until she looked at me and said, “name of party?” with all the enthusiasm of a drive-thru attendant asking me if I want fries with my filet-o-fish.  I gave her my name as a very harried looking waiter walked past her as she yelled at him, “I don’t even have their menus ready, so don’t look at me!”

This was about me. And I was standing right there. This place gives you personalized menus to remind you how attentive they are and take the sting out of the gigantic bill when it comes. However, this young lady was clearly of the same mind as the jerk in the other restaurant, and assumed that I was either deaf, stupid or so excited by the privilege of paying their chef to cook for me that I would overlook her open-air venting.

I know people have bad days. I have them. And I don’t mind if someone loses it; there is no crazier business than running a restaurant. But when you do lose it, acknowledge it. Apologize. You are not screaming into a mobile phone – I can see who you are yelling at and I can hear every, insensitive word. This is what’s known as a lose/lose.

Sadly, this happens in the workplace all the time. We hear about “screamers” and in Human Resources it’s usually our job to “coach” these people and let them know how their actions impact everyone around them. Someone who yells because they are at the end of their rope probably has a few threads of justification somewhere – but it is still over the line when they do it and apologies, as well as improved coping skills, had better be forthcoming.  Someone who yells because they believe it is an effective way to communicate or to get things done,  should be fired.  There is no place for that kind of disruption and incivility – unless you work for Fox News.

Upon reflection, I might give both of these restaurants another chance because the food was truly outstanding. But if I am ever subject to open-air rudeness on the part of their employees again I will walk up to them and say, “We can hear you. And I’m not sure if it was your intention, but you sound like a jerk. I’m going to get a pizza at Pepe’s – please give my table to someone else.”

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