Wednesday, March 18, 2009

41...and counting

Today is my 41st birthday. And so far I'm not all that excited.

Forty was a big year.I did the triathlon, I challenged my assumptions about work. I started blogging. We took a trip to celebrate. Things happened around my 40th birthday. But 41? Nada.

Now, as I drift deeper into my 40s, birthdays are nothing special. I know, birthdays lost their luster sometime between 13 and 30, but either way, it doesn't seem worth bothering with a birthday anymore. I don't mind admitting my age, and am not suggesting that I'll hide it or start counting backwards or anything (don't laugh--I know several women who do just that once they get to 39!). But what's the point of this day itself anymore?

My day so far? Well, for starters, I'm still sick. I have had the flu for six days, and while this is my third day without a fever, I'm still lethargic, low in appetite and coughing et al. So fun fun there. I woke up at the usual early hour of 7:01 when my younger son charged in to tell us the time and ask permission to go downstairs. No "happy birthday mommy" or hugs or anything. Then hubby rolled over to show me he woke up happy, but still no greeting. So I get up, shower, and come back to the room to get dressed. At last hubby remembers to say Happy Birthday. Woopie. I go down where younger son remembers and hugs and kisses ensue momentarily, but frankly I need to leave to catch my bus. Older son ignores me and says nothing right until I walk out the door.

Lucky me today is an office day, so I start my work day with a meeting that piles on more work, where I firmly stick my foot in my mouth and later get chastised for it by my boss. Oh yeah, and for good measure he mentions that he is still unsure about working with me long term. Just when I was feeling mildly secure in my part time job. Not that he was being mean. I probably deserved it after the foot-in-mouth thing. I tell boss that he is taking up more of my time lately than agreed. He says figure it out -- stop doing some of my work. Not the answer I wanted (I wanted to bring in more help or be paid for more time). Not a great workday so far.

I got an e-card from my father. What ever happened to paper cards or phone calls? I did get a card from the office gang, which was a surprise since I didn't think they knew when my birthday was, as I'm a contractor and never had to fill in employment forms. But they did, so I have one of those cute cards where everyone writes a few cute words. It's sweet, in a not-very-personal kind of way.

And now I'm working the rest of the day here, feeling discontent with the job, worrying about all the other work I have to do this week when we're supposed to take the kids to Seattle tomorrow for a couple days of Spring Break. And feeling a bit sorry for myself that my birthday is such a non-event.

So I think next year I will lower my expectations significantly. Getting a year older is fine, but expecting the birthday itself to be special is silly. It's an antiquated idea I've carried over from my childhood, and once I think it's time I outgrew. I am not 10, nor am I 30. Maybe at 50 I can step up expectations a bit, for the next eight years after today, I'll expect nearly nothing.

And who knows, if the kids surprise me with a big dinner and cards and gifts (which I guess might still be waiting for me at home tonite), it will be even sweeter.

I think that's the lesson I've learned in turning 41 -- lower expectations make it much easier to let life exceed expectations. Seems kinda sad for a birthday lesson, but I'm old now, I guess I'm allowed to wallow a bit, right?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reading resumes

Today a colleague at my part time job asked me to read over some resumes that had come in for a position he's hiring. I had written the job description, and while the job is for an executive assistant, there is hope this person we hire will have some communications skills to back me up, at least in an administrative capacity. So he asked me to read the resumes, the stack I got having been already filtered once to weed out the chaff. And I found myself surprised all the same at the reasons I had for ranking people.

It's funny what sticks out in a resume. One woman left a period off the end of her first paragraph. One girl's resume printed with really weird formatting. One lady wrote in what I think she thought was a witty style, but it came off as brash and self-important. Not a one of the resumes I saw mentioned the two software programs we listed as assets for the job. None mentioned that they had experience in the two industries our association works in, despite the assocation being clearly identified.

I think the strangest thing to catch my eye, though, was how much I liked reading about their interests or extra-curricular activities. One lady was into drag racing. She had a really strong resume, but the drag racing just made her seem so interesting. She's getting an interview.

For years as a freelancer I've heard about resume writing and how HR people look for anything to get one off the read-me pile -- anything to reject you -- but until I had to go through them today myself it hadn't really hit home. So here are a few tips from me:

1. Write a targeted cover letter: Don't just regurgitate the job description, but do address the main points. Don't just tell me you're the ideal candidate -- show me why. We really do read the cover letters -- they are much more than window dressing.

2. Proofread, spellcheck and PDF: The format and style of your resume does matter. Spelling mistakes are fatal, especially for a job description that includes admin work and proofreading. And bad formatting can ruin your chances, so always PDF the file you're sending to be sure it will print the way you want it to. We do print them out.

3. Be interesting: Finding the right person is all about how they'll fit in, so tell the employer something about yourself that isn't in descriptions of previous jobs. What do you do with your spare time?

4. Explain why you're job hunting: There's a recession on, so lots of people are looking for work. There's no shame in it, but you need to explain why you're looking. Want to go from part time to full time? Returning to work after a break? Bad fit at your last job? It's the same thing as meeting a great single person -- if you're such a great catch, why are you available?

5. Show that you know something about the company you are applying to: If it's a small office, say why a small office suits you. If it's in a particular industry, show that either you know the industry or that you're able to get up to speed quickly. Read the company's website, even if it's an admin job. It will give you the edge.

I hope we find the right candidate here. I can't say any of the ones I read today struck me as the ideal person, but interviews should help us figure that out.