Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Don't try this in your office

I had one of the worst interviews of my life a week ago. It's taken me a week to recover. This interview was really over after ten minutes, but it lasted an entire hour because I haven't yet learned how to bow out gracefully.

How would I describe this interview, if I had to use but a single word? A few possibilities:


In an attempt to reframe my experience, I decided to come up with a list of the Top Ten Things Not to Do in an Interview. Now, mind you, there already exist a ton of advice sites for interviewees on what not to do during an interview. These are pretty obvious. For example: Don't put your feet up on the interviewer's desk. Don't snap your gum. Don't giggle if you fart.

No, I'm talking about advice for the interviewer. Because it's not just the candidate who has to make a good impression.

Inspired by actual events, I present:


1. Thou shalt not ask thy candidate about his or her personal philosophy and then declare that it is wrong.

2. Thou shalt not ask thy candidate vague questions, refuse to provide any additional useful information, and then declare that his or her answer is wrong.

3. Thou shalt not preface thy question with, "I know I am not allowed to ask this," and then proceed to ask thy candidate a disguised version of thy illegal question.

4. Thou shalt not compel thy candidate to elaborate on any matter to which thy candidate referreth as "personal."

5. Thou shalt not interview candidates whom thou hast no intention of hiring in the first place. If thou interviewest candidates whom thou hast no intention of hiring in the first place, thou shalt not convey this information to thy candidate.

6. Thou shalt not belittle thy candidate.

7. Thou shalt not get huffy when thy candidate sayeth that he or she honoreth the Sabbath. For I am a jealous G-d and besides I have already made it quite clear about my feelings toward the Sabbath.

8. Thou shalt not cut thy candidate off by saying, "you really believe that?"

9. Thou shalt not present information which is incorrect or untestable in order to prove thy superiority over thy candidate.

10. Thou shalt not do all of these things which I have commanded thee not to do, and then inform thy candidate that thou really liketh him or her and that thou really wouldst like to hire him or her, but thou canst not do so and is that not a shame.

Pretty obvious too, don't you think?

Apparently not.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Public transit story #11: The answer is in the question

Okay, first off: I feel slightly disingenuous about calling this a Public Transit Story, as it took place on Amtrak, which is not exactly public transit. But now that I've made this disclaimer, I feel a whole lot better.

So, without further ado, I present the following tale:

We went up to Sacramento this weekend for our anniversary. Neither of us had ever stayed in a place that cost $300 per night--at least not on our own dime (or 3000 dimes, as the case may be)--and so our one night in this gorgeous B&B was a little overwhelming. In a nice way, of course, but still.

An important aspect of this trip was taking the train from Berkeley to Sacramento. I love Amtrak. It might be slow and occasionally expensive, but often the tracks run through some really neat areas. I am fascinated by the sorts of things that are built right along railroad tracks--and sometimes I'm more fascinated by the things that are falling apart than the things that are well maintained.

Of course, Amtrak also provides ample opportunity for people-watching.

On our return trip, we were across the aisle from a pair of students. These girls were fairly loud (or was it merely that the rest of the train was fairly quiet?), and their conversation topics included boys, girls, parties, hard classes, easier classes, wanting to go to the gym more, and wanting to eat less junk food. Pretty standard for college students, really. After a lot of loud conversation, they finally agreed to do some homework.

The glorious silence was burst, much too soon, by "Hey, do you know what 'esoteric' means?"

Her friend didn't know.

I bit my lip. It was all I could do to keep from (1) blurting the definition across the aisle or (2) peeing myself with appreciation of sweet, sweet irony.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gerbil and Goliath

Our move from Cleveland to Berkeley last year was more of a culture shock that I'd expected. I learned very quickly that out here, anything between Chicago and the Atlantic is considered "back East." This includes Ohio, which is not East at all, but Midwest. (To be fair, back East we called California "out West.") More importantly, I learned that "Ohio" is a dirty word. Many have assumed that because I moved here from Ohio, I must have been born in Ohio. When I say that I only lived in Ohio for four years, because that's where grad school was, and really most of my life has been spent either in the Philadelphia area or western Massachusetts--well, people tend to resume eye contact.

Another thing I learned: no one trusts anyone. I grew up in a small town where people mostly trusted each other, although not enough to leave the doors unlocked at night. In western Mass, people also mostly trust each other, although no one really trusts college students (which is entirely reasonable). The same is true of northeast Ohio.

Out here? No trust. This is mostly reasonable, because there are a lot of thieves, scam artists, and perpetrators of random violence. I am naturally a bit paranoid anyway, so this is all fine with me. What I have a problem with is that utility companies don't trust their customers.

When we moved here, I signed us up for phone service with the same company I'd used for four years in Ohio. Our first bill had a due date of not more than seven calendar days after I received it--which was three weeks after it was supposedly printed. I called the company and wanted to know why they sat on our bill for three weeks and then gave us a week to pay up.

"We have to establish your credit," the representative said.

"But I have been a customer for four years, in Ohio! I've never been late with a payment!"

"That's a different branch of the company."

"Well, can't you access my payment history and establish my credit that way?"

"Oh, no, ma'am. We can't do that. Your bill is due in a week."

"Why didn't you send it to me earlier? It was printed three weeks ago, I got it today, and it's due next week!"

"We shorten the payment period for customers who haven't yet established credit. We lengthen the period after a couple months if you get your payment in on time."

"Um, if you intentionally don't send new customers their bills until a week before you need their payment, you are basically ensuring that they will be late and therefore can't establish credit with you."

"This is what all the utility companies do in California, ma'am."

I have never been late with a payment in my life, which is why I'm in charge of almost all the bills and why we have successfully established credit with the phone company. The energy company is a different story. PG&E (yes, that PG&E, of Enron scandal fame) demanded a deposit when we began our service. The deposit was twice the monthly bill for previous tenants, and it was to be returned to us after 13 months--with interest--provided that we had no more than one late payment in that period.

So I sent PG&E a check for $104 in May of 2005. They promised to return it in 13 months, plus some piddling amount of interest (to be compounded monthly). 13 months, they said, would be June of 2006.

I called PG&E this past May to find out if we'd see a credit on the bill or a separate refund check. Quoth PG&E: "A credit for your deposit, plus interest, will appear on your bill in June. Thanks for your terrific payment record!"

June came, and so did the PG&E bill. I called PG&E and asked why they had not applied any credit. Quoth PG&E: "You will receive your credit in July because although you opened your account in May, we didn't turn your power on until June. Thanks for your terrific payment record!" The bit about the power coming on in June was correct--but only because PG&E did not successfully turn on our power as promised in May, and we told them to wait a week until we actually moved in.

July came, but the credit on the bill? Nope. I called PG&E and asked where my deposit was. Quote PG&E: "You will see that on your August bill. July is indeed the 13th month from when we turned on your power, but your interest isn't actually calculated until the 14th month. Thanks for your terrific payment record!"

August arrived, and I was steamed. Somehow we still owed PG&E money! I called them up and demanded to know what was going on. Quoth PG&E: "Your bill was printed on August 2, but we aren't figuring anyone's interest until August 14. Your credit will show up on your September bill. Thanks for your terrific payment record!"

Yesterday I received yet another PG&E bill. As you might have guessed, there was no mention of a credit. I called. I was really really really mad! Quoth PG&E: "Let's see, your account was opened in May... 13 months would have been June... hm..."

I jumped in: "This process has been very frustrating. I was told in May of last year that I would get my deposit back in June of this year. This June I was told I'd get it back in July. In July, I was told August. In August, I was told September. It's September, and I want to know exactly when this matter is going to be resolved."

"Oh," said PG&E. "It looks like we never calculated your return. My supervisor is doing it right now. This will show up on your October bill."

I was livid. "Hold on. At the beginning of August, I was promised this would be taken care of on the 14th of that month. That never happend. How do I know you are actually doing what you've promised?"

"Trust us," said PG&E.

"What if it's not on my bill next month?" I said, running out of patience.

"Call us back and we'll take care of it for November. Thanks for your terrific payment record!"

With interest compounded monthly, it's actually worse for PG&E to hold onto our deposit than for us not to have it back in a timely fashion. And, as my wife points out, our PG&E deposit is currently our highest-yield investment. Maybe I'll let them hold onto our $104+ a little bit longer. By the time we get it back, we might be able to retire on it.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Boyz in the Vatican

Whilst browsing the online classifieds today, I happened upon an announcement from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The CDCR is always hiring, it seems, and the ad I stumbled upon was for Youth Correctional Counselors.

I quickly disabused myself of the notion that I could be a Youth Correctional Counselor. True, I did spend a summer sitting upon bad pre-teen boys in the middle of the woods of New Hampshire, and those bad pre-teen boys were approximately my size or slightly larger... but honestly? CDCR would pee its collective self laughing at me during the physical strength and endurance tests.

But I could not resist reading all the way through the bulletin, just for giggles. And lo, there on the bottom of the third page, I was rewarded:

The POPE includes two written tests and an interview with a psychologist to determine that the candidate is free of any emotional or mental limitations, which could restrict him/her from safely performing the essential functions of the position. The POPE is taken in two sessions: the written tests are taken first and then the interview is scheduled at a later date. An approved POPE is valid for one year and must be current at the time of appointment. Candidates not cleared by the POPE cannot reapply for this position for 12 months from the date of disqualification.

Yes indeedy.

I am using someone else's excellent picture