Friday, November 26, 2010

Cut it Out, Harry Potter! My Career Advice

I recently took a long, hard look at our economy and realized that perhaps my cosmopolitan travelling posts aren't very practical right now. Who can dream of currently vacationing in Detroit? Only the lucky few. I don't want to depress my readers with far-off places that they'll never see, I need to help my readers with sensible tips and pointed advice. And so, dear readers, welcome to my first "Cut-throat Careers" themed blog, sure to help you land that dream job, earn that corner office or at the very least, not get fired from your current job.

I'd like to walk you through the steps that I take upon finding a job that strikes my fancy (note--though I currently already work in my dream job, I apply for jobs on a regular basis to keep my skills sharp).

Step 1: Find a job that strikes your fancy.

In my case, it was a prestigious position working at the Ontario Science Centre's summer exhibition entitled "Harry Potter: The Exhibition." This exhibition was going to be one of the most exciting Harry Potter exhibits ever to hit the world, full of props, costumes, artifacts, all kinds of things that Harry Potter fans care about. The OSC was seeking out talented individuals who would be able to lead the groups of visitors around the various Harry Potter stations (magic, flying, broom game thing, wizards, etc.) and answer any questions. The guides were also required to speak in British accents to remain in character and to wear cloaks. Now, I've never read/watched Harry Potter but I knew this was the chance of a lifetime. I immediately sent over my cover letter and resume.

I knew that this could possibly be me.

Step 2: Work that Cover Letter!

Cover letters are important. We all know this. But how many of us really take the time to craft a memorable and impressive one? I've always believed that employers hate reading the same generic, placating cover letters that many career books advise you to write. In my cover letters, I usually take the opportunity to tell a story about my little brother, share my most embarrassing moment, explain what I would do if I was rich or an animal, etc. Of course, when you're taking liberties like these, you MUST ensure that it's tailored to the position you're applying for.

Please see my below example--my cover letter for the Harry Potter position.

You will note that this cover letter is very specifically tailored for the position, with plenty of references to Harry Potter, yet with a few personal tidbits thrown in there as well. It's important to strike a balance to show that you care very much about the job but also about yourself as well.

I bet Dumbledore and Harry Potter wish they were many leagues under the sea.

Step 3: Perfecting the Resume

Resumes are important. We all know this. Resumes are so important, in fact, that many people get a little overwhelmed and try to pad their resumes. There's no need to do this--I'm sure you've accomplished many wonderful things in your lifetime. You just haven't thought to list them on your resume!

See my Harry Potter resume below:

Upon a careful reading, you'll notice how I have subtly highlighted my skills that will be of most importance in this Harry Potter position. The "Profile" section of your resume is your first chance to explain a little about yourself. Try to choose a wide variety of relevant skills and interests that will grab the employer's eyes. For example, I have revealed that I am an avid reader (much like Harry Potter!) and am single with no children (also like Harry Potter). Employers will subconsciously pick up on these types of traits and want to hire you.

Harry Potter: single with no children.

Now, as for the Work Experience section, this is where employers just want to make sure you've worked for people that you're not related to*. List all of the places that you've ever worked at and remember, no job is too small to list. To be honest, I think the "Work Experience" and "Education" sections are the most boring parts of a resume and most people just skim over this stuff. Keep it simple and humble because chances are no one's going to read it anyway. And, believe me, you'll get your chance to brag soon enough.

Harry Potter can do all kinds of magic but he's still a pretty humble boy.

*Note: It's still okay to list your mom as a reference.

Step 4: Time to shine!

Many people have trouble when it comes to the "Achievements" section of the resume. I happen to find it incredibly easy. Remember to have an open mind with this section--almost anything can be considered an achievement! It's best to list every award that you have ever received, any moniker ever bestowed upon you, any sort of experience you have with any type of activity, celebrities that you resemble, etc, etc . Don't forget to consider your ancestry an achievement (I mentioned that I am part British, as Harry Potter is quite obviously at least part British) and if you own any pets or children.

Harry Potter looks British to me.

Equally important is the "Future Accomplishments" section (also often called "Projected Accomplishments"). Here's where you ruminate on all the things that you believe you COULD accomplish in your life. You could accomplish all sorts of things, like becoming a doctor or learning the keyboards or buying a bunch of cats or having practically no cavities--really, almost anything! Try to be honest, though--do you truly see yourself winning the John Newberry Medal for a distinguished contribution to children's literature? If you do, then yes, put it down. If not, try something a bit more realistic, like writing an sci-fi version fanfiction script of The Wire. Your employers will admire your ambition and be impressed by your (future) talent.

I usually like to throw in one more category, often "Astrological Sign," sometimes "Sport I'm Best At" or "Favorite Song Lyrics." This is kind of like a wild card, bonus tidbit to leave you lingering on the employer's mind when he/she goes to bed at night.

Harry Potter is a Leo.

Step 5: Going Above and Beyond

Even if your cover letter and resume are stellar, it's always best to provide some kind of supplemental material to really make employers remember you. I try to include some kind of homemade trinket, usually a collage or two (2), IOUs or gift card. If I could make wood sculptures, then I would do that. For this position, I thought they might be receiving lots of collages so I went a different route and included a supplemental list of books I read in 2009.

Including a book list has multiple benefits. Firstly, it proves to your potential employer that you're literary and therefore intelligent, and b.) it displays a bit more of your personality. Chances are your employer will have read one of the same books and then you have something to discuss during the interview. In the case, I was hoping we would have shared an appreciation for 777 Great Clean Jokes so we could both have a laugh. Humor is very important in the workplace.

Harry Potter and his schoolmates love to laugh.

Step 6: Follow that thing up!

You know how after a first date you're supposed to call your date to make sure they got home okay, then to see if they want to have dinner with you again the next night, then to see if they want to meet your family for Christmas, then to see why they've stop answering your calls? Well, it's exactly the same concept when applying for a job. FOLLOW UP IS KEY!

I'd recommend following up your cover letter, resume and supplemental material with an email/phone call/visit to ensure that the employer received it. It's best to ask for a cell phone or home number (or both, if you really care about the job) so you can reach them with any urgent questions, like how much you'll get paid or if you can take Halloween and your birthday off.

One warning regarding the follow up--beware of automated email replies. Don't make the same mistake I did and assume that the automatic reply after emailing in your resume is the same as being hired. Apparently it usually is not.

You know what, emails that appear in your inbox so fast it's like magic are confusing; it could happen to anyone.

Harry Potter would have known.

Though I was not hired or contacted further to work the Harry Potter job (I believe they may have found the headshots I also sent perhaps a bit too intimidating for the wizard-loving crowd), I can say with some confidence that if you follow my six (6) steps, they will perhaps lead you to more career success than you can handle.

Let me know how that promotion goes for you! Tell Mr. Trump I say hey.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Festive Specials

I'm really lucky because I get to celebrate two Thanksgivings.
Today was American Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving Part II as I call it).

Today was also Pilgrim Day at work.

I am thankful for work visas, new neighborhoods and dodgeball.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my friends and family back home!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cut it out, Mississippi: Britto Gets Married

As a very special edition of my cosmopolitan travel posts, I recently took quite the road trip to Jackson, Mississippi. It was my first time in Mississippi and I was there for a very important occasion: Britto, one of my oldest and dearest friends, was getting married. Thinking of travelling to Mississippi on a wild, impromptu road trip? You're in luck, I'll be reviewing the entire state (based completely on my 2 day visit). Any brides-to-be out there? (holla!) I'll throw in some wedding tips, too. See? Something for everyone!

(warning: mega blogpost ahead)

First, a little back story:

I met Britto on the first day of fifth grade at the bike rack, right after I had moved to Florida. We've been friends ever since, even though my younger brother has held a vendetta against Britto for once throwing his backpack over a fence (note: this occurred in 1995 but it's almost guaranteed that Devin will mutter something unintelligible about "damn backpacks" when Britto comes up in conversation. It's healthy to hold meaningless grudges, right? ).

Here's me and Britto in 1996:

Had these young gals been able to look into the very far future, they would have seen one girl getting married and buying a very cute house with her husband and the other renting with 2 female roommates and writing a blog. It's maybe why they say the future is best left unseen. Or that tomorrow is another day. Or some other saying involving time. All true.

Britto & I then flew through middle school, high school, getting drivers licenses, first speeding tickets (Britto), being crowned prom queen (me) (such a lie), our first *NSYNC concert (not even embarrassed that this is so very true), first jobs and finally, graduation. I ended up in Canada, Britto in Mississippi. When I received the wedding invitation in the mail, I couldn't believe it--I'd finally get to visit Mississippi! The state that you have to learn how to spell for spelling bees! The state that you have to say out loud when counting to denote a second! That state that birthed Lance Bass and Parker Posey! Oh yeah, and I'd get to see my oldest friend get married to her boyfriend Brian. SWEET DEAL.

*NSYNC concert, 2001. My sign says "Marry Me JC" and Britto's says "Britt heart Lance."

(Can you believe these posters were confiscated by the security guards before we even entered the concert? Totally ruined any chance of me actually marrying JC. I'd say Britto fared okay though--we all know how that Lance situation turned out.)

So after my friend Jenn (also a high school best friend of mine & Britto's) and I made plans to meet up in Jackson for the wedding and booked our flights, it was off to Mississippi we go!

Jenn and I had a happy reunion at the Jackson airport and we cabbed it to our hotel. Our cab driver was kind enough to provide a helpful lecture telling us we did not, in fact, tip him enough. After being guilt-tripped into leaving a marginally larger tip, Jenn and I attempted to check into our room. What a fun surprise it was to learn that not only had our friend the cab driver driven us to the wrong hotel, but he also delivered us to a completely different city than requested. What a prankster!

My review of Mississippi at this point: Awful, AWFUL state! And confusing.

After we called back the same cab driver to bring us to the correct hotel (and had an extremely awkward ride in which we received the silent treatment from him), Jenn and I got settled in our proper hotel and decided to hit the town and see the sights. Which means I dragged Jenn to Target to see all of the things we don't get in Canada.

Suck on that, Michael Carpenter!

Check out the shelves of cornbread mix they have in Mississippi. Sometimes I really miss southern food. Like cornbread. And biscuits. And Great Grains.

My review of Mississippi at this point: She's redeemed herself nicely due to existence of Target and availability of cornbread mix. Keep it up, gurl!

And then the big day arrived. Jenn and I woke up nice and early to catch the free Holiday Inn breakfast (omg any hotel that has any kind of free breakfast is something special in my books) and then excitedly got ready in our room. We kept looking at each and saying stuff like "Holy cow, can you believe Britto's getting married TODAY?" And then one of us would say "No, I really can't." And then one of us (me) would say "Wow, that free breakfast was really cool." And then Jenn would say "Yeah, it was pretty good, I guess." And then it'd start all over again.

After putting the final touches on our masterpieces, we went down to the hotel lobby and began to wait for our ride in the parking lot. During this wait, it was brought to our attention that our ride wouldn't be arriving for at least another hour. So we did what any former models would do, and that's get our runway walk on in the parking lot.

Did Mississippi and her inhabitants seem impressed with our runway walks? No, not really. It was more like "why these city girls parading around all fancy-like in the empty parking lot when it's time for the crawfish bake?"

Mirror shots are also a good way to waste approximately 3 minutes of time.

At this point, the sun has melted our makeup, flattened our hair and created a delicate glimmer of sweat all over our bodies. Mississippi was officially kicking our asses.

My review of Mississippi at this point: Too much sun, too many parking lots and what's up with crawfish? Seriously, it's kinda gross.

Thankfully, our ride arrived shortly after and brought us to Britto's wedding site, which was a beautiful gazebo and hall in the middle of the country.

It was gorgeous, even though I admit I'm very partial to gazebos due to my fave Sound of Music scene. Wedding tip: Brides-to-be, hold your wedding in an outdoor gazebo! And wear a dress like Liesl's which twirls when you spin! And then after the groom kisses you, say "wheeeeeeee!"And try and schedule it during an impromptu thunderstorm Fine. Saving it for my own wedding.

Jenn and I reunited with Jesse, another high school friend, who was one of Britto's bridesmaids. Jesse, Jenn and I played in many woodwind ensembles together in our concert band days. A little flute, some clarinet, maybe some oboes, a few bass clarinets... when I think about how crazy we were during those days, it's a wonder we made it out alive.

And then the wedding procession began...

Watching Britto walk down the aisle with her dad, I definitely had to do one of those zoning-out-on-purpose moments to make myself not think about all of the memories we have growing up and start crying. Instead I kept thinking "Man, it's hot out here." Which it wasn't, really, and my eyes still got watery. Because of that damn heat.

It was an absolutely perfect ceremony. Britto abided to the old adage of KISS: "Keep It Simple, Stupid" and the ceremony was kept light, fun and clocked in at about 20 minutes.

I think this is how every bride should look right after the ceremony: bursting with happiness and most likely ready to hit the wedding bar.


Beers in a bucket and Jack Daniels on the table. Mississippi weddings are fun.

The wedding dinner was a southern barbeque feast, complete with pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, smoked chicken, baked beans, rolls, chicken tenders, coleslaw and a variety of BBQ sauces (sorry, vegetarians :( ). The groom had a special plate of ribs and hot tamales (as well as a groom's cake shaped like a dragon. For real). Brides-to-be, don't be afraid to have messy wedding food if it's delicious. I'll be having a cereal bar at mine for sure.

My review of Mississippi at this point: Best state ever.

We're not even sure what happened to Britto in this picture but it's probably my favorite pic of the whole night. Brides-to-be, don't forget to pretend to morph into a monster for at least one pic; it's a great option for the "thank you" cards.

And ohhh, how they danced.

The beautiful bridesmaids danced in flip-flops all night long.

And then something magical happened. Softly, somewhere in the distance, we heard the opening chords of the male musical group *NSYNC's hit song "It's Gonna Be Me." Now, this song has quite a lot of significance for me, Jenn and Britto (and many of yourselves, too, I'm sure). Back in tenth grade, we devoted a very large portion of our time to memorizing the dance to this song. After we mastered it, we performed it every single chance we received. House parties, marching band awards banquets, our own empty living rooms...seriously, our high school friends must have hated us.

So you can understand our confusion/sense of wonderment when we heard the song begin to play. I realized I remembered almost nothing of the dance and glanced over at Jenn, who shared the same panicked expression. But as Justin Timberlake says, the show must go on...

And yeah, we had a rough beginning...

But soon it was like we were 16 again, in matching glittery tank tops (because, again, we were so cool).

I think this is right about where we hit our stride.

Did I forget to mention that everyone else had cleared the floor for this?
The crowd stood aside and watched us, both confused yet entranced. We finished to scattered yet enthusiastic applause. It was absolutely my favorite part of the entire trip.

My review of Mississippi at this point: I finally understand that whole "birthplace of soul" nickname. Well deserved!

Once you get applause like that, you just can't go back to normal life. I craved it. Had to have it. So I engaged in a very long dance-off with the one person willing to dance with me: an Australian named Andrew.

Brides-to-be, it's a good idea to invite friends to your wedding who have zero shame and are willing to embarrass themselves on the dance floor in order to keep it hopping. If these friends happen to be good dancers, well, then that's even better, but as we proved here, it's not necessary.

I found Britto's wedding gift at a Goodwill in Orlando and knew immediately it was the gift for her. It's not every day you come across an *NSYNC collectors edition JC Chasez marionette doll, now, is it? Don't worry, this isn't the only gift I got for her. Good lord, what do you think I am?! No no, Britto will be receiving the rest of the set one by one as I seek them out and collect them.

Brides-to-be, remember to be as gracious and accepting as Britto was when receiving gifts that were most definitely not on the registry.

Final review of Mississippi: Let's see, I got to visit some of my closest friends, eat southern bbq, go to Target, dance to *NSYNC, meet some nice people (minus cab driver) who proved that southern hospitality is a very real thing and drink beer in a party dress. This state's pretty much identical to Disney World. You could probably have fun here, too.

Parting shot.

This car's bumper stickers can pretty much sum up Mississippi much more succinctly than I can--"Jesus is Coming, Get Right or Get Left," "CAUTION: I stop at all Walmart stores."

Congrats, Britto & Brian! I wish you guys all the best.

PS--All of the photos in this post which are beautiful were taken by Jenn, who is quite a talented photographer/blogger. All of the mediocre/grainy photos were taken by yours truly. Capturing important moments in time in crappy quality, yet another talent o' mine. Thanks, Jenn!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's My Favorite Time of Year

Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons, but mostly because of Halloween, changing leaves and apple bobbing. Oh, and animals in costumes.

I guess I must have done something good in my youth or childhood because this seems to be the Halloween that just wouldn't end.


Halloween started early this year with my work's annual Halloween costume contest. My boss offered a cash prize of $500.00 for best costume, so competition was pretty fierce. I didn't speak to my colleague Christina for a week leading up to the contest, as I find psychological warfare can be a very effective tool in winning costume contests (it can also be a handy tool in conflict resolution with your roommates--try it sometime).

To my surprise, we both showed up in holiday-themed outfits. I was a Christmas tree (one of Velvet's old costumes, circa 2008) and Christina was a less superior holiday elf creature. Sadly, we were the only employees who dressed up and the $500 cash prize was eliminated. We each received three (3) candy bars instead.

As an added bonus (I know, what could top the candy bars?!), we already have our office holiday card picked out. Client relationships are very important to us.

So going into Halloween weekend with already 3 candy bars in my pocket, I was obviously very excited. My roommates Heather, Velvet and I were heading to a Halloween house party on Friday night. We were a little wary because it was a "costumes optional" Halloween party, which really makes ZERO sense at all. We laughed to ourselves on the way there, picturing us walking into the crowded party and discovering that we were the only ones in costumes. Oh, how we laughed at that thought. Can you even imagine it?! We were so silly. Ha!

And the funny thing is, that's pretty much exactly what happened.

Well, some people had "costumes" on, but more of the "no-effort-required" type costume, like the placing of red plastic devil horns on your head and then declaring yourself Satan. Those types of costumes just don't fly with us.

This year my costume was a sexy turkey. As you may have noticed, all female costumes on Halloween are supposed to be turned into "sexified" versions of the original model. So instead of being a boring respectful nun, you'd be a sexy, so-wrong-that-it's-still-wrong nun. Or instead of being a skeleton, you're a sexy skeleton. It's really such a great and fun tradition which accurately represents the true meanings of Halloween. Heather and I are quite comfortable with our sexuality and therefore dressed as a sexy raccoon and sexy turkey. We were going to try to be sexy grandmas but struggled with the correct amount of wrinkled cleavage to show. Next year.

See? It was some hot stuff.

You would think with being so sexy and all that people would have been too intimidated to talk to Heather. That was not the case. All weekend long she fielded questions and comments like: "Are you a squirrel? "Aw, you're a cute cat." "Why would you dress up as a rat?" "Hey, I was a mouse last year!" etc. etc. etc. Annoying for her, entertaining for us.

Velvet had to rush to the party straight from work so she quickly whipped up a costume. She dressed in all gold and was a "gold star." Sadly, she ended up looking a bit like a prostitute, but like a high-end, sparkly one. Then our friend Jason arrived dressed as a pimp, which really didn't help her case. Soon Velvet just gave in and went as Jason's main lady, or, as he referred to her loudly the entire night "his five-dolla holla." Such a sweet guy.

Five dolla holla.

And then we put aside all costume woes and danced the night away in a sexy dance competition.

Scary things happen on Halloween.

The next night, we had a gathering at our house before going out dancing.

It was absolutely insane.

And sadly, we don't seem to have any pictures of Velvet's actual costume, which was a saloon girl. It turned out really nicely, which you can't accurately tell from the above picture. It was pretty much identical to these:

She did an excellent job.

My friend Eric also had an impressive homemade costume this year. He went as Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

After noting the resemblance to Frosted Flakes' Tony the Tiger ("They'reeeeeeee great!"), our friend Leslie remarked that Eric was more like Thomas the Tiger, a generic cereal knock-off. I'm sure Eric was pleased by this.

I adore this picture of dear Thomas the Tiger.

Green Lantern, Russell Brand, Mad Scientist, Tigger, Rat

(and Heather's decorative BATS which will remain hung in our living room until Christmas at least)

Then we all drank, danced, made some new friends, came home, made drunken pasta, etc.

...And on the fourth day of Halloween (technically November 1st, but whatever), we had the most fun of all. How do you top house parties, dancing in a club in a turkey costume and eating lots of candy? It's pretty easy, actually.


My entire dodgeball team (we're called Hold Your Balls, do you get the subtle joke in that?) dressed up in costumes and proceeded to awkwardly play and WIN both of our games of the night.
When we arrived and saw that no one on the team had bailed or flaked on wearing a costume, I felt like my heart would explode with pride.

I think the 'fro lasted for about 1 round before it kept flying off mid-throw.

People on the bench alternated between singing the Mario theme song for Adam and the Indiana Jones theme for E.

TIGER TIME (well, Tigger and a zebra, but for the purposes of sounding intimidating, it's TIGER TIME).

Honestly, I think part of the reason that we won both games (besides our incredibly complex strategies and the fact that we're all on steroids) is that the other teams were kind of weirded out by our costumes and enthusiasm. Get used to it guys, we're doing this EVERY WEEK now.


I hope you all had terrifying Halloweens. Did you have awesome costumes? Meet any celebs? Dress up your pets? Tell me all about it.