Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Resumes: Make it Quantifiable

In my work, I get the opportunity to interview potential employees. My primary duty is to make sure that they "know their stuff."

As I've reviewed resumes, I've discovered that the best resumes aren't always written by the best candidates. Many very good candidates have resumes that make me dread the interview. Then the interview goes quite well.

One of my favorite interviews was with a candidate who had put together a resume that made it sound like his last internship consisted of paper-shuffling and coffee delivery. His descriptions of his school work made it sound like he did well in his classes, but hadn't really worked on any really interesting projects.

When I spoke to him though, it quickly became clear that he'd left out all sorts of neat details about his projects. The project that had sounded like shuffling papers turned out to be incredibly complex, and he had been quite successful. He had completely left out the details of quite a number of interesting things that he had done, while filling up his resume with the usual fluff put in by candidates with no real skills.

A resume is not the time to be humble! It's the time to be honest - let the company know why you would make a great employee. Emphasize the successes you've had in your career and education, and point out the interesting and difficult parts of each project. Then find the most exciting items, and put them first. Take the least exciting items, and throw them out.

There are different standard formats for resumes - find the one that lets you highlight the interesting things you have done and learned the best. I, personally, use a chronological resume that focuses on my biggest projects and accomplishments. Check out some of the different formats here:

I especially like the quote on that page:

“Neglect not the gift that is in thee.”
1 Timothy 4:14

Monday, June 29, 2009

Biscuits from Scratch in 60 Seconds Flat

In the family where I grew up, pancake/biscuit mix was a staple. I never really considered that it might not be necessary. Then I got married. Jeremy thought I was crazy, because his family never used the stuff.

So, reluctantly, I tried the from-scratch method. To my surprise, I realized that it was not much harder at all. And, while pancake/biscuit mix is cheap, the ingredients are even cheaper. I now make biscuits from scratch every time. I am having some fun with them, and working to perfect my super-quick version. These are convenience food at its best, because you end up with something hot and fresh that only cost you a few cents to make. They are not much to look at, but you are going to eat them anyway.

Unsightly but tasty, here is my special method for biscuits from scratch in 60 seconds flat.

Turn the oven on to 400 degrees.

Get out flour, baking powder, salt, milk, vegetable oil, 1 cup measuring cup, 1 tablespoon, a medium bowl, a fork, and a cookie sheet.
Start timing...

Scoop two cups of flour into bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of baking powder, and then use the tablespoon to eyeball measure 1/3-1/4 of a tablespoon of salt. Stir with the fork.

Pour 1/3-1/4 cup vegetable oil into the measuring cup, and then fill to the top with milk. Stir with fork until it looks like dough.

Grab small handfuls of dough and squish them onto the cookie sheet into roundish biscuits.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until they just start to look golden at the edges.

Makes about ten (depending on the baker). If you want to make these more healthy, just substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour for half of the flour.

Resumes - Get Help

I wanted very badly to work at an aerospace company near the university where I was a student, so I sent in my resume every time they had a job opening. I was never even telephoned.

One day I discovered that the university had people who would assist students with resumes for free. I met with one of those fellows, who helped me out quite a bit. Honestly, looking at them side by side, I could hardly tell why the new version was better than the old. And the new resume was still a correct and honest representation of my abilities and experience. I sent it in to the aerospace company, as well as to another small aerospace laboratory. Not only did I get interviews with both companies, I was actually able to negotiate my starting wage up by about 25% because of how well the interview went.

If you are looking for a job, even passively, don't waste time sending in resumes that haven't been appraised by someone who knows what to look for.

If you are in school, there are probably people paid to help students improve resumes.

If you are being laid off (and not for performance reasons), many companies are quite willing to offer job-finding assistance. Find one of the HR people from the company to help you spruce up your resume.

Otherwise, find friends who are tasked with looking at resumes on a regular basis. Talk with the ward employment specialist to find people who are skilled in the area.

Getting a resume looked at, and an interview scheduled, can be very difficult. A polished, accurate resume definitely has a bigger effect than I'd expected.

More resume and job hunting tips:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Engineered Food

"...all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving." Doctrine and Covenants 89:10-11

When we finally got serious about staying within our food budget, I found I needed to stop buying some of the snack foods we ate on a regular basis. It has turned out to be a good thing. While our diet is far from perfect, we eat fewer "easy" calories and we are more hungry for real, nutritious food.

Here is an interesting article I read from the New York Times that talks about the engineering that goes into some of the foods we buy. There is a reason these foods taste so good!... and are not good for us.

Well: How the Food Makers Captured Our Brains

Friday, June 26, 2009

Another reason to go to college

Here are some articles that have caught my interest lately.

It's a big risk to skip college, even if you think you have a great, guaranteed job opportunity:
As Plants Close, Teenagers Focus More on College

Some careers are rougher on families than others. Take this into account when deciding on a career path:
Financial Careers Come at a Cost to Families

Highly skilled workers are in demand even in recessions:
Despite Recession, High Demand for Skilled Labor


Alpine man accused of widespread investment scam

Read the article. It should have been obvious to anyone investing that the profits involved were a bit unreal. The very obvious Ponzi structure should also have been a tip-off.

We can easily be blinded when there is an offer of so much money to be made - and it seems so easy.

Just as Judas used his position of trust to steal from the church, there are even some in the Church who use positions of trust to convince others to join them:

Apostles and Prophets have repeatedly warned against this sort of problem, as in a recent letter from the First Presidency of the Church.

After recommending avoiding debt and living within our means, they recommend that "Consideration should also be given to investing wisely with responsible and established financial institutions."

For me, this means that I don't invest my money with friends and family, even if I trust them. I stick to an established investment firm with low-maintenance accounts.

Since savings accounts and checking accounts offer, at best, interest that doesn't even cover the cost of inflation, it makes sense once we have enough extra money saved to move some into stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

There are many companies that provide this type of service. We use the one we do because it offers the features we need.
  1. It only requires $3000 to open an account, with no annual fees if I receive my statements by e-mail.
  2. We can choose between a variety of mutual funds, targeting different levels of risk tolerance.
  3. I can have part of each paycheck automatically deposited into the account and invested into whichever funds I want. Basically, I only have to even look at it every few months.
Basically, I'm using the type of "Lazy Investing" described in an article on Get Rich Slowly: "The Lazy Way to Investment Success".

When we enter into high-risk, unrealistically high-yield or high-maintenance investments, we can begin to focus so much on money that we may begin to indulge in the "Love of money".

We don't want to make the foolish mistake of the man who buried his money in the ground, but nor should we become people who seek first for money.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mommy Exercise Plan (for Cheap)

Mommies need exercise too... and more than we get just chasing toddlers. For many of my friends, the solution is to get a gym membership and leave their kids in the gym's daycare while they work out.

This works fine, but a gym membership is a big investment. It might be wise to first prove that you will use it. Make yourself a deal: exercise regularly for six weeks, and then if you still want to join a gym you can do it. Just make sure you continue what you have started.

For the cheaper and more adventurous mommies out there, here are a couple alternatives to the gym.

Run! Some people love to run and some don't. I love it. Mostly because it takes very little coordination. I get a whole new perspective, exploring my neighborhood on foot, and running just makes you feel good (especially when you go regularly and don't overdo it). Sometimes I go early in the morning before Jeremy leaves for work. He can stay home and watch the kids, and I get a jump start on my day. When that doesn't work out, I take the kids in our jogging stroller. The change of scenery keeps them entertained, and I get my exercise.

Walk! So many of the places we drive are within a mile or two. Walking is a great way to start exercising or supplement whatever else you are doing. If you were going to the post office anyway, you might as well boost your endurance at the same time.

Join your community. Many cities offer reasonably priced fitness classes for residents. Our city also has a pool where you can buy a punch pass for swimming laps. It is a much better deal than the local gyms. What do I do with the kids? Trade babysitting. A few of my friends meet at the pool twice a week, where half the moms watch the kids while the other moms swim, and then they switch. This is fun for the kids and easy on the moms.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Alternatives to the Gym

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
1 Corinthians 6:19,20

I recall a fun newspaper comic strip from my youth that depicted people fighting for the closest parking spots to the gym.

It's a simple fact that most of us could use more exercise. Here is a relatively typical sequence of events that occurs when people decide to exercise more:
  • Run out and buy a gym membership.
  • Buy some expensive exercise equipment - apparel, weights, etc.
  • Go exercise really hard once or twice.
  • Wait for a year.
  • Repeat.
I finally realized at one point that it was more effective to find other excuses to exercise. For me, the most effective thing that I do is commute to work and school by bicycle, or by jogging. When finding our current apartment, I was very careful to get one that was close to work, church, grocery stores and parks. When I started taking classes part-time, the university was just close enough to bike to - and it gets me a decent workout.

During the winter I jog more, since it's probably safer than cycling when it's dark - and I certainly am lucky to be in a place where it doesn't snow much. I keep extra clothing at work - many workplaces have shower facilities on site.
  • I can get as much exercise as I need just by getting to and from work.
  • Instead of arriving at work or school stressed by the traffic, I arrive refreshed by the morning ride.
  • The trip home helps me let off some steam after a day of work - rather than increasing my stress levels!
  • I find it easier to think and prepare for my day while jogging or cycling than while driving.
  • It's easier to find time to exercise when it's how I get places, and it's easier to motivate myself.
  • The car is available for Julianne to use during the day if she needs it.
There are lots more benefits to exercise of course. Here are a few: Move More, Stress Less

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Focus on Family Finances - Education

The June, 2009 issue of the Ensign has some great articles on family finances and preparedness. One article brought up one of my favorite ideas about handling unemployment, right at the beginning.

In Focus on Family Finances, Allie Schulte from Welfare Services writes about a family that had become unemployed. They turned this into an opportunity to go back to college and finish the Bachelor's degrees they'd started. Because of that, their job options became far better than they would have without the extra education, and their now on solid financial footing.

An education is one of the best and least risky investments one can make while working towards self-sufficiency, especially if one has recently become unemployed. Consider:
  1. An education pays off. Check out this US Census report on financial benefits of education.
  2. When a recruiter sees a six month period (corresponding to six months of unemployment) missing from a resume, he or she is concerned. Replace that time with work towards more education however, and it can only make a resume look better.
  3. If you've been laid off, maybe the work you were doing wasn't a great fit - maybe it's time to learn some new skills, or branch out into an entirely different area.
  4. By taking more classes now, you'll have a more up-to-date education than others working in the field, and more experience than many of those just graduating.
  5. Networking to find employment is more effective while taking classes than while surfing job posting websites.
  6. Prophets of the Church have advised us to get as much education as possible: Seek Learning, by President Hinckley
There are many different flexible programs available. I actually take part-time classes at the local university, just to make sure that my skills stay up-to-date and that I keep my career moving in the direction that I want. If I get laid off, I'll just switch to being a full-time student again, and work towards an advanced degree.

(Stanford University and the University of Washington are pictured above)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bad Goals

For we brought anothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
  1 Timothy 6:9

I found this on Get Rich Slowly - I've found enough good stuff on this blog that I figured I'd better put a link to it on the side.

Achieving Fame, Wealth, and Beauty are Psychological Dead Ends, Study Says

Here's an old article from the Liahona that also discusses the dangers of making wealth our goal:

Friday, June 12, 2009


Do not spend money for that which is of no worth... 2 Nephi 9:51

Artyom was an Armenian man, approaching middle age, who lived in southern Russia with six or seven other men. They had come to Russia to work and send money home to their families, because there were no jobs in Armenia.

When we met him to speak about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was at home from his job in construction, and relaxing. To relax, he smoked cigarettes and drank. Now I knew something about cigarettes - with all of the second-hand cigarette smoke in Russia, I figure I became an expert on brands available in Russia. I always feared the cheap Russian brands, especially the unfiltered ones - and I always felt a little bit relieved when someone pulled out a pack of Marlboros or Parliament. His alcohol was also relatively expensive.

His apartment, on the other hand, was certainly not an oasis - eight construction workers in about 700 square feet.

Artyom explained to us that he was very rarely able to go back to Armenia to see his family, since he had to save as much money as he could to send back to them.

"More important to me than anything else are my family, and my health." Said Artyom.

I'm not sure Artyom realized at the time how much better off both his family and his health would be without the expensive liquor and cigarettes. But as I've thought about it, we all have similar habits that are very damaging to our goals and priorities.

For any budget, these are the best expenses to drop first. Go through your expenses, and try to find any items similar to these:
  • Excessive amounts of food that is unhealthy and expensive - fast food, soda and other unhealthy snacks
  • Expensive television packages that just add more excuses not to interact together as a family
  • Purchases of inappropriate movies, books, music or other media
  • Anything contrary to the Word of Wisdom, of course
  • Overly expensive clothing
These are the types of items where spending less will actually lead to a better standard of living - and should thus probably be the first things to go when building a budget.

The way money is spent is a good indicator of where one's real priorities are.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Kid's Home Haircut Adventure

When Jeremy and I were first married, we invested in a trimmer set so I could give him haircuts at home. I had never cut hair before, and so I was fortunate to have an adventurous and forgiving husband.

Our investment has paid off. In the last few years, our $15 deluxe trimmer set has saved us hundreds of dollars, and I have learned a new skill. The trick is to take that skill and apply it to a more challenging situation...

After learning to cut Jeremy's hair, I figured I would be just fine cutting my kids' hair. I had no idea how hard it would be. My son hates anything touching his head. He gets so upset when I cut his hair that I have considered taking him to a specialty kids' salon. Two things have held me back, the price ($20 and up), and the fact that my son has a hard time with strangers. Luckily, things are getting better.

Today I cut my son's hair and there was plenty of whining, but no crying or screaming. I consider this a success. Kids' haircuts are not for the faint of heart, but here are a few things that helped us survive:

1. Giving warning. Before my son had his bath in the morning, I talked about cutting his hair. I also let him know that he could watch his favorite movie while we did it. By the time the bath was over, he was talking about getting his hair cut. He actually agreed to it.

2. Good setup. I put a chair with a booster seat strapped on sideways (so the back of the chair wouldn't block access to his head). I used a vinyl tablecloth as a drop cloth, and we were ready.

3. Ditch the trimmer. My son hates it. He does better sitting a little longer for a scissors-only cut. Some kids might do better with just trimmer, since it would be fast.

4. Distraction. Some kids are okay if they have something really neat to play with. Kids salons usually have cartoons. I put on a DVD.

5. Talk. My son needs lots of persuasion, reassurance, praise for sitting still a few moments, etc. Some kids might just want to know what's going on. I also let him know that if he moved around too much, I would pause the movie (I followed through on that a few times).

6. Bribes. I hate using candy as a bribe. Usually there is something you want to do for your kids anyway that works, like reading a book or going outside, but haircutting needs a very powerful bribe at my house. Today I pulled out the chocolate chips. They worked. Two big chocolate chips was enough for my son to let me trim above each ear. Ten or twelve chips total, and my son had short hair again.

So that's how we made it through a kid's home haircut. It takes some problem solving, but it really is doable.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Volunteer Work

Behold, I say unto you that it is my will that you should go forth and not tarry, neither be idle but labor with your might— Doctrine and Covenants 75:3

There are few things I hate worse than job hunting. Looking back at times when I was searching for a job, I've tried to think of different ways to make job hunting more effective and less painful.

I do know for sure of a few things that don't work for me.

I've tried doing a job search 100% of my time before. It gets very depressing, and increasingly ineffective to send out so many resumes every day. The amount of time I spent actually looking for work decreased, and my idle time increased. There is also only so much yard work to do, and it is difficult to be self-motivated when studying without a class.

So, find some volunteer work! The job interview process for volunteer work usually isn't very stressful, and there are many different organizations always looking for volunteers, be it local Church-run canneries or farms, or other non-profit organizations, or the local government.

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Mosiah 2:17

For me, more important than any other consideration is the impact that this can have on the lives of others. There are always people with greater needs than we have. As is usually the case with service though, there are plenty of other benefits for yourself.
  1. Service looks great on a resume - service I have done has been specifically mentioned when I have been hired at multiple jobs.
  2. It's often possible to find service that utilizes our skills effectively.
  3. It's easier to stay motivated and upbeat during a job search if you are meanwhile doing something valuable.
  4. In many cases, the people with whom we serve may have great leads on jobs - and will likely be willing to recommend us.
A job search can either be a depressing, difficult time - or a chance to grow and analyze our direction. I definitely prefer the latter.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Food Storage

Feelings become strained, quarrels more frequent and nerves frayed when excess debt knocks on the door. Resources channeled to make payment on debts do not put one crumb on the table, provide one degree of warmth in the house, or bring one thread into a garment. Many more people could ride out the storm-tossed waves in their economic lives if they had their year's supply of food and clothing and were debt-free. Today we find that many have followed this counsel in reverse: they have at least a year's supply of debt and are food-free.
President Thomas S. Monson, “That Noble Gift—
Love at Home,” Church News, May 12, 2001, 7.

ProvidentLiving.org has put up a recent article from the Ensign about rethinking some of our ideas about food storage.
Family Home Storage: A New Message

This is something that Julianne and I have to strategize about. We live in an apartment, and it's not exactly a large one (the San Francisco Bay area is not known for affordable housing). Because of this, we have had some difficulty storing extra food. Julianne has developed a number of tricks in the three different apartments we have lived in over the years.

Many apartments have extra space above the kitchen cabinets. In apartments where this is the case, Julianne stacks canned goods as far back as she can. Since she used to work in a grocery store, she has to constantly remind me to keep them sorted with all of the labels facing forward, for the best aesthetic effect. Any LDS member who sees it is immediately impressed at the innovative decorating scheme (non-LDS friends may just wonder why you have so much food).

We also have large buckets right in the kitchen filled with flour, beans and rice. We use them as chairs whenever we have too many guests for our four chairs.

In our current apartment, where we have very little extra space, we actually push our couch about a foot and half out from the wall so that we can store food behind it!

For water storage, we reuse various beverage containers (and periodically buy large bottles of water from a local warehouse store). We then put as many of them as we can fit into the fridge - since fridges are more efficient when full.

We certainly don't have a year's supply of food yet, but we have quite a bit - and are looking for innovative ways to store more.

The article at Provident Living also has some great new information about how long various foods can last. Based on recent research, many foods can last for a very long time without taste or nutritional degradation.

Based on personal experience, however, I can say they really don't last forever. For example, the 15-year-old canned turkey we inherited from my mother-in-law's food storage may have been nutritionally acceptable, but we never could find a way to make it taste good. And then there was my grandmother's apple juice. Perhaps not sealed as carefully as it should have been, and left a little too long in the basement, Grandma's home-made juice led to one particularly exciting family gathering. Parents poured their kids a glass, poured themselves some, and then catching a whiff of the juice, ran around the table grabbing it back from the kids.  You don't want to serve hard cider. I believe there is something in the Word of Wisdom about that... 

Read the article from Provident Living for more advice about how to store foods, and to learn which foods can last a very long time when stored properly.