Monthly Archives: January 2014

Projects: New recipes

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Today’s blog isn’t well planned or thought out, but I wanted to share the new recipe I made for dinner. Since I’m in the middle of the “Snowjam ’14” in Atlanta, I wanted some comfort food. Luckily my mom and I didn’t get caught out yesterday afternoon when traffic got hellish and the roads turned to ice… but my dad wasn’t so lucky. He decided to stay at work, thankfully, so he didn’t get caught in the awful traffic/ absolutely blocked and impassable roads, but he did have to spend the night at his office. When he was finally able to come home this afternoon, I wanted to make sure we had some good, warm food ready for him.

The recipe for today was: Creamy Rotel Dip Mac & Cheese

I started with a recipe I found via Pinterest (because who can do better than Pinterest for recipes, right?) The recipe can be found here. However, I modified it quite a bit, so I’ll go through it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups cooked pasta (I used a cup of tri-color rotini and a cup of penne)
  • 3 Cups milk (the recipe calls for whole milk, but I used 1%)
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 5 tbsp flour
  • Sriracha salt to taste (just because I have it around. plain salt is just fine)
  • 1 2/3 Cup Velveeta cheese cut in chunks
  • Red pepper flakes (the recipe calls for black pepper, but I prefer the heat of red pepper)
  • 1/2 bag (about 1 1/2 Cups) of frozen seasoning blend vegetables (onion, bell peppers, celery)
  • 1 Can Rotel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies
  • 1/2 Cup shredded cheese to top

Steps:

  • Cook the pasta to al dente and drain
  • Pre-heat your oven. The recipe says 350, but since my mom already had veggies going at 425 I just used that and decreased the time I kept the pasta in for.
  • Make the roux: While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large pot over medium-low heat. Stir in the flour one tbsp at a time and then stir until smooth. Let the flour/ butter mixture cook; stir it while it simmers, if you need to turn up the heat some.  Add the salt and pepper to taste. Turn the heat to medium and start adding the mile one cup at a time. After you add each cup, stir and allow the mixture to thicken. Don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy, just stir to keep it from scorching. Once all the milk is in, allow to heat up while you stir until it becomes smooth and thick.
  • Stir in the chunks of Velveeta and the frozen vegetables. Stir as the cheese melts. Once everything is melted, stir in the can of Rotel. If you don’t like spicy, use the Original Rotel Tomatoes.
  • Once everything is incorporated and the vegetables are warmed through, put your pasta in a casserole dish (mine was about 9×9, the recipe calls for 9×13). Pour or ladle your cheese mixture over the pasta, using a spoon to move the pasta around so all the cheese can sink around the noodles. You may not need all the cheese mixture. I had about 1 Cup left over, so I’m saving it for regular cheese dip for another time!
  • Put the mac&cheese in the oven for 18-20 minutes. Then top with shredded cheese, and let cook another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit until cook enough to eat.

My mom made a side of baked Zucchini and Sweet Potatoes, and we had a great dinner! My dad even went back for thirds 🙂

Also Job Search Update: Due to the awful weather and sketchy road conditions, my interview for tomorrow morning got rescheduled to next Wednesday morning. I also have a phone ‘interview’, more of an informational update, tomorrow afternoon for my applications with the Peace Corps. I’m in the final stages of placement with the Peace Corps, something I’m considering as an alternative to employment.

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Job Search Update: Aptitude Tests

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Never before my job search did I think I would get a test as part of the application and interview process for jobs. But as of today, I have had to take two aptitude tests in the interview process (for different companies). This is one thing that I had never expected, but I’ve been able to adapt to it through a combination of research and the luck of already having studied for the GRE, since the questions tend to be similar.

So here’s what goes on during the aptitude test, for anyone who hasn’t had one. Basically it’s a multi-part test made up of timed knowledge (aptitude) questions, and untimed personality questions. According to Wikijob (don’t judge my sources, I’m not writing a paper!) employers use aptitude tests as “means of testing a job candidates’ aptitudes to perform specific tasks and react to a range of different situations given” (Wikijob, “Aptitude Tests“).

Another good source for job seekers to look at is MindTools site on Aptitude Tests. This site seems to cater to explaining aptitude tests to employers, which is good for those in our position to understand. If we know why we’re being tested and what the employer is looking for, we can perform better on the test. Find this article here.

In addition, a simple google search will help you find practice questions for aptitude tests. Honestly, though, if you were able to pass high school math and can think through word problems and identify patterns, you should be fine. The most recent test I took this afternoon also consisted of vocabulary questions, which were the exact same format as GRE vocabulary questions. If you happen to have already studied for the GRE, you’re fine. If not, here is a good website for practice questions.

Depending on the job you’re applying for, the questions may be more difficult or more specific to the position, so my best advice is to know your field and know what you’re applying for. The test isn’t like your freshman chemistry exams where they try to fail almost everyone, it’s just for the interviewer to get a better idea of your abilities. So don’t worry, stay calm, and stay Vulcan (…I mean logical. My geek is showing!).

**Citations:

  1. “Aptitude Testing.” – Team Management Training from MindTools.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
  2. “Free Practice Aptitude Tests | Free Aptitude Test Examples.” Free Practice Aptitude Tests | Free Aptitude Test Examples. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.'”
  3. “Aptitude Tests.” WikiJob. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

Scheduling your Life

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As I’ve already said, it’s easy to fall into a slump. But lying around in your PJs all day watching reruns of Star Trek: Next Generation and eating Doritos by the bag is NOT acceptable. You don’t want to be that lazy life-suck that your parents become embarrassed to discuss.

(Rule #1) STICK TO A SCHEDULE: Like I said yesterday, you don’t need to plan out every second of every day. But you do need to figure out a vague daily schedule. Wake up around 8 or 9 (that’s AM, not PM), make your bed, do daily exercise and/or shower, get dressed in your big boy/girl clothes (no PJs after 10am and before 9pm!) and then start your day. Have an idea of one or two things you want to get done during the day. In general for me, that includes checking my email and replying to any questions or interview inquiries from places I’ve applied, doing a solid hour or two of job search and research including applications and tweaking my cover letters and resume. Having a goal for the day is what will get you going, and it may be what gets you a job too, because…

(Rule #2) GET INTO PROJECTS AND HOBBIES: From gradspot.com’s Guide to Life After College, “The worst thing that you can do while job hunting is to do nothing but look for employment” (Klein, Schonberger, Schultz, and Hoen, page 41). I am so glad that I read this before going to some of my interviews recently, I can’t tell you how many times an interviewer has asked “What have you been doing since you graduated” or “What do you like to do in your spare time?”. As the book says, “…if you spend your time enhancing your story by keeping active and learning new skills, you’ve now presented yourself as someone who is motivated and multi-faceted…” (Klein, Schonberger, Schultz, and Hoen, page 41).

You don’t have to go pay for language classes or take up full-time volunteering. In my case, I have several projects and hobbies that I spend my (scheduled) time working on. They include writing and planning this blog, learning to bake and trying new recipes, making hand-made cards, and working on writing a novel (see my crafts and creativity blog for more on my cards, cooking, and writing. I’ll be updating successes especially of my novel here as well.)

Like I’ve said before, having a project or hobby that you spend a lot of time and effort doing is interview gold. When asked the question about what I’ve been doing and what my hobbies are, I know can proudly say that “As you can see on my resume, I participate in National Novel Writing Month in November, an online writing contest that challenges members to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. Since graduating I’ve been working on the novel, which currently consists of one and a half books and a total of 200,000 words.” It’s damn impressive, and I know it. Sure, most of those words were done in the past 3 November’s and I’ve only gotten around 8,000 words written since I graduated. But it’s something I’ve been working on, and it’s something that will show the interviewer that I have a life outside of the job search and am someone who can bring more than the average bland skills of a new-graduate to the job. It is also something that makes me stand out, which is always a good thing during an interview. (Case in point: I recently received a rejection email. What surprised me was the interviewer remembered my novel, and in closing, told me he wanted to a copy of my book when I got it published. I may not have gotten the job, but I stood out enough to be remembered.)

So pick something you enjoy to do more of, find a new hobby or project that will challenge you and make you work hard. Keep yourself busy, and the time will pass.

If you’d like to know more about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), go here. There is more than just the contest in November, and if you’re interested but worried about being able to keep up the word count, there is a huge community of forums for members. You can also contact me, I’d love a writing buddy!

**Citation: Schonberger, Chris, Stuart Schultz, Tory Hoen, and David J. Klein. Gradspot.com’s Guide to Life after College. New York: MG Prep, 2010. Print.**

Job Search Update: Phone interview

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After a painful rejection in spite of a seemingly successful interview a few weeks ago, and non-stop job searching and applying for days straight (I’m being dramatic, I did about 3 applications a day for about a week), I finally got a request last Friday for a phone interview. It was from a rather small, relatively new company in an industry that I’d never considered before, but if they’re interested in hiring me, I’m interested in them.

The easiest part about phone interviews is that they don’t see you and only rely on what you’re saying for their reference. You don’t have to dress up, you don’t psych yourself out having to walk into an office and sit across from someone who is obviously judging everything you say and do, and you can relax in a friendly environment. The hardest thing about phone interviews is that they don’t see you and only rely on what you’re saying for their reference. If you flounder, they have to sit there staring at the wall and clicking their nails on the desk while you stammer some garbled response. You can’t impress them with your fancy suit, or your perfect oh-so-mature up-do. It’s all you and your brain. Good luck.

As long as you’re prepared for the phone interview, they tend to go quickly and be fairly easy. I’ve had several phone interviews over the past several months, and I’ve learned from my mistakes (Don’t answer their question on what your dream job would be with a flashy rewording of the job description. The interviewer isn’t an idiot, they know you’re sucking up.) and I’ve recognized my skills (In response to the self-description question, talking up my education and listing my major, minor, and certificate. It sounds impressive.).

This interview went as well as it could. I had researched the company and muddled out what the job description actually meant (read closely, don’t be fooled by fancy words– they use Word: Thesaurus like the worst college freshman). I had my usual questions ready. I impressed them with my answer to what I like to do in my spare time (also my answer for the hobby question and the question on what I’ve been doing since I graduated), and emphasized how my previous experiences have made me perfect for the job, detailing each specific skill they had emphasized in the job description.

The only problem with the interview, like seems to always happen when everything else is working well, was the technology. The phone line was screwy at the building they were calling from, and my heart almost stopped when, two words into telling them about myself, the line went dead. Luckily I got a call back within minutes, and was back on track to impressing them. The connection was still not the best; the volume fluctuated so that on a few occasions I had to ask the interviewer to repeat herself. Otherwise, we had a nice conversation.

By the end, I was pleased with the interview and so it seemed were the interviewers I talked to. I now have a secondary in-person interview scheduled for later this week!

So here’s what I’ve taken from this experience and I hope you’ll keep in mind. Interviews are always stressful, always hard. And even with the best preparation, something is bound to go screwy. But if you’re able to keep your head and roll with it, you can, as Barney Stinson says “always turn it around!”

Thanks to Amylu’s 12WBT for the image!

Life at Home

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Living at home may seem like a hard adjustment after being relatively independent while at school. Your hours may differ from your parents, you may feel limited by obligation (or house rules) in what you can do and when. But here’s the thing: your parents don’t have to let you stay at their house, so you need to suck up big time. To successfully live at home and keep your sanity you have to…

(Rule #1) THANK YOUR PARENTS. A LOT: If you’re like me, your parents are absolutely awesome. They wouldn’t dream of charging you rent (at least while you don’t have a job), they’re fun to hang out with, they take you out to dinner, buy you anything you need from Target (emphasis on need), and don’t set strict rules. Sure, it’s expected I don’t go out after dark without telling them, or spend every night out drinking with friends, or ask them to take me clothes shopping or pay for those cute heels I saw on Amazon. But within all reason, my parents let me make my own choices and do what I need to do.

That’s not to say that I don’t have responsibilities around the house. Just like before I left for college, I have chores I’m expected to do: keep my room from exploding, do my own laundry, clean my bathroom when it needs it, and generally help keep the house in order. Now that I’m older and know how to cook, I’m also expected to help my mom make meals– something that I enjoy and would do anyway.

So here’s a second part to rule #1: DON’T BE A S**T HEAD. Even if like me, you don’t have significant responsibilities around the house, don’t take advantage of your parents’ hospitality. They’re helping you out during a rut in the road, but if you expect them to do everything for you and you do nothing for them, they will remember. Case in point: I recently saw an episode of “Property Virgins” (a house-hunting show based in Atlanta) and was disgusted to see a girl my age moving out of her parents house. What offended me was her reason for leaving: her parents complained that she went out too late at night to drink and party, and that she kept her laundry lying around the hallway. It turned out she bought a place she couldn’t afford, but her parents were so eager to get her out of the house that they paid the remainder.

In addition to helping out around the house and keeping your stuff secluded to your room, a great way to show that you’re thankful for your parents’ hospitality is to just spend time with them. I make it a rule to only be out of the house for dinner a maximum of three nights a week– this includes the typical two nights of the weekend I stay over at my boyfriend’s place. I know a lot of people have a more active social life than I do, which is great, but remember whose home you come back to every night. Have dinner with your parents whenever you can, watch a movie or TV with them at night, play board games or scrabble like when you were younger. Even if your parents don’t have a lot of free time, a good meal or a nice beer/glass of wine/ cocktail after work with them is enough time to show them that you care what’s going on with them, and that you’re happy that you’re home.

(Rule #2) THE WAY TO CONVINCE AN EMPLOYER YOU’RE MATURE AND RESPONSIBLE ENOUGH TO HIRE, IS TO FIRST BELIEVE IT YOURSELF: Honestly; just keep yourself neat, contained and organized mentally and physically. Act like the adult that you are and not the kid you were the last time you lived at home. And here’s one thing I’ve learned during the month and a half I’ve been at home: Getting bored, fat, and lazy is easier than you think!

Part 1: GET YOURSELF ORGANIZED. Mentally and physically, just take a breath and get yourself in focus. Organize your computer files, clean our your closet, give away anything from your pre-college and college life that you don’t need anymore. This is a transition time for a reason. Use it.

Part 2: MAKE A SCHEDULE. (I’ll talk more about this later) I’m not talking about a planner like your crazy type-A friends had back in high school with every second of every hour of every day booked with studying or extracurriculars or volunteer work. No one in our situation can do that with their life, things change too suddenly; job interviews pop up last-minute, you see an opportunity to get some volunteer experience, family errands take longer than planned. It’s just life. What I am saying is that it’s too easy to just be the lazy unemployed bum; last up and first to bed, eating cheese balls out of the container three meals a day in your bathrobe and pajamas while you lay on the couch watching TV all day (if you get the reference, I salute you). If nothing else, set an alarm that you’ll wake up to at a decent hour (Think: between 8 and 9 am) and change into real grown-up clothes and at least have a daily chore or goal to get done.

Subpart 1: GET IN SHAPE. For me, this is a great time to get in shape, so I try to get myself outside to run first thing in the morning 3 to 4 days a week. I have two fitness apps on my Kindle Fire that push me 4 days a week to achieve more crunches and push-ups. Whatever your fitness level, having no set work schedule is a great opportunity to force yourself into better shape.

Subpart 2: PROJECTS. The golden ticket to impressing any interviewer is to have some awesome thing that you do outside of your job search. Even if you don’t think it’s all that awesome, the interviewer will be impressed that you’re actually doing something with your life and that your interests aren’t limited to finding a way to secure a salary. Again, I’ll talk a lot more about this later, but just remember that having hobbies and projects don’t just kill time, but they make you a more interesting person , which makes you more likely to get remembered and then hired.

(Rule #3) MANAGE THE PURGATORY CONUNDRUM: If you’re like me, you have a lot of friends who have already graduated. They all have jobs and have moved on, and you don’t get to talk to them much, When you do, you feel like they are part of the real world, and you’re still stuck behind. Also, if you’re like me, you have a lot of friends who are still in school. Whether it’s undergrad or grad school, it’s still the same. You still hang out, but it’s like you’re completely different animals now. They’re always talking about their classes or the next frat party, while you’re worrying about your swiftly dwindling bank account and whether you’ll be able to afford the next round. This is the purgatory conundrum: you feel like you’ve grown out of the college lifestyle, but because you can’t be self-sufficient and independent yet, you don’t feel like you belong with others who have graduated. You hate making small-talk at check-outs because inevitably it leads to something about jobs or school, and you just don’t want to talk about it. I mean, it’s mortifying to admit to a complete stranger that, “Yes I graduated from X prestigious university. No I don’t have a job, I’m living with my parents.”

So here’s what I’ve decided: the purgatory conundrum is inevitable. But you don’t have to let it weigh you down. After an awful night in tears over this feeling of not belonging anywhere, I picked myself up and made a promise. Instead of focusing on feeling like I don’t belong, I have to focus on how I can make myself belong. That means doing what I can to make myself independent (lots of job applications, whether the job is something I want to do for a career or not) and keeping myself from sinking into feeling sorry for myself. I have to be in control, I have to help myself. (And who needs to hang out with a bunch of rowdy drunk college kids anyway? They can buy their own rounds, thanks. I’ll just have a glass of wine at home with my parents :).)

(Rule #4) TAKE ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: No matter who it’s from, not all advice is right or right for you (including what’s in here, though I hope you’ll find it helpful). From Charles Wheelan’s 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said, “You’re parents don’t want what’s best for you.” I translate that to ‘You’re friends–family–self-help-book–random-person-at-the-checkout don’t want what’s best for you’. And by that Wheelan means this: those who give advice don’t want what’s best for you, they want what’s good for you. As he says, “No parent wants to watch a child flounder or fail. There is a natural instinct to protect children from risk and discomfort– and therefore to urge safe choices.” (Wheelan page 90).  No one knows you better than you. At this stage you are constantly barraged with advice from people who mean well. I’m not saying ignore it, I’m simply saying think it through and decided if that bit of advice will work for you.

Case in point: many recent grad self-help books advise taking a month or several months or even a year to travel the world. While I would love to travel (see my travel blog here), I can’t justify putting my life on hold to travel. I’d be alone, and I’d be spending money that I would rather see stay safely in my saving’s account until I want to do something important, like buy a house or a car, get married or have kids. Some people can live day-to-day and spend their money like that. I can’t. So that goes in with the good advice that just isn’t quite right for me.

So when you unwrap the post graduation presents and find a self-help book, or go to a family gathering and have your ear talked off by your aunt who just knows that if you submit 4 applications a day you’ll have a job by next Tuesday here’s my (the irony) advice. Smile, say thank you and mean it– they mean what they say and do to be helpful and it just might be, then store the piece of advice in your brain for later consideration. Read the self-help books, and know that the author is meaning the best for you, but only take from it what will move you further toward whatever goal you want to achieve in your career and life

**Citation: Wheelan, Charles J. 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.**

Graduation and Beyond

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Graduation. For me, it was the initiation from being a dependent college student to becoming an adult. While I was in school, it seemed like it was always just around the corner, something that was going to happen in the future, but not something I needed to really worry about. Until, with a sudden realization, I was in my last semester. My application to graduate was in, class add/drop day was passed, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. But even as I took my final classes, attended career fairs, and submitted applications to big-named companies in between classes and hanging out with friends, I didn’t grasp the reality of what graduation really meant.

Graduation crept up on me and soon I was taking final exams, buying my cap and gown, and complaining to my boyfriend about the long ceremony (I mean really, they expect you to sit for 3 hours in fold out chairs, only to get a handshake and a fake diploma from the university president who doesn’t even care you exist? Not my idea of a fun morning. I’d much rather be sleeping in.). Saturday morning came too soon. It was cold it was rainy. And something in my gut told me I wasn’t ready for this. I got up anyway and got dressed, then made my way over to the auditorium with the other graduates-to-be.

Once inside, I realized why I had felt like I wasn’t ready to graduate. In the lines upon lines of talking graduates, bedecked in black caps and gowns with medals, pins, or stoles for their appropriate majors and activities, I heard murmurs all around me about what the future held for my peers: “Where is your job?”, “How long do you have until your start”, “Your salary is how much?”. While I’m aware that not all the other graduates already had jobs, from my perspective, standing there listening to the congratulations, gloats, and moans that “I guess I have to be a grown-up now”, it seemed like I was the only one not moving on to bigger and better things. For those moving on to impressive, high-paying careers, graduation was a symbol of their successful education. For me, it was a gut-wrenching reminder that time was moving on, and I wasn’t ready.

While at the time I felt isolated – a lone failure in a sea of successful peers – I now know that many people, likely including many of those peers, were in the same position that I was. Talking to friends and family I discovered that it is the exception, not the rule, for new-graduates to have job offers before graduation.

Even still, there are things that I have had to learn as I have been at home looking for jobs. This is mainly what this blog is about – what I have learned, what advice I have taken and what I have decided isn’t for me, and (more or less) how to survive the harsh realities of being an unemployed adult. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1) Living at home? Thank your parents. A LOT.

2) Make a schedule. It’s too easy to laze around and do nothing.

3) Don’t rely on an interview to turn into anything. If it does, great. But most likely it won’t. So keep job searching.

4) Projects are good for more than just eating time not spent applying to jobs. Hint: they’re interview gold.

5) Use the time to learn to be an adult. This includes learning to cook, clean, and organize your house, as well as learning about bills, taxes, and scary grown-up things.

6) The resume and cover letter is never complete. Keep updating it, keep perfecting it.

7) RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH companies and jobs prior to applying.

8) Not all advice is good advice. People are different, and not everything works for everyone. Do what works for you, and you only.

I’ll be writing future posts about these topics and many others. By doing this I hope that my experiences will inform anyone else in my place, but I also hope that it will help me to learn and grow through my own experiences. So, in the famous words of Edward Murrow, “Good night, and good luck.”