Are you missing a crucial step in the interview process?

imagesAugust 29, 2014 — Today marks the last official day in my current job. Next week, I begin a new chapter and a new position (with same company), a move I have wanted to make since I started almost three years ago.

To say I am happy about the job is an understatement. You might even say I am twice as glad to be given the opportunity because when the offer was made, I learned I almost didn’t get it. The hiring manager thought that perhaps I was no longer interested because I didn’t follow up with him.

The interview process is never as quick as we’d like. I applied for the job, and weeks went by before I interviewed with a representative from HR, and then another few more weeks passed before I had the chance to meet with the hiring manager. In both interviews, I expressed my interest, I expressed it again in a second interview with the hiring manager, and in the thank you notes I had written after each round.

Before the verbal offer was made, however, the hiring manager asked if I still had interest in the position. A few more weeks had passed by this point, and by not following up after a few days, I gave the impression I may not be interested, and that I lack motivation. I had the wrong attitude, believing that the ball was in the hiring manager’s court, and it almost cost me a great opportunity. If he is interested in me as a candidate, I thought, I would hear from him. Following up seemed intrusive on his valuable time. 

“Following up on a job interview is crucial,” says Susan Adams, a career journalist at “Forbes”. “Even if you blow the interview, it pays to get in touch after the fact.”

A good way to tackle the issue upfront, according to career coach David Couper, is to ask at the end of the interview how he or she would like to stay in touch. It shows you are a professional.

Some career experts believe that the follow-up is more important than the interview, and how you follow up is key. You don’t want to become a burden and stand out for the wrong reason. Follow up tastefully. If, for example, the hiring manager tells you he or she is looking to make a decision within a week, it is proper to follow up with a simple e-mail message after that week has passed with a note asking for an update.

Since the follow up is a step in the hiring process that I never took seriously, I’m grateful this happened, that the hiring manager voiced his concern, and most of all that he didn’t hold it against me. I consider it a good lesson learned.

The man who shot John Lennon

imagesAugust 27, 2012 – Last week, the man who gunned down John Lennon in New York City on December 8, 1980, was denied parole for the eighth time. Mark David Chapman originally sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for second-degree murder, served 33 years so far and is eligible for parole again in 2016.

On Friday, a three-person Parole Board panel handed down their decision to keep Chapman behind bars. Their concern was that he “would commit more crimes and that his release would be incompatible with the welfare of society.”

The panel further acknowledged his good conduct in prison once again, as they had done two years ago, adding that his release would “trivialize the tragic loss of life which [he] caused.”

The average sentence for second-degree murder in New York is 15 to 25 years, while a life sentence is typically thought to represent 25 years. For violent crimes, most states require criminals to serve at least 85% of their sentenced time. Additionally, in the United States, on average, a person convicted of second-degree murder serves 21.6 years in prison.

Chapman served ten years longer than the average already and eight years longer than what is considered a life sentence. If he is considered a threat to society, I would be the first to demand that he remain behind bars. However, his record in prison and the fact that he did not have a history of crime prior to the shooting should be considered as it is for others seeking parole. 

Criminals who have committed similar crimes and who do their time, are typically granted parole and given another chance to make something of their lives. Is Chapman not receiving his chance because Lennon was a well-known celebrity? Is Lennon’s life worth more than the life of any murder victim?

I’m not advocating softer crime penalties or defending Chapman’s actions. If it were up to me I’d fix the system by abolishing the death penalty for life in prison, and turning life in prison to literally mean the convicted criminal remains in prison for the rest of his or her life. However, the law states otherwise, and as long as it does, everyone should be entitled to the same courtesy under it, including Chapman who murdered the famous rock icon. 

I remember reading an article after George Harrison died that reported he visited the attacker who stabbed and almost killed him several years before because he wanted to meet with him and tell him he was forgiven. Somehow, I think Lennon would feel the same. 

Movie review: About Alex

MV5BMjg1ODkxMzAxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjEzNjYwMjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_August 25, 2014 – “The Big Chill” is one of my favorite movies.

You can make a strong argument that “About Alex” is this generation’s “The Big Chill”, and then you might add that they don’t make movies like they used to.

Both films, though released 30 years apart, are more than just a little similar. They focus on college reunions and suicide, and oddly (or purposely) the suicidal character is Alex,  played by Jason Ritter in “About Alex” and Kevin Costner in “The Big Chill”. The main difference is Costner’s character actually dies, and Ritter’s character lives to discuss it in great detail with his best friends.

It’s not that I didn’t like “About Alex”. It has a talented cast and a compelling (though familiar) storyline. But when you’ve had the real thing, it is like comparing decadent chocolate mousse prepared by a chef in a fine restaurant to Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding. They are both good. One is just far superior.

The cast, lead by Ritter, includes Aubrey Plaza, Maggie Grace, Max Greenfield and Jane Levy, and they do a fine job of mimicking the cast that made this film 30 years ago. You could probably match both casts character for character. Not only that, there are records played on turntables, trips to the supermarket, morning runs in the woods, talk of fellowships and dissertations, and Jeff Goldblum; he starred in “The Big Chill” and his mentioned several times in “About Alex”. There’s also plenty of in-depth conversations about suicide, honesty, and whether friendships can survive now that they live in the real world.

The screenplay was written and directed by Jesse Zwick, who also writes for the television show “Parenthood”. Zwick has another connection to “The Big Chill”. His father Ed Zwick was the creator of “Thirtysomething”, a television show that debuted after “The Big Chill”, but seemed inspired by the film. Again, it focused on a group of friends who went to college together, and had deep conversations about life and its expectations.

Zwick is a solid writer based on his work in “Parenthood” and “About Alex”. He may have based the screenplay on a concept already used, but I’ll give him a break since original ideas are few and far between in Hollywood. He developed rich characters and gave them believable conversations, and when I wasn’t busy making comparisons, it held my interest for 100 minutes. There’s a point midway through the film when one character compares the group having dinner to one of those 80s movies about groups of friends getting together for the weekend. They all but mention “The Big Chill”, and perhaps that is Zwick’s way of beating us all to comparing it to “The Big Chill”.

“The Big Chill” was nominated in several categories for Academy Awards, and although it didn’t win, it was critically acclaimed. Only time will tell if “About Alex” has the same fate. Even though I liked it, I’m not holding my breath that any major awards are in its future.

10 weird things about traffic

PredictiveTrafficAugust 22, 2014 – Traffic is a real head scratcher.

You’re driving along at a normal speed, and all of the sudden you’re moving slower than a three-toed sloth. There’s no indication why. No merging. No accidents. No school busses. You try to figure out the physics behind it, but you’re only fooling yourself. You were never good at math or science anyway, so you simply accept that traffic will always be a complete mystery.

Once upon a time I enjoyed getting caught in traffic. Between working and raising my son, my traffic time equaled my only time alone. If traffic moved at the pace of a sloth, it meant more time listening to music or spending time with my thoughts. Now, he’s grown and gone, and I have a hefty commute each day. Traffic is no longer what I desire, but it is a little more understandable thanks to this list of weird things about traffic from Listverse.com.

Summer bucket list

2013-08-20.before-summer-endsAugust 20, 2014 – Halloween decorations are everywhere, and the leaves on the trees are beginning to change on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The cooler temperatures this summer seemed to accelerate the speed of how fast nature and retailers want us to move from one season the next, but make no mistake about it, we still have four weeks left to enjoy summer.

Here are 10 things that celebrate the best of summer that you can squeeze in before there is frost on the pumpkin.

10. Host a luau. Tomorrow (August 21) marks the day Hawaii was admitted to the U.S. as our 50th state. While it would be great to honor the anniversary with a visit to the Aloha State, the next best thing – and the more practical solution —  is to throw a party. You can even wear a coconut bra if you can get away with such things.

9. Enjoy golf and tennis. If you’re a fan of watching golf and tennis on television, this time of year is your Christmas morning. The PGA Championship is in full force, and the U.S. Open is about to get underway. If you’re more adventurous, hit the course or the courts and play for real.

8. Go to a fair. Did you know August was State Fair Season? Check out this link to view the Pennsylvania State Fair schedule, or this one for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, which can be just as fun.

7. Eat a peach. August is Peach Month in Pennsylvania, and Linvilla Orchards is celebrating with its annual Peach Festival. Pick your own bushel of peaches at the orchards and stroll the lovely grounds located on Knowlton Road, in Media, Pa. If you’re not local, a quick Internet search will help you find the orchard or farm nearest you.

6. Host a barbecue or block party. Some of my fondest memories as a kid involved neighborhood barbecues and block parties. Invite the neighbors and have a blast. And if there’s no time to get a permit to block off your street, a car at the beginning and end of a block turned sideways, and with its hood lifted is a fine deterrent for traffic. 

5. Build a sandcastle. Even if you can’t get to the beach for a week or even a weekend, people in the Delaware Valley area are close enough to New Jersey’s beaches to make it a day trip. If not, head to the nearest shore town, lake, or sandbox.

4. Enjoy fresh ice cream. If you want the best ice cream go to the source, the nearest dairy farm. Check out the Internet to find the local dairy farm near you. Those in the Philadelphia area, follow this link to discover a variety of choices.

3. Catch (and then release) fireflies. There’s no better way to feel like a kid again than participate in this fun summer activity after the sun goes down. This is the kinder, gentler version.

2. Go berry picking. Places to pick berries are easy to find on the Internet. In the Philadelphia are, here are several places that will do nicely. Upon your return home, make a tasty and healthy smoothie and enjoy!

1. Treat yourself to a pedicure. While you’re still wearing sandals, that is. Be sure to select a peachy hue in honor of Pennsylvania’s Peach Month.

Visiting Bartram’s Gardens

August 18, 2011 – A late summer stroll through Bartram’s Gardens is just what I needed this weekend. The garden is the oldest surviving botanical garden in the U.S. and it is located on the west bank of the Schuylkill River. The 46-acre property once belonged to American Botanist John Bartram, a Quaker farmer.

yellow
Love Black Eyed Susans!
seatcards
The garden is popular for weddings, and here is the unique way they display seat cards for guests.
cocktails
I strolled by while they were setting up for cocktail hour.
meadow
The meadow is sparkling.
city
On my way out, I discovered an interesting view of the city.

A history lesson regarding major events in the motion picture and live music industries

pop-cultureAugust 15, 2014 — Where were you 75 years ago today?

Not born yet? Me neither. My parents were only seven and eight at the time, so it would be another 20 plus years before I made my debut. I wonder if they remember that 75 years ago today, “The Wizard of Oz” premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

Oddly, the film was not a box office success, even though it had been MGM’s most costly movie to produce at that time, and was based on a popular book. When annual television broadcasts began in 1956, “The Wizard of Oz” found its following, and became one of the most famous films ever.

Now, here’s another question. Where were you 45 years ago today?

Perhaps you still weren’t born yet. Most likely, I was playing jacks on my front porch that summer day. Little did I know that several hours north, Woodstock had opened on August 15, 1969.

Woodstock, a rock concert that took place in upstate New York, was tagged “Three days of peace and music.” More than 30 popular acts of that time period performed before an audience of 400,000 young people, and even today, it is widely regarded as the pivotal moment in popular music history. On a side note, it’s difficult to believe that Woodstock doesn’t rank on top ten list as one of the highest attended concert in music history. The number one spot belongs to Rod Stewart, who on New Year’s Eve 1993, drew a crowd of 3.5 million at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Two major events in American pop culture occurred on this day 30 years apart, and although they couldn’t be more vastly different, they have affected us. One taught us about wishing for life over the rainbow, yet there is no place like home. It also opened our minds and helped us imagine. The other showed us that music is a great way to make a statement and bring people together, and that nearly a half a million young people could gather in one place peacefully, even during a time when America was dividing rapidly. It also opened the minds of many, although some might say in a drastically different way.

Both cultural events gave us the lasting music we know and love. The soundtrack to “The Wizard of Oz” features one of the best-loved songs of all time, “Over the Rainbow”, a song recorded by over 100 recording artists. For a 75-year-old song, it is still widely played and relevant today. Woodstock provided the soundtrack to the turmoil of the late 1960s, and many of those songs by The Who, Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, etc., are still popular.

After all of these years, both performances are firmly implanted into our lives, memories, and traditions. Can you name any musical artists or motion pictures of today that will still be talked about and celebrated 50 years from now?

Movie review: The Immigrant

the-immigrant-afficheAugust 13, 2014Achieving the American Dream can be a real bitch.

Just ask Ewa Cybulski and her sister Magda, who sail to New York from their native Poland to seek a better life in America, and to escape the horrors of World War I after enemy soldiers kill their parents.

The story takes place in 1921 as they come through Ellis Island, but it could be just as relevant and in many ways as illegal as today’s situation along the U.S./Mexican border.

Written and directed by James Gray and co-written by Ric Menello, “The Immigrant” tells the story of the Cybulski sisters who make it to Ellis Island despite the horrors they encounter on the ship, and are willing to do anything to get through the admission process from there. One gets through illegally and becomes a prostitute to survive, and the other is placed in the infirmary at Ellis Island because she has lung disease.

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner lead a great cast that makes this familiar story believable. Coltillard is perfect in the role of Ewa, and channels her inner Meryl Streep in  “Sophie’s Choice” with her realistic polish accent.

We have all heard the stories of the immigrants who came to America to find freedom, peace, and prosperity, perhaps from our own family members. This story is no different than any other written about this movement, although it feels more genuine and makes you empathetic for the actual immigrants who passed through Ellis Island in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Gray himself has said that “The Immigrant” is based largely on the remembrances of his grandparents, and is somewhat autobiographical.

I appreciate period pieces like this because I can relate to my own great-grandfather’s story. I never met him, but a search on Ancestry.com explains that he came over alone from Ireland at age 19 in 1891, set his sights on Philadelphia, found work in a paper box factory in North Philadelphia, and began the large McMaster family branch in the U.S. Brave men and women, like my great-grandfather populated the U.S. and created the country we know today because they had the courage and stamina to follow a dream. “The Immigrant” shows their struggles in a realistic light, making it clear that many of us have immigrants to thank for the lifestyle we live today.

“The Immigrant” isn’t a fun ride, but it draws you in with solid writing and stellar performances. Brilliantly and with heart, it depicts the seedy side of America’s history, the part that makes you ashamed, yet piques your interest as you watch. It is currently available on Netflix, and well worth the rental.

The art of being alone

imagesAugust 8, 2014 – When my son went off to college years ago, I cried. Not surprising, since most parents have similar reactions to their child leaving home for the first time.

Living alone was a new experience for me back then, a girl who married young, moved from her parents’ home to a home with her husband, and then to a home with her young son when the marriage ended.

Not only hadn’t I lived alone by that point, but also I never had my own bedroom until the divorce. And the only time I usually had alone as a single parent was driving to and from work. I’ll admit, sometimes I prayed for traffic.

It took time to get used to my son’s absence during those college years. Although we have great family and friends, it was mainly just the two of us for all of those years, so that’s understandable. But I did adjust to his wise choice to live at school, and grew to enjoy it. After graduation, he moved back home and I cried again. I had grown accustomed to a tidy life, and it felt like a hurricane had blown in with little warning, and another adjustment period was in order.

A year later, when he moved into his first post-college apartment, I cried yet again. Sense a pattern here? That pattern continued for three more apartments and many more tears as he moved in and out, coming back home in between apartments to pay off college loans, and leaving us both to adjust yet again. I suppose that’s the dance that many parents experience with their kids.

Despite all of the moving back and forth, I wasn’t officially an empty nester until this week when he moved into his first adult apartment, a place in one of the trendy parts of the city that’s perfect for a successful young man on the rise. I have the distinct feeling that this is the permanent move that all adults eventually make, and our days of living together have reached their end.

One of the first things you learn wandering around an empty house is that it takes time to get used any change, and even though I’ve had practice, it’s different each time. Strangely, I didn’t cry when I shut the door after his car pulled away. Or when his friend, who helped him move, asked if I would be lonely on the way out the door. I just shrugged my head and smiled because I clearly understand the difference between being alone and being lonely.

Spending time with family and friends is important because too much time alone can be harmful. But not enough time alone can be a problem, too.

Like everything else in life, it’s about reaching that happy medium.