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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Monday, February 22, 2010

Phone/email Interview with Normal Large Company

Last week, I applied on-line for a job at a large company ("NLC").  It's for a R+D managerial position.  I don't have a lot of official managerial experience but have a lot of unofficial experience.  Today someone from HR called me. What followed was a fairly normal pre-screening process, large company style.  Wankercon should take note here too.  Even though my resume came in via a large nationwide job engine, NLC (and the other large companies that have contacted me for more information) was smart enough to call or send me an email addressed to me and specific to the position I applied for
I was a little bit taken aback, since I had just gotten of the phone with the prof, and my thoughts were not on NLC, especially since I just sent in my resume on the previous business day.  I'm also fighting the flu.
HR guy asked me about my responsibilities in my old job.  He also asked why I was looking for a job and would I be willing to relocate.  He asked me my old salary was and was smart enough to ask what my salary range would be if I were to come to NLC.    I didn't do a very good job on the pre-screening interview and made the mistake of saying I had a verbal offer, but I guess I cleared the salary and seriousness of job search hurdles, so he told me he'd send me a list of questions to answer and then the technical team would review them.  Here are the questions.  I answered them tonight after I had mulled it over for a while.

1) Please describe the leadership roles you have held within an R+D environment.

2) Please provide examples of your ability to manage people resources effectively, as well as prioritize those resources against competing project deliverables and deadlines.

3) How would you describe your staff management capabilities?

4) What experiences and values can you offer NLC in this position?

5) What is motivating you to explore new job opportunities?

Note to Wankercon: These are questions that are relevant to the job.  They also give some insight into my personality.  If I don't get a second phone interview I will hold no grudge against NLC, and I won't assume that they are all a bunch of arrogant assholes.  No.  I will simply assume that it wasn't a great fit and they had other candidates who were better suited for the position.

Monday LOLcat

Note to self: hang suit from ceiling.....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Phone Interview with Normal Company

I had a phone interview with someone from a normal small company ('NSC') today.  I'm only posting this to contrast with my Wankercon experience (see below.)  NSC is a joint venture between two other companies, and is privately held.  They're located in the Chicago area.
My friend MKL told me that there was an opening at NSC.  She knew someone there so I got her to provide an introduction, and sent in my resume.  They told me they were going through the resumes and would get back to me the first week of February.  They didn't, so I assumed I didn't make the cut.  A few days ago I got an email from the hiring director apologizing for being slow and asking to set up a phone interview. 
Today was my phone interview.  I lured Rugrat out of the house by turning on the dryer.  She gladly went out to the garage to sleep on top of the dryer.  She likes to meow when I'm on the phone, and I've learned the hard way that this is not conducive to business conversations unless I am talking to another cat person.  I got myself all caffeinated up and ate lunch.  I did not follow the suggestion to get dressed up for phone interviews (I guess it's supposed to get you psyched up for it.)  I did follow the suggestion to walk around while talking, instead of sitting.  Apparently your voice projects better while standing and and walking helps relieve nervous energy.
So anyway, the interview was pretty damned normal.  I was asked what I was looking for in a position, what my chemistry strengths were (inorganic chemistry and catalyst development), what I liked least (polymer properties!), did I have a lot of experience with a particular instrument, and of the programs I worked on at my old company, which one was the most rewarding and why. I asked questions about the company, the position, the chemistry, and what the interviewer liked best about NSC. Note that there are no pop-psychology questions in there, as well as no layers of annoying big company bureaucracy. Also note that the interviewer probably learned more about my personality in the 30 minute phone call than Wankercon got from my email, and I certainly got a much more favorable impression of NSC than I got from Wankercon.
I was invited out for a visit to NSC.  It will either be next week or the second or third week in March.  If I get and accept the Cornell offer before NSC HR calls me to set up the visit, I will withdraw my application before they make plans.
As for Wankercon, I still haven't heard back from them;-)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Email from Wankercon, a startup

A few months ago, I applied at a local startup company ("Wankercon").  Today I got the following email.  I have changed the names and omitted the links but other than that I have the email as is

Dear Random Hopefully Brilliant and Awesome First-Tier Candidate, (yes, this is what they wrote)

For a broad preview of what Wankercon does, watch this video of our scientific advisory board member Wanker #1 speaking at bleah bleah bleah VC conference last year.  Note that we are no longer just five guys in a garage :) (link omitted)

Another hint about the excitement of our effort is found here in a techcrunch blog post about an email that our Founding President Wanker #2 (who also co-founded big important company X) sent to his talent network some months ago:

Wankercon is a mission to turn biology into an information science, and ultimately to cure all diseases.  Do you have the talent to drive that mission, and the vision to see beyond the mediocrity that says it's impossible? If so, sign our NDA digitally and return to us by email so we can tell you more.

Along with the signed NDA, we ask candidates to answer the following seven questions by email.  Answer with the first thing that comes to mind; this is just to get the discussion started:

1. What are you best at?
2. What are you worst at?
3. How would you spend ten billion dollars?
4. What are your goals?
5. What is your favorite movie, and why?
6. What is your favorite book, and why?
7. If you had to name one thing, what is the biggest misperception people have of you, and why?

Also, please attach a CV or resume if you haven't already sent us one.

Cheers, The Wankercon Team

uh, OK?!?!?  I don't mind the 7 questions part, but the trying to be hip and funny part is totally cancelled out by the mass mailing nature of the email.  (Actually, I take that back.  I've never encountered those sort of pop-psychology interview questions such as 5 and 6.)  Ever hear of cut and paste, dudes?   It's also unheard of to have someone sign a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) until they actually show up on site.  
I've got enough experience with startups to know it usually works another way.  A more typical email would read like this.
Hi Old Biddy,
Thanks for sending in your resume. We would like to invite you in for a short interview.  How about Friday?  Please be prepared to give a seminar.  We will also ask you to sign a NDA before we show you around the company.
Normal Startup Company Team

Adding to the incongruity of the whole thing, the position that I applied for is actually a part time, post-doc sort of deal, where they want a highly specialized chemist but don't want to bring in anyone non-local.  I'd blow off the whole thing, but one of my former professors is sort of involved with them.  So I wrote back.  Here's what I wrote.

Dear WankerconTeam,
Thanks for getting back to me regarding the chemist position that was advertised on VentureLoop and was also brought to my attention by Professor X.  I have enclosed a digitally 'signed' NDA.
Here are my answers to the seven questions.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.
Best regards,
-Old Biddy

1. What are you best at?
I am a very skillful and creative inorganic/organometallic chemist, and really enjoy making molecules and seeing if they do what I want them to do.  In my spare time I'm a really good baker.

2. What are you worst at?
I get very focused on things and have trouble shutting off my brain when I'm trying to sleep.
3. How would you spend ten billion dollars?  I'd use some of it for research on improving pyrolysis techniques and catalysts, so things like waste plastics and biomass can be converted into liquid or gaseous fuels.  I'd use the rest for improving water desalination techniques so they are more economically viable.
4. What are your goals?  I'd like to work on projects that are intellectually challenging and make the world a better place.

What is your favorite movie, and why?  Animal House.  It's stupid, but it still makes me laugh my ass off every time I see it.  I'm a sucker for juvenile and slapstick humor.

What is your favorite book, and why?  Possession, by A. S. Byatt.  It's a literary novel with two interwoven stories, one involving two present-day academics and the other involving two Victorian poets.  A lot of mythology and poetry are thrown in for good measure.  It's probably the most detailed novel I've ever read, but the author has such a skill for descriptive writing and character development that it moves along quickly and seamlessly. Unfortunately, the movie did not turn out nearly as well.

If you had to name one thing, what is the biggest misperception people have of you, and why? I am rather quiet and reserved, especially at first, so people usually assume that I'm very uptight. 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blogging from the airport, part 3

I'm at the Ithaca airport now.  My flight to Detroit is delayed 2 hours, which means I'll miss my connecting flight to San Francisco unless that's running late too.  I don't know about the weather, but there's a huge backlog of people trying to get to their destinations, and that's not helping things.  They told us we might not be able to get where we're going until Tuesday. It's Saturday now.  Great.
Anyway, this morning I got up, ate breakfast, and then walked over to Wegman's supermarket.  Several people told me I had to go check it out, and if I end up living here it's important that I have a good source of groceries.  Wegmans is massive.  It's like they combined a Safeway, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and CVS in one place, and by that I mean added them together into one giant store.  It is seriously massive and may help get me through Trader Joe's and Costco withdrawal. . Prices are good - along the lines of Trader Joe's and my beloved Pak N Save.  Sure, the gourmet stuff is pricier, but it's still a lot cheaper than Whole Foods.  There was even a small book section.  I bought the new Sookie Stackhouse novel and another book for my trip.  If I end up here in Ithaca and you come visit me, I am totally taking you to Wegman's.
After I went to Wegmans's, I stopped off at the Ithaca Farmer's market.  It's inside during the winter.  There were people selling winter veggies, eggs, cheese, bread, baked goods, and jewelry.  It was fun, but being full and being unable to transport stuff home kind of put a damper on things. 
I then walked up to Cornell again and walked around.  It is just ridiculously pretty there.  It was snowing lightly as I walked.  I was toasty warm in my grey Michelin Man down jacket, wool hat and gloves. I got back around 1:45 and had lunch at a Thai restaurant.  Then I came back to the hotel and went to the airport.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wandering Around Ithaca, Day 1/World's Fastest Bootquest(TM)/How my former company still manages to give me grey hair...

I'm done with my interview.  It went well.  I have a verbal offer, to be followed in a week or two by a written offer, unless the prof freaks out or something. Hopefully that will not happen, and hopefully I am not jinxing myself by writing it down.
I am a moron when it comes to salary discussions. The prof is equally inexperienced.  When the prof told me he would make me an offer, he asked if the salary we had previously agreed upon was ok.  Like a fool, I said it was.  He then said he'd give me a raise if things went well (which he'd said before, which should've clued me in that I was leaving money on the table).  We were both showing our cards.  Oh well.  He doesn't know that it's the same salary as I got at my old company.
Anyway, today I got to relax and see the area.  A real estate agent showed me around and took me to a few houses.  Naturally it was a lot cheaper than the Bay Area.  She didn't take me to any of the super cute houses near campus, mainly because they didn't have garages or large yards, but I wish she did.
I saw a lot of houses painted green.  The color scheme on my house would fit right in here.  I also walked past the world's cutest purple house.  I'll post a picture when I get home and can upload the pictures to my computer.
After that I wandered around all afternoon.  First, I went over to Ithaca Commons, which is a pedestrian mall in the downtown area.  There were a lot of cute shops, and some tacky ones too.  I liked the mineral store.  Unlike most stores of its ilk, this really was a mineral store, rather than a jewelry store with a few stones.  I wandered into a crafts/jewelry store.  I wasn't expecting much, but it was quite nice.  I bought some earrings and cards.  Then I had a slice of cheap pizza (chickaboli - bacon, chicken, pepperoni, and and went back to my hotel to drop off my stuff.
I then wandered over towards Cornell.  I was on a Bootquest(TM).  My trip here made me realize that I was missing a key element in my wardrobe - the perfect pair of waterproof rubber soled lace up black boots.  I normally have a pair, but they're very hard to find in California. I have to be very persistent, order them online, or try to buy them when I'm on the East Coast.  I had compromised with a pair of brown boots, a pair of pseudo-UGGS, and several pairs of dressy black boots.  I bought my dressy black boots for the interview and my brown boots for walking around, but they're not great for snow.    Anyway, there was a shoe store on the way to Cornell.  I walked in, saw a lot of cute black bots that met all my requirements, and ended up buying a very nice pair of boots.  They were even marked down 30%.  I used to have a very similar pair by the same brand, and I wore them to death.  (I bought those on a trip to Boston.) 
After I bought my boots, I continued on to Cornell.  It was cold but I was nice and comfy warm, especially since I was walking uphill.  I wandered around campus and took a lot of pictures and bought myself a Cornell fleece jacket.  Yes I was feeling confident.  That was stupid.
When I got back to my hotel, I chilled for a bit, wrote most of this blog post, and checked Facebook.  On it, one of my former coworkers posted that the company had just sold their group to another company.  Yep, that's the group that would make the equipment that we would buy for Cornell. Geez.  Like my former company hasn't caused me enough headaches already.  It wouldn't affect my offer (we did discuss the possibility of something like this happening in the short, mid, or long term) but it will sure confuse things. 
I'm just glad I didn't know about this before my afternoon of retail therapy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blogging from the airport, part 2

I'm like a storm inducer whenever I travel.  I'm 3 for 3 on my trips this winter.  I hit a snowstorm in Colorado, torrential rains in SoCal, and now I'm causing disruption in the Midwest and East.
I'm at the Detroit airport. I'm trying to get to Ithaca by way of Syracuse.  So far it's not working.
I was originally scheduled to fly into Ithaca last night via Detroit.  Due to storms on the East Coast, the flight to Detroit was delayed by more than 2 hours.  I missed my flight to Ithaca and the next one was today at 2 PM.  It would've been worse if I had tried to fly through Philadelphia or Newark.  Those airports were practically shut down. I had scheduled to go through Detroit since Sheila always told me I could crash at her place if I get stuck here. As it turns out, that's what happened, with a very late night arrival and a very early morning departure (in theory), when she was still jet-lagged from coming back from SoCal.  On the plus side, I brought her lots of snow so she can go cross country skiing.
So now I'm waiting for the flight to Syracuse.  It's been delayed 2 hours already, and we've had three gate changes.  Once I get to Syracuse, I've got an hour drive to Ithaca. The prof who's interviewing me will be picking me up.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I will get there.
Someone from my old company was supposed to join us tomorrrow, but he's stuck on the West Coast. 

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Blogging from the airport, part 1

I'm at the San Jose Airport waiting for my flight to LA.  This is the first time I've been in the new section.  The last time I was here was two months ago, on the last day that the old terminal was being used.  The old section was really run down.  It was very crowded and you still had to walk out onto the tarmac to board the plane.
Anyway, so far I'm impressed.  There was no line at check-in or security.  I can't remember the last time I didn't have to wait in a long line here.  The new section is different from most newer airports.  It's extremely spacious, with a very wide walkway and lots of space between rows of chairs.  There are a few restaurants and newsstands, but it doesn't look like a mini-mall the way that a lot of airports do.  Overall, it has a very minimalistic, post-modern feel.  I'm also impressed by the chairs.  They have banks of leather chairs with little tables between them.  The tables have electrical and USB charger outlets on them, and also provide a place to set my coffee.  My only complaint is the music  They're playing elevator pseudo-classical music versions of songs I like.  It's not like Enya or Jimmy Buffet songs are unsuitable for airport use, anyway.
Last night I went to an alumni wine tasting event.  Like a lot of the alumni events, it was sponsored by MIT but there were a lot of Stanford people there too. Mitra and Judy had suggested it to me, but they both bailed on me.  I made sure to drink their share of wine.  It was held at the Artisan Wine Depot, which opened up about eight months ago in downtown Mountain View.   It's an interesting place, located in a former car repair shop.  I was really impressed.  It's not very big, and it's totally jam packed with wine. They specialize in wines from smaller vineyards.  There were 8 wines on the tasting menu, all in the $10/bottle range.  I tried them all except for the chardonnay. The owner/sommelier was pouring, and she was quite diligent about not giving people wines that would clash with their foods. I grabbed a cookie on the way in, so she started me off with the dessert wines.  Later, once I had finished my cookie, she let me try the others.  An older couple was helping out with the food - I'm not sure but I think they were the owner's parents. 
It was a little bit too small to accomodate all the people.  We were standing in the rows talking, but the rows were only three feet wide and people needed to get through.  It probably contributed to a more friendly atmosphere, now that I think of it.  It's hard to form impenetrable groups if people are constantly having to climb over you.  I talked to a bunch of people, including another unemployed chemist, a bunch of consultants, a guy who worked for a local politician (he was totally working the room), and a good-looking Indian guy who gave me his card in case I ever wanted to go jogging with him atRancho San Antonio (hmmm).  It was too crowded to do any wine shopping, but I'll definitely go back later and buy some.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday LOLcat

Monday, February 1, 2010


In a not-so-nice twist of fate, my local PakNSave, purveryor of cheap groceries for the last 25 years, closed on the same day as my last day of work.  Wahhh!!  I knew it was coming eventually - Safeway owns PakNSave and was planning to close it down, remodel and then reopen as a regular Safeway.  The only problem is that the regular Safeway is a lot more expensive than PakNSave, even though they sell the same stuff.  Sigh.  I'll just have to make do with Trader Joe's and Costco.

Cheapskate good karma/ Computer room redecoration

I have been smiled upon by the cheapskate gods, who look after the newly unemployed and their relatives. I wanted to convert my computer room/junk room to a real workspace.  I didn't want to spend very much money.  This project began last summer, when I moved my desk in there, but got derailed by my troubles/breakup with T and then by the windows remodel, and then by the house painting and then by the work troubles. You get the picture.  Anyway, now that all that is done I'm back on track, and needed a useable workspace now that I no longer have my work office.
The first order of business was storage.  I got rid of a lot of books to accommodate my chemistry books but stil needed space for my files. I got a massive wooden file cabinet, in good condition, for $25 at Salvation Army, along with a end table for my printer for $10. They even match my desk pretty well.
Having acquired most of what I needed for my home office, I took my old furniture (weird-ass junk cabinet salvaged from the side of the road* and mini end cabinet) out to the garage.  While I was doing that I saw  my neighbors moving a tall cabinet to the side of the road.  It had a 'FREE' sign on it*.  If it had been a bookshelf my life would've been complete, but the cabinet would've been a bit much for the room.  As I was walking back to my house, my mom showed up.  She wanted to go take a look at it, and decided she wanted it. So I got the dolly and we wheeled it over to my garage.  I don't think it was out for more than 5 minutes.

Having tackled the file cabinet issue and my mom's ongoing book storage issue, I decided to go get some cellular shades for the windows.  I like my living room ones so much that I wanted to do the same thing in the computer room.  I stopped off at Home Depot.  They didn't have the cellular shades, but they did have some sliding panel shades on sale.  I've been wanting to get some for the sliding glass door, but it was pretty low priority and they are normally pricy.  The rail was 60% off, and the panels were marked about 30% off.  When I paid, the panels rang up at $0.01/each instead of $18/ each.  The clerk called the manager over, and the manager said to let me have them at that price.  Score!  So instead of paying $165 (full price), or $100 (sale price), I paid $22. Then I went to Lowe's and bought the cellular shades.  Because these windows are a non-standard size, I had to get the Levelor trimmable kind.  There were more expensive and not as soft than the ones I used in the living room, but other than that they are pretty similar.
The cellular shades were easier to install than the living room ones.  Levelor gets an A+ for simplicity of installation.  The only hard part was the awkward angle at which I was working.
The sliding panel shades were entirely another matter, however.  They were the biggest pain in the ass of any mini-blinds or curtains that I've ever installed, and I've installed a lot.  They were hugely fussy.  Lots of screws, moving parts, chiral centers, and things to trim.  Not good. I'm starting to understand why they were marked down so much. I won't even tell you how long it took.  I give them a F for ease of installation. I'm really glad I didn't pay full price.

Anyway, it's done and it looks nice. Now I have a nice area to work and can finally have some privacy at the back door.

* My parents and I are apparently in not the only cheapskates in Sunnyvale. I don't think people here need to bother with Freecycle.   The laziest way to get rid of something is to put it out in your front yard with a 'free' sign on it.  It usually disappears within a few hours.  I have used this to get rid of stuff and have also acquired stuff this way.  Sometimes I've gotten something this way, used it for a few years, and then gotten rid of it the same way.