Advice on How to Get a Job
With the beginning of summer upon us, you’re probably looking for a summer job, if you don’t have one already. You may be looking for a job to help you pay expenses, and to get you through high school or college. You may be looking for a job after college. Here are a few things I’ve picked up from reading (e.g., the Martin Yate Knock ‘Em Dead series of books) and personal experience (some of which was “learning things the hard way.” L). No matter how I got this information, I’d like to share it with you and possibly help you have an easier time getting a job than I have had.
Who Are You? Make Sure The People Who Want You Can Find You. Make Sure They’re Glad they Found You.
What kind of person are you? What can you do well? Are you creative? Did you write a short story that won an award? Did you star in your school play? Can you paint, draw, sing, or dance? Are you a fashion or interior decorating wiz? Then make sure that’s up front in your cover letter and resume, and apply to jobs where creativity is needed, such as clothing and furniture sales, advertising and publishing companies, etc. Creative jobs that seem glamorous (e.g., the entertainment or advertising industries) are hard to get into, so you may have to take an unpaid internship and get another job (e.g., fast food, temp work, etc.) to actually make money. A word to the wise: the super-glamorous employers such as movie studios, TV networks, etc. often hire WAY more unpaid interns than they ever could hire as paid employees. It’s a way for them to get free labor, so if you’re actually looking for a paid job there in the future, you’re REALLY going to have to show that you’re the best candidate for a paid job position by far.
The same goes for people who want to go into law, politics, etc. You may well have to take a low-pay or no-pay job at a government agency or law firm to get the experience you need. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll learn a lot that will help you in the future. Make friends and you’ll have great job and school application references in the future. Again, don’t be shocked if the law firm, government agency doesn’t have funding to hire you as a paid employee, but make sure you do everything you can to make them glad they gave you a chance to work there. Show up early, leave late, ask for work when you don’t have anything to do. Basically, do what you’d want employees to do if YOU were the boss – a theme I’ll repeat throughout this blog post.
Is that awful that you might have to work for free? Yes, but having experience in advertising, entertainment, a law firm, a government agency, a doctor’s office, or a hospital, will “pay off” in the future if you do a good job and make sure they remember who you were. I’ve gotten jobs as a result of my experience from unpaid internships.
What Do You Want?
When looking for a job, you have to ask yourself “What would I do for free or for minimum wage for the rest of my life, if I had to?” Then look for ways to either get paid to do that, or take unpaid jobs that lead to your eventually getting paid to do that. As I stated above, unpaid internships can seem awful, since you don’t get paid and will probably have to take another job to get money, but the experience you get can be priceless. If you want to be a musician or standup comedian, working for a music club or comedy club could give you practical experience in “the industry” that no class can teach. Work for a government agency, a law firm, a doctor’s office, or a hospital would do the same thing.
Hey, even if you’re not planning on going to college or some glamorous industry, working at some lowly position in a place like an auto repair shop, a restaurant, a store, or an office can teach you skills you might not learn in school – customer service, negotiation, etc., even though your high school probably offers classes in typing, “business,” food service, and auto repair. Dealing with people isn’t something on the official curriculum of most high schools, even though it should be.
But I digress – find out what you’d like to do, and try to find a way to get paid to do it, or at least to get free training in that field. You’ll be glad you did! And hey, if it turns out you don’t like a field as much as you thought you did, it’s a lot easier to back out after one cruddy summer internship than after you’ve gotten a four-year college degree in that field…
Write a Resume and Cover Letter for the Job(s) You Want.
Write a resume and cover letter, keeping the boss’ interests in mind. What skills would a good employee, especially one in the position for which you are applying, have? What have you done in the past that shows you have those skills? Make sure you mention them in your resume and cover letter. It’s also good to list where you go to school, what your activities, are, and so on, since you’ll have to do them on college applications. I know I’ve used my resume to figure out the beginning and starting dates of old jobs when I needed to for new job applications. It’s nice to be able to pull up the information on your computer or phone (Google Drive, Dropbox, and webmail definitely help when you need to see a document you’ve stored or emailed – I’ve searched attachments to my email to prove I emailed the correct version of a document when a former boss accused me of sending him the wrong version right before I quit – a very nice illustration of why I quit that job J ).
Write a resume where you list your education, skills, and job experience. It’s easy enough – just label one section “Education,” and list where you went to school, when, and what you studied there. List any special training or certificates you have there. In the next section, list any special skills you have that an employer might find useful – what computer skills you have (e.g., software packages, programming skills, familiarity with operating systems, what computer hardware you’re proficient at using, etc.), what business skills you have (e.g., customer service, bookkeeping), what office equipment you know how to operate (e.g., a 10-key machine, a copier, a fax machine). Do you have special talents such as visual arts (drawing, painting, etc)? How about musical, acting, or public speaking talent? List those skills! They will help you in some jobs, and at the very least, make you a more interesting person to the interviewer. The job experience should come last; you should list any and all jobs you’ve had, whether paid or volunteer. The important thing is to show you know how, and are willing, to work.
You probably would like to know how to write an effective resume. Here are some tips:
Use action words – you know, the “active voice.” Don’t write “Responsible for maintaining sanitary conditions in food service environment” – try “Maintained sanitary conditions in food service; inspected conditions and corrected problems when found.” Telegraphic speech, where pronouns, etc. are left out, is fine on a resume. It’s called “telegraphic speech” because it harkens back to the old days of telegraph communication, where people were charged by the word, so they left out unnecessary words. In your case, you want to keep your resume to one page, since most people won’t read past the first page.
Use plain language. I misled you a little bit in the paragraph above. “Maintained sanitary conditions in food service….” Is fine, but you’re really not fooling anyone if you mean “I washed dishes and mopped the floor in a school cafeteria.” The same applies to “I removed organic material from a porcelain substrate using an aqueous solution of ionic and non-ionic surfactants.” A savvy interviewer will either know you mean “I washed dishes,” or at least that you’re trying to hide the truth with complex vocabulary. I’m not saying you should write like a fourth-grader, but you should write in clear and simple adult language, not gobbledygook, “legalese” or other technical jargon.
Your cover letter should point out why you, specifically, are a good fit for the job for which you are applying. If the job is looking for someone who speaks a foreign language, discuss how you’ve taken four years of Spanish and regularly speak it outside of school. If the job requires mechanical aptitude, mention that you’ve been fixing things around the house since you were a little kid, and that you perform automotive maintenance on the family car, etc. Obviously, you shouldn’t list anything that isn’t true, but you should point out things that might be missed on your resume, and how they match the requirements of the job. An employer will be much more likely to hire someone who shows that he or she actually read the job announcement and responded in a thoughtful and individualized way, rather than just shooting out a generic resume and all-purpose cover letter. The only thing worse than an obviously “canned” job application is one that’s been personalized for the wrong employer – for example, if you’re applying for a job at “ABC Widget Manufacturing, Inc.,” you really don’t want to leave a line such as “What I seek, more than anything, is a chance to prove myself in the entertainment industry by working as a production assistant at All-Star Movie Corporation.” While it will give the folks at the widget factory a good laugh, you won’t get the job, since your attention to detail is lacking.
Make Sure Your Online Presence Looks Professional.
Get a LinkedIn profile – it’s free, and it can’t hurt you to have one, even if there isn’t much on it. Get your most professional-looking picture (that may be your yearbook photo, especially if you’re wearing business clothes in it). LinkedIn provides you with an online “resume” employers can check when you apply for a job with them. And, as I’ve noted above, it’s good to have a handy reference of dates, times, places, etc. that relate to your former employment and educational experiences, in case you can’t recall them in the moment.
Speaking of a professional online presence, if you don’t have one already, get a Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or other webmail account that’s your real name or a variation on it (I understand that if your name’s really common, say Bob Smith, you’ll probably have to be “Bob.Smith.firstname.lastname@example.org” or something). As other people have noted, having an email address that begins with “TequilaGirl69” or “Ultra3l33tHax0rBoi” will not get you too many job interviews.
Protect (or Delete) – Ahem! – “Sensitive” Online Personal Data:
And finally, as I’ve discussed at length in an earlier blog entry, now’s a great time to switch your Facebook and other social media privacy settings to “friends only” or something similar so the general public can’t see your party photos or other things you might not want potential employers or college admissions officers to see. Don’t add employers or school officials as friends (or have a “public” social media profile for those contacts, your extended family, etc., and an entirely separate one for your close friends and family), and for goodness’ sake, don’t let people take compromising pictures of you in the first place!
The reality of the situation is that we’re still at a point that employers and schools are free to, and probably will, reject your application if they see a picture of you that shows bad judgment on your part. “What does that mean?” you ask? That means any picture of you (1) naked; (2) using alcoholic beverages irresponsibly if you’re over 21, or at all if you’re under 21; (3) holding what appears to be a controlled substance (white powder, a suspicious-looking hand-rolled cigarette); (4) a rally for a controversial cause; (5) n a Halloween costume that’s in really poor taste (e.g, something that could be seen as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.).
You really should just delete those pictures from any website or online archive. Keep them on a disk that’s not hooked up to your computer, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and external hard drives are all great storage solutions for things you don’t want to be “hacked” and released on the Internet without your permission. You should know that LOTS of “private” photos end up being leaked, either by hacking or just technical glitches. You know what happens then? You’ve got a problem, and the website says “Oops! Well, we never promised you complete privacy, which you’d know if you’d bothered to read the terms of service. We both know you didn’t but you checked a box saying you did when you signed up, so don’t bother suing us. Have a nice day.”
I got into an argument with a co-worker at my “day job” about this. She’s my age or older, so we both came of age prior to social media and cell phone cameras being everywhere, but she took offense at my position that realistically, people in poorly-advised cell phone pictures that their employers see are still going to lose their jobs or be denied employment, especially those in professions where they can lose their license for “moral turpitude” (basically, getting caught doing anything most people wouldn’t want their grandma to know about and/or wouldn’t want published on the front page of the local paper). Her response was “The REALITY is that almost EVERYONE has pictures like that out there! And you’d WANT them to lose their job?” Besides misstating my position, I believe that response ignores reality. Cameras existed back when this co-worker and I were teenagers/young adults. I doubt there are any nude pictures of her, and there aren’t any of me.
While it’s much easier for you to make a really bad decision and take a nude selfie, or for one of your “friends” to take pictures or video of you without your knowledge, than it was for me back in the 1980s or 1990s, you do have control over how and with whom you “party,” and most people are going to be able to tell the difference between a posed nude picture and a sneakily-taken cell phone picture. I don’t want someone to lose a job over a surreptitiously-taken nude photo, but let’s face it, if you’re posing for pictures naked and/or with what appears to be a joint and a liquor bottle in one hand while flipping the bird to the camera, most people would just as soon not hire you for a high school teaching job. If you took that picture and put it on your Facebook, especially without making the photo private, you shouldn’t be too surprised if you lose your job or don’t get a job you really want.
Be Proactive – Don’t Wait For Things to Happen.
On a more positive note, be proactive in your job search. By “proactive,” I mean, make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen to you. You can email businesses about job openings (after seeing if they have a way to apply for jobs using their website, of course). You can search for jobs on Craigslist, Snagajob.com, Monster.com, and about a million other online job listing sites. When I was first applying for jobs, email was unknown, and even once I was done with higher education, asking about jobs by email was still fairly unusual (Back in 1995, one law firm wrote me “Usually, employment inquiries are done by mail. Congratulations on breaking the mold.”) You can even mass-market yourself by calling businesses where you’d like to work and ask who is in charge of hiring.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a job at a store, etc. “Are you hiring?” is not a rude question. Feel free to ask it if you’re in a business as a customer and you’d like to work there. Most employers would like to work with someone who takes initiative – that is, someone who sees a problem and solves it, instead of waiting to be told to do something about it. You can even be a little pushier by going into office buildings or whatever workplace you’d like and handing out your resume. It doesn’t hurt to put yourself out there in person. Don’t be obnoxious – don’t go behind counters, reception desks, or into anyplace you can tell the general public is not supposed to be (doing that not only won’t get you hired, it will probably get you escorted out by security).
Once You Get an Interview, Don’t Blow It!
Show the Interviewer You Are What He or She Wants.
All right – let’s assume you’ve gotten past the resume, cover letter, telephone and door-to-door job search phase, and you actually have job interviews lined up. The first thing you should do is review a point I made earlier – that you want to make sure your potential boss sees that you understand what he or she expects from an employee, and that you’re willing to meet those expectations. Your actions and words should both show that understanding.
In other words, you should understand that your boss’ interests are not the same as yours. Your boss is not your mom or dad. Nobody wants to hire someone who doesn’t understand that principle. You always want to keep the boss’ interests in mind when you’re on the job, and you DEFINITELY want to know what that person wants when you’re interviewing for a job. Think about it – when you hire someone to provide a service for you, do you care at all about that person’s personal life? For example, if you order a pizza, do you want to hear “Yes, it’ll be ready for pickup in about 15 minutes, or we can deliver it in about 30 to 45,” or do you want to hear “Gee, my boyfriend broke up with me today and I’m really depressed, and I really need to study for my AP exams, can you call back later?” (Yes, you could respond with “Nothing helps depression like service to others, so how about bringing me that pizza?,” but that’s another story.)
Don’t Just Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk!
You’ve probably heard the saying “Actions speak louder than words.” Anyone can SAY they did something, or will do something, but only a small minority of people will actually DO things that are unpleasant or hard unless they’re forced to do them. Many people will lie about their skills to get hired, hoping they’ll learn on the job, or won’t really need those skills, or with whatever justification in their minds. Employers have been around long enough to know that – that’s one reason they’re employers. Employers are going to look for employees who don’t just “talk the talk,” but who “walk the walk.”
“What does that mean for me, you ask?” I’m glad you asked. Firstly, your actions should show you’re a good worker. Show up on time for the interview or any other appointment. If you can’t make it to the first interview on time, the boss will assume that you DEFINITELY won’t make it on time when you’ve already got the job and something else pops up. Your appearance matters. Dress a little better for a job interview, or if you’re planning to drop off your resume or make a job inquiry in person, than you would normally. Really, you should dress a little better than people who work at that place do. In other words, a shirt and tie is a good thing to wear to a job where most workers just wear a shirt or a uniform. Don’t go overboard – a tuxedo would look weird if you’re applying for a job at McDonald’s, but it’s a bad idea to show up looking for an office job wearing shorts, or even jeans. Also, dress like you’re going to work, not to a nightclub. If you don’t know what I mean, dress like your teachers at school. That means you should wear slacks, shirt, a tie, etc. if you’re male, blouse and skirt or slacks (maybe a nice dress) if you’re female. Another way to think of it is “Would I wear this to church, a wedding, or something else I take seriously?” If the answer is no, then don’t wear it to a job interview.
Secondly, watch your attitude. If your body language and facial expressions show that you’re bored, distracted, or hostile, you’re not likely to get the job. Think about it – would YOU want to hire someone who can’t or won’t pay attention, or obviously either doesn’t like you or doesn’t like the job? Of course not. Don’t slump over in the chair. Turn your phone off and put it in your pocket, purse, briefcase or whatever. Don’t pay attention to anything but the interviewer or whatever he or she asks to you to look at, with the exception of your resume or other documents from which you need to obtain information for the interviewer (e.g., dates of employment from your resume).
The same applies to someone who doesn’t seem sincere – why would anyone someone who seemed shifty or dishonest? Eye contact helps to establish sincerity – people really feel that people who look them in the eye are more direct and honest, even though that’s partially true at best. It’s also just weird when someone NEVER looks you in the eye. Look the interviewer in the eye, but don’t stare (seriously – I had an interviewee CONSTANTLY make eye contact with me – I turned it into a game where I’d move my eyes around just to see if she’d do the same). Look him/her in the eye when shaking hands.
Don’t Let Your Mouth or Pen Lose the Job for You.
Even though actions are more important than words, your words are also important. The interviewer will definitely be checking your oral responses to questions against your written resume and cover letter. Anyone can write a good resume, or have one written for him or her, but the face-to-face interview is really hard to “fake.” Here are a few things to avoid, and a few things to do:
Firstly, even if your boss was a complete jerk (as Mr. Wrong Version was in my case), you should avoid mentioning that fact. If you have to mention why you left, a polite, vague answer such as “The job simply wasn’t a good fit for me – the requirements were moving in a direction that wasn’t the same as my career trajectory. That’s why I gave notice, and made sure everything was in place for my replacement, who I helped find after giving two weeks’ notice.” Obviously, if you didn’t do the things I’ve just mentioned, don’t say you did them. My point is - you should never, never, never EVER, make it look like you’re blaming your bosses, teachers, co-workers, other students, coaches, teammates, or anyone else for your personal failures.
I recall my first official paid job at 7-Eleven. I was technically an employee of the parent corporation, Southland Corp., for the day or so I was trained. As part of the application process, I had to fill out a mini-personality evaluation, based on a 7-point scale – “1” being disagree completely, “7” being agree completely,” or vice versa. One of the questions was “My teachers had it in for me in school.” I answered “1,” since first, it wasn’t true, most of my teachers really liked me, and second, even at age 17, I wasn’t stupid or naïve enough not to know that they’d assume any answer than a complete disagreement would mark me as complainer and troublemaker who wouldn’t take responsibility for his own actions. This is especially true if the person you’re complaining about is likely to give you a bad recommendation, is a course instructor who gave you a bad grade, etc. Yes, it’s horrible if you truly were given a bad evaluation for reasons unrelated to your performance, but any potential employer is going to play the odds, and assume that, like most people who complain about former bosses or teachers, you’re just making up excuses for your own incompetence or bad attitude.
Also, even if you’re absolutely 100% accurate in the bad things you say about a former teacher, employer, or anyone else you might mention in a job interview, you will still kill your chances of getting the job by saying those things, since the employer will assume he or she will be the person you’re complaining and gossiping about when you interview for your next job. “I felt I could better use my talents in another position” is a perfectly good answer, and it’s honest, even if what you’re thinking is “I didn’t want to waste any more of my life being underpaid for breaking my back just to hear this idiot complain about my work, praise himself about how smart he is, and make stupid jokes all day.”
Furthermore, you certainly don’t want to start your career with a lawsuit against you for slander, libel, invasion of privacy, public disclosure of private facts, or violations of the civil law, even if you’re telling the truth. Some people with things to hide believe “the best defense is a good offense,” and will sue you for “lying” about them and damaging their reputations, even when you both know you told the truth. (Disclaimer: I’m not qualified to be your attorney and I am not giving this as official legal advice. If you have a legal problem, talk to an actual licensed attorney in your jurisdiction…) It would also be awful if your beliefs were mistaken and you really DID spread false information about a person that harmed his or her reputation, even though you believed it to be true.
Secondly, remember the old saying “The three topics to avoid in polite company are sex, politics, and religion.” I don’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t bring up that you volunteer at your church/synagogue/mosque/etc. to help the disadvantaged/elderly/disabled – of course you should! However, you have NO idea about the religious or political views of your interviewer – so please don’t try to preach to your interviewer or assume he or she shares the same beliefs you do. Have you ever had someone come up to you and harass you about why should join their religious or political group or risk suffering dire consequences? Did you want to give that person any more of your time than absolutely necessary to get him or her away from you? Did you want to give that person your money, or even your name? Probably not. An employer certainly wouldn’t. An employer isn’t going to pay you money, let you have access to his or her business property, or do ANYTHING with you if he or she believes you will harass people about your personal beliefs when you are working (or supposed to be working). No one wants an employee who will drive away customers or other employees by harassing people.
There’s another to stay the heck away from politics. I have personal experience with this one – I answered a little too honestly about my political beliefs in an interview, and the interviewer then mentioned that he listens to a political broadcaster on the exact opposite side of the spectrum every morning for 3 hours. I walked away thinking “Oh boy, there’s NO WAY I got the job.” As it turns out, I did, but that’s “the exception that proves the rule.” You’ve probably seen a sitcom or comedy movie where the main character did everything wrong on the interview, answered questions in outrageously rude ways, etc., and got the job when the interviewer (usually the company owner) says something like “I like the way you think- I have WAY too many yes men who just tell me what I want to hear working here! When can you start?” Trust me, it almost never works that way.
In regard to sex: use your common sense. Would you walk up to a random stranger and start talking about your love life? Of course not! (If you would, you have problems and really should stop doing that.) At best, doing so shows you have poor judgment. At worst, it could be considered sexual harassment. Inappropriate talk about sex, requests for dates, etc. is illegal and can cause the employer and YOU PERSONALLY to be sued by people who find it offensive. If you think an employer is going to risk that kind of loss, you are in for a rude awakening. For the same reasons, you should dress conservatively and avoid flirting with your interviewer (this should be obvious, but if you didn’t know that, now you do). Also, your love life really isn’t interesting to most other people and most interviewers aren’t looking to date job applicants (and definitely shouldn’t be).
Finally, Relax. You’ve Got This.
If you follow the advice above, you should have a successful job search, and a long and successful career. It’s easy to do the right things, once you’ve eliminated the wrong things. If you’re hardworking and honest, you’ll find a job where you belong, where both you and your employer will be happy. Let me know if this helps you – I’d love to hear from you. Good luck!
Here's a little quick and dirty advice for the ACT that's coming up on Saturday.
First, make sure you know the basic formulas for the area of a circle, rectangle, triangle, and square. Know the formulas for the volume of a rectangular prism (a box) and a right circular cylinder. Bonus points if you can remember the formula for the volumes of a cone, a sphere, and a pyramid with a square base, but the ACT people will probably give you the formulas for those in any problem where you need to have them.
What you WILL need to know is the general formula for a circle drawn on Cartesian coordinates (you know, X-axis and Y-axis) with a center at (h.k), which can be found here: http://www.regentsprep.org/regents/math/algtrig/atc1/circlelesson.htm . From what I've seen of old ACTs and practice ACTs based on them, they won't give that formula to you, but there will be at least one problem where you'll need to know that formula.
Also, you should know the Pythagorean Theorem, your special right triangles (30-60-90, and 45-45-90) and the relationships between the sides (1, square root of 3, 2, for the 30-60-90- the short leg is 1, the hypotenuse is 2, the longer leg is square root of 3), (1,1,square root of 2 for the 45-45-90 triangle - the hypotenuse is 2). You should also recognize that the diagonal of a square is just the hypotenuse of a 45-45-90 triangle, so if you know the length of the diagonal, all you have to do is divide by the square root of 2 to get the side length, and that the area of the square is the length of the diagonal squared, divided by 2 - or (d^2)/2 ).
For the reading portion, make sure you understand the main point of the passage. Since the ACT is all about jamming you on the time, I suggest you either skim the passage first, then look at the questions, then go back and check for the answers, or just look at the questions first, then read the passage to find the questions. Watch out for "sucker punch" answers that use a word you've seen in the passage, but then add something to make it the wrong answer. Let's say the passage read, "The sun was hot and bright, but not yellow." The sucker-punch wrong answer could read "The sun was hot, bright, and yellow." If you're answering the question in a hurry, you could easily choose that answer and be happy that you figured it out so quickly. Be especially wary if the "easy" choice is the first choice.
For the English test, just be careful about the grammar, since they have weird choices like ending a sentence with a comma. If your eyesight's not great, make sure you have your glasses so you can see the little punctuation marks. If you are asked a question about the order of paragraphs or sentences in a passage, pick the answer that puts them in the order that makes the most sense to you. You've been reading long enough to tell an introduction from a conclusion, and you should be able to tell that a paragraph giving a general description of something usually should come before a paragraph describing it in detail. Just use your common sense.
Similarly, if you have a question that asks you to choose which of several sentences or phrases would be best, make sure you read the part of the question that explains what the author is trying to do (e.g., tell the story of how the typewriter was developed, make a joke, or warn the reader of danger), so you can pick the right one. If you don't, you'll be faced with four choices that are all grammatically correct and not otherwise obviously wrong.
For the essay portion, just focus on my advice on how to write a good ACT essay I've given in previous blogs. Follow the instructions.
Finally, don't spend too much time on any one question. If it takes you longer than a minute, and you still have no idea how to solve it, just guess and move on, Mark the question in your test booklet so you can go back to try some more if you still have time after you've worked on all the other questions (not very likely, but you might). Remember, THERE IS NO PENALTY FOR GUESSING, SO GUESS! There's no guessing penalty on the SAT anymore, either, but that's not important right now, other than it's nice that SAT prep and ACT prep are almost identical these days, since the tests are almost identical these days.
And, as I've noted before, if you're taking the ACT or SAT this time of year, you're probably not applying to college until late this year, so you'll have other opportunities to take these tests (and to learn or review the things you need to know) if you don't do well enough this time. So don't panic! You'll do much better if you come in to the test relaxed, and there's no reason you shouldn't. Good luck!
Here’s some last minute advice on math problems and the SAT essay, just in time for tomorrow’s SAT.
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First, let’s consider rate problems:
Remember, Distance = Rate * Time
Also, Work = Rate * Time
Simple enough, right? The “distance” and “work” formulas are incredibly simple, but can lead to some incredibly difficult problems. For example, you may be asked to find how long it would take two workers or two machines working together to complete a job if you know how long it takes each person or machine to perform the job alone.
For example : Bill can fix the time-traveling phone booth’s flux capacitor in 1 hour. Ted can fix the flux capacitor in 2 hours. How long would it take Bill & Ted, working together, to finish the job so they could have an excellent adventure?
Okay, so we have two equations given to us:
1 job (flux capacitor repair) = (Ted’s Rate) * t or 1 = TR * t
Since Ted takes 2 hours to do the job, 1 job = TR * 2 hours, so TR = ½ jobs/hour
1 job (flux capacitor repair) = (Bill’’s Rate) * t or 1 = BR * t
Since Bill takes 1 hour to do the job, 1 job = BR * 1 hour, so BR = 1 job/hour
For Bill and Ted working together, the equation would be 1 job = (TR + BR) * t
So the time, t, for Bill and Ted to complete the job would be t = 1 job / (TR jobs/hr + BR job/hr)
Substituting in the values we have for BR and TR, we get t = 1 job/( ½ +1 ) hours = 1 job /(3/2) hours = 2/3 hour/job. So 1 job would take 2/3 of an hour if Bill and Ted work together. “History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.” ;-)
A trickier variation on that problem would be to let you know how long it takes one worker to do the job, how long it takes both of them working together to do the job, then asking you to figure out how long it would take the other worker to do the same job without help.
We could have the same problem, except where we are told Bill and Ted can do the job in 2/3 of an hour, and Ted can do it himself in two hours.
So then we have the time, t, for Bill and Ted to complete the job would be
2/3 hr = 1 job / (TR job/hr + BR job/hr), which is 2/3 hr = 1 job / (1/2 job/hr + BR job/hr) when we substitute in Ted’s rate of ½ job/hr for TR. Doing the algebra, we see 2/3 hr * (1/2 job/hr + BR) = 1 job
So 2/6 job + 2/3 BR job = 1 job = 1/3 job + BR job, so 2/3 job = 2/3 BR job, which means, when we divide by “2/3 job” on both sides, we get 1 = BR. So Bill’s rate is 1 job/hour.
Another seemingly easy question that can trip you up is the percentage problem. Take the following problem:
Brenda buys a guinea pig at the local pet store, the Eeporium. While the normal price of a guinea pig is $5.00, the pet store is running a sale , and all rodents are 10% off. The local sales tax is , coincidentally, 10%. How much did Brenda pay, including tax?
Opening paragraph for essay:
While you can’t prepare a “one size fits all” general opening or closing paragraph for the essay, you can have “essay bites” ready for the SAT essay. The first sentence should be something like
“The author of the passage presents a convincing case that [state the author’s thesis - the main idea] through the apt use of logic, appeals to emotion, humor, and powerful, evocative language. “
The author’s argument is compelling and extremely difficult to counter – most readers would be convinced by this piece.
“While the passage fails to address some obvious counterarguments, it is generally a solid argument for the author’s point.”
“The author’s argument is fundamentally deficient because the author fails to support the main assertions with convincing evidence, [AND/OR] “is written using unclear language that is hard to understand [AND/OR] does not address several obvious counterarguments. This writing fails to achieve its objective.”
Obviously, your choice of one of these opening sentences, or your choice to write a different sentence depends on how you analyze the piece. Be able to see what’s right and what’s wrong about the piece, write the body paragraphs about that, and THEN write the introduction and the conclusion. That means you should leave a about 4 or 5 lines for your introduction, then write the body paragraphs, then finish by writing the introduction and the conclusion, using the “introduction bites” above, preferably using at ;least a few different words from the ones I’ve used.
The second sentence should be something like
“In the presented passage, the author supports his/her case with:”
As far as the body paragraphs are concerned, just analyze each paragraph as you go detailing the devices used in each paragraph of the passage in a paragraph of your essay, or organize the paragraphs by discussing one rhetorical device (writing/argument strategy) per paragraph. Either approach is fine, as long as you don’t leave anything out. This is why I prefer to analyze the passages paragraph by paragraph. It’s like mowing a lawn – as long as you mow one row after another, with your inner wheels on the edge of the row you just mowed, you’ll never miss a spot.
Also, you’re unlikely to “miss a spot” in the argument if you use transitional phrases that link one part of the essay to another – for example, “In contrast to the focus of the first paragraph on a narrow aspect, the second paragraph focuses on ‘the big picture.’” Even if a transition just states something “The second paragraph continues the argument that … by [discussing whatever],”it provides enough flow from one topic to another to guide the reader, lets the grader know you read the whole piece, and forces you to actually look at the passage and see how the pieces fit together.
Hopefully, this piece will help you “fit your pieces together” in time for tomorrow’s SAT. In any event, if you’re taking the SAT in June, you almost certainly can take it again the fall before college application time if you need to do so, so DON’T PANIC! Just relax and do your best, and call me if you need some tutoring for the next time you take the SAT and ACT… Good luck! And don’t forget to go have a donut. It’s National Donut Day. Donuts are the perfect SAT study food. ;-)
 Brief digression - You probably won’t be able to, but you will be officially awesome in my book if you can cite to Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; The Simpsons Movie, The LEGO Movie, Animal House, or The Blues Brothers in your SAT essay… I suggest working in the following Animal House quotes – “What we need now is a really stupid, futile gesture! And we’re just the guys to do it!” “Face it – you f**ked up – you trusted us!” Or you could try to work in “They can’t stop us; we’re on a mission from God!” or “I HATE ILLINOIS NAZIS!” from The Blues Brothers. But enough joking around for now.
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Plastic Bag Ban Essay – response to pp 203-205 in the College Board’s The Official SAT Study Guide
The chapter from the Study Guide can be found at this link:
I hope this helps you get an idea of what sort of response you should give to SAT essay questions. Note that while you're not supposed to make the essay a statement of your opinion on the topic of the passage, you can (and should) point out counter-arguments a reader may think of while reading it, and comment on whether or not the essay addresses them. Here's my essay response to the prompt.
Adam B. Summers, in his San Diego Union-Tribune editorial “Bag Ban Bad for Freedom and the Environment,” uses apt and powerful language choice, logic, examples, humor, statistical evidence, arguments from authority, examples from everyday life and common sense, and appeals to emotion to make his point, namely that a ban on single-use plastic or paper bags by certain large retail stores in California would actually harm the environment, in addition to obviously and unnecessarily infringing on the general public’s freedom.
In the first paragraph of the editorial excerpt, Summers creates an image of government intrusion on personal freedom bordering on a police state or “nanny state,” by stating “Not content to tell us how much our toilets can flush or what type of light bulb we can use to brighten our homes, some politicians and environmentalists are now focused on deciding for us what kind of container we can use to carry our groceries.” Summers’ choice of words makes these issues seem trivial, and the people telling the public how to handle these matter seem like meddlesome busybodies, if not outright bullies. It encourages the reader to ask “Why should ANYONE care how much water I use to flush my toilet, what light bulbs I use, or what kind of bags I use at the grocery store. I haven’t heard people poke their nose into my personal choices since I was in middle school! These people can go jump in a lake if they don’t like my choices – I don’t tell THEM what to do!”
In the second paragraph, while mentioning the proposed bill’s failure, but its California Assembly sponsors intention to re-introduce the bill, Summers writes “[E]xpect this bill to be recycled rather than trashed,” comparing a bill to trash that can be either recycled or put in a landfill as non-recyclable waste, which has a mildly humorous effect.
In the third paragraph, Summers states that “public debate over plastic bag bans often devolve into please to save the planet ore preserve marine life … a little reason and perspective is in order,” which characterizes plastic bag ban proponents as being overly emotional to the point of irrationality. Ironically, that argument is itself an appeal to emotion, essentially implying that people who want to ban plastic bags are irrational teenage neo-hippie tree huggers.
In the fourth paragraph, Summers cites to an Environmental Protection Agency study that shows that plastic wraps, bags, and sacks are only about 1.6% of all waste in U.S. landfills, and HDPE plastic bags, the type usually used as grocery bags, are only 0.3% of that total. This use of statistics makes the entire grocery bag issue seem trivial, but ignores the question as to why consumers and retailers should not reduce that figure to 0.0% if it is possible. However, Summers answers that question further on in his editorial.
In the fifth paragraph, the author uses statistics to support his claim that plastic bags are actually better for the environment than plastic bags, citing statistics that show plastic bags take much less energy and water to produce. He also notes that plastic bags take less energy to transport than paper bags, since plastic smaller and take up less space. He fails to cite the source of those statistics, or at least the citation is not included in the excerpt provided, which weakens his argument slightly, but most readers will give him the “benefit of the doubt” and assume Summers has a reliable source, which is not a good idea (people frequently lie or distort the truth in newspaper editorials).
In the sixth paragraph, the author claims that reusable plastic bags also have a larger footprint than single-use plastic bags and cites to a study by two law professors (one from University of Pennsylvania and the other from George Mason University) that shows a spike in emergency room admissions because of San Francisco’s plastic bag ban. Summers cites that law professors’ study as stating the emergency room admissions were caused by bacterial food contamination, which was the result of the placement of food into bags that had been reused without proper cleaning. In other words, according to the author, residue from previous food allowed bacteria to grow, and the bacteria infested new food placed in the bags, causing the people eating the food to become sick. This is the use of statistics from what appear to be reliable sources, also an argument from authority (medical sources and professors from prestigious law school tend to be believed, and people who argue against those sources face obvious responses similar to “You’re not a doctor – how can you argue against what doctors tell us?”). Of course, this is also a powerful appeal to emotion – it basically says “Reusing plastic bags will make you SICK!”
Summers also fails to cite any source to support his statement that reusable bags have a larger carbon footprint than plastic bags, and fails to note if the larger carbon footprint is only for manufacture and transport, or for the entire life of the bag. That is, if a cloth bag can be reused 50 times, then the manufacturing and transport of 50 plastic bags would have to be compared to the manufacturing and transport of one cloth bag, with some allowance made for the fact that the cloth bag would have to be transported back from home to store, slightly increasing the cloth bag’s footprint. The reader who notices this problem is likely to assume his reason for failing to address this issue is that reusable bags (cloth, plastic, etc.) actually have a smaller carbon footprint and/or take up less landfill space once all factors are considered, and Summers is purposely “glossing over” this point. This seriously weakens Summers’ argument to those who notice that point, as well as the probability of compostable natural-fiber bags being much better for the environment than plastic (e.g., most people know cotton decomposes naturally and much more quickly than plastic).
The seventh paragraph is Summers’ citation to common sense and common, every day occurrences, as well as further statistics to back that argument. He points out that people reuse “single use” plastic bags as trash liners, holders for wet objects, and so on, and that a plastic bag tax in Ireland simply led to a 77% increase in plastic trash bag sales (presumably to replace the “free” trash can liners people previously obtained when grocery shopping). This is a powerful argument against a plastic bag ban, since it supports the idea that people will simply BUY plastic bags, resulting in practically no net environmental benefit.
The eighth paragraph is Summers’ appeal to economic self-interest. He cites that roughly 2,000 Californians are employed in the product of the bags to be banned, and that while other bags could be made that would comply with the proposed law, such measures would require “taxpayers … to pony up for the added bureaucracy.” Certainly, the prospect of increased unemployment and increased taxes creates a strong negative emotional response in most readers – “You mean, I could lose my job and pay more taxes when I find another one if this law passes? NO THANKS!” However, Summers completely fails to cite any source for his assertion that reformulated plastic bags would require any more bureaucracy than already exists. Does any government agency currently monitor the composition of plastic bags? We can’t tell from reading this editorial. If such an agency exists, probably NO new agency would need to be created.
The ninth and last paragraph is a reiteration of Summers’ argument that although environmentalists are free to encourage us to use fewer plastic bags, government should not impinge on our freedom to use plastic bags. He again uses humor “Notwithstanding the aforementioned reasons that plastic bags are not, in fact, evil incarnate…”, exaggerating the positions of environmentalists to support his claim that people who wish to ban single-use plastic shopping bags are overly emotional and irrational, making melodramatic statements while ignoring the actual facts that apply to the matter at hand.
Despite a carefully-hidden flaw in his argument, Adam Summers’ use of humor, statistics, the results of studies by authoritative sources, appeals to the reader’s everyday experience, common sense, and finally to emotion, all create an effective and powerful argument against a statewide ban on single-use shopping bags in California.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.