Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Problem with Employers.

Perusing classified ads always leaves me grouchy and frustrated. Unemployment is up in this country, and there is an increasing number of people who have completely given up looking for jobs. There are many reasons for this discouragement, but I believe the number one reason is that employers don't know what they're looking for. A five-minute jaunt through the Craigslist want ads shows that the requisite qualifications for many jobs are either excessive (Does a PARALEGAL for a small law firm really need a law degree?) or inaccurately specific (Technical writers "must have a Bachelor's degree in English or a technical field such as math or engineering."). Employers must see themselves as gods in their field, and possess a kind of penis envy with competing firms. Let me break down what is wrong with both of these examples.

Paralegals are responsible for doing the bitch work in law firms (unless it is a big firm, in which case that job goes to the first and second year law associates who have to earn their $120k a year). They do need to have a solid understanding of the technical aspects of the law: filing, legal research, etc. For that reason, there are CERTIFICATION programs. These take about a year or two to complete, are available at most technical schools or community colleges, and the total cost of completing these programs is the same as getting an Associate's degree. A Juris Doctorate, on the other hand, takes three years to complete (on top of the four+ years it takes to earn the prerequisite Bachelor's degree), and even at a low-ranked state public school, the PER YEAR cost of tuition alone is roughly the same as the entire cost of the paralegal certificate. I say again, this is tuition costs alone, and hasn't factored in living costs, fees, and, of course, books (the book I bought for my business law class was the most expensive book I have ever purchased: $198). Aside from allowing Juris Doctors to work for six figures at a prestigious law firm as a practicing attorney, let's review a few other positions for which JDs are qualified:

Publishing: JDs can earn about $50,000 a year publishing legal writing. This is double the salary of a paralegal, and given the fact that some law firms expect employees - even non-attorneys - to put in about 80 hours a week, one could look at this position as paying quadruple the salary.

University teaching: Having attained a law degree, a law school graduate is now qualified to work as a professor at a college or university. Salaries start around $60,000. On a side note, if one wants to be a university professor, the JD route is the way to go. Rather than spending six - ten years working on a PhD and doing adjunct professorships, spend three years at a law school, then teach polisci. :)

Legal Consulting: Starting salary of $150,000 a year without the requirement for putting in slave-like work hours? Yes, please.

Why on earth would a person who is qualified for positions such as these want to use their overpriced education to work as an assistant in a law firm in a small town? 

Technical writers are responsible for writing textbooks, manuals, and the instructions on all of our electronics. The fact that these pieces of literature are infamously impossible to follow and horribly written (and I'm not talking about those which were originally written in a foreign language) is really all the evidence I need to support my argument. I will go ahead and add some meat to the bones, though. The problem with requiring technical writers to hold a degree in English or a "hard" science is that they aren't the most qualified candidates for the job. First of all, English majors read a lot of books - novels, poems, short stories. They don't read statistics, literature on technical subjects,  or economics. English majors read Shakespeare, they read authors from foreign countries, they read children's books. They aren't reading theses, and they aren't required to break down arguments. They take creative writing classes, and write about their opinions. Most importantly, the majority of English majors spend their undergraduate careers reading, not writing. Compare an English major's writing portfolio with that of a history major or a political science major. The latter two will have a larger, more diverse selection of writing samples, and will have spent their undergraduate careers doing research on highly specialized subjects, and then writing theses which make convincing arguments to those who are not experts in said specialized subject.

There are two problems with hiring a "hard" science major to write manuals. The first problem is that majors in the "hard" sciences (math, biology, physics, etc) are not required to write that often. The bulk of their undergraduate careers are spent working proofs and performing experiments, and building beer bongs which maximize PSI in order to inject beer into the drinker with the most efficient force (i.e. the beer should hit the drinker hard enough to shoot the alcohol directly into the stomach, but not so hard that said drinker drowns). Second, the "hard" sciences use "math" English. I'm not just referring to the hieroglyphics that terrify non-mathematical individuals and cause them to instantaneously spew out "I HATE MATH!" "Math" English is a very, very specific dialect. Any person who has ever struggled with word problems knows this...but doesn't actually know they know it. Order of Operations is not just for use in symbolic equations. When reading word problems, you must follow exactly the order in which they are written. Furthermore, "Math" English has specific phrases which have symbolic equivalents which look very different, but whose original phrases look trickily similar. "Twenty five less ten" is NOT the same as "Twenty five less than ten." The symbolic equivalents of these phrases are "25-10" and "10-25." 
The difference in the former is 15, the latter is - 15.

Employers who post ads such as these probably dissuaded 1/3 of qualified potential employees from applying to their positions by inaccurately assessing their own needs. Paralegals need an understanding of legal procedures and research, good written and oral communication skills, and the flexibility to work multiple cases at once. A technical writer needs excellent written communication skills and should possess enough experience in a technical subject to be able to translate technical talk into something a non-expert can understand. These employers should be asking for candidates who possess usefully specific skills, rather than trying to screen out the truly unqualified applicants with a baseline degree cutoff. Truly unqualified applicants are going to apply anyway. 

Friday, July 16, 2010


Baguette toasted with olive oil and melted Mozzarella topped with thinly sliced Roma tomato, shredded chicken, grilled onions, reduction syrup, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cilantro. 

For several weeks now I have been craving these  sandwiches but since I don't have a grill - and I lack the necessary experience to feel comfortable with my meat cooking skills - I didn't want to attempt to fake my way through the grilling by baking chicken in an oven. Baked chicken breasts? Iew. Dry! Or so I thought....

Last week I went over to my friend Ben's (B-B-B-Bennie and the JETS!) house to watch movies (we ended up playing Chuzzle for an hour, then spent the next 5 beating Peggle) and while I was there he made some chicken, in keeping with his Atkins diet. Side note - Ben has one of the nicest bodies of any man I've ever met. He's tall, well-proportioned, extremely muscular but still pulls off skinny jeans (adorably). Quite frankly, he's the most grown-up-looking manly man I know....and he wanted to make himself look like Christian Bale from The Machinist (i.e. he wanted his ribcage showing). Being the genius 21-year old college boy that he is, Bennie thought that the Atkins diet was the way to go. The problem with the Atkins diet is that, because he is an active young person and was consuming huge amounts of protein, he was putting on muscle weight. But I digress.... The point is, while I was with Ben he baked chicken breasts, seasoning them only with some garlic powder and thyme, and they were utterly delicious. I've never had such deliciously well-cooked, moist chicken in my life. Not even rotisserie chicken is as perfectly cooked as was the breast I had at Ben's.

Soooooo...... I decided I wanted to attempt to make this grilled chicken sandwich using baked chicken. SUCCESS!

For the chicken:

Place frozen chicken breasts (as many as will get eaten, plus one or two for leftovers) in a ziplock bag and douse in Italian salad dressing, a generous squeeze of lime juice, and some fresh crushed garlic. If your breasts aren't frozen, you can save a ziplock and place all ingredients directly into a glass casserole dish. Be sure the chicken is well-coated (you can bast it a few times during the cooking process). Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes/until cooked. Or you can grill them. YUM!

--My breasts were slightly dry, but not as dry as I'd have expected them to be. I hadn't thawed them completely, and only baked three small breasts in a massive casserole dish. If you want perfectly baked chicken, make sure the breasts are thoroughly thawed out and that the dish is proportional to the amount of chicken - you want them to be touching, that way they stay juicy and yummy.

For the reduction syrup:
******DO NOT INHALE*****
********set up a fan to ventilate kitchen********
Place 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan, heat on high and bring to a boil, whisking regularly. If you are using cheap balsamic vinegar, add a teaspoon or two of brown sugar. Once sugar has dissolved, reduce heat to medium and continue whisking. This process can take 10 minutes or so, depending on how thick you want your reduction. I wanted it thick, so I made sure that it LOOKED thick before I even took it off the heat. Keep in mind that due to the sugar content, it will thicken as it cools. Feel free to add a little olive oil or butter/margarine if you would like it slightly less sticky/sweet.
-- I have fairly-expensive super-sweet balsamic vinegar, so I should have skipped the brown sugar. I added a tablespoon of sweet cream salted butter, but after testing it I was afraid that I wouldn't like it, as I ultimately ended up with a tangy grape jelly syrup. My fears were put to rest as soon as I took the first bite...the flavor was so perfect I almost cried with delight.

Baguette toasted with olive oil and melted Mozzarella topped with thinly sliced Roma tomato, shredded chicken, grilled onions, reduction syrup, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cilantro. 

To assemble:
Since they are open-faced sandwiches, I assembled my sandwiches to make them structurally sound. I can't stand biting into an open-faced food product and having everything topple off. I also like my food to be visually pleasing, so I went ahead and made it look fancy.

Slice your bread* and brush/drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Toast it on 400 degrees for 3-4 minutes, then pull it out, sprinkle Mozzarella on it, then place back in the oven for about 1 minute (just enough to melt the cheese).
Top with the tomato slices, shredded chicken, and grilled onions. Once you've managed to spread the latter two evenly enough that they are relatively flat, drizzle the reduction syrup over the top. Grate a little (or a lot) of fresh Parmesan over the top (it will stay in place because it will stick to the syrup) and then add some cilantro. Although there is more than enough flavor (what with vinegar syrup, Italian dressing, and cilantro), feel free to use any seasonings you like. I went with freshly-ground sea salt.

** I normally eat this meal on Ciabatta, but couldn't find any so I went with the French bread. I think that toasted Ciabatta is much easier to eat, as each bite comes off without any sort of wiggly struggle or mouth-slicing hardness. However, any kind of bread (or even pastry) will work fine for this sandwich.

P.S. - The original recipe calls for pesto, and the other times I have made this sandwich I ate it with pesto as well. I am not a massive fan of pesto, and consequently forgot to buy some last night. This sandwich is better with pesto, though, so I highly recommend buying or making some pesto to go with it!