Scheduling Interviews Without Suckage: Thanks, Doodle!

Scheduling interviews with job candidates is, IMHO, the most painful part of the hiring process.

The problem: Whether it’s nannies or MBAs, there’s always (hopefully!) a ton of candidates.  Used to be, I’d email or – ick – phone candidates with a set of available times.  And thus begins the dance.  Either I’d only give each candidate very limited options to avoid an overlap, or else I’d have  to deal with a bunch of people all wanting the same slot.  PITA.

The solution: Doodle lets you post a set of time slots that are available, send the same link to all candidates, and each person signs up for one.   The available slots are automatically updated.

And unlike Google’s “appointment slots” option, with Doodle people don’t have to have a Google account, and don’t have to be given visibility into your overall calendar.

You use it by setting up a (free) account and creating a “poll”.  Specify that each respondent can choose one slot, and each slot can have one respondent.  Specify your time slots, and you’re golden.  Then just copy-paste the participant link into your email to the lucky candidates.  Easy peasy.

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Get Rosetta Stone for free (with an SF library card)

As readers of this blog know, I think Rosetta Stone is terrible for learning a language. Great at marketing, but terrible at teaching.  However, if you really want to try it out, and be certain that it sucks, be my guest.
If you’re a San Francisco public library card holder (as all civilized people should be!) you can access the entire Rosetta Stone program, all languages, online, for FREE. Log in here:

And BTW, anyone who lives in California can become an SFPL member. You just have to swing by a San Francisco branch and ask.

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Costs to deliver a baby at CPMC

Babies ain’t cheap.  Not in today’s world.

After getting smacked in the face with a big ultrasound bill a few months back I figured I should check what the delivery is going to cost.

So far this is only an estimate, and I had to call four separate places to even get this far (insurance, hospital, OB’s billing office, anesthesiologist’s office).

Hospital Facility Fee: $25,000-$30,000 rack rate at California Pacific Medical Center, for a normal vaginal birth.  Includes the rooms, nurses, meals for roughly 2 nights and 3 days (cheaper if your stay is shorter).  Contract rates that they charge insurance are usually 80% of that.

Obstetrician: $3,020 for vaginal delivery and post-partum follow-up care. $3,500 if c-section.

Epidural: $700 – $2,000, depending on what actually gets done, according to NCAP, the group CPMC contracts out to.

Hearing test: “under $200″ according to CPMC

Pediatrician: n/a, this is 100% covered by my insurance so I didn’t bother calling the pediatrician.

So, if one were paying rack rate out of pocket, it could easily run about $35,000.  For a healthy, non-surgical delivery.  Yikes!!!

Now, with good insurance, the out-of-pocket is substantially less.  But even with a low deductible, 90% coverage for hospitals and doctors, it’s not cheap.  Thanks to a $1,500 annual cap per person — remember that babies are people too! — it’ll probably top out at $3,000 total.

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D&B Million Dollar Database ain’t all that

I was recently perusing Dunn & Bradstreet’s so-called “Million Dollar Database” of public and private companies.  It touts its “detailed industry information on approximately 1,600,000 U.S. and Canadian leading public and private businesses” and claims to show company financials, executives’ names, employee numbers, etc.

The first sign of trouble is that it doesn’t show sources or even an  “updated as of” date for company information.

Some of the data is just obviously wrong.  Other times, things are just out of date.

For example…

  • As of today (April 29, 2009) Carnival Corp (NYSE:CCL) is listed as having annual revenues of $13,033,000,000.  Um, that was their fiscal 2007 revenue number.
  • The situation is even more suspect, and harder to check, for subsidiaries and private companies.  For example, Matthew Ouimet is listed as the head of Disney Cruise Lines.  He left in 2006.  Which makes me seriously question D&B’s revenue estimate for the line, a paltry $15M.
  • Crystal Cruises is shown as having all-site sales of $12 billion.  From two ships?  Um, no.  Maybe the “individual site” sales of $23.2 million is more correct, and the other figure is for the parent company NYK Shipping, but that’s completely left up to the speculation of the reader.

Anyway, point being: if you use D&B’s database at all, use it with extreme care and expect stuff to be out of date and/or completely wrong.  Their data quality control appears to be crap.

For any public company, you’re definitely better off with Google Finance.

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Flexible Work: Having Kids and Not Going Insane

At last night’s GGMG monthly meeting, the featured speaker was Sally Thornton, co-founder and president of Flexperience Consulting, a sort of temp staffing agency for lawyers, MBAs, and others with high-level marketable skills.

It’s an interesting concept that, as described, allows people with skills to use them on a flexible schedule (since they don’t have to take projects all the time), and allows companies to benefit from that talent in a cost-effective way (since they don’t have to have someone on staff all the time).

I’ll have to check out their site, and think about sending them a resume. Probably not a bad way to diversify beyond my current, industry-specific clients. With the added benefit that they work with companies in the Bay Area.

That said, Sally was not recommending consulting / Flexperience as the one true path for most moms who want to work. After all, it’s not usually stable work, and frankly their clients are only interested in very specific skills.

It’s a lot easier, she pointed out, to negotiate flexibility in a company that already knows you. Her advice for those in a job that they like is to turn it into a flexible position.  Her advice on how to do that was to focus on the metrics of success (e.g., goals for the quarter) before the how (e.g., telecommuting), and to pitch flexible work as a three month trial.

A former colleague of Sally’s, Mary Ann, also spoke, providing both an inspirational and cautionary tale. Mary Ann was VP of Marketing at Escada before taking six years off. Getting back in the game was tough. Really tough. E-commerce, Outlook and PowerPoint all happened while she was away. She ultimately got a job as a Director of Marketing at an SF retailer, but it required a huge amount of persistence and even a willingness to work as a contractor for a “try-before-you-buy” period. She seemed shaken by the experience, and strongly cautioned against taking more than a few years off.

Some people probably left the room disappointed, especially those who self-described themselves as (a) having developed “mommy brain” due to long periods out of the workforce, and/or (b) not having in-demand degrees or skills, and/or (c) not wanting to work in an area where they already had experience. Sally’s advice to them included going back to people / companies who knew their work already, or trying something like LiveOps.

(LiveOps?? If I remember my long-ago cocktail party conversation with their COO, that’s call center work, but done from home. Ouch.)

Practical advice:

  • Network like heck.  In industry groups, alumni groups, Linked In.  Oh, and set Facebook privacy settings so that non-friends can’t see anything about your personal life.
  • Set up childcare backup plans A, B, C, D and E.  Things fall through, but it’s essential to be reliable.
  • 1-2 years off is not necessarily a big deal. More, and things get progressively tougher
  • Stay in the loop in your industry. Avoid getting rusty. (More broadly, though she did not say this, beware “mommy brain”)
  • When negotiating, imagine that you are negotiating on behalf of your family (apparently this helps women ask for more than they would on their own behalf, which I believe)
  • Communicate what you are going to do, what you are doing, and what you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. And especially if you’re working remotely, no one will know what you’ve done unless you tell them
  • Don’t waste time volunteering. Mary Ann cautioned that it can be an unfulfilling time-sink UNLESS it will meet specific goals, such as giving you the opportunity to learn specific skills. (Or if the cause is personally important to you, but that’s not really related to finding flexible work.)

Next steps:

  • Read McKinsey’s Centered Leadership: How Talented Women Thrive, which Sally recommended several times.  Try not to snicker at the idea of McKinsey giving advice on this sort of thing.
  • Check out Flexperience. (Good WSJ article about them here.)
  • Dust off resume.

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Pinyin for WordPress and Word

I love WordPress, and that it’s international enough to have a super-easy way to write in pinyin.

Andrey Kravchuk has written a nifty Pinyin Tones plug-in that converts “ni3 ha3o” into “nǐ hǎo”


As for Word, I’ve scoped out, but not yet tried, this Word 2007 macro by Pinyin Joe.  Once I try it out, I’ll report back.

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The times they are a changin’

One of the things I like about Fluenz’s approach to teaching Mandarin is that they focus on practical vocabulary.

A lot of other language courses I’ve taken start with words that are conceptually good starting points, but aren’t actually the most important for every day speech.  You know: “man”, “woman”, “red ball”.  Not exactly the stuff you need to know when you get off the plane.

What I’m finding funny about this approach, though, is how different the practical vocabulary is from when I visited China in college.

What’s in: Coffee, cell phones, shopping

What’s out: Tea, Chairman Mao, “we don’t have any”

Seriously, I’m now more than halfway through the 1+2 course, and we still haven’t learned the word for “tea”.  But “coffee” was in there from the very beginning.  I highly approve — getting off the airplane after a long flight, that really would be a crucial word for me to know!

I also love that what used to be a staple phrase of practical Mandarin, “méi yǒu” or “we don’t have any” is barely used at all.  I remember visiting and being told “méi yǒu” in response to requests for basic stuff like cold water.  In Fluenz’s world (which I think suspect is pretty accurate) the phrase doesn’t come up until one of the lessons’ protagonists is shopping for a cell phone.  Cell phones? Yup, they have plenty.  Smaller cell phones? Yes, here are several.  This exact cell phone, only slightly larger? Oh, no, that they don’t have.  “Méi yǒu.”


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Learning basic Mandarin Chinese: Fluenz vs. Rosetta Stone vs. Michel Thomas vs. ChinesePod vs. LiveMocha

About two months ago, I decided I should use the time before Baby Boy arrives a bit more productively. After all, I’ll probably never be this relaxed and well-rested again. =)

One of my goals was to learn some Mandarin. It’s been over ten years since I took a semester of basic Mandarin in college, and frankly not that much stuck with me.

So I decided I’d check out the different options. I limited my search to something I could do from home, because let’s be honest, I’m not going to waddle out of the house to go to classes. And a lot of teachers just suck. (I learned that lesson trying to study Tagalog, what a waste.)

Here’s my roundup of the major options:

Rosetta Stone: SUCKS. Their marketing may be everywhere, and their IPO was a big success, but at least for Mandarin, their software doesn’t cut it. I tried the software for a couple of days a few years ago. They don’t have any English-language explanation of grammar or word derivation, you’re just supposed to work everything out as they show you phrases and have you pick which pictures apply. That’s fine for basic vocabulary (listen to the word, then click on one of the four pictures until you get it right), but concepts are not going to work unless you’re (a) a small child and still wired to learn this way, or (b) if the grammar and vocabulary are very similar to English. For adults learning Chinese, this approach just doesn’t work. $494 from Amazon. No way.

Michel Thomas: MAYBE. I love Michel Thomas’ method of instruction which has plenty of explanations from a teacher and two “fellow students” who give you lots of practice. (I’ve tried it in Spanish and liked it.) The down-side is that it’s audio-only, and especially with tones in Mandarin, I think I need to see the words written in pinyin, complete with tones, to remember them. Eight CDs for just $50 from Amazon, so maybe I’ll get this later on.

ChinesePod: NOT BAD. Downloadable free podcasts, plus accompanying materials online. You pay for written transcripts, and one-on-one instruction. Overall, seems pretty good. But I found that the podcasts had a lot of padding for the amount of stuff you learn. The side conversations between the instructors are cute and fun, but kind of a waste of my time. I also didn’t like that the vocabulary didn’t explicitly build and rehearse from one lesson to the next. I may return to ChinesePod later, when I need something I can listen to on my iPod, or when I want to hire an instructor.

Fluenz Mandarin 1+2: GOOD! I was pretty excited to find this start-up. Really good, comprehensive software. They focus on the spoken language, sticking to the pinyin Romanization – no characters – and a limited but highly useful vocabulary. I love that. There are clear English-language explanations, and the lessons include tons of different exercises (listen, repeat, read, write, match, etc.) that do a good job of reinforcing vocabulary and grammar, and each lesson builds on the preceding ones so that you don’t forget stuff. Not cheap, $323 from Amazon, but that’s OK. Slightly cheaper than Rosetta Stone, and it doesn’t suck.

In later posts, I’ll talk more about my adventures with Fluenz.

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Interviewing pediatrician Jessica Kaplan (Noe Valley Pediatrics)

Went off today to interview my top pick for a pediatrician … which is to say the only practice universally recommended by the GGMG that also takes insurance.

(Note that I’m not saying “takes an HMO” or “takes my insurance”.  The only other much-praised practices do not deign to take insurance.  They just charge around $200 a visit, and if you personally choose to file your insurance and take the $60 or whatever the company gives you, that’s up to you.  Yikes.)

I jotted down BabyCenter’s pediatrician interview guide, which was very helpful.

Overall, I think Dr. Kaplan, and Noe Valley Pediatrics in general, will be a good fit.  She seemed friendly, knowledgeable, and non-dogmatic.  OK, I was surprised that, upon hearing my due date, she exclaimed, “oh!  A Taurus!” But this is San Francisco.  That doesn’t even count as crunchy granola lite.

I really like that they have a full time advice nurse, and outside of office hours they have an advice hotline ($3 per call, but that’s fine) and an agreement with an after-hours doctor service over by CPMC.

It’s a little unfortunate that Dr. Kaplan only works at the practice two days a week, but I’ve also heard great things about the other two doctors.  And the advice nurse — whom Dr. Kaplan described as the true face of the practice — was awesome.

So, I’ll see them at the hospital.

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Sage words from my OB-GYN

There’s so much paranoia around pregnancy: don’t sleep on your back, don’t eat cold cuts, don’t eat soft cheese, don’t eat hummus.

So when I asked my wonderfully down-to-earth, mother-of-two OB-GYN whether or not it’s OK to go on long walks now that I’m at 31 weeks, she said…

You could probably smoke crack and not affect the baby.

She was referring, of course, to research cited in a recent New York Times article showing that crack babies, on the whole, really didn’t fare that differently from regular babies.

So, while I have no plans to take drugs of any kind anytime soon, I will go on those nice long walks with my husband.  Yay!

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