Well into the job interview, the woman with the winning smile casually volunteered that "we had a business." A little probing by the interviewer revealed that "we" really was "I" because the woman had run a small family dry cleaner's--handling the clothing and keeping the accounts.
" 'We' sounds like you assisted someone," the interviewer said. "Say 'I.' " Then she told the woman, "You underestimate yourself and your skills in running a small business. I'd consider you for an assistant management position."
Another woman--a wife and mother brand new to the job market--said she was at a loss to name her skills. But the interviewer responded that the woman's success as a housewife spoke for itself: "Raising children and managing a home shows that you have management skills--and patience."
The interviews were simulated as part of a daylong training session for Lawndale residents sponsored by the city to help its people qualify for jobs as sales clerks, office and warehouse workers and custodians at the new South Bay Galleria shopping center, where stores will start opening in late spring.
And the exchanges pointed up what training consultants Ron Tate and Marilyn Walker said are the reasons many job seekers court defeat: They underestimate their abilities, and they don't know how to sell themselves--whether because of simple nervousness, or ignorance about what to say in an interview, or not knowing what to wear.
"People become self-defeating and it comes across," said Tate. "We know what employers are looking for and help people build self-confidence."
Tate's basic message to the 20 people gathered for the first session this week at the Civic Center was to think of every ability as a potential job skill, and to ignore the negative--or play it down if it can't be ignored.
"If you're going for a typing job," he said, "emphasize how many words a minute you type, not how many mistakes you make. When you're asked what your weaknesses are, say you don't have any that would affect the performance of your job."
Some other tips:
- Know something about the store you want to work for and flatter the management about its success.
- Have a specific career goal in mind but be flexible about jobs in case the one you want isn't available.
- Be excited and eager but don't project a desperate, "I'll take anything" attitude.
- Be honest about feeling nervous, because job interviews are stressful and employers expect that. "Take a deep breath before you start," Tate said, with Walker adding, "Watch out that you don't talk too fast, or clam up."
One participant, accounting clerk Janice Taylor, said she hopes the training will allow her to conquer her nervousness, which makes her sweat through every job interview. "I want to feel more confident about myself," she said. "I know I'm qualified, but I hate to be tested."
Tate and Walker, partners in a Torrance company called Pro Se--which means "to speak on one's own behalf"--were hired to give a boost to Lawndale residents, who are entitled to special consideration for 600 Galleria jobs because the city loaned money for construction of the shopping center at Hawthorne and Artesia boulevards. The state Employment Development Department in Redondo Beach is also participating by taking Galleria job orders and coordinating interviews.
Training sessions--which are free and include everything from how to fill out a job application to clothing and grooming--are being given weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Day care will be provided for the workshop on Feb. 1 and there will be a Saturday session on Feb. 2. Lawndale residents can call 973-4321, extension 126, for information about the program.
The Painful Path to Perfection
At the Ballet Conservatory in Palos Verdes Estates, the girls sit in a hot, cramped dressing room, garbed in the traditional black, scoop-neck leotards, pristine white tights and pink beribboned slippers that are still de rigueur for ballet auditions.
They are here to learn from a master--Meredith Baylis, who has trained some of the Joffrey Ballet's best dancers. Now Baylis is here to select girls for summer scholarships at the Joffrey's American Ballet School and--in the fantasies of many of the girls--a chance at stardom.
"I feel so fat," moans one slender girl, staring intently at a non-existent roll of flab. "I must be gaining pounds by the second. She's going to think I look like a cow."
"Yeah," says another girl, tugging at her own insubstantial midriff. "Too bad you can't just cut it off with an ax."
To ease the tension, the girls begin limbering up, contorting their bodies into seemingly impossible-to-hold positions.
"When you start, you don't realize how much pain there is in ballet," says 15-year-old Brook Manning, an 11-year-veteran of dance classes, as she grabs her heel and effortlessly hoists one leg alongside her torso.
But the pain goes beyond the blisters, bunions, popped joints and sore ankles that plague most of the girls.
"There's a lot of emotional pain," says Rachel Dezso, 16, of Palos Verdes Estates, "a lot of peer pressure. My friends are always saying 'Can't you miss just one class?' On Friday nights when everybody else is out on dates, you're sweating in class. I practically live in these leotards."
"Then there are always the guys who just don't understand," says 17-year-old Maria Dolce of San Pedro. "One guy I know told me that only communists should be doing ballet."
As Dolce speaks, Dezso notices the gold earrings dangling from Dolce's ears.
"Maria, are you going to wear those earrings? They're not very ballerina-like," Dezso says disdainfully. "They make you look like a jazz dancer. You want to make a good impression, don't you?"
Finally, the two-hour master class begins, with the girls lining up at the barre like so many lanky colts--all long legs, arched necks, curved arms.
Baylis, a short, plump, yet graceful woman, stalks the room, hunting for the unpointed toe, the jutting backside, the misaligned head.
Spying an errant ballerina, she corrects her with a brusque, "Don't stick your tush out."
Turning to the rest of the class in a Knute Rockne-like pep talk, she tells them, "You work hard to make it look easy. People come to see ballet because it looks so pretty, so graceful. That's your job. To make it look easy. They mustn't see the sweat."
Magically, Baylis' words calm the nervous girls, and finally a line emerges with a certain hesitant grace.
Backs ramrod straight, the girls go through graceful dips, arabesques and pirouettes, muscles flexing and quivering under the strain of the barre exercises.
One girl attempts an ambitious pirouette and promptly tumbles into an ungracious heap.
"Don't worry," Baylis says gently. "That's progress."