By Luke Baynes
Bonni Martin is 51 and is in the best shape of her life.
No, she’s not a paid spokeswoman for the Gazelle Edge Glider, The Flex Belt or any of the other weight loss miracles that monopolize the airwaves at 3 a.m. and convince the insomniac population to call within the next 10 minutes or forever resign themselves to a life without washboard abs.
Instead, Martin is an average Vermont woman who lost 56 pounds in a year’s time by quitting smoking, eating sensibly and exercising.
Her exercises of choice?
Walking and jogging during the warm weather months and Zumba – a Latin dance-inspired fitness program – during the wintertime.
“It’s a cardiovascular workout,” Martin said of Zumba. “Some strengthening, but mostly cardio.”
Zumba, which combines salsa, samba, merengue and other forms of dance and martial arts moves, was created by Columbian dancer and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in the 1990s and was introduced to the U.S. in 2001. According to Zumba.com, the exercise craze is now practiced by over 12 million people in over 110,000 locations across more than 125 countries.
Deana Rock, a former Jazzercise instructor who teaches Zumba classes at Perkins Fitness Consulting on Williston Road in South Burlington, said Zumba is less rigidly defined than Jazzercise.
“There’s a lot of freedom to the choreography (in Zumba),” Rock said. “You can make up your own choreography if you like, or you can use the choreography that Zumba sends you. Jazzercise is regulated heavily in exactly the kind of music that you do, exactly the moves you do, the order in which you do your music … and then you get monitored once a year.”
At a cost of $30 per month, Rock is a member of the Zumba Instructor Network, which lists her as an instructor on the Zumba website and provides her with current Zumba music and choreography.
She teaches both beginner and advanced classes and encourages anyone who’s interested to give it a try.
“I teach a beginner class, so if somebody really doesn’t have a clue how to do Zumba, I do an hour-long session once a week where I just show people the most basic moves really slow,” Rock said. “Eventually they graduate and join a regular class.”
Rock said that the key to sticking with Zumba is not caring if you get the choreography correct at first and just going with the flow.
“Technically there are no wrong moves. If you’re here and not sitting on the couch eating potato chips, you’ve made the right move,” said Rock. “I’ve been in classes where someone’s just barely moving – and that’s their choice – and then I’ve been in a class where the woman next to me looks like she’s going to spontaneously combust if she works any harder.”
Bonni Martin, who takes Rock’s class once a week with her friend, Linda Zeno, has taken Rock’s philosophy to heart.
“Even if we can’t keep up, we just move. We’re too old to care at this point,” Martin laughed. “You need to be able to let go of doing it perfectly. You need to be able to laugh at yourself.”
The 57-year-old Zeno, who lost 32 pounds in eight months by walking and doing Zumba, shares her friend’s attitude.
“I can’t tell you we’ve gotten 100 percent of the steps down, but we’re definitely better than day one or two,” Zeno said. “You just do what you can do.”
At 80 years old, Anna Deller is the oldest member of Rock’s Zumba class – but you wouldn’t know it from the way she talks.
“It’s just a wonderful way to exercise and get out and meet people,” Deller said. “If you don’t get the correct steps – the dance steps – you can improvise and just as long as you’re moving and doing something, everybody’s happy.”
Deller, who has been doing Zumba for just a few months, said she already feels better.
“My stamina is a lot better,” she said. “It makes you feel a lot better. You have a lot more energy. I find I can go up the steps a lot faster.”
But Deller added that she’s not just doing Zumba for herself, but for her family, also.
“You’re not sitting at home just watching the TV and sitting on the couch; you’re getting out and doing something for yourself and something for your family, too,” Deller said. “I have two sons, two grandsons who are married and a great-granddaughter, and I want to be around a long time to see what happens to them.”
By Luke Baynes
Americans of all ages value their ability to live independently. Today, people can live on their own for many years — even as they grow older and start needing help with everyday tasks. This is called “aging in place.”
Creating a plan, and making adjustments along the way, can prevent unexpected events from turning into crises that compromise one’s ability to live independently. Being aware of health management options, creating a financial blueprint, and making accommodations to living spaces can all make a big difference in someone’s ability to live in the place they choose as they age.
Among the many uncertainties in life, there are two incontrovertible certainties: we will get older; and we will die.
As a cancer survivor who works frequently with the elderly, Scott Funk is acutely aware of these facts of life.
“Retirement is a journey that we take. We don’t know how far we’re going to go or how long it takes, but we know we’re not coming back alive,” said Funk. “Our society sees death as a failing, but it’s really how the game is planned.”
Funk, also known as “The Reverse Mortgage Guy” for his work with home equity conversions, writes a monthly newsletter advocating the concept of “aging in place,” a holistic life strategy designed to help seniors avoid leaving their homes if that is their desire.
“Aging in place means aging in the place you want to age,” Funk explained. “So aging in place isn’t so much about not going into a home; it’s about controlling the environment so you can age independently for as long as possible. And for some people, aging in place means moving to a more age-appropriate house.”
Funk said the aging in place movement has been a product of the fact that the baby boomers are no longer babies.
“Boomers don’t want to do what they did to their parents. We put mom and dad in a home and thought that was a good idea,” said Funk. “None of us volunteer to leave our homes; when we leave, we usually leave abruptly.”
Sarah Lemnah, communications and development director with the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging, said one of the roles of the CVAA is to help prevent seniors from having to suddenly and involuntarily leave their homes.
“All of our services are geared to help seniors stay in their homes,” Lemnah said. “It’s making sure they’re aging in the location they wish to, and the majority of the people are trying not to go into a nursing home facility.”
Lemnah added that the earlier a person accepts the fact that they’re getting older, the greater the likelihood is that they’ll be able to stay in their homes.
“We like it when people call early in the process when they’re still healthy and active,” she said. “But a lot of time people call when they’re in a crisis, so then we help them get the support and services they need.”
In many cases, home modifications – such as wider doorways or wheelchair accessible bathrooms – need to be made before one can age in place.
Tom Moore, owner of the Underhill Center-based Tom Moore Builder Inc., said his company does many renovation projects to make houses aging-in-place-friendly, and for new homes, he recommends an architectural philosophy called “universal design,” which makes homes accessible for people with disabilities while still maintaining a unified aesthetic.
“(Universal design) is becoming more and more popular because the cost of living at an assisted living home is more and more expensive,” Moore said.
Moore said he used universal design when building his own house, which won the 2011 “Most Innovative Design Build” and the “Energy Efficiency Award” from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont.
“It’s a house to perform for a lifetime,” said Moore. “How many people have friends who are impaired and they can’t even invite them over because their bathroom isn’t designed for that?”
Yet even with a senior-friendly house, there comes a time for many seniors when living alone in one’s home is no longer feasible.
That’s where companies like Home Instead Senior Care come in.
“Our caregivers provide various non-medical services for seniors in their homes, to really allow them to remain independent, and more importantly, safe in their home,” said Patrice Thabault, owner of the South-Burlington based branch of the Home Instead franchise.
Thabault has over 150 caregivers working for her across five Vermont counties, providing services such as running errands, escorting seniors to doctor’s appointments, keeping house and cooking meals.
Paying for those services is another story.
“Unfortunately, your health insurance will pay for a medical need in the home, but it won’t pay for other important things that you need in order to stay in your home,” Thabault said. “A long-term care policy will pay for things non-medical in the home, but your Medicare isn’t necessarily paying for care in the home.”
Ironically, less affluent Vermonters who qualify for Medicaid can receive benefits for in-home care.
“The Medicaid waiver program – the Choices for Care program – enables care providers to go into people’s homes if they qualify to be in a nursing home,” Lemnah said. “So they have a choice if they want to go into a nursing home or stay at home and get home health services. So Vermont was at the forefront of that a few years back.”
But for some seniors – particularly widows or widowers whose spouse handled the finances in the marriage – day-to-day money management is a more pressing concern than insurance.
“There are a number of seniors who if they didn’t have someone helping them with their day-to-day personal finances, they wouldn’t be able to remain in their own home,” said Robyn Young, owner of the Williston-based Money Care LLC.
A professional daily money manager, Young assists seniors with the money basics necessary to age in place – from paying utility bills to having enough cash on hand for the weekly groceries.
“One of the big things I do is I help people keep track of their cash flow and manage that and their bill- paying in relation to that,” Young said.
Funk summed up the myriad components of aging in place by stressing that one needs to be proactive in planning for the future, and be accepting of the fact that aging is a part of life.
“The trick to aging in place is being ahead of the curve,” Funk said. “We’re all aging in place. All of us are doing it all the time. All of us need to be making adjustments all the time.”
Burlington’s Downtown at Home Organization
By Phyl Newbeck
While most concentrated settlements of senior citizens are created by design, others simply occur based on the preferred living patterns of folks who have found a common area in which to settle. These informal settings are known as NORCs: Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities.
NORCs are places where residents have either aged in place, having lived in their homes over several decades, or have seen an influx of seniors to the same housing complex or neighborhood. In each case, a group of residents makes a conscious decision to organize in order to pool resources and ideas. In New York State, there is funding available for NORCs where more than half the residents are 50 or older, but no such mechanism exists in Vermont.
The only official NORC in the Green Mountain State is an organization called Downtown at Home (D@H), consisting of residents of 40 College Street in Burlington. D@H began in 2008 when residents who were also members of a book club began a discussion on how they could remain in their homes as they grew older. The D@H mission statement is “to provide members practical support and information to enable them to remain in their homes as they grow older or are housebound. It is envisioned that friendships and an internal volunteer network will develop and grow into a vibrant community.” Unfortunately, the group’s activities are limited enough that the Vermont chapter of AARP considers them defunct and a national directory which lists 40 NORCs in 25 states does not include them.
“Defunct” isn’t an accurate description, but the group is somewhat limited. D@H is officially incorporated and is overseen by a group of volunteers with a cost of $100 a year to join. The organization’s main purpose is to provide members with information and assistance which will allow them to “age in place.” This is done by developing relationships with service providers, creating closer ties among neighbors, and researching ways to help seniors stay in their homes. The group based their fledgling organization on Beacon Hill Village, a non-profit organization in Boston.
D@H has a collection of canes, walkers, a wheelchair, and other pieces of medical equipment which are available for short-term loans to members. At the other end of the spectrum, they keep children’s furniture and car seats for those who might be entertaining younger visitors. In addition to preparing a database of medical practitioners, the group has a listing of house cleaners, plumbers, electricians, painters, and others who can assist with home maintenance.
Although the original plan was to expand D@H to incorporate more buildings, Roger Cole, one of the founders, said this has not taken place. In addition to the collected medical equipment which Cole said has been useful for members, the organization has sponsored trips and slide shows, but he is disappointed the group has chosen not to expand beyond 40 College Street. While Cole recognizes that D@H’s inspiration, Beacon Hill Village, has a larger demographic to work with, he pointed out that the Village to Village Network, — an organization developed to facilitate communication between similar aging in place groups — includes NORCs spread out across the United States, not just in major metropolitan areas. “Burlington is the largest city in Vermont,” he said, “and it should have a viable aging in place organization.”
Those interested in exploring the NORC concept for their own communities can access more information at http://www.norcs.org/
Other Sources for more information:
Access Mobility LLC
The Medical Store
South Burlington 864-0908
Agencies on Aging
Essex Junction 865-0360
Aaron J. Goldberg, PLC
Jarrett Law Office
So. Burlington 864-5951
Eldercare Referral Services
Vermont Worry-Free Eldercare
South Burlington 399-2721
Central Vermont 50+ EXPO
Saturday, June 9 – Killington
Vermont 50 Plus & Baby Boomers EXPO
Saturday, Jan. 28, 2013 – Burlington
The Busy Chef
Home Care Services
Armistead Caregiver Services
Bayada Home Health Care
South Burlington/Winooski 655-7111
Home Instead Senior Care
South Burlington 860-4663
Silver Leaf In-Home Care
Essex Jct. 355-3790
Vermont Assembly of Home Health & Hospice Agencies
VNA of Chittenden & Grand Isle Counties
Enosburg Falls 933-2315
South Burlington 419-6421
The Gary Home
South Burlington 863-5625
Fort Myers, FL (239) 481-1343
South Burlington 863-2224
Essex Jct. 1-800-272-4205
South Burlington 863-7897
Pinecrest at Essex
Essex Jct. 872-9197
Taft Farm Senior Living
Non-Emergency Medical Transportation
Trans-Care Ambulance Service
Essex Jct. 288-1286
Vermont Maturity – Senior Resource Directory
By Phyl Newbeck
Whether it’s the house you’ve raised your children in or a new place, better designed for senior living, more and more people are starting to make plans for a “forever home” in which they can reside in sickness and in health. Below are some tips for deciding how to choose where you can gracefully age in place.
Stay close to family and friends
We all value our independence but when push comes to shove, it’s always reassuring to know that people we can trust are close at hand. Many of us are lucky enough to have neighbors we count as our friends, but if that isn’t the case, you might want to consider a location that’s close to those you know you can count on.
Make sure you are able to accomplish your Activities of Daily Living
It’s important to assess your home in terms of your ability to take care of yourself. Homes with stairs may be difficult for those with mobility impairments and often alterations must be made to bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchens to ensure that seniors are able to move about adequately, take care of personal grooming and prepare meals. AARP recommends seniors have an occupational therapist perform a home assessment to ensure they can continue to do the things they enjoy, as well as the functions they need to perform for daily living.
Do a cost/benefit of staying vs. moving
As with everything in life, it is important to determine the pros and cons of renovating a home or moving to a new one. Seniors should undertake a detailed cost/benefit analysis before making any decision.
If you’re thinking of moving, consult a Senior Real Estate Specialist
Senior Real Estate Specialists (SRES) are Realtors who are qualified to address the needs of home buyers and sellers over the age of 50. The National Association of Realtors lists 21 certified SRES agents in Vermont. See www.realtor.org.
If you plan on staying in your home, consult a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist
The National Association of Home Builders has a program to certify home remodelers as Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS). There are six such specialists in Vermont who are certified to remodel homes for those who plan to live out their lives in that location. CAPS are familiar with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act but will also make light switches and door handles easier to work, improve lighting, and focus on other alterations which might not be immediately apparent to a layperson. See www.nahb.org.
Make sure you can continue to engage in your favorite activities and interests
For active seniors, it’s important to live near the things that make life interesting. Avid skiers shouldn’t move to Florida and regular museum and theater goers should probably stay in or near an urban area. The most comfortable house in the world won’t make you content if you can’t find things that make you happy outside your dwelling.
Familiarize yourself with transportation options
A forever home will feel like a prison if seniors can’t find ways to get around. For those who might have failing vision or impaired mobility, it’s important to make sure there are available alternatives to the single occupancy vehicle. There are bus routes serving Chittenden County, Central Vermont, Rutland and Bennington Counties, and Franklin and Grand Isle counties, as well as options such as the Special Services Transportation Agency (www.sstaride.org) and Elderly and Disabled Rides (www.gmtaride.org).
Make sure you have appropriate medical professionals nearby
If a senior has a significant medical issue, one key to a happy and healthy living situation is having a suitable medical professional close by. Someone who has been treated by a trusted physician for years may not want to relocate far away from that medical practitioner.
Look into the possibility of transitioning from independence to dependence
Just because you’re independent today doesn’t mean that will always be the case. Many assisted living environments allow seniors to move from independent living to a more structured situation. It is important to determine whether that transition is possible in the place you want to call home. This includes the possibility of hiring live-in help for those who choose not to relocate.
Explore the option of senior living communities
“Aging in Place” can also mean living in an independent senior living community. There are many advantages to residing in these developments: they are usually located in central areas, providing easy access to grocery stores, transportation, and a variety of things that impact one’s everyday needs. Apartments at these communities are also physically designed to accommodate aging in place needs such as larger hallways and entryways to accommodate mobility devices. For a list of senior living communities in the area, visit www.vermontmaturity.com and click on Resource Directory to help you start exploring your options.
Find a place that makes you smile
None of this will work out if your old or new home doesn’t have that special something that makes you happy. If you need to be able to step out onto a lawn, don’t look at apartment living. If you have a beloved canine companion, don’t move to a place that doesn’t allow dogs. Above all else, find a home that makes you smile.
Builder confidence in the 55+ housing market for single-family homes rose four points to 18 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) released in February.
“We are seeing increased optimism from builders in the 55+ housing segment,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Nielsen, a home builder from Reno, Nev.
The 55+ single-family HMI measures builder sentiment based on current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market. A number greater than 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor. All index components increased from a year ago: present sales rose four points to 17, expected sales for the next six months increased two points to 26 and traffic of prospective buyers rose five points to 15.
“As with the overall single-family housing market, we are seeing gradual, but steady, improvement in the 55+ market segment,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “A level of 18 in the 55+ HMI is the highest fourth quarter reading since inception of the index in 2008. As with the overall multifamily rental housing sector, the 55+ rental market is showing continued strength.”
By Jeff Rugg
One way I’ve found to pick the best plants for my garden is to look at the All-America winners for the New Year. If it has been tested and approved in the All-America Selections (AAS) testing program, I can trust the plant to grow in my yard. Almost 40 test gardens from Alaska and Canada to California and Florida comprise the AAS. It’s very useful to have a test garden in a similar climate as your own landscape. AAS also has more than 175 display gardens all across the continent that are not used for judging but are used to show gardeners how well the plants grow locally.
AAS trial gardens have tested around 50 varieties of plants every year since 1932, and they accept only previously unsold varieties. The AAS Award recognizes a flower or vegetable for significant achievements proven superior to all other plants on the market. The judges evaluate the plants all season long, not just at an end-of-season harvest. Only the entries with the highest nationwide average score are considered to be worthy of an AAS Award.
The judge evaluates entries, looking for desirable qualities, such as novel flower forms, flower colors, flowers held above the leaves, fragrance, length of flowering season, and disease or pest tolerance or resistance. Vegetables are judged for such traits as earliness to harvest, total yield, fruit taste, fruit quality, ease of harvest, plant habit, and disease and pest resistance.
When you see the red, white and blue logo of All-America Selections on seed packets, bedding plant tags or in catalogs, it’s a promise of gardening success. The familiar AAS shield logo has changed this year to a new, updated logo. It has the AAS in the center with the words “All-America Selections Winner” printed around it. AAS has taken the guesswork out of finding reliable new flower and vegetable varieties that show improvements over other varieties. Last year there were seven winners, but the previous few years only had four winners. For 2012, we are back to only four.
Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Pink’ is a sister to last year’s AAS Winner, Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red,’ this compact plant has continuous flowers throughout the growing season. Like the red one, the blooms appear almost two weeks earlier than the other pink salvias. Hummingbirds will love the pink tube shaped flowers just as much as they do the red ones. Bred by Takii & Co., Ltd.
Peppers love heat, and Ornamental Pepper ‘Black Olive’ was a standout, especially in the southern gardens in the summer heat of the 2011 trials. All season long, this beauty kept its upright habit with nicely draping leaves and dark purple/black fruit, which appears in small clusters along the stems. As summer progresses, the fruits mature to red, giving a beautiful contrast against the dark purple foliage and bright purple flowers. It can be used as a 20-inch border plant in front of tall plants, as color splash for containers or as a cut flower in mixed bouquets. Bred by Seeds By Design.
Pepper ‘Cayennetta’ F1 is an excellent-tasting, mildly spicy pepper that is easy to grow. This 3- to 4-inch chili pepper yielded bigger fruits from a very well-branched upright plant. It requires no staking, making it a perfect plant for container or patio gardens. It has good cold tolerance as well as dense foliage cover to protect the fruits from sun scorch, and it handles extreme heat well. This pepper is an all-around good choice no matter where you’re gardening. Community gardeners who grow for food pantries will benefit from the heavy yield and prolific fruit set from each plant. Bred by Floranova Ltd.
Watermelon ‘Faerie’ F1 has a creamy yellow rind with thin stripes yet still yields sweet, pink-red flesh with a high sugar content and crisp texture. The vines are vigorous, yet they spread only to 11 feet. Each 7- to 8-inch fruit weighs only four to six pounds, making it a perfect family-size melon. It has good disease and insect tolerance as well as the prolific fruit set that starts early and continues throughout the season. Bred by Known-You Seed Company. — CNS
By Daphne Oz
Week two of my time on the Whole Living 21-day cleanse is wrapping up, and I am 8 pounds lighter, with eyes whiter and skin clearer, energy renewed through better sleep and purer food for fuel, and a positively outrageous permanent smile plastered to my face that is part sinful pride at having stuck with it this long (a record for me!) and part uncontrollable giddiness at how much better I feel.
You never quite appreciate the fact that the foods we eat, aside from largely determining our outward appearance, also directly impact hormone output, the brain’s chemical response and our genes turning on and off (the study of this phenomenon is called epigenetics, and it is fascinating) until you sample for yourself the complete change from when you are eating out of convenience to when your body is running on premium fuel.
Now, even though I feel wonderful and fully intend to pull parts of this program into my permanent eating habits — I think reducing dairy, meat and processed sugar/wheat consumption would be a good move for everyone looking to avoid unnecessary allergens and potentially toxic additives — I admittedly am looking forward to not being “on” anything.
I know it is a health-supportive cleanse, but being “on” a specific eating plan always conjures bad memories of all the horrible fad diets I tried when attempting (unsuccessfully) to lose weight as a teenager before I wrote “The Dorm Room Diet.”
I finally was able to lose the weight, but only when I dropped all the restrictive eating regimens and turned instead to a healthy lifestyle plan of my own creation, which, at its core, is all about putting food in perspective and making sure that “we the eaters” are always in control. To maintain this power balance, I would prefer just to take the excellent health cues this cleanse provides and incorporate them into my daily routine without there being some big to-do in which I have to be aware of the foods I am “not permitted” to have.
But for undoing bad habits — especially the ones I adopted during the holidays that have completely warped my previously good grasp on how much is too much of a good thing — and proving to myself that I have the willpower and strength to course-correct, I find that a proper, full-blown cleanse is the best solution, even if it means living by rules for a little bit.
And seeing as we’re on the subject of rules: Sometimes we have to be our own parents. Your mother or father probably forced you to eat broccoli over and over before your taste buds finally acquired a taste for it, but as an adult, you are now in the position to dictate what your taste buds will learn to love.
Yes, our tastes are learned! True, we are hard-wired biologically to crave sugar, salt and fat because these things in the wild signal great sources of nutrition that our ancestors needed to survive. But the sweetness that comes from a juicy pear is nowhere near the overload your tongue experiences when you sip a soda or eat a candy bar. It’s all about perspective and about weaning yourself away from the hyper-stimulation and appreciating instead the natural spectrum of flavors that are perfect 95 percent of the time. (What you choose to go crazy with the other 5 percent of the time is between you and that box of glazed doughnut holes.)
When I decided to embark on this journey — and it truly is a journey to break old habits, because your own nature will fight against you — it was not because I had any major health concerns, thank goodness. It was not even for weight loss, though this is often an added benefit of reimagining your daily diet to include more whole foods and fewer things that come out of a package. Instead, this three-week cleanse was meant to retrain my taste buds out of their learned addiction to too much processed sugar and flour and, ultimately, to get back to a place where the rules are thrown off and I am back in control. — CNS
Employers using new hiring tools
By Dr. Stephen A. Laser
If you’re looking for work and unacquainted with the new reality of proving your mettle, you’re in for a big surprise. If landing a job isn’t hard enough for today’s unemployed worker, companies have added a layer of difficulty to the process which makes getting hired that much harder. Specifically, you will probably be asked to take an on-line test just to be considered for an interview. And once you do earn the opportunity to be interviewed, you will likely face another challenge in the form of behaviorally-based methods of questioning your qualifications for the job.
As a business psychologist who has practiced my profession for over 30 years, I’d like to offer some helpful and practical advice without trying to teach you ways to “game” the system.
With unemployment still lurking near 9 percent and little likelihood of going much lower, job seekers can use all the friendly advice they can get. Remember, nothing is gained from distorting your answers to test questions or lying during a job interview. In the event you do manage to fool a prospective employer, the chances of succeeding on the job are small, and you will be back at square one while suffering another embarrassing loss of employment. On the other hand, many people are totally uninformed about the gauntlet they must run, and this includes being unprepared for testing and interviewing techniques which, with a little groundwork, allows you to give a good account of your qualifications.
On-Line Testing: What are employers looking for?
Using on-line tests to screen job applicants before meeting them face-to-face has become commonplace among employers. The explosion of eligible job applicants, especially during the past several years during the recent recession, has made the practice of on-line testing even more advisable for companies looking to winnow down the pool of available candidates. So what are these tests and what are they looking to find?
Most on-line tests are really surveys seeking to measure a job applicant’s attitudes and likely responses to certain job-related situations. In particular, these tests are looking to measure a person’s conscientiousness and attitudes toward work, to include paying attention to detail and being organized as well as the ability to meet assigned deadlines. At the same time, these tests focus on a person’s ability to get along with others in the workplace, where operating as part of a team is often a very important component to achieving overall company goals and objectives. The numbers and names of tests used on-line are legion. They run the gamut from name-brand instruments to tests developed by various statistically-trained individuals and sold to companies for their own use.
There is no best way to game the system. Furthermore, giving a misleading picture of yourself can lead to unintended consequences, such as being asked to interview for a job where you will be a poor fit for the demands of the role. At the same time, there are some helpful hints to aid you in responding to on-line testing tools. First, most test-takers struggle with the question, do I answer items as if I’m at work or more generally, to include when I am with my friends and family? The best approach is to consider your behavior in the company of your colleagues at work, not your family and friends. For example, the freedom to say what is on our minds is a luxury most of us enjoy with family and friends, but which can be detrimental in the workplace.
Another word of caution is about answering questions in the extreme, if asked to “strongly agree” or “strongly disagree” with an item along with milder responses in between. If you do have a strongly held belief about something, then by all means express it, but answering in the extreme to show the strength of your convictions is not always a good idea. In addition, don’t manage your impression too hard. Most sophisticated tests have scales which measure “faking” and you don’t want to be flagged for making yourself appear unrealistically attractive as a potential employee.
Behaviorally-based Interview Questions: At one time, companies were caught for asking personal questions of job applicants which had little relevance to performing the job. Specifically, questions about marital status, children and childcare arrangements along with inquiries into national origin or background were routinely asked and often used as a basis for selecting job applicants. It’s illegal to hire and discriminate on this basis, and so enter the neutral behaviorally-based interview questions.
These questions center on specific situations any job applicant might have encountered in a previous place of work. For example, employers will ask a candidate to tell about a time they dealt with a difficult employee or had to plan a project from start to finish. Other behaviorally-based interview questions might ask about handling an unexpected change at work or dealing with an important customer that wanted you to bend the rules for them. The number of questions like this can be quite daunting, and to get an even better picture of what might be asked, Google the topic “behaviorally-based interview questions” to learn more about what to expect.
Let me offer a couple of helpful suggestions. First, when giving an example from prior jobs, make sure you can recall situations from different employers and not just one particular position or company. Second, make sure you come prepared with two or three examples of successes and setbacks during the course of your career. Be able to explain what happened as briefly as possible along with your role and the role of other people in the situation. No one likes an egomaniac. Next, tell what you learned from the situation, and more importantly, how you have applied those learned lessons going forward in subsequent situations.
Finally, what about answering the most dreaded of all interview questions, “Tell me your biggest weakness?” Remember, your biggest weakness is probably your biggest strength taken to extreme. For the very bright job applicant that can mean thinking you’re smarter than everyone else. For the socially-skilled candidate that can mean trying to please all the people all of the time. For the super-organized and efficient individual that can mean an obsession with detail. A response like “I could spell better” or “I work too hard” makes you sound silly at best and disingenuous at worst.
It’s a new world out there for today’s job seeker. Companies have become more sophisticated in their screening techniques, and you need to stay ahead of the game. While faking tests results and lying on interview questions will only cause you more problems in the end, being prepared and doing your homework to know what to expect is only sensible given the gauntlet you are being asked to run in order to find a new job. Good luck!
Stephen A. Laser, PhD has more than 30 years of experience as a business psychologist. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Laser has been a guest speaker to various groups of unemployed individuals, typically over the age of 40, and previously taught courses in business psychology at Northwestern University, Roosevelt University and the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.
Stock photo www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net
More boomers & seniors being hired
Are workers really retiring anymore? A new study shows 57 percent of workers age 60 and older said they would look for a new job after retiring from their current company, showing that retirement no longer means the end of one’s career. The nationwide survey was conducted by Harris Interactive© and included more than 800 U.S. workers age 60 and older and more than 3,000 hiring managers and human resources professionals between surveyed between Nov. 9 and Dec. 5, 2011.
When asked how soon they think they can retire from their current job, one-in-ten (11 percent) respondents said they don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire.
While an increasing number of mature workers are putting off retirement, the good news is that more employers are looking to hire more seasoned staff. According to the survey, 43 percent of employers plan to hire workers age 50 or older this year, while 41 percent said they hired workers age 50 or older in 2011. Seventy-five percent of the employers surveyed would consider an application from an overqualified worker who is 50 plus, with 59 percent of those employers saying it’s because mature candidates bring a wealth of knowledge to an organization and can mentor others.
Mature workers can find job-search success by emphasizing the qualities that set them apart.
Leverage your professional and real-world experience — When updating your resume or interviewing for a job, think about your experience in terms of both work-related and life skills. Whether it’s your strong leadership skills or your wherewithal to weather a tough economy, play up the strengths that come with having more years under your belt.
Bring value to your company in other ways — Find new ways to contribute to the organization, outside of your day-to-day tasks. Spearhead a mentorship program or offer to train new hires.
Consider part-time or freelance work — Forty-nine percent of workers age 60-plus said they will most likely work part-time once retired.