Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dealing with Swine Flu

In February 1976, an outbreak of swine flu struck Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey, killing a 19-year-old private and infecting hundreds of soldiers. Concerned that the U.S. was on the verge of a devastating epidemic, President Gerald Ford ordered a nationwide vaccination program at a cost of $135 million (some $500 million in today's money). Within weeks, reports surfaced of people developing Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing nerve disease that can be caused by the vaccine. By April, more than 30 people had died of the condition. Facing protests, federal officials abruptly canceled the program on Dec. 16. The epidemic failed to materialize.

Medical historians and epidemiologists say there are many differences between the relatively benign 1976 outbreak and the current strain of swine flu that is spreading across the globe. But they also say the decisions made in the wake of the '76 outbreak — and the public's response to them — provide a cautionary tale for public health officials, who may soon have to consider whether to institute draconian measures to combat the disease. 

"I think 1976 provides an example of how not to handle a flu outbreak, but what's interesting is that it made a good deal of sense at the time," says Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor of virology at Britain's University of Aberdeen. Pennington points out that conventional wisdom in 1976 held that the 1918 flu pandemic — which started among soldiers and eventually killed as many as 40 million — was the result of swine flu (scientists now know it was in fact a strain of bird flu). Despite modern advances in microbiology, today's health officials still make decisions in a "cloud of uncertainty," Pennington says. "At the moment, our understanding of the current outbreak is similarly limited. For example, we don't yet understand why people are dying in Mexico but not elsewhere." 

In a quickly evolving situation, deciding what public health orders to make becomes as much an art as a science, and can often stir debate. On Monday, for example, health officials in Europe advised citizens to cancel all nonessential trips to Mexico and the U.S. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that advisory was too severe. Such decisions, difficult enough to make on purely medical grounds, become even more complicated when they involve politics. In 1976, President Ford's vaccine program came during an election cycle, and some historians believe he was swayed as much by a desire to display strong leadership as by the advice of health experts. 

Howard Markel, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan and a historical consultant to the CDC on flu pandemics, says the most vexing decision facing health officials is when to institute mass vaccination programs. Vaccines carry risks of complications, leading to agonizing ethical dilemmas. In 1976, Ford offered indemnity to the vaccine manufacturers. But according to reports, President George W. Bush decided in 2002 not to administer a nationwide smallpox vaccination program — despite Vice President Dick Cheney's belief that doing so was a prudent counterterrorism step — because it could have resulted in dozens of deaths (the smallpox vaccine kills between 1 and 2 people per million people inoculated).

Markel says the political climate in the U.S. is much less combustible today than in the post-Watergate era, when Ford faced a skeptical public. Even so, he says, citizens still need to trust that the government is working for the greater good. He says, "The good news is that our surveillance, methodology and public health professionals have never been better. But we are human and mistakes may be made — as happened with the 1976 swine flu affair — and we may jump the gun in the hope of preserving life. The current outbreak is a situation in flux. The American public has to be forgiving and patient and do [their] part too."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Never been kissed?

The 47-year-old spinster told viewers of the U.K. TV talent show that she lived alone, had a cat called Pebbles, and had "never been kissed."

But it wasn't true.

Boyle, who has competed in countless talent shows, used the line to curry favor with the audience. She told a TV interviewer from U.K. breakfast show GMTV, "That was made as a joke! Never been kissed? I've never stopped."

The blogosphere has lit up at the news.

"Angel or crazy for publicity? You decide," was how fan site responded. "I'm forced to believe it was all a planned show!" branded her a "one-trick pony," while was more understanding: "Do you think a peck on the cheek counts for being kissed?" the site asked. But Boyle's admission has done nothing to dampen the ardor of her millions of new fans. Many believe Boyle, who has been nicknamed the "hairy angel" according to Britain's Daily Mail, should be declared the winner of the show right now. (She has at least one more song to perform).

"Now that Susan Boyle has been acknowledged as a singing sensation for her beautiful voice, I think it would be a good idea to declare her the winner of Britain's Got Talent," wrote C.J. Crane from Mallorca in Spain.

"I am glad Simon Cowell looks like he's going to give her a recording contract," said Raymond Rees from Wales.

British fan D.E. Atkins wrote: "The makeover squad should leave Susan Boyle alone. It is her singing and simplicity that people love. Once they start trying to change Susan's image they will spoil her."

But is it too late? Is overnight stardom already threatening to change Susan Boyle?
Since her first audition, the local council has built a fence around her home to discourage autograph-hunters. Boyle has also hired a hunky live-in bodyguard, been seen sporting an expensive leather jacket, and has agreed to go on a date with one of the judges.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Job interview that will get you the job

provided by

In recent weeks, recruiters for Consolidated Container Co. have seen job candidates arrive up to an hour early for interviews. Other candidates have alluded to financial hardships while in the hot seat, and one person even distributed bound copies of documents describing projects he completed for past employers.

These sorts of tactics aren't exactly winners.

In today's ultracompetitive job market, even getting an interview is a feat. Yet recruiters and hiring managers say many unemployed candidates blow the opportunity by appearing desperate or bitter about their situations — often without realizing it.

"People are becoming a lot more aggressive," says Julie Loubaton, director of recruiting and talent management for Atlanta-based Consolidated Container. "They often wind up hurting themselves."

Stand Out

At an interview, you want to stand out for the right reasons. To do so, you'll need to leave your baggage and anxiety at the door. For starters, wait until 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time to announce yourself. Arriving any sooner "shows that you're not respectful of the time the hiring manager put aside for you," says Ms. Loubaton, adding that a candidate who arrived an hour early made workers uncomfortable. "Companies really don't want someone camped out in their lobby."

Signal confidence by offering a firm handshake, adds Wendy Alfus Rothman, president of Wenroth Consulting Inc., an executive coaching firm in New York. Focus your attention on the interviewer. Avoid looking around the room, tapping your fingers, or other nervous movements.

No matter how you're feeling, keep your personal woes out of the interview process, asserts Ms. Alfus Rothman. Instead, always exude an upbeat attitude. For example, if you were laid off, instead of lamenting the situation, you might say the experience prompted you to reassess your skills, and that's what led you here. "You want to demonstrate resilience in the face of unpredictable obstacles," she says.

Do your homework

Meanwhile, show you've done your homework on the company by explaining how your background and track record relates to its current needs, adds Deborah Markus, founder of Columbus Advisors LLC, an executive-search firm in New York. This is particularly important if the firm is in a different industry than the one you worked in before. To stand out, you'll need to look up more than just basics on company leadership and core businesses. You'll also need to find out — and understand — how recent changes in the marketplace have affected the firm, its competitors and industry overall. Read recent company press releases, annual reports, media coverage and industry blogs, and consult with trusted members of your network. "Companies that may have been performing well just a few months ago might be in survival mode now," says Ms. Markus. "You want to understand how [they're] positioned today."

Also, be sure to show you're a strong fit for the particular position you're seeking, adds Kathy Marsico, senior vice president of human resources at PDI Inc., a Saddle River, N.J., provider of sales and marketing services for pharmaceutical companies. Offer examples of past accomplishments — not just responsibilities you've held — and describe how they're relevant to the opportunity. "You must differentiate yourself like never before," she says. "You need to customize yourself and make yourself memorable."

Sherry R. Brickman, a partner at executive-search firm Martin Partners LLC, says a candidate recently impressed her with this sort of preparation. "He knew the company's product line and what markets it was already in," she says of the man, who was interviewing for an executive post at a midsize industrial manufacturer. "He clearly and effectively explained how he could cut costs, increase sales and expand market share based on what he'd done in his current job." The candidate was hired.

Don't over do it

Be careful not to go too far, though, in your quest to stand out. For example, it may be tempting to offer to work temporarily for free or to take a lesser salary than what a job pays. But experts say such bold moves often backfire on candidates. "Employers want value," says Lee Miller, author of Get More Money on Your Next Job ... In Any Economy. "They don't want cheap."

Your best bet is to wait until you're extended a job offer before talking pay. "In a recession, employers are going to be very price sensitive," says Mr. Miller. "The salary you ask for may impact their decision to move forward." Come prepared having researched the average pay range for a position in case you're pressured to name your price, he adds. You might say, for example, that money isn't a primary concern for you and that you're just looking for something fair, suggests Mr. Miller. You can try turning the tables by asking interviewers what the company has budgeted for the position.

In some cases, you may be looking just for a job to get you through so you might consider a less-than-perfect fit. But if you aren't really excited about an opportunity, keep it to yourself, warns David Gaspin, director of human resources at 5W Public Relations in New York. "I've had times where people come in and it's clear that if they really had their preference, they'd be doing something different," he says. "You don't want to put that out on the table. Nobody wants to hire someone who's going to run for the door when times get better."

Follow up

After an interview, take caution with your follow-up. If you're in the running for multiple jobs at once, make sure to address thank-yous to the right people, career experts advise. Also look closely for spelling and grammatical errors. In a competitive job market, employers have the luxury of choice, and even a minor faux pas can hurt your chances.

If all has gone well, don't stalk the interviewer. Wait at least a week before checking on your candidacy, adds Jose Tamez, managing partner at Austin-Michael LP, an executive-search firm in Golden, Colo. Call recruiters only at their office, even if their business card lists a home or cell number. Leave a message if you get voicemail. These days, recruiters typically have caller ID and can tell if you've tried reaching them multiple times without leaving a voicemail. "There's a fine line between enthusiasm and overenthusiasm," he says.