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Are you treated like a child at work? 6 ways to respond.

Hi everyone! It’s my third week as a new Executive Director and I’m starting to feel settled into the role. All of the nightmares I had about team meetings have gone way. The staff are also starting to show me the respect I deserve. I’ve asked them to address me with the title bác, which is a Vietnamese word used when speaking to elders. “Hello Bác James. Let me help you up the stairs.” “Bác James, tell us what it was like to use a flip phone.”  “Bác James, my tummy is hurting again.” Go see a doctor then! You have health insurance benefits! “Bác, why didn’t you become a pharmacist?” Ugh, youth these days…so disrespectful.

I’ve previously written about how race and ethnicity can impact people’s perception of leadership. Similarly, age and the perceptions of experience can also be challenging–especially for Asian Americans where cultural norms around these issues are very powerful. Many of the challenges I have experienced in my career are because people viewed me as too young (other challenges include not knowing how to Tweet and Snapchat). It’s like I am a Vietnamese, non-profit, social justice version of Justin Beiber.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about similar challenges she was having. We wondered how young leaders can make a meaningful impact in our careers when our age and perceived lack of experience become barriers to success. It becomes very tiring because it makes us second-guess everything we do. For example, it took me a very long time to see myself as an Executive Director. Fortunately, I had the support from mentors, friends and colleagues who pushed me in that direction. While I am grateful for this opportunity, I recognize there are so many other young professionals who are ready to step up too.

Here are some comments that I’ve received and how I have responded to each of them. For anyone looking for an extra bit of help, you can also read my article “7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect.”

“You look so young. Are you a volunteer?”

Just because some of the students we serve are taller than me, doesn’t make me a volunteer. What’s up with always associating youthfulness with volunteerism? They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had the honor of serving with volunteers who were already retired; one was a dean of a graduate school; and some volunteers were in their 40s and 50s. Assuming that just because all young people are volunteers is rude, and doesn’t acknowledge the skills and perspectives we bring into the work. It is also a disservice to actual volunteers–the ones who give up their time and energy to support their community.

How you can respond: “I’ll make you a deal. If you donate to my organization, I’ll tell you what type of moisturizer I use. Spoiler alert: It has coconut extract! But no, I’m not a volunteer, though I really appreciate all of the passion and support they bring to our work. My role as a staff member is to make sure that we’re enabling our volunteers, students and community members to succeed.”

“Is this your job? Do you get paid?”

What is this? Do people assume millennials just sit around drinking craft beer and organic coffee all day? We only do that after 5:30pm or when we’re singing karaoke. Of course I have a job! How else do you expect me to survive? It sure as hell ain’t from blogging. All of those stereotypes that millennials can’t find employment and have to live at home with their parents are crap. AHHHHHH!!!! BLARGHH!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!

How you can respond: Listen Mom, you’re crushing my individuality! Yes, this is my job. And I already told you, I’m never going to be the doctor you wanted me to be. I’m not like every other Asian kid. I want to help our community.

Side note: If you actually did become a doctor, then simply replace “doctor” with “lawyer” and “help our community” with “make money and live debt free.”

“I’m not sure if you have the experience quite yet.”

This comment annoys me the most. It’s condescending, like people think they’re doing young professionals a favor by “protecting” them from failure. We can only get the experience if we are given the opportunities to learn, grow, make mistakes, and succeed. Society said that everyone needs a higher education to be successful. Many of us did exactly that. How much more experience do you want?

How you can respond: Although your gut reaction might be to face palm whoever made the comment, it is critical that you resist this impulse. As Asians, there’s a cultural norm not to question authority or challenge the status quo. Humbleness and humility are important, but don’t be a push over. Advocate for yourself! Try this:

I realize there’s still a lot I can learn in this field/position/role/etc. I would really appreciate any feedback or suggestions you have. I want to respectfully push back though. I’m willing to work hard and give this role my all, but that will also require your support to enable that success. I’d love to work with you to figure out ways I can get the coaching and training you think I’ll need. Thanks a bunch, you’re totes awesome.

“Look kid, I love the enthusiasm, but you’re out of your league. I’m 62, which makes me twice as smart and good looking.”

So…no one has actually ever said this to me before. I don’t give them a chance to. I walk around with my head up; ready to stiff arm anyone as if I were Marshawn Lynch. We millennials are bad asses! Organic buying, gluten-free, ride-sharing, socially conscious, bad asses.

How you can respond: I’m sorry you feel that way but I beg to differ. I grew up in the generation that invented Facebook and transformed social media. Our vote helped put the first African-American President in the White House. We embrace marriage equality and women’s rights. And yes, despite what you might think, we do care very much about money and the economy. Even though we didn’t have anything to do with The Great Recession, you’re welcome for the bailout. So if you’re done with your anti-millennial tirade…do you have a usb charger I can borrow? My phone died and I super need to check my Farmville score.

Wow! You’re such an exception.

Though this may seem like flattery, don’t fall for the trap. Singling you out as an exception (even though we’re all exceptional individuals) is a disservice to all of the other smart and talented young professionals out there. It pits us against one another, but we must stay strong and united. That’s one of the main reasons I started Asian Happy Hour, to find and support other young leaders in our community…and because going to happy hour alone is really sad.

How you can respond: Thanks…I think. What exactly do you mean by that, if I may ask? From my experience, there are a lot of talented young professionals out there. I’m happy to introduce you to them if you’d like.

“Can I ask you how old you are? For anyone who works in a management or director level position–or position where you have power and authority over other employees–never ask an employee their age! The HR in me says it opens the door to age discrimination–real or perceived. You don’t want to go down that road. But on a peer-to-peer level, it’s just rude. It’s like asking someone their weight. The only difference is people can lose weight, but you can’t lose age. No sir…can’t lose it at all…your age just gets bigger and bigger every year…for the rest of your life…until you die… Then you’ll be reincarnated and the cycle begins anew. Why is life so hard!!!?

How you can respond: So are you asking me for my permission to ask me how old I am? Or are you directly asking me how old I am? If the former, then no, you may not. If the latter, why don’t you just say “How old are you?” to which I would respond “I’ll only tell you if you have sincere intentions to celebrate my birthday with ice cream and candles. Otherwise, none of your business!”


7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect (hint: look older)

Last week I became the next Executive Director for the Vietnamese Friendship Association. One of the things I’ve had to wrestle with–especially as a young and new Executive Director–is the age difference between me and a lot of veteran leaders in this field and community. I’ve previously written about a generational gap and what we can do to support emerging leaders in our community.

While I believe I have the skills and experience to guide the organization and be a strong advocate in the community, I’ve also found that looking older affords me instant street cred.

In the Asian culture, there’s a strong association between age, experience and respect. In some ways, this is reflected in American culture as well–like when we hang on to every sweet word Morgan Freeman says. Naturally, we assume that those who are older have more experience (knowledge or wisdom…) and thus deserve more respect.

Don’t get me wrong, people with experience and knowledge and wisdom deserve our respect. In fact, we owe our unqualified respect to every human being we meet. However, for a young Asian American professional, the perceptions of age and youth are still very challenging to overcome precisely because of cultural expectations. I can’t tell you the number of times people have mistaken me for a high school student. Do you know how hard it is to run an organization when everyone thinks you’re a volunteer? It’s defeating–like being down 16-0 at half time.

At times, I have found myself changing the way I look, the way I talk, even the way I walk, in order to project the appearance that I’m older. It is exhausting! To my fellow Asian Americans, if you’re finding it hard to get the respect and opportunities you need to succeed, try one of these tricks below to “enhance” your age and get you on the fast track for success.

Rule #1: Become a doctor. Just kidding. That’s a terrible idea.


Start smoking! There was a study that compared identical twins, “one of which had been smoking for at least five years longer than the other.” They found that “smokers’ upper eyelids drooped while the lower lids sagged, and they had more wrinkles around the mouth.” Basically, all I took out of this study was that smokers looked older and therefore got more respect!

One twin smoked, the other didn’t. They looks years apart!



Visit a tanning booth: Can’t afford a lifetime of smoking? Tanning beds are your next best option. They instantly add years to your age. You can take a quick nap inside one of these and wake up ten years older! Btw, for those who care about “science,” tanning beds emit an unsafe concentration of UVA rays which is damaging to your skin and can lead to skin cancer. Worth it?

asian tan
You’ll never believe how old these girls really are!


Wear hipster glasses: Whenever I walk into a meeting where I want to look older and wiser, I put on my favorite pair of thick rimmed hipster glasses. These glasses add between 2-4 years to my appearance. In Asian years, I’ll look equivalent to the age of an undergrad. Ok fine! Middle schooler…

The boy above is actually 9 years old. But thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!
The boy above is actually 9 years old, but thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!


Dress Professionally: A friend and mentor once told me that I need to come into meetings well-dressed. Not suit and tie per say, but respectable, which meant no jeans or t-shirts. “You never know who you’re going to run into at these meetings,” he said. “So you don’t want them to think you’re a student.” He had a good point.

This is a high school graduation photo. Dressing professional works!
This is a high school graduation photo, but look how old we all look! Dressing professional works.


Eat lots of junk food: Researchers have found that high levels of phosphates accelerate signs of aging. Where does one get phosphates? Sodas and processed foods! So this is an easy win. If you want to look older, simply park it on the couch, turn on the tv and grab a Coke and a smile.

The boy on the left is ahead of all his classmates!
The boy on the left is growing faster than all his classmates! Eat up!


Practice effective sleep deprivation: WebMC writes that “chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes.” It’s true. Ask any stressed out millennial; they look like they’re already nearing retirement age. Toss in some hipster glasses, and you’re basically telling the world you’re ready for an early grave.

Lose sleep to gain years. It’s an easy formula.


Become an Executive Director: This is my first ED role and already the number of grey hairs on my head have increased by 30%; I’m waking up with back pain; and I’m pretty sure the hearing in my right ear is starting to go out. Bottom line: If you really want to fast track looking older, then become an Executive Director.

Director Hong–VFA’s second youngest ever Executive Director.


Wear a turtleneck: Turtlenecks are so effective at making you look older, even Justin Beiber does it. Check out the before and after photo below. He instantly goes from a baby to a solid 8 years old.

beiber baby
These photos were taken just minutes apart. See how a turtleneck can add years to your age?


Just to be clear, most of these are pretty terrible ideas if you want to look older–except maybe dressing professional and wearing hipster glasses. They are actually safe and effective.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to change who we are in order to confirm to other people’s expectations. Young professionals have all the skills and talents needed to make meaningful contributions to their work and community. We just need opportunities! Next week I’ll share how I have personally navigated these complex social and professional situations.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear everyone’s experience with age and youthfulness. Has it impacted your work? Do other people perceive you differently? Are you getting the right opportunities? What’s your relationship been like with bosses or managers? Leave your comments below or on the Asian Slant facebook page.

Relationship advice for Asians (everyone else benefits too)

This past weekend I was invited to give a workshop at the Northwest Vietnamese Student Association Summit. The Summit is a regional gathering of young, emerging leaders from the Vietnamese community. They come from all over the northwest, from California and Portland up to Canada. My talk was called “Relationship Building for Dummies: Why you’re wasting your time networking.” It focused on the differences between relationship building and networking, and how to strengthen authentic, positive professional relationships in your own life. Here’s a summary of my talk.

Why Networking is stupid

Have you ever heard of an elevator pitch? The idea is that you need to quickly and clearly introduce yourself in the time it takes to ride an elevator from one floor to another: “You need me; let me tell you why.” Elevator pitches embody just about everything I dislike about networking.

The problem is that networking is “me” based. “There are five reasons why I’m awesome. One, decisive. Two, intelligent. Three, I’m good communicator. Four…” *ding ding ding* The elevator doors slowly open. “Ah dang it, wait. Don’t leave. I haven’t told you about reasons four and five! Can I get your number?”

Networking focuses on short-sighted, immediate goals and very often results in superficial, fleeting relationships. Think about all of those speed-dating events or job fairs you went to—how often did you actually follow up with the people you connect with? People who rely on networking focus too much time and energy getting their names out there, rather than genuine relationships with the people around them.

Focus on building, deep, authentic relationships

Relationship building, as opposed to networking, focuses on two-way, reciprocal connections. It carefully builds a partnership based on give and take…kind of like marriage. In fact, you should just pretend like you are married to the other person–cook them dinner, clean their floors, watch their children, etc…

Developing authentic relationships between people is critical to success. The word authentic is extremely important because people rarely communicate authentically. Relationship building isn’t about being fake, dishonest, or self-serving. Instead, it focuses on how you could support others, not what they can do for you. In order to have a friend, you need to be a friend.

How to connect with new people

Get an introduction: It’s really awkward to go up to someone you don’t know—so avoid it if you can. “Hello. You don’t know me, but my name is James. Sorry, my hand is kind of wet. I was just in the bathroom but don’t worry, I washed them.” Be honest, you’ve all probably been in either side of that scenario—it’s about as comfortable as an Asian parent saying “I love you.”

Use introductions instead. Introductions are a powerful way to connect to new people since it stems from a foundation of trust. If you ever find yourself where you don’t know many people, ask a friend or co-worker introduce you to people they know and go from there.

What happens if I don’t know anyone? Very rarely will you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know anyone (maybe if you were in North Korea). In general, chances are good that you know at least one person—whether it’s a school event, a job, or a community gathering. Use that!

Find common ground: Have you ever met someone new and you simply didn’t know what to talk about? Think about how awkward and uncomfortable that was. “Hi, I’m James. Do you like the Seahawks? You don’t like the Seahawks!? WTF is wrong with you? Well what do you like? Baseball? I hate baseball.” This is a common networking trap. Genuine dialogue occurs when you both discuss shared interests. Otherwise, one of you will be bored out of your mind.

Communicate in a way that is culturally appropriate: Be mindful of your audience. Know that people come from diverse backgrounds; you need to communicate in a way that is respectful of that. “But where are you really from?” is what you should not say to an Asian person. Trying to piecemeal together a sentence from using someone’s native language is also rude (unless you actually know their language). Making comments about a woman’s intelligence or appearance is also an invitation for trouble. “I was just joking! Don’t take it so seriously.” Relationship building is about mutual respect, so spend less time trying to be funny and more time being real (unless your real self is a jerk, then just stop and walk away).

How to gracefully end a conversation

Ending a conversation, especially with someone you don’t know that well, can be extremely difficult. It’s kind of like saying goodbye to someone, and you both start walking off in the same direction. Awkward! The best way that I have found to gracefully end a conversation is to “pass it on.”

  • Step 1: Introduce your new friend to someone else you know. ““Rachel, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Michael?”
  • Step 2: Establish common ground for the new couple; something simple goes a long way. “You two actually both studied psychology in undergraduate. What are the odds? Two Asians and neither was pre-med.”
  • Step 3: Carefully remove yourself from the conversation. “Why don’t you two talk more about the brain and I’m going to grab us another drink” or “Would you two excuse me? I need to use the restroom. Keep talking though!”

In this example, notice we use the power of introductions to our advantage; in this case, to gracefully and politely end a conversation. Secondly, by pre-establishing common ground for your two friends, you’re giving them something to talk about. This makes it easier for you to step back.

What happens if they hate each other? Use your best judgment. Connect people based on their common ground. If you have reason to believe two people are going to hate each other, don’t introduce them. Pretend like you’re setting up a friend on a blind date—the same rules apply.

Why you must always follow up with people

The biggest mistake most people make is trading long-term success for convenience and immediacy. “This person isn’t worth my time anymore” or “He’s not interesting enough to stay in touch with” or “She’s weird, I don’t want to follow up with her.”

Following up with people is extremely important! It’s how you keep relationships alive and healthy. The truth is we don’t know where people will end up in one year, five or ten, so we shouldn’t get in the habit of trying to pick winners and losers in our relationships. Everyone should be worthy of our time, attention and support. This is why follow up is critical to strong relationships.

What do to with business cards: In the age of smartphones, business cards still rule the professional world—kind of like how email is still top dog despite Facebook and Snapchat. Most organizations and businesses give their employees thousands of business cards, which most of us don’t know what to do with. So we shower people with cards wherever we go. “You get a business card. You get one too!” Give ‘em to your friends. Trade ‘em with your parents.

My general rule of thumb whenever you get a business card (or any type of contact information) is to follow up within 24 hours. Why 24 hours? Because it’s timely and better than 3 days or 1 week. And for goodness sake, just keep it simple. There’s no need to follow up with a lengthy essay–keep it Twitter length. “Hi Michelle. It was nice meeting you yesterday. I really enjoyed our conversation together. I hope we can stay in touch.” Short and simple.

One last note about business cards: It helps to make notes on the back of cards to help you remember who you talked to. That way, when you follow up with them it doesn’t sound lame and generic.

The big take away

I think we often get networking and relationship building mixed up because they both inherently deal with our connections to other people. But networking has become a game where we calculate the most gain with the least amount of effort. Don’t fall into that trap. Focus on building authentic relationships with the people around you.

Now, I’ve said all I have to say about this. So who wants one of my business cards? Seriously, I need to get rid of them. I have over 600 left! So…the first 600 people to like this post or comment will get a business card, autographed by me!

New Reality TV Show Has Parents Visiting their Child’s work

My parents have been working at Boeing for as long as I can remember. Back there was a thing at Boeing called Take Your Child to Work Day; I’m not sure if they still do it now. It was cool. My sister and I got to hang out with our dad and tour the giant facility he worked in. To be fair, 8 years old everything seemed gigantic. Come to think of it, at 30 year old and 5’6″, everything still seems gigantic. The experience gave me some insight as to what my dad does as a machinist, which frankly, is still way over my head. By his title, I gather that he works with machines.

So this Labor Day, as we celebrate American workers, it got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if Asian parents could visit their children at work for a day? Maybe then our parents would finally understand what we do? Maybe then they would stop bugging us about careers we have no talent for or interest in. So I came up with the idea of a new reality TV show–which I’m calling Take Your Parents to Work Day. It’s a mix between Undercover Boss and Trading Spaces.


Host: This week, we follow James and his parents as they explore the secret world of community development. Let’s see what they think about their son’s life choices.

James: WTF? Mom? Dad? What are you doing here? I’m working right now.

Dad:  We’re on reality tv! Wanted to see what you do for work so we can brag to all of our friends.

Mom: Show us around honey!

James: Ok…well uh…check this out mom. My office has a machine that automatically cleans your dirty dishes. We call it a dishwasher.

Mom: Oooo…so modern. Why don’t we have one at home?

James: You do. You just happen to use it to dry dishes instead of wash them.

Dad: I told you you were doing it wrong honey!

James: Here’s my standing desk where I spend a lot of time writing grants.

Dad: What are grants?

James: Grants are like scholarships for non-profit organizations.

Mom: What do you do with grants?

James: Many of the grants we receive go to academic and family programs. A few go to general operating, which pays for my time.

Dad: If grants pay for your time, why don’t you write a big grant and give yourself a raise? That way your mom would stop worrying so much.

James: Great question dad. I could give myself a raise…but that just means I would have to work harder and write more grants to pay for that raise. Or, I could just keep the salary I have now and work a little less.

Mom: I think you’re doing it wrong. Why don’t you try making more money and working less at the same? Like one of those people in Congress?

James: Uh…I don’t know how to answer that mom. Moving on, this is the conference room where I meet with other community leaders to talk about equity and social justice. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, someone will bring leftover scones or banh mi to share. Those are good days.

Mom: Sweetie, what is social justice?

James: It’s complicated, but I will try to explain. Social justice promotes equal opportunity for all people—whether it’s economic, political, social or cultural.

Dad: You sound like a communist. Are you communist? Because that would be really embarrassing for your mom and me. What would our neighbors think?

James: No dad! Communism is a socioeconomic system based upon common ownership. AirBnB is more communist than social justice is.

Dad: AirBnB?

James: Nevermind. Social justice is a movement based on the concept of human rights and quality. It’s actually very American—if you work hard, you will be rewarded. It shouldn’t matter what you look like, your beliefs or where you come from; every single person should have the same opportunities for success. But the unfortunate reality is that not everyone has these same opportunities. For example, women are still making less than men for doing the same job.

Mom: That can’t be true. Your sister makes way more than you, even though you’re a director.

James: Well…yes, that’s true mom. Shirley has made some better life choices than me. But we’re just one example, and you can’t compare a major tech company to a non-profit.

Dad: Ugh, my head hurts. I still don’t get what you do. Grants, social justice, dishwashers. This is all so confusing.

James: It’s alright dad. It takes time to understand. Fortunately, I’ll be working here for a while so you’ll have plenty more opportunities to see what I do.

Mom: For a while? NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! How will you ever find a wife?

[Transition to interview with the host]

Host: So Mr. and Mrs. Hong, what did you think of your son’s workplace and job?

Mom: What do I think? I’ll tell you what I *beep* think. Thinks he can save the world on pennies. He has a *beep* Master’s degree and this is what he *beep* *beep* does *beep* with his time.

James: Relax mom. I’m doing fine. This is a job that I love and am good job.

Mom: Don’t tell me to relax. I’m about to retire. Come here. You want the coin? You want the *beep* coin!?

James: Noooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[end scene]


Alright, I admit that’s a bit dramatic, but it’s how I got my parents to really understand my motivations and passion for the community work that I do. It wasn’t overnight. I had to take my parents to events, celebrations, and benefit dinners. It was all worth it though because one night, out of nowhere, my mom said “I am proud of you.” And I said, “Thanks mom.” Then she asked when I was gonna have children. “Damn it mom, can’t we just enjoy this moment?”

That’s why every single Asian child should take their parents to work, at least once. Even if you are a doctor, engineer or lawyer, your parents probably still have no idea what you do. Though maybe if you’re a lawyer, maybe you don’t want them to know?

Anyways, what does everyone think? Good idea or bad? What do you imagine your parents would say if they ever visited your work place?

5 Annoying Things Every Asian Parent Says

My sister is visiting this week. For those of you who regularly read my blog (all three of you), you’ll probably remember that she has been living in London for the past few years and working for Amazon. She’s basically the anti-James—young, corporate and doesn’t need to coupon for groceries.

Whenever my sister is back in town, a lot of family-time follows. This past weekend, my parents, sister and I all had dinner together and got caught up on each other’s lives. Sometimes we have really healthy and productive conversations. We get to hear what my sister has been up to and my parents talk about their retirement plans, which thankfully does not involve living with me.

Other times, I feel like my parents are bullying me. Generally, this happens whenever we talk about education, careers or grandchildren. It’s annoying because I feel like they are never satisfied with what I do. I know my parents are well-intentioned and sincerely want the best for my sister and me, but they don’t always express it in the most effective ways. Here are a few examples of annoying things my parents say to me, and what I wish would come out of their mouths instead.

“Hey dad, I just got accepted into the University of Whateversville!!!”

Wrong answer: “Was it Harvard? Your cousin Billy got into Harvard. Why didn’t you?”

Why it’s wrong: Whenever we share good news, we want you to be excited for us. Not diminish that excitement by comparing it to “something better.” That’s a moving target and it’s unrealistic (except for the people who actually get into Harvard, like Cousin Billy). We work very hard and sometimes all we want is to be acknowledged for those efforts. School, for many teens and young adults, is probably one of the most stressful things we deal with. The ongoing misconceptions of the “model minority” doesn’t help either.

Here’s the right answer: “I am so proud that you got into the University of Whateversville. I know how difficult it was for you to take four AP classes, play varsity sports, captain the chess team to three state championships, and volunteer 500 hours at a local shelter. You even maintained a 4.00 GPA throughout high school…never mind that you tied for valedictorian with the two other Asian students in the school. We’re still happy for you!”

“Hey mom, I just got a new job!”

Wrong answer: “How much does it pay? Do you have benefits? Do you make more than your sister?”

Why it’s wrong: There’s a lot of pressure on young folks now-a-days to find successful careers. For many Asian Americans, success usually equals money. But this isn’t always true for millennials. Many of us are looking for careers where our skills, interests and passions all align. That might mean being a doctor or lawyer, but it can also mean being an artist, teacher or community developer (that’s me). We’re not looking for careers that are defined by money and salary, but by values and purpose.

Here’s the right answer: “Sweet! Let’s go celebrate. Do you want bubble tea? Or half a beer? I know how red your face can get. We look at your selfies on Facebook. You’re so cute on social. By the way, you can come home for dinner anytime you need. No community-developer-son-of-mine is going hungry.”

“Hey, I’m thinking about renting an apartment in Seattle. Can I borrow your van to move?”

Wrong answer: “Rent!? Waste of money. You should continue to live at home, save money, and then buy a house. So what if it takes you another ten years to do it. Save money!”

Why it’s wrong: That’s what you get for sending us off to college. We got a taste of the real world and it was delicious—like a bowl of pho. Now we never want to come home. There is nothing more rewarding than living on your own, even if that means renting. You remember all of those people who had their homes foreclosed during the housing crisis? They would have been better off renting. Millenials love renting. Renting gives us flexibility and keeps us mobile. We love mobile. Aspiring to buy a home isn’t everyone’s “American dream” anymore; winning our fantasy football league is. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to rent—especially with the prices in Seattle skyrocketing. So we appreciate that the door back home is always open to us. It means a lot, even if we do complain a crap ton.

Here’s the right answer: “Here are the keys to the van. No need to fill up the tank. Also, since you live in Seattle now, we most likely won’t ever come to visit you because Fremont is terrifying.”

“I’m in a serious relationship and I want you to meet them.”

Wrong answer: “Is he/she Chinese? Japanese? Vietnamese? Black? Lawyer? Muslim? Doctor?”

Why it’s wrong: Millennials have much different views when it comes to dating and relationships. The Pew Research Center reports that interracial marriage is on the rise among millennials. We’re not looking at a person’s race or job as a deciding factor—though we acknowledge those experiences greatly shape who the person is. We’re looking for x-factors like “awesomeness” and “hipness.” Do you know how difficult meet someone with high levels of awesomeness? Or finding someone who is hip, but not hipster hip? It’s harder than finding an Asian who is bad at math. Needle in a haystack hard. So when we find someone that we finally want to bring home, we want you to be happy for us. Because, who knows, we might end marrying them.

Here’s the right answer: “I can’t wait to meet him/her. And only him/her. Please use protection.”

“Mom, dad, I’m getting married!”

Wrong: “WTF? You? Married? Muahahahahahaha! But you’re not even a doctor. How can you afford a ring? You did get a ring, right?”

Why it’s wrong: So…I got nothing here. I’m actually not married myself, so….um…good luck with this one! If you’re engaged, please let me know how it goes and what you wish your parents would have said.

Here’s the right answer: “Congrats…?”


How about everyone else? What are some things your parents say that annoy you? And what do you wish they’d say instead?

7 reasons why your resume is boring and employers aren’t calling you back

Summer is upon us which means a new crop of students recently graduated and are slowly entering the real world. Half of them are probably going straight back to school to get medical, dental or pharmacy degrees (these are the Asian students), and the other half are probably freaking out trying to find work.

As an employer, I have received numerous emails and resumes from students looking for work in community development over the years. Although a few resumes have really stood out (those are the ones I hire), most have been uninspiring, full of grammatical mistakes, and really boring.

A study by by TheLadders, an online job site, found that most employers only spend six seconds reviewing a resume. I’m more generous though, and commit a full 7-8 seconds during my reviews. If you bing (you’re welcome Microsoft) “resume tips”, you will find a lot of articles on how to write a better resume. Most of them will tell you more or less the same thing. However, few articles tell you what a bad resume looks like. So I decided to put together a brief summary of what annoys me the most when reading resumes.

Please keep in mind these suggestions come from my perspective reading resumes that relate to non-profit work, community development, and education. I have no idea how Microsoft, dentists, Macy’s, House of Hong, etc. read resumes. They may have completely different preferences and styles.

1. “Obtain a job where I can convert my theoretical knowledge into practical work with my dual major in Asian American studies and biology.”

Why it’s forgettable: You’ve probably heard this a million times, “Start your resume with 1-3 sentences about your objectives.” My problem with a job objective is that it tells employers what you want. As an employer, I don’t really care what you want (I’ll start caring when you’re officially hired and I have to see your face every day). I want to hire someone who can make a positive and immediate impact to the organization—a job objective doesn’t tell me what you can do or what experience you have.

How to make it better: Use a “summary of qualifications” instead. It tells an employer what you can do for them based on what you’ve already done. It’s short, simple and eye catching. “X years of experience in community development, non-profit management, and strategic planning. Background also includes Asian American studies and biology. Conversational in Vietnamese.” It takes less than six seconds to read, and presents a broad, overall picture of your resume.

2. “Ability to type 50 words per minute, use a copier, and operate a fax machine.”

Why it’s forgettable: First off, no one uses fax machines anymore. That’s what pdfs and emails are for. Second, we’re at a point in society when you’re expected to know how to type and use word processors. Employers are no longer impressed with your basic computer skills, so you’re really just taking up space in your resume.

How to make it better: Let us know if you have experience with web design, coding, databases, social media, or even spreadsheets. These are much more interesting and more useful than typing 50 wpm. Heck, if you can format a spreadsheet and sum up a column, you will be the darling of the office and everyone will ask you to fix their computer problems. It’s the curse of competency.

3. “Bachelor of Arts in English, University of Washington, June 2014. Cumulative GPA 3.65.”

Why it’s forgettable: It’s because you majored in English. Just kidding. English is a wonderful major. No, it’s boring because of your GPA. Don’t get me wrong, a 3.65 GPA is really good! You should be proud of yourself. But a GPA has no meaning to employers. We want to know what you can bring to the organization, and a GPA doesn’t say much of anything. What’s the difference between a 3.65 and a 3.45 in terms of hirability?

How to make it better: Save yourself 19 characters and delete the GPA. It’s a distraction and distractions are bad for resumes. Another quick note about the education section—put it last! The education is a check box: either you have it or you don’t. That’s pretty much all we’re looking for, unless it’s a specialized field.

4. “Assisted with organizing and managing multiple programs and events” “Designed promotional materials, websites, and applications” “Taught English to a group of elementary school students.”

Why it’s forgettable: These are all passive statement and don’t do anything to distinguish you from other applicants. Employers want to know what you’ve accomplished! What are the outcomes of your work?

How to make it better: Quantify as much as possible. You can use numbers, percent, show increases or decreases, dollars, time, etc. Everything should be described in terms of results and achievements. If you’re ever stuck with how to phrase these sentences, use outcome statements like “that resulted in” or “in order to”.

5. Visitor Service Representative, The Science Museum, Nov. 2003 – Sept. 2004.

Why it’s forgettable: That happened 10 years ago! How old were you back then? Like…12? So probably 18 in Asian years.

How to make it better: The further into your past, the less detail you should have. Employers want to know relevant and recent professional experiences.

6. “Managed a donor database” “Maintained information and referral database” “Managed donor and volunteer database” “Performed data entry tasks”

Why it’s forgettable: This example was taken from a resume I reviewed last year. The applicant described three different positions using these four bullet points. When they are spread out across a resume it’s harder to see, but group them up and you’ll notice they all say the exact same thing. It’s redundant.

How to make it better: In the example above, I asked the applicant to critically look at all four statements, quantify them, and then pick the best one. If you know how to do something for one job, I assume you know how to do it for another job. Do not repeat yourself. All it does is make the resume longer.

7. You listed eight, say again EIGHT, previous work and volunteer experiences, each with at least 5 bullets.

Why it’s forgettable: This example comes from a resume that I proofread from a chemistry major. It was too long! Say again, WAY TOO LONG. I got bored and stopped reading. I didn’t even make it to the end of the first page. So I turned to page 2, and saw more professional experiences listed!!! So I skipped most of page 2 too. And then there was nothing left of the resume. I got through all of it in less than 7 seconds and called it a day.

How to make it better: Divide your experiences into two parts. Label part 1 “Relevant Experience.” Everything here should align with the position you’re applying for. Limit yourself to 3 professional experiences, with no more than 5 bullet points each. Why? No reason really…just an exercise in clarity and brevity.

Label part 2 “Other professional experiences.” Here is where you can talk about other things that are notable or skills you’d like to highlight. Keep it to a one sentence description though.


Well those are the major things that annoy me when reading resumes. I hope you found them useful. How about other employers out there? Any pet peeves when you review resumes or job applications? If any there are any recent grads out there who want me to proofread their resume, send ‘em to playingasian@outlook.com (just take out your identifiable information).

A couple other quick points that I won’t go into detail are:

  • Speaking another language is sexy (and hirable)
  • Rewrite your résumé for each job application. Don’t copy/paste.
  • Don’t care if you were an External Marketing Officer for your student club, or most of your other extracurricular activities—unless of course, they relate directly to the job you’re applying for.
  • You were student of the month in Math in November 2012? Congrats! Still don’t care. You won a Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer. Yes, that is interesting.