Blog Archive - August 2009

Posted: August 31, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

“Don’t brag.”  It’s a lesson we all learned as children.  It’s also a deadly virtue when one is looking for a job or trying to advance as a professional.  Of course, no one wants to listen to someone boast and talk constantly about him or her self.  However, to land a good job or get a promotion, you need to project more than skill and confidence.  You need to convince the hiring manager that you are the best person for the job.  Humility is not an asset.

 In writing your resume, it’s not enough to list the duties you performed.  Everyone a company interviews will have a similar background of skills, experience, and education.  To set yourself apart you need to show how you have contributed to the success of your previous employers.  When possible and appropriate, your success should be quantified.  However, some achievements can’t be supported with a number or percentage.  Take credit for any success that will help an interviewer see you as a strong candidate for the open job. 

 Here are some examples of achievements as they might be stated in a resume:

•  Set a company record by generating 23 leads at a national industry trade show, which  resulted in more than $500,000 in new revenue. 

•  Saved 66% on new software by negotiating with vendors.

•  Recognized by supervisor for improving sales training programs.

•  Named Employee of the Year (2005); Employee of the Month (several times).

•  Selected to lead teams that opened two new retail locations. 

 During an interview, be able to tell success stories.  Turn your achievements into brief stories that will help convince the employer that you are the one she has to hire.  Keep the story as concise and focused as possible.  If possible, link what you did to what you will do in the job you’re interviewing for.  Success stories help the hiring manager see you as an asset to the company, someone who will make a real difference. 

 The one simple rule is never lie or exaggerate. 

 Think about the contribution you have made to your previous employers.  Use those facts to motivate potential employers that you are the person they need to hire.

 Good companies hire winners – show them you’re a winner.

Posted: August 30, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

I’m not a religious person.  Even so, the idea of the Sabbath intrigues me.  We live in a 24/7 society that never stops.  One of my good friends is an engineer.  He takes work calls at home on nights and weekends.  Many professionals do the same.  The cell phone and computer tie them to the job, especially in a global market where business partners in China and India work while we sleep.

 How can we escape this situation?  We probably can’t.  That said, I want to use my Sunday posts to consider work and what it means to be free of work – Sabbath, a day of rest. 

 My inspiration is a great American writer who has never won the respect he deserves:  Wendell Berry.  Berry’s poems which he has collected in books with the title Sabbaths explore how we can find peace in a harried world.  Here is a stanza that embodies that quest:

The mind that comes to rest is tended

In ways that it cannot intend:

Is borne, preserved, and comprehended

By what it cannot comprehend.

In the weeks to follow, I want to look at Robert Frost, Studs Terkel, and others who have written about work and rest.  I’ll also reflect on some of my own experiences that have made me realize that while we must work, there is more to life than working.

Posted: August 29, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

CNN's Business unit has a brief (47 second) video that outlines what is needed to conduct a good job search. 

I have a slight disagreement with the first point:  volunteering.  It can help in some cases, but it is not essential.  For some  of my clients, it has even been a waste of time. 

Other than that quibble, this video offers solid advice.  Most importantly, that a job search takes time.  My advice to client is that most job searches average 3-6 months. 

Patience isn't a virtue.  Along with hard work, patience is a necessity.

Posted: August 29, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

What drives employers’ hiring decisions?  Skills?  Experience?  Education?  While all of these factors are important, the most important quality that leads to job offers is confidence

Employers hire people who make them feel confident.  Job seekers must interview in a way that makes the hiring manager believe they can do the job.  Beyond that, however, references make employers believe you have what they need.  For that reason, you need to choose wisely when asking people to be your reference.

 Former supervisors often make the worst references, especially if you left a job on bad terms.  Only list your most recent boss after asking that person if he or she will say good things about you.  If you cannot ask that question or you cannot trust this person, look in other places.  Former supervisors, co-workers, customers, vendors – anyone who knows your work is a potential reference.

A good reference must have the ability to sell you as a valuable employee.  Recruit references who know your worth as a professional.  Be sure that they are aware of your current career goals and the kind of jobs you will be pursuing.  Never tell your references what to say about you, but you can ask what they will say and suggest some more specific points that could help them present you in the best light.

Ask your references to review a copy of your resume, which will let them know how you are presenting yourself to employers.  They also might notice some good selling points that you failed to include.  Finally, your references could even pass the resume along to someone they know who could help you land a job.  Think of your references as part of your network – in most cases, its most important members.

What should you give to your references?  First, let them know that you appreciate what they are doing for you.  When you land a job, send each reference a thank you card or small gift.  Beyond that, make it clear that you want to return the favor they have done for you.  You want to help them. 

Good references don’t just know what you do; they have faith in you.  Their confidence will help your next employer believe in you.  It will also make that person offer you the job.

Posted: August 28, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Every job search is a sales campaign.  Your goal is to convince an employer that you have what she needs.  That means you are the product, the marketer, and the salesperson, all rolled into one.

 Your resume is a marketing tool.  Its purpose is to demonstrate that you have the experience, skills, and education required for a position.  Too often job seekers sabotage themselves by not including or highlighting relevant information.  They do this because

 1.  I will talk about it in the interview. 

 What if you don’t get the interview because your resume doesn’t show your ability and value to the employer?  You need to fully demonstrate that you have the skills to do the job.  You also should cite achievements that will set you apart from your competitor.  In this sample, the paragraph below the job title outlines skills and experience.  The bullets designate achievements and recognition.

 2.  I wanted to keep my resume on one page.

 Most employers will read two page resumes.  However, no employer will take the time to read more than half a page of a poorly organized document.  They do not have time to figure out why you should be interviewed.  Put the most relevant information first – show why you are a good candidate for the job.

 3.  My most recent job was in sales, so I have to put it first.

A resume can show years worked without being strictly chronological.  You can separate your work experience into sections labeled Relevant Experience and Related Experience.  This strategy will let you highlight the experience and achievements that the kind of employer wants to see.  Another way to show skills is by demonstrating different kinds of experience.  In this sample, a job candidate is trying to change careers.  So she distinguishes her experience as a nurse from her work as a sales representative.   

Think about your resume as a strategic marketing document.  It’s not a simple job history that lists all the jobs you have held.  Your resume needs to be organized so it convinces the reader (your future employer) that you are worth the time she will invest in interviewing you.

Look at your resume through the employer’s eyes.  Would I take the time to interview this candidate?  Is this someone I would want to hire?

 If your answer to these questions is “No,” it is time to put some serious work into making your resume a document that sells.

Posted: August 27, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

The website Meetup has several groups in Chicago that are career oriented.  These groups are a great, economical way to network and meet new people.  It will also give you the opportuntiy to share your experiences with other people who are looking for work.  Looking for work is often frustrating and always lonely.  Share the experience, and it will be a little easier -- and maybe even fun.

Posted: August 27, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Most people don’t look for work or manage their career; they answer ads.  While people do find jobs this way, their progress is slow and often frustrating. A small display ad will bring in between 100-500 responses, which means it takes companies time to sort through resumes.  No matter how good your resume might be, it is easy to get lost in such a large pile.  There is also competition. Answering an ad is like swimming in a pool filled with hungry sharks.  Someone as good as you might be willing to work for lower wages because that person is hungrier – or more desperate. 

So how do you get noticed and called to interviews?  Try taking a more direct path to an employer’s door: networking.  Contact professional acquaintances, friends, relatives and let them know the kind of job you are seeking.  Ask them if they have any advice or if they know anyone you should talk to.  Initially, many people will say no only to call back in a week or two with the kind of lead that will get you an interview, if not a job. 

Network contacts don’t always need your resume, but you should give them some verbal message that they can use to connect you with potential employers.  Many experts call this a “thirty second commercial” or “elevator speech.” For example, a pharmaceutical sales representative might say: “I have 15 years experience in pharmaceutical sales and a proven ability to increase business.  My presentation skills are strong, and I’m comfortable dealing with general practitioners and specialists.”

Online networking (Facebook, LinkedIn) gives job seekers more options to connect with people they know or have worked with in the past.  These contacts are possible referrals, and they may know about openings in a given industry.  Like “offline” networking, the online variety comes with no guarantees.  It requires that you develop and maintain relationships.  Most importantly, you have to be patient and keep working. 

Effective networking is not a simple way to land interview or job.  However, it offers a better tool to understand your career and manage it.  Network contacts see your skills from different angles and guide you in marketing those gifts. They can also help you uncover new positions in your field and even change careers.

Keep records of everyone you contact during your job search and schedule follow up calls with people who say they can help you.  Be sure that you thank everyone, even those people who say that they cannot help your right now. Good networkers try to look out for others whenever possible.  Their attitude is not “how can you help me,” but “how can we help each other?”

Posted: August 26, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

People lose a job, or they decide that what they are currently doing is not satisfying.  Then comes the moment of terror:  What’s next?  Most people look backward to old jobs and the skills those positions required.  Looking in the rear view mirror can be a good thing if these experiences were rewarding.  For many people, however, looking back is a trap.  What seems like an easy path to the next job is actually a step backward – or sideways – that often leads to frustration and unhappiness.

A better approach is to start with a simple question:  What do I like to do?  What doesn’t feel like work? We are most motivated when we use skills that challenge and stimulate us.  So the starting point of career change or job search should not be an overview of skills and experience.   Instead, we have to start by exploring the forces that motivate us.

Begin with your passion.  What makes you want to keep working?  What have you done that has made you proud?  Approach these questions openly, thinking back as far as you can remember.  Try to list 25 “I like” statements.  Don’t worry about how they fit a classified ad or a job description.  Write down things you like to do whether or not they are directly related to work.  You’ll get farther, faster by focusing on what motivates you, what makes you happy.  After you have that information, it is easier to distill what skills match your passions and what industries and companies need such skills.

Take the example of Sara, who was a successful retail manager.  After five years, she grew tired of doing the same thing every day.  She no longer wanted responsibility for employees who were impossible to motivate.  After taking inventory of her passions, she focused on two areas, fashion and cosmetics.  Her next step was to think about the kinds of jobs in these industries that fit her skills and interest.  Sara decided to pursue positions as an Account Representative.  Rather than directly serving customers, she now sold to the stores.  This job excited Sara because it demanded strong product and industry knowledge.  Moreover, it energized her because every day brought new challenges, not numbing routine. 

Anyone can follow this model.  First explore your passions and dreams.  Then get practical.  Shape your resume to reflect the career you want, not the one you are leaving behind.  Present yourself to others as the person you are becoming.  Talk about your new profession and why you will be successful.  Finally, pursue your dream with faith and optimism. 

The road to career happiness may not be fast or easy, but when you find a job that fits your passions, the reward will be more than worth the cost.


Postscript: Senator Ted Kennedy died yesterday after a year-long battle with cancer.  Kennedy exemplified the type of person whose work was his passion.  A man of his wealth and status could have retired at any time.  He also could have made considerably more money working in the private sector – or as a lobbyist.  Kennedy loved politics, public service, and the Senate.  Whether we are liberals or conservatives, it is impossible not to respect someone whose work so clearly followed his passion.

Posted: August 25, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Every story about the contemporary economy compares what is happening today to what happened in the 1930s, 1970s, or 1980s.  Stock markets fall.  Companies close.  What is different about the situation facing workers today?  Companies now ask their employees to take days off with no pay – furlough days.

The City of Chicago is making non-union employees take 15 days (3 weeks) off, some of those day are scheduled as holidays, days for which they would have been paid.  Union employees are being asked to take 24 unpaid days through June 30, 2011 (Sun Times, 7-2-2009).  They will also receive comp time instead of overtime pay.  Why would unions and non-union workers accept this scheme of unpaid time off.  Why?  They fear the most dreaded words: Layoffs.

I am not saying that unemployment is preferable to furlough days.  What we need to notice is that employers have found a new way decrease salaries, a practice which will affect even more workers than layoffs. They have a good marketing pitch:  Everyone shares the pain.

The problem with this “job saving” model is that it trains workers to accept lower incomes and be happy about because they still have jobs.  They will get used to making less money, which is great for employers because more millions will be left on the table to pay bonuses needed to retain top management.

Pay cuts, benefit cuts, and downsizing – and furlough days – create a climate of fear and uncertainty.  Workers will begin to think that any job at any salary is the ideal.  We will find ways to make do with less – look for the specials at Wal-Mart and clip more coupons.  The path of lower wages is not just a slippery slope for individual workers.  It’s the road to ruin for this country and its people.

Posted: August 24, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Gail MarksJarvis reports in her On the Money Blog that the job market in Chicago will not return to its pre-recession level until 2014.  This forecast may be true.  It also may be way off the mark (no disrespect meant to MarksJarvis, who is an excellent reporter).

 What concerns me when I read this type of story is the effect it has on job seekers who have lost confidence.  Negative news reinforces the belief that “there are no jobs out there.”  Rather than engage in networking or looking for opportunities to send out resumes, the depressed job seeker goes to Starbucks or sits watching reruns of Andy Griffith.

 I’m not asking the media to give us happy news.  Their job is to report the facts, and the report from Global Insight that MarksJarvis cites is depressing, especially for people in Detroit, where unemployment is over 15%.

 But let’s look beyond the statistics for a minute.  There are still job openings.  Companies like and are still in business.  On a more local level, two of my clients in the last week are pursuing jobs that were recommended by former co-workers.  A video store two blocks south of my office has a help wanted sign in the window.  There are opportunities.  Is this a great job market?  Of course not.  Are employers playing games with salary and benefits? Yes, they are.  Even so, we need to balance on the ground realities against the buzz of 24/7 media.

 Unemployed or employed, we need to practice smart career management.  Start by taking inventory of  skills and experience.  What qualities do we each possess that a potential employer might need?  Who are those employers – what industries and companies?  Do we know anyone who works in those industries or companies?  Is my resume updated?  Have I kept up with my professional network, especially the people who will be my references?

In this bleak job market, each of us has to be ready to look for a job tomorrow (if not today).  Our boss and their boss own the jobs we currently hold.  Their actions – like the economy – our beyond our control.  We have a great deal of control over how we look for work, how active we are in seeking new opportunities. 

 We need to treat our careers as our business – the business we have to own.