Blog Archive - April 2010

Posted: April 30, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Many of my clients talk about companies they really want to work for.  How can you get that dream job?  First, get to know the company.  What does it do?  What kind of employees does it hire?  How do your skills fit that business?  Become an expert in the company.  Look at its website on a regular basis.  What news are they providing?  What new jobs have opened at the company?  Watch out for promotions.  When a company promotes employees, they usually have to hire replacements at some level, which could be an opportunity for you

Do a Google search and see how your ideal company is being covered in the business press and industry publications and websites.  Know key competitors and how they are changing.  Think about working for a competitor.  They will probably need employees with similar skills.  Compare that company to your ideal and see if it offers similar benefits and opportunities for growth.

Network and meet people in the company or its business partners.  Use your traditional network and see if anyone you know has a contact in your targeted company.  Then try the new path – social networking.  LinkedIn is built for such research.  You can find all of the employees with a company who have an account.  Are any of them linked to someone you know?  Will that person make an introduction for you?

Getting hired by the ideal company is often hard.  You have to be available when the company has the right kind of job opening.  You also have to sell yourself as the best candidate.  The odds are long, but not impossible.  Do the research, be persistent, and the door might open.

Posted: April 28, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Yahoo Finance has an interesting article on HR departments and how they affect employees and job seekers.  Some of the 10 points listed in the article are employee-friendly.  Others are not.  Here’s an important point to remember: HR workers for companies, not workers.  In some cases like training and talent development, a good HR department can help employees develop skills and earn promotions.  In others, such as complaints against managers, its mission is to protect the company’s interests.

The article notes several key points that affect job seekers.  First, HR departments have shrunk during the recession.  With fewer people, they will have less time to do things like review resumes.  It is vital to show that you fit what the company is looking for in job postings.  Another key point is that HR department will test employees and candidates for everything from personality and skills to drug use, criminal background checks, and credit reports.  HR’s job is to screen out candidates who will be problem employees. 

Always keep this point in mind, every company has a different structure for its HR department.  How can you learn more about a company’s policies?  Ask the right questions.  When you interview with an HR manager, ask how the department operates and what it does to help employees reach their professional goals. 

Is HR an ally, neutral, or hostile?  It will be different at every company.  Evaluate HR during your interviews, and use whatever resources you can to get the job offer or grow your career.

Follow this link to read the article.

Posted: April 28, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois is ranked 7th in tech jobs.  According to one expert cited in the article, the state added new employees in this sector.  Technology is vital to business growth, and this new is good for Illinois and working people in this state.  To read the article, follow this link.

Posted: April 27, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Sun-Times reports that payrolls are up and job cuts are down.  This is good news, but not the best.  57% of the companies responding to an industry survey said their business was up for the quarter.  Last quarter that number was only 6%.  That’s a big jump and great news.  More business will mean more jobs.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Click here to read the full (short) article.

Posted: April 27, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I’m not talking about the lead kind that come out of a gun – but the Microsoft dots that litter Word resume templates and PowerPoint presentations.  Seth Godin has a good time in his latest post demonstrating what’s wrong with laying bullet on top of bullet on top of bullet (You get the point – It’s put you to sleep at meetings.). 

We think bullets make our documents organized and easy to read.  They do if the bullets are used in moderation.  Heavy bulleted presentations turn readers off.  It is better to present ideas in brief paragraphs.  Save the bullets for short points that you want to stand out.  In my resume format, I generally use bullets to mark achievements.

Click here to read Seth’s post.  Remember the moral of his story:  Too many bullets kill – your presentation.

Posted: April 26, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I volunteered at a job fair on Saturday, and reviewed resumes of 35 job seekers.  Many of these people shortchanged themselves by not giving a clear sense of what kind of job they were looking for.  Employers receive a heavy volume of resumes, many of which do not indicate what position job the applicant is seeking or why they are qualified.

How can you keep employers focused when they are reading your resume?  Framing.

The first frame is located at the top of your resume: What position are you seeking?  There are two ways to answer this question: An objective or a word/phrase in a profile. 

If you are pursuing positions that have several possible title or pursuing a career that is not easy to infer from the job titles you have held, start your resume with an objective.  An objective should be a simple statement that lets the reader know what position is sought.  For example: To obtain a position as an Account Executive.  If you have always held one position (Teacher, Retail Manager) and you are pursuing that position, simply begin the profile section of your resume with that title.  It will be obvious to the employer what position you are pursuing. [Follow this link to see an example of a resume that begins with a profile.]

You also need to frame your resume so the employer can easily see key qualifications: experience, education, certification, computer skills, language, and military service.  Experience can be tricky to format on a resume.  Sometimes we jump from one type of a job to another and our experience begins to look confused.  If your work history doesn’t follow a chronology that shows your experience clearly, split your experience into two sections, relevant and related.  Under relevant, group the jobs that are related to the job you are currently seeking.  Under related, list the other work. [A link to .pdf sample is pasted below].

Frame your resume in a way that will make it easy for employers to see you as a qualified candidate.  No one has time to figure out why you are qualified.  That’s your job, and, if you don’t do that job well, employers will not be calling you to schedule interviews.

Relevant Experience Sample

Posted: April 25, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a short article on performance reviews.  It is based on the findings of Samuel Culbert, a management professor at UCLA and author of Get Rid of Performance Reviews.  Culbert says reviews only produce two results: angst and anxiety.”  Instead, he challenges managers to be more involved and not just blame those below them for failure.  He’s not for coddling underperforming employees, who should be “out the door and on the road.”  Culbert believes the right way to manage is not by “checklist,” but by a culture of “joint accountability.”

My experience with 360 degree reviews matches well with the professor’s findings.  Beyond that, I believe several of my clients who have been let go from their jobs over the last 12 months were often victims of managers who needed to justify a poor bottom line or make a budget look better.  It’s easy to point the finger at someone else.  As Culbert says, good managers share accountability. 

Follow this link to read the article

Posted: April 25, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Traditions and Walls

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders work and life in a feature inspired by Wendell Berry’s great poems on the Sabbath.]

I’ve always loved Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall.”  Like much of Frost’s writing, it is clear and witty.  What brings me back to the poem is its deeper contemplation on tradition, especially mindless tradition/truth not based on reason or evidence.

The poem takes place in spring when the speaker calls his neighbor to meet and repair the stone fence that sets the line between their properties.  From the outset, the speaker complains that this annual ritual is futile.  The rocks will fall.  Hunters will knock the fence apart to catch hiding rabbits. Beyond these facts, each man has areas where they do not need a fence to mark their property: “He is all pine and I am apple orchard.” 

Still the speaker will not try to reason with his neighbor.  He has done so in the past, only to hear this refrain: “Good fences make good neighbors.”  The speaker wants to go beyond these words:  “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out.”  But he has given up on convincing his neighbor because

 “He will not go behind his father’s saying. 

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.”

The work described in this poem is both physical and mental.  Two men lift stones of various sizes and pile them to build the wall.  A deeper kind of work occurs in two minds.  The speaker asks why this wall is needed.  The neighbor bases his belief on tradition wisdom, the truth handed to him by his father.

Throughout history, traditional wisdom has battled reason in the contest for truth. Galileo knew that the sun was the center of our solar system.  The church, basing its truth on what was handed down, said the earth was the center.  Facing torture, Galileo did what most reasonable people would do: He agreed with the church.

Even today, many of the walls that separate people – immigration, abortion, equal marriage – are based on a conflict between reason and tradition.  Why is something right?  That’s the way it has always been.  Often truth based on tradition takes strength from fear – fear of change.  Like the two men in the poem, we do useless work because we will not go behind “our father’s saying.” 

The military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provides a good example of tradition in conflict with reason.  Under this policy, gays and lesbians can be expelled from the service if their sexuality is made public.  Over the years since 9/11/2001 and over the course of two wars, the military has discharged committed people, many of whom (such as translators who speak Arabic) are in short supply.  Still, like the neighbor in Frost’s poem, traditionalists ignore examples from other countries where straight and gay serve together in the military.  They support their argument with claims based on keeping things the way they have been. 

All traditions are not bad.  In fact, some can be revolutionary.  In his recent book Food Rules Michael Pollan argues that we could improve our diets and health by looking back to how our grandparents and great grandparents ate.  Unlike traditionalists who won’t question authority of received wisdom, Pollan explains his reasons and links them to contemporary eating habits that have made too many people fat and sick. 

Is the work worth doing?  Is the tradition still worth following?  Does it have a function, or is it an empty ritual?  We need to ask these questions.  Or, like the two men in Frost’s poem, we will waste our time and energy piling rocks that are just going to fall.

Posted: April 23, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The only way to get ahead is to have a goal.  Likewise, ambition drives us to test our skills and take on more responsibility.  The problem is that we are taught from the time we were children to be humble, not to be pushy.  We do our best at work and wait for our supervisors to recognize us and offer the promotion we deserve.

If you deserve a promotion or a raise, there is nothing wrong with telling your boss what you want.  Be prepared to make a case why you deserve what you are asking for.  If the boss turns down your request, take the news calmly and professionally.  Ask what you will have to do to achieve your goal.  If the answer is negative or dodgy, it might be time to dust off your resume and start looking for a new job.  A dead end gets you no where.

Ambition and goals are healthy energies that help us drive our careers.  We cheat ourselves when we are passive about getting what we want.  We wait and watch less qualified people pass us by because they know how to ask for what they want.  Don’t cheat yourself.  Pursue your goals and follow your ambitions.  Get what you deserve.

Posted: April 22, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that 54% of Americans have saved no money in the last year.  The article goes on to tell people how to save:  Make a budget, don’t eat out, and save for retirement.

Good advice – however, what if half of Americans are living so close to the edge that they can’t save?  As I’ve written, many of my clients have taken pay cuts, furlough days, or shortened work weeks.  How can people save if they’re barely paying the bills.

This is a link to the article.  I’m not enthusiastic about recommending it.

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