Blog Archive - August 2010

Posted: August 31, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

A good job search requires focus and discipline.  Too often job seekers do things haphazardly without any thought of building a routine.

I recommend that clients do the following.

1.  Network whenever possible.  Many experts say that at least 50% of your effort in looking for a job should be put into networking. 

2.  Build a routine for using job boards.  Find the categories where employers list the kind of jobs you want to pursue and check those sections on a regular basis.

For example, a job seeker seeking a job in sales might check that category in Careerbuilder on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  And on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, she would check the same category on Monster (or another job board).

3.  Identify companies you want to work for.  Set up a job search favorites folder and bookmark those companies.  Every two weeks, check open positions to see if there is something you can apply for. 

The more you can build routine and discipline into your job search, the better able you will be to contact potential employers.  On some level, getting hired is a numbers game: The more activity, the greater likelihood of success.  Build a routine that works for you, and stick with it.

Posted: August 30, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I’m helping a client who is pursuing a promotion.  He has been a manager for over seven years.  His current job search is targeting senior manager positions.  To write his resume, my priority was to demonstrate that he has the skills needed to take on this new role.

We highlighted his work history, especially the current job, that fits senior managerial qualifications. We demonstrated how he played a leadership role in shaping policy, rather than simply managing projects and executing orders from above. He also introduced several processes that increased productivity and efficiency. 

A key theme throughout the resume was leadership.  My client worked directly with senior level leaders (CIO, CFO) to change policies that affected the entire company.  He took the initiative to plan and lead a project that impact how U.S. and international business unit communicate and work together.  The company recognized this achievement and presented him with an Employee of the Year Award.  We included these words from a letter the CEO sent to all employees: “Ron’s leadership was outstanding.  His effort will make this company stronger and more competitive.” 

Whenever you are seeking a promotion, be sure that your resume shows why and how you are ready to move up.  Describe specific skills and achievements that show your qualifications. In other words, write your resume to fit the job you want, not the one you want to leave behind.

Posted: August 29, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling looks beyond issues of jobs to broader intersections of work and life]

The Cost of Efficiency

I call this section of my blog “Sabbath” in recognition of the great collections of poetry of the same name by the author and farmer Wendell Berry.  For many years, Berry has been recognized as a contrarian voice against the newest, best thing.  I’m currently reading a recent collection of his essays called What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth.  The book contains both new and previously published work, including the classic “What Are People For”(1985).

“What Are People For” is a three page essay, an elegy to the family farm, which had steadily disappeared after World War II and was on its last legs in the 1980s.  Berry challenges the argument of economists who labeled bankrupt family farmers as “least efficient producers” and claimed the entire economy was better off as farms grew large, more commercial – more like those models of modern efficiency, factories. 

Today similar claims are made about government and public sector workers.  In Chicago, parking meters were privatized.  The charge for parking under a non-profit government model was .25 to 50. an hour.  Under the competitive market model it’s $1.25 to $3.25 an hour.  Is that efficiency, or a tax increase paid to corporations?  Outsourced workers make less than their peers in the public sector for doing the same work.  Is that efficiency, or an excuse to push money up the economic food chain, redistribution of wealth to those who already have the most?

Twenty-five years ago, Berry saw this problem unfolding as farm workers left for a better life in the city.  One of his friends, a psychologist, said many of the relocated farm workers he met were “permanently unemployable” because they cannot adapt to city life.  He also notes that there are too many people and not enough jobs in the cities, a problem we know too well in 2010.

Berry sees the farm as a space where people had to work and had to respect the land.  Now we as a culture have a new set of values: “In a country that puts an absolute premium on labor-saving measures, short workdays, and retirement, why should there be any surprise at the permanence of unemployment and welfare dependency?”  He says we have lost our knowledge of how to feed ourselves.  It’s worse than that.  Look on the packed supermarket shelves mentioned earlier.  Now foods are pre-mixed, frozen, or already cooked.  Meat and vegetables are pre-cut in the name of speed and convenience. 

What are people for?  It’s a difficult question.  Berry believes in a world where people live free by supporting themselves.  For most Americans that life and culture are long gone.  What bothers me is that jobs offering security and paid living wages after people left the farm are now being replaced with “offshored and automated solutions.”  The middle class like the family farm is going away.  Should we call this efficiency – or madness?

Posted: August 28, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times featured a commentary by Gloria Tobolski Sendelbaugh, who is over 50 years old and unemployed.  She recounts a recent job interview in which an interviewer quickly lost interest because of Sendelbaugh’s age. 

I admire Sendelbaugh’s honesty and courage in writing this essay.  At the same time, however, I question whether the issue is simply that certain job seekers are too old.  Today’s business world is driven by bottom-line, short-term thinking.  Sendelbaugh may be correct when she says older workers will be experienced, hard-working, and reliable.  Employers are looking for other qualities: cheap and fearful.

Many companies hire under the assumption that younger workers will take lower wages because they have less experience.  As a rule, workers younger than fifty are also more easily controlled because they have more reasons to be afraid: mortgages, young families, student loans, large credit card balances.  Many employers (not all) recognize these pressure points and exploit them when hiring.

What can older workers do?  First, they can take heart from the fact that more 50+ Americans are in the job force than ever before.  It’s becoming more common for people to work into their seventies, which means a fifty-year old applicant can offer twenty more years of productivity.  Some employers values the qualities that workers lile Sendelbaugh offer.  Those are a few reasons to stay optimistic. 

It is the challenge facing older workers that Sendelbaugh captures so poignantly: How do you keep going in the face of hearing: “No.  No.  No.”?  My answer is to look around at older friends, relatives, and neighbors.  Many people are getting hired, often in new fields, after they have turned fifty.  How did they make the transition?  What have they gained and sacrificed in their new careers?  The employment market for older job seekers is very difficult.  However, it is not impossible.  As Tavis Smiley says, “Keep the faith.”

Posted: August 27, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Los Angeles Times reports that SEIU janitors have walked off the job after 16 janitors were laid off by buildings that host successful talent agencies.  The company that hired the workers is flush with cash.  Chase Bank, the owner of the building, has paid its executives big bonuses – why can’t it find a few bucks to keep 16 janitors working?

Simple answer:  Greed.  American corporations are crying poor and blaming President Obama for putting restrictions on them at a time when they are banking huge profits.  The cliché we hear again and again is that corporation “give” jobs.  Over the past few decades, they’ve moved – offshored – as many jobs as possible to whatever country will offer the cheapest labor. 

The janitors in L.A. are fighting back – as did teachers and transit workers in Chicago.  Working people need to resist attempts to drive down wages, and they need to stand together against the investor class that only cares about itself.  It’s easy to blame labor.  Let’s look at people running the companies, those who profit by putting their fellow citizens out of work.

Posted: August 26, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

The Chicago Sun-Times technology writer Brad Spirrison discusses the IT job market by comparing jobs connected with social media to those in programming.  The once hot programming jobs are now offshored to countries that pay cheaper wages, jobs in social media are the current growth industry.  Spirrison describes a program in which inner city students are trained in writing and technical skills required for social media. 

This program sounds interesting.  However, as we saw in Walgreen’s recent outsourcing of 150 accountants, anytime a business can get cheaper labor (or automate work processes), it will do so.  The trend across industries is to chase the bottom.  This philosophy might be good for company and shareholder bottom lines, but it will eventually destroy the American middle class.  Cheap labor has a cost.

Posted: August 25, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Los Angeles Times commentator Michael Hiltzik identifies one of the biggest causes behind unemployment:  profitable companies are not hiring.  Companies in the S&P 500 recorded nearly 40% profit and are hoarding reserves of cash.  What aren’t they doing?  Hiring.

Hiltzik points out that corporate greed and income disparity will come to a bad end for all Americans.  The rich need to have the bottom and middle circulating money, which is happening less and less. 

In a world filled with conservative voices, it’s good that we have at least one Michael Hiltzik.

Posted: August 24, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Yes! Magazine, Juliet Schor outlines a different model for employment – working sharing.  This idea is catching on in the U.S., and it was one of the main reasons Germany kept a low unemployment during its recession.  The concept is simple.  Companies shorten the work week for some workers, hire new employees to work those hours.  Government steps in and subsidizes the lost hours, so no employee loses income.  This is an alternative to traditional unemployment.

Germany was not the only company to follow this model.  Korea, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Japan, Belgium, Italy, and Finland used some version of shared work.  17 states in the U.S. gave employed workers unemployment benefits when their hours were cut.

Schor, a professor of Sociology at Boston College, thinks shared work could take a bad situation and turn it into an opportunity.  Employees will be less stressed and have a better work life balance.  There will also be ecological benefits because people will spend less and enjoy life more.

I really like this kind of thinking, which is common throughout Yes!  However, I doubt that many American companies or citizens would buy the model.  Recently some politicians were labeling unemployment benefits as “welfare.”  We live in an era when screechy political and media voices can turn simple government programs into “Socialism.”  What would they do with a common sense proposal like work share?  This great idea is too radical for Tea Party Nation.  It will be dismissed as “French.”

Posted: August 24, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles remains one of – if not the best – guides to the job search.  Bolles uses illustrations to underscore his advice.  My favorite graphic is a three line description of the job search.  It lists two ten word rows of “no.”  The next row has “no” nine more times followed by one word: “YES.”

This illustration, like most of Bolles’ advice, is brutally realistic.  Almost every job search is filled with rejection.  To be successful, you have to be tough and persistent.  You have to give yourself every opportunity.  That’s where many people sabotage their job search: They disqualify themselves before prospective employers have a chance to evaluate them.

How does this happen?  Too many people look at the list of requirements in a job posting and fail to send in an application unless they fill almost every requirement.  Employers generally list more requirements than they expect any one candidate to have.  This behavior has increased in a time of high unemployment when candidates with multiple skills are available.

Be realistic.  Look at the job posting and compare it to your qualifications.  Don’t expect to fill every requirement.  If you can perform the key job functions, apply for the job.  Give yourself the opportunity to land an interview. In the end, you don’t know what the employer is looking for. 

Don’t disqualify yourself.  If you think you are qualified for a job, apply for it.  Let someone else tell you “no” – or, better still, let them say, “YES.”

Posted: August 23, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Behind every question at every job interview, a broader question is always being asked: “Why should I hire you?”

The challenge for job seekers is not to guess at what magic answer will satisfy that question.  Instead, we need to listen the interviewer and understand what she is looking for.  Some interviewers will emphasize skills and experience.  Others will look for the right kind of personality, someone who will be part of the team. 

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to know the motive behind the interviewer’s questions.  The best way to make a good impression is by listening and responding to the employer’s needs.  Some job seekers try to add story after story to an answer as a way to “cover all bases.”  That’s a bad idea.  First, the interviewer will be confused.  Second, she will think you didn’t answer her question. 

The trick to answering a question well is to frame it using the interviewer’s words.  If she asks, “Give me an example of what makes you a good problem solver.”  Your answer might begin, “I have always been a good problem solver because I am patient and focused.  Then you can fill out your answer and conclude with another sentence that underscores the main point: “My employers and customers have always looked to me when there is a problem.  They know I’m the one who will get the job done.”  Listen to the question so you understand the key word or phrase, and then frame you answer with that word or phrase.

Similarly, you need adapt your achievements or success stories to fit the question.  Think about the different ways you can tell the story to fit different needs of a company.  You could demonstrate your ability to meet goals by talking about a percentage or number of sales.  The same story could demonstrate flexibility in showing what you did to achieve that number.  Again, the first step is to listen and understand what the interviewer is looking for.

A good interview is not a presentation in which you are in control.  You have to listen and follow the rules set by the interviewer.  Relax, listen, and give the best answer you can.  If you follow that simple formula, most interviews will go well.