Blog Archive - August 2010
A story in the Chicago Sun Times reports that more people than ever before filed early for Social Security benefits. This increased number means that the system is paying out more than its reserves for the first time in its history. That’s the bad news for the short term. The government will find some fix, which will probably involve a tax increase.
Why has this happened? Older people can’t find jobs. Here’s my concern: people retiring early only receive 75% of their benefits. Those who wait to retire until their 70 birthday earn 32% more. What this story doesn’t say is that early retirement is a good deal for the Social Security system because it will pay those recipients a quarter less of the benefit. In the long run, this will be a win for the government. The working people who took early retirement have given up 25% of their benefit. This job market will cut their income and security for the rest of their lives.
While reading the paper today, I noticed a growing trend in Major League Soccer (MLS), DP, which stands for Designated Players. The MLS (not to be confused with the Multiple Listing Service) was built on a structure that controlled player salaries. It did not go after big name international talent, favoring American players. That changed a few years ago when the Los Angeles Galaxy signed David Beckham.
By allowing more teams to take on higher paid, star players, the MLS will have rosters with many players who make thousands and a few who make millions. In yesterday’s game, New York had three, Chicago two. What MLS is setting up is a two-tier model for salary. David Beckham earns $6.5 million a year. Other players make as little as $40,000 (see graph). Compare this to the NBA where Kobe Bryant salary is 24.8 million, and his lowest paid team "only" earns $1.3 million (graph).
Can this system work over time, especially in a game like soccer that depends on all the players working together? In a similar vein, can American society hold together when those at the top have excess income and economic security and those at the bottom have less and less? In a way, what’s going on in the MLS is a model for our country.
[On Sunday’s, Career Calling explores intersections of life and work in Sabbath.]
I recently finished a great book called The Art of War: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. On the surface, this is a book for writers. Many of Pressfield’s examples, good and bad, come from his career as writer. On a deeper level, however, the book applies to anyone in almost any activity. Too often we sabotage ourselves by giving in to a force that Pressfield calls “Resistance.”
Other people don’t stop us – we stop ourselves. Resistance is an internal force that prevents us from pursuing our goals. Pressfield describes it this way: “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we were born to be.” His main solution to this problem is simple and direct: Do your work.
Resistance is a shape shifter, a range of behaviors and emotions that keep us for doing the work we need to succeed. Pressfield lists over 20 forms of Resistance. I’ll summarize a just few:
1. Procrastination: We put thing off until tomorrow (and tomorrow).
2. Distractions: Food, TV, sex (etc.)
3. Victimhood: We tell ourselves stories in which we are too weak or disabled to work.
4. Criticism: Someone will always find a reason to put us down. If we listen to those voices, we will be paralyzed.
5. Self-doubt and Fear: We think we are not good enough. We think we cannot do it.
6. Rationalization: We find a good reason not to do the work we need to achieve our goals. It is often a good reason, but it still stops us from doing our work.
How can we avoid the traps of Resistance? Pressfield says we should become professionals. One quality of a professional is someone who understands that we will always live with the fear. Beyond that, a professional is someone who masters her craft every day, not an amateur who works on projects when she feels like it.
When we want something but cannot achieve it, Resistance is usually the cause. Our challenge is to face Resistance and find a way to do the work we need to do. Steven Pressfield has given us a good road map about how to get around the road blocks and reach our goals.
The Chicago Tribune has conducted a poll that shows over 50% of Chicagoans fear losing their job. The poll claims that 86% of those who still have jobs are “somewhat” pleased with their jobs (Wonder why if over half the respondents fear job loss?).
I’m not saying workers, especially the unemployed, don’t have cause for fear. But there are degrees. Read Seth Godin’s wonderful, short post, “Every Monster has a Big Shadow.” Yes, the job market is difficult. The real unemployment rate is probably about 17%.
Turn it around. 8 of 10 Americans have jobs. Is the fear real? It is. But our crisis, scary monster media feeds on fear (Y2K, terrorism alerts, H1N1 flu – Why aren’t we all dead?). The only thing worse than the media are polls. Manage your career, and let the rest of the world manage theirs.
Or, as Seth would say, fear the monster, not its shadow.
Paul Krugman speculates that American young people might be following the same path as their peers in Japan. The picture is not pretty. Education is promoted, but not rewarded in the work world. Young people earn significantly less than their parents. Japan is becoming a society of haves and have nots. Is the U.S. following a similarly dark road?
What do you do best? What are your strengths? Core competencies are those skills and areas of knowledge that let you do your job well. For some people, they are leadership, problem solving, and organization. For others, they could be communication skills, relationship building, and networking. The first type of person would likely be a manager or supervisor. The second would be in sales or fund-raising. Once we define our core competencies, we can use them to plan and manage our careers.
Think about your most recent jobs (the last 5-7 years) and note what skills they require. Then group those skills to reflect broader skills sets. For example, if my current job asks me to lead presentations, negotiate contracts, and listen to customer complaints, I can list communication skills as a core competency. If the job requires that I do bookkeeping, calculate a payroll, and maintain client records, I have organizational or administrative skills.
If you’re having trouble defining your core competencies, I recommend Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. This book defines different categories. More importantly, it offers an online evaluation that will give a detail report on your strengths.
Think of core competencies as your broadest selling points. Look at job postings for the kind of jobs you want to pursue. Do your current core competencies align with what the employer needs? If not, it might be time to look for a kind of job that matches what you do best. Too often, we find a job and do it. When we align our job to our strengths, we are more successful and happy. Discover your core competencies and use them to manage your career.
Quite a few clients have told me that they don’t need to list computer skills on their resume. “Everybody knows Microsoft Office,” they say. I caution that this assumption is not true. More importantly, I point out that employers ask for specific software skills in most job postings. It is in your interest to list as many of those skills as you are able to use.
The best way to determine what computer skills are needed by employers is to conduct a market profile (the same way you determine other skills needed in your resume). Collect 6-10 job postings for the kind of job you want to apply for. Make a list of the computer skills that are required. If you lack any of those skills, it might be time to pursue some training. List the programs you know on your resume. Don’t second guess yourself too much. If you have used software on the job and can still use that program, I recommend putting it on your resume. If you haven’t used a program in years or if you have little experience using it, don’t put it on your resume.
IT professionals will often have detailed lists of technical skills. These lists will change depending on the job seeker’s professional role (programmer, network administrator, help desk). The challenge for these professionals is to demonstrate that their skills are up to date and that they fit the employer’s specific needs. It is vital to read job postings and adjust technical skills to match each application.
Never assume that the employer will know what computer skills you have to offer. List them on your resume. Almost every job requires use of a computer. We need to let employers know how we can use this important tool.
In today’s Chicago Sun Times, Mary Mitchell tells the story of Thomas Samata, who owns Labor One, Inc, a company that unloads trucks. His crew at Bensenville works for U.S. Food Service. The workers were recruited from Cabrini Green, when it was one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods. Samata hired men with checkered work histories, including some who were felons. He supported them, and they proved themselves by becoming good workers. One of the workers calls Samata, “a second a father.”
U.S. Food Service has canceled the contract for this team with no explanation. Mitchell speculates that the cause could be that they are union workers (Teamsters Local 703), or it could be because they are the only all African American team in Labor One (which has other units in Illinois, North Dakota, New Jersey, and Minnesota). Samata has appealed to U.S. Food Service, but he has received no reply. Samata is working with the union to see if there are any legal options to protect his workers and save their jobs.
My guess is the North Carolina company hired to replace Labor One is cheaper. If that’s the case, why doesn’t U.S. Food Service say that? But to the greater point, which Mitchell makes at the end of her column, “What Labor One did is something to emulate, not destroy.”
Wal-Mart America sees things differently. First and last, it’s about the money.
This morning I was picking up a newspaper just as they were being delivered. I watched the driver pull out of parking lot and realized a hard truth: Within the next ten years, that man’s job will likely be gone. Newspapers will be available only as online products. The people who print papers and deliver them will need to find another kind of work. These workers are just one example of professions that will be extinct in the coming years.
In a similar way the video and music industry is changing, and that is affecting employment in retail. Big stores like Blockbuster are closing because people are getting DVDs via services like Netflix or Redbox. Others are downloading movies via their computers. Similar, most large music stores have closed. People download songs, which means fewer jobs. There are still independent video and music stores, but the people who work at these locations are often the owners.
Even skilled work like accounting and computer programming is shedding jobs. New software systems are making administrative jobs in accounting redundant. Programming projects are being “offshored” to India. Jobs in medical billing are shrinking because of electronic medical record keeping and offshoring. If an employer can save money, it will – even if it means laying off long time workers.
The challenge for us as working people is to recognize when our professions are dying and take action to find a new career. It’s hard to let go of a job, especially for people who have worked in the same job for ten or twenty years. However, when it is clear that a certain kind of job will no longer exist (or only be available to a few people), it’s time to be realistic. The sooner working people in these fields accept their job loss, the better they will be able to manage their new careers.