Blog Archive - August 2010

Posted: August 3, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Every bookstore will have two or three thick books on its shelves that claim to offer every possible answer to job interview questions.  I have two problems with this type of book.  First, you will never be asked all of the questions – or half the questions – discussed in these books.  Worse, you will sound stiff and rehearsed if you give scripted answers.  The second problem with these books is that they emphasize answers, as if the interview were a test.  A good job interview functions as a focused conversation.  The most important skill is not having the right answer – the most important interviewing skill is listening.

Too often job seekers answer a question without understanding the question.  We’re nervous during interviews.  We know what we want to say, the answers we want to give.  Rather than listening to the question, we interpret the question to fit our answer.  This kind of response turns off the interviewer.  Not only does she not get the information needed to evaluate a candidate, she also feels disrespected because it seems like the job seeker was not listening to her.

A better interviewing strategy is to begin every interview with an open mind.  Think of it as a conversation.  Rather than worry about giving the right answer, try to understand what the interviewer needs to know.  If you’re qualified for a job, the answers should come naturally if you understand the question and address it directly. 

Start by listening.  Focus on what the interview needs to know, not what you want to say. You will be more likely to impress an interviewer by speaking to her concerns than you will be giving generic answers from a book.  You will also learn more about the company and be in a better position to evaluate the company and decide if it’s the right place for you to work.  Listening will give you more knowledge while it lets you offer the kind of answers that will truly impress potential employers.

Posted: August 3, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Steven Greenhouse reports in the New York Times that many governments are asking employees to take pay cuts rather than furlough days.  Many companies are doing the same.  I hate furlough days because they nothing more than are rolling layoffs.  They do have one benefit – time off.  Pay cuts require employees to work the same amount for less money.  I’ve heard several stories of pay cuts from my clients, and it is often the middle level workers (managers, administrative assistants) who take the biggest pay cuts. 

Who doesn’t take a hit?  The people at the top.  They still get bonuses.  If they are let go (like some executives at Tribune Media may be), they are given “golden parachutes.”  John Edwards may be a jerk, but he was right about “Two Americas.”  Most of us are living in the America where life is getting harder and less secure.  For the lucky few, America is still the land of opportunity (the opportunity to feed off your fellow citizens like a blood-starved vampire).

Posted: August 2, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Paul Krugman is one of my favorite columnists.  He has the ability to make economics and debates about economics accessible to people like me who have trouble interpreting anything more complicated than a box score.  Today, Krugman scared me.  His column in today's New York Times focuses on the job market in the U.S., and his outlook is bleak:  Look for more of the same (or worse).

What troubles Krugman also angers many people who disagree with him politically – our government isn’t working.  Clearly, unemployment – especially long term joblessness – is a problem.  What is the federal government doing to address this issue?

It’s easy for my side (progressives) to blame Republicans and fake Democrats like Ben Nelson.  But, as Krugman argues, it’s more of a show than a debate.  The Federal Reserve could free up resources to help prime the pump of the economy.  It hasn’t. Politicians are more concerned about taxes and deficits than their constituents who are out of work. 

I hope Krugman’s forecast is wrong, but given what we don’t hear coming out of Washington, he could be right about joblessness and – worse still – deflation.

Posted: August 2, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve worked with several early career professionals (2-5 years out of school) who took any job they could get.  They panic, often saying that this was all they could do because they had no experience.  The problem with this approach is that it is a trap.  Rather than building a career, it often leads to a string of dead end jobs.

One of my current clients worked very hard in school.  He majored in marketing and public relations.  During three internships, he gained hands-on experience in the skills needed to be a professional. After graduating, however, the first job offer he received was in sales.  He took the job and stopped looking for a job in his desired field.  A year and a half later, he is miserable.  The moral of this tale is that there is a cost for taking a job that doesn’t fit our skills and gifts.

Many new graduates fall into this trap. What can they do?  Step back and turn in the right direction.  Recast your resume to show what skills you have that make you eligible for the job you want.  For example, the client I described above should emphasis the skills (not classes) he gained in school and internships.  His time in sales should be place at the end of his resume, not the beginning.  The next step is to conduct a thorough job search.  Approach every possible employer in his area of interest. 

This is where discipline is key.  The smart career manager will keep learning about her field and potential employers.  If she needs to take a job while she is looking for “the job,” she’ll do that.  But she will not stop looking for work in her field until she has found the kind of job she wants.

Every day we all hear the negative stories the media loves to tell. Young workers should ignore this bad news.  Yes, things are bad.  They’ve been bad before, and people still found jobs in the areas they wanted to work.  Focus on where you want to be and make a plan to get there.  Don’t get trapped in a bad job.  Or, if you do have to take a bad job, keep looking for something better.  You owe that to yourself.

Posted: August 1, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling explores the work of life in “Sabbath”]

How We Spend – and Waste – Our Time

The big news the past few days has been Chelsea Clinton’s marriage.  Why?  Yes, she is the daughter of a former president.  Her mother is the Secretary of State.  But why does the status of her parents make this young woman’s marriage a newsworthy event? 

Chelsea is a celebrity and her wedding is an event because that is what the media wants to sell to its audience.  It’s also what Americans want.  We want the ice cream and cookies story, the fairy tale (ABC tells this story twice a year in the Bachelor and Bachelorette).  What don’t we want?  We don’t want to be citizens who debate unemployment, the economy, war, or the environment. We want something that’s fast food easy, and celebrities feed that appetite.

We want diversions from problems that seem to have no solutions.  Political debate brings heat with no light – and no results.  In our own lives, many people are facing unemployment, foreclosure, and despair.  Even those who are working face new challenges.  The company where one of my clients works recently cut commissions by 50%.  Another, who works for government, is being forced to take 30 furlough days, a 6 week pay cut.  Where will it end?

What can we do in the face of such news?  We can be realistic about our time and how we use it.  Rather than get lost in the cotton candy world of distraction and spectacle, we need to think about what will make our lives better, what will make us better people.  In the end, these issues can be boiled down to a question one of my former bosses loved to ask: Are you using your time wisely?

The work of our lives is all about time.  Our employers control part of our lives, but outside of our jobs we choose what to do and when to do it.  I’m reading a great book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles.  Pressfield uses the word creative in a broad way.  Writing a novel, starting a business, or sticking to a weight loss plan are all creative challenges.  Pressfield identifies a powerful force that stops us from reaching our goals: “resistance.”  He demonstrates 20 different ways that resistance prevents us from achieving our goals.  One of the most powerful is procrastination. 

We tell ourselves that the problem will be there tomorrow, and it is.  We wait for the problem to solve itself or go away.  The real danger, according to Pressfield, is that procrastination becomes a habit: “We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.”  Rather than look for a new job or join a political organization, we turn on the TV and watch the game.  We hide in stories about Angelina, Brad, and Jen.  Some people get angry and scream that President Obama is from Kenya.  Others get angry at the people making that [foolish] claim.  It’s all a circle, and the more we chase our tail, the less we get done. 

Like the great psychologist Viktor Frankl, Pressfield believe humans can take control of their lives and attitudes in any situation.  He writes, “There was never a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.  This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.  This second, we can sit down and do our work.”  Note the terms Pressfield uses, “never a moment,” “this second.”  It’s all about time, and how we use it.

In a world of distractions, our challenge is to use time well, to find ways to help ourselves and help others. We never get back the time spent playing digital Scrabble or watching videos on YouTube (my favorite time wasters).  If we want to live better, we have to admit that time is limited, a resource we must spend wisely.