Blog Archive - October 2010
[On Sundays, Career Calling looks away from careers to other aspects of life and work.]
Scary Things – Good & Bad
Boo! It’s Halloween, and children are dressed as ghosts, goblins, and superheroes. The weather is getting colder, but that doesn’t detract from the happy squeals of young people chasing candy and other goodies. Adults celebrate this holiday more and more each year. I was out with friends yesterday, and we saw many interesting costumes, including men dressed as a nurse and Wonder Woman. Halloween is funny – scary fun.
We’ve seen a different kind of scary work over the past few months – political commercials. It seems that all politicians from both main parties can do is try to tear each other down. We as voters have the great responsibility of hiring our leaders. How is that possible when all we get are attempts to scare us that the other “guy” (or gal) is a monster. I think of this in the context of what I do every day as a career coach and resume writer. My job is to discover and sell my clients’ strongest talents and skills. Our politicians today do the opposite to their opponent. Tear the other guy down, and hope the employer will pick me. What employer would hire such a person?
We are a society more and more driven by fear. Some tales of fear (horror movies, vampire tales) are just entertainment. We suspend our disbelief and let go in a world of monsters and terror. However, that same emotion has taken over the way many adults view all aspects of reality. The mere mention of 9/11 sends many people back to the emotions they felt on a tragic day nearly 10 years ago. Their fears often twist into paranoid political arguments and shrill anger. In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein has shown how these emotions let cynical politicians make voters dance like puppets on a string.
In some ways, children are braver than adults. They go through the haunted house without being scarred. They’ll go back next year and enjoy the same dark rooms and ominous music. Too many adults have come to be paralyzed by fear. They accept a belief that gives them comfort, and then they refuse to test or challenge that belief. Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying that he felt fear when he was on a plane with people in “Muslim garb.” That’s a Halloween problem with serious consequences (not for Williams, of course, because Fox gave him a $2 million a year contract extension). People wearing turbans (Sikhs, not Muslims) have been beaten because ignorant, fearful people think this is “Muslim garb.” As many of Williams’ detractors have pointed out, the terrorists on 9/11 were not dressed in any kind of ethnic clothing. They looked like every young male on the plane. However, that fact will not sway the fearful adult mind, especially in this political climate where ignorance rule. Fear trumps facts. Emotions overwhelm reason.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that there are many legitimate factors causing Americans to be afraid: unemployment, foreclosures, wage cuts, and a broken political system. My problem is that we are not solving those problems the right way. Most historians point to Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt as two of our greatest presidents. Lincoln, facing a war that could split the country, called on his fellow citizens to live with “malice toward none, with charity for all.” FDR, at the height of the Depression, said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” They challenged the American people to be better, stronger. Too many of our leaders today (following the example of snake oil salesmen like Glen Beck) want only weakness and fear.
Tomorrow the Halloween decorations will start coming down. Happily, the next night the political commercials will stop running (except here in Chicago where we have a mayoral election in February). Children will start looking forward to Christmas. Ghosts will give way to Santa Claus. Their scary days will be gone for a year. Sadly, for too many adults, being scared is all they know any more. It’s all cynical politicians want them to know. Boo! Don’t vote for the other guy – he’s a monster (or a Kenyan, or a socialist). Fear-fueled insults and name-calling have become a type of political discourse. The grown ups need to take a hard look at the kids – and grow up.
Michael Miner reports in the Chicago Reader that the Chicago Sun-Times has laid off more employees, including spokesperson Tammy Chase. Chase’s layoff is significant because it has been her job to spin the company’s previous job cuts. As always, Miner puts the situation in an interesting context.
Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune discusses the layoffs in broader terms. The total number of employees laid off may exceed 100. That’s a hard blow to a company that cut all of its “fat” a long time ago. While there is probably some inter-paper rivalry in Rosenthal’s reporting, the circulation numbers he cites are alarming. Is Chicago going to be a one newspaper town?
Sergeant Sherri Gallagher beat a field of 11 men to win the honor of Army’s “Best Warrior.” The competition feature leadership skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat. Sergeant Gallagher’s victory goes a long way in breaking down stereotypes about the roles of women and men. All of us win when bad old ideas go away. We should all celebrate this achievement.
Two clients have recently gotten new jobs. What do they have in common? They both practiced their interviewing skills. One client worked with me, and we went through a series of drills and a mock interview. Another client practiced with a friend. They used questions from a website on interviewing skills.
Why do you need to practice interviewing skills? We don’t do it often. Imagine if you played tennis or bowled only once or twice every few years. You would not play that sport well. The same holds true for interviewing.
Don’t fall into the trap of just buying a book of best answers to interview questions and reading it. A job interview is not a test. It’s important to answer questions well, but it’s more important to listen carefully and understand what the interviewer needs to know.
How can you practice?
1. Hire a professional. Be sure that this person is working with your career goals, not just walking you through a generic program. You need to be able to address the issues that affect your industry and profession.
2. Practice with a friend. This will not be as effective as working with a professional, but it will be cheaper. Be sure your friend looks at your resume and asks questions that are relevant to your industry. Tell your friend to be honest, even brutal. If you have trouble presenting some aspect of your background, ask your friend to repeat that question and practice until you are comfortable with your answer.
3. Practice in front of a mirror. This is a trick used by people who give presentations. Go into your bathroom, look in the mirror, and practice. This method has two values. First, you get to see yourself and practice making eye contact. Second you hear the sound of your own voice, which often causes people to freeze during interviews because they become self-conscious. Get used to hearing your voice.
To get a job, you need to interview well. How can you do that? Practice. Practice. Practice.
A good job search takes time and focus. In the normal economy, most job seekers find a job within 4-6 months. However, in the current economy, that time frame might not be realistic, especially for people seeking work in industries with high unemployment.
Many job seeker hurt their chances by quitting too early. According to Richard Nelson Bolles,* some people quit looking for work after a month or two. They get frustrated when employers don’t contact them, or they give up after an interview goes bad. A job search requires persistence and toughness.
It also takes focus. A client recently sent me three job postings that she was going to pursue. She was qualified for one, overqualified for another, and underqualified for the last position. If we pursue jobs that are above or below our skill level, we shouldn’t be surprised when employers do not contact us. Stay focused on your goals, and apply for jobs that fit your career level.
It is important to be realistic, patient, and practical. We need to budget time and stay focused on the type of jobs for which we are qualified. Throwing resumes out and saying “I’ll take any job I can get” is the worst strategy for finding a job. It wastes energy and breeds frustration. Control your job search and your expectations. It’s not easy, but it’s also the most practical path to success.
I ran across a blog post that has a message for all of us – those with jobs and those who are looking. Grey Matter Life challenges its readers to take the next 30 days and collect reasons to be thankful. This makes perfect sense with Thanksgiving coming in a few weeks. On a deeper level, we need to give thanks as an antidote to the constant drumbeat of bad news we get every day. Sometimes it is bad news that directly affects us. More often, it is just the news media feeding on something negative, another scary statistic. In either case, check out this good blog and think about why you should be thankful. It’s a great cure for the blues.
The challenge of every resume is to show employers that you are qualified to do a job. As I have recommended in recent posts, you need to start by developing a market profile that will guide you in defining skills and experience that you need to show on your resume. It will also give you the keywords that computer and human scanners will look for during initial screenings.
Richard Nelson Bolles recommends that everyone take an inventory of their career and skills. Once you have taken that step, you will be better able to write a strong resume and, more importantly, present yourself in an interview as a highly qualified candidate.
What else is needed in a good resume? A good resume will sell what makes you different and more valuable. Almost every job seeker can present achievements that show how she helped her employer make more money, save money, increase efficiency, and satisfy customers. If a supervisor or senior manager has praised your work or accomplishments, include that success story in your resume. If you are in sales or another field that values awards, describe them on your resume. Be sure that the reader knows why you have been given the award.
What do you have that other candidates lack? For some people, this quality will be language skills. For others, it might be technical skills or some kind of certification. Think about your special skills, and then look for employers that need those skills. Highlighting what makes you different can help you target and attract good employers. Know your strengths, and practice selling them.
Joseph Cech, a piano teacher, died recently at the age of 96. What is more interesting, he taught piano up to two weeks before he died. My friend Carl Easter runs an exterminator business. His mother keeps the business’ book, and she’s 97 years old. I’m making no scientific claims here, but it seems that one secret to a long vibrant life is obvious: Don’t stop working!
P.S. Better still – Find a job you love and never stop loving it.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that more Americans than ever before are applying to graduate programs. The article notes that this trend is common during recessions. People look to graduate degrees as a path to a new career.
Is this belief valid? The article tells the story of a nursing professional who is pursuing a master’s degree to have the option of teaching. In this case, someone is managing her career to give herself extra options. That’s a good thing in any economy. Other people cited in the article seemed to assume that earning a graduate degree guaranteed a new job. That’s not always the case. As I’ve discussed in other posts, teachers with graduate degrees and the highest certifications are being laid off.
Professionals who are returning to school also need to weigh the cost-benefit of graduate education. A recent MBA graduate featured in the article said she had graduated with a “six figure overhead.” Are such investments going to pay off? For some people, they will. In other cases, they are piling debt on top of debt. Job seekers need to weigh potential outcomes before pursuing a professional degree. Ask the school for statistics about placement. Find out what companies hired recent graduates. A graduate degree can lead to increased marketability. It can also be a dead end if you follow a career path that is glutted or if you are attending a school that has a poor placement record.
Let me be clear. I am a big fan of education. Everyone should improve their skills and learn more about subjects that interest them. However, it is dangerous to assume that a graduate degree will automatically lead to a job in a given field. Once upon a time, many of my clients had graduate degrees in teaching or social work. They enjoyed job security and often opportunities to switch employers or advance in their careers. Now, with big cuts in government spending and even more reductions possible in the future, these fields offer few jobs and less security. Job seekers must consider such issues before they invest money and time in graduate education. Learning is always a good thing. Be sure it makes sense for you.
P.S. Yahoo offers a feature on popular degrees and how they translate to pay.
[On Sundays, Career Calling explores intersections of work & life in “Sabbath.”]
Last Friday I volunteered as a résumé coach at the National Conference of NSHMBA, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs. The event, held at McCormick Place in Chicago, was sponsored by some of the country’s leading companies (State Farm, Humana, the University of Notre Dame Mendoza School of Business). While many of the attendees were early in their careers, people of all ages – and all ethnic groups – attended the convention. (NSHMBA welcomes people from all backgrounds).
I met some clients who were still defining their career goals. Their challenge was to present themselves as professionals, not students. Some other job seekers I met had more experience. They sought positions in management or complex technical industries. They asked questions about how to represent their skills at a higher level. They targeted specific positions with industry leaders, including Citibank and Dell.
Several of the people I met were international students, hailing from Brazil, Mexico, Indian, and Taiwan. While their levels of professional experience and education varied, they held in common a strong will to succeed. They came to this conference to move their careers forward.
More importantly, they all were attending or had completed MBA programs or other graduate programs from American universities. This country still attracts people who want to learn at the best schools, and it is to America’s credit that it welcomes students from all corners of the world. Some of the students I met wanted to stay in the U.S. Others planned to work in their native countries. More importantly, almost everyone I met believed their career would involve global business, not a local or regional assignment. They welcomed the challenge of a world with open borders.
Some of our politicians and pundits want to close borders. They have condemned immigrants as a threat to America’s future. We often hear the same rhetoric coming from Europe. Politicians like Senator David Vitter produce commercials with immigrants from Mexico entering the country as if they are looking to commit a crime or get a handout. This kind of politics plays on the fear of voters in a period of high unemployment and home foreclosures. Fear drives people to look for a boogeyman, someone to blame and cast out.
The men and women I met at NSHMBA didn’t have time for such narrow thinking. They were asking questions about management, finance, marketing, human resources, and even artificial intelligence. They focused on the future and welcomed change. They are the kind of young people that will move America – and the world – forward because they face problems and solve them. They aren’t here to chase the American Dream. Their talent and energy will renew that dream.