Blog Archive - March 2011

Posted: March 20, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that looks at work we do outside of our jobs.]

Taking Chances

We’re in the teeth of March Madness, the men’s NCAA basketball championship.  Once upon a time, this was merely a sporting event.  Now it is a national gambling fest.  Many people play bracket pools in which the challenge is to pick the winner of each game.  Others play “squares,” a game in which bettors win based on a game’s final score.

In a way, this two week period reflects how America has changed over the past few decades.  Many states raise money through lotteries, instead of increasing taxes.  Casinos are another way states generate revenue.  America has replaced thousands of factories with blackjack tables, betting parlors, and slot machines.  We’ve become a nation that likes to take chances and dream about hitting the jackpot.

A few months ago, I read a great book called Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, a financial analyst who has strong ideas about how we take chances and think about predictability.  Taleb believes that experts in every field are too cocky about their ability to forecast the future.  What happens instead is that a sudden, unexpected event takes place – a Black Swan – that reshapes how we live.  Rather than expecting for things to be regular and steady, Taleb suggests that we recognize the power of randomness and prepare for the event that we don’t expect and can’t predict.  The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan are a good example of a Black Swan.  Beyond the great damage to the nation and people of Japan, this natural disaster will impact the world economy as Japan is a major exporter of electronics and auto parts. 

How does one survive – even thrive – in a world of unexpected events?  Taleb’s answer is “robustness.”  Be prepared for the unexpected.  Be ready to adjust your expectations and adapt to a new reality.  The advent of computer technology would be an example of such change.  People who could not learn to use a computer and related technologies like the Internet are severely limited in how they can work and even interact socially. 

While events like September 11, stock market crashes, and natural disasters affect nations, we as individuals face Black Swans in events like job loss, divorce, health emergencies, and the death of a loved one.  The psychological impact of such losses is always difficult.  Previous generations, however, did have one advantage over our time.  They could have some safety – robustness – in their savings, their ability to live frugally.  They also lived in times when jobs were more stable and offered more security through pensions. 

We have less certainty, less predictability.  Rather than pensions, we have 401Ks, which people often have to cash out at a penalty if they lose jobs.  Health insurance companies try to limit what they will pay for. Banks sell services that lead to penalties and foreclosure, rather than being the conservative institutions where people kept their money and took out loans that were kept by that bank.  Experts convinced people to buy homes using risky mortgages.  We’ve seen the result of that casino housing market. As a people and as individuals, we live much more at the whim of random forces with less ability to absorb their blows.

We are a nation of gamblers, winners and losers.  To some degree, this has always been the case.  From the Pilgrims to the latest immigrant to enter the country, people have been taking a chance on success in America.  Now, however, fewer people are winning that bet.  Over 20% of children in the U.S. live in poverty. New wealth has filtered more and more to those who already have the most.  Many Americans don’t know how to adapt to this new world.  The message of our culture can no longer be work hard and save.  Instead, it’s buy a lottery ticket, or go to Vegas.  Who knows?  You could win.  It’s possible.

Posted: March 19, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Sun-Times has a profile of Jane Dill, a cashier at Jewel who is retiring.  I failed to mention an important detail: Jane Dill is 89 years old.  One of her co-workers, Al Foresta, is 87.  My initial reaction was: O.K., here are two jobs that younger workers can’t get because seniors held onto them.  Then I looked at the story from another angle: Why shouldn’t people who want to work be able to whatever their age?  Also, why shouldn’t employers be allowed to hire adult employees of any age who can do the job?

I’ve written several posts about the impact of automation on employment.  Jane Dill and Al Foresta work at Jewel, a retail chain where I shop.  Jewel offers shoppers do-it-yourself checkout systems where customers can scan and bag their own groceries.  This type of machine means there will be fewer jobs for cashiers and baggers.  Automation is eliminating thousands of jobs every month.  This would be an argument for having a mandatory retirement age.

Turn the coin around.  Jane Dill wanted to work, and she was good at her job.  Why should she  have been prevented from doing what she wanted to do?  In the article, she says that her husband sat around and watched TV.  Jane liked working and wanted to stay busy, which led her to apply for work at Jewel.  Jane Dill wanted to work; no one was forcing her.  This is an equally strong argument against a mandatory retirement age.

I don’t have an answer to this question.  As a culture, we Americans sing the praises of individual liberty, which is a great value.  At the same time, we need to think more about common interests and what is good for society as a whole. Economists say that it will take years to bring down the current unemployment rate.  If automation expands and older employees stay in the workforce, there will be fewer jobs for younger workers.  This is a problem that needs the wisdom of Solomon.

Posted: March 18, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Not meeting your goals?  Try writing them down. Or visual your goal by drawing a picture of what you are seeking.  Few things happen all at once.  We need to be patient and focused in pursuing goals.  Set timelines and keep track of your progress.  Reward yourself as you move from step to step.

Many people fail to meet goals for psychological reasons.  They set a date, fail to meet it, and quit.  There will be obstacles, some of which you cannot control.  Recognized this reality, and get back on track.  If your original plan doesn’t work, make a new one.  The Wright Brother failed several times in their quest to build the first airplane.  However, they stuck with their dream.  We all know the result. 

Find your way to fly.  It all starts with holding yourself accountable and staying focused – and flexible.  Write it down, and keep writing your dream until it becomes reality.

Posted: March 17, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

In Japan, 180 workers are trying to prevent a nuclear plant in Fukushima from melting down.  These workers will certainly be affected the radiation they are being exposed to.  Many - if not all - are expected to die from exposure.  A professor at Tokyo Hospital has compared them to “suicide fighters in a war.”  To this point, their efforts have been futile.  The fuel rods are still burning.  Even so, they have continued to struggle, doing everything they can to keep others safe while exposing themselves to the gravest danger.

More locally, James Tyree died at the age of 53 after a battle with cancer.  Tyree was the head of Mesirow Financial.  A few years ago, he led a group in purchasing – and saving – The Chicago Sun-Times. Tyree believed a great city needs two newspapers, and the paper he has kept open continues to do great investigative reporting.  The people of Chicago owe Tyree respect and gratitude.

In very different ways the workers in Japan and James Tyree have performed work that is civic, labor that helps their neighbors.  May more of us follow their example.

Posted: March 16, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

My most successful clients know their job.  They also know their career goals and the industry in which they work.  These people can quickly name the top companies, new products, and cutting edge technology.  They also are tuned into operations and know when their employer is in trouble, which lets them move quickly to a new job.

It is vital to know everything you can about your current job, employer, and industry.  With this knowledge, you will be able to navigate a promotion or prepare for a layoff.  You will be able to target employers who pay better or offer opportunities for professional growth.

Here are key questions to keep in mind:

Who are the leaders in my industry?

What skills are needed to earn a promotion?

How is technology impacting my skills?

Is my company growing, stagnant, or declining?

Who will offer me the best compensation for my talents?

What company will give me the chance to do the kind of work that I want to do?

These questions usually can’t be answered overnight.  Study.  Take notes.  Ask questions of co-workers who have more experience.  Read industry news (often it’s free online).  The key to success is to become more involved in your career.  It’s an old saying, but it still makes a lot of sense: “Knowledge is power.”  Be powerful.

Posted: March 15, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Last Saturday, a Wisconsin farmer named Tony Schultz spoke up for working people in his state.  I don’t know anything about Mr. Schultz’s background, but he can speak intelligently and with passion.  I urge you to watch this video.

Is there a governor worse than Scott Walker?  Yes, he’s in Michigan, and his name is Rick Sndyer.  Governor Snyder recently passed a law that would let him take over cities that are in financial trouble.  Now he wants to cut corporate property takes by 86%.  How will he pay for this?  By raising the taxes on the working poor and cutting school funding, which will cripple the state’s future workforce.  Scott Walker is a clown.  Rick Snyder is evil.  Tony Schultz?  His speech says it all

Posted: March 15, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

There is no “one size fits all” resume.  Before you apply for a job, you should think about what the person reading the document will want to know.  Too often, job seekers write resumes in the language of the company they currently work for.  This language can often be confusing to a new employer.  However, there is one situation in which such a resume can be a good way to get a job – if you are looking for a new position or a promotion with your current employer. 

An internal resume should demonstrate that you know the company, its systems, language, and values.  If there is an award given to employees that is named after the founder (i.e., the Montgomery Burns Award), you can cite that honor without saying what it is.  Similarly, if the company uses jargon or specialized language, you know that everyone in the company will understand what you are saying.  If you are looking to move up or change departments with your current employer, an internal resume is a good tool for that type of job search.

Posted: March 14, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The Chicago Tribune explores the future of the job market – “the new normal” – and predicts it will be long time until we reach “fuller employment.”  Articles like this one are interesting, but not very useful in career planning.  We cannot control the macro economic factors that impact unemployment rates.  We can, however, manage our careers and keep learning more about the industries we want to work in.  Rather than get lost in a forecast that more than likely is going to wrong, focus on your career, not the “new normal.”

Posted: March 13, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, psychologist Dr. Michelle Callahan offers great perspective and advice on how to deal with bullies in the workplace.  This article defines bullying behaviors and offers statistics to show how common workplace bullying is.  She then presents 10 strategies for dealing with such behaviors.  If you’re having this problem, I strongly urge you to read this article.

Posted: March 13, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on work and life.]


The video and photos from Japan show nature’s awful power.  People went to work or took their children to school as they did any other day.  What seemed stable, what was taken for granted, disappeared in minutes.  Cities were shaken to the ground or washed away by the tsunami that followed the earthquake.

As we saw in the U.S. after disasters such as September 11 and Katrina, humans embody resilience.  The people of Japan acted quickly to prevent damage and loss of life.  Even so, they are now dealing with a terrible aftermath, including two severely damaged nuclear power plants.  In the coastal town of Minamisanriku, 9,500 people – half the town’s population – are missing.

Natural disasters challenge us to dig through the rubble and look for those who were lucky enough to survive.  Photos from Japan show police and military working in rescue efforts.  And they also show everyday people, working with garage tools and their bare hands, lifting cement blocks and bending metal, using all their strength to find a loved one or neighbor who might be buried alive. 


 The earthquake and tsunami will impact Japan for many years to come.  Life will never be the same for those who lost loved ones.  The work that comes after the disaster has already begun.  Towns and lives will be rebuilt, slowly and painfully.  Today’s shock will give way to the human ability to restore.  Chicago came back after the fire, San Francisco after the earthquake – Europe and Japan after World War II in which whole towns were leveled and millions died. 

In times like this, we live for tomorrow – for hope.

Sabbath Postscript:

The New York Times has a slideshow that details the devastation to towns, people, houses, boats, and trains – an entire yard of cargo storage vehicles is scattered as if they were Lego blocks.  Physicists can explain the cause, but that doesn’t stop us from standing in awe of nature’s power to destroy man’s fragile world.

I just read an update on the nuclear power plants.  The new is frightening.  To cool the plants and prevent an explosion, operator have to vent nuclear materials into the air.  Some experts say this process could go on for more than a year.