Blog Archive - April 2011

Posted: April 20, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

While it’s important to let an employer know that you have the experience, knowledge, and skill to do a job, it’s equally important to highlight achievements.  By telling success stories, you let an employer see how you will bring value, how you will do more than the day-to-day duties.

Here are some examples of success stories:

•     Developed literature circles to improve skills in reading, writing, and presentation through drama and art.  (Teacher)

•     Increased weekly sales for the clients key brands (Sears, Wal-Mart) by developing strong, research-based advertising plans. (Marketing)

•     Led an internal training on employee benefits plans.  (Human Resources & Benefits)

•     Created a database with contact information for health educators. (Administrative Assistant)

•     Increased collections for overdue accounts by 45%. (Collections, Customer Service)

•     Led an in-service training on crisis intervention. (Nursing)

Except for one of the examples above, these achievements do not quantify achievements.  Don’t put numbers in your resume just to have numbers.  Let your success stories work their magic, and employers will want to meet you.

Posted: April 19, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

“We all dream of a kinder, happier world.  But if we with to make it a reality, we have to ensure that compassion inspires all of our actions.”  His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I read this quote today and immediately thought about my clients.  People beat themselves up when they are unemployed.  They feel sleights and insults that normally would not be a big deal.  They worry and often fall into despair.  These emotions are understandable given the current job market.  What we need to do is to find a way to limit their impact.

Start with compassion for yourself.  We are often more forgiving of others, more supportive of others, than we are to ourselves.  In most cases, people have lost jobs through no fault of their own.  Don’t blame yourself for something that is out of your control.  If you were let go from a job because of something you did, take this circumstance for what it is.  Learn from your mistake and move on.  As the great writer and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, we cannot control the circumstances of our live, but we can control how we react to those circumstances. Work is a big part of our lives, but so are family, friends, and the other things that make us happy.

Invest in your happiness.  This can be done for little or no cost.  Go to a museum on a day when admission is free.  Take a book out of the library (or download a classic from Project Gutenberg).  Walk in the park and enjoy the big, beautiful world that we often forget about while we’re stuck in the office.  Enjoy!

Posted: April 17, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

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

Getting Started

When was the last time you tried something new?  That question drives Seth Godin’s great new book Poke the Box.  I frequently cite Godin in this blog.  I have also urged many clients to buy his book The Dip, offering to refund the cost if they are disappointed.  Godin’s new book is equally impressive and valuable. 

The Dip is about knowing when to quit; Poke the Box argues that we need to start starting:  “Leaping. . . Committing. . . Making something happen.”  Godin believes that too many people and companies play it safe, clinging to routine or compliance because innovation always comes with the risk of failure.

From the time we start school, we are taught to give the right answer and avoid failure at all costs.  People who “poke the box” risk failure all the time.  However, when they fail, they learn and try again – or try something new.  They never stop starting. 

We also hold ourselves back by waiting for the expert to tell us what to do.  We wait for some great to power to affirm our work.  In words that sound like Walt Whitman, Godin writes, “Reject the tyranny of being picked.  Pick yourself.”  Find a way to make and distribute your work and ideas.  Godin call this “shipping.”  We never real start anything unless we can bring it to the shipping stage.

Why don’t more people take initiative?  One big reason is that they are told not to:  “Most employees can give you a list of things they’re not allowed to do.  Not-allowed lists exist in schools, in relationships, and in jobs.”  We like such lists because they keep us safe.  You can’t lose if you follow directions.

You also can’t do anything meaningful or new.  Godin uses a very strange word to describe meaningful work:  joy.  When was the last time you felt joy at your job?  Actually that question is a good test.  If you’re not doing work that makes you feel good and excited, it’s time to look for new work.  Godin says that companies should “organize for joy” and give their employees the chance to “create, connect, and surprise.”  He also challenges us as workers to bring joy to our work.  If a manager rejects our efforts to make things better, it’s time to find a new professional home. 

We live in an age when innovation is too often a marketing buzz word.  New is a lure, glitzy, not substantial.  Godin’s model is about something different.  It’s an existential challenge to live and work differently.  The poet William Blake wrote, “Improvement makes strait road, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.” (Proverbs of Hell).  Seth Godin wants us to take the crooked road.  It’s good advice. 

Sunday Extra Helping:  Godin issues this challenge:  “If you had to give a TED talk, what would it be about?”  TED is an online video collection of people who “poke the box,” creators in every field.  Check out the website and try to answer this question:  What topic excites you enough that you want to share your idea with the world?  That’s your starting point.  Poke the box.

Posted: April 16, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Dr. Art Markman discusses research on how we can think more creatively.  Check out this article.  It might help you solve problems at work or find new ways to energize your job search.

Posted: April 15, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Arthur Delaney explores the connection between job loss and suicide.  Most of the media describes joblessness in terms of percentages and impact on the economy.  Delaney also presents numbers, but he does so to show how unemployment is affecting real people, driving too many to take their own lives.  This article is worth your time.

Posted: April 14, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

“I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.”

                                                                                    Dalai Lama

A closed mind can kill a job search.  When people think there is only one way to find a job and that path is blocked, they grow dispirited and stop looking.  Days of doing nothing become weeks and months.  Where can we find an alternative to despair and inaction?  As the Dalai Lama suggests, an open mind lets us deal with whatever circumstances we face.

Expectations and goals are important because they give direction to our actions and energy.  However, if we take these good things too far they become blinders that prevent us from getting to where we want to be.  For example, experts say networking is the best way to find a job.  You’ve found your last three jobs through connections, so you’ve come to expect that networking is the only way to find work. In this job search, your network isn’t working.  What do you do? Look for an open path.

Some paths are obvious: job boards, company websites, recruiters, and temporary services.  Use these resources, and see what options work best for you.  Try this as well.  Talk to other professionals in your field.  Ask them this simple question: “How did you get your last three jobs?”  Learn from their example and be open to trying something you’ve never done before.  That’s the power of synchronicity and the open path.  

You can also take the big leap – a career change.  Most people have skills that will transfer to many kinds of jobs. Think about your skills and how they could let you pursue other types of work.  Career changes are never easy, but they often bring new opportunities for personal and professional growth.  Maybe it’s time for a change.  Keep an open mind.

Posted: April 13, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

A client recently asked if he should note on his cover letter that he will call to follow up.  I asked, “Why don’t you just call?”  The more direct contact you can make with a potential employer, the more likely you will get an interview. 

A good resume is essential for applications where you don’t know anyone in the company and don’t have a network connection who can help you open doors. That said, anytime you can reach a potential employer by phone or in a face to face meeting, use that opportunity to connect before you send a resume.  Talking to someone lets you impress them before they see your career on paper.  Meeting some makes the most powerful impact, which is why networking is still the best way to find a job. 

Don’t let your job search get stuck in a routine of sitting at the computer and sending out resumes by email.  Try to network as much as possible.  Meeting people is more fun than sitting in front of a computer screen. It’s also the best way to make your strongest impression.

Posted: April 12, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients shared a great strategy with me for joining groups on LinkedIn.  She tries to join groups that are listed on the profiles of people she respects most in her industry.  This is a good way to network because she already knows people in the group.  It is also a great way to track industry news and trends.  There is one more benefit for job seekers.  Some groups have job boards that are open only to group members.  LinkedIn is a great tool for business and the job search.  Find a way to make it work for you.

Posted: April 10, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling explores different aspects of work and life in “Sabbath.”]

Looking Backward

If he were alive, today would have been my father’s 93 birthday.  My dad was very much a product of his time: the Depression, World War II, the consensus mentality of the 1950s (Think about the movie Pleasantville or the Monkees’ song Pleasant Valley Sunday).  As a teenager, he worked for his father who was an electrical contractor, which then was a cutting edge industry as IT is today.  Many homes, especially rural farms, were just getting electricity in the 1930s.  My dad climbed poles and ladders, running wires that changed people’s lives. 

During the war, my dad was an engineer in the Army.  He was very proud of a photo in one of the Cleveland papers that showed him operating a bulldozer.  Like most men and women of his generation, he looked back to war as a time of sacrifice, putting what was good for the country ahead of personal concerns.

After the war, my dad worked as an electrician in a steel mill and factory before finding a job at a university.  His early work career fit America at the time: building, growing, and confident.  He would always tell my brothers and me about one time when he rewired an electric motor the wrong way, and it burned up. His supervisor didn’t fire him.  Instead, he explained what my father did wrong and told him that he should never make that mistake again.  That was a lesson he passed on to his sons.  Making mistakes is human.  The smart worker learns from mistakes and doesn’t make them again.

Outside of their jobs, my dad and my aunt (his sister) held onto many of the frugal skills they learned during the Depression.  My aunt owned a small farm, and she and my dad would can food every Fall.  They turned making sauerkraut into an annual party.  They preached saving and waiting to buy something until you could pay for it.  I don’t remember if my dad had a credit card.  I don’t think he did.

What would he think of the world today?  Would he have adapted to the Internet and email?  I doubt it.  He certainly would have little use for the modern grocery store and its shelf after shelf of prepared food.  I sometimes hear his voice when I buy something that he would have cooked from scratch.  “Do you really need to pay for that?  It’d be cheaper and better if you did it yourself.” 

Everything changes: the way we work, the way we eat, and the way we think about life.  My father’s generation would put off gratification.  They were trained to respect authority, often without question.  Today we want fast service.  We don’t want people to tell us what to do.  We want options and choices. 

Has the world become a better place?  That question resists an easy answer.  People who grow up in hard times, as my dad did, develop strengths that my generation and younger people do not have.  On the other hand, a less restricted society encourages more invention and gives people more opportunities to live the way they want.  My life is better because of the lessons my father taught me, often by example rather than words.  I hope you have had someone in your life who has given you such a gift. 

Happy birthday, dad.  Happy Sabbath to all.

Posted: April 9, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Two of my recent clients told a very similar story: They fell into their careers.  Both were college grads who had no intention of going into sales.  Guess where they ended up?  Both men are now very happy and successful as sales professionals.  Other clients I’ve worked with are not so lucky.  They have fallen into jobs or careers that work against their natural talents or gifts.

How can we protect ourselves against the wrong kind of fall?  Take control of your career, which means making choices.  If you need a job for income, it makes sense to take any kind of work.  However, it doesn’t make sense to do that work forever.  Staying in a bad place (job, marriage, school) is a choice, and sadly it is a choice too many people make.  They fall and stay on the ground. 

Successful people know what they want to.  They identify the skills and knowledge that employers need.  Then they make a connection with the right kind of company.  It’s not easy, but it’s better than falling and staying on the ground.