Blog Archive - August 2011

Posted: August 18, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Beware of one size fits all answers.  If an employer is asking you to demonstrate communication skills, be sure that you are representing the kind of skills needed for the job.  For example, both teachers and sale professionals make presentations.  However, the teacher’s job is to educate and present subject matter.  The sales professional wants to close a sales and persuade a customer to buy.  She will often use a communication skill seldom used by a teacher: negotiation.

Writing is also a communication skill that will vary according to the needs of different jobs.  Marketing professionals write copy and create messages.  Technical writers draft technical manuals and documentation for software.  If you’re describing writing skills on your resume, be sure that they are aligned with the job you are seeking.

If you want to impress an employer with your communication skills, don ‘t simply list the phrase, “communication skills” on your resume.  Demonstrate how you have the specific skills needed by the job you want.

Posted: August 17, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in the Nation, Lawrence Mishel examines how striking Verizon employees represent a much larger conflict:  Business is booming; workers are losing.  Profits are at their highest point since World War II.  Even so, companies like Verizon want workers to stay flat or take cuts. 

Mishel puts it this way:  “This mugging of the workforce—what else can you call wage and benefit reductions in the face of high profitability—occurs because it can, because employers can have their way with most workers. Verizon and other employers may think this is simply good strategy for their businesses, but it undercuts our ability to provide robust growth and to ensure a rising living standard and some basic economic security (health, retirement) for workers and their families.”

Mugging – no word could be more apt.  It’s theft with violence.  We need to root for the Verizon workers as if they were in the Super Bowl.  The giants they are opposing want to crush working people.  If they win, we all lose.

Posted: August 15, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Recently I’ve come across a few articles and books that make this claim:  You can be happy at work if you just have the right attitude.  In other words, you can “will” yourself to be happy.  I’m all for making the best of any situation.  However, this career management strategy strikes me as unrealistic and even dangerous.

In the preface to Working, Studs Terkel talks about how work hurts, how people attach themselves to their job, how they are wounded by a lost job.  Nothing has changed since that book was published in 1974.  In fact, with recent waves of salary cuts and layoffs, the pain may be increasing.

One of my clients was demoted and her pay was cut 20%.  Should she will herself to be happy and stay in a bad place?  Absolutely not.  Should my client who has had his workday extended without compensation mutter affirmations and positive thoughts?  No, he should making find a new job his #1 priority. 

Anger is not healthy, but neither is passivity wrapped in new age jargon.  If you’re unhappy at work, the situation is not likely to change on its own.  Start looking for a new job – and lay off your employer.  That will make you feel happy.

Posted: August 14, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

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

A New National Poet

Someone who describes himself as an “old union man,” Phillip Levine, has been named Poet Laureate of the U.S.  At first glance, this honor would hold little merit in a nation more obsessed with popular culture and scandal than poetry.  Levine is different because he writes about his roots.  Born in Detroit, he worked in auto plants as a youth.  While he has achieved broad recognition as a poet (including the 1995 Pulitzer Prize), he has never forgotten where he came from. 

Levine’s relevance to today’s concerns was captured by Dwight Garner, writing in The New York Times: Levine’s poetry “radiates a heat of a sort not often felt in today’s poetry, that transmitted by grease, soil, factory light, cheap and honest food, sweat, low pay, cigarettes, and second shifts.  It is a plainspoken poetry ready-made, it seems, for a time of S&P downgrades, a double-dip recession and debts left unpaid.”  Garner profiles Levine as a complex writer who chronicles working class life without simplifying it or his art. 

Accompanying this article was a poem entitled “What Work Is.”  Levine takes the reader from an employment line that will end in frustration to thoughts on a brother, who works night shifts at the Cadillac plant so he can study German during the day.  The brother is an opera singer.  This poem reminds poetry readers, many of whom have lost contact with working people and the poor, that dreams and art belong to everyone.  It also challenges the notion of work.  Work is not just the job.  It’s looking for the job.  It’s studying German in order to sing opera.  It’s loving a brother even if you’re incapable of telling him that you love him, the hardest work of all.

His poem “Fist” is a meditation on vision, a man who works at an auto plant watching an angry sunrise, “a flower that hates God.”  The first line of “A Sleepless Night” echoes Pound’s verse on the Metro:  “April, and the last of the plum blossoms/scatters on the black grass/before dawn.”  The language and images are accessible, an engaged reader with basic skills can appreciate Levine’s art – his work.

The selection of Levine as poet laureate is timely in at least two ways.  We need a poet who can express the visions of what another poet called “everyday people.”  We also need a poet who writes in a way that invites working people and students (and their professors) to read his work.  Too many Americans are out of work.  Too many American also neglect our greatest natural resource, talents like Phillip Levine. 

Sunday Extra Helpings:

Paris Review interview with Levine.

Levine reading three poems, including “Assembly,” a meditation on working in an auto plant.

Posted: August 13, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The labor page of Daily Kos features an interesting article that examines the motive behind some school “reform” measures.  A proposed measure in Pennsylvania would take money from schools and give it out as budgets, which give parents “choice.”  This policy would drain money from public schools and kill teacher’s union.  There is no evidence that vouchers will improve learning.  Common sense says that they will eventually destroy public education.

Posted: August 12, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Yesterday I learned that one of my favorite bank tellers is moving to Virginia.  Her husband will be going to graduate school, and she will be looking for a new job in anew city.  Meanwhile there will be two new jobs opening in Chicago.

Don’t get depressed when you hear stories about high unemployment.  Jobs are always opening for several reasons, including relocation, promotion, retirement, illness, and death.  While we hear stories about big layoffs, we seldom are exposed to equally important stories about companies that are growing.  High unemployment means it will be more difficult to find a job.  But jobs will open all the time. The challenge is to keep looking until you find a job.  If that isn’t your ideal job, keep looking.  There is no law against laying off your employer when you have a better opportunity.

Posted: August 10, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Barbara Ehrenreich published Nickel and Dimed, a book about the working poor, in 2001.  Ten years later, she is revisiting this topic and has found that those who had the least now have even less.  There are fewer jobs for blue collar workers, and unlike the middle class, the working poor seldom have any savings.  People are buying food that is out of date and renting to other unfortunates who pay to sleep on a couch.  Is this what makes America exceptional?

Safety programs often don’t help either.  Welfare programs have been cut.  Worse still, Ehrenreich shows how poor people on the street are more likely to be treated as criminals for “crimes” like jaywalking or begging.  She frames the new reality in these scalding words: “The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.”   I can’t help but wonder how many of these people go into a prison where they work for private companies at wages lower than what is paid in China.

I urge you to read Ehrenreich’s article and – if you have not done so already – her classic Nickel and Dimed.

Posted: August 9, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Today is the first round of recall elections in Wisconsin.  Whatever the results, working people, including many Independents and Republican, came out over several months to protest limits on workers’ right to bargain collectively.  On the east coast, 45,000 Verizon employees are on strike.

What is common to these groups?  Unions in Wisconsin and the Verizon employees offered concessions.  Management would not listen.  The new model of compromise from management is:  Take it or leave it.  Until this attitude changes, we will see more recall elections and strikes.  Hopefully, the U.S.will not see the kind of destruction and violence that has occurred in several English cities.

What’s the solution?  Respect.  Respect starts with listening and an openness to compromise.  This isn’t as so many pundits claim a matter of “both sides.”  The most powerful, the most wealthy want more.  Unless they change, anarchy in the U.K. may turn into anarchy in the U.S.

Posted: August 8, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Common Dreams, populist Jim Tower identifies the real job creators: the working class and middle class, people who buy things that cause companies to grow and hire.  Too many are unemployed or underemployed.  Their wages have been cut.  Others who have jobs are overwhelmed by debt.  Hightower thinks the President needs to forget about slashing government.  It’s time to spend in a way that stimulates the economy, not make the rich richer.

Posted: August 7, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores life and work and other stuff.]

Rain, Rain. . .

It rained this morning, and now it’s raining during the afternoon.  It feels like we’ve had rain all spring and summer. Chicago has become Seattle– gray and wet.  However, I shouldn’t complain.  I was able to play tennis this morning and run several errands between the showers and storms.  We had a little sun.

I think rain depresses people, the darkness, getting wet.  My clients will show up for appointments on the hottest and coldest days.  When do they cancel?  When it’s raining or threatening to rain.  This year the rain has been heavier than usual.  Lighting strikes have caused more house fires.  Still, I will not call this climate change, which is just a theory, just as gravity is just a theory.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a fan of drought or living in deserts.  Four seasons bring variety, which is one of the many reasons I love living in Chicago– except on days like this one.  It should not be dark at 5 o’clock in August!

Enough complaining – Next week’s Sabbath will be happier (unless it’s raining).

Sunday Extra Helping

A video of the Beatles singing “Rain.”