Blog Archive - November 2011

Posted: November 30, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The British government is trying to “reform” (steal) the pension of public employees.  It is also proposing cuts in pay and heavy layoffs.  Public sector workers responded with a massive protest that closed schools, transit services, and many other government offices.  BBC estimates that “tens of thousands” participated in the strike with 30,000 in the streets of Birmingham and 25,000 in London.  Trying to play down the protest, Prime Minister David Cameron said, “It looked like a damp squid.”  The squid may be damp, but it looks pretty big and mean.  Politicians across the world need to wake up.  Working people are getting fed up and angry.

Posted: November 30, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

A client sent me a model of a resume today that had a compelling way of demonstrating achievements.  A manager wants to show how she improved her department’s performance.  She lists productivity numbers in the year before she took the position and then broke down year by year a steady growth.  Not everyone can quantify their performance in this way.  However, if you can, it would be a good way to let an employer see how you are truly results-oriented.

Posted: November 28, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The job market is seasonal – to a degree.  Many companies slow down between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  Many will put off hiring until the New Year.  Job seekers notice that there are fewer and fewer open position, which motivates them to stop looking for work.

Try a different approach.  Even though there are fewer job postings, there are also fewer people looking for work.  If you make the effort to keep looking and applying during this holiday season, you might get an interview because you are still working to get a job while your competition is listening to Christmas carols while they shop.  Be patient.  Keep networking and applying.  You never know when a door will open.

Posted: November 27, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sunday, this blog ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]

Making Things

Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a depressing article on the decline of manufacturing in the U.S. and more locally in Cook County.  Looking more deeply into the numbers, the problem is deeper and long term than the last decade.  The U.S. has been losing manufacturing jobs since 1980.  Between 2000 and 2010, however, the loss was staggering with the number of factory jobs shrinking from 17,321,000 to 11,580,000.

Part of the problem is cheap labor that is available in the developing world.  An equally important factor has to be considered: greed.  Operations that were profitable in the U.S.become even more profitable when companies can cut payroll and not adhere to regulations.  Some people, including presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann, want to respond to this problem by making the U.S. more like China.  That’s a mistake.  In the most recent edition of the Atlantic, Orville Schell reports on the growth of sustainable manufacturing in China.  What shocked me about this article was the American company leading the change: Wal-Mart.

There is a small bit of good news in the Sun-Times article.  Manufacturing jobs ticked up a little from 2010 to 2011.  More importantly, while the American economy has been down over the past few years, we are not facing what the country did during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  We are still making things, and some of them reflect an interest in a better quality of life.

I met a friend yesterday for a few beers at Hopleaf, a bar in Chicago that specializes in beers from all over the world (However, it does not sell Budweiser or Miller.).  We both drank beers that were brewed by local companies Metropolitan and Half Acre.  The craft brewing movement is just one aspect of a growing economic trend in which products are made locally.  While I write this post, I’m drinking Metropolis Coffee, which is roasted in an old warehouse located two blocks south of my office in Andersonville.

It’s easy to blame cheap labor and greedy CEOs for the loss of manufacturing jobs in America.  However, we as consumers need to take some responsibility for this problem.  Americans want cheap products.  Manufacturers answer that they can only deliver what the customer wants if they can exploit cheap labor abroad.  There is an alternative.  Consumers can pay more and buy American, especially by buying local whenever possible.  Many companies still manufacture in the U.S., and their products are available. 

Will America ever be the world’s manufacturing leader again?  Probably not.  Both China and India have populations nearly five times as large as the U.S.  Those countries will need factories to provide goods to their own people.  Hopefully, rising standards of living in those countries will push wages up, which will make manufacturing in the U.S. more profitable.  What can we do in the meantime?  We can remember that there are still people making things in America.  Buy American.  Buy local.

Posted: November 25, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Danielle Tumminio, author of God and Harry Potter at Yale, explores a theme that I have visited in this blog:  Sabbath rest.  My inspiration has been the thinking and writing of Wendell Berry.  Tumminio is inspired by something much larger and frightening: hordes of Black Friday shoppers.

She notes the irony of a country that prides itself on Judeo-Christian values ignoring one of the first lessons of the Bible – on the seventh day, God rested.  We are almost crazed in our activities related to Thanksgiving: traveling, shopping, cleaning.  Worse still, we now have the crowded, grabbing insanity of Black Friday.  Tuminnio reminds us that some time on the couch (with the TV off) would be a good thing.

All I can say to this fine post is: Amen.

Posted: November 24, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Judy Battista wrote this sentence about the coaching Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John, in today's New York Times:

"The Brothers Harbaugh don't quite spark the same moral and ethical questions that the Brothers Karamazov did, although little brother Jim's emotionally charged postgame handshake with Detroit's Jim Schwartz could have been a nice plot device in a sprawling Russian epic."

This sentence has fun with sports, literature, and - most important of all - language.  Hurray for Battista!

Posted: November 24, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Even in a rough job market and economy, it's important to step back and be grateful for the good things in life.  I want to thank my clients for their trust, my friends for their ongoing love and support, and my readers for putting up with my sometimes cranky opinions.  I hope your Thanksgiving Day is restful and spent with loved ones.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Posted: November 21, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

In a speech at Harvard, Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested replacing union janitors at inner city school with the children who attend the school.  He called laws that prevent children from working before the age of 14-16 “totally stupid.”  He did not say what restrictions – if any – he would put on child labor.

What Gingrich doesn’t consider is how many adults his plan would throw on the street.  He claims to be doing what is best for the children.  Looked at more clearly, his real target seems to be public union employees who have been the targets of Republican governors across the U.S. 

This proposal is foul on two levels.  First, it seeks to make children workers rather than learners.  Second, it would increase unemployment and income inequality he claims to want to lower by putting adults, many of whom are supporting children, on the streets.  This solution would make the problem worse. 

Gingrich has long been one of the most cynical politicians in the U.S.  With this “modest” proposal, he has reached a new low.

Posted: November 20, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores intersections of work and life in “Sabbath.”]

College Sports and American Values

I normally agree with Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander.  Often Telander will cast things in a light that makes readers challenge their beliefs.  In his column in today's paper, however, he takes on an easy target, Joe Paterno, and the worship given to top college coaches.  When it comes to the crimes committed against children, I agree with Telander 100%.  I also agree that coaches are treated with more respect than professors and teachers.  However, we need to keep a balance between what disgusts us today and what we should remember about how we treated sports in the past and what has changed over the past few decades. 

I’ve frequently written about the great basketball coach John Wooden.  Coach Wooden built one of the greatest dynasties of all time while following a strict code of values.  In his nineties, Wooden wrote several books that outline his beliefs.  Other coaches taught their players similar lessons and helped them finish their educations.  By all accounts, Joe Paterno ran a clean football program and graduated his players.  His failure was to report a crime, an act that has cost him his reputation and could cost him even more in the future.

What has changed in college sports since the times of John Wooden and Ray Meyer of DePaul?  Money.  College football and basketball generate millions of dollars for universities.  They also help schools build a “brand” that helps increase admissions and contributions from alumni.  TV contributes to the problem.  We’ve gone from a game or two being televised each week to having entire networks developed to college sports, college conferences, and even individual schools.  Schools (not players) even draw income from video games that are based on college sports.  All of these factors help create a culture where sports overwhelms all other activities on campus. 

Telander notes that no school builds statues to English, history, or math professors.  That point is true.  But is that problem driven by universities and coaches, or by a culture that worships sports and disdains learning and study?  America focuses more and more on entertainment and fun, often sitting in front of a screen of whirling images.  We’ve lost the ability to think critically that comes with reading and the discipline needed to learn subjects like math and scinece.  Telander’s criticism is accurate on the surface, but we need to look deeper to see the real problem.  We need to look in the mirror and accept our responsibility.  Do our values fit our words?  Clearly, college sports is just one symptom of a culture that has lost its way.  We all need to change.

Posted: November 18, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Seth Godin’s latest post is a classic.

Conventional wisdom in business tells us to find a way to say, “Yes.”  Why?  As Godin illustrates in his pithy way, there is great strength in “No.”  There is also professionalism, commitment, and honesty. 

Jobseekers and career managers can take a lesson from this post.  If a job isn’t right for you (unless you absolutely need the income), say, “No.”  If your current job isn’t working for you, it’s time to say no more and quit.  Quitting things that hurt us is the first step in moving our personal and professional lives forward.  Godin wrote the book on that subject, and it’s called The Dip.  Read it, and you’ll be prepared know when to say, “No.”