Blog Archive - December 2011

Posted: December 31, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in The Nation, Dana Goldstein examines the role toys and gender play in the careers children pursue when they grow up.  Boys who play with computer games and toys like Legos that encourage spatial reasoning are more likely to pursue technical careers, which offer higher salaries.  Experts cited in the article encourage parents to expose girls and boys to the kind of play that fosters an interest in understanding how the world works.  They also say schools need to emphasize real world examples in teaching science and math, which will engage both boys and girls.  All kids love to play.  Parents and teachers need to encourage the kind of play that will give them the most opportunities later in life.

Posted: December 30, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

“Every noble work is bound to face problems and obstacles. . . . Once a positive goal is chosen, you should decide to pursue it all the way to the end.  Even if it is not realized, at least there will be no regret. “

                                                Dalai Lama

As the new year approaches, many people think about changing jobs or careers.  The thought of another years of doing the same thing motivates them to think about change.  Sadly, too few act to make changes in their life.  They know that there will be “problems and obstacles,” so they bow their heads and sink back into misery.

What’s the alternative?  Focus on where you are and where you want to be.  Make a plan, but keep it flexible enough so you can adapt to new realities.  The most important thing to think about is your happiness.  If your current job or career is not satisfying, what do you have to lose in making a change? 

A realistic approach to career change will make you more likely to achieve your goal.  The path will not be straight or easy, but with the right attitude and effort you can get to where you want to be as a professional.  As the Dalai Lama says, to stay where you are not happy will not just bring you misery, it will add to it “regret.”  Don’t cheat yourself.  Make 2012 the year when you pursue the life you want to live.

Posted: December 30, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

The Human Rights Campaign has put out a list of nearly 200 companies that treat LGBT workers with respect.  Share this resource with friends looking to change jobs or careers.

Posted: December 29, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

According to an article posted on MSNBC, the UAW is taking on its biggest challenge in years.  The union will attempt to organize auto plants in the U.S.owned by non-American manufacturers.  It’s about time that the union reaches out to these workers.  The article tries to claim that the workers might not want to be organized.  That’s a great assumption, but it’s based on no evidence.  The union will also have to fight laws that limit workers’ rights to organize.  However, that’s a fight that should have been going on for several years now. 

How do we know this article was posted on a corporate media website (“Lean Forward”  Really?)?  The subhead reads: “It’s a battle the union cannot afford to lose.”  Sheer nonsense and fear mongering.  What the union and working people cannot afford to do is lie down like a welcome mat as it has for decades.  When we look at the way wealth has been distributed over the past 30 years, the message of the 99% should be pretty obvious:  It’s our turn. 

Related:  In Huffington Post, Laura Clawson provides a chart comparing hourly wages of manufacturing workers throughout the world. U.S. manufacturing workers make an average of $34.74.  German manufacturing workers make $43.76.  In Norway the average rate is $57.53.  These numbers tell an interesting story, and they have nothing to do with tax cuts or unicorn-like “job creators.”

Posted: December 28, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

A client sent me a job posting for a technical position.  It posed this excellent question: “How do you stay one step ahead of others in your field?”

The answer to this question will help you set yourself apart from your competition both in your resume and during interviews.  Review what you have done professionally over the last year.  Make a list of the things you have done to improve you skills and performance.  This list could include:

1.  Education or training

2.  Publication in a professional journal

3.  Professional conferences

4.  Being selected for a special project that extended your responsibilities

5.  Being recognized with an award or commendation

6.  Self-taught skills that you have used on the job

7.  Learning from a mentor or expert in your field

This list does not contain all the possible ways you could have improved your skills.  Keep asking yourself this question: What sets me apart from my competition?  Don’t focus on what makes other people good.  That’s too easy, and it doesn’t help you.  Similarly, don’t dwell on what you haven’t accomplished.  That’s self-defeating.  Be positive.  What have you done over the last year that makes you very good at what you do?  Use the answer to that question to improve your professional reputation, update your resume, and enhance your interviewing skills. 

You know that the job market is very competitive.  Companies want the best talent.  Show them why you are a leader, someone they have to hire.

Posted: December 27, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

My friend Maggie Finnegan, who is with Keller Williams Real Estate, sent me a great handout about setting and achieving goals in the new year.  Here are some key points from the handout:

 1. Set goals that are SMART: 

S: Specific & written

M: Measurable in progress and completion

A: Achievable outcome

R: Realistic in time & skill

T: Time-based achievement

This approach challenges us to be responsible to ourselves.  We are asked to keep score and work with deadline.  At the same time, we need to be realistic about our goals, or we will become frustrated and stop pursuing our goals.  The SMART approach asks us to accountable and practical.

2. Visualize your success

See your goal and how things will change once you’ve achieved it.  See yourself taking the actions and steps that need to be taken to accomplish goal.  Finally, see yourself after the goal is attained. 

 3. Get a partner

Find a partner who will keep you focused and accountable.  Be sure you find someone who will keep you moving forward, not a coach who is too critical or too lax. 

4. Go step by step

Break your goal down to a series.  Then take each step as a separate challenge.  For example, losing 30 pounds could be a three step challenge of losing ten pound.  Celebrate each stage.  Following this method will make something that looks too big seem smaller.

Whatever method you choose, find a way to set and achieve goals.

Posted: December 26, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Democracy Now has produced a powerful tribute to the lyricist Yip HarburgHarburg honestly captured the spirit of the Great Depression in “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime.”  He went on to write lyrics for stage shows/films that included “The Wizard of Oz” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”  After WWII, Harburg was an early victim of Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt.  Blacklisted, he could not work on a film project until the 1960s. 

Harburg believed in telling the truth, especially about the struggles of working people.  What I like most about this film tribute to Harburg was its display of his courage and strength, his faith in a better world – somewhere over the rainbow.

One of my favorite jazz singers Kurt Elling recorded Harburg’s “April in Paris.”  Check  out this video to see how Harburg’s words sing on.

Posted: December 26, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients is pursuing a major promotion in his company.  He told me that one of the forces motivating him was advice he had gotten from a senior manager: “Don’t limit yourself.”

What does this advice mean?  It means that a real professional always does more than a job requires.  She stays late and motivates others by her example.  It also requires ambition and the ability to take professional risks.  A person can apply for a promotion and not get it.  Or she could get the position and not be able to handle the responsibility.  However, if she doesn’t take the chance, she’ll never know how high she can reach.  In the words of my client’s mentor, she will be limiting herself.

Don’t limit yourself.  Take on extra responsibilities, and, when the time comes, look to climb the ladder.  If your current employer won’t give you a change to move up, that’s a good reason to look for a new job.

Posted: December 25, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

[Sabbath is this blog’s Sunday feature on intersections of work and life.]

Christmas and Things

In his Christmas sermon, Pope Benedict lamented how the holiday has become commercialized.   I agree with him.  From early November, one message saturates the airwaves: It’s time to “buy” for Christmas.  People line up for midnight sales on the day after Thanksgiving, which has taken on its own identity as Black Friday. 

I’m bothered more by people’s behavior than the fact that they are buying gifts for loved ones.  Too often we see people filling carts with the newest, biggest, most glitzy products.  They are buying what they are told people want: the hot toy, the 4G smartphone, the iWhatever.  What do people need?  What shows our love for people, rather than our ability to get in line and do what everyone else is doing?

I still buy books as gifts, especially for the children in my life.  The day will come when all media will be a download, but it’s not today.  A book pushes people away from the screens that dominate our work and personal lives.  A book says, “Slow down.”  A book keeps us connected to a paper-based tradition of learning and sharing knowledge that is over two thousand years old.  I hope books never go away.   

I also like to give food.  This gift can come in two forms: gifts certificates to local restaurants or some interesting kind of food that can be purchased here in Andersonville or another Chicago neighborhood. Last year, I gave two friends gifts certificates to Gene’s Sausage in Lincoln Square.  Gene’s is a cross between an old fashioned butcher shop and the best things about Whole Foods.  This year, I’m giving gifts certificates to Calo’s, an Italian restaurant that is a block south of my office.  Calo’s has something for everybody – from sit down dinners to great thin and thick crust pizza.  In past years, I’ve given friends Italian salamis, Middle Eastern appetizers, and even bacon-flavored chocolate bars.  Food is always a fun gift. 

Whatever I give, my goal is to share something with someone I care about, not simply to follow the line in a store or heed the call of a TV commercial.  Whenever possible, I like to surprise my friends and share some cool thing I found wandering through this city of wonders.  Most of all, I want to send a simple message of love and caring.  The Pope is right about that.  It’s not about buying things.  It’s about love.

Happy Holidays.

Posted: December 22, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Does your employer offer training that will let you improve your professional skills?  If so, find a way to take advantage of this resource.  One of my clients is looking to change jobs.  However, while he’s looking for a new employer, he’s also using an online resource to improve his computer skills. 

There is one note of caution.  If you’re enrolled in a formal degree or certification program, be sure you know the employer’s requirements.  Most employers require that you work for a company so long while/after completing degrees or you may be responsible for repaying tuition costs. 

Training can lead you to a promotion or a new job.  Take advantage of it whenever possible.