Blog Archive - February 2012

Posted: February 29, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I want to like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to open/convert 5 high schools into 6 year technical schools, which will focus on skills needed for high tech jobs.  At the end of their education, students would have an associates degree and training for jobs that currently are unfilled.  Corporate partners including IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft are developing educational programs and providing summer internships.  They also promise to give students “first-in-line interviews” after graduation.

That’s my first question: What is really being promised?  If the internships are paid, that’s a good thing.  If not, it seems like some of America’s biggest, most profitable companies would be getting free labor.  We also need to study what comes of the interviews.  You can give 100 people a “first-in-line” interview without hiring one candidate. Time will tell if these acts of corporate citizenship are real. 

I also want to know: How will these schools impact existing programs at City Colleges?  The mayor has made some interesting proposals about having Chicago’s City Colleges offer programs that are aligned with employers’ needs.  That’s a good thing.  However, will these high school based programs complete or overlap the CCC programs?  Could this be an excuse to cut existing programs that have helped Chicagoans for decades?   

I hope this education reform is a sincere attempt to help young people and bring more jobs to the city.  If it is, three cheers for Mayor Emanuel.  However, I want to wait a few years before calling it a success.  Let’s ask some critical questions and see what kind of answers the program delivers.

Posted: February 29, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

What causes job seekers to get stuck when they look for work? A lack of focus and a failure to act.  Too many people conduct their job search in a haphazard manner.  They look at a few websites and possibly call a network contact.  If they apply for a job that feels like a perfect fit, they will often stop looking when they aren’t called for an interview.  In a similar, job seekers often slow down their job search when they interview for a job.  They wait to be called for a second interview, or they wait for an offer.  Don’t wait.  Stay focused and active. 

1.  Focus

Focus in the job search begins before you send out your first resume.  First, identify the kind of jobs you want to pursue.  Then look at 5-10 job postings for those positions and be sure that your resume speaks to the needs of those employers.  If you write your resume with attention to what employers need, you shouldn’t have to rewrite for every job posting.  That is why being focused matters. 

2.  Get Active

I normally hate job search “rules,” but here’s one that works: Once you start your job search, don’t stop until you have a new job.  There will be frustration along the way.  You will feel like you want to quit.  However, stopping only delays the process.  Whenever you feel tempted to quit looking for work, try to send out two resume or call two of your network contacts. Find a friend who can be your career personal trainer, someone who will be able to get you moving again.  Whenever you get stuck, call this person and let them push you forward. 

3.  Stay Active and Focused

While it’s important to stay active, it’s just as important to stay focused.  Sometimes, when people don’t get a job within a month, they start applying to any job, which just means more rejection.  Most job searches take at least 3-6 months.  Expect some silence, and expect to hear the word “No.”  Another mistake people make is fiddling with and tweaking their resume rather than applying for jobs.  If you resume is focused on the kind of job you’re seeking, you should be able to send it out with few or no changes. 

A good job search is like a good sales campaign.  It has a clear objective as well as several ways to reach that goal.  A good sales person knocks on many doors.  Similarly, a good job seeker will apply for as many jobs as she is qualified for an interested in.  She will stay in contact with her network and look for new ways to meet people who can move her career forward.  Most of all, a smart job seek will do two things:  Stay focused – stay active.

Posted: February 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Almost everyone agrees that employers don’t have much time to review resumes.  One way to catch the reader’s eye and hold her attention is to use subheads in describing your skill sets.  For example, a sales manager might divide her work between “staff supervision” and “account management.”  Staff supervision would highlight her ability to lead a team, train employees, and evaluate performance.  Account management would focus on her role as a salesperson, someone who closes deals and maintains relations. 

In the example posted below, an HR executive divides her skill sets into 3 topics: benefits, payroll & HRIS, and employee relations.  These divisions let the job seeker highlight what she offers employers.  The key to a good resume is simple:  Keep it focused and simple for the reader.

HR Benefits resume

Posted: February 24, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams has published an article on the consequences of unemployment and poverty.  The author Greg Kaufman considers how political compromises have pushed unemployed workers – and their families – down on the economic and social scale.  Many people do not even qualify for unemployment benefits.  As Kaufman details in the rest of the article, our national safety met is letting too many people fall.

Posted: February 23, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Here’s a simple answer: any information that will convince an employer that she should take the time to interview you.

A client recently sent me a resume to evaluate.  He’s had 4 jobs since graduating from college.  For each job he lists 2-3 bullet points with generic information about his duties.  When I told him that this format was not selling his abilities, he told me that employers don’t want to read “a lot of words.”  My answer was to show him several job postings, all of which stated specific skills and attributes.  Employers want evidence that you can do the job.  They also need to seem some record of achievement or success stories.

Test your resume by looking at each element and asking this question: Why does an employer want to see this?

Posted: February 20, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Many American have suffered through long-term unemployment.  Their challenge is to find a way to restart their job search in the face of depressing market news. If you are one of these people, the first step is to stop listening to such news.  Focus on your career and what you need to do to get a job. Once you start looking for a job, don’t stop. 

Collect 5-10 postings for the kind of jobs you want to pursue, and then shape your resume so it speaks to the needs of those employers.  The next step is simple to say and hard to do: Start networking and applying to jobs until you get hired.  Don’t stop. 

Be realistic.  An average job search takes at least 3-6 months of persistent, concentrated activity.  Too many people kill their job search by starting and stopping (and stopping for longer and longer periods).  Stay focused on your goals.  Don’t stop.

Posted: February 19, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

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

The Blindness of Looking Forward and Backward

Over the last week, two stories have dominated the media: the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the death of Whitney Houston.  What struck me about both stories is our culture’s inability to consider something as it is now, not as it was or will be. Houston’s death was wrapped in language of nostalgia and sentimentality.  Lin’s success was matter of statistical forecasting about how good this player would become (based on a sample of less than 10 games).  One commentator shamed himself by saying Lin would be better than Michael Jordan.

What if people looked at both of these events in a more balanced way? Houston’s death was sad, but is it tragic?  Her production has been limited over the last 15 years. Can someone who isn’t active and productive still be considered a star performer?  Sales of her songs exploded after her death.  Why didn’t the same people appreciate and purchase her music whenHoustonwas alive?  In a similar way, Lin’s early success has been eye-popping.  But, like any young player, he needs to demonstrate consistency before being considered an all-star, much less one of the greatest players of all time.  Basketball fans (and writers) need to be patient and judge his career as it happens instead of setting unrealistic expectations that will only leave them disappointed.

What if we focused on what is happening now?  We’d be able to enjoy performances without worrying about was or will be. We would be able to deal with problems (and opportunities) as they are, not as we imagine them to be.  In my work as a career coach, I have seen too many people limit their careers and make their personal lives miserable by looking backward or forward.  They ask, “What if?”  They imagine a life that would have been so much better “if only.”  Other people look forward to changes in their lives, but they don’t know how to act now to make those changes happen.  Rather than face today, they get lost in yesterday or tomorrow. 

Walt Whitman captured the power of “now” in these words:

“There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now;

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

Whitman challenges his readers to pay attention to the small things – leaves of grass.  Rather than live in the clichéd world of false emotion, he wanted them to see the world through their own eyes and think for themselves.  Great American thinkers from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to artists like Whitman and Mark Twain to philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Dewey have all pondered the fate of the individual under pressure from society. Twain’s greatest novel Huckleberry Finn is a catalog of how people hide from reality, how they cannot face “now.”

We turn our faces and minds to the past or future because these unreal worlds let us avoid the hard questions that face us now.  Nostalgia and fantasy let us invent alternative realities to the present.  The problem with such thinking is that we never get anything done.  Whitman put it best, whatever heaven or hell we face, it is now.

Posted: February 18, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

A store across from my office is closing.  The building's owner wants to rent the space to a tenant who will pay a higher rent.  Rather than simply post a sign announcing a closing sale, the store owners put up a sign that thanked the neighborhood for its support. 

We need to keep this kind of positive thinking in mind as a tool for the job search.  It’s easy to be discouraged while looking for work.  Find different ways to be grateful.  Think about the people who are trying to help you.  Think about what has gone well in your job search.  What if nothing has gone well?  Be thankful that you still have the ability to keep looking for work.

Gratitude empowers us to move forward.  It picks us up when we’re down.  Find some way to let this force be an asset in your job search and your life.

Posted: February 15, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

My friend Bill Savage, a Senior Lecturer & Academic Advisor at Northwestern University, sent me a great article from Harvard Business Review.  The author, Priscilla Claman, argues that career ladders are a myth.  More importantly, she demonstrates how this notion has led many people down a false path.  She recommends that we prepare for lateral moves as well as promotions.  The key to career success is developing skills that will let you “grow your job.”  Claman’s advice is excellent for workers at any stage of their career.  Take control and build the skills that will let you move wherever opportunity takes you.

Posted: February 14, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

On his TV show, Ed Schultz interviewed Mike Daisey who traveled to investigate conditions at Apple’s manufacturing plant in 2010.  He found workers as young as 12-14 years old.  Daisey returned to America, wrote, and performed a monologue entitled The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,”  which is he is now releasing with a common use license (the opposite of copyright), allowing anyone to perform his work.

Apple has decided to let investigators audit their plant because of consumer complaints.  Daisey was a big force in their decision.  His action is proof that people of conscience – including consumers – can change the lives of working people.  Somewhere, Harriet Beecher Stowe is smiling.