Blog Archive - March 2012

Posted: March 30, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I often learn from my clients, and one of my teachers has given me a new way to think about how to present a potential employer with a salary range.  My client, we'll call her Mary, did not really want this job.  When the employer pressed her for a salary requirement, she responded with this range, "Something between $60,000 and $95,000," which is a huge range.  I normally recommend a $10,000 range. 

What was Mary thinking?  First, she didn't want to price herself out of the market.  Second, she wanted the employer to know that she thinks she could be worth nearly $100,000.  These numbers are not made up.  Mary is attending a leading MBA program where new grads commonly earn $100K on graduating.  She also did research and learned that the employer commonly hires employees from major consulting companies, which means they must pay decent salaries.  She gave a range that kept her in the game and is know negotiating after receiving an offer.  She probably won't take the job, but if she does, it will be on her terms.

Do I recommend a $30,000 salary range.  In most cases, I do not.  In this case, it worked because Mary thought through her strategy and options.  That's the first step in good career management.

Posted: March 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Spain’s two biggest unions have called for a general strike this Thursday to protest deep cuts the government is making, big cuts ($40 billion) that will hit working people and the poor hardest.  According to Katherine Ainger of the Guardian (via Common Dreams), 30% of working people will be joined on the strike by an “invisible” group of the unemployed, many of whom are younger than 30.

What’s happening in Spain and other European countries should be a wake up to citizens in the U.S.  Austerity only benefits bankers and the investment class.  The same people who devised schemes to put working people and the middle class deep into debt are now coming after the government’s money, which is our tax money.  Rather than taxes going to fund schools and health care, it will be a brighter day for the fat and happy 1%. 

Working people need to wake up and stand up.  Hopefully, Spain will set a good example this Thursday.

Posted: March 26, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Common Dreams, David Macaray argues that labor needs to follow some of the down and dirty tactics of its opponents to defend itself against right wing attacks.  He identifies three areas – sponsorship, patriotism, and safety net – as areas where labor needs to find some good slogans to counter terms that belittle union members.

I agree with Macaray, but I’d add another category:  history.  Americans don’t have the best memories.  They need to be remind not just that unions brought the 40 hour work week (which few enjoy anymore) and workplace rights.  They need to hear about the great strikes and labor martyrs, the people who went to jail and died because they wanted regular, “middle class” working people to get a fair shake and just a little justice.  We need to remember those stories because we’re sliding back to the days when workers have no rights and corporations rule.

Posted: March 25, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life and the work of living.]

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle to read books in the online age.  Today I got a similar feeling reading the Sunday paper.  I've always enjoyed the Sunday paper because – most Sundays – I have no or limited work responsibilities.

I read the Chicago Sun-Times.  Once upon a time I read the city’s other daily newspaper, but it seemed to get worse year by year.  Then it was bought by a truly ugly man who insulted his writers and readers.  That drove me to the Sun-Times, and I am better for it. 

Today’s paper is a wonderful example of why we need good newspapers.  The first article reports on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s support of public schools.  Is the mayor serious or blowing smoke?  Time will tell.  The paper’s great columnists – Mark Brown, Mary Mitchell, Neil Steinberg, and Carol Marin – cover topics that range from safety in schools to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  Marin’s editorial on our recent election is to the point and very funny, beginning and ending with a visit to the Wiener’s Circle.

Investigative reporting is a hallmark of the paper.  Over the past months, it has covered a case in which the nephew of former Mayor Daley was allegedly involved in a crime, which seems to have been covered up (or very poorly investigated).  Today, three pages of the paper are devoted to investigating connections between government officials and a company that sells milk to Chicago public schools.  A list of school prices in city and suburban schools gives the reader a way to compare how the biggest buyer of milk in the state pays the highest price, which makes no sense.  There is also a side bar that names and profiles the individuals involved in the story.  Connections mean everything in Chicago, and the Sun-Times reveals who is making money off the public’s dime.

The paper’s two best writers have nothing to do with politics or related scandals.  Roger Ebert writes about movies, and Rick Telander covers sports.  In today’s column, Telander ponders the death of his co-worker and friend, Lacy J. Banks, who covered basketball for the paper.  Here is how he describes Banks, who was called the Reverend because he was an ordained minister, at a press conference: “The Reverend elbowed to the front of media crowds and stared directly at his subjects with purpose, and he asked his questions in a booming, from-the-pulpit vocal splendor that sometimes left interviewees mute, staring at him slack-jawed.”

This week’s Sunday paper was unusually good.  However, week in, week out, day in, day out,  the Sun-Times helps me understand and appreciate the city.  It introduces me to new people and places.  Most of the time, it’s very well written and interesting.  Smart people say the newspaper is dead.  It’s just a matter of time until it disappears.  We’ve heard that line about jazz for decades.  Ask Wynton Marsalis or Kurt Elling (or their fans) if jazz is dead.  Viva newspapers!  Viva the Chicago Sun-Times.

Posted: March 23, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

We read stories again and again that companies won’t hire the long term unemployed.  Now some states are even going to pass laws to address this problem.  I don’t deny there is bias against job seekers the longer they are unemployed.  Clearly some companies have even posted help wanted ads saying they are only looking for people who are currently employed.

However, as I’ve written in the past, this meme is not the big problem the scare-loving media makes it out to be.  If two candidates are similarly qualified, it makes more sense for the employer to hire the person who is unemployed.  Why?  That person is cheaper.  Like most of us, hiring managers want the best deal.  A person with a job has some security and can negotiate.  An unemployed person will be more likely to take what is offered.

I have no doubt that workers who have been out of a job for a year or more are having trouble in this economy.  Employers do look at gaps.  However, I’ve had many clients (especially at home parents) re-enter the work force after several years out of the work place.  It’s not easy, but it’s possible, especially if a person is strong enough to ignore negative stories that only try to bring us down.

Posted: March 20, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

This is a difficult question to answer at a job interview.  Be sure that the answer you give doesn't indicate that you would be a problem employee.

One of my clients recently left a job because she was not getting support from her manager.  It was a hostile work environment.  When she told her story at an interview, she said that the interview looked at her like she was crazy.  Why?  The expectation is that we should never say anything negative about a former employer.  This kind of answer indicates that you could be the problem, and most companies will not bring you back for a second interview.

What should my client have done?  First be positive.  She should say that she enjoyed working at the company and learned a lot working there.  The next move is to pivot.  Find something about the employer you are interviewing with that your previous employer did not offer.  Say that you are looking for a job that would provide whatever that quality/benefit is. 

The prospective employer could still press as to why you would leave a job before you had a new one.  In that case, your best strategy would be to say something general such as, "It was time to leave that job."  This answer could still wave a red flag, but it's better than being openly negative.  Bring your focus back to what you can do for the employer, and take the focus off why you left the last job.  It is a very tricky question.

Posted: March 19, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Common Dreams, Diane Ravitch looks at the state of teaching as a profession.  She notes that some of the leading “education reformers” constantly attack teachers as the problem without proposing a real solution.  In Finland teachers are given five years training before they reach the classroom.  In the U.S., half of new teachers leave the profession in their first five years.  That’s a problem, and the reformers only answer seems to be “bust the union.”

Posted: March 18, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog explores topics big and small in “Sabbath.”]

Work and the Social Contract

In 2002, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich published a book entitled I’ll Be Short.  In one sense, the book is a pun on the author’s height.  It also indicates the length, 121 pages.  However, the most interest sense of the title might be conciseness – to the point, which Reich captured in these words: 

“Not since World War II have Americans felt so unified.  We’re fighting a war on terrorism, and we’re fighting to the get the economy moving again. And we’re all in this together.  Except when it comes to paying the bill.”

It’s been 10 years since Reich wrote those words.  What’s changed?  Well, we’re not so united.  The poor and middle class are still paying the bill, if not directly in taxes, indirectly through lost wages, unemployment, and foreclosure.  The result has not been a revolution against those benefiting most from the system, but an unfocused anger that most often gets directed at government and the poor. 

Reich sees this as a failure of a social contract based on three principals:  1.  Employees will profit as the companies they work for.  2.  Working people should be paid enough to support a family.  3. Publicly supported education should offer opportunity to all.  Reich clearly states that this contract did not promise equality, but it did offer a fair chance for the poor and middle class to rise.  It was supported by a safety net that helped people in times of trouble.  In 2012, this social contract seems broken beyond repair. 

I don’t blame the politicians.  We the citizens elect our political leaders, and we get the democracy we deserve.  However, I do blame the thinkers and pundits who have pushed a libertarian vision that favors the individual over society and freedom over security.  Milton Friedman’s famous book is entitled Free to Choose.  For most Americans, our economy has come to resemble a casino:  Free to lose.

A social contract implies that we share a responsibility to do what is best for the country (vote, pay taxes, serve in the military) and the country will do what is best for the people.  The American Revolution was driven by a belief that the King and his friends were sucking the colonies dry.  We seem to be reaching a new crisis.  People have no faith in government.  They are also beginning to see that corporations and the rich are writing the rules to benefit themselves.  Recently, I wrote a post about a study that found that 93% of new wealth produced in 2010 went to the top 1%.  How can a society continue to claim it provides opportunity when so few benefit?

The social contract says we owe things to each other.  We share a commons that we need to protect as a resource that benefits all.  More and more, both Republicans and Democrats reject such ideas.  They kneel before a market that is dominated by big banks and corporations that receive large government contracts and even larger tax breaks. Many large corporations pay no federal taxes despite a 34% tax rate.  Many billionaires pay a lower percentage of income taxes than the middle class.

If we don’t find some way to put together a new social contract that benefits most Americans, not just the elite, our economy and democracy will crumble.  It’s a nice-sounding myth to imagine a world where individuals are self-sufficient.  However, it’s not true.  We rely on each other.  We share basic needs and human rights.  It’s important to remember the story of Cain.  We can deny being our brother’s keeper, but that is a lie, a lie told by murderers and criminals, the kind of people that don’t believe in society.

Posted: March 17, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

As Americans, we live by a belief that anyone can succeed if they work study hard and work hard.  In her latest labor post in Daily Kos, Laura Clawson gives us some reason to rethink this old saw.  Students from the highest income groups are more likely to complete college.  Students from low and middle income groups who have similar academic backgrounds lag behind.

Can we have a meritocracy if some people are set up to achieve the academic foundation for career success?  Some will argue that it’s all individual achievement.  That’s a comforting rationalization for those who benefit from the current system.  College is the stepping stone to a good job and career opportunities.  If the wealthiest 25% have a leg up, we should not lie to ourselves about who has a chance to succeed in this game.  It’s fixed.  The winners are selected at birth - lucky sperm club.

Posted: March 16, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I've been blogging less frequently because my schedule's been packed.  I've also been trying to follow one of my favorite sporting events, the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.  Today was an upset day with two #15 seeds beating two #2 seeds, one of which, Missouri, was picked by several experts to win the championship.

How is all of this relevant to looking for work?  The #15 seed is not supposed to win.  These teams beat the odds by having faith in their skills and not quitting on themselves.  That is also the formula for a succesful job search.  Don't quit on yourself.