Blog Archive - June 2012

Posted: June 30, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I was leading a seminar on interviewing skills last week when a young lady asked me how I would answer this question: “What is the best and worst company you’ve ever worked for?”

I paused.  As interview questions go, this one is great – from the employer’s perspective.  If the employer’s goal is to test an applicant’s attitude, there is no way to pull the “turn a weakness into a strength” trick (which I don’t think is a good idea, but that’s for another day).  I told the young lady who asked me about this question to give me a little time to think about it, which is not a bad thing to do during an interview.

The employer is holding your resume and can see what companies you’ve worked for.  If you’ve worked for more than one company, it’s obvious that you would think one is better than another.  The trick in the interview is not to show any sign that you will be a bad employee, poor team player, or a trouble maker.  Here’s the answer I came up with:

“I’ve learned something from every job I’ve had.  The best company I worked for would be Brown and Sons, my most recent employer.  That is where I developed the skills you need in a Sales Manager.  The worst company I worked for would be Smithers, Inc., which is the job I held after college.  Smithers is a great, successful company, but it wasn’t the right fit for me because they wanted me to do clerical work to support sales.  Even at that point in my career, I knew sales was my calling.  Smithers did not have a sales opening at the time I worked for them, so I took the initiative to find a job in sales with another company and that set the direction for my career over the last eight years.”

Stay positive if you ever have to answer this question or one like it.  Don’t bash the company or the people you worked for. The most important thing when facing a difficult question during an interview is to stop and think before you answer.  If you do that, you’ll find a way to present yourself as a good employee, someone the employer will want to hire.

Posted: June 28, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Francine Knowles of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that workers 55 years or older have had more success finding jobs.  This trend is also true of workers age 20-24 and those 25-34.  This is good news.  However, some groups have not been so lucky.

The groups that have seen job loss are 35-54 and teenagers.  Teens always suffer during periods of high unemployment.  Middle-aged workers are often earning high wages, which motivates employers to lay them off in favor of lower-paid, younger workers.

Overall, the job market is still only ticking up.  As I often say, that’s macroeconomics, and it’s important for how we live as a society.  For individuals, the unemployment rate is less important.  Job churn means that individuals will find job opportunities if they search the right way.  Whatever your age, be ready to look for a job and be ready if an employer asks for your resume. When it comes to your career, only two questions matter: Do I have a job?  Do I have the kind of job I want?  I call that the 100% rule.

Posted: June 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

A huge wildfire has burned for weeks in Colorado.  Joan McCarter of Daily Kos reports this depressing news:  Many of the firefighters do not have health coverage as part of their compensation.  They are federal employees, but on a contract basis.  McCarter also points out that the firefighters make so little that they cannot afford to purchase insurance.  Something is very rotten in . . . the greatest country in the world.

Posted: June 25, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Think Progress reports that bank CEOs increased their pay by 12% last year.  What about wages for workers?  Adjusted for inflation, they declined by 0.6%.  What class war?  Or, as Warren Buffet put it, his class is winning.  Clearly.

Posted: June 24, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond career in “Sabbath.”]

Rain, Rain, Go Away?

It might rain today.  The key word is might.  We’ve had some great weather in Chicago lately, sunny, warm, even hot at times.  What we haven’t had is rain.  Over the next week, high temperatures are expected to range from the low 80s to near 100.  What isn’t predicted?  Rain.

Last week I wrote about a frost that will affect fruit trees.  That’s bad, but we’ve dealt with frosts in the past.  I think what we’re seeing now is different and much worse.  A frost affects us for one year.  Prices go up and down. What if we have less precipitation or more erratic precipitation?  That will change how we live – if we live.

A few weeks ago, farmers in the Midwest were predicting disaster if they didn’t get rain.  It didn’t rain.  While the media ignores this story, common sense says that we will literally pay for this “good weather.”  Food prices have jumped over the last couple of years.  Why?  It’s harder to grow food.  It costs more to irrigate fields when there is no rain.  Farmers pay the price, and, then, like any business person, they pass the cost along to us.

For several years now, we’ve seen less snow during the winter.  Or, when it does snow, we get hit by a blizzard, not a steady volume.  The same can be said for rain.  Storms now drop more water in a faster time, which doesn’t help plants grow because less moisture sinks into the ground.  Water pools and then evaporates, which is only good for mosquitoes.

I’d say this is an important story, except very few people are talking about.  We’ve been trained to accept changes in the climate as natural.  We’ve been trained not to trust our eyes and memory.  I don’t watch TV much anymore, but, a few weeks ago, during a baseball game, I saw a commercial from a group advocating for U.S. coal.  The ad mocked the occupy movement and said that using coal was good for the country and good for jobs.  Last year, BP produced commercials with happy, smiling people (actors?) from the Gulf states praising the company for all the good things it did in bringing the region back.  It never mentioned that BP was involved in the Deep Horizon oil spill.  They didn’t want us to remember that, so it’s time to write a new history.

I really don’t blame corporations, think tanks, or politicians for the failure to deal with climate change.  I blame myself and my neighbors across the globe.  We can see simple things: It’s not raining.  Summers are hotter than they’ve ever been.  Wildfires burn for weeks.  Still, we do nothing.  Most scientists have accepted global warming as a man-made problem.  But we don’t listen to scientists anymore.  They ask us to think.  Commercials ask us to obey, and we in the land of the free are much better at obeying than thinking.

Why don’t we ask why it isn’t raining?  Because it’s more fun to tweet about all things Kardashian.  Because we have come to think of politics as a game with winners and losers.  Because we have become consumers who buy instead of citizens who sacrifice.  Most importantly, because we have become self-absorbed and selfish, seldom thinking about our neighbors or future generations.  We will get the future we deserve, and I fear that it will be very ugly – and dry.

Posted: June 23, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

When reporters and commentators talk about the economy, they focus on unemployment.  More sophisticated experts discuss falling wages and the loss of consumer buying power.  Those are both very important topics.  But there is another economic measure that impacts how we work and live: Productivity.

Whenever productivity is discussed, it is taken as a measure of the economy.  It’s easy to assume that more productivity is a good thing.  However, we also need to ask who benefits from productivity and who loses.  As I said, salaries are flat, many benefits have been cut.  Fewer people are doing more work.  Who wins that game?  Investors and company owners who get bonuses for productivity.  Who loses?  The people who are doing more work for the same or less compensation.

Every week clients tell me new stories about how they have been being asked to do more, to work late into the evening, to take work home.  Across industries, workers feel stress and overburdened.  At the same time, they are afraid to confront their managers because they need their job and the income it provides.  We can measure an unemployment rate and productivity.  It’s much harder to measure what people are feeling and how their jobs affect their lives.  The next time you hear an economist gushing about increased productivity, remember that workers are paying the price, working more, leading less productive personal lives.  They are not the winners in the productivity game.

Posted: June 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Experts and the Internet love lists.  They look authoritative, and they are easy to organize (Just count to 10..  However, I often find some advice given about resume writing beyond laughable.  I found a list from U.S. News & World Report that offers some good advice and bad.

Here is an analysis of this list:

  1. Never use an objective:  The advice presumes that all objectives are about how the job applicant wants a position that offers advancement.  Yes, that is stupid.  However, an objective that lets the employer know what position is being sought can be a very good thing.  What’s the alternative?  To let an employer guess what job you are seeking.  Unless the job being sought is obvious (i.e. someone who has always been a restaurant manager seeking the same position), I recommend using an objective as a way to let the employer know what job you are seeking.  Keep it concise:  To obtain a position as (title of the position being sought).
  2. Leave off short term jobs:  Generally I agree with this advice.  The one exception would be if a short term job exposed you to some skill or experience you would take to the next job.  In that case, including a short term job can be a benefit.
  3. Avoid functional resumes:  I almost always follow this advice.  The only exception is a time when a chronology is impossible – ex-offenders who have just been released from jail.  That is the only case in which I recommend a functional presentation.
  4. No photos:  Amen (except for actors and models).
  5. Fancy Design:  Another amen.  Employers and job seekers agree that resumes need to read quickly.  Fancy design may make a resume look good, but it usually also lead to a document that is not easy to read.
  6. “Subjective Description”:  One example given that I use is “creative innovator.”  I agree that in itself this statement is meaningless.  However, if the resume gives some clear examples of creative innovation, I see nothing wrong with using the term.  It’s not subjective if it’s backed up with evidence.
  7. Any mention of high school:  In most cases this is true.  However, I include high school if it is required (federal resumes) or if the client went to a school that might  be meaningful to the employer.
  8. Extra pages:  Here again, we get a simple rule:  People in their 20s should only have one page.  Often true, not always.  My strategy for length is to include information that is relevant to the employer.  I almost never exceed three pages. The writer from U.S. News says that employers spend 20-30 seconds on each document.  If that’s true, it’s easy to read 2 pages of resume.  The real problem is when resumes are not set up so the reader can quickly see how the applicant is qualified.  Rather than debate a 1 or 2 page rule, I say the most important part of a resume is the first half of the first page.  That’s where you have to show how you are qualified.
  9. Salary: Usually I agree.  However, some job posts ask for salary requirements or salary history to be included on the resume.  If applicants don’t include that information, will their resume be considered?
  10. References available upon request:  I still use this phrase as a way to show the end of the resume.  It has not hurt my clients who have gotten very good jobs.  Can it be cut out?  Sure.  I look at this line on a resume as similar to the appendix in the body.  Useless – also harmless.  Any employer who rejects a qualified employee because a resume includes this line should not be making any type of hiring decisions.

Overall, this list does give some good advice.  My problem is that it relies too much on “rules” that are simplistic.  Beware of one-size-fits-all advice -- and lists of 10.

Posted: June 19, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients is in the insurance industry.  He's not happy at his current job.  But rather than throw his resume at every open position he can find, my client is taking the time to identify the companies where he most wants to work.  He's also talking to people who work at those companies or to people who have connections at those companies.  This kind of networking is not fast.  These is no guarantee that it will work.  But it's still the best way to look for a new job because you have the most control over the process.  Try to build a network that will give you this advantage.

Posted: June 18, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I recently saw two articles that linked Ronald Reagan’s firing of PATCO air traffic controllers with a possible strike by teachers in Chicago Public Schools.  In Sunday’s Chicago Sun-Times, columnist Michael Sneed speculated that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel might follow Reagan’s example and fire any striking teachers.  The columnist tried to cover her tracks by quipping “Or is Sneed smoking posies?”  No, she’s flacking for a conservative political strategy that is trying to destroy public unions.

Today in Common Dreams, Alan Morse, a progressive and former teacher/school board member in Maine, discussed the same issue.  While Morse calls out the game people like Sneed are playing, his column underscores the real threat that a Democratic executive, Mayor Emanuel, could follow the example of Ronald Reagan.

It’s easy to demonize teacher, especially those teaching in some of our countries toughest neighborhoods.  What we need to ask is:  Who will want to be a teacher when pay is non-competitive and teachers have no protection or real benefits.  We want the best to teach, but we want to treat them like part-time workers.

Posted: June 17, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life beyond the workplace.]

Good New and Bad from the Farmer’s Market

This is one of my favorite times of the year.  It’s warm, sunny.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are back on the shelves and the prices are good.  In my neighborhood, we have two weekly farmer’s markets, which have increased options for healthy eating and exposure to local farms.

Employees in the produce section of most grocery stores know very little about the products they are handling.  They know where to put the carrots, potatoes, apples, and strawberries.  They are stocking products just as they would cereal or soup.  Shopping at a farmer’s market is very different.  Most vendors will talk your ear off because they are proud of the produce they have grown.  I’ve learned important lessons about how food is grown, how to store it, and often even how to cook it.

Last year one farmer schooled me on peaches.  I told him that his peaches were both sweeter and firmer than those offered by another farm.  Both are from the same section Michigan, so I asked what was different.  He boiled it down to one word: soil.  The other farmer’s orchard was a sandier type of soil, which affected the fruit.  Don’t get me wrong.  Both farms grew good peaches, but the quality was different.

Markets also expose us to different varieties.  Today one farmer had 5 types of beet and 4 different kinds of onions.  He also had two different kind of strawberries.  When I asked how they were different, he told me to look at them.  One version was smaller, the other broad, but not as broad as the cardboard variety found in supermarkets.  He told me the small ones were a little more bitter and often use for pies or jam.  The broad ones are sweeter and better for my purpose – snacking.

The good news is markets are back, and I’m able to explore new ways to cook food like kales and beet greens.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is coming in the fall.  My favorite apple vendor is the same person who gave me today’s lesson in strawberries.  When I told him that I look forward to Fall for his selection of apples, he said it would not be so good this year.  A major frost has hit fruit trees throughout the Midwest into the South.  That means apples will be less available in the Fall and their prices will increase, which does not make this apple eater happy.

As bad news goes, high-priced, low availability apples is more of a nuisance, not a tragedy.  Because of the farmer I talked to today, I will be prepared and enjoy cheap apples now, knowing what is to come.  Part of what I’ve learned from farmer’s market is to enjoy what is seasonal, which is the way people lived for hundreds of years.  In some ways, it’s not a bad thing to remember how our grandparents lived and follow their example.  Yes, it does cost a little more for market produce, but it tastes better.  And I get to know the people who grow the food.  That’s pretty cool.