Blog Archive - August 2012

Posted: August 31, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Stacy Johnson critiques our culture’s need to create experts.  What I like most about Johnson’s argument is that he cuts to the chase:  the alleged experts often don’t know what they are talking about.  He gives some great examples of how this game works.

In posts over the past few months, I’ve taken on experts who claim

  1. The only way to get a job is to be employed.
  2. You should never have an objective on your resume.
  3. All bullet resumes are easier to read.

These are just three example of silly declarations made by would-be career experts.

I urge readers to test every kind of advice or “truth,” and I don’t exclude my own claims.  We only learn when others correct us.  The problem with experts (Paul Krugman calls them “Very Serious People”) is that they are never wrong.

Posted: August 28, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin cuts past the political debate to a bigger, looming problem.  While politicians demagogue about jobs, the real problem is wages – low wages.  He cites the political writer Jeff Faux who has just written a book entitled The Servant Economy: Where America’s Elite is Sending the Middle Class.  Faux looks at falling wages and sees a future where the only jobs that pay will be for those who serve the rich.

I’m not as pessimistic, but I do think that depressed wages will bring another recession soon.  People can’t go years without a raise, have their pay cut, and pay more for health insurance without some impact on the economy.  As Faux would say, the rich won’t care.  They’ve got theirs and they’re looking for more.

Posted: August 27, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Recently Pioneer Press (which is owned by the Chicago Sun-Times) told editors and writers that it would changing their roles with the paper, which would impact compensation.  The changes must have been pretty dramatic, because several editors and writers quit.

Journalism is one of the most challenged industries today.  The industry seems to shrink and shed jobs by the day.  Some of these journalists had been with the organization since the 1980s.  Their decision to quit says something about what their employer was offering.

I’ve said before that I don’t recommend quitting a job until you’ve found something to tide you over.  However, there are times when the “offer” is an insult.  These journalists made a bold decision.  They felt exploited and would not accept a wage that was beneath their skills and contribution.  Best of luck to them.


Posted: August 25, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

I'm on vacation in Michigan and was going to take a few days off from blogging.  However, I saw an article in the Detroit Free Press that forced me to the keyboard.  Of Americans laid off between Jan. 2009 and Dec. 2011, 56% have found jobs.  The articles says "only," which is misleading, given current hiring trends.  It takes longer to find a job.

Here's the real problem - pay.  One third of people who found a new job are making 20% less than before.   The only way around this problem is to keep looking for a job that will pay a better wage.  Most companies aren't giving raises or only offering minimal raises.  The article tells the story of an IT professional who was making $80,000 who now makes $9.15 providing tech support.  The media loves this kind of story.  It's frightening.  Don't listen to it.  If the young man cited in the article had the experience and skills to be hired for a job that pays $80,000, there's no reason he is locked in a near minimum wage job.  He has to keep looking for work and remember to sell the qualities that brought him the better wage.  It's not easy.  But it's the way things are going to be for a while.  No one is safe -- be ready to move.  Keep looking for something better.

Posted: August 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients is fairly new to the job world.  He’s transitioning from a small, family-run business to a career in sales.  He recently accepted a job offer and signed a document call “Terms of Employment.”  No big deal, he thought.  Then he got an offer from another company, a better offer.

He asked me what he should do.  I asked if he signed a non-compete agreement, which confused him.  He had never heard of such a thing.  I looked at the terms of employment, which did contain a rather restrictive non-compete agreement.  I’m connecting my client with a lawyer who thinks the agreement is not valid.  However, the bigger problem is that is exists at all.

Courts are giving more authority to companies to lock workers into non-compete agreements.  Before you sign any kind of job document, read it carefully.  If you don’t understand the document, take it to a lawyer.  Once upon a time, non-competes were meant for elite employees who were very well compensated.  Now they are one more tool that a boss can use to beat down a worker.

If my client’s non-compete holds, he would be very limited in where he could work for 18 months.  He isn’t an elite skill employee, just a sales guy.  There is no reason to lock this kind of employee into a non-compete.  The problem is that he signed the document.  Take a lesson and beware of any kind of contract or agreement that will limit your ability to get a new job.

Posted: August 20, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Von Freeman died early this month at age 88.  Freeman was a great jazz man, a sax player who excelled at his art and was a mentor to many younger players.  One of his students was Kurt Elling, a Grammy Award winner and long-time Wednesday night regular at Chicago’s Green Mill.  Elling now lives in New York, but he has not forgotten his teacher.  He said Freeman taught him how to play, how to dress, and even how to drink:  “I owe him my vocation in life.”  May we all find mentors who can deserve such praise.  Vonski, RIP.

New York Times obituary.

Freeman at the 1988 Chicago Jazz Festival.

Posted: August 19, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explores subject above and beyond the job world.]

The Lesson of Violence

The 60s radical H. Rap Brown said, “It [violence] is as American as cherry pie.” Little has changed since he spoke those words.  Just over the past few months, we’ve witnessed two mass shootings at a movie theater and a temple.  In my city of Chicago, gang wars take lives every weekend, often innocent bystanders, including young children.  We shake our heads and speak pieties, but we never look in the mirror.  Are we, those of us who would never pick up a gun, part of the problem?

This weekend the Air and Water Show is taking place in Chicago. One of the most popular features of the show is displays of fighter planes and pilots, including the Blue Angels.  A local peace group has been running commercials asking listeners to call the mayor and their alderman to protest the glorification of war and violence. When I first heard the commercial, my response was to dismiss it.  It’s only an air show.  People enjoy seeing the planes.  No one is being harmed.

Then I remembered a lesson that one of my friends in Kiwanis taught me some years ago.  Someone gave me a hand-held version of the game Battleship.  I didn’t want it (I’m addicted to Scrabble and don’t have time for a second addiction).  I offered the game to Reverend John Hudson to give to a kid at his church.  He politely declined to take it.  When I asked why, he answered, “Clay, it teaches violence.” At first I didn’t get it.  Even kids know the difference between a game and real life.  Then I thought more deeply about what John was saying.  We teach violence in our games, our movies, and our language.  It’s easy for us to accept violence because it’s all around us, which makes us think it is natural, just the way things are – inevitable.

Take football as one example.  When a quarterback is pressured by linebackers or the secondary, we call it “blitzing,” a term taken from the German blitzkrieg attacks of World War II.  A long pass completion is “the bomb.”  More recently, it’s common to refer to a hard hit as “blowing up” an opponent.  Big hits are shown again and again during games, and they are available anytime on the Internet.  I won’t deny that I’ve whooped and hollered when one of my favorite players leaves someone from the other team prone on the field.  But what does that kind of reaction do to our minds, the way we look at life?  Does the language of football make us more accepting of violence?

I don’t have an answer to this question.  Part of me is with Reverend John, we do teach violence and we should work just as hard (even harder) to teach peace.  Another part of me wants to give people credit.  They know the difference between an air show and the air attacks a dictator is making on his people in Syria.  They know that a first-person shooter game is not the same thing as a madman committing murder in a movie theater.  Are we as a culture culpable for the violence around us, or is it simply a matter of individual responsibility?  That question is too easy.  The answer is much harder, and I don’t pretend to know it.

Posted: August 19, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Daily Kos has linked to a great chart from Forbes that documents 20 years of CEO compensation.  As Kos writer Shanika puts it, “If you are a low wage worker busting your butt harder than ever before for a large corporation, you've probably just wanted to say to the Man, "Show me the money!" Here's why most of them won't: They continue to keep a lot of it for themselves.”  Smells like Mitt Romney!

Posted: August 18, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

If you feel down about your career or if you know someone who feels that way, take heart from some people who were counted out and still made a name for themselves.

I’m reading the Thom Hartmann Reader, a collection of the radio talk show host writings.  Hartmann notes that Thomas Edison had difficulty in school as a child.  His teachers thought he couldn’t learn.  Edison’s mother taught him at home, and his achievements speak for themselves.

Whatever you think of him (and I’m not a fan), George W. Bush has to be given credit for his accomplishments.  He won two elections and made decisions that will affect this country for years to come.  Many on the left call him an idiot.  His record would make him a very successful idiot.

To give one final example, consider Michael Jordan.  The greatest basketball player of all time was cut from his junior high team.  Jordan didn’t quit, and he made those who doubted him eat their words.

It’s easy to get caught up in negative thinking or focus on an insult by a supervisor or co-worker.  It’s also deadly to finding a new job or moving forward in a career.  The doubters will always be out there.  Your job is to prove that they are wrong.

Posted: August 17, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

It’s important to study job postings before you write a resume.  Professional skills, technical skills, and language skills need to match what the employer is looking for to the best of your ability.  However, don’t exaggerate your skills.

A smart employer will test candidates.  If you list Excel on your resume, are you able to pass a test showing you can use that software?  If say you have conversational skills in Spanish, could you carry on a conversation with a recruiter who speaks the language?  I’m not recommending that you undersell your skills, but beware of overselling them.  Be honest with potential employers – and yourself.