Blog Archive - September 2012
[On Sundays, Career Calling looks beyond jobs and career in “Sabbath.”]
Can Football Survive?
Last week I attended a panel discussion on football and head injuries that was sponsored by the Chicagoside sport website. Panelists included Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, former Chicago Bear Hunter Hillenmeyer, former Harvard football player and professional wrestler Chistopher Nowitzki, and film producer Steve James. Nowitzki and James have collaborated in creating a documentary film called Head Games that examines head injuries in several sports.
All of the panelists expressed a sense of conflict. They are football fans who understand the damage caused to those who play the game. Hillenmeyer summed up the problem by telling his own story. Over the course of his NFL career, the former Bears’ linebacker was diagnosed with 5 concussion, including the last one that ended his career. However, according to some experts he has met, Hillenmeyer may have experienced hundreds of concussions. Part of the problem is defining what a concussion is. The damage caused by head injuries can only be diagnosed after a person is dead. We know there is a problem. We can’t say with certainty what it is.
Chris Nowitzki, whose wrestling career was ended by concussions, has becoming an advocate for education and reform in sports. Like Hillenmeyer, he wants players to be more aware of the risks they are taking. In the case of youth sports, he advocates abolishing take football for children. Clips from Head Games, which is based on Nowitzki’s book, depict pre-teen children crumbling from tackles that would impress NFL scouts. What do such hits do to the brain of a child? Nowitzki scoffed that we don’t let little league pitchers throw curveballs because of the risk of arm injuries. However, we show less concern about hits and tackles that can damage a child’s brain.
Rick Telander was the most pessimistic of the panelists. Where Hillenmeyer and Nowitzki believed that better rules could be put in place for treating players with concussions, Telander saw the problem as unavoidable: the head is in the middle of the body, which means it will receive blows in almost any kind of tackle or block. Last year, Telander wrote a great series on his former team mates at Northwestern and how they have been impacted by head injuries. He knows the problem and seems to see no positive way to deal with it.
As I’ve written in the past about the problem of concussions, I’m a football fan. I’ve whooped and hollered when a player on a team I root for lays a vicious hit on an opponent. That’s harder to do now given what we know about concussions. It’s harder now because of the players who have killed themselves, including former Bears’ safety Dave Dureson, who shot himself in the chest so his brain could be preserved for testing.
I still watch football and love the game. But it’s harder. It’s easy to say players understand and accept the risk. But what about us fans who love this violent game? We buy tickets and jerseys. We make football the highest rated program (and most expensive program) on TV. We look at the player lying still on the field. We watch the medical staff strap him to a board and apply the neck brace. Once the player is off the field, we go back to the game and wait for the next big play, which is often a big hit. What is our responsibility as fans? How long can we accept a game that destroys lives?
This week I worked with two clients who had two very different jobs in sales. Both are competent professionals. One made a good choice in accepting a job; the other did not.
One of my clients is a veteran. He accepted a job with a company who offered a substantial first year base salary (+$70,000). The company made an investment in my client, and it is now giving him an opportunity to apply for higher level jobs. He wants to keep working for the company because it treated him with respect and promises a good future.
Another client has worked as a sales assistant for three years. He has managed his boss’s business while the company owner took month long vacations. This client is paid hourly at $15 an hour ($30,000). His employer wants him to fill roles in office management, sales, and marketing. The owner berates my client for the slightest error and refuses to pay overtime. Naturally, this client wants to find a new job with a more reasonable supervisor – and better pay.
What is the moral of the story? If you’re pursuing a job in sales, be very careful about the kind of employer you choose to work for. Bad employers don’t change. What they do is change commission structure and ask for more work. A good employer lays out what is expect and what will be returned in the way of compensation. Generally speaking, an employer who does not provide clear answers is probably going to be a bad boss. Choose wisely.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times featured a depressing article about the growth of low wage workers in Chicago from 2001-2011. Overall, the percentage of low wage workers grew from 23.8% to 31.2%. Workers with college or higher grew from 9.7% to 16.2%.
These numbers signify a much bigger problem: Workers are getting poorer and poorer, especially those paid by the hour. As I wrote a few days ago, politicians can make noise about “good jobs.” However, as long as the trend of lower wages continues, nothing good will happen in the economy. The working poor have no money to buy. The frightened middle save in fear of job loss or a health crisis. They don’t want to join the working poor.
I’m sick of hearing about American exceptionalism. 15% of Americans live in poverty. Millions of others work multiple low wage jobs to live just above the poverty line. Why should we be proud of this situation?
One of my clients was recently offered a job in sales. It was not a good job, but he took it, afraid that he would not get another offer. Then he got another offer with a better company - for more money. He asked me what he should do and felt that he was bound to "keep his word."
I told him that he had to do what was best for himself, not a company that would lay him off without a second thought. Executives and high level professionals move from company to company chasing the best deal. In a time of flat wages and salary cuts, the only way for non-executives to get ahead is to do what is best for your career and your life.
My client took the better offer, and he is happy that he did. We've watched employers close companies and lay off workers for thirty years. They only care about their bottom line. Employees need to learn that lesson.
Politicians of both parties are beginning to preach a new meme: “good jobs.” They are aware that our country’s economy has produced new jobs, many of which are low wage. I agree with the politicians that low wage jobs are a problem. However, neither party has proposed a real solution to this problem.
What can you do as an individual in a low wage economy? Practice smart career management. Executives have done this for years. They have no loyalty to their employer. They study their industry, network, and change jobs whenever a good deal comes along. No politician will save you in a time of shrinking salaries. You need to know your value, find ways to increase your value, and look for employers who will pay you what you’re worth.
Hanging on to the job you have may give you a sense of security. It also might be a good way to fall behind financially. Take care of yourself – look for the best deal. That’s what the big boys do.
Everyone is in a hurry. One consequence of our rush-rush society is that people claim that they don't have time to read. They look for short cuts. In resumes and other business documents, bullets have come to represent a fast read. However, when we look at the function of the bullet, it doesn't tell us to go. It says stop.
At a community group meeting last week, someone I like suggest that it would be easier to read a marketing letter if we changed two paragraphs to bullet formats. Each paragraph had 4-5 sentences of essential information. In paragraph format, our eyes roll from sentences to sentence. We read quickly. If the same information were laid out with bullets, our eyes would have to stop at the end of every sentence for the period and stop again at the start of the next sentence for the bullet.
The false assumption of bullet lovers is that it is easier to read lines than paragraph blocks. If that were true, newspapers, magazines and books would be laid out in all bullet formats. Instead, these publications use bullets properly: to call out important information.
When it comes to good writing that is easy to read, bullets are not the magic bullet.
A client called me recently because she was having problems with her job search. I asked her what she was doing. She targeted four ideal employers and kept applying for jobs with those companies. The problem with this approach is that it is too limited. My simple advice for those who are stuck in their job search is this: Mix it up.
A good job search should touch several points. Almost every job seeker should network, target specific company, and apply to positions on job boards. Some job seekers can add temporary and staffing agencies to this list. Other (higher level professionals) should contact recruiters. Students and career changers are often using internships as a way to gain hands-on experience to put on a resume. The key is to do more than one thing. It’s also good to use different online tools. For example, someone who only looks for jobs on Monster should try CareerBuilder or another job board. I strongly recommend that all professional build a profile on LinkedIn and learn how to use this remarkable tool.
Bottom line: Don’t get stuck doing one thing. Try something new. No two job searches are the same. What worked in the past probably won’t work this time. Stay light on your feet and keep looking for new ways to find your next job.
[“Sabbath” is the blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond career to broader issues that affect our lives.]
Good People and a Bad Fight
I took a great walking tour of the Six Corners neighborhood today. It was hosted by Forgotten Chicago, a group of young people who are passionate about the city, its history, and neighborhoods. That’s what I wanted to write about today until I got home and learned the Chicago teachers strike was not settled, until I read comments on Facebook that first made me mad and then frustrated.
One of my friends blasted the union. Another said no charter school teacher is qualified. Both of these positions are wrong. Yes, the union might be faulted for some things, but the Mayor’s team must be put into the equation (something Chicago’s corporate media usually fails to do). On the other hand, some charter school teachers are as qualified as anyone in CPS. The problem is that the charter system pays teacher less and provides them no protection. If teachers aren’t treated as professionals and paid a good wage, what qualified person will want all of challenges that go with the job? How can we have good schools if we don’t have qualified teachers?
Both of the people I cite above are parents, good people frustrated with a situation that is very complicated. I can’t imagine what it’s like for parents to scramble to find day care for their children. Add to that problem the cost, and there is cause for some parents to be very anti-union. It’s important to remember that the Chicago Teachers Union is not acting in a vacuum. The mayor and his school board have not shown a true sense of urgency in solving this problem. They blame the teacher and call the strike a “choice.” However, their actions are also driven by choices. As Ben Joravsky of the Reader outlines in his latest column, the mayor and others in the system have not treated the teachers with respect.
I went to public schools in Cleveland for six years. Most of my teachers were highly dedicated and taught us lessons that went beyond testable facts: how to think, how to act morally, and how to respect other people and ourselves. Good public schools are essential to real democracy because they are the place where young people from all backgrounds learn to live together and gain the skills that will enable them to compete in the world, which is the essence of democracy.
No one wants bad schools or incapable teachers. That’s not what this bad fight in Chicago or national education “reform” is about. Some people – powerful people – want to bust unions and replace public schools with charter schools and vouchers. They claim the system is broken and only they can fix it – like the Wizard of Oz. I’ll put my faith in dedicated educators like the public school teachers of Chicago. They are fighting for their professional rights. More importantly, they are fighting to preserve the kind of education we need to maintain our values of equal opportunity and democracy.
P.S. David Sirota poses 4 questions that should be considered in evaluating the strike.
I was coaching a client today. He told me that he’s been miserable at work for the last four years. On paper, this client is a success story, someone who exceeds his sales goals and has won awards for outstanding performance. The problem is that he hates selling bank products and insurance. He asked me what he should do.
My formula for sales professional who want to stay in sales but work in a different industry/sector is pretty simple. Ask yourself these questions:
What do I like to talk about?
What do I like to learn and think about?
What subjects fascinate me?
The next step is to find a job that will let you sell something that you like talking about, something you want to learn more about, something that excites you.
If a salesperson can align her interests with her job, that’s the first step in career satisfaction. Over the years, many sales clients have told, “I can sell anything if I believe in it.” Rather than starting with the product, why not start with yourself? What makes you happy – and interested?