Blog Archive - October 2012

Posted: October 30, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Today a prospective client told me that he wasn’t getting calls because his cover letter didn’t “touch all the bases.” When I asked what he meant, the prospect began to rattle off detail after detail from his resume, a mad list of facts with no context.

I showed the prospect a couple examples of my cover letters, which are brief introductions to the resume and person sending it.  He asked, “Does this work?”  I answered by presenting a simple fact:  If employers don’t want to read long resumes, why would they want to read even longer cover letters that just repeat what is in the resume?

In any kind of business writing, a cover letter has a simple purpose:  To explain whatever is being sent with the letter.  The other thing (resume, brochure, contract) is what’s important.  Keep the cover letter tight, and readers will look at what is most important:  your resume.

Sample cover letters for



Career change

Posted: October 29, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in the New York Times, Susan Lambert, a Professor is the Social Work Program at the University of Chicago, explores the issue of women who work low wages and work “flexible” schedules.  Flexible sounds warm and fuzzy.  Everybody likes things that are flexible.  The problem is that employers are using this word to mask the fact that employees will only work when there is work – on call.

Once upon a time, I managed a phone center that offered on call positions.  My bosses called the position flexible.  After about six months of lying to people, I put my foot down and started telling prospective employees the truth.  An on call position can be a good thing for someone who’s working full time and looking for supplemental income.  For someone relying on a job to pay their bills, an on call position doesn’t work.  You can’t tell from week to week how many hours will be available.  It is impossible to budget for rent, food, and other essentials.

As Professor Lambert attests, more hourly employees today are given no option.  Their schedules are flexible.  She suggests that the government must legislate a solution.  I’d like to agree, but the idea seems beyond utopian given our current political climate.

What we need is real solidarity.  When a company treats workers like dogs, it needs to be called out and boycotted.  As long as consumers want cheap at whatever cost, the cost will be the exploitation of their fellow workers.  We need to stop blaming the employer and the government.  Look in the mirror.  If you shop at a company that pays its workers wages that force them to use food stamps, you are supporting exploitation.  Worse than that, you are saying its o.k. for your tax dollars to supplement what the employer pays workers, which is nothing more than corporate welfare.

American workers need to wake up.  It’s not the fault of big corporations.  We know their games, and we have to put an end to them.  Solidarity.

Posted: October 24, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Think Progress reports disturbing news about college graduates and salary:  Men are making more than women – even if they graduate with the same major.  Overall, female new graduates are earning .82 to the dollar earned by their male classmates.  The studies cited in the article point to clear discrimination against women.  Feminists in the 1970s would say, “We’ve come a long way.”  While that is true in many ways, when it comes to paying women fairly, America has a long way to go.

Posted: October 23, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

According to an a short article in Think Progress, 30% of American said they expect to work until they are 80 years old, which would mean many people would work until they died.  If that’s not sad enough, think about the jobs that won’t be opened for younger workers.  Yes, people should be able to make choices to live how they want to.  At the same time, we need to think about others and how our choices impact them.

Posted: October 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at the annual SEAK Conference in Chicago.  SEAK assists physicians in making career transitions, which was also the subject of my talk.

Many people assume that physicians have it easy.  What they ignore is the many challenges faced by doctors in the current marketplace.  It’s very expensive to get through medical school.  Then, once in practice, doctors face problems with insurance rates and ever changing compensation models.  With reforms in the health care, more doctors are considering taking their skills in a new direction.

While I only attended a couple of sessions (other than my own), I was impressed by the options presented to physicians.  Speakers, all of whom were MDs, gave examples from their own career that involved moving to non-clinical positions in investing, consulting, and, even, media.  People can make a change more easily if they have a role model, and the SEAK Conference gave doctors that opportunity.

My message was pretty simple:  Find your destination, build a map, and always believe in yourself.  It’s an easy message, but – like all career changes – difficult to achieve.  While I laid out some practical steps related to finding a direction, writing a resume, and engaging employers, I still believe the most important factor is attitude.  I ended my presentation with this quotation from Henry Ford:  “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Simple words.  Powerful truth.

Posted: October 21, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on life beyond jobs and careers.]

The Cost of War

On Friday, I had the pleasure of attending a great play entitled Black Watch, which is a co-production by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the National Theater of Scotland.  The play was held in the gym of the Broadway Armory in Edgewater, a unique space that offered freedom of movement unavailable on a more traditional stage.

Scenes in the play rotate between a bar in which an interviewer talks to veterans of Scotland’s Black Watch regiment and scenes that take place in Iraq, where the soldiers fought.  The bar scenes set up what happened in Iraq.  Events that the veterans could not tell the interviewer are acted out, so the audience gets the feel of what could not be spoken.  This technique is very moving, especially for those of us who have never been in the military, much less a war zone.

The play is clearly critical of what was going on Iraq.  At the same, it shows the courage of the young men of Black Watch.  Many of the play’s most impressive moments are communicated through dance.  In one scene, the main character, a trooper named Campbell, is dressed, undressed, and re-dressed to mark the conflicts the regiment has served in since the 18th century.  It’s a funny scene, but it underscores a tradition of courage and service.

One constant in the play is explosions.  Mortars, IEDs, and suicide bombers are a constant reality while the soldiers are in Iraq, and stories of explosions and their consequences pepper the often bawdy exchanges with the hapless interviewer.  The play conveys a terror that the U.S media too often ignored.  We hear about veterans struggling with brain injuries, PTSD, and suicide.  This play brings home the terror they faced both in the field and at home.

Toward the end of the play, the regiment’s sergeant, a soldier, an interpreter are killed by a suicide bomber.  The other soldiers watch as the victims’ bodies are falling in a twisting, slow motion fashion that puts us next to the soldiers who have to watch their comrades die.  This scene is followed by a final “battle” in which the regiment pursues the killers.  However, its not a traditional battle, since only the Black Watch is depicted on stage.  The conflict is played out as dance in which the soldier form lines and march in formation, one man falling, and another soldier lifting him to march again.  Chaos is played off against order, showing the soldiers’ discipline and the hell that must be battle.

Black Watch is an anti-war play that leaves us with great respect for those who fight, even when we disagree with the logic behind the war.  The play shows how the living often carry pain that the dead are spared.  It is a beautiful production about war’s terror, immediate and ongoing.  Three cheers to Shakespeare Theater for bring his wonderful production to Chicago for a second time.

Posted: October 20, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

In previous posts, I’ve disputed “experts” who say a resume should never have an objective.  I believe a simple objective can be a useful tool to let the employer know what position a job seeker is applying for.

I think the no objective “rule” has come from HR people reading too many objectives that are a waste of time.  For example, a client gave me a resume he had written with this objective:  “Seeking a challenging and rewarding position where my skills and accomplishments can be utilized.”  This statement is an example of many words saying nothing.  The employer wants to know how you are relevant to his company, not what you want, especially when it is phrased in such a moronic manner.

If I had to read such lines again and again, I too would be tempted to rail against objectives.  However, used properly, an objective can be a good tool to help the employer know what position you are seeking.  Use the tool properly.  Keep it simple.

Posted: October 12, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Huffington Post has published a brief article and slideshow on different reasons people have given for quitting their jobs.  These testimonies indicate again that employers can push workers too hard.  Even in a bad job market, people can be pushed too far.  Here are some of the reasons given for quitting:

  1. Too much stress – 50 to 60 hours per week.
  2. An employees completes a project and meets all goals only to have her employer yells at her for something that did not happen.
  3. A boss screams at a worker for a small mistake, so the worker takes her coat and walks out.
  4. “Constant belittlement by my boss for every imaginable thing.”

Even when unemployment is high, there is a time to say enough is enough.

Posted: October 9, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

A client stopped by to talk about interviewing.  He said that he didn’t feel confident or in control during interviews.  Then he mentioned something that caught my ear: scripting answers to interview questions, which I think is a horrible idea.

Scripts pretend that we can predict what questions will be asked.  What if the interviewer throws you a curve ball?  The script doesn’t work.  It’s a far better interviewing strategy to emphasize listening.  If we understand what the interviewer wants to know, it’s more likely that the answer will make sense and sound natural.  Rather than think of interviews as tests with questions and answers, think of them as controlled conversations.  Yes, you need to give good answers to questions, but they don’t have to be perfect.

Rather than scripting, I suggest using index cards to develop talking points that can be used for different purposes.  For example, a success story could show a person’s ability to lead or solve problems.  It’s easier to remember such “talking points.”  They can be used for different purposes.  Stay flexible.  Think of an interview as a conversation.  Most importantly, stop scripting.

Posted: October 9, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Laura Clawson of Daily Kos reports on growing protests by workers at Walmart in Dallas, Miami, Seattle, and other cities.  Is this a trend?  A new hint that labor might have a heartbeat?  I hope so.  It would be nice to hear a Democrat say something in support of workers.  I won’t hold my breath waiting.  As in the late 19th century, workers are on their own.  Solidarity!