Blog Archive - February 2013

Posted: February 28, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Every career expert says it’s important to ask questions at interviews because it shows that you are interested in the job.  A client recently told me that his company never invited applicants to ask questions.  If an interviewee didn’t take the initiative to ask questions, that person was no longer considered as a potential employee.  That method is a little extreme.  At the same time, it shows the importance of asking questions and showing that you are interested.  My recommendation is not only that you ask questions, but ask them in a way that sells you as an employee, which I call closing.

At the end of an interview, it’s fine ask questions about working conditions and training.  I recommend that you end the interview in the same way a salesperson ends a meeting – by closing the deal.  To close an interview follow this process: 1.  briefly summarize what the employer is looking for, 2.  Show how you qualifications fit the employer’s needs, 3.  ask when a hiring decision will be made, 4.  ask: What is the most important thing you are looking for in hiring [position/title]?, 5. show how you can deliver what the employer is looking for.

Following this process will sell the employer on hiring you.  Rather than asking about what the employer can do for you, closing tells the employer what benefits you will bring to her company.  Those are the kind of questions that will lead to a job offer.

Posted: February 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Many advocates of pro-family work policies have expressed outrage over Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to ban work from home options.  Mayer says she wants her employees to work in one location, which will let them interact more effectively.  There is also the issue of control.  Many employers want to see their employees doing the work.

I’m of two minds about this issue.  On the one hand, work from home options give parents time to run errands and care for children while they complete their professional tasks.  That’s a good thing for working parents.  The negative side is that there is no separation of workplace and the home, and some companies will find a way to take advantage of what is presented as “convenience” or “flexibility.”  One of my clients who works from home regularly puts in 10-12 hour days six days a week.  He will take calls late night and on the weekends.  In his case, work from home seems – at least to me – to be a very bad deal.

Of all industries, IT is most open to work from home relationships.  If employees don’t like the Yahoo CEO’s new work arrangements, they will look for new jobs and Yahoo will end up losing talent.  My concern is that all work from home options are not alike.  Some are really work more – work all the time – schedules.  That kind of work-life balance is not good for working parents or singles.

Posted: February 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Steve Early has a great article in the Nation that examines corporate wellness programs.  The programs sound good on the surface since they promote, as Early puts it, “a social good.”  The deeper problem is about employer’s motives and the real impact of the program.  Employees who don’t comply with the program will face higher payments for healthcare if they fail to meet standards set by the employer.  Is the real purpose of such programs better health for working people or a shift of health care costs from employer to employee?  Given how the wage game has been going for the past few decades, it’s not too cynical to say that employers’ first concern isn’t the employees’ health.  It’s a stealth and selective salary cut, another way to push money up and pain down.

Posted: February 26, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I learned over the weekend that one of my clients has gotten a high profile job.  She’s very talented and has strong experience.  However, her last few jobs were a bit off the fast track.  So how did she grab the brass ring?  She had the courage to reach for it.  Too often, I hear people give articulate, passionate reasons about why they cannot move forward in their careers.  In these cases, the only winner is fear.  It takes courage to climb to the career ladder’s top rungs.  Congratulations, R.!  May many more successes come your way.

Posted: February 24, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that explore topics outside of the job world.]

Politics and the Oscars

There are three films nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture that fascinate me: Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, and Argo.  All tell stories that the public knows: the 13th Amendment was passed, Bin Laden was killed, and the hostages were released.  Even so, these films spin narratives that keep the audience engaged.  We are taken into worlds that make us feel what the characters are feeling, which is one hallmark of great art.

I’ve met some people who found Lincoln too slow, too detailed.  For me, the film was rich in its context and narrative.  I’ve read several books about Lincoln, but none of them gave me the same feeling for the man and his struggles.  Spielberg depicts Lincoln as the folksy wise man that every school child knows.  However, he also shows the president as the pragmatic politician who will make deals to achieve his end.  We see a human Lincoln who has to navigate a mess democratic system during a civil war.  I believe that this film will be as influential as any biography of its subject.

Zero Dark Thirty holds the audience with its narrative, but, for me, its content and ethics are problematic.  This film centers on one character Maya who resembles Ahab in her pursuit of Osama Bin Laden.  She holds to her pursuit of Bin Laden even when her superiors tell her to move on.  As we all know, the mission was successful.  My problem with the movie, as it is for other viewers, is that torture is a “tool” used by agents to obtain information.  It’s not pro-torture, but the depiction of “advanced interrogation” is problematic.  Viewers are left to wonder if the ends don’t justify the means, a darker pragmatism than that practiced by Lincoln.  I do believe that the CIA and other law enforcement agencies mean to keep us safe.  In fulfilling this mission, their methods must never go beyond the law if we are truly to be better than those who threaten our country.

I just saw Argo last night, and, of the three films, it is the most suspenseful and best made, which is a high order.  For my money (all two cents of it), it is the best film I have seen this year.  Ben Affleck has taken a little known, forgotten story of the hostage crisis and brought it to life in a way that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats while challenging us to think.  We see how Americans came to be trapped in the American Embassy in Tehran.  Six escaped to the Canadian Embassy.  Tony Mendez, a CIA agent, devises a scheme to sneak them out by creating a fake film called Argo and having the six Americans be his team for site selection.  While the film shows the brutality and zealotry of revolutionary Iran, it also calls out the U.S. and the CIA for their role in installing the equally brutal Shah.  It also shows Mendez as a moral man who won’t follow an order to leave the six behind.  I found this film much more realistic and impressive in this regard than Zero Dark Thirty.

While these three films all have some relevance to our current political reality, they are also movies, stories that can be shaped by a writer and refined by great directors.  Real politics – as Lincoln’s story demonstrates – is much messier.  The press and members of Congress would frequently challenge Lincoln to state his policy.  He would respond: “My policy is to have no policy.”  He understood that simple answers don’t work in a complex world.  At the same time, he knew how and when to be strong and make bold decisions.  Would a great leader like Lincoln be able to manage today’s world of political divisions, sensational (and simplistic) media, and a disengaged citizenry?  I don’t think so.  Until things in Washington sort themselves out, we will need more good movies.

P.S.  Sam Husseini, a writer at Common Dreams, has a very different, very negative take on Lincoln.

Posted: February 23, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I frequently cite Laura Clawson of Daily Kos for her great reporting on workers’ issues.  Here is a link to her overview of the week’s labor news.  The first story is especially troubling.  A group of “education reformers” are trying to influence a school board election in Los Angeles.  Why?  They want to chip away at traditional public schools and teachers unions.  I recommend this story and everything else Laura Clawson writes.

Posted: February 21, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

There are two ways to think about writing a sales resume: general and specific.  A general sales resume positions a job seeker to apply across industries.  At the same time, it doesn’t claim that the applicant can sell anything.  Some general resumes will emphasize inside or outside sales skills. Others will emphasize territory sales or account management.

A specific resume will focus on a type of product or technology.  For example, I recently worked with a client who sells IT systems to hospitals and large medical clinics.  In this type of resume, the job seeker chooses to limit her opportunities, but she does so for a strategic purpose.  By appealing to a specific type of industry or product, a job seeker is leveraging a special knowledge.  If there are enough employers in that area or if the job seeker has strong network connections, a specific sales resume can be a great tool in landing interviews and offers, often with higher earning potential.

Applicants seeking a position in sales need to think about how specific or general their resume should be.  They might also consider having two versions if they are going to seek jobs that fit a specific type of knowledge and general skills.  When it comes to sales resumes, there are few one size fits all solutions.  Think about what strategy fits you best.

Posted: February 20, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Think Progress, Pat Garofalo reports that Wisconsin legislators are now trying to attack private sector unions in the name of “preventing layoffs.”  The plan is called “work-sharing,” and it would allow companies with union workers to cut hours without consulting unions.  The only way working people will be safe from such schemes is to vote for politicians who support labor rights; however, they are hard to find these days.  It will be interesting to see how Governor Walker reacts if this measure is passed.  Who frightens him more, the Koch Brothers or the voters?

All eyes on Wisconsin – again.

Posted: February 19, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I was working with a client the other day who kept telling me that she wanted to get the details “absolutely correct” in her resume.  To do this, she was using company jargon and a level of detail that no prospective employer would care about or understand.  In essence, she wanted to write a resume that qualified her for the job she was leaving.

The objective of a good resume is to speak to your next employer, not the last one.  Often this means describing duties in a way that is transferable to what the employer needs, not exactly what you did at your last job.  It is important to be specific and show how you are qualified to fill a position. To do this, the best communication strategy is to look through the eyes of the boss you want to hire you.  That’s the target for writing an effective resume.

Posted: February 18, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Aljazeera reports that airline workers in Spain have launched a two week strike to protest planned layoffs.  The strike could cost the airline, which is losing money, as much as $134 million.  The logical question – the American question – is why would workers strike?  Don’t they care about their jobs?

Spanish workers see through the myth of “my job.”  They are standing with those who are being laid off and saying, “No more.”  American airline workers have suffered greatly over the last three decades as they’ve made concession after concession, lost pensions, and watched management continue to pay itself bonuses.  Maybe they should take a lesson from their brothers and sisters in Spain.  Solidarity.