Blog Archive - March 2013
[On Sundays, this blogs explores a diverse topics beyond the world in “Sabbath,” a title inspired by the similarly titled poems of Wendell Berry.]
Here Comes the Sun
Yesterday was a great day. For the first time in several months, I put aside my winter coat for a much lighter jacket. Yesterday and today, the sun has been out and so are people, who have clogged sidewalks in my neighborhood. Spring is here – finally!
Where last winter was unusually mild, this winter was average in its temperatures, cold but not too cold. This year’s winter, like an unwanted guest, would not go away. We had no warm, sunny March days. Tomorrow, April 1, which is opening day here in Chicago for our American League team, will go back to being cold, but that is just the way April tends to be: a few good days, a few bad days, and a few really cold, gray, rainy days that almost make one wish for the dry, sunny cold of February. The real good news is that Spring is here and the worst is over. It will be five or six weeks before we get to the next stage of the season: complaining about how hot it is.
Today is also Easter, a day of hope and change. I’m not religious, but I do enjoy seeing people going to and from church. This holiday invites bright colors and an equally light spirit. For those of us who follow a more secular bent, it’s the start of the summer game, a new baseball season. The teams I root for most, the Indians and the Cubs probably are not going to be contenders. However, the joy of spring brings hope for a miracle. Fans, like church goers, are people of faith, especially those who root for the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a World Series in more than 100 years.
A few blocks from my office, two new businesses are opening, which follows a national trend for an improved economy. 2008 taught us that anything can happen in a large, complicated economy, but recent news has been more upbeat. Hopefully summer will bring more jobs, higher home prices, and businesses that are making money. I’m a little worried that we are seeing a new real estate bubble, but that worry is tempered by warm weather and bright sun. Tomorrow’s problems will come tomorrow. Today is a good time to smile.
Enjoy this fine day and those that will follow. I’ll close with a few words from Wendell Berry’s 1982 Sabbath poem III:
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in its green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.
I was talking to a client today who is having trouble jump starting her job search. Her biggest problem is balancing priorities. I do not mean to be critical of this client. All of us share this problem, and it’s a matter of making choices regarding our careers:
How much money do I want to make?
What level of responsibility do I want to hold?
How many hours do I want to work each day?
How much time do I want to spend commuting each day?
While the list of questions could go on and on, a smart job seeker needs to address the questions listed above before starting a job search. A scatter-shot, “I’ll take anything” approach usually has the same result: a bad job and even more unhappiness. Take the time to plan your career moves and set goals. That’s the first step to landing the job you really want.
One of my favorite writers is the marketer and blogger Seth Godin, author of The Dip, Poke the Box, and several other books. Godin frequently urges his readers to “ship,” to do their work and get it out to customers. Similarly, Jason Fried, Co-Founder of 37Signals, wrote an essay in Inc. about the importance of knowing when to stop “tweaking”a product and put it out on the market.
I’ve seen similar issue with a few clients. People pay me to rewrite their resume, and then they rewrite what I’ve written. I ask why. The response is always some form of “It’s not ready. It’s not right.” The problem here isn’t the resume. It’s the problem of being perfect, which is really an excuse we use to avoid doing what we fear. When we begin to network and post for jobs, we know there will be rejection. It’s easier to say my resume or cover letter isn’t ready.
What’s the solution? When Jason Fried and his colleagues were blocked in their first release, he called an adviser, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who broke the problem down to simple questions: What the biggest missing piece? What’s the next biggest problem? Fried and his team identified one problem, which they fixed. It was time to ship. It’s that easy. Find the problem. Fix it and ship.
Huffington Post offers a useful list of clichéd words that should be avoided in business communication, including resumes and job interviews. Overall, I like the list. However, at least two of the words have some value. Scalable is frequently used to discuss a level and type of IT projects. Similarly, value-added can refer to a transaction which includes intangible benefits. These words, like the others on the list, should not be used just because they are “buzz words.” Know what you want to say and why you want to say. That’s the best formula for effective communication.
Travis Waldron of Think Progress has written a thoughtful piece about tax cuts and their false promise of job creation. States that cut taxes most also had the slowest pace of job growth. Worse still, several of these states want to give more tax cuts and balance them by raising taxes on low and middle income families.
I’m not an economist, but I do know this: If consumers have less money to spend, there will be more job cuts. Austerity and tax cuts do not create jobs.
[On Sundays, this blog explores diverse issues in Sabbath.”]
School Closings in Chicago – Reform or A Trojan Horse?
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features a great analysis on school closings in Chicago. A chart that accompanies the article shows that students from over 1/3 of the will be moved to schools that are ranked no better or even worse than the ones they are leaving. The chart also indicates that several of the schools have met performance goals. Is this how education is “reformed”?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is featured in a separate article in the paper. Unlike those officials who say the schools are being closed because they are “underutilized,” the mayor only talks about giving students more opportunity: “We look at it and viewed it as what we can do to have every child have a high-quality education regardless of their neighborhood, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live.”
If the mayor is sincere in these words, he should be very troubled by the information put forth by the Sun-Times. While some students will be moving to much better schools, many more are moving to schools with similar performance ratings. There is also a question of cost. According to the mayor’s most vocal critic Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teacher’s Union, it will cost the system $1 billion dollars to close the schools, which is the same amount the system claims is its current deficit. Lewis and her colleagues contend that this round of school closing is a Trojan horse that the mayor and his allies are using to open even more non-union charter schools.
No one wants children in poor performing schools. No one wants to waste money heating and maintaining schools that are half empty. However, it’s hard to trust politicians in any city when we see how charter schools can be new tools for the connected to wash each other’s hands. Over the past few months, the Sun-Times has published several articles about conflicts of interest at Uno, Chicago’s largest charter school organization. Uno’s head was a key player in Mayor Emanuel’s campaign. Will Uno benefit from the school closings? That would be an interesting question to have answered.
Here’s another question: Why can’t Chicago fund its schools? I grew up in Cleveland and saw that great city’s decline first hand. Over the last two years, I’ve been to Detroit twice and have experienced to a small degree that city’s challenges. Those cities have an excuse to close schools. They embody the rust belt and millions of lost jobs that have left northern industrial cities. Chicago doesn’t have that excuse.
I attended a production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater yesterday. Before going to the play, a friend and I rode Navy Pier’s Ferris wheel, which offers a magnificent view of the skyline, a panorama of skyscrapers that are filled with business that are making money. I could also see large condo developments in the south Loop, all of which were built in the last 10-15 years. How can schools be poor in a city that is so rich? Why can’t we have schools with small class sizes if our city has so much wealth circulating in it? We need to ask the mayor and his staff some of these questions. All children do deserve equal opportunity. Whacking at schools with an axe doesn’t seem to be the best answer, just the most simple answer.
Huffington Post features an article on why fewer women choose careers in science. A study by university researchers have found that assumptions about women having better verbal than mathematical skills are false. Women choose different career paths because they have those choices, not because they are limited in their abilities. This study reminds us to avoid simple assumptions.
According to Think Progress, Starbucks CEO has announced his support for an increased minimum wage. Howard Schultz does concede that some employers might cut back on hiring. However, if corporate leaders like Schultz advocate for a higher minimum wage, it will break down the resistance. This is a small big of good news on the wage front.
A client called me about a job interview that didn’t go well. The employer asked my client to explain how he would support one of the company’s programs. My client answered in general terms that he knew sounded terrible. What was the problem? He didn’t know what the program was. It’s a new program, and there is no information posted about it online.
What should he have done? Ask a clarifying question. If an employer asks a question that is not clear, it is perfectly acceptable for a job candidate to ask for clarification. My client should have asked, “Can you tell me more about the program?”
In other interviews, clients have been asked questions that involve being overqualified or underqualified. On the surface, these questions make no sense, since such an applicant would not get an interview. In this situation, an applicant should ask, “Why do you say I am overqualified (or underqualified)?” Once that question is clarified, it will be easier to give a good answer and speak to the interviewer’s real concern.
Some clients are afraid to ask such questions. They think it is rude to question the person who is supposed to ask the question. That’s a bad way to think about interviews. A good interview is a conversation and dialogue, not a test with right and wrong answers. In any normal conversation, you would ask for clarification. Do the same thing during a job interview. You can’t answer a question unless you know what it means.