Blog Archive - May 2013

Posted: May 31, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

As a culture, we train people to value team achievements.  From the time we’re young, we’re drilled with cliches such as, “There is no I in team.”  Many of the clients I work with talk about their jobs in terms of “we.”  I frequently stop them and remind them that employers are not hiring “we.”  To be successful in a job search, you need to be able to let potential employers know what you can do for them, not what you did as part of a team at your former job.

Practice what you will say at interviews, but don’t do it in a way that will sound scripted or canned.  I recommend that clients use 5-7 index cards.  Put one achievement or success story on each card and then practice telling the story different ways.  For example, a success story in sales can also be a success story in negotiation or problem solving.  The key is to use the story in a flexible way that tells the employer how you will help her company.

Remember what the employer is looking for in every interview: someone they can trust.  You need to talk about yourself in a way that is clear and believable.  “We” stories don’t tell the employers anything about you.  Keep them focus on you and what you bring that will make you a great employee.

Posted: May 30, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in the Nation, Josh Eidelson reports that workers at “dozens” of fast food restaurants have walked off the job.  Some restaurants had to be closed because so many workers are on strike.  Eidelson also discuss a report that alleges wage theft in the New York fast food industry.  Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.  Low wage workers need to stand up, and the rest of us need to support them.

Posted: May 29, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Clients frequently ask this question.  They want to find the best place to find open positions.  I understand their frustration, but I start by taking them in a different direction: Let’s think about the best ways to look for a job.

1.  Networking remains the best way to find a job.  Nothing opens the door to a new job faster than a good word from somebody who has the ear of hiring managers.  With the advent of social media, we have even more ways to connect with people who can help us open door.  Build your network all the time.  Don’t just think about it when you’re out of work.

2.  Identify and pursue opportunities with companies that you want to work for. Find companies in your industry that will let you build a career. Searching by companies is also a good way to control – and limit – your commuting time.

3.  Use job board websites, but use them wisely.  Don’t simply register with a site and wait for them to send you listings.  Similarly, don’t post your resume and wait for the phone to ring.  Learn what functions each website offers and take advantage of those that fit the goals of your search.  Since you don’t know where a job might be posted, I also recommend using multiple sites.  You don’t have to check each one everyday. But you should set up a schedule you use to check for new job posts.

4.  Transition to a full time job through temporary or contract work.  This advice always comes with a warning.  I’ve known some clients who parlay one temporary or contract position into another.  The problem with that strategy is that this type of work generally pays less and frequently offers minimal benefits.  Some tech jobs can only be accessed via the contract route.  Otherwise, my feeling is that contract and temporary work should only be used as a bridge to a full time position.

The most important factor in finding a job is focused activity.  If you only do one thing and you do it half-halfheartedly, the job search will be long and unhappy.  The more you look, and the better you use different ways to look for work, success usually comes faster.  There’s no magic bullet – or website.  Finding a new job starts with hard work.

Posted: May 28, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

When many people hear networking, they only think about finding a new job.  In reality, networking is a great way to manage your career and help others manage theirs.  One way that network contacts can be  resources that enable us learn more about salaries and benefits offered by potential employers.

My clients in nursing often are the best informed about what employers offer.  They work together at different hospitals, and they share information, which enables nurses to make better decisions about where to look for work.  They also tell each other which employers treat their workers well and badly.

How can you obtain similar information?  Get involved in industry associations and groups.  Meet people at networking events and talk to them about their careers as much as you talk about your own.  As people in networks become comfortable and trust each other, they start to share very important information.  Get to know people who can help you get the information you need to make good career choices.

Posted: May 27, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

On Memorial Day, Americans remember and honor our war dead, those who gave their lives to persevere our country’s values.  What has happened to those values?  Think Progress reports that average CEO salaries in 2012 were $9.7 million, a new record.  The people on top are getting these raises at a time when most working people face high unemployment, stagnant wages, and reduced benefits.

Some might argue that our soldiers and sailors died for “freedom,” and CEO salary increase are a sign of that freedom.  I would disagree for these reasons:

  1. American freedom has always been a matter of opportunity and mobility.  What we see along with wage inequality is growing social immobility.
  2. American freedom has always respected the value of labor.  Contemporary business practices put profit above all else.  They project an individual liberty (i.e., Libertarianism) that ignores a very simple fact:  We have to live together as a society.  Absolute individual freedom is a myth.
  3. American freedom has always looked to the future, to giving better lives to future generations.  Our current short term thinking focuses on the fiscal year and quarter rather than looking out to future generations.
  4. American freedom has always been about shared sacrifice.  It doesn't seem like those who have the most are doing too much sacrificing.

My father fought in WWII.  Two brothers fought in Vietnam.  I respect all the men and women who have served this country.  When we remember them, we also need to think about their sacrifices and how we honor those sacrifices.  The news about record CEO pay is one more sign that we have lost our way as a culture.


Posted: May 26, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I read an interesting article today about local companies that offer “summer schedules.”  These enlightened employers let employees to work longer days between Monday and Thursday in order to take off all or part of Friday, which lets the employee have a longer weekend during the summer.  That truly is a benefit.  However, not many companies offer it, especially if the type of work being done is blue collar or low wage.

There’s a different kind of flexible work that is becoming popular: contingent labor.  Employers want the ability to increase or decrease staffing quickly without taking on the burden of full time employees.  Employment services or outsourced work firms hire staff on a contingent, and then “fill orders” with the employer who needs flexibility.  From the employer’s point of view, this system works great.  The employee has a different perspective.

Under a contingent system, there is no guaranteed number of hours (and usually no benefits).  There is also no set schedule.  When there is work, the employee has to work if she wants to get paid.  Some employers market these jobs as having a flexible schedule.  The problem with this claim is that it is one way.  Contingent work models make no commitment to the employee.  In fact, they are modeled in a way to make each employee immediately replaceable, a cog in the machine.

I once managed a contingent workforce.  In hiring new staff, I underscored what the job entailed and what it could not promise.  For people with full time jobs or other sources of income, a contingent work model real can offer flexibility and a little extra cash.  The problem is that more and more jobs that were full time are now becoming contingent.  Jobs in manufacturing, assembly, distribution were once good jobs that gave employees a secure 40 hours a week and insurance.  Many companies are now using a lean full time staff and supplementing with outsourced, contingent labor.

Again, if we are solely looking at this trend from the employer’s perspective, it’s a winner.  Labor costs are reduced and all of the hassle of HR administration is borne by the temporary service or outsourced firm. The employee now has to bear the burden of finding enough hours to pay bills along with the insecurity of having no medical insurance.  Where summer work schedules discussed above are an example of an employer being flexible, the employee must be flexible in the contingent model, ready to scramble when the phone rings.

As Michael Harrington wrote in The Other American, the working poor in the U.S. are often invisible.  We take their labor for granted and train our consciences not to care about what they are paid.  The problem is that the number of people in bad jobs – low wage or contingent – is growing.  With no sense of security and little income, they buy only what is needed, which explain why “dollar stores” are booming.  The entire economy will suffer as this trend continues.  As a country, we need to wake up.

Posted: May 24, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’m reading a book on career management that dismisses resumes as “historical.”  While it’s true that resumes summarize work history, their more important function is forward looking – to show why you are qualified for the kind of job you want, not the one you are leaving.

Many of the clients that ask me to review resumes fall into the historical trap.  They focus on their most recent jobs and are very detailed in discussing that job.  Being overly specific often makes it hard for an employer to see how a candidate fits their needs.  This problem is even worse when a job seeker uses the language of her old company, language that only someone who works for that company would understand.

I frequently recommend that clients find 5-10 job posts and send them to me.  I review them to understand the requirements and skills employers are looking for.  I also track the repeated “key words” that are so important.  By looking at these documents, I am able to focus the resume on the jobs my clients will apply for.

The key to a successful job search is to keep looking forward.  You should only discuss your past to the degree that it shows how you are qualified for your next job or career move.  In writing your resume and interviewing for jobs, keep your focus on what your next employer needs.  It’s all about the future – and finding a better job.

Posted: May 22, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

On this said day, when the mayor of Chicago has closed nearly 50 schools, Daily Kos links to a great profile of education reformer Michelle Rhee.  The former head of Washington D.C. schools, Rhee makes strong decisions that seemed based on belief rather than fact, especially the belief that teachers’ unions are the biggest problem facing public schools.  Instead, she favors an unproven market model that depends on charter schools.  There is no clear evidence that charter schools perform better than traditional public schools.  In other cases, as Diane Ravitch documents in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, reforms have clearly failed, only to have billionaires pour more money into some new model as well as funding union-bashing PR.  Is this reform really about children or busting unions?

Posted: May 20, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve found a great blog that you should be following:  Matt Chong’s Pinstriped Suit.  Matt covers a range of topics, including career strategies and job market trends.  One recent post listed 10 jobs in marketing that did not exist 10 years ago.  If you want to enjoy some great perspectives on managing your career (and some interesting thoughts on marketing), check out the Pinstriped Suit.

Posted: May 20, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Huffington Post offers a fascinating and frightening analysis of youth unemployment.  The overall loss to the nation is estimated at $18 billion, but behind that big number are millions of young people who will struggle to survive.  Beyond the unemployed most of the new jobs created over the past few years have been low wage, which means that many other young people are starting their careers with little opportunity to save money.

While we need to pay attention to unemployment, we should also look to other factors that impact young people, such as student debt.  Young people who attend college are less likely to be unemployed, but they are often leaving school with a debt equal to a small mortgage.  If Congress does nothing (which is what it has done best over the last few years), interest on student loans will double later this summer.

Our political leaders need to start focusing on this problem.  However, given their general failure to care about working people and the unemployed, it’s most likely that the problems described above will only get worse, and young people will suffer because their elders are acting like children.