Blog Archive - June 2013
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond work and career in “Sabbath.”]
Craft Beer and Choices
In today’s Chicago Sun-Times, brewer Ben Minkoff is profiled in the “Grid” section. Minkoff, at the tender age of 25, is leading the effort to change the identity of Berghoff beer. His family owns the brand and is updating the way its beer is being brewed and marketed to fit the craft craze that many beer drinkers, including me, enjoy and support with our dollars.
Craft beers reflect a larger trend in American culture and taste. Consumers are willing to pay more for locally produced and artisan products. In turn, they reject the cheaper offerings of mega-corporations that often cut corners on ingredients to save themselves and shoppers a few nickels. I buy craft beer and locally roasted coffee because I like the taste. I also appreciate that the people selling these products live near me. Some of them support the same local schools and other causes that I do, which makes me happy to dig a little deeper to pay for their beer, coffee, bread, pork, and eggs.
Farmers Markets are part of this trend. Where the grocery store offers consistent, unblemished fruits and vegetables. Goods at a farmer’s market will often be of different sizes and shapes. Sometimes, they will even have a little black or brown on a peach or apple. So what? That’s how people ate before agri-business developed factory farming. I’d rather cut a bad spot out of a tomato and enjoy its taste rather than eat a perfect red globe with no flavor. People roam and choose their products at a farmers market. We are able to meet the growers and ask them questions about how food comes to our tables.
The craft-local movement has educated consumers that real choice means more than the best price. Brand loyalty is now a matter of knowing who makes your food and drink. Rather than a flashy logo and advertising campaign, we look to personal relations and local connections.
Will craft beer ever put Budweiser and Miller out of business? I don’t think so. Will my friend Crystal Nells of C.D. Farms shut down Smithfield, one of the world’s leading pork producers? Never. That would defeat the purpose. Small and local needs to stay small and local. Some people, out of choice or necessity, will buy the cheaper mass market products. Some of us are able and interested in an alternative market, one where the maker cares as much about his or her product as about profit. It’s good to have these kind of choices.
When I coach clients on networking, my strategy is to start with you references. They know your skills and work history best, which means they would probably be your best network contacts. Adam Grant offers a different take in a post on the blog “Big Think.” Following researchers from Stanford, Grant claims that our closest network contacts are often “redundant,” meaning they know the same things and people as we do. “Weak” contacts can offer different perspectives because they know different people and companies. Grant does not say we should ignore strong network contacts. Instead, he recommends leveraging all types of networks contacts, which is very good advice.
How can you make this advice a career management tool? Make a list of 20-50 people that you consider your network. Rank them from strongest to weakest in their ability to help you. Think about other possible “weak” contacts. Add them to your list and nurture your relationships. Finally, remember the most important rule of networking: Help other people as much as you want them to help you.
As newspaper business sections have shrunk or disappeared, I’ve taken to reading the website 24/7 Wall Street for news about the economy. Today the website features an interesting story on the top 10 states where people hate going to work. It’s also a national problem. The article cites a Gallup Poll which claims that less than a third of Americans are engaged in their work. So it seems that most American are unhappy at work.
Many clients come to me because they feel disengaged and want to find a new job or change careers. Being happy at work is usually not an accident. People who are happy at work know what they want to do and find a place where they can do it. This kind of job search takes time and patience. Too many people scramble to find any job. Then they are miserable. Be fair to yourself. Find a job that makes you happy.
Huffington Post has posted a Reuters report that Walmart is only hiring temporary employees in several states. This move lets the retailers staff busy times without taking on full time employees, The report also notes that hours of some full time employees are being cut. Other retailers are following a similar model.
As I blogged yesterday, the biggest problem facing workers today isn’t unemployment. It is wages. It doesn’t matter if someone is at a low wage job or if they are paid a decent hourly wage with limited hours, in either case, the worker is not making enough money. Walmart and other companies are looking ways to push up profits and share prices. Too often they are doing so on the backs of working people.
Meteor Blades of the Daily Kos digs into the issues of pay gaps between men and women. And what he finds is very depressing. While women still are still paid less on average than men, they are gaining. That sounds good. However, Blades points out the women’s pay is rising because men’s pay is falling. Over the last ten years, the wages for both men and women have fallen. Men’s wages are falling faster, harder.
We can talk about consecutive months of gains in private sector jobs. We can watch the unemployment rate tick up and tick down. Wages are the real story. If working people and the middle class can’t spend, sooner or later our national economic house of card will fall. Brother and sister, can you spare a dime?
In the Grid section of today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Tom Moran of Addison Group gives some great advice about how employers evaluate candidates. I urge you to read the article, but here are three quick tricks that you can use:
Prove you are organized: Moran will ask candidates to see their wallets as a test of organizational skills. You can do the same thing by keeping your wallet (or purse) organized, and use it as an example at interviews.
Reliability: Be able to say why you stayed at jobs as well as why you left. Moran doesn’t want to hear stories where the candidate blames someone else or is negative about why they left a company. You can follow a similar path by identifying something you were not able to do at a previous employer that you will be able to do at your new job. Again, keep the tone positive and forward looking.
Thank you and follow up: Moran tests candidates by giving them a business card at the end of each interview. He expects thank you note by email within 5-7 hours of the interview. You can ask for a card and follow up quickly, which will show your interest in the job.
Overall, I would sum up Tom Moran’s advice in these words. Show that you can do the job, and show that you want it.
Huffington Post offers a great chart that contrasts the minimum wage and productivity since 1947. The picture is stunning. The poorest working people tread water while they contribute to consistent increased productivity. According to the article, a minimum wage that kept up with productivity would be $21.72 per hour. Instead, it remains at $7.25.
Where does the extra value poor working have produced go? Maybe we should ask the billionaires.
Writing in Think Progress, Alan Pyke reports that wages fell by 3.8% during the first three months of 2013. This is the largest drop in the 65 years that this statistic has been measured. I’ve written in the past that too little attention is being paid to stagnant or falling wages. Even if inflation is low, too many people are falling behind because they are not keeping pace with increased costs.
What can we do as working people? Don’t be loyal to companies that are screwing us. Anyone who is unhappy with their current pay or benefits needs to dust off their resume and start looking for a better employer. In the same three months that wages have fallen at a record pace, several of my clients have found new employers that increased their salaries.
How did they do that? First, they aligned their skills, experience, and achievements to what potential employers needed. Second, they looked hard to find a job. They didn’t wait for the job to come to them. Third, they did not take jobs that offered the same kind of salary or benefits. There is no guarantee that you will find a better job. However, if you don’t look, there is a guarantee that you are locking yourself in a work place that does not value or compensate your work.
If you’re unhappy with the way your current employer is treating you, get active and make a change.
I frequently work with clients who have just completed an undergraduate or graduate degree. They usually list only the degree. Some will note organizations they belonged to or scholarships that helped them pay for schools. There is a problem with this information: Employers do not care about it.
I work with new graduates to identify areas of knowledge and skill that they will take from school to the workplace. Rather than list classes, which only tell the employer that you are a student, review 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you. Note job requirements and skills that you can take from your time in school and include these elements in your resume.
For example I’m currently working with a client who received an MBA with a concentration in Human Resources. After reviewing job posts, we identified the following items for his resume: HR & Labor Law, Compensation, and Strategic Planning. Be sure that you only list areas of skill and knowledge that you could use on the job. Do not list any item that you could not discuss well in an interview or any skill you could not perform on the job.
If you are a new graduate, take full advantage of the knowledge and skill you offer an employer because of your education. Demonstrate the value of your degree in a way that will be relevant to the employer’s needs. Most importantly, don’t present yourself as a student. Play up what you learned in school that a potential employer will care about. That’s the way to get a job even if you lack professional experience.
Bruce Rauner announced that he is seeking the Republican nomination for Governor of Illinois. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Rauner claims he is not “anti-union.” He then goes on to bash leaders of public sector unions for the state’s pension problems.
Let’s step back and ask why so many public pensions are in trouble. Over several years, union leaders negotiated with both Republican and Democratic “leaders.” The constant trade off was better pensions for lower raises. Politicians from both parties then failed to make regular contributions to the pension fund. In essence, money that was to go to workers via the pension fund was not paid.
Rather than talk about wage theft, millionaires like Rauner put the blame solely on the unions and the Democrats. Public and private sector unions have made concession after concession over the past three decades to save jobs. People like Mr. Rauner ignore these compromises. Instead of calling out mismanagement by public and private sector executives, they pile all blame on workers and unions.
I don’t know how the pension problem in Illinois can be resolved. However, we should be honest about how it came to be and who is at fault. Unions are fighting for a negotiated benefit, part of the compensation their workers have every right to expect. As a business man, Rauner should respect contracts and not use terms like “pay-to-play” unless he also wants to extend that language to sweetheart deals that let corporations avoid millions in tax payments. We need political leaders who will be honest and fair in calling out corruption. Politicians may cut public sector pension benefits, but let’s call that action what it is: wage theft.