Blog Archive - July 2013

Posted: July 31, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’ve written about these topics before, but two recent client comments told me that it might be time to look at them again.  One client who has been working in fields that are below his skill level told me that his humanities degree was “worthless.”  I reminded him that most Americans (fewer than 35%) have college degrees.  Employers look at college degrees as a marker of knowledge and discipline.  Many value applicants with humanities degrees because they tend to be better thinkers and often have better communication skills.  Rather than look at his degree as “worthless,” I persuaded my client that it will help him find a job.

Today a client who just graduated from a science program told me that she had no experience.  Almost every new graduate feels the same way.  What they forget is the value of knowledge.  School teaches us concepts that we will use on the job.  Most programs also offer some kind of hands-on experience in the classroom, labs, or internships.  The client who claimed to have no experience actually worked in labs for four years while pursuing her degree.  She used equipment and performed tests that were listed on every job post she brought as examples of jobs she wished to pursue.  Experience does not only come on the job.  It can come in a classroom, lab, or field exercise.  If you’re a new graduate, start by looking at what the employer needs and how your education has given you knowledge and skill needed to be a strong candidate.

If you’re a new graduate, don’t despair about a weak degree or lack of experience.  Be practical and find a way to market what you learned in college.  It has value.

Posted: July 30, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

A client told me that she wanted he potential employer to know about work she did early in her career when she was a teacher.  She is especially proud of having been named Teacher of the Year in 1999.  The problem is that she changed careers and moved to sales in 2003.  Her new employer needs to see what makes her a good sales professional, not that she was once named the best teacher in the state.  What we want to tell employers is not as important as what they want to know.  Let that be your first question in writing a resume and preparing for an interview: What does the employer want to know?

Posted: July 29, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Fast food workers stuck in 7 cities across the U.S. today.  Common Dreams reports that this could be the biggest strike of its kind ever to take place.  Workers, many of whom are only making the minimum hourly wage of $7.25, are calling for a living wage of $15 per hour.  At first, it sounds shocking that anyone would ask to have their wages doubled.  However, it’s not that big a challenge.

Writing in Huffington Post, Caroline Fairchild reports that it would be fairly to double the wage of McDonald’s workers.  The price of a Big Mac would go up by all of .68, which would double the wage of all workers in the company, including CEO Donald Thompson, who takes home $8.75 million per year (probably with a few extra million in stock options tossed in).  It wouldn’t take much to help those most in need of a raise.

If we dug just a little deeper and paid a little more, an army of consumers would lift this economy without any government intervention.  For this to happen, large companies like McDonalds and Walmart would need to do two things:  First raise prices a little.  Second, pass the wealth along to their employees.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Posted: July 28, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond the world of jobs and careers.]

A Movie You Should See

Over the past few months, America has again wrestled with questions of race and justice as it debated the case of George Zimmerman and the killing of Trayvon Martin. The movie Fruitvale Station explores a similar situation.  22 year old Oscar Grant was killed by transit police in Oakland on January 1, 2009.  Several people on the train captured the killing with cell phone cameras.  Clearly, whatever Grant’s actions, he did not deserve to die.

Some might argue that Fruitvale Station gives too kind a portrait of Grant who spent time in jail and dealt drugs.  I look at it differently.  While the movies shows him doing those things, it also depicts him as a father, son, lover, and friend, a complex human being, not a cartoon cutout.  In one scene, he helps a stranger in a store who doesn’t know what kind of fish to buy for a fish fry.

This incident might seem trivial, but it is very significant, especially given some of the fall out from the Zimmerman trial.  Some conservatives have dredged up the myth of the dysfunctional black family as a way to buttress arguments in favor of Zimmerman’s “innocence.”  In the film, Oscar calls his grandmother who tells the young woman how to make a fish fry.  Later Oscar’s grandmother makes gumbo as part of a birthday celebration for her daughter, Oscar’s mother.  Four generations share the food as part of a tradition and as an expression of love.  There is nothing dysfunctional about this family.

Similarly Oscar and his girlfriend are portrayed as loving parents who are struggling members of the working class.  Oscar has lost his job because he was late for work too often.  His girlfriend works in the service industry.  At one point, Oscar looks at a calendar and sees the words in red “Rent Due.”  He arranges to sell pot, but then, remember his time in prison, dumps his bag in the ocean.  He’s trying to change his life.

After Oscar gets in a fight on a train, transit police pull him and his friends onto a station platform.  During a tense altercation with several officers, Oscar is shot by a young officer who overreacted.  Several passengers filmed the incident as the police took Oscar’s friends away in handcuffs.

Again, we see family in hospital as surgeons try to save Oscar’s life.  His mother, played by Octavia Spencer, leads prayers and pushes his friends to look beyond their anger.  We see in this scene how much Oscar was loved, how his life had value that goes beyond a college degree or rap sheet.  As almost everyone attending this movie will know before buying a ticket, Oscar dies.  The film ends with scenes from a protest in 2013 that show Oscar’s daughter Tatiana outside Fruitvale Station.  We are left with her loss and pain.

The man Oscar fought on the train was a white ex-con he had also battled in prison.  When the transit cops entered the train, they only took off Oscar and his friends.  Most of the officers, including the one who shot Oscar, were white.  Justice seems more selective than blind.  Similarly, in the Zimmerman case, much was made of how Trayvon Martin dressed, the words his friend used on the stand, and other criminal actions in the area that were attributed to African Americans.  The details of the case are under dispute.  However, this is certain.  Trayvon Martin died at the age of 17, five years younger than Oscar Grant.  Neither young man deserved to die, whatever reason the justice system gave for excusing the men who killed them. (Zimmerman, of course, was found not guilty.  The officer who shot Grant only served 11 months on a two year sentence.)

I strongly recommend Fruitvale Station as a beautifully told tragic story.  We are introduced to a young man and get to see the world through his mind and feel through his heart for 90 minutes. Fruitvale Station is great art because it challenges us to change not just how we think, but also how we feel.  If this country ever rises above its racial conflicts, we will need to engage in this kind of exercise of understanding that takes us beyond simplicity and stereotype, prejudice and fear.

Posted: July 26, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

One of my favorite websites, Common Dreams, has reposted an artice by Mijin Cha of Demos that analyzes the career mobility of workers in the fast food industry.  As you might expect, the career ladder has only one rung for most employees.  Few employees are made manager.  Even fewer will ever own a franchised restaurant that requires a net worth of $500,000.  Cha points out that the owner of Yum Brands is a millionaire who made $55 million last year.  He pays his employees $7.25 an hour.  I would add to this that many conservative politicians, following the lead of Herman Cain, are arguing to abolish the minimum wage.  Do people like the owner of Yum Brands deserve to be richer while tens of thousands of workers get poorer?  Is that a free market – or the road to slavery?

P.S. Laura Clawson of Daily Kos adds to this point.  As always, her articles are a must read on issues that affect working people.

Posted: July 25, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

A few minutes ago I hung up on a telemarketer named John.  He was trying to offer me a home fall prevention service that “had already been paid for.”  The call began with no identification of the company or purpose of the call.  

At first, I politely tried to interrupt the caller to see if he was calling for me or if this was a wrong number.  He kept reading the script.  Then, using his name, I told John that I didn’t think I was the person he was trying to reach.  He kept reading the script, only adding that the service “had already been paid for.”  When I heard this, I started swearing, which I regret.  I should have controlled my temper, but the situation was absurd and insulting.

What does this story have to do with jobs and careers?  A lot.  John is working for a company that requires him to read his script word for word.  In some situations, such as market research, verbatim presentation of a script makes sense.  In this situation or any sales situation, it does not.  John’s employer showed me no respect, and I took it out on his employee.  More importantly, if I was not the targeted of the call, they missed a possible transaction. What kind of company is this? 

What kind of person is John?  I can’t judge his character, but clearly he’s stuck in the worst kind of job, one where the employer doesn’t trust its employees to think.  When people communicate and ask questions, they expect answers.  John, following the script, could not answer my questions.  In essence, he was behaving like a machine.  I do feel bad for the way I spoke to him, but his behavior – and his company’s behavior – made me lose my temper.  This is garbage work, and I pity the people who have to do it.

Posted: July 24, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I’m working from home today, so I’m able to listen to the radio more than on a typical.  What am I hearing?  More and more about the royal baby and Anthony’s wiener.  What’s the news on Detroit?  It's bankrupt and there’s no other choice but to cut worker’s pensions.  What’s the news in Chicago, a city that had its bond rating slashed?  The city’s broke, and we must cut workers’ pensions.  Meanwhile, here’s the latest on the royal baby and Anthony’s wiener.

The corporate media, better defined as the info-tainment industry, doesn’t focus on important matters and go below the surface.  The budget problems in Detroit and Chicago have resolutions that are not discussed by shallow reporter who look like models.  There is also no examination of the real winners and losers.  When pensioners are asked to take reduced benefits, who wins?  Investors and the bankers who care for their money as if it were a royal baby.

Retired workers and current employees that paid into pension plans expected to have security in retirement.  They worked thinking that retirement was part of their compensation, not a resource owned by the city that could used to pay its debts.  The problem here is not simply a matter of “resources,” as the Emergency Manager of Detroit put it.  People’s lives are on the line, and we need to understand these stories with that in mind.

Government officials, bankers, and the investor class do not care about these people.  They only know Return on Investment.  They also know that most people will not pay attention to this story.  They want the sensational story that’s easy to understand.  Working people and the middle class need to wake up, or their wages – present and future – will be the next target.

P.S., Economist Dean Baker compares Detroit to an organization that the government bailed out, Goldman Sachs.  Needless to say, the rich get richer.

Posted: July 23, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Last Sunday’s USA Weekend featured an article on negotiation by Jeff Wurorio that was entitled “Let’s Make a Deal.”  Wuorio makes a simple point: Anything can be negotiated.  He gives examples of a man asking for a raise, a woman trying to get her teenagers to work around the house, a couple deciding what to do on the weekend, a woman trying to get a hotel to waive fees, and a family deciding where to spend its vacation.  All of these situations involve decisions about which people can disagree – and compromise.

The obvious question behind any negotiation is: How do I get what I want?  Wuorio makes a good point that applies in all of these situations: “Keep the conversation positive and focused, and great things can happen.”  I agree about tone.  It does no good to be confrontational or bullying.  Know what you want, but it’s equally important to know what the other party wants and what you have to give.

Rather than asking what you want, let your first step in negotiation be to ask: What am I willing to give up?  What does the other party want?  Once you answer those questions, you will know what leverage you have to negotiate.  The more the other party wants what you have, the more power you have to negotiate.  Conversely, the less they want what you have, the less they will be willing to deal.  If you don’t have something they want, you are not negotiating.  You are begging.

Take the time to ask the right questions, and your ability to negotiate will be much stronger.

Posted: July 22, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I was working with a client today who is earlier in his career.  He is seeking employment in wealth management.  He told me his plan was to find work through an employment agency.  That was the only way he would look for work.  I challenged him to think about looking for work in a different way.

Anyone looking for work in a specialized field like wealth management needs to know their industry.  Who are the best companies?  What companies are growing (and would need new employees)?  The best way to find that information is to think like a customer.  If you were protecting wealth or investing, where would you go?  A nurse could use a similar criteria.  What hospitals would she go to or send her family to?  Think about building a list for your field of employment.  Who would be my best employer?

As you research potential employers, you can build a list and rank order companies.  This list will be a tool to use for future job searches as well as the current one.  More importantly, it will help you understand your career better and give you options for networking in the future.  Building a list of potential employers takes time, but the payoff will be worthwhile in your current job search and in the future.

Posted: July 19, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

One of my clients is seeking to make a career change.  At three points during a 20 minute meeting, she asked the same question: Should I learn Excel?  It’s a great question, but not the most important to ask in a career change.  The most important thing to do is to find types of job that fit the kind of skills you want to use at work.  The next step is to find some job posts and analyze them.  If you keep seeing that the employer wants someone who knows Excel, it’s time to learn how to use that software.

This example is true of almost any job search.  Know what the employer requires before you worry about the need to learn new technical skills.  Almost every job lists computer skills, but they tend to vary from job to job.  Take the time to research what skills are needed for the work you want to do.  Don’t waste your time or money on training for a skill you may never use.