Blog Archive - September 2013
I’ve written in the past about Seth Godin’s great little book The Dip. Godin says that successful people quit the right things, and they know how to fight through the dips. A local business owner closed his store earlier this month. I saw him this morning and learned that he’s been a flight attendant for more than 20 years. He was operating the store as a second job and found that it was impossible to do both. His flight attendant job offers steady pay and benefits. While it was hard to close a business in which he had invested 3 years of sweat and dreams, he made a practical choice. He knew what to quit.
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs and careers in “Sabbath.”]
The Art of the Impossible
The government will probably shut down next week. Compromises that were once taken for granted in Washington are now impossible. The corporate media tries to blame “both sides,” but the problem lies with the most conservative aspects of the Republican party. This group thinks compromise is getting 100% of what it wants – then it asks for more.
Let’s consider “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act. This plan should make Republicans happy. It’s based on a model from the Heritage Foundation, and it later became the model for Republican Governor Mitt Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts. When President Obama and the Democrats proposed a similar plan, Republicans began to cry “socialism” and “death panels.” Now, rather than try to make changes in the plan, they demand repeal or defunding. No compromise.
In my state of Illinois, the problem isn’t at all Republicans. It’s dysfunctional Democrats. The governor and both houses of the legislature are controlled by the Democrats, and they cannot reach an agreement on how to resolve a huge pension deficit. The governor tried to block the legislators’ pay as an incentive to push them to act. A court said this move was illegal. So, in Illinois, Democrats cannot not even compromise with other Democrats.
Both the Democrats in Illinois and the Tea Party faction in the U.S. House are playing the same game: politics. They want their core voters to feel they are being strong. In the process, they don’t care if the nation or the state suffers. They can only think about the next election. As long as the voters agree to play this game, nothing will change. At the deepest level, we don’t only need better politicians, we need better citizens.
P.S. According to today's Chicago Sun-Times (9-30-2013), the story in Illinois is not as simple as I made it out to be. While there has been infighting among Democrats, they have apparently reached a deal to adjust pensions by $140 billion. Republicans are demanding $10 billion more in cuts that the paper calls unnecessary and insignificant. This is the only mention I have seen of GOP involvement in this problem. Add to the list above -- better journalism.
Many years ago, I voted for Jerry Brown when he ran for President. People mocked him as “Governor Moon Beam,” but I always thought of him as a man who cared about people. He still is. Governor Brown has signed a bill of rights for domestic workers. The bill will provide overtime pay and other protections.
Governor Brown has acted courageously to protect the least among us. Hopefully other governors and state legislatures will follow his lead. What we really need is a national workers bill of rights.
Writing in Common Dreams, Jim Horn, a Professor of Education at Cambridge College, examines Diane Ravitch in the light of her new book, Reign of Error: the Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Horn notes that this book has been widely reviewed and focuses on the author instead, calling her a whistleblower and truth teller. Ravitch, once a champion of education “reform,” has turned against corporate-based philosophies of education “reform.” Horn calls Ravitch, “the single individual who most influenced the eventual outcome if parents and teachers and students continue to heed the call for the restoration and renewal of public schools free of high stakes tests for all children who choose a high quality and free education.”
Horn’s critique underscores Ravitch’s importance not just to education, but to democracy and workers’ rights. A free society needs school systems that will be responsive to citizens, not the corporate elite. It also needs schools that promote more meritocracy, not selective schools or charter schools that cherry pick those students deemed to be “winners.” If we are to live up to the promise of America, we need schools that will be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Diane Ravitch has shown that, for all its flaws, the best vehicle to promote fair education is the public school.
Lately I’ve been blogging about the disparity of wealth in the U.S. However, it’s a worldwide problem that had its best framing from an unusual source: Pope Francis. Since taking over from Pope Benedict, Francis has surprised many of us by speaking out in defense of poor and working people. This past Sunday, he put the problem in theological terms.
Speaking to unemployed miners in Sardina, the Pope put aside prepared remarks and spoke his heart. He said, “If there is no work, there is no dignity.” He challenged a world economic system that replaced God with an idol: money. The Pope then prayed to God to “give us work and teach us to fight for work.” Those words are powerful, especially in a world were workers are treated more and more as disposable commodities.
At what point is too much wealth too much and too much poverty too much? Pope Francis sees a world of haves and have not, and he is calling for change. May his voice – and his prayers – be heard.
I was working with a client today who is applying for residency positions. He will apply to positions in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry. He asked me if he should apply to positions that combine both specialties. His concern was that he would have to write a third personal statement. I recommend that he take the time to do so. Anytime we can give ourselves another good option in a job search, it’s worth the time and effort.
Whenever you’re looking for a new job, ask yourself this question: What’s my plan B? Do I have a plan C? Most of my clients who are sales manager could also apply for positions as senior sales representatives. Many HR generalists have experience in one aspect of the field, such as training, that would let them apply for plan B positions. A store manager or assistant managers have knowledge of products and store operations. They could apply for positions as sales representatives who market to retail stores.
How can you improve your marketability? Volunteer at work. Ask to be put on teams and projects that will let you develop new skill sets. If you’re unemployed, seek training or certification in areas that will give you new options. For example, an accountant with a background in tax preparation might look more to auditing or develop skills needed to be a controller. Build on your existing skill set, but do so in a way that will let you apply to different kinds of jobs. Always have a plan B.
Clients will sometimes ask if there is a good time to look for work or a bad time to be conducting a job search. My answer is that someone who is unemployed or wants a better job should never stop looking. That said, there are hiring cycles when jobs are more available.
Generally speaking, hiring rises in mid-January through early summer tails off a little until Labor Day picks up strong through Thanksgiving and slows down a lot through the New Year. That’s a general model of hiring. What does it mean for the individual job seeker? It means you should work hard on your job search between now and Thanksgiving, but you should not stop looking on Black Friday. I’ve had clients hired to new jobs on the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s Day.
A good job search never ends until the job seeker gets an offer. Understand the hiring cycle and expect to see fewer ads posted during slow periods. Still, some company will always be hiring because an employee moves, retires, gets sick, or dies. Companies expand and need new workers now – whenever now is.
Be realistic in your job search, but you also need to be equally persistent and resilient. Stopping your search for any reason kills momentum, and then it is very hard to get started again. Keep looking even when the market dips around the holidays. Look hard now. This is the time to be really busy.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on topics beyond the world of jobs and careers.]
Reality Hits Home
Today I’m going to my last baseball game of this season. The Cubs will host the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. It’s been a great year for the Braves, who are one of the best teams in either league. The Cubs, however, are a different story. They’re rebuilding, which means they’ve traded off experienced players in the hope of developing through youth. We’ll see about that strategy.
I love baseball. It’s the spring and summer game. Baseball is the sport that has spawned the greatest mythologies and most memorable statistics. However, as the season comes to an end, we realize that cold and darkness are coming. The World Series is called the Fall Classic, but many of its games are often played on 40 degree days with rain and sleet, another sign of winter’s arrival.
The end of a season also brings reflection on the season that has been. After the Cubs traded several experienced players, the team’s fans started to focus on those players that should be future stars. Two of them, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, had miserable years, both after signing long term contracts. Castro has had two good years previous to this one. He even led the league in most hits. Rizzo had a great second half last year, showing both power and the ability to hit for average. This year both players underperformed. Similarly, the projected staff ace Jeff Samardzija was erratic. Some starts were very good, but in others he seemed to be throwing batting practice.
These are reasons for concern, maybe even despair. The great thing about baseball is that spring training starts in the dead of winter. While it’s cold and dark during February in Chicago, the Cubs will head to Arizona to start the 2014 season, a new slate. However this year ended, we fans will look for signs of a better future. And that’s the magic of baseball. Every season begins with hope.
Huffington Post has a great story about the growth of income inequality in the U.S. It includes an animated map that shows changes over the decades. Anyone who doesn’t think this issue is a problem needs to have an explanation for this map. As I said in a recent post, this trend of new income going almost exclusively to the top 1/% and top 10% cannot continue.
A client told me a sad story today. He has worked for a large retail company as an Assistant Manager for over 8 years. He currently makes $25 dollars per hour in a managerial role. Next month his position will be eliminated and replaced by one making $11-$14 dollars per hour. In addition to this big pay cut, the company is increasing the position's responsibilities. My client could not accept such a demotion, and he gave notice. Some would say that no one should quit a job before securing another. Given the changes in his company, my client felt he had nothing to lose. He is confident he can find a job that will pay him more than $14 per hour.
This story surprised me only in the degree of the pay cut. Since 2008, clients have told horror stories about pay cuts, furlough days, changes in commission, and increased health care contributions. While pay increases go to the top of the income scale, the middle class and lower wage workers keep facing greater and greater stress. This trend cannot continue, or we will learn what our grandparents and great-grandparents went through in the 1930s. "Brother, can you spare a dime?"