Blog Archive - October 2013
I often cite Seth Godin, who’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers. In his book, The Dip¸ Godin explores how winners know how to quit the things that hold them back from moving forward. The New Yorker has published a short essay by Adrian Cardenas, who last played in the Chicago Cubs organization. He played in 45 games for the Cubs in 2012. Cardenas is eloquent in explaining why he left the big leagues to focus on being a student.
I was especially impressed by his confession that money took away from the joy of the game. That’s a hard confession to make. Most of us would kill to make the minimum big league salary. Baseball as a business was not what Cardenas, a student at New York University, wanted. Leaving the sport is his first step to a new life. May he find happiness.
I wrote recently about diminished prospects for young workers, including new college graduates. Earlier today I met with a young woman who graduated two years ago with a degree in liberal arts. Her resume was set up to focus on jobs in business analysis, even though her qualifications in that area were limited. I asked her what she wanted to do. She told me operations and management.
Where did that come from? After graduating, she spent a year and a half working in a family business where she came to manage all aspects of operations, including accounts payable and receivable. The more we talked, the more I came to see how this client was very qualified for the kind of jobs she was seeking. What we needed to do was write a resume that aligned her experience with the kind of jobs she wanted to pursue. That’s our next step in getting this job search to be more targeted.
It’s a difficult job market for people of all ages. Anyone looking for a job needs to assess the direction of their search and keep it as focused as possible. As Henry David Thoreau wrote long ago: “In the long run, we only hit what we aim at.” Success starts with knowing your target.
Since 2008, young workers, including college graduates, have struggled to get a good job. Writing in Huffington Post, Jillian Berman examines this problem with a focus on college graduates getting jobs that do not require a degree, which usually means that they pay lower wages. Young workers are earning less and building wealth much more slowly than the previous generation. Then Berman adds the real problem: debt. College graduate now hold student loans that are more than twice what a graduate would have had in the early 1980s.
Berman questions whether young college grads will ever dig out of this hole. I’m a little less pessimistic. I think the current generation on average will not enjoy the opportunities my generation did. However, many will succeed on the individual level because they will practice good career management. It’s easy to give into despair and say that things will never get better. Several of my younger clients have had to take first jobs that were less than they expected. But they kept looking for something better. They targeted and improved the skills they want to use on the job, and they were able to get better jobs. Looking for work is never easy, but in a job market like this one, the only way to get ahead is to keep looking for a better opportunity.
One of my clients called today. He’s received a job offer from one company. However, another company, one he’d rather work for, hasn’t gotten back to him after three interviews. He asked me what he should do. My answer is simple: Follow up.
There is no harm in letting a company that might be interested in hiring you that another employer has made you an offer. What do you have to lose? Both companies have shown interest in hiring you. The one that has not made an offer might be dragging its feet, but it could still be interested. You’ll never know if you don’t follow up.
The job market is challenged. Salary offers tend to be low. The only way to get a good offer is to give yourself every opportunity to test the market. If you’re lucky enough to be involved in multiple interviews, follow up on the offer.
[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond jobs, resumes, and interviews in “Sabbath.”]
Let’s Play Two
Ernie Banks loved baseball so much that he’d say, “Let’s play two.” This week I had the pleasure of enjoying two plays at Edgewater’s Raven Theatre. Last night I saw Horton Foote’s A Trip to Bountiful and, earlier in the week, I attended Our America, a program that Raven put on with students from Senn High School.
I knew nothing about A Trip to Bountiful before yesterday’s performance. I knew Horton Foote was a playwright, but had never seen any of his plays. After yesterday, I will make it a point to learn more about this talented artist and attended productions of his plays. The play is set in 1950s Texas, and, on the surface, it is a story of family dynamics. Deeper it is a story about the change in American culture as people moved from the country to the city. Mrs. Watts is the center of the play. She lives with her son and combative daughter-in-law in a cramped apartment located in Houston.
Over the course of the play, we learn that Mrs. Watts has suffered greatly throughout her life. Still, she remains a woman of integrity and values. Her goal in life is simple: To return to the rural city where she was raised, a swampy patch of dirt called Bountiful. The only thing better than Foote’s writing is the way Raven’s actors bring the play to life. As always at Raven, the stage and the way it changes throughout the play complement the acting. This play runs through November 17, and I highly recommend it.
Earlier in the week, I attended Our America: Ghetto Life 101 & Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse. This performance was based on two NPR radio documentaries in 1993 and 1994. In the first act, two young teen age boys, LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman, chronicle what it was like growing up in the Ida B. Wells housing project. An energetic, diverse group of 12 students from Senn High School interpreted the boys' experience. While showing the horror and fear of living in a world where people literally get their face shot off, the student actors conveyed the humanity of people who are intelligent and loving despite the challenges of urban poverty.
In the second act, Jones and Newman interviewed neighbors to investigate the death of Eric Morse, a five year old boy who was pushed out a 14th floor window after refusing to steal candy. He was pushed out of the window by two boys age 10 and 11. What was even more shocking in this section of the performance was the breadth of sympathy that Jones, Newman, and the Senn student actor bring to life. I simply remembered this case as a savage murder. Remorse challenges the audience to consider all aspects of the situation, including the punishment given to the killers. The stories told by neighbors and relatives show that morality is not simple and punishment can outweigh the crime. Three cheers to the students of Senn High School and Raven Theater for bringing this story to the stage. The only downside is that the production was only staged for two days. Later in the year, before Christmas, Raven will join with local schools to put on Seedfolks, a play about urban gardening and its significance to the local communities.
Raven Theater is a great example of how local theater can bring life to a community. Since the 1990s, Raven has produced classic and contemporary plays by American playwrights. It also shares its space with smaller theater companies and community groups. It offers programs for children and teens. Community theater helps build a community and keep it strong. Edgewater is very lucky to have Raven Theater.
Michelle Chen of In These Times (reposted on Common Dreams) reports that workers at musical instrument retailer Guitar Center are striking a power chord for wage justice. Workers at two of the chains +200 stores have unionized. Now others are joining the fight. Chen notes that these employees often are connected through interests outside of work, such as bands, which will give them even more reason to show solidarity when the going gets tough.
Expect the going to get tough – Bain has owned the business since 2007. However, it’s important to note that the unionized stores organized during Bain’s ownership. When workers hang together, they are impossible to stop. Are you listening, McDonald’s? Walmart?
A long-time client called me today with an urgent request. He needed his resume updated today because a high-placed friend was trying to arrange an interview. The problem is that he had not updated the resume since 2007. Over the last six years, he has had three jobs, and it was difficult for him to recall details and achievements from the earlier jobs. After scrambling, we were able to get the job done, but it could have been better.
In today’s job market, good or bad news can come at any time. We need to be ready to hit the ground running. Part of being prepared is having your resume ready to go. I recommend updating your resume as soon as you leave a job or as soon as your comfortable in a new job. Keep a list of achievements that you will want to use in the resume and during job interviews. It’s easy to forget details, and it’s easier to remember them if you keep some notes about what you’ve done well.
Updating a resume is always something we will do tomorrow. Sometimes tomorrow brings opportunity, and we are not prepared for it. Be prepared. Keep your resume ready to go.
Writing in Daily Kos¸ Laura Clawson analyzes what today’s national minimum wage of $7.25 is really worth. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage has declined to the level it was at in 1950. Clawson adds that many jobs paying this wage are part-time with unpredictable hours. What’s worse is that many of the loudest voices in the Republican Party are challenging the very concept of a minimum wage. What kind of country are we living in when poverty wages are equated with “freedom”? As I said in a recent blog, America is bankrupt – morally bankrupt.
What if a young person doesn’t work between the ages of 16-24? AP reports that 15% of Americans in this age group are unemployed and have little prospect of finding work anytime soon. The report notes that people who don’t work during this period fail to learn skills that they will need later in life. I would take this problem to a more basic level: These young people will not have the opportunity to learn how to work. While I preach the importance of skills, there are more fundamental elements involved in working: getting up in the morning, getting to work on time, listening to the boss, and putting out a good effort. We learn our work ethic early, and too many young Americans are not having the opportunity to learn how to work.
What should be done? The best answer is that we need more good jobs for adults, so young people can work lower level jobs while they are in school. While some manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., it’s too little, too slow. The next best alternative would be some kind of government sponsored program, which were common just a few years ago. Again, this solution seems impossible in a political era that is captivated by the idea of cutting spending rather than growing an economy by investing in the country and its people. What is the solution? I don’t know. It almost feels like our leaders want young people to fail. They care more about what is owed to banks and investors today than what we out to the generations that will be leaders tomorrow. To me, that is the true definition of bankruptcy – moral bankruptcy.
I frequently urge clients to think about how they are living as well as how they are working. Well, tomorrow I’m going to follow my own advice. I’m taking the day off to attend The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago. Tomorrow and Sunday, the CAF has arranged to have buildings with architectural significance opened throughout the city. Two years ago I visited a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Rogers Park. Last year, I explored a studio in Uptown where Charlie Chaplin worked and an Ace Hardware Store in Bronzeville that was a jazz club in the 1920s where Louis Armstrong and other big name players performed. This year my plan is to wander the Gold Coast and Downtown. Since some buildings are only open on Saturday, I need to sacrifice a day of work for a day of wonder. That’s a pretty fair trade.
If you live in Chicago, check out the open house schedule. All the events are free, and most of these buildings won’t be open to the public again until next year’s Open House.