Blog Archive - April 2014
Aljazeera America has a mind-blowing profile of one of America’s top paid CEOs, Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy. Souki “earned” $142 million in 2013. Not bad for the leader of a company that has never turned a profit. His company is building a natural gas processing facility in Louisiana that is projected to be a big money maker. Investors must agree because the company’s stock has doubled. Aljazeera America points out that the industry is very risky. That doesn’t seem to matter to the people paying Souki or those investing in his company. Profitable companies lay off workers to keep their share price up. Some people win, and some people lose. Charif Souki is a winner, and that says a lot about what’s wrong with the U.S. economy and its politics.
I recently came across some advice for job interview strategy that could do more harm than good. An expert recommends: “You should talk half the time, and the employer should talk half the time.”
My problem with this advice is that it sets up a false expectation. In some interviews the exchange between an interviewer and job seeker might be pretty equal. In most cases, however, the job seeker will talk more because she is the person being interviewed. Think about any situation when you ask a question that involves an explanation. The answer is longer than the question, which means that in most interviews the job seeker will be talking more. I think what the expert wants to say is that job seekers should engage interviewers in dialogue whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. But that’s not the most important thing a job seeker needs to do.
Good interviews start with focused listening. If you’re listening well, you can usually make your agenda fit the interviewer’s. You will also build a relationship with the interviewer. Let your strengths show through the conversation. That’s what the employer wants to know.
Clearly Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a racist fool. He’s also an ungrateful employer, a bad boss. During a taped exchange with his girlfriend (I’d now assume former girlfriend), Sterling says,
“You just, do I know? I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them?”
Sterling shows no sense that the players who have worked for him over the decades that he’s owned his team have contributed to his wealth. Instead, he uses words like support and give, almost as if he should not have to pay the employees that bring fans to the arena. It’s not pay or compensation. He describes his employees as receiving gifts. Maybe he thinks he’s Santa Claus.
Even beyond his racism, Donald Sterling is an ungrateful jerk.
Clients frequently tell me that they are frustrated when they apply for jobs and hear nothing. Or they get upset when they don’t get any word after interviews. My advice is simple: Why do you want to hear that a company doesn’t want to hire you? The only news you should care about is if a company wants to interview you, if they want further interviews, or if they want to make an offer. Any other contact is bad news, which you don’t need. Stay focused on what is most important: Getting hired.
One of my clients, let’s call her Jane, has recently had four rounds of interviews with a company she really wants to work for. The interview process has covered over a month, and in that time Jane has not applied for another job or done any networking. When I asked her why she’s been so passive, she said that she wants to put all her effort into getting the job she wants.
There’s one problem with Jane’s strategy: What if she doesn’t get the job? Every job search is different, but to get a job quickly, it’s important to stay focused and keep applying for new positions and networking. Jane has wasted over a month. If she doesn’t get the job she’s currently interviewing for, she will have to start her job search from scratch. It’s important to keep momentum going until you’ve received an offer you want to accept. Even if you are confident that a company is going to offer you a position, keep pursuing other opportunities. You have nothing to lose. You can always turn down interview. Better still, you might receive a better offer.
Think Progress reports on Treehouse, an online education company that only works 4 days a week. Company founder Ryan Carson was working 7 days a week on a new start up. He made a decision that life was as important as work and instituted a 4 day work schedule for all employees. Treehouse is one of Carson’s 3 companies that follow the 4 day work week model. Some experts think this kind of work model improves performance while working more (60 hour weeks) hurts productivity. Time will tell if more companies follow Carson’s model – if he can even sustain it with his companies. The first step is to try. Three cheers to Ryan Carson for remembering that life is not all work.
Most of my clients in sales have two complaints. First, they have to try to meet unrealistic quotas or goals. Second, they work for managers who nit-pick about how sales representatives work with little concern about results. What can be done to avoid these problems? Ask good questions during an interview.
Almost every employer lets prospective employees ask questions at the end of an interview. That is a great time to gauge what it would be like to work at that company. It’s important to keep your questions positive or neutral in tone. Never say anything that makes it look like you would be difficult to work with or that you have a bad work ethic. Here are some questions to ask the hiring manager, the person who would be your boss in a sales position:
To gauge how quotas are used:
1. How is performance evaluated?
2. Describe the performance of your best sales representative.
3. What do you measure in evaluating performance?
It’s trickier to evaluate a person’s character. How do you know if a boss will be a micro-manager in how she treats you on a daily basis? Here are a few questions that might give you a clue about your prospective boss’s character:
1. How would we interact on a daily basis?
2. Describe a situation where I would be making a tough decisions and another where you would want me to get your approval before making a decision.
3. What two or three words best describe your managerial style?
These questions will help you assess what it would be like to work in sales for a company, but they do not guarantee a happy experience. Some interviewers, like job seekers, know how to answer questions in a way that makes everything sound positive. Some employers say one thing and do another. That said, there is no other way to evaluate a potential employer. If you don’t want a sales manager who only cares about numbers and controlling your daily activities, take the time to investigate your prospective employer’s managerial style. Do whatever you can to avoid working for a bad company or a tyrannical boss.
Common Dreams is one of my favorite websites for understanding our world. Today it reposts an article by Jeff Faux that examines a very hot book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty. The book’s thesis is pretty simple: the rewards of capitalism are now flowing to very few people. After WWII, the opposite was true. Economic expansion built the middle class in America and allowed Europe and Japan to rebuild after a terrible war. Poverty in America shrank. Now the opposite is true. Even though workers are more productive, their pay has declined.
Piketty claims that capitalist growth is fueling income inequality. Looking at capitalist societies over 300 years, he finds that most periods of growth increased inequality. The post-war period in the U.S was an outlier. Piketty refutes the claim that markets are self-correcting. Instead, they benefits most often go to those who do not have to work for a living (big investors, capitalists). Faux is careful to point out that Piketty is not a radical, that he is closer to Keynes than Marx. What excites me about a book like this is that it will challenge the way people think. It will force people to reexamine accepted wisdom, which is often the first step to real change.
PS: In Daily Kos, Mark Sumner criticizes Ross Douthat’s attempt to pooh-pooh Pikkety’s book.
As I’ve written before, I support paying college athletes in sports that produce multimillion dollar revenues for the schools and the NCAA. Today’s Chicago Sun-Times features an editorial by Salim Furth of the Heritage Foundation that also supports paying student-athletes. However, Furth suggests a different approach that would destroy college sports, a free market approach to paying players, a business model professional sports leagues no longer follow.
Furth begins his essay by affirming that a certain type of college athlete should be paid: “Division I football players are professionals. They are given room, board, and health care in exchange for their time, and served by tutors, coaches, and trainers. They are paid only if they work.” He goes on to say that under the current model “college football players earn little for their work, because the employers collude through the NCAA to cap wages.” Here I agree and disagree. I would say student athletes who receive scholarships in all Division I sports are compensated. Whether we call it pay or compensation, there is an exchange similar to employment. The second quibble I would have with Furth is that the NCAA colludes with the colleges to “cap wages.” No, the NCAA controls the student athlete’s ability to earn any income. Moreover, one of the players’ biggest complaints about the current system is that it does not cover injuries that often impact their lives long after their college careers are done.
Where Furth and I strongly disagree, however, is over the issue of how students should be compensated. Under a union model, compensation would be negotiated for groups, not individuals. Furth advocates a system where players can “reap the rewards of their own talents and labor.” Each player would bargain with a university and be paid as an individual. Professional sports leagues found two problems with this approach in the era of free agency. First, player salaries rose at a pace that threatened the survival of teams and leagues. Every sports has introduced some mechanism to control the rise of player salaries. In a related concern, every league wants competition. If the same team wins again and again, interest in a sport wanes. Large market teams often dominant. Without caps, luxury taxes, and drafts for new players, only teams that generate the most revenue would be competitive.
Furth advocates a free market approach that sounds good on paper. Every person should be able to earn a wage that is commensurate to his or her skill and contribution to an employer’s success. This model has been tested in professional sports, and it has failed. It has also been tested in professions like law, where the ABA and law schools limit the pool of new applicants through admissions policies and standards for passing the bar exam.
The free market that Furth calls for creates a society of a few winners and many losers. Under the current system in college football, many of the same teams dominant year after year. Under Furth’s system, the teams that can pay the players most would be competitive year after year. A healthy sports league – and a healthy economy – needs balance, which can only come from some kind of regulation. I’m for compensating college athletes. But it must be done in a model that works for the players, schools, and the often ignored fans. The NCAA – or an organization like it – is needed to keep the system fair and honest. We can’t have a game without rules and referees.
Most clients who are considering career change start with two bad ideas. First, they assume they will have to go back to school. Second, they believe they will have to step down the career ladder back to entry level. Neither of these assumptions is necessarily true. If you can prove to a hiring manager that you can do the job, the experience and knowledge you have developed during your career will usually be enough to make a career change.
What would-be career changers too often ignore are transferable skills, which are skills that can be used on multiple jobs. Let me give you two examples from my recent projects.
Retail Manager to Human Resources: A client had extensive experience in retail management. Rather than talk about that industry, we focused on the skills he used that were related to HR: Onboarding, training, interviewing, and hiring. He completed certification in HR law and recruiting for diversity. This background, along with a good work history, enabled him to make the career transition he was seeking.
Event Management to Purchasing: Another client wants to move from an eight year career in planning and managing corporate events to purchasing. In her case, we focused on skills that included sourcing, negotiation, vendor relations, and logistics. In several cases, this client can give examples of how she reduced costs through her ability to negotiate price and terms. These skills will let her make the jump to a new career.
If you are considering changing careers, think about how you have developed and used transferable skills. It is very possible that you can pursue a career change right now. Show how you are able to do the new job, and be confident in your ability.