Blog Archive - December 2014

Posted: December 31, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


One of my clients (We'll call her Mary) is applying for an internal promotion.  To complete the application, Mary needed to put together a portfolio that included her resume and a letter of intent.  Before sending the package, Mary called me and asked if she needed a cover letter.  At first, I said no.  Then Mary explained her reasoning.  She wanted to included a cover page that broke out what she was sending and a small expression of enthusiasm.  Then it hit me:  Mary wanted to take the extra step to stand out from her co-workers who are applying.  I loved the idea. She is showing that she wants the job.  There was no downside to doing this.  Either the person receiving the packet will be impressed or they will ignore the sheet.  If it makes an impression, a few minutes writing a cover sheet could make Mary stand out.  Whenever you can take such a step in a job search or any other type of communication, do it.  Show that you care.

Posted: December 30, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


I often praise the writing Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos because it offers a window to the world of lives of real workers. Today she writes about a teacher, Amy Murray, who has written an open letter to parents that gets at the heart of the challenges faced by educators. Murray asks parents to think about the students in her class who are not their children and understand their challenges. She outlines a range of factors that impact academic performance and classroom behavior.

As Clawson puts it, teachers face a tough “balancing act,” which we should remember whenever any critic of education rails against “bad teachers.” Teaching is not simply a matter of presenting a subject of knowledge that can be evaluated by tests. Now, more than ever before, teachers have to deal with factors that have nothing to do with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I urge you to read Amy Murray’s letter and judge for yourself.

Posted: December 26, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


If you are looking for a new job, you might want to consider how a company is rated by its current employers. Last month, The Chicago Tribune published its annual list of best places to work in metro Chicago. This list offers great information on small, medium, and large employers. I recommend that you follow these companies and jobs they have available. Salary is always an important factor, but it’s just as important to be at a place where workers are happy. Check out the Tribune’s list, and you might find an employer who will make your new year very happy.

Posted: December 24, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Walmart employees in 21 states have or will receive increases in pay because of changes in minimum wage laws. That sounds like good news. However according to a Reuters story reprinted in Huffington Post, other low wage workers will be moved into a single base rate. It appears that some will win while others will lose. We often focus on the minimum wage without considering those workers who make a few dollars more per hour, but still struggle to get by. We need to have a living wage as the base of a just society.



Posted: December 20, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Huffington Post reports* that hospitals are now part of the wage theft game. Many would assume that these are for-profit hospitals who only care about the bottom line. Instead, the culprits are not-for-profit hospitals, the kind that like to use words like care in their marketing. They’ve given a new twist to wage theft. Rather than cheat their own workers (which they may or may not do), they are garnishing the wages of low income workers who have no health insurance or insurance that does not cover all of the bills. Wage garnishment laws vary from state to state. Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, and Alabama are most lenient in enabling wages to be garnished.

Some might argue that this isn’t wage theft because the charges are legitimate. Not so fast. Not-for-profit hospitals agree to serve the poor as part of their corporate charter, which provide tax-exempt status. Instead, too many of these “caring” institutions charge higher fees to those without insurance and sue to take a large part of their wages. Again, no one is saying that patients shouldn’t pay all or part of what is owed. The problem is that large hospitals that are supposed to serve the poor seem to be going out of their way to punish that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

*The story was originally covered by NPR and Pro Publica.

Posted: December 15, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Here’s another sign of a changing – improving – job market: The experts are talking about how negotiate a starting salary or a raise. Much of the advice is good. However, I think any kind of negotiation with an employer can be broken down to two basic questions:


  1. What do you want?


  1. Why should your employer give it to you?


Too often we as employees are resentful of co-workers who work less and make more money. Or we tell ourselves that we are working that we deserve better pay because we are working so hard. These points may be true, but they won’t help you get a raise or better starting salary. Focus on two people: the person who can give you a raise and yourself.


First, know what you want. Here it is important to know how other employees are paid and how similar companies pay people in similar positions. If you don’t have this information, you can do research using online salary websites. The problems with these sites is that they make broad estimates. Salaries vary from region to region and company to company.


Establish a clear goal for negotiation and a salary range. If your currently making $50,000 and want a $3,000 raise, give yourself and your boss room to work. I’d recommend asking for a raise between $2,500 and $4,000. This range will let you negotiate up or you might get what you want with any kind of dickering. If you ask for $3,000, expect your employer to offer less.


While you think about what you want, you also need to put yourself in the employer’s place: Why do you deserve a raise? Think about what you have done over the last year. How have you contributed to the company? How have you made a difference? Make a list of your achievements, quantifying them if possible. Know you worth and be ready to help you employer understand why you deserve better pay. Keep your tone professional at all times. Focus on what you are doing for the company and what you expect in return.


Some employers are still very hesitant to give raises. They might offer a much lower number than you want or say they can give no raise at all. Just a few years ago, your options would have been limited. Now, the good news is that the job market has changed and hiring is up. If your current employer won’t give you the salary you want, it’s time to look for a new job with better pay or better working conditions. Know your value and find an employer who is smart enough to pay a fair wage and value your skill.

Posted: December 11, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Buzzfeed reports on an interview between Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times. The good news is that Blankfein recognizes the problem of inequality. The bad news is that he implies that it will get worse. He talks about a new economy that will employ labor in “new ways.” From capital’s perspective, that means the best return for investors, which has traditionally result in process improvements, automation, and offshoring. I’m not condemning Blankfein. As a leading investment banker, he is saying what he should. Working people and unions need to walk up to this reality, or the current good news on the job market will be temporary. We need a real workers’ bill of rights that provides realistic security for labor as well as capital.

Posted: December 10, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


Bloomberg reports that Congress has included a provision in the annual spending bill that could hurt people who receive pensions. The new law could impact as many as 1.5 million retirees and result in benefit reductions by as much as 50%. The reason, as always, is that the funds will not be able to pay promised benefits. The report does not examine why this problem exists.

Pensions were supposed to be funded and relatively secure. A loss of 50% sounds like the exact opposite of security. What happened to the money that workers invested? What happened to the employers’ contribution, which was supposed to be part of the employees’ compensation? Rather than investigate the problem and fix it, our good representatives in DC are do what they do best: Screwing working people.

Postscript:  I've heard radio reports today saying that some "liberal" Democrats and union officials support the new law because getting half a pension is better than getting no pension.  I wonder how legislators would feel if their pensions were cut, especially the double dippers who make $150,000 or more a year.  Why are so many people disgusted with politics?  This story is one good reason, especially when it comes with a bill that promised to backstop risky investments by our too big to fail banks.  The investor class is protected.  The working class -- let them eat . . . whatever they can find in a dumpster.

Posted: December 10, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


I was listening to sports radio the other day and heard a very interesting commercial.  A trucking company was recruiting new employees, which in itself is a good sign.  What was even more interesting was how they did it.  The biggest pitch in the ad was that the company offered union scale wages.  Our economy has been producing new jobs for the last 4-5 years.  The problem has been that these jobs often paid horrible wages.  Workers who kept their jobs received minimal or no raises.  Maybe the ice is breaking when it comes to wages.  Last month's job report included growth in higher paying types of jobs.  This could be a great time to ask for a raise or test the job market.

Posted: December 8, 2014
By: Clay Cerny


I’ve often cautioned readers about one size fits all rules. Too much career advice is based on the words always and never. Here’s another example: Stay at a job at least a year before leaving. In most cases, it’s good to do this. However, there are circumstances when we should leave a job as soon as possible.

Mark (not his real name) is a client who received an offer to work for a company everyone would recognize. During his interview, Mark felt uneasy about the person who would be his supervisor. He talked to his family about not taking the job. They told him that he had to take it because working at this company would look good on his resume.

Mark called me after working at his new job for only four months. In that time, his two co-workers had quit because they could not take the boss’s constant belittling and bullying. Both employees went to HR, but nothing was done to change the way they were treated. Mark was worried about how it would look if he left a job before completing at least a year. I told him that it would be a concern for some employers, but he had to weigh that concern against how he was being treated.

Why should anyone stay in such job? Mark’s challenge will be to explain why he is leaving so soon. We talked about how he can do that in a way that doesn’t bring up his boss or his problem with the job. We also discussed how he can present what he has accomplished in his short tenure. A good employer will look beyond how long Mark stayed at this job to see what he has accomplished at other jobs and in school. The worst thing Mark could do is stay in a job where he is exposed to unprofessional treatment. My advice: Why wait eight months? Start looking now.