Blog Archive - July 2015
Bloomberg is one of my favorite sources to learn about the economy and how it affects workers. Dan Moss, Bloomberg’s Executive Editor for Economy, has a short article on a good measure to understand how to gauge changes in hourly earnings. The Employment Cost Index (ECI) is a quarterly report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Moss, it “looks at how much employers are compensating the same position over a period of time. In other words, what is the pay of a builder, or plumber, or, God forbid, a journalist for a job over a period of time.” He says the number to watch is 2%, which is where the index has been stuck for a long time. Moss cites a forecast by Morgan Stanley that says the index will move to 2.6%, which he calls “encouraging.” I hope this is good news. In any case, it is good to have another tool to analyze what we are earning.
P.S. USA Today reported the latest ECI data, and the news was ugly. The second quarter increase was only 0.2%, "the slowest pace on record dating to the early 1980s." The article goes on to discuss how this lack of growth is odd given drops in unemployment. Employers should have to pay more to hire new employees and keep existing employees in a tight labor market. I will keep watching this topic and follow up with other news and views about how our very strange economy affects workers.
I talked with two clients recently who were hired to dream jobs. In both cases, the client hesitated before applying for the position. Steve wanted a position in Europe. However, his heart dropped when he saw the requirements: MBA and second language. Steve had a BA and only spoke English. Then he read the position again and felt that no one could be more qualified based on his experience and achievements. He took a chance and was rewarded with his dream job. Mary works in human services as a counselor. She's performed managerial duties, but never held the title of manager. We wrote her resume to emphasize her roles that required leadership and decision making. Again, Mary didn't think she'd get the job. She applied, went through four interviews, and received an offer. If you think you capable of doing a job, don't be afraid to apply. The trick to getting the job is to show how you are qualified. You need to do this in your resume and during interviews. Employers will look beyond their requirements if you show them why you're the right person. Don't be afraid to the chance. That's the only way to find your dream job.
Jim (not his real name) is a client who's having trouble with his job search. He graduated with a degree in Marketing in 1998 and worked in marketing positions for two large firms over the next ten years. In 2008, he was laid off with tens of thousands of other Americans. His job search did not go well. His mother had a contact that got Jim a job in customer service, a position he held for the next seven years. Now, he wants to look for work in marketing, not customer service. He has taken a part-time job in retail that will let him take his time and be selective in finding a position in the field he loves. The problem is his mom. She worked in customer service for 30 year and has broad industry contacts. She is pressuring Jim to take another call in a field he has no passion for. She says he needs to get a job as soon as possible. That advice is terrible. Jim's strengths are in marketing, and he enjoyed great success over his first 10 years in the field. I recommended that Jim does what he wants to do. The easiest job to get is often the worst one to take.
I often direct readers to Seth Godin’s blog. Godin has that rare skill of capturing complex ideas in clear, concise language. Recently, he hit another home run. Rather than think of our careers as a single calling, we should talk about “caring.” Godin says we care about many things, and those forces should drive how we work. I agree. Moreover, caring lets us balance our work and our non-work lives. If a person’s work keeps her from other things she cares about, she probably should look for a new job. A good salary and the recognition from co-workers or clients are great things. But if that’s all someone has, life is, that person's life is – literally – all work and no play.
On July 24, 1915, Western Electric, a company in suburban Chicago, held an outing for it workers. They were to be taken aboard the SS Eastland for a trip from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana. The boat never left the Chicago River. It was poorly engineered and began rock. Frightened passengers shifted to one side of the boat, and it capsized. Of the 2,500 passengers on board, 844 drowned, several complete families. In an editorial to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the this tragedy, the Chicago Sun-Times asked why this disaster never received the attention of the Titanic. It concluded that part of the reason is social class: "The Titanic carried many passengers in society's top tier, while most of the those who died in the Eastland were factory workers and their relatives, many of them immigrants." We value the lives more of the rich and famous. Robin Leach taught us that. Long before him, Edwin Arlington Robinson explored the same theme in his poem "Richard Cory." I've been to the section of Bohemian National Cemetery where several victims of the Eastland disaster are buried. It's shocking to look at gravestones and see the names of parents and children who all died on the same day. As the Sun-Times pointed out, their lives had value and their deaths were tragic. We need to remember that when we hear politicians demean those who work low wage jobs, including the immigrants who often do work we exceptional Americans refuse to do.
A headstone from Bohemian National Cemetery marking a couple who died on the Eastland:
When I’ve encountered a client who is stuck in her job search, the problem is almost always that she is stuck in the past. Rather than focusing on the future, such people frequently fixate on why they were let go from a job. For others, they are still employed at a bad job. They say they want something new, but do little to make it happen. Instead, they waste their time reliving what went wrong, imagining a world that will never be.
In a recent article in Psychology Today, Peg O’Connor, a professor of philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College, points to two words that kill our progress: “If only.” When we use those words, we’re getting lost in regrets rather than looking forward and working to make things better. O’Connor does say that some people can use this word to change their behaviors. However, for most people, “if only” is a waste of time and energy. It’s a much better strategy to set a goal for where you want to be and work hard to achieve that goal. As Satchel Paige put it, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”
Huffington Post reports that New York is making a big stride toward a state-wide minimum wage of $15 per hour for fast food workers. A panel set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a politician often criticized for not being liberal or progressive. It’s not clear if this measure would only apply to the fast food industry or if it would cover all industries. In any case, this is another example of politicians admitting that the current minimum wage is too low. America needs a raise, and hopefully leaders in New York will set a good example.
I was called recently by a client I’ll call Mary. Mary first worked with me over ten years ago when she first graduated from college with a degree in Marketing. Her first jobs focused on creative functions. Mary was talented and quickly became a manager. However, she also learned the ins and outs of how companies sell online. Two years ago Mary was promoted to Director of E commerce for a company that sells exclusively over the internet. Almost without knowing it, Mary changed careers.
Last week I talked with Mary about updating her resume. She knows her industry very well and decided to have three different version of the resume. In one, she will make a lateral move and pursue a position as Director of E commerce. To give herself more opportunities, Mary will also pursue positions as a Website Director, a position which would give her full responsibility for the website, not just E commerce. Finally, Mary also could use her technical skills as Director of Optimization, a position that focus on improving how customers move on a website, especially in getting them to purchase products instead of leaving them in the digital shopping cart.
Mary’s story is a good example of someone who is managing her career, not just looking for a job. She understands how technology has changed. By learning how the technology works, she has given herself more opportunities. Is there a similar opportunity in your industry? Have you learned new skills or mastered a new technology that opens new career paths?
Why do Germans tend to carry more cash in their pockets than people in the U.S.? This sounds like a weird question, but I think it says a lot about workers’ rights. An article from USA Today (via the Chicago Sun-Times) reports that the average German saves more than Americans, and they use credit cards less. The average German carries $123 in cash compared to $74 for Americans. Where 53% of Americans have credit cards only 32% of Germans use them. The article cites history as the cause of this difference: “Germany’s cash obsession is deeply rooted in the scare from its economic crisis between World War I and II.” Later, it claims, “After losing WWII and suffering massive destruction, Germans believed frugality and hard work would help them recover.”
I do not dispute these claims. But I think there maybe another important reason that Germans can pay cash and keep more of it in their pockets: They are better paid and have more rights as employees. According to a 2011 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, German workers earned $47.38 dollars per hour compared to $35.33 for the average American worker. German Workers also receive more vacation time (six week on the average) and more of a safety net during times of high unemployment. While historical factors may affect how Germans think about cash, they also have more of it and a better sense of job security. I think Americans also believe in hard work and frugality, but too many of them aren’t making enough money. America needs a raise.
A client recently told me about a job she left because of an abusive boss. I asked her if she had any documents to back up her side of the story. She reached in a folder and produced a series of emails in which her supervisor used demeaning language and made claims that my client could prove to be lies. Just as importantly, she had several performance reviews from previous managers that contradicted her current manager's claims. The same principle holds true for documenting positive incidents you can use to back up your success stories. Keep whatever impacts your professional reputation.
I need to add a warning to this advice. Some companies clearly state that you cannot copy/print such documents. If you try to use such documents in any kind of case against the company, there is a good chance that they could work against you. Worse still, the company could take action against you. What's an alternative if the company has such restrictions? Recruit co-workers and clients who will be a reference for new employers. Know your strengths and have a way to back them up.