Posted: May 15, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I talked with a client for nearly an hour today.  She’s spent the last twenty years working in advertising.  However, she no longer wants to work in that industry, which now makes her feel disgusted (her word).  It’s time to move.  The problem: She doesn’t know where she wants to go.

We discussed her current emotions.  Again and again, she said that she felt stuck as if she were facing a wall that blocked her path.  I asked this question: What do we do about the wall?  In a case like this, my philosophy is to make the metaphor real.  What can one do about a wall?  There seems to be these options: go over it, go under it, go around it, punch a hole in it, or knock it down.

Rather than jump right into work related matters, the client and I discussed her hesitation and fears.  We also talked about what was most important to her: helping people.  My advice was to use this goal to get passed the wall.  I suggested finding a volunteer opportunity.  Of course, volunteering isn’t the same thing as getting a job.  It does help deal with the wall problem.  Once my client is active, she’ll regain self-worth and confidence.  She might find that helping people is very important and pursue a new line of work.  Or she might find that her old line of work doesn’t look too bad.

Almost every person faces such a wall at some point in his or her career.  We’re all open to fear and despair.  The real problem isn’t that emotion so much as the paralysis it can generate.  My solution is to find a way to be active and positive.  Volunteer.  Take a part time job.  Find a counselor who can offer specific strategies to move forward.  Don’t stand in front of the wall.  There a job and better life behind it waiting for you.

Posted: November 7, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

How can you improve a skills or gain experience in a time when it’s hard to find a job?  Volunteer.  Many organizations need volunteers, and they will let volunteers learn on the job, a luxury many companies cannot afford. According to a recent article in the New York Times, 41% of employers consider volunteer work as important as paid work.  20% of employers said volunteer experience was a factor in their hiring decisions. 

Be selective and strategic if you are volunteering to enhance your resume.  Be sure that you are going to develop skills that are relevant to the job you will be pursuing.  You will probably have to turn down some opportunities because they do not fit your goals. 

Once you are established in a volunteer position, keep track of your actions and accomplishments.  Build good relationships with your supervisors because they will be important  for job references.  You can also ask them to write recommendations on LinkedIn, which many employers now review as part of recruiting and employee background checks.

Will a volunteer position lead to a new job?  Not necessarily.  But it can help you develop skills and experience that smart employers will value.  Find a way to help yourself while you help others. It will look good on your resume.

Postscript: The Times article mentions VolunteerMatch as a website for people seeking volunteer opportunities.

Posted: December 19, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders work we do outside of our careers.]

The Work of Giving

Yesterday I carried a few bags of canned goods and gloves a few blocks south of my office and gave them to a group called Pack The Car.  Once a month a car is parked at a central location in Andersonville where neighbors can bring donations for the local food pantry, Care for Real.  The two young men collecting donations stood out in the cold.  They were friendly and grateful for the donation.  They gave in a way that is too often forgotten in our consumer-driven culture.  Their gift of selflessness (not the common selfishness) embodies the true spirit of the season.

Across the country, people volunteer every day to help those who do not have food.  This year volunteers at Care for Real worked an average of 900 hours a month helping people with food, clothing, and basic social services.  These volunteers, along with four paid staff, served over 4,400 families in 2010.  They did this under the burden of donations being down by almost 30%. Working with these limitations, the pantry still helps who comes to its door.

How big a problem is hunger in the U.S.?  According to Feeding America, nearly 15% of American families faced hunger in 2009 (the overall poverty rate was only slightly lower 14.3%).  Most of the people working in pantries and food kitchens are volunteers who give because they want to, because they feel a duty to help others.  They don’t want be to be hungry or ill clothed.  They sacrifice with no care about return or compensation.  That is the spirit of the season.  

Happy holidays.

Posted: December 1, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

Clients frequently list several volunteer and recreational activities on their resumes.  When I ask why they were included, the answer is almost always the same: “I want the employer to see me as a well-rounded person.”  That’s not what most employers are looking for.  They want someone who can fill an open position.  They want to know what you can do as an employee, not what you do during time you’re off the clock.

Does that mean you should never list recreational interests or volunteer activities?  No.  Include them if they are relevant or if they help the employer understand why you will do a good job.  For example, I have had several sales professionals who have completed marathons.  I included this information on their resume, but rather than calling it “activities,” I labeled it as “competition.”  Sales professionals need to be disciplined and competitive, so an employer would see this activity as a positive trait.

Similarly, younger professionals can often use volunteer activities to reflect leader activities that they haven’t performed in the work place.  Many clients have had the opportunity to manage teams, lead marketing projects, and plan fundraising campaigns.  If you are involved in activities that are relevant to the type of job you are seeking, frame volunteer activities so they show how you can contribute to an employer’s success. 

Use this question as a test: Is it relevant?  If the volunteer or recreational activity is relevant, include it on your resume in a way that shows how you will be a better employee.  Every element on your resume should work to the same end.  It should work to make potential employers want to talk to you and – hopefully – offer you a new job.

Posted: May 2, 2010
By: Clay Cerny

[On Sundays, Career Calling ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]

The Work of Living Long – and Well

Bill Moyers wrote an open letter recently to discuss his retirement from the long-running PBS program Bill Moyers Journal.  Moyers is now 76, so his retirement might seem natural.  That assumption would be wrong.  Moyers is leaving his program because “there are some things left to do that the deadlines and demands of a weekly broadcast don’t permit.”  His decision to leave a TV program that has existed (with sabbaticals) since 1971 has nothing to do with taking it easy. 

Moyers gives us another example of a world where people don’t stop living – or working – when they retire.  I belong to a local Kiwanis club in Chicago.  Several of our retired members are active in volunteer activities, often with several groups.  Ed volunteers as a reader at local schools.  Phyllis sings with Sweet Adelines, a group that performs at public events.  Gloria knits and served for several years on the board of a local food pantry.  Life doesn’t end with retirement, and these good people help others while staying vital and active.

The late Studs Terkel embodied a life lived long and well.  He never stopped working.  Terkel loved listening to people and writing their stories.  He even found time to write memoirs of his interesting life.  He’d frequently tell interviewers that he wanted his epitaph to be: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”  Similarly, the great coach John Wooden has produced several books – in his nineties!  While Wooden’s books touch many bases, his primary concern is leadership, bringing principles that made him a great basketball coach to all aspects of life. 

There was a time when retirement meant golf or shuffleboard.  Longer life spans and better medical care allow many seniors to live active lives into their eighties and nineties.  Moyers captures this spirit when he writes, “‘Time brings everything,” an ancient wise man said.  Including new beginnings.”  A young 76, Moyers is following his heart to pursue new beginnings.  What a lesson for those of us who are younger!  Happy Sabbath.

Posted: November 27, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Francine Knowles had another valuable article in yesterday’s Sun-Times.  The “Money” page’s main and more depressing story (also penned by Knowles) talked about the state’s high unemployment rate (No, I’m not going to repeat the number.  You are not a statistic.).  Wrapped inside that story was a little gem with a much more productive message:  “Get out of the house.”

Knowles quotes Judith DeVries, an executive coach at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, who urges job seeker to stay active and avoid the depression that comes from staying at home.  Another expert, Tom Gimbel, CEO of the LaSalle Network, recommends staying around positive people.  The experts suggested actions like making your own gifts, treating yourself (within reason), and not letting negative job market news get you down.  This advice is good, but we can take it farther.

Exercise.  Even if it is only to take a long walk every day and clear your head.

Cook more, or learn to cook.  We have to eat.  Cooking will let you save money and enjoy a new, challenging activity.

Volunteer.  There are organizations all over your community that need help.  Some volunteer activities could help in your job search.  Any kind of activity that you find fulfilling will help keep your outlook balanced.

Join a club that will let you meet new people.  You will approach you job search with a fresher perspective if you stay social and active.

Go to the library and take out a book you have always wanted to read.  Don’t get trapped looking at the same things on your computer screen.  You can also save money by borrowing videos and music from most libraries.

Be realistic about your job search, and keep moving – physically and mentally.

Posted: September 27, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

Last Friday I worked very hard and didn’t make a dime.  I spent 6 hours in front of a Jewel grocery store in Andersonville raising money for our local Kiwanis Club.  People were very generous, and several even thanked me for my efforts.

I wasn’t the only at work on our annual Peanut Day.  Several students from Senn High School and Loyola University solicited donations.  What is especially impressive about the efforts of the students from Senn is that they were doing this on a day when there was no school.  Kiwanis will use some of the money raised to support programs at Loyola’s Circle K and Senn’s Key Club, but the funds will also go to other projects like our reading program at local public schools and prizes for an annual 8th grade essay contest.

It is not easy to ask people for money when costs are up and jobs are hard to find.  It’s hard work – but it’s also good work because many people do give freely and in the best spirit of community.  At the end of the day, my feet hurt.  I didn’t care.  The good people who helped Kiwanis and the great students who volunteered reminded me that some work has a purpose that has nothing to do with getting a raise or a promotion.  As the credit card commercial says, the reward of good work is “priceless.”

Posted: August 29, 2009
By: Clay Cerny

CNN's Business unit has a brief (47 second) video that outlines what is needed to conduct a good job search. 

I have a slight disagreement with the first point:  volunteering.  It can help in some cases, but it is not essential.  For some  of my clients, it has even been a waste of time. 

Other than that quibble, this video offers solid advice.  Most importantly, that a job search takes time.  My advice to client is that most job searches average 3-6 months. 

Patience isn't a virtue.  Along with hard work, patience is a necessity.