Career Calling

November 21, 2010

Mixed Job News, or Crazy Job News.

Filed under: Job Market Trends — claycerny @ 11:53 pm
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There are three stories about jobs in the Business section of today’s Chicago Tribune.  One story says that older workers are finding more part-time and temporary jobs because companies value their experience.  It also claims that they have skills that younger worker lack.  A second story reports that international students with MBAs are having a hard time finding jobs.  Many companies don’t want to go through the steps to provide these potential employees with H-1B visas.  U.S. companies are looking to American MBA students.  A third story says that undergraduate hiring is expected to be up 10% this year, which would be a good thing – if the forecast holds true.

I’m glad that the Tribune is focusing on jobs, but the news is so mixed that it’s hard to understand what they say about the broader employment picture.  If older workers are only getting temporary work, will that continue or lead to full time jobs?  Are American MBA students being hired more?  Is the 10% figure for undergrads significant?  These stories are interesting, but they don’t point toward any clear direction.  I believe the employment figure will turn around only if the manufacturing and service sectors pick up for a significant amount of time.  We haven’t seen that yet.

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Sabbath, November 21, 2010

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 11:08 pm
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[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on life’s intersection with work.]

What Do You Do?

We all ask the question; we all have had the question put to us:  What do you do?  We meet someone and need to learn their profession, their way of making a living.  We identify ourselves by what we do to make a living, not what we do with our lives.

In some ways, it’s just a social ice breaker.  We exchange basic information and then move on to other important topics – sports, reality TV, celebrity gossip.  It’s hard to go deeper on a first meeting.  We don’t want to be impolite or offend, which means topics like religion and politics are off the table. 

We also look to our work-selves as a way to avoid the deeper, harder to answer question:  Who are you?  That question asks us to go deeper.  It requires some bold declarations about ourselves.  To answer that question, we would have to look hard in the mirror and know ourselves.  We would have to risk that the person meeting us would be bored by who we are or would not care about what we care about most.

We create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that let our friends tell us what they are doing and thinking at any time of the day.  In our world of connections, do we consider why someone we care about is happy or miserable?  If the person is not a close relative or friend, we look the other way.  We don’t want to get involved.  It’s not our business. 

We are more than our jobs, but that’s the hard part to talk about or even think about.  Who are you?  Who do you want to be?  I can’t answer these, or maybe I’m just afraid to answer them.  In the essay “Experience,” Emerson spoke for most people when he wrote, “We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.” 

“What do you do?” is a question that lets us skate on many surfaces, but does it let us skate well?  Does it help us live well?

Success Stories and How to Tell Them

Filed under: Resume Writing — claycerny @ 1:50 am
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The holidays are a good time to look back and think about your professional achievements over the past 12 months.  This review is especially important in updating your resume and preparing to sell yourself at job interviews. 

Don’t think about the company or being on a team.  What did you do to help the company succeed?  What did you do that saved money or increased efficiency?  Take a few days to conduct a thorough review.  Invite a co-worker out for lunch or coffee and ask her to help you remember and articulate your success stories.

In presenting your achievements on a resume, list the result first whenever possible.  If it is appropriate, quantify the success with a number that will give weight to the achievement.  However, don’t put numbers in your resume just to have numbers.  Be sure that they are being used to sell the value you will bring to your next employer.

Here are a few samples of how success stories can be represented on a resume: 

•      Increased quality and response time by 15%-20%.

•      Selected to work on special projects that required strong organizational and research skills.

•      Recognized as Employee of the Month (#1 of 180 employees).

•      Exceeded sales quota by40%.

•      Mentored employees who took on higher level responsibilities in managerial and creative roles.

•      Increased sales from 25-30% each year.

•      Led the highest growing team in the division (each account executive earns more than $45,000 in  monthly profit).

Think about what the employer needs, not just accomplishments that make you proud.  You also need to practice telling stories in more detail than they are presented on your resume.  A good interviewer will ask you to explain how you achieved the success.  If you’re not prepared to go into more detail, a success story on a resume can be a trip line during an interview. 

You should conduct a review every year and try to have some current success stories on your resume.  If you don’t want to update your resume, at least keep a file with your success stories so it will be easier for you to remember them. You never know when you might have an opportunity to move up in your career.  Be prepared to tell your success stories and sell your value to potential employers.

Are Unions Surrendering or Surviving?

Filed under: Job Market Trends — claycerny @ 1:47 am
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The New York Times reports that many unions are agreeing to two tier contracts in which new employees start at lower wages.  Unions often made these agreements with companies that were in trouble and they were supposed to be short term.  Now, wolf-like managers are trying to make them permanent.

The article questions if the unions have surrendered by agreeing to this arrangement.  I tend to disagree.  As long as unions keep the right to collective bargaining, they will have the ability to win back concessions when the economy improves.  It’s not an ideal situation, especially for new employees.  However, if it is a tool unions can use to survive (especially when the Democrats are doing nothing to help labor), it will be a win in the long run.

November 20, 2010

Beware of Experts

Filed under: Job Market Trends — claycerny @ 12:08 am
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Some alleged experts give really bad advice.  Over the past week or so, I’ve heard from clients and seen in the media a much repeated story about companies not hiring people who are not currently employed.  Will some companies follow this hiring strategy?  Of course.  Will most employers follow it?  I don’t think so.  Let me explain why.

Put yourself in the employer’s position.  You can hire two equally talented candidates.  One is employed; the other is not.  Which candidate will be able to ask for a higher salary?  In this light, the unemployed candidate has the advantage because she will work at a lower wage.

There is a second reason this story fails the reality test.  Hiring is cyclical.  When demand for workers rises, employers who now say they only hire people with jobs will have to hire the unemployed.  They will have no choice – and no other candidates.  

The Internet and 24/7 media cycle give small stories too much power.  Look behind the experts’ words and ask if they make sense.  Test the claim.  Does it make sense?  In this case, the claim doesn’t make sense. Don’t believe all of the negative and scary stories that you hear.  Ask questions – test the experts.

November 18, 2010

Working Moms

Filed under: Economics — claycerny @ 11:47 pm
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Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that mothers take a heavier load in working in the home.  They are more likely to get up at night to deal with problems.  They spend 44 minutes having their sleep interrupted compared to 30 minutes for men.  Women will get up to deal with a baby’s needs three times more than men.  This report is based on a survey of 20,000 working parents between 2003-2007.

Try Using the Phone

Filed under: Job Search Strategies — claycerny @ 11:46 pm
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Over the past few months, I’ve worked with clients who have a limited number of employers.  For example, a paralegal only has so many law firms or an account manager in PR can only apply to so many agencies.  What is the best way for them to look for work?  It’s not the Internet; it’s the telephone.

I recommend finding a full list of potential employers and making phone calls.  Introduce yourself and ask if the company has an opening in your area.  If the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know, ask to be transferred to HR.  Using the phone, you will contact more employers faster and more efficiently than you can using online resources.  Some companies might be rude to you or even hang up.  You can follow up with those companies in a day or two by using their website. 

Calling a company will also give you the opportunity to get the name of a contact, someone you can follow up with. Remember to be polite and professional at all times.

Help Wanted

Filed under: Commentary — claycerny @ 1:52 am
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I was walking near my office today when I noticed a sign in the window of a cell phone store: Employment Opportunities (inquire within).  In the old days, it would have been two words, three syllables: Help Wanted.

Other than one version being more wordy, what’s the difference?  Help Wanted implies that the employer needs help, a worker.  Employment Opportunities tries to sell the job as something more than what it is.  You’re not getting a job.  No, it’s an opportunity!  Usually, this means an opportunity to earn a low wage without benefits. 

We live in an age of inflated words and marketing buzz.  This sign follows that model.  It’s empty.  Help Wanted did the job very well.  It still does.  We need to see more of those signs.

November 17, 2010

“I Can’t.”

I met with a client yesterday.  He was very depressed about his job search.  In the end, I couldn’t help this person because he was convinced that nothing could help him.  He had a foolproof formula for failure:

“I can’t” because

I’m too old

I’m overqualified

I’m underqualified

I don’t have the right kind of experience

I’ve been out of the field too long

I don’t have the right kind of computer skills

There are no jobs

Someone who says “I can’t” will always be correct.  Pessimism is powerful, and it guarantees failure.  I keep a quotation from Henry Ford posted in my office: “Whether you think you can or think you can, you’re right.”

I’m not claiming that a positive attitude solves all problems.  However, it is easier to deal with life’s problems and challenges if we believe we can solve them.  Negative people generally have no energy.  If they land a job interview, they impress the employer as someone who can’t do the job, someone who lacks motivation.  The optimist may not have all the answers.  She does have energy and hope, which are qualities that attract most people, including employers. 

We all get down sometimes, especially in an economy like this one.  Even so, we need to find some way to stay positive.  My advice is simple: Keep going forward.  Don’t look back.

November 16, 2010

10 People Give 15 Opinions

Filed under: Resume Writing — claycerny @ 1:18 am
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One of my clients once introduced me to a group of employees at a training session on resume writing by saying: “If you ask 10 people what they think of your resume, they will give you 15 opinions.”  As I’ve said in the past, there is only one rule in writing your resume: Don’t lie.  Everything else is a question of how to present yourself in the best light.

So how do you know which opinions to listen to?  Test the advice, especially if it is presented as a “rule.”  Ask the person who is advising you this simple question:  “Why?”  Does their answer show some clear purpose, or is it some version of “that’s the way it is done” or – worse still – “I saw that on the Internet.” (You can find anything on the Internet.)  If the answer sounds like garbage, ignore it. 

In the end, you will have to decide how to present yourself.  If you listen to everyone who gives you advice, you’ll never apply to any jobs.  Get focused, consider your options, and prepare a final version of your resume.  Listen to ideas, but in the end there is only one voice that matters – yours.  Keep it focused and strong.

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