Thursday, August 27, 2015

Time For A Change

After a nearly two year hiatus, the writing bug has returned, and I am updating again. My current interest and focus is along the career counseling line, and I have chosen an easy topic to know come of the rust from my keyboard.

Time For A Change.

My grandfather worked for the Armco Steel Company for 44 years. My father was with Montgomery Ward for more than 35 years. Those days are gone, and job changes are a simple fact of our economy. Grandpa and Dad both built solid Blue Collar to Management careers. They moved up the ladder a rung at a time. Now, in many cases, you have to change ladders to get to the next rung. The question is “How do I know when it is time to change?”

First, you have lost your passion. Your productivity has faded over time, and things that once seemed to matter, well...not so much anymore. Sunday nights (or whenever you return after a day or two off) are terrible these days. Anticipation has turned to dread.

Another sign that it is time to leave is if the organization is in trouble. This trouble may be expressed through re-organizations, sudden management shifts, or the departure of co-workers. In the Armco and Montgomery Ward era, companies sometimes were much more loyal to their workers, and this was a two way street. In today's reality, for right or wrong, companies are willing to take whatever actions they feel are needed. This includes right-sizing, terminations, and other actions which employees might see ass adverse.

Life is change. This applies to companies as well. Has the organization taken a different ethical direction which does not fit your personal or professional beliefs? Has the workplace culture changed? Do you get far less feedback from your supervisor? Do you have a new supervisor? This last point is an important one, as very often, people work for managers less than the company.

Have your job duties and responsibilities changed? Have you become under-utilized and bored? Perhaps things have gone the other direction, and you are stressed. If you feel like you are doing the work of two people, or that your duties are irrelevant, it is time to change things.

The theme of this article is that change is important in the decision to stay with a company, or to leave. It has to be a manageable level of change, and shoud offer opportunity for personal and professional growth. Workers should have reasonable opportunity, without being forced to drink a firehose of constant change.

Regardless, if a job change is due, then, remember to not burn bridges, and if possible, to line up your next job beforeyou go.

Good luck and best wishes,


Sunday, August 11, 2013


In a job search, it is easy to become overly-focused upon job search techniques, crafting the 'perfect' resume, or polishing interview skills. While these are all important activities and skills, there is an underlying foundation that requires attention.

That foundation is persistence. I believe that this is one of the most difficult times to job search in the last 50 years. Beyond the economy, today's job seeker receives very little feedback. Previously, a job seeker would commonly go to a business, request a paper application, and turn it back in to a human being. They could get commentary and opinion about their job prospects by asking, or by looking at subtle cues like body language and tone of voice. Today, applications are submitted online, and the only responses are automatic emails. The job seeker is often stranded in an electronic desert.

This situation only enhances the need to be persistent in a job search. To do that, begin with the end in mind. Set a goal, and write it down. Take your larger goal, and break it into manageable parts. Commit to making steady, consistent progress, and don't forget to take (small) breaks along the way. Reward yourself when you complete a step.

Another important part of maintaining a persistent attitude is getting support from others. Let the appropriate people in your life know what your goals and plans are. Not only can they offer encouragement, they also provide accountability.

Now, everything will not always be smooth. Be prepared to be flexible, and remember that flexibility and stubbornness are two different things. Learn to adapt, and when you get knocked down, pick yourself up and start again. Analyze the problem, and adapt accordingly.

In conclusion, I suppose that my message is to set goals, work toward them consistently, and keep going. Winston Churchill was a rather determined an persistent person:

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...”

Friday, July 19, 2013

Four intangible factors in a job search

Motivation, supports, previous success, and perseverance.

Sometimes when people are in a job search, they get caught up in the mechanics of the task. Tangible items and activities, such as resumes, cover letters, and networking calls are easy to see. Further, it is deceptively easy to get caught up in doing only these activities. Before beginning a job search, and at times along the way, I often advise clients to step back a moment and think a bit deeper.

Human motivation is a very broad topic, and far exceeds the scope of this article. Here, I would like to ask the Reader to consider their their own motivations, and how deeply those motivations go. For example, I have worked with many job seekers who were motivated by external forces, such as losing their house or car. While desperation is bad in a job search, folks in this situation work hard to find a job because they have to.

In contrast, there are other job seekers who are looking for work because of internal factors. Perhaps they are financially comfortable, but would like to get out of the house, learn a new skill, or contribute their talents. These folks are motivated internally, and seek to gain a different kind of benefit from work.

The above examples are not an attempt to imply that motivation is an either/or situation. The motivations of most people are a mix of external and internal drivers. The key point is that the Job Seeker needs to understand what is driving them.

The second intangible factor is that of supports. Supports come in a wide variety of types, and for this discussion, I am going to talk a bit about the support of people. Networking contacts are one obvious source of supports, and make up about 60% of new hires.

However, there are other people who factor into this job search. A supportive spouse is an obvious support. What if the job seeker is a young man who just graduated high school, and has his first 'real' interview. The person who teaches him how to tie a tie is a support. Perhaps the key support is a friend or neighbor who drops by for a cup of coffee, and lifts your spirits when things feel rough. That's a support. Look for, and enlist the help of your supports.

Next, a history of success is helpful in a job search. If you have succeeded before, then you have proven your capability to do it again. Yes, things have changed. Technology is a major player in modern job searches, and this may be a shocking change for some. Many job seekers are used to a different approach-paper applications and handshakes. Believe it or not, you learned a specific set of skills back then, and you can learn a new set of skills now. At the end of the day, you did this before, and you can do it again. For the younger or inexperienced worker, I would like to add that precious success is helpful, but not required. Everyone started with no experience, and worked through a 'first time' (I meant job search, and I know what you are thinking, Reader).

Returning from the gutter to intangible job search factors, let's discuss perseverance for a moment. A jo search is actually a sales activity, at least at the front end. A quick version of the old Salesperson Story is in order. One day, a very successful, master Salesperson has a rookie shadowing him. They do a sales call, and the master Salesperson gets shot down. As they leave, the Rookie notices a certain spring in the step, and a smile from the master Salesperson. He asks why he is so happy, since he got shot down. The Master Salesperson replies “It takes about 100 'No' responses to make a sale. Now that that is out of the way, I am one closer to yes”.
So, let's fast forward a few decades to today. Many hiring processes are automated. Feedback is non-existent. Twenty years ago, even five years ago, if you interviewed and did not get the job, someone actually picked up a phone and told you so. You had an opportunity to ask them what they liked about you, and why you weren't hired. Those days are essentially gone.

What is the connection to perseverance? Many job seekers will place 100, 200, or more, online applications before they hear anything. You must be prepared to doggedly persevere. Develop the right sales pitch, and keep going.

In memory of a great Therapist and friend, Susan Miller, RIP.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Burned Out in the Social Services, part 2

I did an earlier article on burnout in the social services. I liked the topic, it is relevant, and I think I could do a better job at having a conversation about burnout. So, I thought I would try again.

Burnout is that job phenomenon that everyone faces, regardless of profession, sooner or later. It is different from a stress-induced problem, though we often try to apply stress management techniques. In the human services, I feel that Burnout is often caused by overwhelming demands combined with a perceived lack of resources and supports.

Why do I feel that way? Frankly, I've personally burned out, left the field for a few years, and returned stronger because of the experience. My burnout was because I let myself be put into a situation where I felt that I was on an island, without supports, but I maintained my internal desire to do more. To borrow a football term, “I out-kicked my coverage”. In football, the defenders get strung out, isolated and ineffective. For me, that meant that I wanted to do more, didn't have the needed supports, and became frustrated. If anger is an explosive emotion, frustration is a corrosive one.

Here are my signs of approaching burnout:
  • You have bad Sundays, dreading the return to work on Monday.
  • Your energy level is drained past the point where you know it is unhealthy.
  • You have two kinds of tasks-boring and unimportant OR overwhelming.
  • You become reactive (as opposed to proactive).
  • What you do doesn't seem to make a difference anymore.
  • You feel that don't have a professional support system (Boss, Co-worker, etc.)

This is the point in the article where the reader might expect some tips about handling stress at work. I am not including stress tips in this article. Stress and this 'burnout' phenomenon are distinctly different. Stress is generally about too much. Too many clients, too many regulations. Too much paperwork. Too many Bosses. All problems, and a different article.

Burnout is about emptiness. Not enough of something. I'm empty. I have no more to give. I have no help/support/direction. It used to never be about me, but now it is about just surviving to earn a paycheck. I used to be so caring/giving/motivated. Now I am empty, I have nothing left to give. I used to care, and worked harder/smarter/better. Now I am worthless to my clients.

What do you do about it? Be your own Client .
  • Recognize the problem.
  • Assess the situation.
  • Develop a plan of action.
  • Get help as needed.
  • Implement same.
  • Review progress.
  • Revise and adapt as you go.

Sound familiar, Social Services Worker? Yes, it is a Service Plan. Do one for yourself. In writing. Hold yourself accountable. Forgive yourself if you stumble along the way. Get help. Keep going.

You've helped hundred or thousands of people. Why not help yourself? You can do this.  We need YOU, and we need you to be healthy enough to keep helping others.  You can do this.  It can be better.

Good Luck and Best Wishes,


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Negotiate Offers Carefully

Negotiation is both an art and a science.  Some important factors which are crucial to this process are timing, research, and judgement.  A simple blog post cannot address these variables.  I am not an Attorney, nor am I a Financial Planner or a Certified Human Resources Professional.  I am just The Jobs Guy.  While I do have many years of experience helping thousands of people in their careers, my opinion and advice is meant to substitute for the advice from an Attorney, Financial Planner, Human Resource or any other type of relevant professional. 

Navigate the First Negotiation/Job Offer
At this point, you've assessed yourself, your interests, strengths and abilities. You used Imagine, Research and Ask to develop an effective Core Message. You presented a coherent, targeted self-marketing strategy to a specific group of companies and have succeeded in getting a job offer. Congratulations. Way to Go! Be excited, be happy, be proud, thump your chest and release a primal scream! ...Ummmm....slow down a second, they're still on the telephone or staring at you from across a conference table. To quote the first fictional robot to have an anxiety disorder, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!”

To deal with this job offer situation the best thing you can do is to remain calm (or at least calm-sounding). At the same time, you must convey enthusiasm. Smile, even if it is a telephone offer-they'll hear it in your voice. At this moment, you have three primary goals: 1. Get all of the details of their offer that you can. 2. Buy some time to think. 3. Set up a follow up meeting/contact to close the deal.

I recommend starting off by listening first. Get to a pen, crayon or computer as quickly as possible. This will undoubtedly be the moment that the pen is dry, the crayon needs peeled and the computer won't start. Hopefully you have prepared in advance. At any rate, listen carefully, get the details and then buy some time.

No immediate answers, ever. Immediate responses are how people wind up in high pressure time-share condo deals and quickie marriages in Las Vegas (Apologies to Time-Share Salespeople and Britney Spears). If this company really has gone through a process and selected you, they'll give you a day to “Sleep on it”, “Discuss it with my family”, or “ the match so that I can do the best job possible”. You need to show (or at least feign) interest so they don't simply check you off the list and proceed to Candidate B. Requesting 24 hours to consider a major decision which will impact your life, your family and your future is not unreasonable. If they are less than understanding about that point, maybe you are better off without them. You need a moment to think and they need to know that you are seriously considering them as well. Setting up a “hiring meeting” for the next day is one way to accomplish those goals.

Are there situations in which the company absolutely must have your answer right that minute? I suppose an oil well drilling company that needs you to put out their burning well might qualify. But, you'll know when you are in a special situation and the cost of your services should go up accordingly.

Regardless, let's assume that you have moved on to the hiring meeting to negotiate and finalize the details.Please note that some companies and positions do not negotiate. The position may be predefined because of union contracts, or it is an entry-level job and they do not need to negotiate with a potential employee. The following tips are only for clearly negotiable jobs.

The First One to Mention a Number Often Loses.
In a job involving negotiation, the work that you performed earlier (Imagine, Research, Ask) continues to pay off. Your research has probably given you a salary range, a reasonable guess at the benefits package, hours, duties and so forth.

In terms of the mechanics of this negotiation, the first one to mention a number loses. This is a critical point, because that establishes a baseline. If you have honestly reported your previous salary history (discussed elsewhere in this blog), they have a concept of your baseline. This is now problematical for you.

As an example, I once hired a highly competent professional who did not negotiate well. She was fabulous at her job and after going through the selection and hiring process, she was clearly the top candidate. Entering the negotiation, my concern was that I would not be able to afford her services. The total budget was only $40,000 in salary.

At the hiring meeting (third interview), we had a bit of thrust and parry. Initially, she wouldn't mention a number and as noted, I know better. So we stalled, until I asked “Candidly, what did you make at your last job?” She should have dodged or avoided (some people would lie, but that is not needed). But, she told me “$35,000.” In that instant, I 'won'.

My job was to conserve resources for the non-profit agency while attracting the best talent. When she mentioned $35,000, I knew I could succeed and make her happy at the same time. I told her the truth; “That's not the budgeted number for this position at this time.” She assumed our original budget was lower when it was really higher. So, I said “Let me talk to the CEO about this.” I walked out of the Board room and into the Boss' office. “I looked at him, and said “I am about to offer the best candidate $3,000 less than budgeted and make her happy. Are you in agreement?” Ten seconds later, I was back in the Board room and related “I talked to the CEO and I have his approval to offer you $37,000, based upon your previous salary history. Do you accept?” She saw the job as giving her a raise, did a great job for us for a long time and, up until now, never knew she could have made more money.

I know that some people are going to read the above vignette and think “Oh my. He is a Licensed Social Worker and he took advantage of that poor woman”. In my defense, this is a financial negotiation and can be a somewhat adversarial interaction. I was obligated to find the best solution possible, and I used that $3,000 toward helping people with disabilities to get jobs.

My employee failed herself because she did not do her research. This position was funded by a grant from another non-profit, as she was told. She could have emailed the organization that provided the funding and requested the budget forms as awarded. They would have emailed the actual budget to her. Heck, the project budget was listed on their website. Her failure to research was not my responsibility. My job was to get the best people available for the lowest price. I did that and used the savings to extend the mission of the grant. The HR Professional or Hiring Manager you will be negotiating with is in a similar position.

In my opinion, it is vaguely possible I have not quite beaten the salary negotiating point to death. First of all,be nice and be reasonable. I am not advocating playing hardball here. But this is a financial negotiation and it is important. Also, let the buyer beware. Companies might not always tell the absolute truth. YourResearch can help you judge this as well. At any rate, here are some phrases to help you avoid their attempts to nail you into a baseline.

When the employer asks something like “What do you expect to make?”:
-”What did the previous employee earn?” (The previous employee probably was there a while and got some raises. Starting at THEIR baseline might be good for you).
-”What is the typical salary range for the position?” (And if they give you a range, you are going to make a sour face and start working from the top).
-”Where do you expect most people to begin?” (Of course, you will be able to demonstrate that you are better than most people because of your Research and Core Message).
-”Given the lack of ______(tuition reimbursement, free childcare, carpooling, etc), what do you normally offer?” (Be careful not to sound too negative here).
-”When do you normally evaluate a new employee and adjust salary?” (Vaguely on topic and sets a table for an early employee evaluation and raise).
-”Is the commission structure cast in stone?” (For some sales positions, perhaps you can get an additional point or two).
-”Are there additional responsibilities I can start with, to demonstrate my value?” (Only vaguely on topic, but again setting the table for justifying a higher starting point for you).

And the list can go on longer than 'The Simpsons' on Fox. The point is to answer these questions with other questions. The first one to mention a number loses.

Now the baseline is set. Benefits can also become negotiating points. This applies to vacation time and other things you value. I once turned down a job for which I was desperate. I had spent 7 years getting the experience and education needed; they offered. I declined, citing the pay and my college tuition bill. They wanted me, honestly had no more cash and offered an enhanced package of benefits (start health insurance 1st day, gave me same vacation as 10th year seniority). I took the lower salary and enhanced benefits. I loved the job, enjoyed 4 weeks vacation each year busted my butt for them and my clients. As noted, I loved the job, and the extra time off gave me the energy to excel. I exceeded established goals regardless of the extra time away. And we both felt that we “won”. Done properly, negotiations can have a win/win outcome.

Your Job Offer, Part II
Different industries and occupations have their own way of dealing with a job offer. It is unlikely that the Manager at a fast food restaurant is going to send a registered letter on vellum parchment (Yes, the Author is aware of paper making...he has chosen to annoy the Book Binders and Grammar Nazis on purpose) for the person who changes the fryer grease. You did get a job description and specific offer letter after accepting their offer and before starting? I didn't think so. You got all excited and forgot to take care of business properly. It is human nature to get excited at these times and to forget to focus on the details.
Typical job offer elements often include date of offer/start date, salary/bonuses/stock options/other financial incentives, job title, benefits package. For professional positions, this is often sent as a hard copy letter from the personnel office.

Good luck and Best Wishes,


Monday, June 10, 2013

Follow up to 'The one thing you should never disclose to potential employer'.

Follow up to 'The one thing you should never disclose to potential employer'.

The previous post generated a lot of attention, and some questions. For those who did not read that article, the essence was “Don't disclose your current salary or salary history”. Here are the reasons.

The employer already knows the budget for the position and what they are willing to pay. Learning your minimum number gives them even greater leverage. Your salary is private information. Imagine meeting someone, having a coffee or two, and then they ask what you earn (and are offended if you ask them). Finally, it is irrelevant. If the job duties, hours, skills, experience, and such are worth an amount, then you should, in fairness, earn that amount.

This leaves the question “What do I do about this?”. First of all, you might choose to simply capitulate and go with the flow. The previous article laid out an example that demonstrates an impact greater than $200,000 for a mid-career 40 year old. However, not everyone is in a position to be 'different' in a job application process.

If you do decide that not disclosing your private information is best, talk openly and honestly with your next employer, and be ready to ask some questions of your own in response. “I feel that salary history is very personal, and it does not apply to this situation. If the position pays $10,000 or 10 million, and I am the right fit, and want to do the job for the salary offered, it doesn't matter...”

Here are some sample questions to indicate interest, and establish that everyone is somewhere in the appropriate salary range:

What is your normal range?
What did you pay the last person to do this job?
Based upon my experience, skills, and qualifications, what do you normally offer?

The idea here is to 'qualify' both the candidate and the company. “Oh the range is X to Y? That's fine with me, and I think my skill (or selling point) will show that I am a strong candidate”.

It is fair for an employer to know that you are a viable candidate for a position, and not just wasting their time. I am not suggesting that you should raise complete roadblocks, present as unreasonable, and disqualify yourself. Janitors typically make less than Engineers. A janitorial company should not have to bother with a candidate who insists on 'Engineer' pay. Likewise, a candidate should not have to tolerate a company that wants an Engineer's qualifications for the pay of a Janitor.

Likewise, a job seeker should not have to be manipulated or pressured into working for a salary far below their worth. Reasonably, the employer has a general idea of what you make anyway. If a company does not value you, and simply seeks to 'lowball' you, red flags should be raised. Is this company in financial trouble? Do they value their employees or are they just another cog in a machine? Is this company ethical, or just greedy? Is the bottom line all that matters?

To tie up a loose end, this 'divulge your salary history' inquisition starts with many online applications. The forms do not offer you a “I choose not to answer” button. Often, you must fill in an amount. My typical advice is to put in $1 per hour. Later, if they ask about it, you can explain that is is irrelevant, they are not hiring you for the job you already have, and (respectfully) what is the range of the current position?

Good Luck and Best Wishes,

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The one thing you should never disclose to a potential employer.

The one thing you should never disclose to a potential employer.

With automated technology, privacy concerns abound. Employers often force applicants to go through an online process, during the course of which they ask for information. Some of this information is reasonable, some is not, and some things, you just have no choice if you want to work there.

Asking your name, address and relevant work history is completely reasonable. However, employers also ask for things that are not reasonable. There are three common items which particularly stand out, in my opinion-Social Security Number, Driver's License/I.D. number, and current salary.

So, which ones to disclose? Well, for starters, the original Social Security Act specifically stated that this number is never to be used for identification purposes. You can take a moral and ethical stand, but you will lose. This fight was lost decades ago, in the days of our grandfathers. A wise person once advised me “pick the beaches you are willing to die fighting for”. This fight isn't worth it. Give them your Social, if you know it is a trusted site.

So what about the Driver's License or State I.D. Number? This is another fight you may as well abandon. Companies use this to verify your legal right to work, your credit history, and criminal history as well. At least these are rational, reasonable, and responsible things for a company to ask about. The fight isn't here either.

That leaves the one thing you should never disclose. Your current income/salary history. This is private information, and believe it or not, has nothing to do with any offer they may choose to make. Do they ask how much money you have in the bank (broke people steal)? Do they ask your exact birthdate (age discrimination)? How about sexual orientation (Spousal/partner benefits)? Preferred method of birth control, if any (Kids are expensive on health insurance)? Man or Woman (Lots of reasons they can't ask)? Marital Status (Single, young males are cheapest on health insurance)? Number of minor children (Parents miss a lot of work to care for sick kiddies)? Do they/can they ask?No, no, no, no, no, no and no. However, all of these things could affect your cost to them.

So why do they want to know your current income? Primarily so that they can screw you. Knowledge is power. They already know what the job is worth. They already know what the budget for the position is. Now all the employer needs is your minimum number.

Let's say that your current salary is $52,000 a year. The position that you are seeking is a significant boost, and has a budgeted cost and range at $55,000-$65,000 a year. If you tell them that you are currently earning $52k, they will offer you bottom of range ($55k). You will accept and be thrilled with the '$3,000 raise'.

Let's see what that '$3k raise' cost you. Assume a 40 year old who keeps this job until retirement at age 67. 27 years times $3,000 equals an impressive $81,000. If you add in an average of a 3% annual salary increase, you get $125,800.

However, the middle of the range in this example is $60,000, a reasonable offer if you only keep your private information private. That gives you an $8,000 'raise' annually. With the same 3% salary bumps, your increase would be $335,500. This is a difference of about $210,000.

The financial example above should demonstrate why you keep your current salary private. I should also note that this does not automatically make the person you are negotiating with evil or out to get you. Rather, that person has their own job to do, and an obligation to get the best possible talent for the lowest possible cost.

A future post will suggest some negotiating strategies.

Good Luck and best wishes,

Links to my work, “Beyond a Career Crisis”:

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