The ‘Double Whammy’ in Employment

v2_1pagerDo we, in America (and worldwide), have a people or a talent shortage? This is not a simple question to toss off now that baby boomers are slowly but surely exiting the work force and the fresh faces coming on board seem to only aspire to join the over-served and very crowded service economy. These same job seekers seem to ignore or may even deride the skilled trades sector — which, according to ManpowerGroup, has taken the No. 1 spot for U.S. jobs most in demand, for the fourth straight year. This year’s incoming college freshmen may want to take note of this.ManpowerGroup_jobdemandWhat the heck? Why is this even important to bring up? Just consider this. Manufacturing Institute (MI) predicts that 2 million factory jobs will go unfilled because of a shortage of manufacturing engineers and experienced skilled trades and production workers. MI did some math to support their assertion that effort should be made to address why there is a manufacturing skills shortage. They claim that every dollar spent in manufacturing adds $1.37 to the U.S. economy. Every 100 manufacturing jobs creates another 250 jobs in OTHER SECTORS. That, on its face, is an obvious benefit to our economy and our future.

Of course there are a host of related political issues and structural causes for this apparent mismatch of people and skills and this is not the forum for such analysis. But are you at all interested in going a little further in thinking on this subject? Then check out this Ticker Tape to read some more, not as market investment research but, perhaps, for the investment in your own career.

Date Your Job

This article, Uncertain About Hiring, Some Companies Try ‘Test Drives’,  by Sarah Max from the Small Business section of the New York Times, introduces what appears to be a growing trend for start-ups and small businesses and gaining traction with job seekers as well.

The fact of the matter is that the job seeking/hiring process is expensive in mind-share and time for all the stakeholders . So it seems to be such good, common sense, policy to put a ‘try before you buy’ period into the hiring practice of any company or as the article’s featured company put it, a ‘temp-to-perm’ hiring process. This gives both the candidate and the company the opportunity to learn whether it is a match made in employment heaven and can save a lot of headache and expense if it’s not. Dating the job first may save everyone a messy ending.

Dream On!

A lot of time, we like to post articles with tips and advice on how to succeed, or at least survive, in the job search. But sometimes you don’t need concrete advice. Sometimes you need a good pep talk. And for that, we’ll turn to Andrew WK.

Yes, that Andrew WK. As it turns out, his talents reach far beyond head-banging, partying hard, and composing thrashy rock songs that are as intense as they are fun. Mr. WK is also an excellent motivational speaker… or, motivational writer, in this case.

Just look at this tasty nugget:

…Nothing can hurt more than giving up and living with the knowledge that you abandoned hope… None of the worst potential outcomes of following what you love could ever be more painful than the empty life lived by the quitter, the one who gave up and spent the rest of their life convincing themselves they had to.

Okay, I’ll be honest. This post is just much about talking to myself as it is about sharing something inspirational. I’m about to go to graduate school to focus more on my own writing. It’s something I’ve known for certain I would do for several months, and something that I’ve been thinking about for several years, but now, two days from packing up my car and driving halfway across the country, it’s finally hit me: I’m actually doing this.

In many ways, it’s not logical. I had a job that I liked in the field I wanted to be in. It was totally fine, and had I not gotten into grad school, I probably would have kept at it and been content. But you don’t dream of doing something that is just “fine.” You don’t dream of something that just makes you “content.” You dream of doing something special. You dream of doing something altogether your own. And for better or for worse, a lot of the time you dream of something impractical.

Committing to doing something impractical feels weird. Right now, I’m thinking about how I won’t have as much money coming in, and not just while in school, but after probably too. I’m taking an index of the things I like that cost money – coffee, going out for drinks, meals, music, books, etc. – and realizing that I won’t be able to enjoy them as freely as before. But that’s okay, because as Mr. WK implies, a nice espresso drink or a good sandwich can’t possibly make up for the dissatisfaction I’d feel knowing that I’m not doing what I really want to be doing in life.

Still, the practical path’s undertow is strong. It pulls us at all times. It’s pulling me now, and it also pulled me when I got my first job out of college. I felt unhappy with where I was, and I started to think about what else I could do. I thought about teaching, about working in residential life at a college, things I had enjoyed when I did them during school or in the summer. But neither was my true passion. So, I kept at it. I worked my day job and when I got home, I wrote. I built up a little list of publications that I managed to parlay into a job as a copywriter.

And honestly, I thought that was my dream for a while. I thought making a living by writing in any way would be enough to sustain me while I worked on my own stuff on the side. But it wasn’t, so I’m going a step further. And that’s another important thing to know about dreams: they change. You realize things about yourself, you realize things about the world, and your focus shifts. Because of this, it’s important to check in with yourself at every turn. You need to know the difference between finding a new set of interests and settling for something because you’re scared of being impractical.

But look, I can go on and on and on and on about this, but I won’t (not more than I already have, at least). Just read Andrew WK’s post and get inspired to get what you want.

Cover Letters: Make Them You

typing the cover letter

Hey, wanna read something fun? Then check out this article full of quotes from cover letters! Wait, what’s wrong? That doesn’t sound fun? Well, trust me, it is. Because these aren’t just any cover letters. They’re cover letters from the likes of Eudora Welty, Hunter S. Thompson, and even Leonardo DaVinci. But the fact that I need to clarify that brings up the real issue here: cover letters, for the most part, are boring. They’re stilted. They’re dry. They’re impersonal. Heck, even as I was applying for writing jobs, I still wrote cover letters that had a pinch more personality than the stuff in my spam folder. Why? Because really putting yourself out there means taking a risk, and taking risks is well… risky. You don’t want to be yourself in your cover letter because what if your personality turns off a potential employer? Well then, good. That’s not someone you wanted to work for anyway. Here’s something to keep in mind as a job applicant: you can only go up. When you apply for Job X, you are Person Who Doesn’t Have Job X. If you put together a cover letter that genuinely reflects your personality and the hiring manager or whoever doesn’t like it, then you’re still Person Who Doesn’t Have Job X. Taking risks in the job application process can’t actually do you any damage. No one’s going to call you up and say, “I read your cover letter and I hated it. Therefore, not only will you not be getting the job, but you now have a gluten allergy.” Of course, I understand that not getting a job feels like a minus, especially if it’s a job you really want. You don’t feel like Person Who Doesn’t Have Job X. You feel like Person Who Tried To Get Job X And Failed. But that’s another reason to read this article. A lot of these people didn’t get the job that they were applying for, and guess what? They still went on to be hugely important cultural icons. But enough already! Head over toe Quartz and read the article, and ask yourself, how can you make your cover letter a little more you. (And for some extra fun, watch the video at the end.)

(photo by Flickr user Yosomono used under a Creative Commons License.)

Be Your Boss… Eventually

If you want the job done right, you do it yourself.

Sure, that’s a line mostly used by hokey on-screen mobsters, but there’s some truth in it. You know yourself better than you know anyone. If you have an idea for something, you don’t need to explain it to yourself because it’s all in YOUR head. Therefore, if you want to see your idea executed effectively, you shouldn’t leave it to other people. You need to be in charge.

You’ll find that this desire – to strike out on your own, to do your own thing, to make your own way in the world – only grows stronger when you’re stuck in front of a computer all day, clicking radio buttons and filling out spreadsheets. Every poor move your employer makes, every time you need to compromise your values, all of these things get filed away as evidence that you need to be your own boss.

But perhaps you don’t. Not yet, at least.

Being an entrepreneur is complicated. If you don’t believe me, just look at this article over on the Undercover Recruiter. Now, wanna know the bad news? What author Ken Sundheim presents there is really just the Cliff’s notes version. In reality, there could be a book about each subject he presents. That’s because having a great idea is one thing. Actually building a viable company is another thing entirely. After all, as the article points out: you can’t only look at things from an emotional prospective. You need to use logic, as well.

So don’t write your crummy job off just yet. Instead, learn from it. Watch what your company does. Look for the things you would improve and admit the things you’d do just the same. This is how you get the knowledge you need to become an entrepreneur. Without this, you’re putting your vision in danger; if you get too idealistic, you run the risk of hitting a wall and compromising just as much you might when you’re working for someone else. The only difference? This time there’s no one to blame but yourself.

So again, read the article from The Undercover Recruiter and ask yourself: how can you learn how to be your own boss by working for your boss?

Bad Habits, Inefficient Processes: You Just Gotta Ask

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Two years in a row, I worked at a boarding school summer program teaching middle school kids creative writing and journalism. What does middle school journalism entail? Some hard hitting articles about foreign policy? An opinion piece about the laziness of modern art? In depth interviews with professional athletes? No. Mostly, the students wrote silly little articles about activities, profiled teachers, and took pictures. It was really fun.

As the teacher, I was in charge of readying their work for publication (i.e. – printing it out on one of the computer lab printers). One time, during this process, I opened a document to find one of the students had written her article in two columns. Seeing as the paper printed in a double-column format, she probably thought she was doing me a favor. But he wasn’t. Instead of setting the document up as a two column document, she had simply done it all with the space bar, so each line had words from each column. In other words I had to copy each line individually to paste it into the master doc instead of just selecting the whole thing.

Did she get in trouble for this? No. Of course not. But you might, if you made a similar mistake at your first job.

Now, this is just an illustrative example. I imagine if you’ve been through college, you have at least a vague understanding about how word processors work. But the danger of forming bad habits is still there.

What do I mean by “bad habit”? I mean a way of doing something that will later require undoing. Bad habits occur most often because of eagerness and pride. You get an assignment and you want to look competent so you go and do what you think you need to do, even though you’re not sure how. It’s the work equivalent of putting together exercise equipment based solely on the picture from the box, or guessing how to get somewhere because you see the building you’re trying to get to off in the distance. Does it feel good when you get it right? Sure. But it’s not worth the risk of getting it wrong.

Luckily there’s an easy way to avoid bad habits: asking questions. If someone gives you a project to work on, double-check to make sure you know how to do it. Don’t want to sound like you don’t know what you’re doing? That’s simple. Just be confident with your questions: no apologies, no vagueness, keep it specific. In other words, don’t say, “Wait, what? Sorry, how do I do that again?” Say instead, “Just so we’re clear, I do that by doing x, right?” You could also try and get your supervisor to show you how he or she does things, or better yet, have him or her to watch you do the first couple of steps yourself to make sure you’re on the right track.

This is the best way to do it: front-load your questions. You can also make a go at it and get your supervisor to check in somewhere along the way where it’s not to late to back-track a little if you’re doing something wrong. But while this might show more confidence, it presents a new danger: inefficient processes. Not as bad as a bad habit, an inefficient process gets the job done and gets it done right, but maybe isn’t the best, easiest way to do things. And to make matters worse, a supervisor who’s just looking at what you’ve done, not seeing how you’ve done, will have no idea, so you could end up doing things the “wrong” way for a while before you realize. Seeking feedback and advice when you’re just getting started on a project helps you avoid this.

So go ahead: ask questions. Ask them early, and ask them often. That might initially seem annoying, but trust me, it’s better than putting a lot of work into something that someone else needs to put a lot of work into fixing.

If you’re smart you’ll read this before your first day on the job.

When a guy starts out an article by immediately pointing out that he went to Harvard, I think, Oh man, I’m going to hate this. But then when he goes on to use this fact for the purpose of maximum self-deprecation, I can’t help but be pulled in. This is what happened with Tom Monahan’s LinkedIn post, If I Were 22: Embrace Your Ignorance.

The message here: you’re not as smart as you think you are when you’re 22 years old – and trust me, that’s true. Looking back on some of the “hilarious” and “ingenious” things I said and did in college or immediately following, I feel nothing but shame. But Monahan’s point is not to knock you down a peg. It’s to give a valuable piece of advice: use this time to learn.

You might think you know the best answer, or you might think it’s important to put forward all of your ideas but try to curb your enthusiasm.  The new kid might wind up learning a lot more by listening and by paying attention.  You might appear even smarter in silence.

But don’t take my word for it. Read the article. It’s really funny and chock-full of great advice.