For large numbers of Americans the economic situation today is worse than at any time since the Great Depression. Unemployment is high and benefits are disappearing. Income is 5 percent less than in 1999. The traditional storehouses of wealth and financial security have eroded as home values have fallen and pension savings pay little more than 0 percent interest.
“The number of people in poverty in 2009 is the largest number in the 51 years for which poverty estimates are available,” according to the Census Bureau.
Few examples better illustrate the changing times we face then the death of Kyle Willis. Mr. Willis, age 24, died from a tooth infection. Why? According to WLWT-TV in Cincinnati, the unemployed and uninsured father and aspiring paralegal could afford either pain medication or antibiotics — but not both. His face swollen, he got the pain medication. Meanwhile the infection spread to his brain.
In a rich country with massive investments in healthcare why should anyone have the dilemma faced by Mr. Willis?
Perhaps Mr. Willis and many other people would have better options had the country adopted the “Second Bill of Rights” proposed in 1944 by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Here’s what Roosevelt said as America fought wars in Europe and Asia:
The Second Bill of Rights
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens.
For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
Some will say that what Roosevelt proposed was simply a form of socialism or an outmoded notion of altruism the country can ill-afford, but you have to wonder what the daughter left behind by Mr. Willis will think when she grows up. Is the cost of treating a toothache really worth the loss of a parent?
I’m not sure what pills are used to treat depression, but they ought to be available to real estate buyers and sellers by the bucket. Real estate folks need such pharmaceutical assistance because for the past five years the news has been dominated by the worst financial conditions since the Great Depression, a time which despite the name was obviously not too wonderful. Thinking about real estate has been a downer, a great depression of another sort.
But, for the moment at least, put the pills away.
Now comes the latest edition of the Case-Shiller report which tells us that home prices were up a touch in April, the first time such positive results have been seen in eight months.
Is this the long-awaited ray of financial sunshine we would all like to see? It would be nice to say yes, economic redemption is here, but that’s not quite the case.
Troubled Bridge Over San Francisco Waters
More troubling is new construction at the San-Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Now you might wonder why a bridge project has anything to do with home prices or a national economic recovery. The answer goes like this: We cannot truly have higher home prices without more jobs and better wages — those are things you need before people can take out mortgages, pay higher prices or have more confidence in the economy.
The renewed San Francisco bridge is a $7.2 billion construction project which will feature a new span from San Francisco to Oakland. Spending so much money should be seen as a positive economic event because it employs companies and people, cash is spent and there is a multiplier effect which creates jobs and profits as well as a nice, shiny new bridge.
But there’s also a problem. A big part of the construction is taking place overseas. To be specific, large chunks of the bridge are being forged and fabricated in China and then shipped to the US for assembly.
Bridge managers say the foreign construction will save several hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s hardly a surprise given the wages paid to Chinese workers. The New York Times reports that “Pan Zhongwang, a 55-year-old steel polisher, is a typical Zhenhua worker. He arrives at 7 a.m. and leaves at 11 p.m., often working seven days a week. He lives in a company dorm and earns about $12 a day.” (see: Bridge Comes to San Francisco With a Made-in-China Label, June 26, 2011).
This happens a lot. According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. multinational corporations reduced domestic employment by “2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show. That’s a big switch from the 1990s, when they added jobs everywhere: 4.4 million in the U.S. and 2.7 million abroad.”
How can US workers compete with 75 cents an hour? What about Social Security and Medicare? And if US workers could somehow compete with 75 cents an hour, what would happen to our economy and our society? Would home prices hold up? Rental rates? Car prices? Would there be a middle class? Would we become a new and larger version of Haiti, a country with low taxes, minimum regulation, no social safety net and little public safety?
Not Made In America?
Brian A. Petersen, project director for the American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises joint venture that’s building the new span, told the Times that “I don’t think the U.S. fabrication industry could put a project like this together. Most U.S. companies don’t have these types of warehouses, equipment or the cash flow. The Chinese load the ships, and it’s their ships that deliver to our piers.”
Really? There’s no American company that can make bridge parts anymore? Who built the Golden Gate Bridge? Or the George Washington? Or the Verrazano? Are none of these companies and people left?
Well, certainly, there’s no American company that can pay someone 75 cents an hour.
We are apparently now dependent on China for steel parts, an industry the US once totally dominated. If you want to see how bad the situation is go to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. There the once-huge Bethlehem Steel plant has been turned into an arts center.
One hopes that the Case-Shiller findings for April are the start of something grand, a better economy and more jobs. But the awful truth is that as long as workers can be paid 75 cents an hour to do the work that Americans once did our economy is in terrible trouble.
Until the past few years foreclosures were rare. In fact, the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that in March 2005 just .44 percent of all loans were in the foreclosure process, a figure which grew almost seven-fold to 4.43 percent as of the third quarter of 2011.
For all the news about foreclosures, foreclosure prevention and loan modification programs, a basic reality is that when people lose their jobs their foreclosure alternatives narrow and in too many cases drop to zero.
As an example, look at the latest foreclosure modification plan. The Obama program is vastly better than what we have seen before, but to get help you have to qualify and one benchmark concerns income. Under the plan, says the Treasury Department, “the lender will have to first reduce interest rates on mortgages to a specified affordability level.” What is that level? The borrower’s monthly mortgage payment should be no greater than 38% of his or her income. Government help can then lower monthly payments to 31 percent of an individual’s gross monthly income.
The 38 percent and 31 percent standards will potentially help many people, but it won’t help those without work. The standard assumes that homeowners are employed or self-employed, that they have a stream of income.
But for growing numbers of Americans that’s not the case.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of November 2011 we had 13.3 million people who were officially unemployed. In addition, we had 8.5 million “involuntary part-time” workers, folks who couldn’t get full-time work and another 2.6 million were “marginally attached to the labor force” — these are individuals who wanted work and were available for work and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. Among the marginally attached, there were 1.1 “discouraged workers,” people not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.
So rather than 13.3 million people looking for work the real number is much bigger, say about 24.4 million. In a country with 153,950 million people in the labor force we’re talking about a very large percentage of the population which is either unemployed or underemployed.
What do job losses this mean in terms of foreclosures, local home values, tax collections and related issues? Think of unemployment numbers as a “leading indicator,” a hint of things to come unless we put more people back to work.
In the midst of a lousy job market there’s one sector of the economy that would really like to see your resume.
Uncle Sam is hiring civilian employees — and when the federal government hires it offers both good pay and great benefits. There are full and part-time jobs as well as jobs for entry-level workers and for experienced professionals. Oh, and to make things better, the application process is quick and easy, there’s no charge or fee and you can locate jobs online.
Living as I do outside Washington, I see people everyday who work for the government. The range of jobs is remarkable, from doctors (research at the FDA) and lawyers (pick any federal agency) to letter carriers and Park Service employees at the Antietam National Battlefield. There are jobs available from New York to California and everything in between — and the pay scale runs well into six figures for those with experience and training. In addition, of course, the benefits package is among the best available.
The great beauty of government jobs is this: The government has entered the modern era. You can post a resume online, search for a job online and even get a job which allows telecommuting.
How To Apply For A Government Job
“Many Federal agencies fill their jobs like private industry by allowing applicants to contact the agency directly for job information and application processing,” says the Office of Personnel Management. “But, while the process is similar, there are significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern Federal employment.
“Many years ago, applicants who passed the civil service test were placed on standing registers of eligibles maintained by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In addition, applicants had to complete a standard Federal employment application form, the SF-171, to apply for all jobs.
Now, however, the OPM no longer maintains registers of eligible job candidates.
- Applicants can mail, fax their resume, or apply online using their resume.
- An optional application for Federal Employment, the OF-612, is available for those who do not have a resume.
- Job seekers do not need a rating from OPM to enable them to apply for non-clerical vacancies.
- Only a few positions require a written test.
- The old SF-171 is obsolete.
Post A Government Resume
So how does the system work? In basic terms there are two steps required to get a government job interview.
First, you post your resume online. In fact, you can post up to five different resumes online, each oriented toward a different skill or job field. To post your resume you must first create an online account. This is done by going toUSAJobs.gov.
Once on the page you will see that creating an account is a two-minute job — name, address, citizenship and veteran’s status, if any.
Search Federal Job Listings
Second, the government has an online jobs search engine. In just a few minutes you can get search by agency, occupation and location; see featured jobs and employers; and find out which jobs are in demand.
To search for a federal job go to this link at USAJobs.gov. You can search by keyword, location, job category and salary range.
Types of Federal Jobs Online
There are two classes of jobs in the Federal Government:
Competitive Service jobs are under OPM’s jurisdiction. These jobs are subject to the civil service laws passed by Congress. These laws ensure that applicants and employees receive fair and equal treatment in the hiring process. They give selecting officials broad authority to review more than one applicant source before determining the best-qualified candidate based on job-related criteria. A basic principle of Federal employment is that all candidates must meet the qualification requirements for the position for which they receive an appointment.
Excepted Service agencies set their own qualification requirements. These agencies are not subject to the appointment, pay, and classification rules in Title 5, United States Code. However, they are subject to veterans’ preference. Some Federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), have only excepted service positions. Other agencies, may have some divisions or even specific jobs that may be excepted from civil service procedures. Positions may be in the excepted service by law, by executive order, or by action of OPM.
How Government Job Candidates Are Selected
In filling competitive service jobs, agencies can generally choose from among three groups of candidates:
1. A competitive list of eligibles. This record lists the applicants (in rank order) who meet the qualification requirements for a specific vacancy announcement.
2. A list of eligibles who have civil service status. This list consists of applicants who are eligible for noncompetitive movement within the competitive service. These individuals presently or previously served under career-type appointments in the competitive service. They are selected under agency merit promotion procedures and can receive an appointment by promotion, reassignment, transfer, or reinstatement.
3. A list of eligibles who qualify for a special noncompetitive appointing authority established by law or executive order. Examples of special noncompetitive appointing authorities include the Veterans’ Readjustment Appointment (VRA), the special authority for 30% or more disabled veterans, and the Peace Corps.
Agencies in the competitive service are required by law and OPM regulation to post vacancies with OPM whenever they are seeking candidates from outside their own workforce for positions lasting more than 120 days. (Agency, in this context, means the parent agency — i.e., Treasury, not the Internal Revenue Service.) These vacancies are posted on OPM’s USAJOBS and in America’s Job Bank (AJB). Excepted agencies are not required to post their job announcements in USAJOBS. To learn about their job opportunities you must go to their websites.
Getting a job is no easy matter in the current economy, and getting a good job — the job you want — is even harder. Imagine then when someone comes up with a new way to get employment that’s smart, quick, web-savvy and cheap. An idea you can copy.
Alex Brownstein wanted an advertising job in New York. As you can guess, New York is a tough market and as companies cut back many advertise less. So what’s an ad guy to do? Resumes are nice, friends in good places are important, knocking on doors can work in some fields but why not do what companies do when they have a product or service to sell?
Why not advertise? Online? Using Google’s AdWord program? A proven and hugely successful form of marketing.
What Brownstein did is this. He set up a Google account for free. He then selected “keywords.” When someone searched for his keywords, his ads would come up. Since individual names are not major advertising targets like terms such as “mortgage” or car,” the cost per click was small.
So far, so good. You get the idea that if you sell muffins your ad should come up when someone is looking for, well, muffins. What Brownstein did was to get the names of leading ad agency executives. Those names became his keywords. And, if it happens that an executive searches for himself or herself on Google, or perhaps someone who works for the exec, then guess which ad comes up?
What To Say
One Brownstein ad read this way for an ad exec named Ian Reichenthal:
Hey, Ian Reichanthal: Googling yourself is a lot of fun. Hiring me is fun, too.
The ad, of course, included a link to Brownstein’s website.
Brownstein reports that he posted ads for five executives and the results were that four called for a job interview, two offered him a job and he accepted one of the jobs that was offered.
To use the Brownstein strategy you first need a credible website. It need not be fancy or complex, but it should be a site which is suitable for jobs and employment, something that showcases you in the best possible light. One approach, without cost, would be to set up a free blog with WordPress or Blogger. Search around for a good theme, check your spelling and include your resume.
Or, if you want something unique, build a site such as ChefsOnTheRoad.com.
When you set up your AdWords account with Google pick the names of the executives for companies where you want to work.
Also, if you’re looking for one branch of a company in a particular area it may make sense to localize your ad for a given state, county or city.
A clever, innovative web presence can’t possibly hurt your job efforts. The cost might be about the expense of a fast-food dinner, but somehow the results are likely to be far more satisfying.
A resume without a cover letter is like a plane without wings, it just won’t fly.
If you have not previously been in the civilian workforce, if you are just finishing school or military service, then you will need to develop both a resume and a first cover letter.
Why You Need A Cover Letter
The purpose of a resume is to provide a brief, accurate and dull accounting of dates, accomplishments and references, a checklist to date of who you are and what you’ve been doing.
That’s fine and appropriate, and it’s also necessary because resumes are important to employers. Resumes provide a way to quickly sort through job candidates, to narrow the field.
You want to be part of that smaller group of candidates — but you also want to shine.
A resume is incomplete. It tells us something about you in a historical sense, but it doesn’t say much about interests, values, motivations or perspectives. It doesn’t say why you want the job or why you’re better than the next person. If a resume by itself gets you an interview that’s great, but that’s not enough.
In a tough, competitive world you have to stand out. As adults we keep score and there are penalties for not competing. Going for a job is not the time to be shy, embarrassed, uncertain or unsure. While a resume documents your details, a cover letter let’s you shine.
How To Write A First Cover Letter
Step 1: Find the right person to contact. The right person may be someone in human resources, a company official or the supervisor who is looking for a new employee. No matter. You have to get the right name with the right spelling. You need the right address including the correct ZIP code.
If you know the person to contact, so much the better. You can often check names and spelling online. With big companies, the company operator (dial “0″ if there’s a phone tree) can often be helpful.
In other cases you can call the company and simply ask for the name of the person who heads human resources. Then call back and ask for the individual’s mailing address — remember, it may be different than the company’s main office or work site.
Be aware that in some cases companies do not want to give out specific names. The reasons usually concerns privacy and security. This is a problem in the sense that you do not want to send a letter to a blind address if it can be avoided. The solution is to call the human resources office and ask if you can address your letter to a specific individual — sometimes staff members will be helpful. Alternatively, you can try the back door and look up the human relations department online to see if any names show up. If yes, call the company and ask if Smith still works there. If the name is complex, ask how to spell it.
Step 2: Educate yourself. Find out about the company with an online search. What are their latest products and services? Where do they have offices and facilities? What does their web site say about them and their self-perceptions? Do they have interests in charities? Local community events? A unique tradition?
Step 3: Once you have a name you then need to write a letter with a proper business format. The attached PDF shows how a model cover letter should be written and organized.
Normally you want to use only one page for a first cover letter. At the top of the letter you want your contact information, the date, the recipient’s contact information and the salutation (Dear…).
Step 4: Once the format is set up you then want to write the body of your letter. In writing this material remember these rules:
- Write in sentences and paragraphs with proper spelling and grammar.
- Write short sentences and paragraphs, otherwise the page will be a huge gray blur that’s uninviting and difficult to read.
- Write in simple language with words that most people use in everyday conversation. Example: Don’t say that all real estate is nonhomogeneicwhen you mean that all real estate is different. Both expressions are correct, but the first term is ridiculous.
- Avoid clichés. No one “gives 110 percent.” Why? No one has 110 percent to give. And, no, nobody cares whether or not you can get your “arms around the problem.”
- Try not to use the same word twice in a sentence. If you need an alternative, try Thesaurus.com
A typical body for a first cover letter might look like this:
I am now completing my business degree from Jones University (or finishing my tour of duty with the United States Army, or completing my technical training, etc.) and in the process of looking for my first job. While I was in school (or the service, etc.) I had an opportunity to consider many fields and professions, but what interested me most was the combination of technology and sales (or healthcare, or teaching, or accounting, or engineering, etc.)
In researching career options on the Internet, I discovered that Smith Technology and Logistics has an innovative sales program. I also learned that your company is both growing and well-regarded, and that your new product line for the airline industry has received widespread and positive reviews.
By way of background, I expect to graduate (complete my tour of duty, etc.) on July 15th. I have worked as a sales intern with a local company, Blatchford, Inc., and I have also worked in the college admissions office. During the summers I worked at a local bakery selling an assortment of store goods, interacting with customers and operating a cash register.
I am a graduate of the John F Kennedy High School in Glompus, NY and its Leadership Training Institute. In high school I was a member of the National Honor Society and participated in more than 500 hours of community service.
Thank you for your attention and for taking the time to consider this letter. I can be reached by cell phone (240-555-5555 ) or by e-mail at email@example.com. My resume is attached for your records.
I look forward to hearing from you and would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss any position which might be available.
Peter G. Miller
Notice that the model letter does not mention any particular job or specific salary. Instead, it gives the writer — and the employer — some wiggle room, some things to discuss once everyone has a better chance to know one another.
Also, the letter functions as a quickie bio. It tells where the writer is today, when the writer will graduate or leave the service, mentions some work history and discusses the recipient’s company in positive terms.
Step 5: Once you have your letter written, you want to use a spell checker to assure that everything is properly spelled. Then you want to print out your letter and read it out loud.
Does the letter sound like something a national television anchor might say? Where is the wording rough? Where can sentences be improved? Are there better words to include.
Rewrite and rewrite you letter until it sparkles and says exactly what you want to say. Put in the time to make it right.
Once your draft is complete then ask other people to read it — out loud. Can they read it easily? Does everything sound right?
Make your corrections and repeat Step 5. Remember the goal here is not to hurry, it’s to market yourself in the best way possible.
When you’re satisfied with your first cover letter be sure to again spell check the material to assure that it’s right.
That’s it. You now have your first cover letter. Good hunting.
Here’s a model cover letter which may show some ideas.
No resume is easier to write than the first one — and no resume is harder to write than that first specimen.
A first resume is easy to write because there’s very little to note. You don’t yet have a work history, or much of a work history.
On the other hand, a resume can be enormously difficult to write because you not only want a job, you also want an opportunity. Unfortunately, a lot of people also want that same opportunity for the position you covet and some of them may well be better qualified than you.
A properly-written and packaged resume is a chance to break new ground, to stand out, to get ahead. Here’s how to do it.
Resume Writing: The Basic Steps
Step 1: The absolute #1 goal of any resume is to have employers get back in touch. For that reason the top of the resume should include your contact information in clear and concise language.
Step 2: You could, if you want, include your age, marital status and the number of children you have, if any. However, it is against federal law to base employment decisions on such issues as age, gender, race, religion, national origin, marital status, pregnancy, possible military deployment or disability. There are also various standards at the state, county and city levels which may prevent employers from denying you a job because of such benchmarks as sexual preference or political affiliation.
Step 3: What is your work experience to date? This may seem strange given that this is your first resume, but it’s possible that you have experience on a part-time basis, during summers or with internships. Military experience is surely an occupational pursuit and an index of accomplishment. The federal government, by law, gives preference to veterans in certain situations.
Important: Never lie on a resume. Factual misstatements can be grounds for instant and immediate dismissal. Never claim to have a degree if it’s not true. Never claim veteran’s status if it’s not true. Always expect employers to verify every claim you make — and be prepared to prove each and every one.
Step 4: What is your educational status? As this is your first resume it makes sense to list high school, college and technical training. Future resumes will gradually drop off the older and less important references.
Step 5: What are your honors and accomplishments? Everything counts, from becoming an Eagle Scout to being in the high school band or on the football team.
Step 6: Include your references here. Important: Contact proposed referencesbefore using individual names so folks won’t be surprised when they get a call asking about you.
Good reference sources include local doctors you use, friends of the family, military advisers and college professors.
Alternatively, you may wish to simply state that “References Are Available Upon Request.” In this case, have references prepared and ready to respond to employer inquiries.
Step 7: Design your resume so that it’s easy to read. Use a spell checker repeatedly to assure that your words are properly spelled. Read your resume out loud to find typos and poor wording. Have someone else read your resume out loud. Be sure it’s easy to read and fully understandable.
When you print your resume use a paper with a heavy stock. Stationery stores sell such paper and envelopes in small quantities and at little cost. Plain white paper is fine, though an ivory color is also acceptable. Pink, yellow, blue, dark gray, puce, etc., are out.
To see how a model first resume might look, please look at this sample resume.
No doubt people still send resumes through the postal system, but in today’s world of email and websites the odds are that many jobs will require you to send a resume electronically.
So, no problem, no fuss, no cost. Here’s how:
- Go to OpenOffice.org
- Download the latest edition of Open Office. It’s free, it’s powerful and it includes programs for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, etc.
- Write your resume.
- Save it in a “doc” format using the Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP setting. (When you press “save as” a box will come up — look at the “save as type” options.)
- Once the resume is saved, look at the top of the screen. Just below “View” and “Insert” you will see a little icon with a touch of red. Press the icon and your resume will be saved as a PDF document.
- To submit electronically you typically must attach your resume to email or upload it to an employer’s job page.
Why send documents in a PDF format? The formatting will be preserved and everyone can open PDF documents, so there are no software or program issues. Of course, if an employer specifies that they want resumes in a “doc” format that’s fine — you also have the resume in that format as well.
Be certain that as you update your resume that you also save it again as a PDF file with each revision.
Pink slips are becoming more common around the country but here’s a great oddity: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hourly wages rose in 2011.
Huh? If people are losing their jobs don’t employers have the upper hand? Can’t they slash wages at will? After all, with rising unemployment levels who wants to lose their job in today’s economy?
It turns out that workers have more leverage then you might expect — and it also turns out that employers are not so dumb.
Imagine that you have a company with 200 employees. Times are hard and management must lay-off 10 people. That’s a five-percent staff cut. As well, the employer could also drop wages and benefits for those who remain — but doesn’t.
Why don’t wages for the remaining employees fall?
If wages fall the best workers will go elsewhere. They have the skills, experience and training to instantly get jobs. Notice that the unemployment rate is never 100 percent, there’s always a market for the best people.
If the best employees go elsewhere what happens to the employer? Who are the employees that remain? Soon quality and production fall, equipment needs more maintenance, deadlines are not met, sales fall off and customers go elsewhere.
There is however, an alternative for the employer. Instead of laying off 10 people and leaving them with no income, a smarter policy would be to go to the workers and offer them a vote: If you each can accept a 5-percent pay cut no one has to be fired. So we want to know what everyone prefers: unemployment for some or small payroll reductions for everyone? In either case, managers will agree to a 10 percent reduction in their basic pay.
Now, suddenly, it’s not workers versus management or workers versus workers. The necessary goal of lower costs can be achieved in a way which represents the least pain and dislocation to everyone.
Question: I have an opportunity to get a new job in a new field. The employer wants me to train and try out for three days. The catch? I won’t be paid for the three days. Is this fair?
Answer: I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, you’re putting in time and the result of your labor will hopefully bring some income to your would-be employer.
But you’re not free labor. The employer is training you with the idea that if you have basic skills and abilities you can then work on a paying basis. The employer has real costs in terms of time, training, a trainer, use of the employer’s facilities, etc.
More importantly, three days of lost labor for you is cheap if it means the employer is acting in good faith and you have a realistic shot at getting a job. In effect, it’s an investment of sorts to get you started.
Consider the alternative: Imagine if you balk about the three days and the employer gets someone else. You now have no job and no prospects for a job you presumably wanted — and no income.
Even when you’re hired on a paying basis the fact that you’re in a new field and new to the company means that initially the employer is going to have to train and educate you, perhaps for weeks and months. There’s an argument to be made that even at an entry-level wage you’re not actually a paying proposition for the employer until you can bring in business or do required work with the skill level of an experience person.
The view from here: Don’t worry about the three days. Grab the days and the opportunity they represent. Do the best you possibly can, make the employer feel good about you and nail down a job.
Every so often I speak with someone who’s having a hard time at work. Sure the pay is okay and the benefits exist, but lately the boss is a bastard, the schedule is a mess and no one appreciates them. I want to quit and I want to quit now, they say.
I listen to this and my thought is: You’re kidding. Suck it up and look at how the world really works.
First, you have a job and you have benefits. At a time when the rate of unemployment is rising and some very good people have been forced to take some awfully bad jobs, you have a job and you have benefits. Even worse, some very good people can’t get any jobs at all.
Second, if you think this job is a mess then consider the alternatives. You just don’t know that the next job will be any better — or that there will quickly and easily be a next job.
Third, maybe you’re not seeing the whole picture. The boss is human, and just like you he has a bunch of problems and irritations at work and at home. He may be getting on you because he wants the best from you or because he doesn’t know how better to communicate. Notice that he “lately” has been difficult, meaning that he has the capacity to do better.
Fourth, there some bosses who think that yelling and screaming is good leadership. Maybe if they’re big and scary you’ll produce more. Maybe if they yell and scream they think they’re important and powerful. This is idiocy. If your boss yells and screams, don’t take it personally and don’t just quit. Instead, just find a different job — then exit. Try to give your boss as much notice as possible so he or she can find a replacement for you. Don’t say things you will regret and don’t be negative, there may come a time when it will be valuable to have a friend at the old workplace or to be on good terms with your old boss and co-workers.
Here are rules for the real world:
1. Never quit your job without a new and better position in hand. If you don’t follow this advice then you’ve made a mistake, you’ve traded down. In this economy you can’t leave your job without consequences. There might there not be another job, but if there is another job it may not be as good or it may represent a host of new and worse problems. It’s not just that the grass may incorrectly seem greener on the other side of the fence, even if it is greener it may quickly wilt and die.
2. You’re not the center of the universe. I know, I know, this seems unfair. Mom and dad liked you, your significant other thinks you’re great and golly you were so popular in high school but — sorry — everyone has their own problems. Sit back a moment and try to look at the world from the boss’s view. Maybe sales are down, maybe there have been complaints. Maybe something has happened at home that you don’t know about. If the boss has been a generally good guy or gal, think about how you can help them and make their lives easier.
3. You can be replaced. Never assume that the company or a client will fold if you walk out the door. The job you hate is coveted by others, people who don’t have a job, people who have housing and car payments to make. Believe me, they will be happy to take your leftovers and some of them are as good as you or me. A few might be better.
So buck up. Things could be worse. Start looking at the world as if the glass were half full, not half empty. And don’t give up because a job is imperfect. There are no perfect jobs — but a job with problems is much better than no job and a stack of unpaid bills.