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Gen X

May 14, 1999

You may not care how other people classify you and your colleagues, but the classifiers do care about you (or more exactly, what motivates you). Primarily, marketing manager want to know what will motivate you to buy their company's product, rather than someone else's wares.

This is why there is so much hype surrounding Gen X and its younger sister, Gen Y (alternatively referred to as Generation Next). Marketing decisions are made based on guesses as to what choices large aggregate groups will make. Typically these groups are bunched together by factors, interests, or values (e.g. ethnicity, income, age). Gen X'ers are now in their buying prime, the youngest just graduating from college and the oldest hitting their mid-thirties.

Unfortunately, they are only about half the size (40 million) of either the Baby Boom generation or Generation Next. This is certainly not their fault, but they may suffer from a lack of attention because of it. Policies (economic, social, and political) will tend to ignore their concerns while focusing on those of the age groups that immediately preceded and follows them.

If you're a Gen X'er, prepare for the cold hard fact that you're about to be written off by counselors, money managers, economists, and the whole marketing world. As a relatively underrepresented slice of the US demographic pie, Gen X is about to be crushed by the newest wave of US consuming power, Generation Next. Generation Next was not raised with Gen X's fears about Job security, a bankrupt Social Security System, Stock Market crashes, or not being able to end up better off than their parents were financially.

The good news?

Because of its relatively small size, Gen X is causing labor shortages throughout the Job Market. This is making it easier for Gen X'ers and late baby boomers to shift from one career to another, or negotiate from strength for better pay. As long as the US Economy roller coasters along without hitting 'the big dip', Employment opportunities will be there for industrious go-getters that upgrade both their Job and Jobhunting skills. Until…

Tomorrow: Generation Next

-Mark Poppen

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May 13, 1999

Today's riddle: You can dice them, slice them, or arrange them any way you like. What are they?

Age groupings, or to use the common vernacular, generations. I'm a member of the Baby Boom Generation, which is probably the most over-studied demographic group in the history of the US. Seventy-six million strong, our needs and desires have had an undue influence on Marketing Gurus for years, forcing out alternative options for those that are middle age challenged. We were born post WWII, between 1946 and 1964. Why end this grouping in 1964?

Because birth rates began dropping significantly beginning in 1965 and didn't bottom out and rebound a little until 1979. So demographers looking for patterns in the birth rate tea leaves have sectioned out people born between 1965 and 1979 and called them the 'Baby Busters', or Generation X. The years 1973-78 saw the worst of the birth rate decline, with twenty percent fewer births every year compared to the four million average yearly births during the Baby Boom.

And twenty-two years after the worst of the baby bust (1995-2001) unemployment has fallen to it's lowest level since the time when the first baby boomers hit the Job market nearly thirty years ago. Jobs and Unemployment statistics don't, however, exist in a vacuum. Bustling economies can absorb new workers at a rate that surpasses 'glitches' in birth rates. If the US economy is creating two million new Jobs every year, while shedding itself of one million old ones, that still leaves a net of one million new Jobs for everybody.

The problem with these statistics is what they leave out. While from a fairly reliable source, The National Center for Vital Statistics, (I learned at an early age to distrust government figures - casualty body counts from Vietnam indicated that the entire population of North Vietnam had been killed by US troops twice), a footnote indicates that they are NOT including births to nonresidents of the US, though the births occur here. So since 1970 they have been under-reporting births here by a rate which may make up most of the difference between the milder baby bust years and the baby boom years.

Again, why should you care?

Because the competition for Jobs over the term of you worklife may by about to heat up again. It is very possible that the next 'bust' in the US economy may coincide with the next large wave of new entrants to the workforce in a few years. At that point you'll need to have your networking connections solidly in place, and your skills portfolio upgraded to its highest possible educational level - or else.

-Mark Poppen

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Farewell Loyalty

May 12, 1999

Truth is the first casualty of War, and Loyalty is the first casualty of the Information Economy.

Estimates are that one out of every ten Employees has their Resume on the Net. This figure is going to skyrocket in the next five years, with some guesstimates ranging over 90%. Employee median tenure is hovering around three years at the National level, and dropping steadily. In effect, all Employees are becoming active Job candidates - their career success depends on it. Neither Employees nor Employers can afford the luxury of loyalty.

Your Employer will not be concerned that you are always on the lookout for a new Job, because they'll be keeping their eyes open for newer, better, & cheaper Employees to replace you. This means that sooner or later you will have a resume/portfolio/webpage that tells viewers who you are and what kinds of Jobs you are capable of performing. Presently the medium of choice is the online, or emailed, resume. Email resumes should include some of the following items:

Cover letter (with resume in the same file, or with resume as attachment)

Explanation of how and where you found out about the Job

On the Subject Line - Job Req number & Job Title

Follow up your emailed Resume/Cover Letter with a phone call within one week to check on the status of the Job. If it's been filled, you should see if they could give you a contact for your next target company. At the very least, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the next Job, since this one is a goner. Keep your focus on the real possibilities in your future, not 'the Job that got away'.

One of the problems with email resumes is the lack of standardization from one resume to another. Information that can be readily assimilated into a database and then extracted in some usable form is worth its weight in gold. If your resume gets mangled and turned into gobbledygook, then those pretty fonts aren't doing you a bit of good. To avoid these common pitfalls, use the following formatting tips from WebMonkey:

  • Using a standard word processing application, compose a resume as you normally would. Note that plain text format is very basic--it does not recognize formatting such as bullets, bold facing or italicized text. Consider using asterisks (*), plus symbols (+) and capital letters to achieve similar effects. In any case, make sure your resume is legible in the absence of these formatting features.
  • If the word processing application permits, set your margins at 0 and 65 characters (This means that your longest line, including spaces, exceeds 65 characters before wrapping to a new line.) This makes your resume easier to read and, just as importantly, safe to print.
  • Using the "Save" command (or, if you're converting a document from another format, the "Save As..." command), save your document as an ASCII or MS-DOS Text document. Remember to append the .txt extension on to the file name, e.g. "resume.txt"


-Mark Poppen

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References II

May 11, 1999

What if you didn't leave on good terms with your last Employer? Is there any way to find out if they're badmouthing you and your work for them? offers a for fee service that will find out what your former Boss is saying to your prospective Employers. Their fee ranges from $59 to $99 per reference checked, depending on whether you want their basic, professional, or executive service. They claim that "It is our experience, as a professional reference checking and employment verification firm, that 50% of our clients have lost job offers due to bad or mediocre references."

Of course, the people who use this service don't represent a random sample of Jobhunters - they are probably more likely (though not necessarily) to have left their Jobs without notice or with projects uncompleted, thus leaving their Employers with a bad taste in their mouth.

If you don't want to pay a fee to have a company perform reference checking for you, you can always do it yourself. If you have to talk to someone in a former company that will recognize your voice, ask a friend to pose as a reference checker for you and make a few phone calls. Give them a list of questions like this:

Did (insert name) work for you?

If yes, what dates did Employment cover?

What Job titles did this person hold while at your firm?

Would you rehire this person if the same position they performed for your firm became available?

Would you recommend this person for (insert desired Job title)?

Going much beyond questions like these will probably cause the Hiring Manager at your former firm to clam up. While good references are always best, at least make sure your references are no worse than ambiguous. Ugly references will kill your Job prospects, though they may make for a very juicy lawsuit!


-Mark Poppen

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References I

May 10, 1999

References come in three shapes - the good, the bad, and the ambiguous.

Lawsuits, and the threat thereof, are eliminating the first two categories and building the last one at a fairly fast pace. Employers are loath to say anything that might get them into trouble at a later date. Usually the biggest threat they face is from former Employees that are none too happy when they find out they lost out on a Job they really really needed because Former Boss said some rather unflattering things to Prospective Boss about Former Employee's lousy work habits.

Even glowing references can get Former Bosses into a world of trouble. There have been successful (and unsuccessful but costly) lawsuits brought by representatives of the New Boss after hiring someone that is recommended highly - and then they turn out to be incompetent. Employers are looking for a way out of this catch-22. One method you may have noticed affects when you ask your former, or soon to be former, boss to write you a letter of recommendation.

Employers are asking for a signed statement from Employees who want a letter of reference. In effect, these signed statements serve as a 'hold harmless' clause that, barring gross negligence or erroneous statements, protect Employers from being sued for their comments to Hiring Managers. Look for more and more former Employers to either refuse to comment on your work for them, or to reduce their comments to mean as little as possible. While having these glowing letters of recommendation from your previous places of Employment is certainly a feather in your Jobhunting cap, what happens when you suspect that one of your former Employers is sticking it to you, sullying your reputation and ruining your Job prospects?

See tomorrow's column for some answers to this problem.



-Mark Poppen

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