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    Just Shut Up

    June 25, 1999

    We live in an enlightened age for workers - the unemployment rate is at an historic low, 'empowering' workers is all the rage, and everyone from top level managers on down are busy trying to open up 'the lines of communication'.

    While that all sounds great, if you buy in to it, remember this: caveat emptor is the rule of the day. The overall unemployment rate has absolutely nothing to do with your Jobsearch. What matters is whether you are unemployed - some bum in Ipswich getting a Job doesn't really help you any. And Unemployment rates are mostly make believe, the Department of Labor has been cooking the books for years by arbitrarily taking whole segments of the US population out of the counted workforce to make the numbers more palatable to voters.

    Managers will 'empower' workers only insofar as it serves their purposes for increased productivity. Anything beyond that smacks of altruism, and should be regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    And should you really tell your boss and colleagues exactly what you think? I don't think so, Lucy.

    Especially when someone at work has just criticized you. Rather than freely responding with the first thing that comes to mind, now is the time to realize that discretion is the better part of valor. How many times has someone jumped down your throat for something that you know isn't your fault, or even your responsibility? More times than you'd probably care to remember, I bet.

    This is one instance where your first gut reaction is most likely the wrong one. We all have built-in defense mechanisms that react before thoughtful consideration occurs. Words spoken in anger can create lasting workplace grudges that you may never overcome, and in the case of persnickety supervisors they are a potential kiss of death for career upward mobility. If you think before you speak, you have the opportunity to get to the root of the problem and solve it, rather than ruffle more feathers.

    Controlling your response puts you back in charge of the exchange, allowing you to guide it toward a win-win resolution that benefits both sides. Responding to criticism with short, non-defensive questions that enlarge the scope of the discussion can divert much of your anger and the potential hostility of your accuser. They could be criticizing you because they just caught flack for something, and they are passing the buck. Or they may be poised to respond to your predictably angry response with an increasingly nasty retort - you'll be better served by taking a moment to assess the situation and defusing the invitation to verbal brinkmanship.

    By responding to criticism and harsh words at work with requests for explanations, you are taking one of the most important steps toward learning how to survive office politics - shutting up when talking won't do you any good.

    -Mark Poppen

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    Teen Resources

    June 23, 1999

    Often I wish that as a teenager I had been exposed to more high tech learning opportunities. Mass-market computers were just coming on the scene, and I wouldn't actually use one until I was finishing college. Delaying my informal learning of word processing programs left me continually playing catch-up with my peers as the information age swept through the economy.

    Of course, today computer use is so ubiquitous that it takes some effort to be computer illiterate. Even so, if you know of teens (troubled or not) that have let their computers skills languish, the websites listed below can be a real benefit. These sites also encourage teens to be entrepreneurs and give substance to some of their business ideas. The vast majority of new Jobs are created by small businesses that employ less than 50 workers, and a substantial fraction of those Jobs are designed by the Employees themselves.

    NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) is a non-profit organization that helps teens develop business plans, and provides advice for starting and running small businesses

    KidsWay Inc. produces Young Entrepreneur Magazine, and has an assortment of classes, instruction booklets, and camps for budding entrepreneurs.

    The National Inventors Hall of Fame has over twenty five years under it's belt, offering awards, training, and camps for young inventors.

    Junior Achievement boasts over three million members/readers, and has been serving youth communities since the end of WWI. It pushes free enterprise on unsuspecting young people, hopefully without any serious, lasting negative effects.

    Enterprise for High School Students (415-896-0909) is a San Francisco non-profit organization that finds work for more than 2000 students every year in the Bay Area. Students with a minimum GPA of 2.0, and a teacher recommendation are eligible for Job workshops, career path advice, and real Jobs that usually pay somewhere in the $5-10/hr range.

    If you know of someone who might benefit from services like these, turn them on to local resources and organizations that are willing to help get them started in positions with some responsibility, pay, and potentially, upward mobility.

    -Mark Poppen

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    Carpe Diem

    June 22, 1999

    After weeks (or months!) of frustrating Jobhunting, I'm sure you're in no mood for glib responses to The Fundamental Question: How Do I Get A Job?

    The answer is easy, though executing the strategy isn't. It takes courage, determination, and the ability to really push yourself and your agenda. When someone tells you, "No, I don't have anything available at my firm." you shouldn't accept 'No' as an answer. Fine, they don't have any openings for you. Do they know of someone who does, or might be a good contact for you anyway?

    Employers (read Hiring Managers) within an industry are birds of a feather - they will have their own networks of professional contacts. Every time you talk to, meet with, and Interview a Hiring Manager you should have a secondary goal other than landing this particular Job. That goal is accessing at least one person in the Hiring Manager's Network. And you accomplish this by asking them, directly.

    Most Employees get their Jobs through Networking consistently, effectively, and over a substantial period of time. They built their work relationships to the level that they weren't afraid to call upon these acquaintances when they needed them to find a new Job, and use them as references to access Hiring Managers at their target companies.

    Even more importantly, successful Jobhunters Ask For The Job They Want. Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and Employers can't read your mind - you have to tell them what you want. I've talked to hundreds of Jobhunters that got depressed after getting a handful of rejection letters, which is a natural reaction. It is even more difficult to call Hiring Managers directly to ask for an Interview - the rejection is immediate and more personal. However, the direct approach by phone is also more likely to succeed - the Hiring Manager is hard pressed to turn down someone's live, eager request for an Interview (and the Job!).

    Resumes are easy to ignore - their feelings don't get hurt. If you have referenced your way in to a conversation with the Hiring Manager, then you'll have a decent chance to sell them on your abilities and suitability for the Job. If you have simply accessed the Hiring Manager by hook or by crook, you'll probably only have a minute or two to make your case - all you're trying to achieve with this method is to earn an Interview.

    The bottom line? It's your life, and if you want this to be your Job, you've got to seize it.

    -Mark Poppen

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    Temp Questions

    June 21, 1999

    If you've been looking for a Job for a few months without any luck, and the wolves are at the door, it may be time to seriously consider taking a temp Job.

    Let's face it - temp Jobs don't have a lot going for them. You are likely to work without benefits, have a harder time developing workplace relationships, and lack any real Job security. Nice, huh? But if you need money and your Jobsearch has stalled, temp Jobs may serve some of your immediate needs. Before you jump into one, there are a few questions to answer.

    • What are your minimum requirements for wages?
    • How far are you willing to travel for work?
    • Are you willing to work any hours, double shifts, and/or weekends?

    If you are using a temp agency, consider the following questions:

    • Do you have any relationship built up with either the Agency or particular staffers there? If you treat them as individuals they are more likely to think of as something more than just a resume on file.
    • What are the chances the temp Job will become permanent if things work out? It may be zero - is that acceptable? Past history between the company and Temp agency is a reasonably reliable indicator.
    • Will you have the opportunity to learn new skills or improve some of the old ones? Generally it is a good idea to let someone else pay for your training in a field that interests you. Better than you forking out the cash!

    Despite their drawbacks, Temp Jobs do have two great things to offer - it's work, and an opportunity to show your abilities to others. The best way to find work is through contacts made while working, and temping could be the path you've been looking for. Each Temp Job could lead you in the right direction, and the sum of several of them might add to your skills in a way that allows you to bypass the dreaded 'screen out' that has foiled your career search to date.

    -Mark Poppen

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