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    October 22, 1999

    Feel like you're overworked sometimes?

    If you've got a Job, then you probably feel like you're working too much for one good reason - it's because you are. Total hours worked per year in some of the Industrialized Countries looks like this:

  • US 1966 hrs
  • Japan 1889
  • Britain 1731
  • France 1656
  • Germany 1574

    This means that, on average, Employees in the US work two weeks more every year than workers in Japan. And US Employees work five to ten weeks more every year than their counterparts in Britain, France, and Germany. Americans (and their Employers) are obsessed with work.

    These figures include all workers whether they are working full-time or part-time. And the averages may be underreported for the US, since we have the highest percentage of Women in the workforce. As Women have entered the workforce in greater numbers in the last thirty years, many of them are only working part-time and their number of hours of work every year brings down the total average for all workers.

    The average length of paid vacation in the US is only two weeks per year. Workers in Europe average six weeks of paid vacation every year. Many of these countries allow their Employees to take a full month off with pay every year. Not surprisingly productivity rates in Europe and Japan are higher than they are in the US.

    Now if you work in the US it is impossible to get an extra five weeks of vacation simply by saying, "my buddies in Europe get more time off". But consider an alternative - if you think you deserve a raise and know that it's not in the budget, ask for more time off. If you are a valuable worker, you'll stand a good chance of getting it. Time off doesn't really cost the company any money, and it's a safe bet that you're probably due a few weeks off anyway.

    It's sure a lot safer for your Employer to offer you a little extra time off rather than lose you to another company.

    -Mark Poppen

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    Ask Not, Get Not

    October 21, 1999

    Much of life is really this simple: If you don't ask for it, you probably won't get it. (Though asking for stuff generally gets you the same result!) Typically pay raises work this way. Employers tend to be the last ones to notice your hard work and reward it with pay increases without your helpful hints.

    Last week several readers wrote to say they were uncomfortable asking to talk to Employees who are currently performing their 'dream Job'. These are the very people you really need to talk to face to face. Known as Informational Interviews, this method can be a very useful tool for Jobhunters, on several different levels.

    Informational Interviews let you know right off the top if the type of Job you are considering might be a poor choice for you. Someone on the inside performing the work on a day in day out basis is the best source you're going to get to find out what the Job will really be like. And talking to several people performing the work at different companies will help ensure that you get a full range of perspectives on what the Job entails.

    Most people are flattered when someone else appreciates them and their work, and are willing to talk about what they do at their Job. Whether you call to ask someone to talk in their office, or take them out to lunch, remember that they are busy and respect their time concerns. Fifteen to thirty should be your maximum time limit, and don't extend you stay unless they make the offer first. You are gathering information, not asking for a Job at their company. The workplace is full of desperate Jobhunters who tried to trick their way into getting a Job by using Informational Interviews as a ploy just to access the Hiring Manager or Boss. This tactic really burns these people, so don't do it.

    Informational Interviews are best used as a means to build your network. After you have asked your contact questions about what the work is like, career advancement possibilities, pay & benefits, remember to ask for another contact name in the Industry you have targeted. People in the Industry you are interested in Always know other key contacts, and your goal is to be engaging, polite, and someone that anybody would be glad to offer a helping hand to.

    As with Job Interviews, send a thank you note afterwards for their time and keep them posted on your Jobhunt progress. A short email note is sufficient, and follow up on any leads they give you. Don't be afraid to ask Industry people to help you. They may be unknown strangers now, but you have common interests with them and some will be willing to help you.

    The key to remember is this: They won't help you if you don't ask them.

    -Mark Poppen

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    IT Resources for Boomers

    October 20, 1999

    If you have been involved in Information Technology for several years then you are aware of the not too subtle age discrimination that is prevalent in the Industry. Computer scientists, programmers, systems analysts, and their brethren are all severely underrepresented in the work world once they pass 40 years of age. The scarcity of Employed IT workers shows up most dramatically once these workers hit 55 - they work at a rate that is 50% lower than their non-IT counterparts.

    Most of this discrepancy is due to stereotyping. The modern world of work, led by IT and other new technologies, depends on a workforce that is constantly upgrading its abilities. Nowadays the learning curve extends outward at roughly the same rate that we try to move up it, leaving workers in the awkward (but familiar!) position of struggling harder just to avoid sinking. It's like the reality workers face of working longer hours just to maintain the same standard of living.

    If you're an older IT worker and have been frustrated in your search for a Job, there are several Websites devoted to your cause. Forty Plus is a nonprofit organization that helps with networking, Jobsearches, and career advice. Senior Techs is a national employment database of over 15,000 IT workers who are seemingly 'over the hill' at age 36. Matching is done by location, skill set, and experience.

    Anecdotal evidence indicates that there are three primary reasons why companies choose the youngest workers they can get. Employers tend to think that younger workers are:

  • Cheaper.
  • Willing to work longer hours
  • Easier to train.

    Recognizing what stereotypes you need to overcome is always the first step in dispelling them. If Hiring Managers think you can't learn new programs, show them that your training and retraining is cutting edge. If they think you're going to cost too much, show them how much in new revenue you'll bring in or save on costs. Be flexible when discussing work schedules - if you work sixty hours one week to get a product out on schedule, will you get the next week off? Perhaps they can hire two older IT workers to fill one position, giving both Employees relatively easy workweeks.

    Or you can explain (egad!) that at this point in your career you don't need to take home as much income as you did before. And if they obstinately ignore your skills and openly discriminate against you, go to the EEOC site and plot your next move. Winning a big lawsuit is like winning the Lottery.

    -Mark Poppen

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    Knowledge Workers

    October 19, 1999

    There are thousands of layoffs every day. You've seen the headlines, and cursed when you thought of all those newly unemployed people who might have more qualifications for the Job you're after than you do. Fortunately there are twice as many new Jobs being created every day, just with different titles than the ones you're used too.

    Five years ago I'd never heard of a knowledge worker or knowledge officer. How about Chief People Officer? Five years of a tight labor market has forced many companies to reassess the value of their current Employees and how to keep them from jumping at the first offer they get from another company. Several fields that are peripherally related to the computer industry are experiencing staffing shortages now, and many of these do not require a substantial background in computer technologies.

    One such hot field is Help Desk. Generally Help Desk workers are the first line of assistance that customers get when they call asking for answers to problems with a company's product or service. HR managers are discovering that the essential quality these Jobs require is communication skill. Liberal Arts Majors are showing more proclivity in these type Jobs than computer science grads. Which makes sense, because the basic technical components of the Job are repetitive and easily learned, while the abilities to handle frustrated and angry customers is harder to blueprint and memorize.

    If you're looking for a gateway into the computer industry, taking a position with their Help Desk may be a non-techies easiest route in. Pay ranges from about $2-3K/month. Senior Managers in Help Desk operations often earn from $75-100K/yr, and there aren't many managers at that level yet. One of the advantages to newly created fields is that salaries for experienced workers escalate fairly quickly, due to the scarcity of qualified Job candidates.

    One of the keys to getting into these newly invented Jobs is by reassessing your skills. What general abilities and experiences do you have that are transferable to these kinds of Jobs? Help Desk requires a lot of the same skills that someone who excelled in customer service should have - like empathy, patience, and verbal acuity. As with most Jobs, there is a downside: many Help Desk workers don't last more than a few years before the emotional drain wears them out, just like most intense customer service work.

    -Mark Poppen

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    October 18, 1999

    Sometimes it seems like your boss is an idiot. In fact studies show a high correlation between managers and stupidity. Apparently the responsibility of being in charge of others causes managers to speak in strange tongues (you've probably experienced manager speak) and make incoherent decision.

    Textbooks refer to these phenomena as the Peter Principle, whereby Employees are promoted to their highest level of incompetence. Workers rise up the company ladder until they can no longer adequately perform their duties, at which point they stagnate into management positions where their decisions are only marginally sane, and wholly inane. Some experts think the problem originated with the theories of Tom Peters, self styled management pseudo guru - but evidence remains sketchy, at best.

    If you have suffered under a manager who wears incompetence like a badge of honor, than you'll enjoy My Creator of the site Claude Carter reports, "There are a large number of people out there who work for blockheads." For example one Boss brought Dom Perignon to a meeting called specifically to celebrate the team effort resulting in a big contract, then toasted himself "Here's to Me!" If you currently work for an idiot you have a few options - you can:

  • Transfer to another division/company site
  • Try to get your Boss canned
  • Find another Job for a different Boss
  • Create your own Job (try and avoid the curse of management stupidity!), or
  • Live with it

    If you are currently 'living with it', take a minute and visit My They have a weekly contest where you can submit your own horror stories of supervisor stupidity. Surfers to the site can vote for their favorite story, and the weekly winners compete against each other for a prize of $1000. You still have until Nov. 29 to enter, so keep your eyes and ears open for some truly stupid managing. There are also useful tips on what to do (and not do) during the Interview, as well as resume pointers.

    My favorite story about stupid people didn't involve a former Boss, but my former Congressional Representative (Surprise!). Earl Landgrebe was my House Rep from the 2nd District of NW Indiana, and he was a staunch Republican and stalwart Richard Nixon supporter, circa 1970. He was also a past winner of 'the dumbest congressman', rising above the typically stiff competition for the title amongst his colleagues. When presented with facts that contradicted his beliefs he retorted angrily, "Don't bother me with the facts, I've already made up my mind!"

    -Mark Poppen

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