Jan 28 2015

In The Middle

Published by Hank under administrative, facilitation, sales

A recent meeting with a sales professional led to a discussion about the supposed disappearance of the “middle man”.  (OK, for the politically correct, the term would now be “middle person”.)  The “middle man” was the person who facilitated a business transaction, a go-between.  Job titles such as manufacturer’s representative, rack jobber, deal-maker, agent, broker or distributor, among others, were synonymous with middle man, and they occupied a variety of industries.  We wondered if being in the middle was where anyone wanted to be any more, or if such a role was still a viable career or job objective?

In one sense, the middle man has disappeared.  In our internet age where so many transactions are handled directly between two parties (buyer and seller, for example), there is less need for a go-between.  It is much easier today to source just about anything – hard goods, information, or services – without the need for someone else in the middle of the deal who will add an additional layer of communication and possibly expense.

But in reality, the person in the middle continues to thrive, and endures in a variety of roles in a diverse array of industries.  Certainly among the most prominent of these facilitators are office administrators who truly are in the middle of everything going on in their workplace.  Frequently the one who finds information or contacts for others, arranges meetings, relays calls and messages, an office admin is probably the most common of those in the middle.  They are also the one most depended upon by others to be the go-between between staff in different departments, those on the outside of the business, and even between management and internal personnel.

And regardless of their actual titles, there continue to be a wide variety of jobs where being in the middle is an important role.  Mortgage and insurance brokers come to mind.  The mortgage broker will be the “middle person” between a home buyer and a lending source when the rules or limitations of a single bank might prove inhibiting.  An insurance broker can find the best policies to fit the specific and possibly dissimilar needs of individuals or businesses from multiple providers.  There are brokers in many industries that negotiate deals between parties.

One role that continues to grow in the middle is that of concierge.  Whether working in the hospitality industry, in a corporate environment or residential setting, the concierge is in the middle helping people to find the goods and services they need for their home, their office or their vacation.  The concierge allows people to delegate some activity so they can directly or indirectly accomplish something else.

Manufacturer’s representatives still flourish providing goods within specific industries.  They facilitate the sale of a variety of products from different companies to a common end user, such as someone who sells portion control containers, disposable eating utensils, napkins and paper cups, all from separate manufacturers to individual restaurants or restaurant suppliers.  And then there are the rack jobbers who provide a particular set of related products to separate retailers for final sale.  In simplest terms, each person involved in these business deals, regardless of their industry or product specialty, is the middle person.

Many people who fill these roles are independent contractors and their compensation for their efforts is frequently commission based.  But there are actual businesses that employ people to be their transaction facilitators as employees, and in some instances individuals might be salaried, or a combination of salary plus commissions.  Employee or independent contractor, if you’re really good at what you do, earnings can be quite lucrative.

In order to excel at such a position, at the very least, one must be highly knowledgeable about their industry’s products, services and key players.  Negotiation skills are also very important, as are communication and active listening skills.  And it doesn’t hurt to be a people person comfortable with promotion and sales.  Tenacity and patience are also important, similarly to any position where one is dealing with disparate entities each with their own timelines and priorities.

So the middle man or woman still has great value in the workplace.  Opportunities in many industries exist for those interested in putting themselves in the middle.  And the middle isn’t a bad place to be.  If you’re the one in the middle, you may have the best view of everything going on in your business space.  You may be one others depend on to make things happen, to complete deals and connect people with resources.  When you’re in the middle, people will count on you to make things happen. If you want a position with a lot of responsibility, you must ask yourself:  Can you handle being in the middle?

For more ideas about being in the middle, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jan 13 2015

2015 Budget

Published by Hank under budget

The New York Times recently reported that 2014 was a good year for job growth with the nation’s unemployment rate falling to about 5.6%.  On average, 52 thousand more jobs were filled each month of 2014 than the previous year.  This is a promising sign for anyone looking for work, and this hiring trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.  But there is one major drawback to this encouraging employment picture: The average wage rate has comparatively fallen, on average about two percent.  So, even if you get a job, your pay won’t go as far as you might expect.

And there’s the rub!  The cost of living continues to escalate, but employers are still being very tight with wages and benefits, and keeping raises as small or non-existent as possible for as long as they can get away with it.  For any business owner, there is a delicate balance between keeping their employers motivated through enticing compensation and benefits packages, and trying to stretch every dollar as far as they can.

But several questions arise that we need to consider.  At the front of that list: Have the actual costs of doing business escalated and do they stay as high as employers want employees and consumers to believe?  With gas prices at the pump continuing to drop, are we seeing the costs of food and consumer goods come down because of lower transportation and distribution costs?  No!  Are airlines dropping their rates because of lower fuel costs?  No!  Do the lower operating costs of automated and computerized businesses’ processes mean those corporate savings will get passed along to employees in the form of higher salaries?  Again, no!

For the foreseeable future, employers will continue to keep their wallets closed and hold tight rein on their profits while trying to reduce expenditures without passing along the resulting savings onto staff. As a result the workforce must become more creative with the ways they spend and save money.

As an employee or job seeker, how will you make up for the disparity between what you earn, and what it costs to live?

Start by reducing expenses where you can. Just because gas prices are lower than they have been in years doesn’t mean you should drive more.  Every extra mile you can squeeze from your vehicle is a good place to start.  A well-tuned vehicle with properly inflated tires can positively affect your fuel efficiency and savings beyond lower fuel costs.  Depending on how much driving you do, this can result in substantial annual savings.

How much money and stress can you save yourself by taking public transportation to work, if not every day then just two or three days each week?

Can you negotiate better rates from your cell phone provider?  Can you get a better deal from a different provider?  Are you paying for more data than you need? All the major carriers are offering incentives to steal you from their competition.

When did you last ask your credit card company to lower your interest rates?  Pay off your monthly balances every month to reduce the amount of interest you must pay.

Leftovers from dinner make great next-day lunches!

Subscriptions for streaming services for movies, music and TV programs are a lot like gym memberships; they’re great if you use them all the time, but a waste of money if you don’t.  Borrow disks from your local library for binge watching of television and movies.

Can you achieve the same level of exercise without a gym membership?  Instead of a using a treadmill or elliptical machine, can you run outside or ride a bicycle?  Breathing the air outside is better than the recycled air inside the gym.

You may be able to save a few dollars each month by cleaning/replacing the filters in your home’s heating and cooling systems, turning the thermostat down before going to bed, and replacing old lights and old appliances with energy efficient products.

These are all just simple ways to enact some savings and make your income go just a little further.  And frankly, applying these few ideas will save you more than the few dollars that you didn’t get in the raise you were hoping for.

Yes, the jobs picture is improving.  And, yes, so is the economy.  But until employers loosen their purse strings job seekers and employees must find better ways to budget their limited dollars from the ever increasing demands of daily life.

So, what changes will you make in your 2015 budget?

For more ideas on how to save money in your job search and on the job, and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Dec 17 2014

So You Want To Be A Host!

Published by Hank under hospitality, travel

Among the biggest changes in the hospitality industry is the interest of many people to become hosts.  Some want to operate their own bed and breakfast business, and others want to find small hotel or motel properties to manage.  And, increasingly, individuals and corporations are turning available private real estate into short-term vacation rentals for some quick cash.  Facilitating this are the websites that enable property owners to become hosts by renting out their spaces to strangers.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the convenience of hotels, fresh linens and towels, and all the other amenities these places can provide.  Major brand facility or small provider, a hotel can be a relaxing oasis where other people do the cooking and cleaning, and if you’re willing to pay extra for it, pamper you too.

But occasionally you want to feel “at home” when you’re away from home, and the “come stay at my place” revolution can be the solution. Travelers worldwide can frequently find places to stay in their desired locations, live among the locals, have access to kitchen facilities for preparing their own meals, and not have their mornings interrupted by the knock on the door from housekeeping.  There can also be a monetary savings in these arrangements, as they are sometimes less expensive than a moderately priced hotel room in the same location.

However the biggest drawbacks for the traveler to these arrangements come from a lack of knowledge and experience on the part of the hosts.  Whether they offer couches, single rooms, modest sized apartments, condos, or entire houses, renting from a private host leaves a lot more to chance.  Written claims and images from the owner as to amount of space, furnishings, location, amenities, conveniences, etc., are too frequently vague, or implied and open to interpretation, despite alleged vetted assurances from the listing website.  With a name-brand hotel, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting for your money before you set foot in the place, and if problems arise there is usually a full staff to make things right.  (Yes, even a chain hotel can be a dump and not live up to claims, but more often than not, you know what you’re getting before you get there.)

And, like everyone in business, the hosts are trying to save money.  But where the host chooses to cut corners is too often the difference between a guest’s comfort and frustration.

Here are some examples of common complaints experienced by guests, with my comments about the fixes.

  • No internet connection.

Seriously?  These days?  A true sign of a cheap host!

  • An exquisitely appointed space and furnishings with the dimmest lighting imaginable, making it nearly impossible to see or read … anything!

CFL’s and other environmentally friendly lighting options are available in brighter wattages now!

  • An expensive rain-forest shower head over a shower with filthy, moldy grout and an askew bathroom mirror revealing the interior of the wall.

Use an electric steam gun or hire someone to clean the grout and reset the mirror.  A sign the host doesn’t give a damn about the space.

  • A spotless bathroom with a toilet that isn’t tightly bolted to the floor with a loose toilet seat that moves off center when you shift your weight, sit down or get up.

Tighten the bolts!  If the problem is more serious, call a plumber.

  • Broken towel racks.

It’s useless and hazardous the way it is. Replace it!

  • Single ply bathroom tissue with the texture of crepe paper.

What may be soft on the wallet can be quite harsh on the butt.

  • A fancy audio system where nothing is interconnected, no instructions are provided, and local radio stations can’t be tuned in.

Hook it up and provide detailed instructions, or box it up!  Otherwise it’s useless clutter!

Travelers want comfort, convenience and reliability from private or name-brand host!  They want to spend their money wisely, and get what they presume they are paying for.  Like any traveler, those who stay with private hosts just want a place to relax and plan their next day’s adventures.

If you want to be a host, you must exhibit pride in your space, its appearance, its contents, its cleanliness, whether luxury home or small studio apartment.  If you’re serious about being a host, make sure your space is ready for guests.  Do it right not just because the same sites that rent these spaces provide a place for guests to post reviews.  You needn’t match a 4 star hotel to provide a clean, well-lit, safe, comfortable space, with basic conveniences along with the necessities.  Doing anything less is just plain inhospitable!  And not a good career move either!

For more ideas about your job search – in or out of hospitality – and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Dec 01 2014

Employers Recognizing Abilities

It was with great admiration and respect that I recently witnessed a number of instances of employers recognizing the abilities of their employees with disabilities.  In my lengthy experience, I have too frequently seen workers with disabilities placed in positions far away from public view.  But on this excursion through the Northeastern US, I witnessed numerous people with major disabilities working in positions in front of the public.  These encounters gave me hope for the effectiveness, observance and advancement of the ADA regulations that protect and promote people with disabilities in the workplace.

Certainly, people with disabilities don’t generally want to bring attention to themselves; they want to be recognized for what they can do, not for their differences.  But there are some workers you can’t help but see the obstacles they face every day.  And there are those you see working hard, functioning well in their jobs that you just want to applaud – not out loud, but in your heart — for their courage and tenacity.
Each and every person with disabilities deserves a chance to function in the world, and have the same opportunities to prove their capabilities in the workplace.  When there is a match between one’s strengths and abilities and their job, anything is possible.  And when employers and hiring managers recognize those abilities and an individual’s potential, the workplace is better for it.

Part of what was refreshing about the people I encountered was their apparent job satisfaction.  And let’s face it, abilities or disabilities, job satisfaction is hard to come by!  These folks genuinely seemed to enjoy their work, showed unpretentious enthusiasm and demonstrated diligence in their positions.  And while the positions these individuals filled were ordinary jobs with public contact, seeing their success made them extraordinary.

And having done job placement for people with disabilities for many years, I personally know the difficulty in convincing employers to recognize the unrealized potential of a worker with disabilities.  While hiring from this pool of human resources potential is the right thing to do, it frequently took a lot ”selling” to get many employers to take the needed leap of faith and hire people with disabilities.

Because the workers with disabilities I encountered on this trip were part of my daily activities, I didn’t have the opportunity to interview their managers or human resources departments to learn if these employers had to be convinced to hire persons with disabilities over other applicants, or if they did so because they were enlightened about the value and diversity that doing so brings to the workplace.  Regardless of why these hiring decisions were made, I personally applaud these employers’ insight in their hiring decisions, regardless of how much prompting it took, or from whom.

While many corporations have policies that include the regular hiring of people with disabilities, the numbers are still small.  Large scale employers – those with thousands of workers – often have human resources, diversity and disability specialists who are prepared to hire and provide any necessary accommodations needed by their staff.  These specialists empower disabled workers, enabling them to be fully integrated into the workplace and their positions.  Using both standardized and specialized equipment, and sometimes just a bit of imagination, a work space can be customized to suit the needs of most any worker.  And that insight and creativity can mean the difference between worker comfort, satisfaction and engagement, and low productivity and unattainable goals.

Regardless of the size of their organizations, more employers must take steps to increase the number of hires with disabilities.  They need to understand that the costs of doing so are not prohibitive.  In fact, most accommodations can be had for under a couple of hundred dollars, and many for substantially less.  Employers need to use their imaginations to see how effective someone with a disability can be in a particular role, and figure out how to make it happen, and do so without irrational concerns of the implementation costs.

There are so many reasons why employers should open their minds and imaginations to include more workers with disabilities among their ranks.  Workers with disabilities traditionally have low turn-over rates, and take fewer sick days than their abled counterparts. Providing decent opportunities and creative solutions to hiring must be a stronger consideration and a regular part of all hiring initiatives.  I’m delighted when I can report on the successes found in the everyday execution of positive and inclusive hiring practices.  And all employers should find enlightenment and inspiration from those employers that do recognize abilities in their hiring.

For more ideas about hiring people with disabilities and recognizing employers that hire people with disabilities, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Nov 17 2014

Hope For Tomorrow

Recently I attended a number of events populated mostly with people substantially younger than myself.  Among the many things I gleaned from these experiences is that there is hope for tomorrow.  The energy, exuberance and enthusiasm of today’s young people is intoxicating and I always find being around them a great learning experience.  They are filled with new ideas and creativity, perspectives and insights probably not fully shared with their predecessors.  But above all else, they appear to be positive and encouraging.

From these numerous encounters, as is often the case from many of my excursions, I gather material for this blog and other content I create, as well as good stories to share with family and friends. But no matter who I spoke with at recent events, it was evident that today’s younger generation seems to genuinely care about the planet, the environment, engaging in good conservation and respecting the people around them.

Millenials and Gen Y’ers appear to be interested in education, both formal and informal, and dedicated to their learning.  With all the distractions available from electronic devices, I found it refreshing to see so many students using their time wisely on trains and planes, actually studying, instead of playing video games or texting. No doubt there are some who do not take their learning as seriously as others, nor use their “down time” as wisely, but the majority I saw were showing great concentration, even ignoring the beautiful scenery that went by their windows from the trains we shared.

Frequenting a number of cafes and coffee shops, with and without WiFi, both close to, and distant from high school and college campuses, I readily detected they were predominantly occupied by students with open books and laptops doing actual work and making good use of their time.  This was inspiring because we too often see young people congregating leisurely and unproductively.

I also noticed a great deal of motivation by these individuals to find meaningful and rewarding work.  Not content to settle for just a job, the young people I met wanted jobs in the sciences and technology believing they could contribute their knowledge and drive to find the next wonder drug or a cure for Alzheimer’s, or create functioning artificial limbs.  They want their work and efforts to have an impact on the greater good, not just their own pockets.  Yes, they are motivated to earn good wages, but it seems that their contributions to society were more important than how fat they could make their wallets before they turned 30.

And this is even more impressive when you accept the reality that life and school are expensive! Just ask anyone who lives in any major city in the US or Canada!  These young folks can’t all be living off their parents’ generosity or be tuition-free thanks to endowments, grants and scholarships!  You must be willing to work hard and put in long hours to pay for a place to live in any urban environment in North America.  And today’s young people DO want to live in the urban centers because  they want to play as hard as they work, and they want access to the momentum and opportunities that life in the Big City provides.

I also met a few folks who were having second thoughts about their initial career choices.  It can’t be easy coming to the conclusion that you don’t want a career practicing law after graduating law school with honors, doing your time as a junior partner and sacrificing all that accomplishment for something seemingly unrelated!  Those are hard choices that many have faced in an effort to “find themselves” and do work that more closely relates to their core values and personal interests, as opposed to pursuing just a career.  If they are lucky, these people will find a way to incorporate one discipline with another and find the satisfaction they seek.

Choosing a career and putting in the dedication required to succeed has never been a short-term affair.  One must be willing to apply themselves in their learning and their job search for the long haul to be successful, no matter what endeavor is being pursued. That’s the difference between a job and a career – wanting to dedicate years of your life in the pursuit of a single set of related goals.  And you can’t help but applaud anyone who puts in the hours and years it takes to make that happen.

In order for today’s young people to retain that hope for tomorrow, it is imperative for the older generations to set good examples for them to follow.  Those who precede them must inspire, encourage and motivate them, demonstrating convincing actions of conviction, faith and positivity.  When positive examples are present, finding hope for the future and the motivation to succeed will be more inspired.

For more ideas about your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Sep 15 2014

Tech Chasm

One of the topics I think needs more coverage and more solutions, is the shortage of women and minorities in tech jobs.  If you look at a graph of people who hold tech jobs, women and minorities are represented in the valleys and white males represent the highest peaks, hence we have a tech chasm. Though we’ve been seeing a lot of articles in various publications about this issue, with lots of suggestions and ideas, we’re a long way off from creating a dramatic improvement and closing that gap.

Among the biggest reasons for the low numbers of women and minorities is the lack of tech oriented role models that impact young women and minorities during their formative years.  The fantasy and science fiction characters portrayed by women in movies and on television are very cool, but most are immediately recognizable as unreal, and don’t “ring true” to young minds.  Also, because watching movies and television are passive activities, there is no way for a young mind to really feel engaged in the possibilities that technology jobs can offer, whether they’re portrayed by Earthly humans or other bipedal species.

On the other hand, with the aid of creative teachers and the right tools, young women and minorities can be exposed to projects and ideas that are more tangible and engaging, demonstrating concepts and inviting active participation.  As the Maker Movement grows and gains traction in the schools, there will be more opportunities for interactive participation.  Hands-on projects must be brought into classrooms.  Adult women and minorities with exciting tech careers must also be brought into the classroom to illustrate possibilities and provide insight so youngsters can see possible roles for themselves in tech jobs.  Only then will the older stereotypes suggesting women and minorities don’t belong in tech be crushed.

Further, I also believe that parents need to be more participative in opening the minds of their children by opening themselves up to new idea, technologies, and showing more diversified examples of success to their children.  They must be exposed to concepts, careers and ideas of success that they may not get in school.  When parents see their children “admiring” someone with an intriguing tech career – movies, tv or real world -  are the parents asking the right questions?  “What do you think of a career doing _____?”  “Is that something you think you’d like to do?”  And, “If that’s a job you think is interesting, do you want to find out how to achieve the same thing?”

Many parents still want their children to follow in their footsteps care-wise. The parental influence should be strong, but should not be to the exclusion of helping their kids see the diversity of role models available outside the home.  And these days, there are many successful women and minorities in technology who can be held up as examples of achievement, accomplishment and possibility.

Kids need to see real world scenarios involving adults who are excited by what they do and whose enthusiasm is palpable.  And when that exposure comes directly from a parent, that impact will be heightened by the child’s better understanding of their parent’s work, the importance of that job, and the contributions they make.  The real trick is for a parent to help their child see the possibilities yet allow the child to choose their own path and make their own career choices.

But in order for the exposure to have the most long-term and positive impact, those examples must continue to be presented through high school and into college.  Many students have no idea what they want to do with their lives when they enter college; some, not even after graduation.  Frequent and diversified career days, and “days of job shadowing” that allow students to actually see and connect with people performing a wide variety of tech jobs, can be the impetus an undecided mind needs to pursue a career in tech.

The tech companies also have a responsibility to help fill that chasm by making their jobs more attractive, interesting and engaging to new hires.  Businesses must be willing to offer incentives to attract women and minorities who have the needed skills, but they must also be willing to provide training to those interested in learning those skills on the job.  Not everything can be learned in a classroom before a potential hire leaves school, so it’s up to the employers to fill that gap by highlighting the contributions that can be made.

Equality in the tech sector is achievable!  Parents, students and business must all be more aggressive in helping to fill that tech chasm.  And if you have ideas about how to fill the tech chasm, I’d love to hear them.

For more ideas filling the tech chasm, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Aug 25 2014

Partners In Wellness

Who are your partners in wellness?  Surely your doctors, their nurses and support staff.  But do you also consider your local pharmacist a partner in your wellness?  After all, “Ask your pharmacist about …,” is one of the most oft repeated phrases in advertising because the manufacturers of prescription drugs and over-the-counter health goods know that their products should be purchased with some knowledge and forethought.  And the responsibility to guide the customer (you!) to make the right purchases is on the shoulders of your local pharmacist.

Like many other professions, over the years, the job of pharmacist has changed.  Once upon a time pharmacies were locally owned and operated and were the quintessential “mom & pop” operation.  The pharmacist/owner knew everyone by name, knew their families, and knew their health issues.  And when you consulted with the pharmacists, you were confident about with whom you were speaking because they were your neighbors.  Their children went to the same schools as your kids. They grew up learning customer service working behind the counter or stocking shelves with sundries. Their family matured with yours.  But today, most pharmacies are owned by giant conglomerates, chain and franchise operations, and you can also get prescriptions filled in big box stores and supermarkets.

And the evolution of the industry has brought about other major changes, particularly the way prescriptions are sold.  There are certainly far more federal laws and restrictions concerning prescription medications than ever before, including volume limitations and documentation about product distributions.  And instead of actually mixing up potions and poultices behind the counter as the mom & pop stores once did, the local pharmacist is (with the aid of pharmacy technicians) mostly counting, weighing, measuring and labeling pre prepared meds that have arrived to their location in bulk.

The primary role of the pharmacist is still to put doctor ordered medications in the hands of the patients who need them, and provide confidence, along with relevant and knowledgeable details that customers/patients can understand and follow. Therefore their job still requires a great deal of study, knowledge retention and continued learning.

At the very least, to be successful as a pharmacist one must have much more than an elemental grasp of medicine and dentistry, chemistry, biology, law, governmental regulations, regulatory agency policies and rules, in addition to good language and communication skills, customer service, administration, counseling and a broad array of computer and software skills.

Those pharmacists who work behind the counter need to be aware of so many small details, not just about the drugs themselves, but also about their interactions with other medications a patient may be taking.  They must have an awareness of possible side effects and a patient’s reactions to various meds based on other health information at their disposal.  And this is a herculean task because of so many variables.

Additionally, pharmacists are responsible for inventory management and controlling the volumes of medications they must stock, or be able to quickly acquire.  And as the pharmacology evolves, so must the pharmacists’ knowledge base and inventory.

While we tend to think of pharmacists as working in a predominantly retail occupation, there are many drug stores where those “mixing up the medicines” may not deal with the public, except for the occasional consult with a patient about their meds.  But opportunities exist for pharmacy professionals in other, albeit mostly related industries.  Insurance companies hire pharmacists with special knowledge about the drugs and medications their patients use and monitor their outcomes.  Pharmaceutical companies are constantly developing new drugs, prescription and non-prescription – and need knowledgeable pros to help them in that process.  Medical and testing laboratories also need people with pharmacological backgrounds and training with increasing numbers.

In addition to all the knowledge of the prescriptions they handle, the pharmacists must also have a working and up-to-date knowledge of a vast array of over the counter, non-prescription medications and health aids, as well as vitamins and a wide variety of related sundries.  When you think about the diversity of products available in a drug store these days, you realize how much learning and attention to detail must be managed by these dedicated professionals.

So, even though the size and ownership of the neighborhood drug store has changed, and the role of pharmacist has evolved, those who are filling these positions (and your prescriptions) are still worthy of your trust.  Pharmacists are still your neighbors and a part of your community.  The road to being a pharmacist may not be an easy one, but the position is still one of respect and trust.  Pharmacists continue to be your partner in wellness.

For more ideas on employment partnerships, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Aug 11 2014

Both Sides Now

Let’s look at both sides of the job seeker – employer equation.  When you think about where you want to take your career, one of the first considerations is the kind of work you want to do, and the industry in which you want to grow.  But an equally important consideration should be your understanding the needs of the employers in your chosen field.  You can start by asking yourself, “What do I really need to know, and what skills must I be good at, to be successful in my career?”

If you attended college or university with a particular professional goal in mind, you hopefully attended a variety of courses that provided you with – at the very least – a basic understanding of that industry and the hard skills required to effectively pursue that endeavor.  Your instructors and professors tried to give you the rudimentary – and perhaps advanced tools that you hoped would prepare you for a job in your chosen field.

Then, after graduation, if not before, you started a dedicated and focused job search, and uncovered the reality that employers are looking for different skillsets and knowledge than you are ready to bring to the table.  You learned, possibly the hard way, school can only provide you with a relatively limited perspective on what employers really need. Even if you are/were lucky enough to have instructors who are currently working professionals in your industry, each employer has their own particular needs, and ways of doing things.

So, how do you find out what employers are really looking for in your field?

It starts with some clarity about your goals.  “A career in ….”  Not sure?  Pick something related to your deepest interests, and follow through!  It’s not a slow or easy process, and it will take time and effort.  Take small steps.  Anything you uncover will likely lead to other usable information.

Research the companies and industries that you want to pursue.  Go to LinkedIn, or other business-focused or industry-specific website and identify the people whose jobs are closest to your goal.  If they are active using professional networking sites, it should be fairly easy to reach out, do some online networking, and ask to start a conversation.  Remember, your objective is to learn how others fulfilled their employers’ needs!

Careerists with extensive and focused work histories should have some insight into knowing what employers want, especially if they are currently employed! Even those recently unemployed may have a perspective worth hearing.

Write a polite email requesting to connect.  Be upfront that you want to learn, and ask a few questions.  You may get turned down, but I believe those who are willing to share a bit about their personal experiences are far greater in number!

Making contact online really is the best way to initiate an informational conversation.  Then, after initial contact you can ask if they are willing to talk on the phone or possibly meet in-person.  Promise to minimize any intrusion into their day and respect their schedule.

If you’re not comfortable making contact with strangers and asking them for their insights, use the net and learn as much as you can about the professionals and companies that interest you.  From reading their profiles, you will find out more about their skills and accomplishments, shedding more light on what employers are looking for.

Don’t ignore the value of reading industry-specific professional publications.  Frequently you’ll find interviews and profiles of the movers and shakers from that industry.  The content may or may not provide specific information on what employers are looking for, but you are sure to uncover information that will motivate and energize your search.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re having difficulty finding the information you want.  The results you’ll get from an internet search can frequently be overwhelming, so it is important to have some perspective on what is, and is not, truly relevant.  And a good place to get that help is your friendly neighborhood library.  Don’t underestimate the value of this resource and the people who work there.  They can help you filter information to find the most relevant and important leads to what you want to know.

At the very least, understand that no matter the industry, most employers are looking for the same basic characteristics in all their employees.  They want to hire people with the right combination of drive, ambition, knowledge, a willingness to learn, who have passion for their work, and who work well with others.

No matter your career choices, when looking for work your job is to convey to the employer how your skills and experience meet their needs and that you are willing and know how to do what needs to be done.  Now you know both sides!

For more ideas on what employers want, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jul 28 2014


Competition:  It drives innovation.  It fosters change. It motivates.  It can instigate growth and development.  And it can encourage.  But it can also bring about fear, trepidation, feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and irrelevance.  Yet every day in the world of work, whether on the job or looking for one, we face some form of competition.  Serious or light-hearted, competition is there, and coping with it and thriving from it can contribute to one’s sense of accomplishment and success.

There are many obvious examples of competitive behavior at work.  It may be as straight forward as trying to best a coworker in the number of sales completed in a given amount of time, how many lines of code can be written, or how many boxes can be assembled.  There doesn’t need to be anything formal, contrived or antagonistic about these kinds of competitions. They are usually friendly and can foster team building and productivity.

Many companies create a competitive atmosphere in an attempt to boost efficiencies and output, upping there bottom line and to maintain employee engagement.  There may or may not be rewards for the worker who bests her/his colleagues, but the employer benefits by keeping staff focused on tasks, sales levels and schedules.

But this same kind of competitive atmosphere can become toxic.  Some workers take their competitiveness too seriously.  What starts out as friendly can turn adversarial, resulting in negative attitudes and behaviors that disrupt productivity, and become too personal.  Staff can become so caught up in their attempts to one-up their co-workers that group efforts get undermined, derogatory comments are made, feelings can get hurt and reputations can get damaged.  This can destroy relationships, disrupt efficiencies and create a hostile work environment.

Throughout the day, we may be competitive without even realizing it.  Hailing a taxi, scurrying to get a seat on a commuter bus or train, trying to get the best spot in line at the supermarket, looking for a parking place, or even buying tickets online for a concert, are all competitive acts, even though we may not think of them that way.  And frequently we are competitive as mere observers.  Whether rooting for a favorite sports team, participating in fantasy sports leagues or office betting pools, we exhibit competitive behaviors.  Of course, no matter how much we yell and scream, as non-participants we cannot affect their outcome.

There’s an aggressive attitude that underlies competitiveness that can be both positive and negative. That aggression can lead us to work harder, try new things, and stretch our limits both physical and imaginational.  It can also cause us to undermine our own efforts.  We can become so lost in being competitive that we can lose track of the goals we have set and the importance of completing tasks because we become too caught up in who or what we are trying to best.

And when it comes to job search, we always hear about how competitive the job market is, or how much competition there is in some fields more than in others.  And while there may be a lot of other people vying for the same job you are trying to fill, the truth is you’re not really in competition with anyone – but yourself!

There are too many unknown variables that make it difficult to fully assess whether you are really in competition with one or more other candidates for the same job.  You may have the same degree, have gone to same schools, even have the same number of years of experience. But factors such as cultural and industry exposure, attitude, communication skills, personal demeanor, and more, are what separates one applicant apart from another. In the eyes and mind of the employer, no matter the similarities between you and another job seeker, what the interviewer sees, senses and feels toward you, and their belief in your ability to do the work they need done are what get you hired.

Yes, there may be lots of other people trying to get the same job as you, but you cannot alter your focus from the task at hand, which is to make yourself the best candidate for that position you can possibly be.  Do not concern yourself with the alleged skills and qualifications of others; focus only on how you will convey to that employer that you have the skills, experience, attitude and personality that will comfortably fit in to their workplace to tackle the work they need done, in the way they want it completed.

There will always be others hoping to fill the same jobs that interest you.  But they are not your competition.  They are just job seekers, like yourself.  Compete only with yourself to be the best at what you do.  That’s the best way to win!

For more ideas on beating the competition in your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jul 14 2014

Passing Inspection

Sheila was well established as an architect long before we met over 20 years ago.  She had received numerous accolades for her home and building designs and worked for prestigious companies.  Having not heard from her in a long while, I was unaware that she was making a transition into a new, albeit somewhat related field.  After some training and certification, she had become a building inspector.

Her impetus for making the career switch came when she was buying a new home.  During the inspection phase of her home purchase, she realized that as one who designed buildings from the ground up, she should have known more about problem areas that got discovered.  While the problems that were uncovered during the inspection of her own new property were surmountable, she believed her architectural background would enable her to help others make informed decisions when purchasing new homes.

Sheila didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur or independent contractor, preferring the security and predictability of working for a specialized inspection firm as an employee.  She also felt confident that as a woman, she had a slightly different perspective than her male counterparts, and was able to address concerns of both women and men home buyers with more sensitivity.

After receiving her inspector’s certification from her state, she found an internship, accompanying other inspectors on their home tours, learning the ropes in the field with seasoned professionals.  This allowed her to ask questions and see how the other inspectors delivered difficult information to trepidatious homebuyers.

At the conclusion of her internship Sheila was not offered a position with the inspection company and felt let down, so she proceeded to look for a paying position with other inspection companies.  With an active real estate market, she felt confident that would be able to land a position in a reasonably short period of time.  With her strong, relevant background in home building & design and recent inspection certification, she never expected to encounter the rejection she experienced.  And that’s when she got in touch with me.

Sheila suspected she was being rejected as a woman in a field predominantly occupied by men.  During her internship she showed no hesitation performing inspections in tight, filthy spaces, crawling on her belly and back to check foundations, plumbing connections and other issues, right alongside her male supervisors.  Those same supervisors applauded her willingness to get down and get dirty to get the job done right, as well as for the accuracy of her inspection assessments.

I asked Sheila if she had procured letters of reference from her supervisors, and she had not. So I suggested she contact each of the supervisors individually, and ask each one for a letter expressing her competencies, accomplishments and positive attitude.

Reviewing the requested letters, they were all positive, but not one of the supervisors addressed her attitude, and we both considered this a red flag.  In an effort to learn more about why this wasn’t addressed, Sheila asked me to call one of the supervisors for a reference to see what would be said.  The person I contacted was forthcoming with praises about Sheila’s efforts and knowledge, and the shortcomings he experienced working with her directly.

Apparently, a couple of the supervisors concurred that Sheila didn’t respond well to feedback she received on the job.  Specifically, it was pointed out that she took feedback too personally, and demonstrated negativity when things were pointed out that could be improved upon.  The supervisors felt Sheila behaved like a know-it-all, and wasn’t really interested in learning how to improve her knowledge and execution of the job.

Ouch!  Sheila failed her own inspection.

And when Sheila and I went over her job search documents, I learned first-hand what the supervisors had experienced.  Sheila responded negatively to feedback about her documents, taking even minor criticisms too personally.

I reminded Sheila about the importance of taking in feedback without becoming defensive, and that those providing input are trying to provide her with information from which she might benefit.  The feedback Sheila received from her supervisors was about the work, and not about Sheila the person; she began to see the difference.

Negative work feedback can be constructive, especially if you realize it’s coming from the employer’s needs perspective; not a reflection of the person, but about the tasks.  Before reacting negatively to feedback, stop, think, and recognize that others’ opinions about your work don’t make you a bad person. Taking it in, graciously, and knowing that it is about the tasks and not about you can mean the difference between passing inspection (getting the job) and not.

For more ideas on passing inspection on your job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jun 30 2014

Go Team!

Published by Hank under jobs, teamwork

You can’t deny the impact that a professional sports organization has on jobs and the local and regional economies.  Whether it’s football, baseball, soccer, hockey, basketball or tennis, there’s no question that professional sports are big businesses.  Die-hard fan or casual observer of any of these or other sports,  we sometimes don’t even realize the size and scope of the reach of your local team.

In some parts of the country the financial impact of the sports economy is far greater than it is in other areas.  There are regions of the United States where collegiate and professional sports dominate the leisure time activities and the attentions of their citizenry along with much of their disposable income.  In the lousiest weather and even when their favorite team’s ability to win falters, stadiums fill up with fans.  Not to take anything away from those on the field, but it takes a far greater number of people to make the experience of attending a sporting event a good one than just the relatively few who are competing, although a winning team helps.

There are so many people involved in the presentation of live sporting events, the actual numbers are staggering.  The organizations behind the teams are staffed with all kinds of professionals, many of whom you never know are there.  Most obviously are the owners, managers, trainers and coaches, medical staff, outfitters, procurement specialists, statisticians, a long list of media professionals who document with stills and video every move of every player of every practice session and game.  There are performance analysts, travel and transportation people, those who handle logistics and fulfillment, sales, promotional and marketing staffs, graphic arts and radio, tv and in-house production departments.  And we can’t forget the ticket sellers, groundskeepers, merchandise and food vendors, and dozens of others who make a day at the game an experience beyond what happens on the field of play.

And the financial influences extend well past the confines of the sporting arena.  Bars, restaurants and other retailers who operate independently from the sporting operations are tied to the attendance and pedestrian traffic moving in and out of these events to expand their bottom lines.  Certainly the stadiums would prefer that attendees spend their money inside their venues, but many prefer to meet and eat before or after the sporting events.  And then there are the countless other establishments who cater to the sports enthusiast, selling licensed merchandise, and those that display the cable, satellite and network broadcasts on large screens throughout their businesses so the fans stay connected even when they are shopping or eating, and their favorite teams are on the road.

These days, we must also include the reach of social media professionals who keep fans abreast of what’s happening with their home town heroes and their competitors even when they can’t be tuned in via more traditional means.  Most teams have their own smartphone apps, as do the leagues and the networks that transmit their games.  So these endeavors include not just the content writers, but the coders and graphics designers who make these apps viewable and useful.  This further applies to the creators of sports oriented video games, fantasy sports leagues and all the other technology and entertainment oriented to the enthusiast.

Of course there are many non-athletes who love to watch sports, both from the stands and from the comfort of their homes.  But those who seek to professionally align themselves with their team or particular sport have opportunities to work inside by applying for any one of a wide variety of diverse positions in almost every discipline, none of which require a great throwing arm.  You can be successful in sports without being a great athlete.

If you know your strengths, have a good idea of where your skills fit in, and work well in a team environment, you might have a chance of being hired by a professional sports organization.  There’s no question there will always be a lot of competition for these off-the-field jobs, just as there are for players’ positions.  While the pay won’t be as astronomical as those on-field gigs, you might earn good wages, and be able to work almost alongside the players you admire.

So, go ahead, and give professional sports a shot.  You never know until you try.  And if you’re not interested in working within the world of professional athletics, don’t forget to get outdoors, get some exercise and fresh air during the warmer months.  Throw the ball or Frisbee around and play just to have fun.   Go team!

For more ideas on job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jun 13 2014

Fading Film Industry in California

Published by Hank under California, industry, jobs

Like almost every other industry around the country, the film industry in California has suffered financially.  Sure, box office revenues may be high, but the cost of producing films in the Golden State has become increasingly prohibitive, even for the big studios.  And in Northern California, where not that long ago five to ten feature films and several television series were filmed annually, producers have found other locations to make their movies.  Out of the 54 big-budget feature films of 2012 & 2013, only one was shot exclusively in California.

Those impressive shots of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge being decimated in the recently released remake of Godzilla were created on sound stages in Texas.  Even as film budgets become even more astronomical, dollars that might have been spent by those who worked on that film didn’t get to spend their money in California.

When a major motion picture is filmed, there are a lot of industries that benefit.  Among those businesses that see some of that movie money are: restaurants, caterers, transportation companies, taxicabs and limousines, hardware stores and lumber yards, makeup artists, hair stylists, lighting technicians, electricians, set designers and builders, and of course, local acting talent.  And when each of those people working on a film get paid, they usually spend a good deal of their money locally.  Move that film production to someplace else, and all that money goes to that other location.

It’s not just the cost of production that keeps going up.  Local governments have made things increasingly difficult for film makers to procure the proper licenses, permits and insurance that are required by each municipality involved with a shoot.  And in areas like California where the cost of daily living is pretty high to begin with, these rising costs eat into production budgets pretty quickly.  It costs a lot of money to block off streets, pay for extra security, and pay the higher salaries of all the laborers and production crews.

Other states have decided to compete for California’s film business by offering tax breaks and other incentives that make taking productions elsewhere an attractive proposition.  But the California production community is putting up a fight to keep all those jobs and dollars at home.  And because my columns are about work and job search, and the film industry and its allies comprise a large chunk of the state’s economy, I think it’s important to promote the following:

If you know anyone involved in film making or any of its ancillary industries, or are a film fan and want to see more productions shot in California, please attend the Northern California Rally for Film Incentives, Sat., June 14th, from 10 am to noon at The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  In attendance will be a number of well-known actors and advocates, along with members of the various unions involved with film making, and legislators who want to help support the industry and keep these jobs in California.

There is a California State Assembly Bill -  AB 1839, The Expanded Film and Television Job Creation Act -  working its way through our state legislature, but it is by no means a done deal.  You can support the passage of this bill by attending the event at the Fairmont on Saturday, and if you live in California, you can contact your local State Representatives and encourage them to support the passage of this bill.  There’s more information of the event at:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1417420091861570,

And for more background on the bill and the proposed legislation, check out these sites:

http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=2735, and

Let’s keep film making and these jobs in California.

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For more ideas on job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Jun 02 2014


Published by Hank under collaboration, education, teach

Now that it’s the end of the school year, a lot of people will be experiencing major changes to their lives.  Congratulations to the graduating classes of 2014.  I wish you much luck and success!  Your lives are about to change!  Big time!  But at the moment, I’m more interested in the opposite side of the classroom equation: the teachers, no matter what education level or subject they teach.  The end of the school year marks a point of change for our educators.

Before going any further, let me acknowledge that teachers are among the most valuable and underappreciated asset we have as a society!  Those who dedicate their lives to helping others learn deserve far more credit, recognition and pay than they receive.  The devoted few who pursue instruction as a career do not typically do so expecting to get rich; they do it because (we hope) they want to help others learn and grow!

Tenured instructors leave the school year fairly secure they’ll have a job to return to when the fall semester starts.  Provided their university or school district doesn’t suffer major financial meltdowns, their confidence isn’t overly misguided.  But the very fact that so many educational institutions are suffering financially is leading to a great deal of trepidation among teachers rightfully concerned that they may not have jobs in the fall.

But by the end of the school year, many teachers are burnt out.  After coping with overcrowded classrooms, combative and underperforming students, frustrated parents, underfunded budgets, a lack of supplies, and administrators stuck in the dark ages, for many teachers the school year ends with unfulfilled promises, exhaustion and an erosion of their motivation to help students achieve.  They ask themselves, “Why do I do this this?” They wonder if the seemingly dwindling rewards are worth their efforts.

When students succeed and thrive, teachers feel more fulfilled and satisfied they have made tangible contributions to their students’ lives.  But with budgets so tight, benefits and retirement plans in jeopardy, and teachers regularly spending money out of their own pockets for supplies resulting in less money to live their own lives, it is easy to understand why teachers waver their interest in retuning to the job.

And there is another wrinkle causing teachers to question whether to return to school. Violence on school campuses – primary, secondary and institutions of higher learning – have all seen a sharp upturn in violence this past year.  These incidents are not limited to inner cities.  Shootings, stabbings and physical assaults are taking place on school grounds regardless of location or economic conditions, putting teachers, faculty and students in harm’s way. When you add in the increasing number of parents and others who go to campuses to threaten students and teachers, there are plenty of reasons for teachers to not return to the classroom.

I don’t have all the answers to these problems.  Part of the solutions lies in the need for stricter gun control laws. And another part of the solution lies in the responsibility of parents to teach their children more about nonviolence, respect and responsibility.  Parents and teachers need to unite to and stress that violence against others, in any form, whether through the use of weapons, verbal or physical abuse is wrong. And schools need to be better aware of who is on their campuses so that those out to do wrong can be spotted and hopefully stopped before trouble erupts.

But I also worry about those who are thinking of making instruction their own career.  Will all the violence and insecurity of the job dissuade potential teachers from entering the field?  I hope not!  I hope that future teachers will recognize that there is a far better chance for a teacher to positively influence a growing mind than there is they will directly encounter the horrors that we have seen in the news.

I don’t buy into the old adage: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach!”  Wanting to instill and further someone’s curiosity, help foster ideas and creative thinking are not incompatible with success in the work place.  For some, the desire to share their knowledge and training to help others grow, learn and experience is a powerful draw. There’s a lot of beauty in watching someone’s passion be ignited, and many teachers contribute to that daily.

Sure, a teacher’s work continues hours after students and they leave the classroom; there are papers and tests to grade, the associated administrative tasks, and not everyone is always appreciative of the work you they do. But you do get summers off.  So, if you’re one of those special people who want to nurture curious minds and help others appreciate the importance of learning, then you need to teach.  The world needs you!  Heed the call!

For more ideas on teaching as a career, or any other career, job search, career development and related topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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May 12 2014

When Do You Start Your Internship?

Talking with some imminent graduates the other day, I asked, “When do you start your internship?”  The quizzical look on their faces spoke volumes.  One said, “Once school is over, I will start looking.”  Another said she hadn’t given it any thought, believing that her newly minted degree would assure her a position in a prominent firm.  I hope she’s right!

For the record, the best time to look for pre- or post-graduate internships is before the conclusion of one’s junior year of school.  Getting a foot in the door of a company that does work relevant to your degree and/or chosen profession before graduation gives students a better shot at post graduate employment.  And finding an internship before senior year provides other advantages too.

Primarily, after graduation the competition for jobs will be much more intense than it is before.  This isn’t to say procuring an internship isn’t competitive; it most certainly is!  But finding an internship the year before graduation allows the candidate to “try out” the industry of interest, and maybe even explore multiple positions within an industry to have a better understanding of where one might fit in after graduation in their chosen profession.

More importantly, through an internship you can demonstrate your value to an employer and demonstrate some of the contributions you can make, developing a much stronger likelihood of having a place to go after graduation.  Prove to an employer that you have the skills they need and the ability to succeed in their industry and you can almost guarantee the beginnings of a sustainable career.

Not all internships are created equal, nor are all candidates that want to fill them.  Some businesses will provide more opportunities for their interns to learn and offer them opportunities to make real contributions, while other employers will hand out “busy work” that could bore you to tears.  And there are interns who will approach these positions with vigor and interest, being open to ideas and methodologies, who will listen to instructions, take criticism and really learn something.  And others who believe they already know everything, think the pay and tasks are beneath them, are biding their time and just looking for something they can use to pad their resumes.

When there is synchronicity between a company and an intern, there is a kind of magic.  These are places and circumstances that nurture personal and group creativity, and provide encouragement of independent thought and the development of ideas.  This in turn leads to new products and better ways of doing old tasks

About now, you may be asking yourself some questions, like:

Aren’t internships low paying or no-pay?

Sometimes.  In many cases interns receive what amounts to a stipend; enough to pay for the commute to get there.  But the experience one can get during an internship should have value and merit far beyond the minimal monetary incentives.  You take out of it what you put in to it.  Experience, resume and network building are just the start.

Why shouldn’t I just get a job in my field and forgo the internship?

Good question!

  • Internships are meant to provide some experience and make you more job-ready before graduation.
  • After graduation you are competing with both experience and inexperienced job seekers.
  • A job will come with higher employer expectations about your skills and performance than will an internship.
  • Knowing that you will stay on the job only a couple of months before returning to school does not provide a great deal of incentive for an employer to hire you.

OK, so how do I get an internship?

  • Start looking as early as possible. Now’s good!  But late winter or early spring may be best to minimize the competition. Filing dates may differ for each internship.
  • If your school has a career planning department, make use of it to the fullest extent possible. They may know of specific internships and provide contact and referral information.
  • Contact the alumni office and ask them for help in identifying former grads who work for the companies or within the industries of interest and ask to meet with them to learn of internship opportunities where they work.
  • Research the companies and industries of interest and find out who offers internships.
  • Use websites like: internships.com; internmatch.com; and even the big job boards to find relevant internships.

Finding an internship can be just as daunting as finding a job.  You must put in the time and effort to find the right situation.  You must be willing to put your ego in your back pocket and demonstrate a willingness to “learn by doing”.  You’ll discover more employers to be open to the contributions you can make.

So, when do you start your internship?

For more ideas on internships, job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Apr 28 2014

Celebrating the Administrative Professional

Published by Hank under administration, administrative

Did you know that last week was the annual observance of Administrative Professionals Week?  Sorry to say that this observance got past me this year. Usually I’ll hear mention of it on radio or television, or see in in fine print on a calendar, but this year I heard and saw nothing.  And it’s shame too, because the administrative professionals of this world keep business moving forward and deserve far more recognition than they usually receive.

Originated by the head of the National Secretaries Association, Mary Barrett and the president of the Dictaphone Corporation, C.K. Woodbridge, to promote the need for skilled office labor, the idea floated around and appealed to the executives at the Young & Rubican advertising agency for a National Secretaries Week back in the early ‘50’s.  The first official observance was in 1952.  Secretaries Day was usually observed on a Wednesday of National Secretaries Week.

Much has changed in the last 62 years.  For one, we hardly use the word “secretary” any more. Daily functions once performed by secretaries are no longer a requisite for an administrative position.  Today, a boss dictating a letter or memo to someone using shorthand to capture the content is very rare.  “Taking dictation” has mostly been replaced by digital recorders with variable speed playback and speech recognition software for ease of transcription into formal documents.  And, back in the ‘50’s it was mostly women who performed secretarial work.  Today, millions of men fill administrative roles.

But among the things that have remained consistent in the evolution of the administrative assistant position, is the need to excel in organization.  Whether as a personal admin assistant or as a general admin, the need to retain information, know where things are in both the physical and digital realm, and providing clarity amidst chaos, are traits that continue to provide value to the position, and to the staff and management they assist.  The best admins are almost intuitive, having information, resources and tools at the ready before being asked.  They perform myriad tasks in the background – routine and extraordinary – to help their bosses shine.  There isn’t an executive out there who would accomplish as much in their day without the aid of their administrative assistants.

And administrative assistants put up with a lot of B.S.  Aside from working for the occasional task-master who wants everything done yesterday or has other unreasonable demands and expectations and demonstrates no gratitude, admins are frequently called upon to be gate keepers.  They are expected to provide a shield between the executives and everyone else.  Screening calls and taking messages is only a small part of the gig.  Admins are often asked to buffer their superiors from distractions and interruptions.  They also filter out the wheat from the chaff, providing necessary detail, prioritizing messages and activities, and omitting the mundane and irrelevant.   And the volume of tasks they regularly perform could never be fully outlined in a job description.

While positions in administration don’t always seem the most glamorous, productive or creative, some admins do get to do business with high profile professionals and celebrities.  And admins who excel in their roles are often in a good position to move up the corporate ladder.  Having access to, observing and learning from top executives, gives the admin a chance to be a sponge, to absorb information, methodologies and protocols that aren’t taught, but can only be acquired through observation and participation. And admins who work for good bosses are encouraged to learn, stretch out beyond their comfort zones and prove their mettle, tackling assignments and tasks that demonstrate their growth, the knowledge and skills they have acquired and their ability to exceed others’ expectations.  Admins who build a track record of success and maintain a good network will become the ones who move forward and eventually have others working for them.

Admins deserve encouragement and recognition to grow.  And while not everyone is cut out to be a leader or executive, many office workers have discovered through their admin positions, abilities and passions that they didn’t know they had until they were encouraged to move forward, to reach a bit higher, to learn and try new things, and to use their skills in new and different ways, building confidence and new opportunities.

So if you’re a boss, be the one who encourages your admins to move forward, to try things differently, to create and accomplish, and do so by giving credit where credit is due.  And if you’re an administrative assistant, strive for growth in every way you can.  Be assertive without being unnecessarily aggressive; be thorough and thoughtful, and reach beyond the role you’re in now and prove your worthiness for something better.  Because the executives of tomorrow are the admins of today!  Let’s keep celebrating the administrative professionals.

For more ideas on admin jobs, your job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Apr 14 2014

You Think You Have It Rough?

Published by Hank under exploitation, immigrant

No matter how frustrating your job search is/was, if you think you have it rough, imagine being an immigrant, landing in the United States, speaking little to no English and trying to find a job.  Believing that America is the land of opportunity and the home of the free, thousands of people flock to our shores daily in search of better lives for themselves and their families, only to be forced into working conditions most of us would find completely unacceptable.

Sadly it is not uncommon for new arrivals to be taken advantage of.  There are many who see opportunity in the exploitation of those who come here. This is especially true when there is a broad language barrier.

Whether the immigrant worker comes to our country of their own free will or to free themselves from oppressions in their native homeland is almost beside the point.  Seeking political asylum or not, there are a limited number of work visas issued annually, and not everyone who applies for a work visa gets one.  Those seeking skilled and professional occupations must get their Green Card, and they will have a much better chance of earning more than a minimum wage. But those are in the minority.

Not all those who come to our shores have the skills for the specialized visas, and many get turned down for their Green Cards.  Immigrants without legitimate work authorizations or formal sponsorships must find work “under the radar” and are frequently forced into indentured servitude for twelve or more hours a day at less than minimum wage because these are the only jobs made available to them.  Even with a Green Card many find themselves working for little more than minimum wage, and often in degrading conditions.

In cities around the country, there are employment agencies that specialize in finding work for documented and undocumented workers, within the restaurant and hospitality industries, and as manufacturing and construction laborers. And the average job seeker won’t find these agencies in their local phone directory; the immigrant frequently knows who to seek out through word of mouth, in their native tongue.  Job seekers queue up for brief interviews and document verification.  Then, if the candidate is lucky s/he could be sent to another state to take a menial job at an eatery or hotel, and without hesitation, s/he will get on the next bus or train and head to that job in a place that is equally unfamiliar and unfriendly.

And to make matters worse, if that’s possible, these agencies operate under the radar, without licenses, so even when there is a legislated minimum wage, there is no compliance by these agencies or many of the employers.  And many of the immigrants feel like they have no power to control the situation, afraid they will not be assigned work, be fired, or worse, deported, for speaking up about these injustices.  And their concerns are legit because without proper work authorizations the threat of deportation is real.

Regardless of how you feel about immigration laws, ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement), the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, or any other legislation concerning the rights of new arrivals to our shores, you can’t deny that the wholesale exploitation of workers from other countries is shameful. Our country can do better.

Certainly there is a need for employment agencies that specialize in finding work for new arrivals! But I believe such agencies need to be regulated the same as any other employment agency, specialized or otherwise. And the work found for the clients of these agencies should meet the federal minimum wage and safety standards.

Many of the underappreciated immigrant workers will fulfill jobs and tasks that are already familiar, having performed them before coming here.  But many other workers will be taking steps backwards in their careers, taking any opportunity, even a menial one, to be here and start a new life.  And let’s keep in mind they are filling jobs that many of those who have been here their whole lives will not do!

Those who are willing to do the jobs others won’t do, are owed a debt of gratitude) by those who won’t do those jobs!  And it starts with insisting on fair employment and pay for all.  So, be grateful for the choices you do have in your jobs and job search and the conditions under which you will most likely be working.  You have it a lot easier than you might think.

For more ideas on your job search, career development and other topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Mar 31 2014

Going Back; Going Forward

Recently a friend told me she was returning to her former place of employment.  “Why would you want to be going back there?” I asked. “I thought you wanted to be going forward in your career?” The idea of her returning to that employer was a bit of a surprise because when she left her job with that employer she was not happy.  She had resigned after working there for several years and on many occasions had conveyed being miserable working for that company, the managers and alongside several coworkers.

So what was the motivation to return?

She loved the work.  She loved what she did and missed it while doing other things in the interim before returning. But she admitted to thinking long and hard about returning to the employer that made her life so difficult.  Among other reasons, one of the supervisors who she thought demeaning, had departed the company, and a former coworker who was not doing their job had been fired.  My friend felt the environment would be far less toxic and far more productive.

But there were other reasons for her to return as well.  In the time she was away from the company, she discovered there were not as many places as she’d thought where she could apply her hard-won skills.  Not wanting to waste her education and training on positions unrelated to her background left her feeling like she had little choice but to return.

Another motivating factor was money.  The employer wanted her to come back, and made her an offer that was hard to ignore, offering her a substantial bump in salary, and a couple of perks to sweeten the deal. My friend admitted to me that while the monetary offer was enticing, doing what she loved to do was far more important, and she would have returned without the raise in pay. Her time away from the job changed her perspective on the value she felt she brought to her department and the people she worked with, fortifying her confidence that she had more to accomplish and felt going back was going forward.

Job satisfaction, engagement, feeling like you are making a contribution, and enjoying the environment you’re in for 8+ hours a day are not factors to ignore in the initial acceptance of a job, or when facing the opportunity to return after a personal hiatus.  Certainly a lot of skills may be transferable from one type of job to another, and may even afford opportunities for new successes.  But there is a level of comfort that comes with the familiar; not just the surrounding environment but the functions and actions that are part of that daily endeavor that make returning seem like the right choice.

But having time away from that employer can also provide different perspectives, and perhaps heighten one’s understanding of the things that drove them crazy on the job and the reasons why they wanted to leave in the first place.  Maybe there were policies you didn’t like, or unavoidable personality conflicts, lack of recognition for contributions, or the distance and time of your commute.  Remembering and assessing why you left and trying to find out how much, if anything, has changed for the better or not, should be fully acknowledged and understood prior to committing to return.  If you don’t thrive in chaos and the place remains as it was, going back will likely be the wrong move.

Returning to a former employer is not the right move for everyone.  Sure, you can go home again, but will doing so add to your happiness and appreciation for what you have?  Only you can determine if going back is the right move for you and your career.  Going back, or moving forward?  If there are enough personal and professional incentives for returning, then maybe going back (if the opportunity is there!) is going forward, and the right thing for you to do.  But if after a thorough assessment you believe returning to a former employer will not net you the satisfaction you seek, your best course of action is going forward … to another employer.  Going back or going forward, I wish you the best.

For more ideas on maximizing your efforts going forward or going back, your job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Mar 17 2014

Making It Personal

In this age of social networking that reduces much interpersonal communication to the news feeds from various social websites, people tend to forget the value of making it personal through real face-to-face networking.  Nothing replaces looking someone in the eye, sharing a handshake and a smile.  Have we become too content with mere electronic representations of relationships?  There is little that comes close to the power of establishing a real interpersonal connection.  But sadly our use, and, in many cases dependency of, online social networking, has dulled our skills when it comes to establishing meaningful in-person interpersonal relationships.

Even if you’re out and about all the time, making contact with strangers to make real connections and build relationships (professional or personal) isn’t always easy.  To begin with, talking with strangers is easier for some than others.  If you’re not comfortable meeting new people, making connections becomes hard work, but it is still something worth pursuing.  And not all of our surroundings are conducive to openly making new acquaintances. Meeting new people and getting to know them a little can open us up to new ideas, perspectives, opportunities, and friendships; it can stimulate creativity, as well as professional and/or personal growth; and it can foster new beginnings.

After meeting someone, then what?  Will you follow up?  Will this new connection remain predominantly a stranger who you are minimally acquainted with, or will a deeper functioning relationship be established?  If, for whatever reason, you want to build a relationship with that new person, don’t wait for them to make contact with you.  Be assertive and communicate your interest in building on that introduction.

If you only make contact with one individual, your chances of recalling important information about who they are and what they do is a bit easier than if there have been several introductions at one time or at the same event.  And retaining introductory information can be difficult for many people.  For those who find it hard to remember names and faces, and for the shy and introverted, I heartily encourage finding a way to improve your networking skills using tools available in books found at your local library or through websites and online forums.  The ability to meet new people, retain names and associate them with faces conveys a sense of real connection with the other person.  Recalling another’s name is polite, it’s flattering; it demonstrates respect, and the perception of interest in the other person and what they do.

The ability to make another person feel like they are remembered, welcome and respected is an important trait. This is especially handy when you run into someone in an unexpected situation that is out of context from where you might usually see this person.  For example, bumping into a sales rep you know from work at a concert or non-work related social event, or the supermarket.  Your recognition might make another feel better about themselves.

Certainly there will be times when you can’t recall the name of someone you run into, or hear from online.  But when face-to-face, I believe it is important to admit your shortcoming, and ask the person to remind you of their name. Asking now can save you the embarrassment when someone else in the room asks for, or expects an introduction to the person whose name you can’t recall.  If you’re contacted online by an old acquaintance whose name doesn’t ring any bells, at least you can do some quick research about them using the usual online tools, and hopefully there will be some triggers to help resurrect your associations to them.

Unfortunately, too many people can’t be bothered to introduce one person to another!  Yes it is harder, perhaps even a bit awkward if you don’t know everyone you’re speaking with by name.  But one of the most courteous and respectful things you can do in any live professional or personal social situation is to make an introduction.  In doing so you are demonstrating respect, appreciation, a sense of welcome and more for others in the group, and particularly for the person being introduced. Introductions breed good will, interest in others, the deepening of existing connections and the broadening of each participant’s sphere of connections.  The depth of any new connections that may be established is not necessarily the responsibility of the one who makes the introductions.  And there is nothing wrong with being flattering or complimentary in the course of making introductions.  Just don’t “over-hype” the other person.

So, go ahead, be assertive.  Put out your hand and introduce yourself to someone new. Be polite and courteous, and by making it personal, you are conveying an interest in that other person. And in the process you make the world a better place!

For more ideas on maximizing your networking efforts, job search and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Feb 17 2014

Your Butt Could Get Bit

It is no surprise to employers that many applicants have experienced some legal issues in their lives.  Formal job applications still ask if you have ever been convicted of a crime, and you typically authorize the employer to perform a background check when you sign that form.  But just because you satisfied the courts’ requirements, the offense happened a long time ago, or you think the statute of limitations make the details irrelevant, your butt could still get bit from your past actions.

Many erroneously assume that arrest issues can no longer come back to haunt you in your job/job search after fines and restitution are paid, jail time – if any – has been served, and the matter has been cleared up to the courts’ satisfaction.  Not true!  An arrest, regardless of a conviction, becomes part of the public record, and the companies that perform background checks will likely have no trouble discovering your past.

If an arrest does come up from that authorized background check, you will need to convince the employer you weren’t trying to hide anything by not revealing this information in your application, and that the matter is no longer relevant, fines were paid, your record was cleared or expunged.  It also helps to stress that your behaviors have improved and similar events will not happen again.  However, major or minor offense, felony or misdemeanor, if you have been arrested, it is truly best to reveal your circumstances in a private meeting with the employer.  Even if you believe your record was cleared, or you were arrested and never charged, honesty is the best policy. Remember the employer just wants to be confident that you can be trusted to do the job you’re applying for and that you will not do harm to yourself or other people or their property.

For better or worse, thanks to the internet, arrest records and mug shots can be easily searched.  So if a background check paints an image of an applicant the employer does not like, it can keep you from getting hired, it can halt a promotion, and it can get you fired!

Complicating matters further are the internet companies that profit from the reposting of public arrest records and mug shots of arrestees, without their knowledge or permission. These websites mostly operate legally using content curated from public records, and they charge a hefty fee to remove an arrestee’s image.  To me, this is tantamount to holding one’s reputation hostage!

The existence of a mug shot does not prove that a person committed any crime, and people get arrested without being formally charged.  A mug shot should not be the cause of an applicant being denied employment, nor an employee to be terminated.  But it happens too frequently!

If there is an upside to this, when information is accurate we can learn more about the people in whom we put our trust and safety; like research our children’s teachers, the baby sitters, those running for public office, and do background checks on prospective employees.  But by itself, this information only paints a partial picture and should never be considered gospel.  Always get additional and current substantiating information to back up any claims, or fears, before making accusations or harsh judgments.

But if you’re the one with the mug shot, especially one that portrays you inaccurately and dishonestly, you need to take action.  In addition to possibly suing those who deliberately posted inaccurate information about you, you have some other responsibilities.

Talk to a criminal attorney about how best to proceed.  Laws on this subject differ from state to state, so it’s best to talk with knowledgeable professionals. There are legal aid services and agencies that specialize in working with ex-offenders who can provide information and referrals for your situation.

You may have to pay to have those photos removed from websites, and this could get very costly as there are multiple sites that post mug shots.

Get letters of reference from former employers and coworkers going back to the time of, or before the arrest that attest to your achievements, contributions and responsibilities.

Get as much substantiating evidence as possible to prove the inaccuracy of the posted records.  The more evidence you can present to prove your innocence or the inaccuracy of any charges against you, the better.

Be honest with your (prospective) employers.

Stay out of trouble!

Contact your elected representatives to express your concerns if you believe companies shouldn’t be allowed to deliberately post defamatory, inaccurate and incomplete information and profit from others’ hardships and mistakes.

As has been said in this space before, protect your privacy and your personal information, and be vigilant about tamping down any misleading information about you.  It really is the best way to keep your butt from getting bit.

For more ideas on job search, overcoming obstacles and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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Feb 03 2014

For Your Benefit

While talking with a couple of Gen X’ers the other night, they questioned if it was a good idea to find new employment in hopes of bettering their benefits?  Certainly a good benefits package is among the reasons people accept particular jobs.  But if all you want to do is improve your benefits without trying to improve the quality of your work life and the value of your impact, switching jobs for better benefits is not a good idea.

When your decision to transfer employers for better benefits becomes known to the employer – and they will figure this out – it will kill your chances of getting hired.  While there is nothing wrong with wanting better benefits, as a prime motivator to switch jobs you will look shallow, arrogant, and selfish; not the traits most wanted by employers.

There are many factors that determine the actual dollar value of your benefits, some more easy to calculate than others, so switching jobs based on benefits is not clear cut.  Your personal lifestyle, costs of living, location and familial needs will contribute to that valuation.  If you live in the heart of an urban area, your need for certain benefits will be different than if you commute from the suburbs.  Workers with spouses and families will have different benefit needs than those of a single individual.

The cost factors of some benefits are partially based on the total number of employees in the entire firm, not just your office.  In a large company with multiple locations, the actual dollar costs to the employer may be less per worker than in a smaller firm with a single location and fewer people to insure for the same benefits enabling the employer to offer more diversity in their plans.

Benefit program rates charged to the employer may in part be influenced by location, average worker age and other actuarial and demographic factors.  Not all benefits will be employer-paid.  And not all employers in the same industry will offer exactly the same benefits packages, despite claims of “competitive salary and benefits”.  And even if a plan is fully paid for by the employer, it may not be perceived as of equal value.

Some benefits will seem more important or attractive than others, depending on your own needs at the time of hire.  Unfortunately there is no guarantee the employer will be able to keep up the same level of benefits as time goes on.  Company liquidity, stability, debt, acquisitions, size, the economy and other factors will influence their ability to offer and pay for your benefits.  Circumstances could change after you’ve been hired necessitating the company no longer make the same payments toward employee IRA accounts.  Stock options may seem very attractive but if the company doesn’t have the success they hoped for, those options could end up being worthless.

Employers are not obligated to offer any benefits! Those who can afford to pay for benefits do so because it helps them attract, hire and retain candidates they hope will be motivated to do good work.  Some provide these incentives in hopes that doing so will free up the employee to concentrate on their jobs with less distraction.  Employers recognize that most workers do expect good benefits, so they try to offer as much as they can, when they can.

Certainly if you’re unhappy with the level of support you feel as a worker from your employer, and you feel you can do better elsewhere, then switching gigs is something to consider.  If you’ve outgrown the gig and feel like you’re stagnating, make the move.  Otherwise, think about staying put.

Yes, sometimes you may be able to find “greener pastures” to work in, but don’t forget to weigh all the factors: the actual work you’re doing, the people, your output, personal recognition, your commute, daily expenses and the myriad other reasons you took that job in the first place. If you are unsatisfied, you need to figure out why, and then react.

Better benefits alone are not reason enough to change jobs in my opinion.
Talk to your employer or HR representative and ask about any improvement to the benefits package that appeal to you and other employees, and ask if anything can be done about it.  Speaking with the right party on these issues is important when you have the job because these aren’t fully appropriate discussions for when you are seeking a job.  Silence and complacency do not encourage change.

Stay put, or make the move.  Do whatever is best for your benefit.

For more ideas on job search, benefits negotiation and other career development topics, please search this blog and visit:  hanklondon.com or contact me.

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