From the sandbox to the corner Office

1. You're the Your Career columnist for msnbc and you also write extensively on business issues in The New York Times . You've obviously got agood view of both sides of the jobs and employer divide. Where do yousee the primary clashes between staff and employers in terms ofemployment conditions?

Today the biggest clash is wages andbenefits. Managers are trying to keep a lid on spending and that meansthey are freezing salaries and cutting benefits. In a tough economythis gets worse, but overallworker's wages have been pretty stagnantwhile wages for top executives have skyrocketed in recent years. Thisis causing frustration and huge divide between the rank and file andmanagement. Also, there is no sense of loyalty on the part of workersto the company or managers. It's been a growing problem but it seemsto have intensified. You always got the 'I don't trust my boss' rankfrom employees, but it's reached a fever pitch. It can make for avolatile work environment for both workers and supervisors.

2. It'd be fair to say that people lookingfor jobs find are routinely confused and stressed by the process.How do they get a good handle on making effective, targeted,applications?

Well, I get tons of emails from workers who are dazed and confusedabout the job-searchprocess but that may be a function of what I do. What I typicallysuggest to readers right out of the gate, is figure out what youreally want. I can't tell you how many people aren't sure of their careerdirection, not only when they're just out of school but often intheir 30s and 40s. Maybe they've been working in a profession theyhate for years but don't know what else to do. Then they send me anemail. I tell them to first figure out what they would like to do.Make a list, a real written out list. It's amazing what people learnabout themselves then they write things down. I suggest they go backin time to what they loved to do as kids or teenagers. Maybe they losttheir way aftercollege looking to make a lot of money. Go back to your roots.Once you figure this out making effective,targeted applications is much easier. You may realize you need a bitmore schooling, maybe a class or two at a local college, to go afterwhat you want. If you're not sure what you want it's a good idea totarget industries that are growing. Obviously healthcare is a good choice,but also education and government jobs are expected to rise. This is a tough jobmarket right now, no doubt about it. So prepare for some difficulttimes when you're searching. Your cover lettershould sum up quickly who you are and what you're looking for, and youresume should include the jobs you've had that clearly match in someway the job you're going for. Leave off jobs that are not relevant.You don't have to include every single position you've had. And beyondthe resume, the key is networking. Intoday's tight labor market, knowing someone who can get your resumeinto the hands of a hiring manager is critical. HR folks tell me theyget hundreds of resumes and can't get through even a fraction.

3. Generation Y is getting a pretty bad press from employers aswanting it all, now, careerists who don't play by the script. They saythe way they operate their jobs and careers just reflects currentrealities and options. How do you see Generation Y in theworkplace?

I just did a post on my blog, CareerDiva.net, about Gen Y workers jumping fromjob to job. I have to say, I don't see a ton of differences betweenGen Y and previous generations, other than the obvious...they areyounger so they want to make their mark, just like the Baby Boomersdid. They have technology in their blood, which is something olderworkers had to learn about, but that just means they have moreinformation and more ways to connect with the world, and prospectiveemployers. I argue that Gen Y should stop getting caught up in thehype about them and concentrate on what they really want. Experts wantto put them under a microscope but they forget that within this groupthere are endless different personalities.

4. We (CvTips.comforum) have a lot of entrylevel people who are trying to make sense of the jobapplication process. They, like many experienced people, find itslow, bureaucratic and often incomprehensible, and it's a significantstress. How do you think they should approach learning theropes?

The one thing to keep in mind is it's not personal. Hiringmanagers have a job to do and often they don't do it well and maymiss the perfect candidate. I did a story for MSNBC.com a while backand I interviewed a guy that was an IT expert. He sent out a bunch offake IT resumes to companies in Silicon Valley that were looking foremployees. The resumes were perfect, down to top universities and theexact experience the job called for. Only a tiny percentage of thoseresumes even got a call back. Do you see where I'm going? You can beperfect for the job but your resume still ends upin the trash. The majority people I know get jobs because a friend'sfriend knew someone at a company. Seriously, that's how it works. Getout there! Join groups and chat rooms in your profession. Meet peoplethat can help you. Even talk to people you meet on line at a grocerystore or on a plane. You never know who that person is. Also, Facebookand LinkedIn are great ways to start expanding your networking reach.And why not start a blogabout your profession or expertise. It can only help you when you getto the interviewprocess. One guy who got his dream gig in advertising believes hisblog, which developed a big following, is what got him the foot in thedoor.

5. You did an article on telecommuting for disabledpeople for The New York Times recently. There's been a lot oftalk about telecommuting as the next big thing in office work, savingemployers overheads and staff the commuting grind. Do you think it'sreally the way of the future, or are there problems?

I believe telecommuting isindeed the future, it has to be. The prices of oil is only expected toclimb, and the environment can only take so much more. That said,employers will not go quietly into the telecommuting night. It's justthe reality of management, bosses like to have control over theirworkers and they lose that when workers aren't in front of them...atleast they feel that. But I'm seeing a growing number of firms doingmore intensive training for supervisors and workers when it comes tofiguring out how it will all work. I did a big story on the future oftelecommuting for MSNBC.com. Now is a great time for workers to asktheir bosses for a day or two at home. I know many employees that have asked lately and the answer has been a limited yes. One day a weekwill help cut gas costs for workers considerably. Make a case foryourself to your boss after doing your own homework on how you cansuccessfully continue to do your job fromhome.

6. Matureage workers trying to get jobs often go through hell. They havethe experience and the talents, but they don't get the jobs. What'sthe trick to getting employers to see value in experience?

No way around it, there is age bias in the workplace,even as we hearthe retiring of Baby Boomers will leave employersscrambling to find workers. That said, I don't think older workers dothemselves any favors. So many complain to me about all the young kidsthey're forced to work with today and how they feel they can't keepup. They believe everyone sees them as the old farts and in some waysthey may. But if you act like an old fart that's how people willperceive you. That means you have to be on top of the latest andgreatest technology, andalso be confidentin what you bring to the table, knowledge. Make it clear to co workersand bosses that you have to experience and talk yourself up. No oneknows what you're doing if you don't toot your own horn. Also, it'salways a good idea to spruce up your image a bit. I am not a believein getting plastic surgery or Botox, and have written about this a lotat CareerDiva.net, but please, please, please, getrid of the 1980s wardrobe for god's sake. Older workers will be valuedwhen they value themselves. They have more to bring to the table thatthe Gen Yers and Gen Xers combined. Why? They know the ropes becausethey've been in the trenches longer...Hello! Experience means alot.

7. The US is in adownturn, and jobs are being shed across the spectrum. You wrote anarticle on your blog, Career Diva, about surviving the axe for middlemanagers. What are the survival strategies for staff?

Make yourself indispensable. That is key. If you're key to anorganization's or division's growth, it's hard for someone to fireyou. But that means letting people know what you do. Too often I hearfrom workers who say, 'I did this and that and no one even knew.' Inmany cases, the only way your manager's know what you're doing is ifyou tell them. They see you toiling away, but they need to be remindedof exactly what you do. I'm not saying send them an email every timeyou burp at work. I'm saying, when is the last time you sat down withyour boss for a chat? Not about a raise, but just to check and make itclear what you've been up to and if he or she needs you to be doinganything else. Also, no one likes a whiner. You have to start actinglike you don't really need your job. Take one day at a time and doyour work without allowing the prospect of a pink slip to bring youdown. That the best thing for your well being and yourjobsecurity. I also wrote about this topic for MSNBC.com.

8. Employees often resent the modern management culture. Weeksof meetings where they can't contact managers for most of a day orlonger don't add much to that impression, and put things on hold.What's the cure for Meeting Syndrome, and what can employees do aboutit?

Good luck brother. The corporateworld is about meetings and despite all the negative talk aboutmeetings it seems they're getting more prolific in offices everywhere.An employee can definitely suggest cutting back on meetings, orpointing out how other things don't getdone because of Meeting Syndrome, but often the meetings are yourmanager or your manager's manager's idea. So you risk pissing a bossoff. I would be diplomatic with my criticism of meetings. Ask for ameeting to talk about the meeting. Don't email your anti-meetingthoughts. Maybe a worker should be concentrating on how to make themeeting more productive. You have a room full of colleagues. You wouldthink something good could come out of that.

9. The youth market, particularly the teen age group seems to begetting its share of abuse regarding its culture, work ethos, andgeneral lack of interest in the values of the working world. Is thisjustified, or is it defensive spin on working environments which areturning off teens?

I think there is something teens today not working as hard becausein reality they are not working like they used to. I mean thatliterally. The number of teens that hold down a part timejob has been dropping for several decades. Many parents see schooland extracurricular activities as more important to future successthan flipping burgers. This phenomenon is true across income levels.But many of the CEOs I interviewed for my book 'From the Sandbox tothe Corner Office' had jobs when they were kids. The majority did. Andall of them said it was their experience with work at a young age thathelped them develop a work ethic and alsofigure out early on what they did and didn't like to do as far as ajob was concerned. Recent studies also suggest that teenswho work end up being more responsible, more confident and havebetter timemanagement skills than their counterparts who did not.

That said, I think teens today work very hard when it comes to workand sports teams, music,etc. But maybe a bit of time earning their own money would serve themwell.

10. The New Economy seems to be taking off, and initiatives likethe High Road approach to industry are apparently working, but theconventional mainstream workforce is still the norm. Is there culturalresistance to these new initiatives in the employment sector?

I think the business world has a long way to go before it embracesa High Road economy where wages are more equal, jobs focus onenvironmentally sound industries and workers and management aresinging Kumbaya. I'm a hopeful person, but I'm also realistic. Look atthe presidential battle going on now. The candidates are attackingeach other on things like sounding too smart, personalities, families.Neither of them are really focusing on the working stiff and how tomake the average Americans life better, or finds ways to help citizensmake their own lives better. Again, I point to the growing disparityin pay among workers and the top dogs. And also the loss of jobsecurity, thanks to globalization and the growing greed factor. Weneed a societal change if we're going to see a NewEconomy. They go hand in hand. What will make society change? I'mnot sure. We've had a huge infiltration of religion in politics inrecent years, but the Judeo-Christian values of love towards thoseless fortunate don't seem to have permeated through our society, anddefinitely haven't trickled into most boardrooms. It's everyone forthemselves when it comes to Corporate America and until that changesthe High Road will always be a bit too high to reach.