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This post is a reaction to Black Enterprise’s recent article on the state of African American women’s apparent inability to get the corner office in corporate America. The resource is a study from the Executive Leadership Council and the Executive Leadership Foundation.

I suggest you read the article first before you read my post so that you can get a better sense of the content.

In not so subtle ways the findings don’t say anything that I didn’t already know – but what really annoys me is how these findings don’t provide any meaningful insight into how Black women can push through the corporate America log jam…if they so choose.

Find a White Guy

According to BE, Black women severely lack “strategic” relationships in their relationship arsenal. Such relationships are defined as connections with senior level officers most different from themselves. 

In other words, they don’t hang out with enough white men. BE tiptoes around the idea that Black women are probably not aligning themselves with enough of them (or anybody who matters) to make a difference in their career.

And, depending on where you are in the corporate food chain – you’re so far removed from them, your best bet is to hope they trip over you at the next all-staff meeting.

Get a Cheerleader

The first point was about finding a specific mentor. This second point is more about finding someone who can:

  • Give you feed back
  • Understand your strengths
  • Scream your holy praises right through the glass ceiling

Essentially, existing in a professional vacuum is not ideal. Duh. We get that. Do the white men get to wear cheerleading skirts?

Hire a house manager – or find a house husband

Aiming for a cushy senior level position may demand that your strong black motherhood  (or attempts at it) go out the window (I guess Michelle Obama is the only exception to this?).

I’m not sure what ELC means by this since college educated and professional Black women are already marrying and having children later in life (compared to their white counterparts). 

Avoid the secretary route at all costs

I’m cheating a little bit here because this “strategy” (and the next one) come from an interview Workforce Magazine did with Carl Brooks, president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council. I couldn’t get the link for it, so here is a portion of the interview: 

WM:

Another problem for African American women is a misunderstanding of their capabilities. How do the jobs they hold influence that perception?

Brooks:

The advice in this research is that if you seek an operational position at the top level, you need to stay focused on that and not move so easily to staff or administrative positions in corporate America.

Your network already sucks

I’m sure Penelope Trunk would love this one. Brooks states that a Black woman’s network is highly social versus professionally strategic. Because this is so, Black women lack the options for opportunistic entry into valuable and professionally strategic relationships.

WM:

What is holding back African American women?

Brooks:

The networks for African American females were considered social than strategic. They know each other , they know the family makeup of each other, they socialize together. But they didn’t have the strategic ingredient that would allow them to advance and ask each other for support and endorsements. Without that, no one moves to senior levels in any corporation.

In short, your momma’s church friends, cousins, girlfriends at old jobs and your lunch buddy can’t do crap for you, jobwise that is.

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Constructive Termination – Yes, your manager is trying to get you to quit

Socioeconomic Affirmative Action – More reasons for white males to sue their employers

Director of Human Interest – Saatchi & Saatchi’s job title for their HR guy, Seth Wolk

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Photo Credit: julsatmidnight @Flickr

Photo Credit: julsatmidnight @Flickr

Choosing industry over a certain type of job

If your career is important to you – you won’t fence yourself in by rigidly sticking to industries (advertising, marketing, finance, etc.).

Pay attention to the the type of job (and the skills it demands) and worry less about what industry it is in.

You show more flexibility and value when you can maintain relevance – no matter what the professional discipline.

A good example is someone who takes their skills and can apply them equally across the board –  Desiree Rogers.

The woman went from the Illinois Lottery to the gas company and then to insurance – now she plans the social and events calendar for the First Lady. 

Food for thought: Specialize in skills – not industry 

Use the online job hunt against itself

Online job seeking is like a bad joke. Monster and Careerbuilder aim to have you mindlessly apply to the glut of “open” positions with seductive lures that employers  will actually get your resume. All you have to do is wait for a phone call.

Puh-leez.

Use your network to get your resume in the hands of people who are hiring at these places. Online job hunting at best is a referencing tool.  You’d be more productive hunting down companies that are not “actively” recruiting  (read: the hidden job market).

Pitchfork Mob Mantra: Monster must DIE! Monster must DIE!  note: flaming torch optional

You’re not doing a non-job thing – like temping… or working for free

It may not be ideal, but temping can lead to larger opportunities – like (temporarily) keeping you financially afloat. Or, if you have time (and you do have time) – create projects that will develop a shift in your resume.

For instance, I’ve become the project lead for a new exhibit focusing on the drug addiction and treatment of women and children in Afghanistan (side note: I’ve never done anything like this before).

I will have to dust off my rusty research skills, find funding and develop advocacy connections. But, I’ll be creating a project from start to finish. And, I’ll be doing something I’ve always wanted to do: using artistic methods to raise political awareness and ignite action

New motto: Your resume is not just a piece of paper

Go virtual

You don’t need to be in an office to get work done (and be paid for it). Places like Elance provide opportunities for would-be workers to hone (and maintain) their skills in cyberspace. Jobs range from web and graphic design to freelance writing.

Anything goes – you can be a ghost blogger or virtual assistant.

Nudge: Cyberspace is your friend…really

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Why not go further in political science? Why not go to law school?

What does that have to do with me interviewing for an assistant position in the Fundraising department? And, if I had gone to law school, I think I’d be more than a tad overqualifed for this job. I wouldn’t be interviewing for this job at all.

Better yet, two words: Excuse me?

I think you’re too smart for this job – but I’ll hire you anyway.

Let’s not bring up the huge elephant in the room – OK? You’ll only make me feel worse.

I just want to know if you enjoy perfoming data entry for 8 hours a day.

Um, how does that translate on a resume? I’d like to meet the person, however, who actually does enjoy that.

How do you deal with difficult people?

Technically, this is a valid (but very stupid and poorly executed) interview question. It’s like asking people, “What do you do when you’re bored?” It’s too ambiguous and open-ended. 

Also, it’s really suspicious – are we talking about someone in particular? (the answer: YES!)

I only want to interview people who have done external company communications for 5 years.

OK, that could be anything like email…or Facebook pages.

You need to have a 3.5 GPA in order to interview.

GPA is not the most effective screening measure. Also, if transcripts are a necessity just to talk to you, I’m less likely to apply (3.5 GPA or not).

Getting college transcripts is a real pain in the butt.

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Photo Credit: Offbeat Photography @Flickr

Photo Credit: Offbeat Photography @Flickr

They’ve been out of the job market for years.

Parents mean well, but they can give a lot of useless advice to their kids.

Especially when it comes to job searching. If your parents have been at the same place since you were in high school – they most likely haven’t had to actively look for a job in quite some time.

That being said, when they gripe at you about not finding a job – their perspective is referenced from a job market that existed 1o to 15 years ago.

Of course, they’ll bring up anecdotes about that time they were unemployed for a year in 1983 or how they had to look for a job in the bubble of the 1990s – it still won’t compare to your job search.

Why? Because they haven’t had to look for a job now.

Their contacts are in the same boat

If your parents are in the same boat as this guy – their connections may not be as strong as they once were. Since older job seekers entering the market haven’t had to look for a job in ages, they’ve probably become a little lazy and insulated from the necessities of keeping a fresh (and relevant) network.

Despite building up powerful contacts – there’ s no guarantee that your Baby Boomer parents can capitalize on them like they could several years ago.

And, by the time your Mom or Dad hits the job market – their contacts may have dwindled (if not disappeared).

The same places that won’t hire you will hire your parents

Nowadays, employers are taking advantages of the blood fest going on in the job market. Seizing upon the opportunity, they can now doubly trade in on getting cheap experience – even if it means hiring baby boomers to work at a fraction of what they could really make.

So why hire you when cheap labor comes at a better price by hiring an applicant that has twice the experience?

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When you know you’re gonna get canned

There’s all this talk that it’s common courtesy to give your employer 2 weeks notice when quitting your job. Yet, who is that really benefiting? Common opinion states that you burn bridges when you quit without notice.

I think burning bridges is a tad overrated.

Think about it, what if your employer said, “Hey Jane, we’re planning on terminating your employment next Monday, so I just thought I’d let you know as a courtesy.”

You’d probably freak out at first. Then, perhaps, you’d come to terms with your (eventual) job loss and prepare for the inevitable changes. Maybe, you’d even quit before your job’s expiration date. Yet, that’s not how it usually works. 

Employers don’t do that – there’s no common courtesy when you’re getting canned. You’re pulled into a quiet office on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday afternoon (when all your coworkers have left for a “late lunch” around 2 pm) and told by your manager that you no longer have a job.

Oh, and you have about 10 minutes to gather all your crap and get out.

Where’s the “common courtesy” in that?

So, no – all this common courtesy BS needs to go out the window. Perhaps, you’ve already received verbal warnings, been written up and are on probation. Unless you enjoy the indignity of being escorted from your (former) place of work with a shoddily assembled Trader Joe’s bag of personal items – you might as well quit.

No notice necessary. 

Giving 2 weeks notice is a death sentence

Some employers have a nasty habit of firing employees on the spot once the (very kind and courteous) employee gives a manager their obligatory 2-week notice.

If you’ve seen this happen – these managers get what they deserve. You’re actually playing it smart when you don’t give notice in these cases. What’s the point of 2 weeks of unpaid unemployment just so you can puff out your chest and say “I was courteous.”

Give me a break. You’re better off spending that time starting your job search sooner (or, if you are lucky – your new job).

What about burning bridges?

Frankly, depending on how bad the exit is – you can actually still leverage relationships from the charred remains of a burnt bridge. If you managed to alienate an entire department – or just your boss, you probably can still connect with former co-workers. This is not naive – its business. I’m not advocating that you make quitting your job without notice a habit – but there are certain situations that warrant it. 

People quit jobs for all sorts of reasons. Today’s workplace is less likely to punish you for jumping ship because job hopping is paramount for professional success. So, if you are worried about your reputation, you most likely don’t have one to worry about. Your reputation – just like your relationships – will speak for themselves.

It’s easier to blame the person doing the unexpected quitting as unprofessional and not practicing good business etiquette.

Yet, no one ever seems to question what drives people to quit jobs unexpectedly (and without notice) in the first place.

It’s never brought up that the company’s workers rather chew glass than come to work or that turnover is ridiculously high or that the CEO has a personality of a barracuda.

Also, how likely are you to refer to a former employer you hated for a reference? The relationship speaks for itself. If you’ve been dutifully practicing career multiplicity, hopefully by now you have other connections in your network to rely upon. Thus, if you are thinking about using your former manager for a recommendation for your next job – be a little realistic and move on to other potential contacts.

Furthermore, most company HR policy prevents managers from bad mouthing former employees. Some don’t even allow managers to provide recommendations or references. When looking for a new job, HR managers give title and dates worked.

And, with only your permission – salary earned.

Your staffing recruiter may ask questions like if you gave 2 weeks notice, what happened at your last job yadda yadda yadda – but if you’re smart, you can handles these questions with flair. You can say you left to pursue other opportunities.

Theoretically, you did. It’s not lying.

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