You’ll only get what you ask for

I was working in the oilfield for a year and a half and was laid off. I talked with a co-worker who was also laid off. He started the same time I did and was earning over twice as much. I was flabbergasted. I was better educated and had worked just as hard. He confided his secret, “Every time I saw my supervisor I asked when I was going to get my next raise.” We only saw our supervisor every month or three. He got the raises. I didn’t.

I didn’t learn.

My next job at EDS they told us that we weren’t allowed to share salary information with others. I was intimidated. Luckily they did give me some nice raises. After a few years those raises slowed down. I waited for my annual reviews and hoped for a raise. Once, I got ready to quit. The boss found out and gave me a raise. Hmmm. I still didn’t learn.

I am now paid based on how well AGI does. My wife owns the company. If I were going back to an hourly or salaried job, I’d talk to my boss about a raise every 3 months. 

Every 3 months is often enough that you can set goals and meet them between reminders. It is often enough to get some more education and finish some more projects. You have time to turn in 13 good weekly reports to your boss, even if they don’t ask for them.

I would NOT be upset about NOT getting a raise. I would expect to get a better raise than if I kept quiet. Think about it. If I discuss my job performance and a raise every 3 months with my boss, I will be much more likely to focus on what will get me a raise. Also, at the end of the year my boss really knows how much I deserve. 

Something to do today

Want a raise? A promotion? Time to start reviewing your desires with your boss often. More often.

Create your own luck

IQ experts say that Thomas Jefferson was one of the smartest men ever born. I don’t doubt he was brilliant. However he once said “I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” He harnessed his brilliance to the ox of hard work. Without his hard work, that incredible brain would have been wasted. 

I am sure there have been many others born who were smarter than Jefferson, no matter what the experts say. Those who were smarter were never recognized because they either worked in obscurity or didn’t work much at all. They used their brilliance to just get by.

Even the best poker players need luck. However, they also spend time practicing and perfecting their art. Learning to be the best at what you do and figuring out what the right moves are will be your best chances of having that luck with you. 

Two things you can do to be doing better than just getting by:

  1. You have to work hard
  2. You have to be recognized

I constantly talk to job seekers who have managed to get themselves into a great position. They work hard, have a great attitude and are willing to take chances. Interestingly, they commit with all their heart even though they may change jobs or positions frequently. They commit, work hard and make sure their accomplishments are recognized.

These superstars often hit bumps in the road. I know one that went from COO, to $24,000 per year junior associate, then back up to senior associate at $70,000 per year in 24 months. A year later he was CTO. He makes commitments, works hard and gets recognized.

Something to do today

It is time to look at your habits. Are you performing at the level you want to be recognized at? In other words, work hard and get recognized. 

Safety and job ethics

I made a 2 year commitment to the first company that hired me out of college. I said I would do that job and not quit. I had a safe job. I was over-educated and working hard. “Safety first,” I thought. I was happy to make that commitment. A year into it I got a sweet job offer. A huge promotion into another company. I was torn. I couldn’t take the new job. 3 months later I was laid off. I had made a commitment to my company, but they could not keep their commitment to me. 

Since then I have learned a few things about “Safety First” and job ethics.

Douglas Adams (Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”)

“Safety” is important. Just remember, you are only safe if your company is making money and you are a significant part of that money making machine. By the way, all that safety goes out the door if someone buys your company.

Job ethics works just like a contract. A contract is of no effect unless both sides receive something of value. You should live up to your commitments. Absolutely. But, if your company is not living up to their commitments, your side of the commitment disappears too. 

Staying with the company was the right thing for me to do. Did it hurt? Absolutely. I could have gotten that promotion I was so eager for, but I would have had to break my own commitment. 

Yes, the company was sold a month before I was laid off, and 75% of the capacity of the whole industry was cut over the next month after the company was sold. They had to lay me off.

I learned to feel good about fulfilling my commitments. I also learned to be careful about what I commit to. I paid a steep price. I learned, and have used what I learned for the rest of my life. It was worth it. I made a 3 year commitment to EDS a little later. I fulfilled that commitment too. That also was worth it.

Something to do today

What commitments have you made? What are the commitments made back to you? 

Write down both sides of the agreement. Does it still make sense when you look at it today? 

Using every opportunity to network

When Bill Gates was trying to sell a PC operating system to IBM, his mother was on a charity board. The president of IBM was on the same board. Was there a possible connection? Maybe. I doubt Bill Gates’ mother got the deal for him, but I’m sure it helped.

An unemployed salesman asked me, “Can you help me find a job? You know I’ve been looking for months. What can I do?” 

I didn’t have a job for him, so I asked him about his job search. We talked about networking. It turns out he already was in touch with some very influential people. They even offered to introduce him to other leaders, but he was afraid to take their help.

This salesman had convinced himself that, despite what these leaders thought, he just wasn’t worth their time. He didn’t feel comfortable networking at that level. He couldn’t see a reason why they would help him. Here is why they would help him: That is what President’s do. They help people succeed. They are focused on it. They spend all day thinking about helping others succeed. I put that salesman in a verbal headlock and got him to promise he would use the help he had already been offered.

Remember Bill Gates? He sold a PC operating system to IBM that he did not create or own. Bill Gates had gotten the right to sell it from the creator. He outsold a guy who owned a demonstrably better operating system. Bill Gates did it by using every string, every avenue and every potential aid he could find. Lots of people wanted him to succeed, not just his mother. He got everyone’s help he could.

Don’t be afraid to use every bit of help you can find to get your new job. Others wouldn’t help you if they didn’t believe in you. Now, believe in yourself.

Something to do today

Make a list of the most powerful and influential people you know. Ask for help. If they are in your current company, ask for help growing where you are. If they are out of your company, ask for help finding a new job. Go to the most powerful and influential first. 

You are worth it.

Are you sowing seeds of success in your job?

The first winter in Plymouth Colony killed a third of the Pilgrims. During that winter one of my ancestors was caught eating the seed corn. He knew the whole colony would fail if the seed corn disappeared, but he talked himself into eating it anyway. I’m glad he was caught. I’m glad he learned.

Every job is the seed of your next job, even if you are changing fields entirely. Your future boss will be looking back at your accomplishments, drive, leadership and enthusiasm for your current job.

When you decide to sit back and relax at your job, you eat your seed corn. No one wants to hire an “average” person. They want to hire a superstar, or at least a hard worker.

Figure out how to make a difference. How can YOU make the company more profitable? Is there some way you can prove you are above average? 

When I was doing janitorial work at 4 a.m. every morning, I excelled. I only missed 2 days in a school year and I called in advance for those. I did my entire job no matter how tired I was. That work got me promoted to the afternoon shift. It was a lot nicer. The early morning job was the seed of my next job, and that was the seed of the next.

Don’t relax. Be at least above average. It will be the seed corn for your next job.

Invest some of the money you earn to get training. Use it as seed corn.

Something to do today

Be honest. Are you sliding by? 

List what makes you above average. Put it on your resume.

List what makes you below average. Eliminate it.

Using a mirror to find your problems

Most people have no clue what happened in a job interview. Did you do well?  Did they hate you? Is there a big mistake you keep making? You lose sleep, hope, talk to yourself, and relive the interview, praying to find a clue.

It is like when you want to see the back of your head or you want to see the middle of your back. It takes at least two mirrors and a lot of luck, twisting, and patience.

A friend’s eye is a good mirror.

Find a couple of job interview mirrors, like the ones you use to see the middle of your back. You need a friend who won’t just parrot back what you say. Someone who listens and will feel comfortable telling you what they really think is critical. They need to walk you through three questions. Not just ask them, but make you stay on track. They need to pull you back to reality and away from your emotional state. Have them explore these three questions:

  1. Walk me through the interview like a movie. What exactly happened without any emotional coloring?
  2. In the interview, what were their hiring priorities? What did they explore and worry about the most?
  3. In your gut, how do you really feel about it?

You can go through those questions yourself and it will help. But, there is something about having to answer to someone else that often clarifies the situation. That’s one reason that a recruiter earns his keep. He becomes a sounding board after an interview for both the candidate and the client, helping them stay in sync with each other.

Having someone who can point out your mistakes and help you find where you need to work on to get a job is important. A friend or a family member is helpful but only if they know saying the bad things not just the good things is good for you. A recruiter is a great choice too, because it’s their job to help you find a job.

Something to do today

Find that mirror. Who will be honest with you? Who will YOU be honest with?

Six things you can learn from South Africa that will improve your job search

have recently worked with someone from South Africa and they have told me how difficult business there can be. Basic utilities like electricity and water are very unreliable; they can go out for hours during the day. The legal system is subject to corruption. Government regulation depends on your relationship with the bureaucrats, not the rules. Business partners don’t want to offend you or lose face, so they agree to do things they can’t get done. Bringing you bad news is avoided at all cost. Labor costs are low, but people will switch jobs for the slightest increase in pay. The problem goes on and on depending on the city, industry, neighborhood, and your ancestors.

South African business people do incredibly well in the US because they have practice overcoming complex problems. You can learn how to prosper in your job search and job by applying the few basic principles they live by. 

These job security, success, and business principles are applicable to accountants, help desk techs, managers, and CEO’s. They especially matter if you are in a job search. They will give you an incredible advantage in every company you apply at.

  1. Trust others but make sure they are actually accomplishing what they say they will do. Even experienced partners occasionally screw up. Have an alternative plan in case things don’t get done on time. Get commitments from recruiters, managers, friends, and anyone you talk to. Follow up.
  2. Don’t rely on your relationship with one person, like the HR department. Establish relationships three or four people deep. If one leaves or fails, you need the others to keep going forward.
  3. Spend time cultivating people. Get to know them. Find out about them personally as well as from business. It is amazing how often this will give you the leverage you need to succeed. Some of our greatest success as recruiters comes from being friendly, open and honest with the receptionist, as well as with HR and the hiring manager.
  4. Help others constantly. Go out of your way to encourage, help, and promote others who are growing. That help will often come back to save you in a crisis. Helping someone else get a job will improve your abilities and give you a strong supporter on the inside of their new company.
  5. Constantly focus on doing things quicker, cheaper, better, and with less people. This alone is the greatest job security guarantor in the USA. When you prove you can do it in your resume, you will always be a hot commodity on the job market.
  6. Take time to read, plan, and think. Americans are terrible at this. Sit down with a sheet of paper and write for 15 minutes or an hour each day. Brainstorm things you can do for your job or job search.

In South Africa it is essential to have multiple layers of preparation. In America, we frequently get by without them. Americans also often wonder why they got laid off and how they will survive when laid off. Preparation, getting to know more people, and fearless execution will do more for your earning potential than anything else.

Something to do today

List where you only have one layer of protection. Then list how you can improve that.

How to know your company might be in danger

Some signs of trouble in your company are easy to ignore. They aren’t obvious signs of trouble. They can even look like progress.

In the great Indian Ocean tsunami some people survived because they knew the signs of a tidal wave of disaster waiting to happen. They learned, “When the sea retreats far past the beach, run for the high ground. It will soon come roaring back.” It is a natural occurrence before a tsunami.

Job disasters have signs of impending doom like the tsunami causing water to retreat from the shore. Think about it. What happens before a car plant closes down entirely? Work is cut back. Minor layoffs occur. Sales are obviously dropping. Cars stay on dealer lots for longer and longer. Rebates and special incentives are used to sell cars. Managers, supervisors and foreman are laid off. Finally the plant closing is announced.

An old Thai proverb says, 

At high tide fish eat ants. At low tide ants eat fish.

A healthy company succeeds by doing effectively what a dying company struggles to do over and over without success. 

Signs of doom I have seen where I worked included: 

  • A new quality program annually 
  • No more flowers sent to funerals of workers and their family members 
  • Business travel is cut back 
  • On-the-job training is cut back to “just in time” training 
  • Payments for outside tuition is cut back 
  • Technology innovation specialists moved back into production jobs 
  • Promised bonuses cut back or not paid 
  • Refusal to let employees transfer to other areas in the company 
  • Relocation expense reimbursement eliminated 
  • Sudden personal interest in the workers by the company president and chairman. 
  • Empowerment training during declining markets. 
  • Not replacing people who quit. 
  • Reorganizing more and more often. 
  • Stock price dropping. 
  • Replacement of salespeople at a quick clip. 
  • A frenzy of competitor acquisitions.
  • A sudden focus on getting “good press” or being in trade publications.

When you see the signs of impending problems, you may still have years to prepare. Or you may have days. The important thing is to start preparing without being part of the problem. Take positive steps in your own sphere of influence.

When the water retreats from the shoreline, it may look like a great time to go out and pick up the fish left behind. When your boss is sacked, it may seem like the perfect time to get into management. And it may be true. But be careful and look for signs that a tsunami is coming to wash your whole company away.

Later I will talk about how businessmen in India cope with far worse problems than Americans can even begin to understand, and do it with a smile.

Something to do today

Draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper. On the left side write signs of company strength, reasons for optimism. On the right put a list of troubling signs of decline. Now pick how you can help accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative. Not only will your actions help your company, they will insulate you from layoffs and prepare you for a new job if disaster strikes.

Every company wants the same job done cheaper

I compete every day with people living in India. More and more recruiting is being done in India. They aren’t stealing jobs, they are taking advantage of their skills and work ethic. Am I frightened? A little. So far, I am much better skilled than they are, but that may change. I’m going to continue to work like crazy to stay ahead. I’m going to help others do the same. 

They can work for cheaper. Every company wants the same job done for less money. What is your advantage?

Play to your strengths is my motto. My strengths are:

  1. I communicate well
  2. People trust me
  3. I am a technology geek and quick learner
  4. Connecting unrelated things is natural for me
  5. I get things done

Your strengths are different. These are my deepest skills. What are yours? You need to know what they are to stay ahead. You should know which important skills that you’re weak in that can be used against you and work to improve them. Are you weak in people skills? Maybe you need to practice being more sociable. Are your technical skills not the best? Maybe you need to check up on the newest practices in your field.  

People will always want to steal your job. Someone in your city will also be applying to your company to steal your job. Someone from another country might be looking for your job to be outsourced to them. If you earn one dollar above the minimum your company pays, one of your coworkers wants to steal your job and pay. Get used to it.

Figure out your greatest strengths, improve them, and stay ahead.

Something to do today

List your greatest strengths. Don’t put down what you learned most recently. Don’t put down your job description. Why do people want YOU to be the person doing your job instead of someone else?

Keep learning, and you’ll never be out of a job

My grandfather was a modern farmer in 1930. The local farm bureau agent came by and said, “The government will pay you to rotate your crops.” Grandpa replied, “That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. I already rotate my crops because I can grow more that way. My land doesn’t get worn out. It gets renewed.”

Grandpa was stubborn and wouldn’t take the government’s money to do something he knew he should already be doing. The guys from the conservation bureau had problems with him. He always implemented the latest ideas without waiting for them to come up with a program to get him to do it. Crazy old coot? Really, he was a visionary farmer.

Do you have to be paid to prepare yourself to earn more money? 

Reading about your field, reading books, or even listening to audiobooks on your way to work is the best way to keep current in your field. College courses in the evening are a great way to build the basics you need for a foundation for growth. Enthusiasm will get you into seminars and conventions. Pay for it yourself if you have to. It is worth it.

Don’t wait for someone to come and tell you what you need to do and learn. Go out and learn it yourself before that happens. 

Something to do today

Find new articles, books, or audiobooks in your field and write down a few things that stand out or are new to you. How can you apply that to your work?