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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stupid Headline of the Day (well of Monday--I'm behind)

Lure of Great Wealth Affects Career Choices" or so says the New York Times. The article is about people who make real money, not that piddling little $160,000 or so a year you make as a family practice physician.

While the article itself was interesting enough, the headline was poorly chosen. Of course your career choices are influenced by how much money you can make. I'd love to be a professor at a school that emphasizes teaching over research. But, let me tell you that the starting salary for professors in political science (what my degrees are in) is less than my admin makes.

Lack of money doesn't stop everybody from entering a career field. But the more money a job pays, the more selective you can be. The article attempts to convince the reader that anyone who wants to can jump to Wall Street's millions. However, keep in mind that the doctor they highlight obtained both his undergraduate and his medical degree from Harvard. I believe you may have heard of that school before.

While some people who make large piles of money are just downright lucky, jobs like the ones described in the article are given to the highly educated, highly intelligent types. Not all of us would be hired. And, importantly, not all of us would want to be. I, for one, don't want that kind of pressure. I have enough pressure as Evil HR Lady. (Mustn't disappoint the readers!)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pregnancy Condundrum

Dear Evil HR Lady,

Advise me, if you would be so kind:

I have been at my current job for approximately 3 years. Last month, a new boss was hired. Our work styles clash, and I don't feel I can work successfully and happily with this woman. So, I have begun job hunting.

Last week, I had it confirmed that I am pregnant. About 6 weeks pregnant, as it happens. My feeling is that a prospective employer should be told, but that telling cuts the likelihood that I will actually be offered a position. So, I am torn. In your opinion, what are the ethics of looking for a new job while pregnant? Do I need to reveal the pregnancy before accepting a position? If yes, how early in the process do you recommend bringing up the topic?

Thanks in advance for sharing your views.

Dear Newly Pregnant,

First, congratulations! May your pregnancy be uneventful and your nausea at a minimum. Second, excellent question.

But, before we get to your question, I say a few things. Are you sure you really want to look for a new job? FMLA does not apply to you if you have worked for a company for less than a year. This means that even if your new company was otherwise subject to FMLA, they wouldn't have to honor it for you. This, in practical terms, means you aren't guarenteed 12 weeks off (unpaid) to care for your newborn.

In addition, is your healthcare through your current job? If you jump from one job to another, make sure you don't have any break in coverage. Some jobs give you coverage from your first day, others make you wait 3 months for coverage. If your new job is one with a 3 month wait, and your insurance lapses during that time, your pregnancy will be considered a "pre-existing condition" and you won't be covered. You can avoid this problem by using COBRA, but that could be expensive.

If you are not planning on coming back to work after the baby, save yourself the hassle and stay at your current job.

But, assuming that FMLA, insurance, and returning to work aren't issues for you, let's attack the job hunt.

I agree with you that you should tell a prospective employer of your pregnancy. Now, please understand you are not legally obligated to do so. Employers cannot legally discriminate against you because you are pregnant, but can refuse to hire you for other legitimate reasons. A lot of the reasons why one candidate is chosen over another is management preference, and discrimination is hard to prove. (If in fact, you would be someone who would sue if you weren't hired, I wouldn't recommend telling the interviewer that you are pregnant at all.)

But, if you disclose the pregnancy and are hired you already know you are going to be working for a boss that won't hold the pregnancy against you and he or she is much more likely to be sympathetic to the needs you'll have as a new mother. That's the kind of boss you want anyway.

I will be honest and say that there will be some jobs you won't be considered for because of the pregnancy. But, since you are in the luxurious position of already having a job, remember you don't want to work for someone like that anyway. I know in my experience, finding the right person for a position can be very difficult, so if you were the right person, I'd have no problem hiring you--even at the late stages of pregnancy.

Of course, don't bring it up first thing. "Hi, I'm Jill and I'm pregnant. Boy, that morning sickness is something, eh?" is not how you want to introduce yourself. Bring it up at the end of the interview and emphasize how much you are interested in the job, and how you are the right person and you'll be back after your brief maternity leave. Be positive. Be the right person and you'll be hired. Your new boss will respect your honesty.

Happy Job Hunting!

Evil HR Lady

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I thought I would post a list of some of the things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

My family (and this includes my husband, child, parents, siblings, and inlaws)
My friends
My home
My church
My country
Good food
People who read my blog
People who send me questions (and yes, if you sent me one, I am planning to answer it, sorry for the delay!)
People who write blogs
Soft beds
Pie (we have 7 people at Thanksgiving dinner, and only 6 pies this year. I am a bit worried)
and a million other things

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Choices have Consequences

I'm a big believer in choices and consequences. As I tell my Sunday School class, you get to choose your actions, but not your consequences. Fortunately, consequences are rather easy to predict in many situations. (Although, I admit, not always. Like, for instance, who would have known that the consequence for eating an entire box of Hostess cupcakes would be a 3 pound weight gain--oh wait. Never mind.)

There's a new paper out that looks at what effect having children has on a scientific, academic career. From the abstract:
We find that women are less likely to take tenure track positions in science, but the gender gap is entirely explained by fertility decisions. We find that in science overall, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor after controlling for demographic, family, employer and productivity covariates and that in many cases, there is no gender difference in promotion to tenure or full professor even without controlling for covariates. However, family characteristics have different impacts on women's and men's promotion probabilities. Single women do better at each stage than single men, although this might be due to selection. Children make it less likely that women in science will advance up the academic job ladder beyond their early post-doctorate years, while both marriage and children increase men's likelihood of advancing.

The blogosphere is in a tizzy over this. (Here and here for instance.) It seems obvious to me that what this paper is really about is that choices have consequences.

I can hear the whining now, but Evil HR Lady, it says that men advance when they have children and women don't. It must be sexism! Bah! It must be who they chose to marry. My husband chose to marry someone who was more devoted to family than career. Therefore, when my income dropped by 50% after giving birth because I chose to work part time and give up my management responsibilities, he was not surprised. By me being at home, I'm able to take care of more household responsibilities, freeing up his time for work. If women want their responsibilities around the house lessened so they can devote more time to work, pick the right husband before reproducing. Don't whine about it after it's too late.

It's neither sexist nor unfair. It's a choice. There are consequences. Take a deep breath and deal with it.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I'm Going to Be Laid Off

Dear Evil HR Lady,

There are rumors swirling that layoffs are happening soon--like in the next week soon. Managers are always in closed door meetings and then when asked what the meeting was about, they can't look at us in the eye and make some lame excuse, so we're pretty sure the layoffs are coming sooner rather than later.

What should I do when I officially find out? I mean, besides get a new job. How should I react? Should I threaten to sue? Weep? Demand to speak to a higher up?


Unemployed by Christmas

Dear Unemployed by Christmas,

First, sorry about that. You may or may not be on the list, but one thing is for sure--companies love to have people off the books by year end, so lots of layoffs seem to happen in the 4th quarter.

Let's assume you are right and you will be "notified that your position is being eliminated" in the near future. Here are somethings to be prepared with.

1. I hope you work for a large company. Large companies tend to have better severance packages than smaller organizations. Good luck with that.

2. If you are part of a group layoff, there should be a document called a "Summary Plan Description" or something similar included. This will describe what the rules are--how severance was calculated and who is eligible.

3. Are you over 40? If so, look for a list of titles and ages of people in your group who were and were not part of the layoff.

4. After being notified, if an HR person is in the room, turn to her and ask, "Is WARN implicated in this layoff?" W.A.R.N. is a law regarding large scale layoffs and plant closings (as well as other things, but let's keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer). If it is applicable to your layoff the company is required to give you 60 days notification before stopping your pay. They can do this by telling you 60 days before your last day worked that your job is ending, or by paying you for not working for at least 60 days. W.A.R.N. isn't applicable to most layoffs, but ask anyway. It will totally freak the HR person out because you'll sound knowledgeable.

5. Don't freak out in the notification meeting. You suspect this is coming, so prepare your reaction. It's okay to be upset, but no excessive weeping or wailing. First, it won't do you any good. Second, it will cause your boss to notify security that you are a "risk." Third, you may want to work for these people again and you always want to leave a good impression.

6. Remember that lots of people get rehired after being laid off. After one layoff I was involved in, we ended up rehiring 40% of the people affected. So, don't burn bridges.

7. Review all your documents before signing them--and consider taking them to a lawyer. Companies will generally negotiate with you and it doesn't hurt to ask.

8. Finally, if you WANT to be laid off (and lots of people do), go ahead and pull your manager aside and say, "I've heard rumors about upcoming layoffs. I'd like to be on the list." If there are layoffs and you are not on the list, but someone in a similar job is, they'll probably happily switch you and everyone wins.

Good luck and I hope you find a new job quickly!

Evil HR Lady

Monday, November 13, 2006

Why I Don't Like Recruiters

I've done recruiting. Granted, it wasn't on a grand scale and mostly I was recruiting bank tellers. (Are you going to steal from us? No? You'll take $8.47 per hour? Excellent. When can you start?) It's a necessary role in HR, but it's not the only role. But mention you're in HR and people assume you are a recruiter. Which I'm not.

Many years ago, when I was looking for my very first job out of grad school (and, therefore, stupid) I interviewed with a nice company. Seemed like a great place to work. They did market research and I was applying for a job as a statistical analyst. (This is before I became Evil HR Lady. At that point I was just Evil Unemployed Living Off My Generous Parents Lady.)

The first round of interviews went well. The second round of interviews went (I thought) well. (That's right, I interviewed with multiple people each time.) At the end of the second interview, they handed me a data file and told me to go home, analyze it and send back my analysis.

So, I did. I worked hard on that. I wanted this job. I did some great data analysis and I e-mailed it off to them.

3 weeks later I get a standard post card in the mail. "We've received your resume and will keep it on file for 12 months. Don't call us, we'll call you." Lame.

I have no problem with doing this for resumes received. I know my current company receives over 1,000 resumes a day, so they must do that. That's fine. But when someone has come in twice AND done a data analysis for you, you should call and tell them the position has been filled, or at the very least, send a personalized e-mail.

I had forgotten about this experience until a friend interviewed with the same company. Now, I was young and stupid. This friend is anything but. (Not saying that she's old--oh dear, I may have stuck my foot in my mouth.) What I mean is that she's experienced. She's been in executive roles. She has a PhD. This is not some twit out of school.

So she had multiple interviews. They asked her to come in and do a training class for their executive team--as part of the interview. So she did. And that was that.

They got some free data analysis off me and a free executive seminar off her. And that is why I don't like recuiters. Have the decency to follow up with anybody you bring in for an interview. And don't leech off your candidates. Sure, it's reasonable to want to view how someone trains, but you have two or three people view it, not the entire team. That's just cheap and tacky. Pay for your own training. And call people back.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Clothes Make the (Wo)man

And the man, but let's face it, men's clothing is so much easier. Let's demonstrate by listing proper male attire for the following events:

Funeral: Dark suit
Wedding: Dark suit
Job Interview: Dark suit
Meeting future inlaws: Dark suit
Dinner with the President: Dark suit
Testifying before Congress: Dark suit
Opera: Dark Suit
Sports: golf shirt and jeans or shorts
All other occassions: Khaki pants and a colored or patterned button down shirt

Women, of course are not quite so easy. But clothes do make a statement about who you are. The Ask Annie column at addresses women's clothing (or the lack thereof). She writes:
In Glick's experiment, both male and female businesspeople were shown a series of videos of a woman discussing her background and hobbies. The scripts and the actress were the same in all the videos, but the woman's dress and job description changed. When the actress was dressed in revealing clothing and claimed to be a receptionist, her attire "had no effect" on how she was perceived. By contrast, when the scantily clad actress described herself as a manager, the people watching the tape saw her as less competent than "her typically professionally dressed counterpart (wearing flat shoes, slacks, and a turtleneck)," and even estimated that she had earned a lower GPA at a less selective college.

I learned the importance of proper attire early on. (Not that I ever dressed in a "scantily clad manner." Let's face it, I'm fine from the neck up and the knees down, but no one really wants to see anything in between.)

My senior year in college, I did an internship for the Utah State Legislature. At our first meeting where we were introduced to the Senators, Representatives and the secretaries it became obvious who everyone was without a single person opening his or her mouth. All the male elected officials wore (what else?) dark suits. The females were split into two groups. The first group was wearing flowered print dresses. The second group was wearing straight skirts with jackets--business attire.

I probably don't need to say anything else and you know who the elected women were and who their secretaries were. Now, there is nothing wrong with being a secretary (and I think after this past election who-ha you could make a strong argument that secretaries are extremely preferable to elected officials, but I promised no more politics). But, it was easy to spot: flowered dress--secretary; suit--senator or representative.

So, when you pick your outfit out of the closet this morning, think about what image you want to portray. It will guide your career path.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Friends and Clients, Not the Same Thing

A friend is getting an addition put on her house. The general contractor she hired is an acquaintence. He does fabulous work, so that's not the issue. The issue is he told her he'd start Monday and it's Wednesday and (last I spoke with her), he hasn't started yet. One of the reasons for the delay was a funeral he had to conduct. (He's also a bishop in the LDS church.)

She said to me, "I just don't want to have to care about my contractor's personal life. I don't want to have compassion for someone. I just want the job done."

Now, she is not a horrible person. She's actually a wonderful person and she understands that you can't schedule funerals in advance and she's not going to hold it against him. But, she wants the work done.

I think her statement "I just don't want to have to care about my contractor's personal life," is something those of us who want to get friends to hire us should think about. People want to be able to fire a company that isn't living up to their standards without worrying that poor Susie is going to lose her house.

Which just means, if you are trying to woo friends as customers, you really need to work twice as hard to keep them happy. They need to be really sure you aren't going to flake out on them and ruin both a business relationship and a personal one as well.

You should also be cautious about forcing your business on them. (This means you, you home party people. I don't want a candle. If I wanted Southern Living I'll move to the south, and I would rather stick pins in my eyes before I "stamp it up.")

Fortunately, before I went on this rant, I got Miss Manners' approval. Her column today addressese the friend-business relationship. (2nd letter)
Dear Miss Manners: My niece has begun a new career as a financial adviser with a well-known investment/brokerage house. She has been given extensive training and informed that she must produce a certain volume of business in a specified time.

She e-mailed a copy of her "complimentary consultation/introductory bio" letter to her personal mailing list.

Alarms went off and I replied: "Most of us who have lived past our teen years have had the uncomfortable experience that a friend in a new sales career is looking at us as a possible client rather than as a friend. Try to avoid creating that feeling in your friends (they tend to last longer as friends that way)."

Just how far over the line have I gone?

Gentle Reader: All the way across contemporary thinking, to what Miss Manners hopes will eventually be out the other side.

You, Miss Manners and civilized people believe that the best use of money is to support personal life. Others believe that the best use of personal life is to make more money.

Need I mention how much I love Miss Manners?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My Last Political Post

Remember to go vote today!

But if you are planning to vote for the wrong person, please stay home. :>)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Helicopter Parents in the Workplace?

You've all read about helicopter parents who hover over their children at school and drive their teachers nuts. Plus they make their children ill-prepared to enter the real world. That used to be problematic--but apparently mumsie and daddums have figured out the solution--they will hover over their child's workplace as well.

Here is a quote from the article:
A 22-year-old pharmaceutical employee learned that he was not getting the promotion he had been eyeing. His boss told him he needed to work on his weaknesses first. The Harvard grad had excelled at everything he had ever done, so he was crushed by the news. He told his parents about the performance review, and they were convinced there was some misunderstanding, some way they could fix it, as they'd been able to fix everything before. His mother called the human-resources department the next day. Seventeen times. She left increasingly frustrated messages: "You're purposely ignoring us"; "you fudged the evaluation"; "you have it in for my son." She demanded a mediation session with her, her son, his boss, and HR--and got it. At one point, the 22-year-old reprimanded the HR rep for being "rude to my mom."

Just reading that gave me a headache. But it also reminds me that I need to read FastCompany more often.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Education as Business

I'm fascinated by the topic of education. In fact, I probably should have been a teacher, except that I rather dislike other people's children. (Some of you will now be saying, well none of my teachers liked kids either, so what stopped you?)

So, I keep up on education. But with all my reading and high level of interest, what I've never understood is why schools aren't run after business models. Jay Matthews, at the Washington Post recently did an article discussing Schools of Education (or Ed Schools, as they are referred to). He writes
[A]growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.

Matthews goes on to say that principals are, by and large, dissastisfied with the level of preparation achieved by their recent ed school graduates and some are looking towards people who come from other sources.

This is where business models seem to scream out to me, "try this for education!" Think about your current job. Then think about your undergraduate experience. How many of your classes directly relate to your current job? (And for my brother-in-law, the accountant, just be quiet, you'll ruin my whole theory.) My bet is, not very many.

Oh there are areas (such as accounting) where specific data is critical. And if you want to be an engineer, you better know some math. And I'm definitely not saying that medical school is not necessary for doctors. But, I am talking about the majority of the white collar workforce.

Being in Human Resources, I have access to data about all employees, including information on their degrees. It's all over the map. There are English majors in Finance and Finance majors in HR. There are nurses in marketing and liberal arts majors in IS. How on earth did all these people get proficient in their jobs without a specific education? They learned on the job.

My first HR job, my boss pointed to a woman and said, "She's the head of HRIS." I nodded, but had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. (For those of you, not in in HR--HRIS is HR Information Systems--it's the techy side of HR, where I have made most of my career.) I had to ask what an "exempt" employee was. Did I know the rules regarding records retention? Absolutely not. I learned it all on the job.

When I hired people that were to report to me, my criteria was that they were smart and willing to learn. I didn't require a degree from a specific school in a specific major. In fact, the job postings said "Degree in Business, Human Resources, Social Sciences, Computer Science, liberal arts or similar." Can you get any more open and inclusive then that? I got great employees that way.

So, back to ed schools. Teach For America sends teachers with minimal training into schools. My question, is how do they compare with the the teachers trained by ed schools? If it's the same or better, then why are we spending money on ed schools?

And then there is the money factor. First of all, I am not in any way advocating that more money be spent on education. We are all going broke paying for public education. What I want is a re-allocation of money. We average $8,287 per student in the US. At 22 students per class, that $182,314 per year. Give me that much money, I'll pay a teacher a great salary, build a school, buy textbooks and still have enough left over to give me a nice little bonus.

Unless you either a. loved children more than anything in the world or b. couldn't get a job doing anything else or c. had other sources of income, why would you teach? Admins in my department (college degree not required) make more than new teachers. Any business person will tell you that you have to offer the right salary to attract the right people.

Business people will also tell you that you need the ability to fire. Teachers are notoriously difficult to fire. (Read this if you don't believe me.)

I admit, I don't know everything there is to know about education. And yes, I've read the blueberry analogy and I think it's a false one. And please note, I have said nothing about test scores. That's for another post on another day.