Saturday, April 12, 2008

Free Career Advice 1: Earned vs Entitled

What a fruitful Canadian that guy was, and what a pleasent Hostel the Lettem' Sleep youth Hostel in Nürnberg is. I gotta say a half empty, comfortable hostel with fully equipped kitchen (that sadly I never used) was a very welcome relief for me.
Anyway, I was talking about how I plan to be a consultant as a cashmaker when I get back, focusing on getting higher performance & retention out of younger staff. (So in otherwords management) this was timely as a friend reminded me of both the high churn of my old employer and the confused issue of 'loyalty and career'.
Old school companies value loyalty, but old school companies also value country clubs, sexism and all that shit.
Also I find that a combination of our parents, natural selection, marketing, business oriented education and society in general produces graduates with inflated opinions of themselves. Just generally.
Now there's so many places I could screw up the moral of this career advice that its good that I'm roughing it out here rather than when I am hopefully paid to sit down with companies top prospect youth.
Some background maybe is what I need more than you. As far upstream as I can percieve, the cause is risk aversion. I was super fortunate to meet Bryce in my life who is a 'self made man' in my eyes, has a high risk threshold that he doesn't seem to even notice and has demonstrated the profits of which before me, thus in a way saving me from my own overanxious parents.
Not that they are deviating from anything parents are supposed to do, at least not in their circle, and unfortunately in the majority of the concentric circles that make up the developed worlds society. For every material gain a person makes becomes a source of risk that it may then be deprived of them.
So generally without going any more in depth, people are risk averse. That is to say, while the days where landing a government job brought relief to parents who despite the average pay would thank the lord you had a job for life, there is still a pervasive drive for parents to encourage their kids to be doctors, lawyers, accountants, hr, engineers and so fourth, to go to university and basically be an employee.
Whats wrong with being an employee? nothing, if it suits your risk profile, but this profile is hardly ever explored, it is just assumed that your risk profile is low, or that is average.
Because an employee vs say an entreprenuer is very low risk, low risk of failure (get fired - hard to do by most managers - get payout - get new job) vs the high risk of failure for an entreprenuer (business fails - easy to do - house repossessed - bad credit - hard to raise new capital).
The problem is that the same is true of the profits, you have very low risk as an employee of swimming through the filthy profits of your employer (at some level an entreprenuer) you instead may earn a decent salary that incrementally increases over time, but the majority of the profit of your labor usually is retained by the entity assuming all the financial risk - the entreprenuer who has a high risk of making a profit through owning a successful business and retaining profits or increasing capital and salary through appreciating stock.
That's part of why I'm becoming a consultant, I want to assume more risk, while I am young enough that failure doesn't necessarily send me into bankruptcy.
Anyway I did end up going way off track, the point is though that if you are a doctor, say a GP in a lot of countries you are going to be well off, people are always sick, and they almost always want to get better or at least complain about it. As such you can charge them decent money and put it in your pocket. However there is an upper limit to what you can earn especially in relation to the competition where you want to live, or you can specialise to eliminate some of that competition if you can face going to your 10 year reunion and telling those entreprenuer jerks that you are still in university learning all about colonoscopies and how to safely remove hamsters from lower intestines.
Not that I have anything against you, its that your parents encourage this and through a collective effort encourage schools to encourage you and the schools to encourage universities to encourage you.
But more than medicine which is pretty much game over for risk from the get go (think of famous doctors in the past...ever...Patch Adams & Dr Zhivago) yes its big fish in a small pond. Where this really comes to life is business.
Let me trace out the story of risk from conception to the relatively high churn rate of graduates today.
My own life, went to school, primary school was a walk in the park, then came secondary, faced with a choice between public and private, I went public (some hope of a risk profile there) got to public, didn't like it for the first couple of weeks and so signed up for a scholarship exam at a private school.
Got said scholarship, by the time I was informed though I had gotten used to public secondary life and was quite enjoying myself. At the encouragement of all, though and maybe convincing myself that it was riskier to change schools than stay at one, I changed for year 8. Went to private, no risk whatsoever. Infact it was living in the most risk averse institution in the world. I would like some happy medium, because I have it from friends that the public school I left, didn't get too enthusiastic about helping people that wanted to get into uni.
But private school is different, they pick subjects for you to maximise your score, your principal presents the VCE statistics that 'don't lie' to parents considering signing their kids up for primary school there.
Your teachers virtually drag you by the ear and throw you into university. They get their next batch of statistics which in turn gets enrolment up, which is a job well done for them. The catch is though that you 'earn' your place in Uni by paying the money, and who is the customer, the payer - your parents. Hence a private school can justly charge a premium for delivering you to universities doorstep as its the teachers that get you in, all you have to do is practice the necessary exercises like a showjumping horse. But at least philosophically, just paying money to go to a particular highschool doesn't 'earn' you a place in University, University places are earned on merit, as in you are the best and brightest you get the seat in the lecture.
But parents don't want a dumb kid to be exposed to natural selection if they don't have to, they have money and can skip the middle man in Australia by just buying a full fee placement or they can pay fees at a private school and rather than caring about education they just care about getting you into university.
The evidence I submit is just plane all around, go to a prospective parent night or pick up a copy of the good weekend and have a look at how private schools market themselves. Some school cum douche factory has the motto 'where success comes standard' or something similarly sickening, and the models for the photos are usually the calibre to make hitler proud, if they haven't had an ABC like multiculturalism flavor swabbed liberally all over them.
But with such demand to get into a good university, universities must just have a license to print money right? wrong, for some reason the university business structure seems to be highly unprofitable, and they go to extensive efforts to attract students from one another. I really only know the big 3 of Melbourne - Melbourne U. RMIT and Monash, but there's definitely a heirarchy, Melb is the big fish with the most beautiful campus and recognised name, Monash has the money, big campus again and Medicine and Law courses to rival Melbourne and then RMIT is the inner city tech and business focussed uni with the large international student population.
And there's a cat and mouse marketing job going on, Monash innovates its med course, losing a year and adding more practical experience to provide a meaningful update. Melbourne reacts because it has to. Before that RMIT came up with co-op a marketing ploy to make its business courses more relevant than Melb U, and Melbourne reacts because it has to.
And in Business more energy goes into what the uni's can market than what they can't. Of course you can't advertise on the merits of a course alone, no you have to reduce the risk that parents and by now Uni students worry about the most - the next step - getting a job.
So I can say that more noise (if not more time and effort) goes into job interview technique, resume construction, networking, job placement, career mapping, professional skills development and so fourth all to reduce the risk for us in the daunting process of selling ourselves to a company.
So in a nutshell, most peoples career path is as follows - go to a highschool that minimises the risk of not getting into uni - go to a uni that minimises the risk of unemployment.
And it can even relate to course selection, accounting is popolar for PR purposes and also employment, and I had logistics recommended to me not because it was exciting, interesting or fun but because it was guarunteed employment due to surplus demand.

What does this do to our graduates mind? firstly when talking with the canadian it makes life seem like a process that is merely a matter of biding ones time. Secondly it makes success seem like a commodity that can be purchased. Thus most people having done what you are supposed to do, feel entitled to payrises and promotions and benefits and all in a timely way.
I notice two distinct symptoms, the obvious 'career advancement' generated churn, sometimes it is honestly justified, but a lot of the time it isn't and then the further studies/qualifications road to success.
Namely I have seen people getting their CPA expecting a payrise, but this logic is the equivalent to Lionel Hutz' babysitting spiel 'Sir I was just going through your dumpster and couldn't help but hear you were in need of a as I am a professional lawyer my rate is $230 per hour (or something like that)' those were the days, because the logic is that becuase today you are more qualified than yesterday, doesn't entitle you to a payrise. Generating more value may give you cause to request a payrise, being potentially more valuable does not. Pay is the work you do, not who you are.
And then there is the career advancement churn. This is justified when due to a pyramid heirarchy structure in your organisation, you reach a point where there are 3-6 contenders for 1 position of advancement, if you get offered an equivalent advancement in a different organisation you can rationally accept the offer.
This isn't justified when you have been out of Uni for 6 months, don't feel like you are getting paid the $100k per annum you feel you are worth, and take a job with a high paying recruitment firm.
Why? well because for 1 you signed a contract no doubt, and without discussing loyalty, lets discuss stupidity. A contract among otherthings, usually contains the initial provision for salary and a suggestion that it can be altered. Nothing more. And you sign it or you don't. In signing the contract you communicate to the employer 'this is how much I am willing to work for you for' and the employer says, 'this is how much we are willing to pay you to do this work' and by signing it and them writing it, you have communicated that you will work for how much they will pay you.
If you are not happy with it then, don't sign it. Don't sign it, register with a placement firm and surf the net for a higher paying job till something better comes along. Because then you have lied to a stakeholder (bad business practice) and two you are not putting energy into your career, you are putting energy into all this money you are supposedly entitled to.
If you want more money and to do this by building your career, put your energy into developing yourself within the opportunities presented by the job. or as I like to say it do what you are motherfucken paid to do.
As I have been travelling I have discovered one trap mentality is to pine the lost opportnity of where I have been and simultaneously long for where I am going next. Forgetting where I am at present. Sometimes this is justified, and if you aren't enjoying yourself, be it career or otherwise, my advice is to 'start enjoying yourself' or leave.

So here's the how to develop within your role there are a number of strategies I will attempt to put in a logical semblance of order.

1. Become more efficient - this is a favorite of mine, do your job for a while, then identify the bits that annoy you most or waste the most time/energy, then figure out ways to eliminate them. Then you will find yourself bored - the ideal state for good customer service btw, so that a customer with a problem becomes releavingly interesting.

2. Ask your boss/manager for more work - this is where development kicks in, once you have gained in efficiency, then you have more time to do more, your manager can handball to you the stuff they hate to do. Which has a number of steroids for your career, 1 unless you work at Semco, chances are your manager is paid more than you, therefore a task that takes him/her one hour that you can now do in the same time suddenly costs the company less. How much less? the amount of money different from what they pay you per hour and what they pay him per hour. The second thing is that something he/she hates you may enjoy, it might be a spreadsheet or it may be reporting or proofreading or making calls or purchases or so fourth, thus you may through sheer enthusiasm become more efficient at it than your manager.

3. Repeat step 1 after step 2.

4. Get job specific training or development. There is a big difference between getting a CPA for a role that any shitkicker accountant can do, and getting training in excel to make you better at your job. Or training in power point for you to prepare better presentations for your boss or sales reps. Do this and you actually increase your value, so don't 'initiative' train hoping to pleasently surprise your employer with a demand for a pay rise - they love that. No show initiative by sitting down with your manager and talking about how to develop in a way that yeilds value.

Now onto why acting like you are entitled to payrises, promotions etc is bad for you. Firstly, the number one determinant of your payrise is corporate performance. You are an expense that either generates value or makes a loss for the company, no ifs and buts. Each employee has an invisible ROI above their head. Even if your ROI is crucial, I wouldn't recommend going extortionist on them.
The company, unlike you isn't entitled to increased revenue, it has to earn them. Companies can't demand customers buy there products because they 'worked really hard' they have to win the business.
You are lower down on this ruthless foodchain. If the company only grew by 2% last year with what they currently have, you would have to be pretty special to get a 14% payrise. Furthermore, if payrises are determined in percentage terms, they compound each year hence a further reason from the company perspective that they are going to be reluctant to give you a payrise. Bonus's are a neat way around this.
So why increase your cost to the company, if your value hasn't increased. And better yet, realize that since its the company taking all the financial risk of employing you (that is they are paying you in the expectation that you will do some work) the incremental increase in value should be greater than the incremental increase in cost, that is they want you to be a more profitable asset of the company.
People who insist 'you have to demand what you are worth' are talking Lionel Hutz, because they rarely say, go to the financials and calculate your personal ROI and agree to a percentage of that, because that is high risk commission pay (something I am not averse to) but something that salary isn't. No people want to be entitled to the profits but not to the losses. Tax revenue that goes to corporate relief packages fall under this category aswell so employers aren't immune from the same ideology.
But if some firm offers you double your pay 6 months out of uni to switch to them, why not take it? risk again, I ask you why the fuck would a company pay double for a person they don't know to switch jobs after 6 months? because they are in a riskier business. And I would say on average that most recently these jobs seem to be in the field of HR, and recruiting firm start ups are going bankrupt every other week. The demand is their, but the clientelle is churning through the field, hence you get all these get rich quick startups and thats probably where you are heading.
Because they can't know how entitled you feel - aka how great you are - you only have a 6 month long resume, they are taking a gamble on you. And even if you are a genuinely good employee, if this is how the company recruits by snatching unproven talent at above market value, chances are the organisation is going to have shoddy expensive employees.
So don't speculate the market with your own career, invest in it by trying to be more profitable.
That's fucken business.

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