Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Career News from 2011: The Year in Review

For my final blog of 2011, I decided to repeat last year’s idea of looking back at the tweets I’ve issued on Twitter in order to follow up on some and comment on the significance of others. (If you’re not already following me, my handle is @LaurenceShatkin.)

Green career issues have been a frequent theme in 2011. In January, I linked to “Top 10 greentech predictions for 2011.” Now, looking back, you’ll find that most of these predictions have come true. (This was actually a retweet from @CarolMcClelland, whom you should follow if you’re interested in green careers.) Another tweet on this subject, in October, was about the Bureau of Labor Statistics page for Green Career Information. In March, I linked to survey results from the Solar Energy Industries Association, which projected 26 percent growth in solar jobs from 2010 to 2011, with a net of 24,000 new jobs. Among the jobs they reported on, the best combination of fast growth and low competition was for solar photovoltaic installers and technicians.

Another frequent topic has been recovery from the Great Recession. The news in 2011 has been mixed. In February, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that for the first time since 2008, a college class was beginning the year with average starting salary offers higher than the previous year.
One interesting feature of this recession was its uneven impact on different age groups. In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that 34 percent of men in their 60s were holding paying jobs, compared with fewer than 15 percent of males ages 16 and 17. I blogged on this same subject in July and speculated that perhaps Congress has been doing so little to create jobs because the most reliable voters have the lowest rate of job loss. This doesn’t mean, however, that job loss is not a problem for older workers. As reported on the Economix blog of The New York Times (a must-read site for anyone interested in the economy), the small percentage of older workers who do lose a job subsequently endure the longest stretch of unemployment. In fact, the graph that accompanies the blog posting shows that the close correlation between age and duration of unemployment covers the full spectrum of ages.

An important milestone in the recovery was the rebound experienced by the automobile industry, thanks to oft-maligned federal intervention. In February, General Motors reported its biggest profit in a decade and said it would give 45,000 union workers a profit-sharing check for $4,300. In May, GM announced that it had seen its earnings triple in the first quarter and reported that it would invest $2 billion in 17 automobile plants across 8 states, saving or creating 4,200 jobs. In September, a deal between GM and the United Auto Workers union saved or created 6,400 jobs. The deal was especially aimed at accelerating the hiring of entry-level workers and at reducing the leakage of jobs to Mexico.

Despite these positive developments for the auto industry, this has been largely a jobless recovery so far. In March, the Commerce Department reported (PDF) that corporate profits had increased 29.2 percent in 2010, the fastest growth they have experienced in more than 60 years. But a July report from JP Morgan (PDF) revealed that the main force driving the rebound in profits was decreases in employees’ earnings and benefits, thanks to an oversupply of workers and offshoring. This is not how a middle class recovers from a recession. Jobs in construction and manufacturing seem particularly stuck in a post-bubble slump.

The Occupy Wall Street movement drew a lot of attention to income disparities that have come into high relief as the well-off have shrugged off the recession while most of the rest of the nation continue to suffer either unemployment or wage stagnation. Just last week, I tweeted about a study by historians that demonstrates that the Roman Empire had more equal distribution of income than United States does now. A graph posted by New York Times columnist and blogger Paul Krugman shows the dramatic difference between the after-tax income growth of the top 1 percent of earners versus everybody else. Another graph in that same blog post points out the earnings advantage of higher education but also shows its limitations. The hourly wages of college graduates have increased substantially since 1980, in contrast to the flat or declining hourly wages of people with less education. However, those wage increases for college graduates stopped at 2000, and the gains by those with advanced degrees have slowed to a trickle over the past decade. It seems even the upper middle class is not served well by the economy we now have.

I don't want to end on a down note, and it’s always good to have a laugh, so if you missed Stephen Colbert on “The Audacity Of Hopelessness,” enjoy it now. He explains how the Department of Labor computes unemployment figures and why giving up your job search actually helps the economy.

I hope the coming year is a good one for you and for your career.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Time to Quit?

Maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to quit your job.

During this past recession, those of us who were lucky enough to still have a job tended to hang onto them. Now that the nation is officially in a recovery, albeit a slow one, a sign of the upward trend is that workers are starting quit their jobs. The resignations are not coming in huge numbers, but the Labor Department reports that 1.9 million workers quit in October. This continues a trend that has been visible for much of 2011, as the number of resignations climbs slowly upward from its low point in late 2009 and early 2010.

In my career, I have quit only one job, but I have lost several for various reasons. In retrospect, I can see several occasions when it probably would have served me better to quit. Here are some signs that it’s time for you to start looking for a new job:

Your work has minimal impact on the business
. Specifically, you may notice that your ideas get no traction in meetings or when expressed in memos. (It doesn’t matter that your ideas may be good ones if nobody heeds them.) Although you may be busy, you cannot identify any specific achievements that made or saved money for the company or otherwise helped its reputation. I once had a job in product development at a company where this function was peripheral to the company’s mission and didn’t fit into the corporate culture. It was only a matter of time before a budget crunch would come and make them realize that I was expendable.

You have almost nothing in common with your coworkers.
Their lunchtime talk leaves you cold. Their life goals and values are very different from yours. Maybe you feel uncomfortable about their moral standards (either too shady or too prudish).

The core mission of the business doesn’t match your goals and values. This often accompanies the previous item, because organizations tend to attract and retain workers who fit in.

You resent the low level of pay (or benefits) you’re getting and see no likelihood of improvement if you stay.

You resent the low level of autonomy you have and see no likelihood of improvement if you stay. This may result from having either a control freak for a boss or a rulebook that hogties you.

The hours at work or on the road are eroding your family life. Some people thrive on work or business travel and either don’t have a family or don’t need a lot of contact with it. But others find their job draining away one of their main satisfactions in life.

Your heart is not in what you’re doing. You find it difficult to concentrate on your work. You wing it much of the time. You no longer try to improve your work.

You realize that the industry or the employer’s business is doomed. Market forces or technology may be sending your industry into obsolescence. Superior competition may be stealing market share from your enterprise. Inept leadership may be making bad decisions that will send the business into decline.

In some of these situations, you are not under immediate threat of a layoff, but because it’s usually easier to get a job when you have a job, it’s advisable to plan your escape before you’re laid off. In situations where the problem is your rising level of dissatisfaction, it’s better to look for a new job before you gain a reputation as a malcontent or a slacker.

If your resume is out of date, fix it up. Make efforts to build your network or refresh your contacts with people already in your network. (The holidays provide you with the perfect reason and medium for doing that.) Start working on your elevator speech, focusing on your desire for new challenges rather than the negative aspects of your situation.

When you get a job offer, it may possibly provide enough leverage to convince your current employer to remedy what you don’t like about your job. But if the problem is something inherent in the nature of your current job--for example, it doesn’t fit into the corporate culture and mission, or heavy travel is inescapable--then it really is time to move on.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Values of Men and Women, Part 2

Last week I blogged about differences between the career-related values of men and women. I used data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, which was conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the National Science Foundation. Respondents were asked about the importance of various factors (which may as well be called values) that they consider when they think about a job.

Last week I looked at which values male and female respondents most often identified as very important. This week, I’m looking at what the different college major choices of men and women indicate about their value differences.

Of course, the values that the survey covers are not necessarily the only considerations that men and women bear in mind when they make the choice of a major. Some of these values, such as salary and job location, are expressed in job-related terms and therefore can influence the choice of a major only insofar as students consider the relationship between their prospective major and their future job. On the other hand, the job-major relationship is a very significant (often paramount) influence on many students’ major decisions, so it’s understandable that men’s and women’s feelings about careers would be related to their preferences for certain majors. Furthermore, some of these values, especially intellectual challenge, apply equally well to a major as to a job. Therefore, it seems likely that any male-female differences choosing between these values will be reflected in their choices of majors.

I thought it would be useful to look at the correlation between (a) the percentage of graduates of a major who say a value is very important and (b) the percentage of male and female graduates of a major. In other words, I’m asking which values tend to be rated highest by graduates of the majors with the most female graduates and lowest by graduates of the majors wit the least female graduates (and the same question for men). This is another way of getting at the question of which values characterize each sex. It may even be more meaningful than the results I looked at last week, which were based solely on professed preferences. This time, I’m also looking at behaviors--the college majors that were chosen and completed.

Here are the results for women, in descending order. Keep in mind that a score of 1.0 would mean a perfect correlation.
  • Contribution to Society: 0.60
  • Benefits: 0.17
  • Location: 0.12
  • Security: 0.11
  • Responsibility: 0.05
  • Challenge: –0.01
  • Independence: –0.20
  • Advancement: –0.53
  • Salary: –0.59

Now, compare this to the very different order I found last week, looking only at expressed opinions:
  • Benefits: 64%
  • Security: 62%
  • Challenge: 59%
  • Independence: 59%
  • Location: 59%
  • Salary: 54%
  • Contribution to Society: 53%
  • Responsibility: 43%
  • Advancement: 37%

Next, here are the correlations for men. These are actually the same as for the women but in the opposite order. That is, the minus signs change to plus signs and vice versa.
  • Salary: 0.59
  • Advancement: 0.53
  • Independence: 0.20
  • Challenge: 0.01
  • Responsibility: –0.05
  • Security: –0.11
  • Location: –0.12
  • Benefits: –0.17
  • Contribution to Society: –0.60

Finally here are last week’s very different results for men, in descending order:
  • Benefits: 65%
  • Security: 61%
  • Independence: 59%
  • Salary: 58%
  • Challenge: 55%
  • Location: 48%
  • Advancement: 45%
  • Responsibility: 44%
  • Contribution to Society: 38%

What strikes me is that when the two sexes are compared, the rankings I compiled last week (the percentages saying a value is very important) are a lot more similar than the rankings I compiled this week (the correlations). Specifically, the values associated with the majors that the men and women chose (and completed) adhere much more closely to the stereotypes of women as nurturers and men as strivers.

What explains these different findings? Last week, I created only two pools of graduates, one male and one female. Taking the averages of the two pools, as I did last week, washed out a lot of the differences that were present among subpopulations within each pool. But I was able to tease out some of these hidden differences by breaking up these large pools into smaller sets based on their past behaviors--the majors that they chose and completed. In addition, using correlations allowed me to detect the values profiles of those graduates who had gravitated toward majors that were dominated by one sex or the other. These grads may have been a minority--their opinions are hard to detect when you look at overall averages--but they show that the sex-stereotypical values profiles remain a reality for a significant group of people.

The larger lesson to take away is that the simple percentages one sees in many survey results (for example, what percentage of voters is currently backing a certain candidate) can disguise some information that would valuable to know about subpopulations in the sample.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Work-Related Values of Men and Women

One topic that never gets stale is the difference between the career-related values of men and women. The group that I worked in at Educational Testing Service had done some research on that topic in the 1970s, before I arrived, and a graduate student intern did some further research while I was there in the 1990s. Each time this was studied, the general finding was that, on average, men tend to be strivers and women tend to be nurturers.

I recently became acquainted with a dataset that has the potential of providing another look at this question. Ever since late July I have been working on creating the third edition of  College Majors Handbook with Real Career Paths and Payoffs. I turned in the manuscript this week. The book is based on the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, which was conducted by the Census Bureau on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

One set of questions on the survey form asks respondents, “When thinking about a job, how important is each of the following factors to you….” The values (factors) are the following:

  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Job Security
  • Job Location
  • Opportunities for Advancement
  • Intellectual Challenge
  • Level of Responsibility
  • Degree of Independence
  • Contribution to Society

Respondents are asked to score each value as very important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant, or not important at all.

I thought it would be interesting to see how men and women scored these values differently, so I looked at what percentage of each sex scored each value very important.

Here are the results for women, in descending order:

  • Benefits--64%
  • Security--62%
  • Challenge--59%
  • Independence--59%
  • Location--59%
  • Salary--54%
  • Contribution to Society--53%
  • Responsibility--43%
  • Advancement--37%

And the results for men, in descending order:

  • Benefits--65%
  • Security--61%
  • Independence--59%
  • Salary--58%
  • Challenge--55%
  • Location--48%
  • Advancement--45%
  • Responsibility--44%
  • Contribution to Society--38%

You won’t notice a great amount of difference between the two sexes, but a few things stand out. The biggest difference is their attitude toward Contribution to Society; 15 percent more women than men rated this as very important. Another large difference applies to Job Location; 10 percent more women than men rated this as very important. The priorities of the sexes are notably reversed regarding Opportunities for Advancement, which 7 percent more men than women rated as very important.

You can find slight differences in their attitudes toward Salary and Intellectual Challenge. The former was very important to more men than women by a margin of 4 percent, and the latter more important to women than men by the same margin.

All other differences were trivial--1 percent or less.

These results largely confirm the traditional images (confirmed by the ETS research) of men as strivers and women as nurturers, although the difference of opinion on Salary is not as great as I expected from the ETS research. It may be that women in 2003 perceived themselves as playing a more vital role as wage-earners than they did at the time the ETS research was conducted in the 1970s and 1990s.

The difference in the ratings for Job Location may have a connection to the nurturing role; women may place more importance on working near home so they can more easily respond to family emergencies. However, that’s just speculation on my part. Location may be a stand-in for some other need, popular among women, that I don’t recognize.

Let me stress that these are averages and don’t describe every man or woman. In fact, the ETS research found that in each sex, there was a subset of respondents whose constellation of top values closely matched the one that was characteristic of the opposite sex.

If this general topic interests you, you may want to see what I learned from my research on the work-related values of male students in Saudi Arabia in 2002.