Wanted: Fuel Counselor

A co-worker of mine only buys $15 of gas at a time. She’s been doing this since gas was 98 cents, and $15 used to go a lot further. It used to fill up the entire tank. She still pays the same amount when she fills up because it is psychologically easier on her.

This morning I looked at my car’s gas gauge and wondered if I could make it through the week with only one-third a tank of gas. I was relieved when I did the math. If I only drive to and from work, I’ll make it with two gallons to spare.

The topic was fresh on my mind, having just read the nationwide AAA gas price survey. The report was disturbing.

Nebraska has the most expensive gas in the nation – their average is $3.34 for a gallon of gas – 29 cents above the national average of $3.05. Rounding out the top 10 are Wisconsin, Indiana, Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Kansas and Iowa

South Carolina has the cheapest AAA gas ranking, at $2.83, followed by New Jersey, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

I know that on Friday it will cost me more than $50 to fill up my car. Something I know is inevitable, but it will nonetheless ruin my TGIF celebration. I’m making alterations to my lifestyle this week by only eating meals I prepare myself. No take out or dining out until I fill up my vehicle.

Pinching pennies is a necessity because I make the same amount that I did when gas was $1 a gallon cheaper. I’m thankful I now work 12 miles from the office instead of the 40 miles I used to drive. Moving closer to work was a lifestyle change as much as it was an economic decision.

If gas prices keep escalating I might forgo asking for a raise and ask for gas vouchers instead.

What about you? Do you fill ’er up or only purchase a set dollar amount? Are you changing your lifestyle to adjust to paying more at the pump? Looking for work closer to home? Riding your bike?

That’s a Good Question

I’ve been on my fair share of job interviews. Now that I’m a manager, I appreciate the importance of a good first interview. Committing to a long-term relationship with a relative stranger can be intimidating for the interviewer and the applicant alike.

Yesterday, I counseled a colleague who is re-entering the job market after a six-year departure to raise her son. She was looking to improve her interview skills.

I shared with her the top three things I look for in a successful interview. If a candidate can demonstrate aptitude in these three areas, there’s a good chance there’ll be a second interview.

Problem-solving skills. Creativity and thinking logically are only part of the equation. What I look for are concrete examples that prove a candidate can solve problems by providing workable solutions. This gives the applicant a chance to provide real-life experiences of past successes or how obstacles were overcome.

People skills. I actually had a candidate for a receptionist position tell me that she didn’t really like people. That interview ended about three minutes later. You might not have a job that interacts with clients, customers or suppliers, but every job has some level of personal interaction. You need to be able to demonstrate that you’re trustworthy, accommodating and a team player. I’m especially interested in a candidate’s listening skills, which are as important as speaking.

Follow through skills. I look for people who possess follow through and can get things done. This is another opportunity to share a story of how you closed the deal or completed the project. In the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” there is a line that refers to the ABCs – Always Be Closing. It is important that you can demonstrate that you can complete projects and not just move from project to project.

When you are asked questions about your skills, try to focus your responses in one of these three areas. What do you think is important to convey in a job interview? What question do you dread being asked?

Plan to Change the Plan – Career Surprises Reward the Flexible

Some people have a clear plan, a timeline with goals and strategies, to get where they want in their careers. They’ve laid out how they’re going to get there in a year, or 5 years or ten years and are moving forward in that direction. These are the type of people that more spur-of-the-moment people, like myself, often admire. We look at their spreadsheets and to-do lists and wonder how they got it all figured out.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for flexibility and going where life takes you. While I’m not saying it’s a good idea to have zero career plans, I am wondering about the value of having a more liquid idea of the future.

Instead of focusing on a particular job or career path, I generally think about my strengths and what I’m most passionate about. I don’t have a concrete 5- or 10-year plan, but I do plan to be using my strengths in a field that I’m excited about. This type of plan may not sound as impressive, but it’s worked out pretty well for me so far. It also seems to have worked out for Eric Nakagawa.

On the USA Today blog, Small Business Connection, blogger Jim Hopkins posts about how former software developer Eric Nakagawa became an “accidental entrepreneur” when he posted a humorous picture on his website of an overweight cat.

That picture became the catalyst for the “I Can Has Cheezburger” blog, a site featuring photos of animals with comedic captions. The site now garners about 200,000 visitors a day and thousands of advertising dollars. It’s unlikely that Nakagawa had a five year plan that included: “Start successful blog featuring cat photos and bad grammar.” Being flexible when there’s a fork in the career road gave Nakagawa the opportunity to do something he probably never planned for.

Do you have a 5, 10 or even 20 year career plan? Or, are you taking things one day at a time? If you have a plan, have things turned out the way you expected? If you don’t have long-term plans, how has that affected your career?

Where Are All the Magic Lamps?

I want to own a new H3, but I drive a five-year-old Chrysler.

My wife wants me to cook lobster tonight, but I’m picking up pizza.

My youngest daughter wants to go to the beach, but tomorrow she will see the sea lion show at the zoo.

More often than not, your ideal situation does not match up with reality. It’s certainly evident in a survey recently conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Only 21% of mothers with children under 18 say full-time work is their ideal situation, while 60% of working moms say part-time employment is their preference.

The desire of mothers with minor children to work full-time appears to be waning. In 1997, 32% desired to work full-time with 48% longing for part-time employment.

Although there’s a 12% shift in the past decade toward moms working fewer hours, 70% of mothers with kids under 18 are employed outside of the home, according to the U.S. Labor Department. And, of those moms in the workforce, 75% are employed full time and 25% work part time.

After years of giving 100% at home and 100% on the job, working moms are clearly seeking a better work-life balance.

In an interview conducted by the Associated Press, Cary Funk, a Pew researcher on the survey, said the trend reflected women’s latest thoughts on the ideal arrangement for their children. “I don’t think it means people are going to give up their jobs,” she said. “It’s more of an expression of the difficulties of combining responsibilities at work and home.”

What have been your experiences with juggling work and family responsibilities? To read more about work-life balance check out these blogs:  On Balance (Washington Post) and The Juggle (Wall Street Journal).

Does Your Job Have Staying Power?

Bug breeder. Road kill collector. Catfish noodler. Alpaca shearer.

Those are a few of the positions Mike Rowe lists on his résumé. Rowe is host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, a show that exposes people to all kinds of jobs that they don’t necessarily see in the classified ads each week.

If you asked 100 elementary school children what they wanted to be when they grow up, I’d bet no one would mention any of the jobs that Rowe has tried out on his show. But doctor, teacher, politician and artist would probably rank high on the list.

Those four also showed up on list of occupations that will “stand the test of time,” according to CareerBuilder.com. Also included on the list of professions there will always be a need for:

Barber
Construction worker
Farmer
Law enforcement officer
Mortician
Religious leader
Scientist
Soldier
Tax collector
Waste disposal manager

Can you think of other jobs that are necessary and will still be relevant in the future? What about your job?

I love my career, however I’m not sure my position will be around in 50 years. But then again, I probably won’t either.

Who’s the Kid in My Boss’s Office?

If you look around your department, you are likely to see someone who is quite a bit older than you – or quite a bit younger. With so many Baby Boomers prolonging retirement and with nearly 80 million Generation Y workers beginning to enter the workforce, it is becoming more common for older and younger generations to share a cubicle.

In some instances, Baby Boomers are actually working for some of these younger individuals. I recently watched an interview on Good Morning America where they spoke with a 54-year-old who had recently landed her ideal job in event marketing. She ended up getting fired because she couldn’t tolerate working for a boss 25 years her junior.

“I think that it’s very common for someone older to be a little resentful to someone who is 25 years younger telling you want to do,” she said in the GMA interview.

Do you find this sort of thing happening in your company? If you’re reporting to someone half your age, how does that make you feel? Do you have a problem working for someone younger who has less experience? Or, if you’re the young boss, how do you communicate with the members of your staff? Do you feel that authority comes with experience or performance?

American Idle

Teenagers aren’t working hard for the money this summer.

Only 49% of teens age 16 to 19 were working in June – the lowest in the 70 years the U.S. Labor Department has kept records. That was down from 52% in June 2006 and below the 60% in the labor force in June 2000.

That’s a significant decline – 11% in seven years. What’s happened to today’s youth? The answer might surprise you.

Today’s teenagers are studying. Yes, studying.

Nearly 38% of teens ages 16 to 19 were enrolled in summer school or college courses instead of working, according to the Labor Department. They are investing in their future earning potential by dedicating 12-months a year to their education.

This is a change from 20 years ago when only 12% of working-age teenagers were spending their summer months studying.

My own experiences as a teenager in the late 1980s included balancing both work and school. Every summer after I graduated from high school I took two community college classes. Plus, as an 18- and 19-year old, I had a job working 30 hours a week so I could sock away as much money as possible for school in the fall.

Those were some of the best days of my life. The combination of balancing school, work and play taught me some important lessons regarding prioritization, and time management. Somehow I think today’s teens who are opting out of the summer workforce might be missing out on some of life’s important lessons.