ON GRATITUDE, UNIONS, VETERANS AND NEW JERSEY TRANSIT

As readers of this blog and my book know, the mission of my company is to promote the hiring of veterans.  I take that mission seriously because I believe that it is our duty, as Americans, to offer the only tangible support we can to returning members of the Armed Forces: employment.  But it is not just the right thing to do.  As I wrote in a previous post about the treatment of vets, it’s also the smart thing to do.  Vets make great employees, have fabulous skills, are mission-centric and care about the people they serve.  They also have the “‘No’ is not an acceptable answer” attitude.  They get the job done.

I work in Manhattan and live in New Jersey.  Every morning and every evening I travel by bus to and from the City.  I actually enjoy the ride.  It gives me a chance to unwind and catch up on my reading.  Not having to drive is relaxing.

What is not relaxing is the Manhattan bus terminal a.k.a. the Port Authority.  If, and it rarely happens, I can get to the PA before 5:00, there are no lines.  But from about 5:15 the lines start to form.  Sometimes it’s all gates; sometimes only a few.  And when I say “lines” I mean “lines.”  Hundreds upon hundreds of people can be standing in winding rows leading to their gates.  Sometimes the lines even cross each other.  Thousands of people can be waiting for their buses.  This is not exceptional; it’s practically every day.  We are all waiting for New Jersey Transit buses.  There is never a representative of NJ Transit to found.  What would be the point?

Now to be fair, if there is an accident in the Lincoln Tunnel, where all the buses are heading to or coming from, it’s no one’s fault that the lines are long.  And if the weather is bad, traffic slows, accidents happen and, again, it’s no one’s fault.  But this situation exists even when there are no accidents and the weather is fine.

Two days ago, Tuesday the 22nd of May, was one such day.  The weather was fine – although humid.  There were no announcements of accidents.  I actually got to my Gate, number 224, just after 5:00.  The lines were just forming.  I was fifth or sixth in line waiting for the 5:20 bus.

Now I should explain that the 162 local, 163 local, 164 local, and the 144, 162, 163 and 164 express routes all use my Gate.   There can be three to four hundred people waiting in a line that I won’t even try to describe.  You have to see it to believe it.  Let’s put it this way:  Around 5:15 they have to shut down the escalator or people will start crashing into each other.

(Just an aside:  The escalator is the only way to access Gate 224.  If it is heading up, you have to leave the Gate and cross over to another Gate to find stairs if you want to return to the terminal.  The stairs have been blocked for months following the remodeling/renovation of the Gate.  Put differently, if something really bad happens, our only escape route is into the bus traffic lanes!)

But let’s get back to Tuesday.

It’s 5:20 and my bus, the 144, scheduled for departure at that time, is nowhere to be seen.  A couple of 162s and 163s come and go, but no 144.  The minutes tick away, the crowd gets larger, the humidity rises, and people start complaining.  One woman sees the dispatcher and calls him over.

She said something like, “Three 162s and two 163s have come.  Why no 144?”  The dispatcher tried to explain the situation to her, to no avail.  Then, being human, he got frustrated.  And then he said the truth.

Now I am sympathetic to a man who has to face one angry woman with literally hundreds of people standing behind, beside and in front of her, knowing that everyone supports her and no one supports him.  Add heat and humidity, and he’s entitled to be cranky.  And I’ll give him credit, Mr. Conrad Daniel told me his name when I asked for it.  That surprised me.  But what shocked everyone was what he said to the woman before turning around and leaving:

“A bus is coming for you.  You should be grateful.”

“Grateful.”  Probably the worst word he could have chosen.  Everyone was in shock.  A couple people asked, “What did he say?”

Well he said we should be grateful.  Why?  Here’s my theory:

Mr. Daniel (and I may have the spelling of his name wrong) is in the union.  (That’s an assumption on my part, but since NJT is unionized, I think it is a safe assumption.)  Apparently, according to him, we should be grateful that union workers do their jobs.  It’s irrelevant that we are paying them to do their jobs.  It’s also irrelevant that they are incompetent.

Why “incompetent?”  If, as I wrote, there’s a problem due to an accident or the weather, there’s no one to blame for a delay.  It’s the life of the commuter.  It’s the price we pay – in addition to the fare.  But the long lines and interminable waits when there are no accidents and the weather is fine are a chronic problem.  It’s practically every day.  If the good people at New Jersey Transit were competent, they would have figured out how to deal with the problem.  After all, they have the data.  They know how many riders there will be.  They know that 49 can be seated and 11 can stand.  Divide by 60 and you know how many buses you need.

Mr. Daniel’s “grateful” comment explains the attitude.  Mr. Daniel is not the disease; he’s the symptom.  The disease is unionism and the fact that it would take a Ronald Reagan (as in the air traffic controllers) to find the cure.

The Port Authority is owned and operated by the States of New York and New Jersey.  With all due respect to Governor Cuomo, who has taken on the unions, I doubt he’s a Reagan.  But New Jersey’s Governor Christie is a different matter.  Perhaps he would be good enough to take the lead…

Again, I want to be fair.  The buses running from New Jersey to New York come on time.  I’ve never really had a problem.  Every so often a bus is late or doesn’t show.  But it is so rare that it’s really not worth mentioning.  The problem is Manhattan and the Port Authority.

When Michael Dell started his computer company he did not use an IT company as his model.  His model was FedEx.  Reliable products and phenomenal customer service.  So let’s forget that New Jersey Transit and the Port Authority are involved with transportation.  Let’s look at them in a different way.

Tens of thousands of people arrive at a location in mid-town Manhattan to be taken by hundreds if not thousands of buses to various locations as far north as Montreal, as far south as Florida, as far east as Long Island and as far west as California.

But let’s not call them “people,” let’s call them “packages.”  Who sends packages, around the world, on a daily basis?  UPS.  And what is UPS’s tag line?  “We love logistics.”  In fact, instead of “love” they have a “heart” and a trademark which, I trust, I did not just violate!  (By the way, UPS is a union shop!)

Logistics.  Who have we, the American people, trained in logistics?  I’ll give you a hint.  They are mentioned in the title.  Correct:  Veterans.  And we have tens of thousands of them unemployed and soon to be.

Now if you read the blog post I referenced earlier, you’ll discover that truck drivers and medics, trained by the military, that is to say the Federal government, are not licensed, meaning their licenses are not recognized in any of the States.  Let’s change that.  How does this sound?

Officers with logistics training will be hired to run the Port Authority.  Veterans who were drivers in the military, will be hired as drivers (New York and New Jersey will recognize their licenses), and other vets will be trained to be drivers and to fill other positions at both NJT and the PA.  None of them will be permitted to join a union.  The only guarantee of their continued employment will be competency and efficiency.  If they are good, they stay and advance.  If they have a “gratitude” problem, they’ll be grateful for their unemployment benefits.

Yes, there will be a strike.  And, in the case of the New Jersey-located staff, they may have a justifiable complaint that they are losing their jobs despite having nothing to do with Manhattan operations.  Perhaps they should be spared.  In any case, yes, there will be a great deal of short-term inconvenience.  When the attack on 9/11 occurred, President Bush did not call on Americans to make sacrifices.  He told us to go shopping.  He was wrongly criticized.  He was, in fact, correct.  The aim of the attack was to cripple our economy.  The weapon with which to respond was consumerism.

But now we do need to sacrifice.  And the sacrifice is for our veterans.  So what if we have to rearrange our schedules for a couple of weeks?  It’s nothing by comparison to what veterans and their families have had to do.  This is the best way for us to show our veterans that we are, to quote Mr. Daniel, grateful and are now willing to repay the debt.  Get rid of the union; hire vets!

__________________________

I have hand delivered a copy of this post to the Customer Service Department at the Port Authority.  If they, or Mr. Daniel, wish to add a comment, it will be approved and posted without any changes or edits of any kind.  I will be happy to give them, and my fellow NJ Transit travelers, the last word.

How to make an effective employment video

Here’s a question:  Should it be “effective” or “affective?”  Think about it.  “Effective” means that is will have the desired result – you’ll get the interview.  “Affective” means it will have a meaningful impact on the viewer.  I’m going with “effective,” but if you prefer “affective,” God bless.

So what’s the story?  Sooner or later, probably sooner, video resumes are going to become more and more prevalent.  I do not mean videos where the person actually reads or reviews their resume.   I guarantee no one will watch those!  But in a system like Purzue’s, where the video is “attached” to the paper resume, candidates have the opportunity to, in essence, make a commercial about themselves.

If you have read my book, you know that I am rather conservative in my approach in that I like playing it straight.  Always err on the side of conservative.  But that does not mean I am anti-technology and I am certainly not anti-creativity.  The opposite is true.  I now recommend, for example, that older job seekers include QR codes on their resumes to send the subliminal message that they are tech-comfortable.

Just as movies have to be age-appropriate, employment videos have to be company-appropriate.  What will work for IBM will not work for Google, and what will work for Google will not work for IBM.  But here are some rules to consider, as presented in and interview with Shara Senderoff, the cofounder and CEO of Intern Sushi, in this month’s issue of Fast Company’s:

  1. Talk about your values, don’t list your accomplishments.
  2. Have friends star in your video, but don’t let them sing your praises.
  3. Be modest; don’t brag.
  4. Showcase your skills, but make certain they are relevant for the position for which you are applying.
  5. And I would add to the list, keep the video ideally less than one minute, but certainly no longer than two.

Let me paint a picture, or video, for you.  And let’s assume that I am making the video looking for a position as a career counselor.

The video begins with an obviously nervous person (a friend) sitting at a conference table.  In a voiceover I say, “Based on my nine years’ experience, before I even enter the room I know that my client’s biggest problem is frustration.  She can’t achieve anything until she gets confidence and changes attitude.  And if I equivocate, she’ll hear what she wants to hear.”

Next scene: I’m sitting in the conference room across from the client.  She says, “No one will hire me.  I’m great.  But no one will listen to me.  I can do it all.  No one will give me the chance!”

Then I say, “The reason no one will hire you is that you say you are great, you don’t prove it.  Employers are interested in meeting their needs, not yours.  You have to focus on them, not you.”

Next scene is the smiling client, returning with flowers and chocolates.  “Bruce, you were dead on.  I started focusing on the employer’s needs, got interviews, and I’m starting my new job Monday.  Thank you!”

Then I say, “Career counseling comes down to listening and guiding the client to the correct path.”

The video has no self-praise in it.  All it has is a common scenario and how I would deal with it.

Of course, I could set up a series of videos for employers to choose from: Facing discrimination.  Long-term unemployment.  Veterans.  Being laid off.  Being fired.  But they would all have a similar format, just different friends playing the client.

The amazing thing is that with today’s technology, anyone can make a decent video.  You don’t have to pay a lot to make an effective, or affective, video.

The Key to Successful Non-Hiring: SHUT UP!

It’s always nice to hear from readers.  One woman, who works for a dermatologist, read my article on Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications.  Here’s the issue: You can discriminate against someone if their condition makes it impossible or unsafe for them to do the job for which they are applying.  No obese flight attendants.  No pilots over 60 being the captain of a commercial flight.  But what about not hiring someone with bad teeth to work Reception at a dentist’s office or, as in the case of the woman who contacted me after reading my article, someone who is sunburned wanting to work for a dermatologist?

I believe that it is an employer’s right to determine their company’s corporate image.  If you won’t hire anyone with tattoos, no problem.  If you only refuse to hire Hispanics with tattoos, problem.  Same for requiring good teeth for the dentist and good skin (or at least not bad skin) for the dermatologist.  But I’m not an attorney.  This is my personal opinion.  I do not give legal advice.  If I did, I could get into a lot of trouble.  As I like to say on occasion, I’m crazy, not stupid.  And it would be stupid for me to play lawyer.

So why did my reader contact me?  She was interviewing a candidate for a position at her office.  The candidate had a sunburn.  She told the candidate that she had a problem with her skin being sunburned.  Sounds logical.  Over exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.  It’s a dermatologist’s office after all!  But, the woman is a minority.    She left, went home, and filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal  Employment Opportunity Commission against the dermatologist based on race and skin color.

There are minorities working for the dermatologist.   Clearly, they do not discriminate based on race or color.  And they decided not to fill the position.

Here’s the rub:  All of that may be irrelevant.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that all of this could have been easily avoided.  There is no law that requires an employer to tell a candidate why they don’t want to hire them.  If you don’t want someone all you have to say is, “Thank you very much.  I’ve enjoyed meeting you.  We are in the process of interviewing candidates.  We’ll be in touch.”   (I write about discrimination in my book, A Hooker’s Guide to Getting a Job: Parables from the Real World of Career Counseling and Executive Recruiting.)  If you have a specific reason why you don’t want to hire a person, I’m willing to offer this piece of advice:  SHUT UP!

If you don’t, I can recommend a good attorney…

Want a Job? Pretend You’re Food

Elizabeth Nientimp, the director of brand design for General Mills, was asked by Inc. magazine (in its May 2012 issue), “What are the most important considerations when designing food packaging?”  Her answer:

“Three things.  First, make it simple.  Resist the urge to tell consumers everything about your brand on the front of the package.”

Allow me to interrupt Ms. Ninetimp.

A couple of months ago I was at a career fair.  There were thousands in attendance.  One would-be candidate came over to me and handed me his resume and cover letter.  I took one look at the cover letter, an eight by 10 single spaced sheet covered from top to bottom with his employment story and told him, “It’s too long.  No one is going to read it.”  “But it’s all important,” he replied.  “No one is going to read it.”  “But it’s important.  You have to know this.”  “It’s too long!”  “It’s important.”  “Give it to me.”  I didn’t read it and, when the crowd eventually cleared, the gentleman at the booth next to mine, a hiring manager from a Fortune 100 company, asked me, “Remember that guy with the long cover letter?”  “Yup.”  “He didn’t listen to me either!”

Keep your cover letter short.  No need for more than five paragraphs and no paragraph longer than a sentence or two.  1)  The position you are applying for and where you heard about it.  2)  Why you should be considered.  3)  The answers to any questions asked (presuming your replying to an ad).  4)  Reference to your resume.  5)  An appreciative close.  And that’s it.  Simple.

But let’s get back to Ms. Ninetimp.

“Make it special.  Understand what makes your brand unique, and own it.”

That’s the second paragraph.  Why should you be considered for the position and not any of the hundred others applying for it?  What makes you so special?  What’s that one thing you did that sets you apart from the crowd?  It’s your elevator pitch.  Own it.

Let’s let Ms. Ninetimp finish.

“Finally, make it personal.  Know your key consumers and what motivates them; let them see themselves in the brand.”

And that’s the key.  The fellow with the long cover letter was only interested in himself.  That was his focus:  Look at how great I am!  Your focus has to be on the employer and what she wants.  Because the answer to the second paragraph question, Why should you be considered? is also the answer to the question, What can I do for you?  And if that’s your attitude, what you can do for the employer, and not what the employer can do for you, your half way to a job offer.

The Unreasonable Demand of Veterans

“They want a job!”  So said Mayor Alvin Brown of Jacksonville, Florida.  “They don’t want a handout.  They want a job.  They’ve earned it.”

Mayor Brown was speaking at the May 7 Robin Hood Foundation “Veterans Summit 2012” on the USS Intrepid here in Manhattan which I had the honor of being invited to attend.    It was an extremely worthwhile, informative and inspirational event.

But let’s get back to the Mayor.  Imagine that someone who has literally spent years risking his or her life to serve, protect and defend their country and, when they return home, are finally out of harm’s way, all they want is a job and there are none to be had.  One would think that they were making an unreasonable demand.  Of course, they are not.  Hiring veterans, to quote Steve Cahillane, the president and CEO of Coca-Cola Refreshments, is “the right thing to do” and “the smart thing to do.”

Just to paint the picture, in New York City, as Mayor Bloomberg noted, there are 8,600 unemployed vets.  Nationally, according Steven A. Cohen, the chairman and CEO of S.A.C. Capital Advisors, 29% of all veterans are unemployed and 20% of the homeless in New York City are veterans.  In fact, US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan said that veterans are fifty percent more likely to be unemployed than the general population and that more Vietnam veterans are homeless than died in that war.  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, noted that the homeless rate for female vets is higher than for their male counterparts.  Even worse, Mr. Cohen quoted the figure, disputed by former Vice Chief of Staff, US Army, General Peter W. Chiarelli who now serves as CEO of One Mind for Research, that 18 vets commit suicide every day.

The problems are known.  They are not just statistics.  One of the major problems is the Federal bureaucracy.  When NBC’s Brian Williams asked Mayor Brown and his counterparts from Augusta, Georgia and Houston, Texas what would happen if cities had to wait for the Federal government to act, they all laughed.  Mayor Deke Copenhaver of Augusta said the situation would be “bleak.”

For example, family members of veterans, their caregivers, are not eligible for VA services.   Dr. Charles Marmar, who chairs the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, said that “you can drive a Mack truck through the medical health system available to family members.”

Admiral Mullen remarked that the transition programs ostensibly designed to help veterans transition to the civilian world, and he was clearly being diplomatic, “are at best inadequate.”  Moreover, he said that fifty percent of veterans don’t contact the VA and, and this has to have been the most ridiculous fact cited during the entire conference, the Department of Defense cannot contact the VA about veterans because of HIPPA regulations!

But even if they could, it probably wouldn’t matter.  Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, the assistant secretary for Policy and Planning at the VA, said that the VA only “captures” half of all veterans.  As he said, “We don’t know where the veterans are.”  Understand?  At best, the Department of Veterans Affairs can only provide services to one out of every two veterans because they don’t know where the other one is.  And by the way, according to the Assistant Secretary, the aforementioned transition program is not mandatory.

How’s this for bureaucratic insanity?  According to NBC’s Tom Brokaw, military drivers’ licenses are not recognized by the States.  So a veteran who was authorized, trained and drove a truck in Iraq can’t drive a truck in Iowa.  And a medic who was entrusted to save lives in Afghanistan, trained to do CPR and treat life-threatening wounds, isn’t licensed to be an EMT in Alabama.  One does not know whether to laugh or cry!

To be fair, it’s not just the government that is coming up short.            Nancy Berglass who is the director of the Iraq Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund and a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, pointed out that there are some 30,000 non-profits whose mission statements include helping veterans.  And that, of course, does not include the number of for-profits, like my own companies, whose mission statements are similarly focused.  The problem is that there is a lack of coordination.   There is a lack of data meaning that advocates lack, according to her, the necessary information for strategic planning purposes.  Moreover, there is no existing collection of “best practices”  although Syracuse University is about to publish a free e-book which may go a long way to eliminate that deficit.

What is it that veterans bring to the table?  What do they have to offer employers?  First and foremost, as a number of speakers mentioned, members of the military are taught never to say “No.”  They always have to find a way to achieve their goal.  Who would not want an employee with that philosophy and a track record of making it a reality?

For his part, Lloyd Blankfein, the chairman and CEO of The Goldman Sachs Group, begins with professionalism, excellence and accomplishments.  But even with a proven track record veterans are, according to him, in an analogous situation to college graduates.  When a company is hiring someone fresh out of college, the hire is based on attitude, commitment and dedication.  As I note in my recent book (which has a chapter on issues facing veterans who are looking for a job), it’s a hire based on potential – something veterans have in abundance.

Expanding on that point, Joe Quinn, Wal-Mart’s senior director, Issue Management and Strategic Outreach, noted that veterans bring with them a high level of maturity and reliability.

What can companies do to improve the lot of veterans once they are hired?  What are the existing “best practices?”

Wal-Mart sponsors job fairs for veterans.  While some military jobs are difficult to translate into the civilian market, thereby necessitating a focus on skills, some are a perfect match.  Darrell Roberts, who is the executive director of the Center for Military Recruitment, Assessment and Veterans Employment, gave a few examples.  A sheet metal worker in the Navy is a sheet metal worker.  Same for maintenance workers and mechanics. He told the story of a veteran HVAC mechanic living in West Virginia who was hired to be an HVAC mechanic by Disney and moved, to the delight of his children, to Orlando.

Sometimes, as noted, the focus for employers has to be on skills and not actual experience.  For example, Jes Staley, the CEO, Investment Bank at J.P. Morgan told the story of the vet who they hired to oversee trading.  Obviously he had no previous trading experience, but he had been responsible for logistics.

J.P. Morgan has set goals for veteran hirings.  They want to hire 10 veterans a day.  Toward that end, they have established recruiting centers inside seven military bases.

How did J.P. Morgan get started working with veterans?  They foreclosed on the home of a vet while he was deployed!  To quote Mr. Staley, they were “rightly” criticized for it.  Today, every veteran who submits a resume to J.P. Morgan gets a call within five days.

They also learned that when looking for veterans as a monolithic cohort, they rejected nine out of 10 candidates.  However, when they started a focused search among the veteran community, a third were actually hired.

Oh, and to return to the foreclosure story, today J.P. Morgan is giving away 1,000 homes to veterans.

According to Coca-Cola’s Cahillane, veterans are mission focused so it is important for them to be inspired by the company’s mission.  Joe Quinn added the importance of understanding the corporate culture.  It falls on leadership and employees of a company to make that happen.

At Goldman Sachs they have a veteran intern program modeled after their program for women who are returning to the workforce.  It is an eight to nine week program where they learn the skills necessary to succeed in the positions for which they are hired.

Additionally, Goldman has an internal network of a thousand veterans who help each other with any issues that may arise.  A similar group exists at J.P. Morgan.  After all, having had similar experiences makes for easier communication.  Simply stated, veterans understand veterans better than anyone else.

And that leads to the issue of prejudices.  Understandably, there are concerns which some employers have about hiring veterans.  As Mr. Blankfein noted, fewer than one percent of the population serves in the military, the lowest percentage in 70 years.  Civilians just don’t understand veterans because they have not be exposed to them.

“The elephant in the room,” as Dr. Perea-Henze described it, is concern over mental health issues.  (Guess what, according to him, the VA does not track the mental health needs of veterans!)  Wes Moore told conference participants about the difficulty veterans have in Times Square.  The former paratrooper and founder and CEO of Omari, explained how soldiers in Afghanistan cannot have any white lights on at night.  They use red and green flash lights.  Being in Times Square at night, with all of the bright lights, is “an assault on their senses.”  It’s a little thing but an example of a real problem.

From the perspective of employment, one thing that I have encountered when providing career counseling services to veterans, is that some have asked me how to raise the issue of where they sit in an office.  Veterans do not like sitting with their back to the door.

Little things for us, lights and seating arrangements, can be major issues for them.

Mr. Blankfein says that the way to overcome prejudice is by hiring as many veterans as possible.  Once non-veteran employees see for themselves what veterans have to offer, prejudice will be replaced by actual knowledge.  Put differently, familiarity will eliminate concerns.  If you will, familiarity does not breed contempt, it breeds understanding.

Why is it so important to find employment for veterans?  It’s not just because it’s the right thing to do.  There is also a national security component to the equation.  As Professor Michael Haynie of Syracuse University, perhaps the most veteran-friendly university in the country, asked, “What happens to military recruitment if we can’t find employment for veterans?”  Whose going to enlist if they know that when they are discharged, they’ll get a salute and a thank you, as Admiral Mullen noted, and then be left destitute to fend for themselves?

What needs to happen?  Three things:  Companies need to set minimum goals for the hiring of veterans and then take tangible steps (such as job fairs) to make it happen – and the employment succeed (as with internal veterans networking groups).  Non-profits have to get their act together and replace competition with coordination and cooperation (perhaps using Robin Hood as the model).  And as for the Feds, the Department of Defense has to make the transition program mandatory and create reciprocal agreements with the various States recognizing the licenses (as in drivers’ and medics’) .  That said, the VA doesn’t just need the resources and authority to do its job (HIPPA?  Really?), according to Washington Senator Patty Murray, the transition has to begin a year before veterans are actually discharged.  Hopefully her words will not fall on deaf ears.

(c) Bruce Hurwitz 2012