Corrections or additions?
These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring were prepared for the
April 11, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Job Reviews: Make Them Good
Discrimination lawsuits for termination outnumber those
for all other causes six to one. And what is the first piece of
called for? The performance review. This according to Mary Thomas,
who works with employers on the structure and execution of their
Thomas, a 24-year veteran of the Department of Labor, has been with
the employer human resources support unit for 11 years. She works
with employers large and small, not only on performance reviews, but
also on a wide range of personnel issues, including curbing
and turnover. She speaks on "The art and science of performance
reviews," on Wednesday, April 18, at 9 a.m. at William Paterson
University. Call 609-393-7100.
A 1964 graduate of Georgian Court College, where she majored in
and Spanish, and a resident of Lavallette, she taught at Red Bank
Catholic High School before beginning her current career. Thomas is
one of just a handful of people in the state who work directly with
employers on human resources issues. She says her department decided
seminars like the one at which she is speaking are a good way to reach
many employers at one time. For her, leading the seminars is a good
fit with her background in teaching.
"Because of anti-discrimination laws, the performance appraisal
is more important than ever," Thomas says. "Employees are
very well informed of their rights, and are willing to exercise
Beyond heading off lawsuits, a thorough and fair system of performance
appraisals keeps morale high. Here are her suggestions for achieving
chef or widget assembler look like? Companies should provide
who conduct performance reviews with details. First of all, there
should be forms. And, says Thomas, "the forms should be user
The supervisor should have a document in front of her that spells
out exactly what an outstanding, average, and poor performing worker
does in each job category for which she is conducting performance
reviews. The form should include clear examples.
for giving performance reviews may be chemists, or accountants, or
engineers. In many cases, they have no training in human resources,
psychology, leadership, or even in communication skills. "It’s
hard for supervisors who are not trained in how to evaluate
and give the review," Thomas says. "A lot of this is learned
behavior." Employers, she says, need to provide that training
if they are to avoid mistakes that could be very costly. For example,
she says, "If a supervisor says `Great job. Keep it up and you’ll
have a job for another 20 years’," courts could construe that
statement as a binding contract.
supervisors within a company who give everyone an
rating, while others strive for more realistic appraisals. The
may be uncomfortable making negative comments to people they have
to work beside, or, says Thomas, they may be after the "sunflower
effect." This is a phenomenon she describes as a belief some
hold that if all their employees are outstanding, they must be
says Thomas, is to be blinded by one spectacular deed — or by
one giant faux pas. "It’s the `halo’ or `horns’ effect," she
says. A natural tendency at performance review time is to call up
that big sale, or that angry outburst. Major incidents, good or bad,
stick out, but may not be a fair measure of an employee’s performance
over the year. "Take notes all year long," Thomas tells
That way, at review time there will be a complete record of all of
the employee’s deeds, and misdeeds, and less chance of basing a review
on one event.
to flirt with a lawsuit is to allow supervisors to write words like
"immature" and "uncooperative" in a performance
Letting personality drive performance reviews is common. "It’s
one of the big pitfalls," says Thomas, who urges supervisors to
leave attitude, character, and personality out of the review process.
While it may be true that an employee is sullen, sneaky, and even
subversive, the employer must find examples of how those traits
to job-related tasks. Says Thomas: "Comments should be specific,
and should include examples. If you can’t give a concrete example,
it shouldn’t be touched."
ongoing feedback throughout the year. A performance review should
not be the first time an employee learns he is an irredeemable failure
as a pastry chef or an auto mechanic. "There should be no
Building an appeals option into the review process gives employees
a way to vent. It also "gives companies notice there is a
she says. "The company can get its records together, get all its
ducks in a row."
Beyond warning that a lawsuit may be looming, an appeal may alert
the company to a larger problem. "If a review says a worker’s
reports are always late and full of inaccuracies, it may be because
the data was late and was not correct," Thomas gives as an
look forward to them, and employers shouldn’t risk demoralizing the
troops. "In this economy," she says, "most employers are
in a hiring mode, and have had a real problem finding qualified
At any time, when you are looking for a job, people
around you will blurt out unsolicited advice — what you should
be doing, how you should be doing it, when you should be doing it,
where you should be doing it, and why you should be doing it, warns
author Karen Okulicz. "This barrage of advice can seem endless.
It takes a lot of patience not to scream `I’m working on looking for
work. Leave me alone. Mind your own business’."
Most people are trying to be helpful, she says. "But it can be
overwhelming in the beginning when you are so new and you really
a clue of what you’re going to do, what you want to do, when you want
to do it, where, or why. And it’s hard to listen to advice when you’ve
been out for a `while’ and are at your wit’s end with rejections and
opportunities falling apart." Take people’s questions and advice
with a grain of salt, she advises.
A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson, Okulicz worked for 15 years in
the medical field and then lost her job twice in three years. "I
sent out 978 resumes, had 70 face-to-face interviews, and 80 telephone
interviews," she says. "I knew the way of looking for work
had to be viewed and handled differently from `just send the
Okulicz mined her experience to write one of the newest books on the
jobhunter’s shelf, "Try — a Survival Guide to
It is available for $13.10, including shipping and sales tax, with
a check to K-Slaw Inc., Box 375, Belmar 07719. Or call 888-529-6090
She recommends that when jobseekers encounter helpful friends, that
they perform the actions of a colander, that handy perforated pan
for draining liquids. Her definition of a colander: "An object
with holes in it to drain out what is not necessary and to save what
"Listen," she writes, "because someone’s observation of
you may give you an insight of your hidden talents. Listen to what
you’ve been telling yourself for years. I hate to drive or commute
over an hour. I hate wearing a suit, etc. You know what is best for
you. Other people’s comments will offer insights. Just carry the
Once you know which kind of work you are looking for right now —
a job, a career, or your life’s work — it is easier to start the
process of going after it. Okulicz defines the three kinds of work:
until you finish school, or apprenticeship, or whatever. It helps
to cover expenses. It may be mentally or physically demanding, but
its rewards are financial only. It gets us by. It’s doin’ what you
gotta do to get you through."
or apprenticeship. A specialty, a trade. You may be in a career
you felt you may like it or it was suggested to you. It may be
for you, but you think there could always be something better. You
may like your career and are comfortable with the choice but will
be glad to retire someday."
To do something you love. To have a passion for the thing you do.
To lose yourself in this work totally. The rewards may not be
but, may be pure joy."
One of the oldest books on the jobhunter’s shelf,
Color is My Parachute," by Richard Nelson Bolles, is still
selling well. But Princeton-based employment expert Niels H.
thinks it is "musty" and gives advice that is "poor and
In a book review for the Dow Jones jobhunting website
Nielsen says he finds it "hard to believe that 20,000 people buy
this $16.95 book every month to find out this `secret’ of how to find
a job." Nielsen is president of Princeton Management Consultants
Inc., a human-resources and general management consulting firm on
Moore Street (www.pmcnielsen.com), where he consults in HR on a
level. On an individual level, as a volunteer, he is co-founder of
Jobseekers, the group that meets Tuesday evenings at Trinity Church
and attracts unemployed and underemployed people from three states.
His book review is available at www.careerjournal.com by searching
on his name.
Nielsen takes the parachute book’s editors to task for "musty"
tips, such as telling how to "white-out" a mistake on a resume
when virtually all resumes are generated by computer printers.
it gives advice that’s often poor and contradictory. The central
is that the best jobs aren’t advertised but are created when someone
shows up at an employer’s door looking for a job. Therefore, the only
way to find a job is to network. It dismisses all other ways of job
hunting as Neanderthal."
Nielsen cites the book’s "blame the victim" mentality, meaning
that "if you can’t get a job, it’s your fault for not following
its advice to the letter."
He objects to treating every job hunt as though it is to be a
"The system is illustrated by a flower diagram that’s supposed
to help define the job of your dreams. The flower consists of seven
to pick from a list of "job families." Nielsen says the book’s
list "looks like it came from a government statistical report.
It’s old-fashioned and doesn’t include anything about computers or
the Internet. It lumps some oddball occupations into families, e.g.,
Social Scientists, Social Workers, Religious Workers, Lawyers. It
also concentrates on nonexempt and blue-collar jobs. This section
is worse than useless. Mr. Bolles admits this and sends the reader
back to friends, family, and professionals for advice."
Nielsen concedes that Bolles has good advice on job interviewing,
but that it is "diluted by all the poor material that surrounds
"Numerous contradictions make the book’s counsel seem downright
unbelievable," writes Nielsen. "For example, it states: `The
theme at the receptionist’s desk or in the human-resources office
of a company, is: Elimination . . . That is why millions remain
in the U.S. alone.’ But, later, it says that only 15 percent of
have human-resources departments, so how can they single-handedly
be responsible for all the unemployment in the country?"
Nielsen also takes umbrage from Bolles’ advice on pay negotiation.
"The book doesn’t mention the numerous excellent sources of salary
data, on or off the Web. This is consistent with his Marxian approach,
but in a market economy, it’s a major omission. He says that you
get paid the salary you need to live on and provides a two-page
budget worksheet to calculate what pay to ask for. Yeah, right."
in medical supplies to Focus on Animals, a West Windsor-based
animal rescue organization that supports the Ewing Animal Shelter.
The shelter plans to establish a clinic for spaying, neutering, and
testing for leukemia and AIDS.
Gloria Aceti, a resident of West Windsor and the president of Focus
on Animals, says her group is housing the supplies with the aim of
donating them to the spay/neuter clinic planned by the Ewing shelter
or a similar clinic. Diane Cubberly, of St. Francis Hospital,
the concept of helping area shelters with supplies —
for use with animals — that the hospital could no longer use but
did not want to throw away.
to WomanSpace, the shelter for victims of domestic violence. Phones
are being collected at the company’s three offices — Village
Shopping Center, Route 130 in East Windsor, and Route 33 in Hamilton
Square. Princeton Wireless technicians will reprogram the phones to
allow outgoing calls only to the emergency 911 number, as a lifeline
to safety for at-risk victims. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office
is assisting this effort. For information, call 609-799-9393.
a corporate supporter of the Dining In and Stepping Out evening at
the Trenton War Memorial, a benefit for Jewish Family & Children’s
Service of Greater Mercer County.
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