New for Job Hunters

Your Parachute: Time for New Colors?

Corporate Angels

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


review procedures.

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

these results:

Eliminate guesswork. What does an outstanding lawyer or

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.

Train supervisors in giving reviews. Supervisors


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.

Aim for consistency. Sometimes, Thomas says, there are

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


outstanding themselves.

Take the whole review period into account. A common trap,

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.

Never use labels. One of the best ways for an employer

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."

Avoid surprises. Supervisors need to give their underlings

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


Thomas says.

Allow appeals. Appeals, Thomas says, are a good thing.

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


Don’t be late in giving performance reviews, Thomas says.


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


Top Of Page
New for Job Hunters

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:

A job: Something to pay the bills. "A job you take

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."

A career: "Something you go to school for, training

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."

A life’s work. "Ah! The pinnacle of all employment!

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."

Top Of Page
Your Parachute: Time for New Colors?

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 (, 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 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


Transferable skills.

Geography — where you want to live.

Subjects or interests.

People environments.

Values and goals.

Working conditions.

Level and salary.

Having finished this intensive exercise, the reader is supposed

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."

Top Of Page
Corporate Angels

St. Francis Hospital has donated thousands of dollars

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.

Princeton Wireless is helping to donate cellular phones

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.

The Lenox Drive-based law firm of Archer & Greiner was

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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