MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Speaker Series: Karina Sterman

April 27, 2011
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Each Friday, the MHB program hosts an industry pro with insight into career opportunities, marketplace trends and new ideas who engages students for two hours of class time. On March 25, 2011, the speaker series featured Ms. Karina Sterman, a partner at Los Angeles law firm Ervin Cohen & Jessup with expertise in litigation and employment law.

Ms. Sterman provided students with insight into the world of employment law. In discussing her field of work, she emphasized and re-emphasized the importance of integrity. She provided thorough descriptions of several litigation cases she had dealt with in the past and showed the steps that she would typically take in each of those situations. Contrary to popular belief, she explained, the outcome of the case is not what ultimately matters for the employer — it is the integrity of the employer’s response to the case. Another piece of advice Ms. Sterman provided was that an employer or an HR representative should never assume that one person is guilty and one person is innocent. This was supported with several cases she had worked on in the past, where the initial self-proclaimed “victim” turned out to be the “villain” in the end.

Overall, Ms. Sterman provided an engaging examination of how business litigation and employment law can affect us in the professional world — whether from the employee or employer standpoint. For those interested in human resources, she presented a much-appreciated “heads up” in terms of what to expect in the years to come. In general, she taught a crucial lesson about the importance of compliance and thorough follow-through, regardless of the task at hand.

Continue reading for more on Ms. Sterman and her work at Ervin Cohen & Jessup.

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Help Unwanted: Secrets from the HR World

March 29, 2011
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Job seekers be warned: the following is a look at the inside secrets of human resources departments and hiring managers, of which most — if not all — are discouraging, disheartening and downright dirty. It’s certainly nice to think of employment managers as optimistic and generous individuals, but the reality — if the findings below are indeed indicative of the entire HR industry — might not be so pretty. And especially for the entry-level candidates who find solace in the belief that they’re at least filling out applications in an appropriate manner, the information below is as terrifying as it is surprising.

In a Yahoo.com survey, which interviewed HR professionals across country about the validity of widely-accepted job search strategies, one director admitted to not reading a cover letter in 11 years. Another explained that overweight people are less likely to be hired, and that candidates with small children might be avoided if they’re overly talkative about their kids. And in superbly direct language, a North Carolinian HR manager said this of pay negotiation: “You think you’re all wonderful and deserve a higher salary, but here in HR, we know the truth. And the truth is, a lot of you aren’t very good at your jobs, and you’re definitely not as good as you think you are.”

The full list contains 22 such confessions — none of which are particularly encouraging for the up-and-coming job applicant, some of which are purely demoralizing for the aging unemployed. “If you’re in your ’50s or ’60s,” explained one HR pro, “don’t put the year you graduated on your résumé.” But if traditionally-trusted employment tactics like these are ineffective and even inappropriate, what else of the application process should be called into question? According to the Human Resources section of About.com, today’s job descriptions — many of which enumerate countless qualifications and required tasks — are often overblown and even inaccurate. Perhaps companies list an inordinate number of expected responsibilities so that hired employees have no room to complain that a given assignment is outside their jurisdiction; perhaps they’re trying to intimidate inferior candidates from ever applying. In either case, an overwritten job profile can create a relationship based on strategic truth-stretching between a new hire and a hiring manager, which seems an unideal place to start if fruitful performance is expected in the future.

Two months ago, meanwhile, hiring managers in Chicago listed the worst habits of job seekers in interviews. A few fall under the branch of common sense: interviewees should not feast on the goodies in an office candy jar; they shouldn’t badmouth their spouses or significant others; and, in a crucial bit of advice, they shouldn’t wear hats that read “Take This Job and Shove It.” But other pointers are useful and less obvious. Job candidates should ask questions during and at the end of an interview, for instance. They should research what a company does, how it operates and some of its recent work to prove their investment and belief to potential employers. Lastly, a positive and upbeat attitude can be strategically refreshing — especially in the context of an economy that has more people downtrodden about job prospects than enthusiastic about them. And just keep trying, because the clearest mark of being unemployable is consistent unemployment: “Once you’re out of work more than six months,” reported one HR insider, “we assume that other people have already passed you over, so we don’t want anything to do with you.” Wise words indeed.

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Good Boss/Bad Boss

January 28, 2011
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Even if you have a bad boss — a harsh reality for many who count themselves as members of the workforce — perhaps it’s reassuring to know that it could be worse. eBossWatch, an online advocacy group for the victims of bad management, recently published its 2010 list of America’s worst bosses, mostly a comprehensive list of the year’s major harassment lawsuits and the top-level execs who ended up as defendants. Finding themselves on the list are former U.S. representative Eric Massa (#4); action movie star Steven Seagal (#46); and, taking the lamentable top spot, Chief Eddie Burns of the Dallas Fire Department — who cost his city nearly $1.5 million in legal fees stemming from three separate sex suits in the same year.

The misconduct of a boss, however, is often much less perceptible — and much less publicly punishable — than in the cases above. But these behaviors and attitudes trickle down to the front line employees who are the face of an organization, the very employees responsible for carrying out the goals and values of their employer — so it’s extremely important for bosses to maintain a level of respect and trust. With the help of the Human Resources Professional Association, who recently polled 793 Canadian HR reps about management and its effect on the workplace, below is a list of the characteristics of both bad and good bosses.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A BAD BOSS

1. Inappropriate Comments/Bullying. The country of Turkey, which recently passed a new workplace harassment law, has already experienced surging numbers of lawsuits related to bullying. As bosses too often forget, the office is neither a frat nor a locker room.
2. Favoritism. Even the President gets called out for this practice: with his weekend appointment of Jeffrey Immelt — former CEO of General Electric — as head of the Jobs and Competitiveness Council, Obama faced a backlash of conservative criticism because Immelt oversaw NBC, a television station historically favorable to the Democratic Party. In the office, playing favorites alienates certain employees and puts undue pressure on the shoulders of others.
3. Unwillingness to Follow Due Process. If your boss doesn’t notify the company when he’ll be leaving early, why should you?
4. Treating Employees with Disrespect. For this trait, simply see below.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A GOOD BOSS

1. Giving Employees A Voice. Certain consultants encourage 360 degree feedback — a system that recommends constant job assessment from boss to employee and vice versa — as a way to establish genuine relationships in the face of hierarchy.
2. Treating Employees Like Volunteers. Using this mindset, bosses will see their associates as motivated, caring individuals who work for the benefit of the company.
3. Patience. The short tempers of bosses translate into short tempers of employees. Patience on the part of management, meanwhile, will be reflected company-wide.
4. Transparency. Employees who are privy to all of the office’s goings-on — decisions made, deals signed, etc. — are more likely to trust their company and invest deeply in it.
5. High Involvement Management. This term encapsulates all of the actions above. A boss who is highly involved with his employees, no matter their place in the company, will in turn inspire high levels of motivation and job satisfaction.


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