For Those Under 25 Archives

“Forming or Joining a Start-Up? – 16 Questions that Need to Be Answered”

Published on January 6th, 2016 by Alan L. Sklover

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”

– Henry Winkler

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORY”: Jessica, 36, was more than excited. After five years as Assistant Director of the digital division of a fashion design company, she had been approached by Martin, a colleague she knew from a previous job, about a new opportunity.

Martin was putting together a new venture that would contract out the services of tech-savvy graphic artists, visual designers, and computer coders to corporate app and website developers. Jessica saw the idea as a very good one, as she knew there was a need for such a firm from her work, and to her knowledge no one else seemed to be filling the need on a national level. More than once she had thought to herself, “Someone ought to do that.” Martin had financial backing for the venture from a hedge fund owner, and thought Jessica would be the very best person to help him put together and run the start-up.

What most intrigued Jessica was the opportunity to be a part owner of the new company, something she had often thought about but that had never before come her way. As Martin presented the idea, Jessica would have the opportunity to earn over time up to twenty percent (20%) ownership of the new company.

After discussing it with her husband, and meeting with Martin and the start-up’s financial backer, Jessica decided to “take the plunge.” She was presented with a set of papers that seemed quite simple. She was told that “formal documents” would later be prepared. In the meantime, Martin assured her, they would get things rolling and attend to the “details” later.

After leasing a small office space, hiring office staff and assembling an initial sales team, Jessica and Martin were ready to roll. As anticipated, Martin would be in charge of sales, and Jessica would be in charge of administration. Soon after, the difficulties began.

Martin expected to receive a much higher salary than Jessica would receive; Jessica presumed they would be equal. By happenstance, Jessica learned that Martin would be receiving a forty percent ownership stake, double her own, which did not sit right with her; she presumed they were to be equal partners. The company’s accountant was a cousin of Martin’s, and seemed to answer Martin’s questions, but was always unavailable to answer Jessica’s.

One of the documents that Jessica was given to sign contained a non-compete provision that provided she could not work in this industry for a full year if she was ever to leave, or be asked to leave. Jessica was truly shocked to learn that Martin remained employed by his former employer as a consultant, and so was not devoting full time efforts to this company. Each week seemed to present Jessica with another reason to question the wisdom of her decision to join.

After seven months, Jessica “threw in the towel.” She retained our firm to help her achieve fair separation terms, which proved to be more complicated than expected, and even grew adversarial over time. It was especially difficult to get Jessica’s name removed as a guarantor of the office lease obligations. To make a long story short, Jessica was happy to end the dream, which for her had become something of a nightmare.

LESSON TO LEARN: Forming or joining a start-up company is almost always exciting and exhilarating, but can also be quite disappointing. Creating a new business is difficult, but doing so with others requires more communication, focus, attention to detail and patience than most people imagine. It’s just so easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm.

It’s hard to apply cold reason to hot passion, but it is an exercise in discipline that is highly recommended, especially by those who did not do so, and sure wish they did. Here are the 16 questions I suggest you try to answer if you decide to form or join a start-up.

Every business has its ups and downs, but start-ups have them more commonly and more intensely than established firms. These 16 questions are geared to prospective founders and partners of start-ups, but are also applicable to “early stage” employees, hired after the start-up has gotten going, especially if they are told one day they might become owners by vesting in shares.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Whether you are forming a start-up with one or two others, or being hired by a start-up, with a suggestion that one day you may become one of the shareholders, you need to ask these questions to understand what you are getting into.
Read the rest of this blog post »

Interviews and Meetings – How to Look Smart

Published on November 10th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

“If I worried about appearances I wouldn’t be at Cubs games.”

– Billy Corgan

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES: During interviews and meetings, we all want to look intelligent, wise, knowing and capable. Consciously or subconsciously, we do things to help ourselves appear that way. Some work. Some don’t. Some backfire.

Do you know how you can manage the impression you give? You may be very surprised at what researchers have recently concluded.

LESSON TO LEARN: Psychologists study a lot of things about what makes people “tick.” I recently came across an article that summarizes the many tactics people use to make themselves look smart, some successfully, some pathetically. The findings, explained below, may surprise you.

The studies suggest three lessons to learn about creating a positive first impression of intelligence at interviews and meetings: First, you can’t fake being intelligent. Second, you can learn to act in an intelligent manner, and to avoid acting like a fool. And third, there are a few small things you can do can make a bit of a difference, too.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are what the psychologists who have studied “What makes people look smart” have concluded:
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“Employers Seek Job Candidates with Empathy – A Critical, Yet Scarce, Attribute”

Published on January 21st, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”

– Meryl Streep

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES: For a long time we have encouraged clients to live an empathic life by being involved in charitable and civic matters, because it is good for their careers. And, of course, it is contributes to the welfare of our entire society.

More and more, it seems, employers are seeking out those who exhibit empathy as a valuable and scarce business advantage. That is because the view is growing that you simply can’t serve the needs of customers unless you understand and appreciate what “moves” them to purchase your product or service, and then to come back for more.

The following article on this very topic appeared in Fortune Magazine on September 22, 2014, and addresses the importance of empathy in business, employment and career.
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“Thanks (Sort of) for the Rejection” – May Actually Be a Good Idea

Published on August 19th, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

“Rejection doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough;
it means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer.”

 –      Mark Amend  

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: Every now and then I come upon a workplace-related idea that is so simple and sensible that I just can’t help but pass it along to my readers. In a recent edition of Bottom Line Personal magazine, I came across one such idea submitted to the magazine by Susan P. Joyce, President of a company named NETability, Inc. 

Her idea is this: Job applicants who are rejected from a hoped-for position should send “Thank You” notes to their interviewers or Hiring Manager. Why? It seems there are lots of good reasons to do so, among them: 

1. To express gratitude for being considered.  

2. To exhibit your continued interest in working for the company, perhaps in another position or capacity.  

3. To “keep the conversation going.”  

4. To bring up your name to those with hiring authority just one more time.  

5. To stand out from the crowd, that is, the majority who do not say “Thank you.”  

6. To show maturity, humility and depth of personality.  

7. To express continued interest in case the person chosen decides not to accept the position.  

8. To share a sense of disappointment but not one of discouragement.  

9. Perhaps to share a thought about something that came up in your interview.  

10. To illustrate that you are a person who does not “give up” easily.  

11. Because it costs nothing and may be worth a lot.  

12. Perhaps a much better question is: Why not?  

LESSON TO LEARN: When hunting for a job, don’t let rejection get you down. Instead see it as an opportunity to show others that you are not someone who is easily discouraged. If the name of the game is to get a job, keep at it, and if you do so the chances are only increased that you will, in the end, get the job. Say “Thank you.” There’s no downside to it. And keeping in touch sure can’t hurt. Everyone’s been rejected; successful people don’t give up. It’s that simple. 

WHAT YOU CAN DO: If you are rejected for a position you really wanted, by a company you really wanted to work for, in a role you thought would “fit you like a glove,” don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t take rejection personally. Instead, give it another shot, and another shot after that. Keep the conversation going. Send a “Thank You” note, and keep in touch. The world belongs to the perseverant. Here are six more thoughts: Read the rest of this blog post »

“Good Guidance for New Graduates”

Published on May 21st, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

Four Very Wise Thoughts

“It’s hot. Good luck. Good bye.”

– Graduation Speech by School Board President
at outdoor graduation on extremely hot day

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: It seems that every year about this time I hear or read an especially interesting speech or written piece giving advice to new graduates. The comments below appeared in The New York Times last week while I was in Madison, Wisconsin celebrating my son Sam’s college graduation.  

That said, Here it is, and I hope you will share it with those who you know who may be graduating this year, or who have graduated in recent years. I think it is both timeless and priceless.                            

“Beware the City Dolls”

 By Arthur C. Brooks 

Commencement season is upon us again. In a tenuous economic recovery, many of the 1.6 million graduates at American colleges and universities will be listening intently for a bit of practical wisdom from their commencement speakers.

My own graduation was devoid of this rite. I dropped out of college at 19 and spent my 20s as a traveling musician. I finally finished my degree by correspondence just before my 30th birthday. On graduation day, instead of marching across a stage, I marched out to the mailbox to pick up my diploma. My commencement address was a reminder, muttered to myself, to take my car in for inspection.

In the years that followed, after a great deal of traditional graduate school, I became a university professor. Between delivering a few commencement addresses and listening to many more, here is what I believe graduates need to hear today. 

  1. Earn everything. 

It’s true that graduates today face a rough economy. Americans in their early 20s have to contend with a 10.6 percent unemployment rate – that’s twice the rate among people 25 and up. If still searching for a job, you might envy your classmates whose wealthy or well-connected parents can give them a comfortable life. 

That’s a mistake. The best research shows that unearned resources can be toxic for well-being. One well-known study from Northwestern University tracked lottery winners. They found that while winners described hitting the jackpot as a positive event, they were not actually any happier than a control group of non-winners. Furthermore, the windfall came at a cost: The lottery winners derived significantly less happiness from everyday activities than did ordinary men and women. 

What was their problem? It wasn’t the money per se. Researchers agree that wealth buys less and less happiness beyond middle-class levels, but nobody finds that more money reduces well-being. The size of the fortune is not the key variable; rather, it is whether it is earned. Joseph Schumpeter, the intellectual godfather of modern entrepreneurship, called money a “secondary consideration” and merely “an index of success.” And work I have done using data from Ohio State University shows that people who do not feel responsible for their own successes spend 25 percent more time feeling sad than those who feel they are responsible, even controlling for income. 

  1. Don’t be a “city doll.” 

In his magnificent 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson scorned elite college graduates – he called them “city dolls” – who wallowed in self-pity if they didn’t immediately land the prestigious job to which they felt entitled. Emerson contrasted them with the “sturdy lads” who hailed from remote civilizations – such as New Hampshire. 

As Emerson wrote, “A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.” 

Failures, false starts and midcourse corrections are part and parcel of a life well lived. Early setbacks may even prove to be a lucrative investment: A growing business literature shows that failures offer invaluable chances to learn and improve. Steven Rogers of Harvard University has written that the average entrepreneur fails almost four times before succeeding. 

The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” Don’t meet obstacles with victimhood and self-pity. Welcome them, especially early in life, as opportunities to grow in resilience and virtue. 

  1. Fight for people who have less than you. 

In John Bunyan’s classic, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” the character Old Honest poses this riddle to the innkeeper Gaius:

                        A man there was, though some did not recount him mad
                        The more he cast away, the more he had. 

Gaius interprets the verse as follows: 

                         He who bestows his goods upon the poor
                         Shall have as much again, and ten times more. 

This insight is more than wishful thinking. There is abundant evidence that helping those in need is a powerful secret to happiness, health, and even material prosperity. More important, it is the right thing to do. 

In the case of charitable giving, taking this advice is straightforward: Get out your checkbook (even if you can write only a little check). In many other areas, such as one’s work, it is less clear. In my work today, I promote the free enterprise system, because I believe it has created more opportunity for the poor than any other system in history. 

Examine your conscience each night by asking not what others say about your work, but rather by asking yourself whether you believe your work today benefited those with less than you. Make sure your honest answer is yes. 

  1. Think for yourself. 

For many graduates, life after college feels like the first time your destiny has been entirely in your own hands. Unfortunately, other people will immediately start trying to force you into a new script. Some will measure your worth by the money you earn. Others will label you a victim of inequality because you earn less than someone else. 

Don’t let yourself be defined in these materialistic ways. Measure your life’s value as you see fit. You might choose to feed the hungry, manage a firm, coach a team, or front a band. But whatever the life, boldly live it on your own terms. Put aside envy and resentment and pursue happiness. 

A sturdy lad “walks abreast with his days,” to quote Emerson once more. “He does not postpone his life, but lives already.” 

There you have it. Earn everything, fail well, fight for others, and think for yourself. Live already. 

And don’t forget to take your car in for inspection. 

Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing opinion writer to the New York Times and the President of the American Enterprise Institute.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the bumps in the road.          

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about. 

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.     

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale. 

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© 2014, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.


Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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