Monday, May 30, 2011

My Most Frustrated Post on How to Reinvent Higher Education

The Atlantic, to its credit, is being a pit bull in not letting higher education continue to get away with the terrible education it provides. The latest is an article calling for "genius" professors to make their courses available online, a la what MIT and Yale have done.

But that would be merely a drop of water in what could be an oceanic change. After reading the article on The Atlantic's website, I posted this as a comment. Forgive the frustrated and know-it-all tone but I decided to allow myself the luxury of letting 'er rip:

THE answer is to, for a given course, say Intro to Economics:

1. Assemble a team NOT of the great genius professors but those MOST TRANSFORMATIONAL TO UNDERGRADUATES.

2. Have them divide the course into the segments each best teaches.

3. Have a genius in online instructional design work with each professor to develop their segment to maximize INTERACTIVITY, SIMULATION, and other wonders possible online.

4. The resulting course would be SOLD to individual universities to offer to their students.

I've written about this so many times for DECADES, most recently: Yet, the world has virtually been silent to my call.

Now I'm getting old and I fear that this true reinvention of higher education will not occur. We will continue to be so, so, so incremental. Only a fool would argue that the method of teaching, virtually unchanged in 2,000 years, will change because Joel Klein, Peter Thiel, Richard Vedder, and a few other outsiders decry it.

It's a political problem--There is TREMENDOUS vested interest in maintaining the status quo--the research-oriented professoriate and administrations who LOVE being allowed to get away with research-first professors teaching undergraduates cheaply, and of course, that's reinforced by the mammothly powerful higher education lobby. Higher education lobbying machines litter the halls of our government.

I sure hope I'm wrong. Truly, the world's future could be dramatically improved through higher education's reinvention along the lines I propose.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Yet Another Painful Letter Reporting Discrimination Against White Males

Here's the latest in the endless stream of emails from white men claiming reverse discrimination. They know I'm one of the few people who are supportive of their most unpopular cause. He has given permission for me to include his name.
My name is Jeff Williams. I have been in the automotive field for over 25 years.
Yesterday I was fired from my job as a licensed California smog technician simply because I am not Turkish.

I have 16 years in the smog field alone and I know what I am doing. I live 100 miles from his shop, but hey, no problem. Glad to help and I could use the work.

After a month or so, he hires this friend of his to "help out" at the shop. His friend has zero automotive experience, is not licensed, and is essentially just a parasite that needs to collect a paycheck. Not only is he of no help to me, it is illegal for him to get involved with what I am doing in the shop. He is not a licensed smog tech. The guy cannot even figure out how to put air in tires. So I was a babysitter for the owner's unemployable Turkish pal.

After a month of this guy standing around staring at me or basically just getting in the way, the owner decided that it would be better to keep his friend working there, and fired me. He explained to me that this is the way they do things in his "Homeland", and that he simply would not fire a Turk no matter how useless he was to the business, or how much harder it made anyone else's job.

I have worked for numerous shop owners over the years and have seen the racially biased hiring policies on a regular basis. It's very consistent but who do you complain to? If I did the same thing with my business, firing people for not being white, I would probably go to jail, at least, get sued out of business.

It's a very depressing, sad state when you can't even do a job you are trained for, simply because you are the wrong race.

Jeff Williams
I suggested that Jeff try the EEOC but anecdotally, I've heard that, especially under the Obama Administration, it's much more difficult to get the EEOC to take a claim seriously if you're a white man. After all, according to most social science professors, "white male privilege" is enormous.

Here was Jeff's response to my EEOC suggestion: "I would just get called a racist myself. It's very strange how this sort of thing just goes ignored, but it is 100% consistent in the auto industry."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How Would You Deal With This Unmotivated Ivy Grad?

Today, I had a career counseling client write what she honestly thought were the reasons she hasn't been successful.

Do note that she graduated four years ago from a prestigious university and the only job she's had is a part-time salesperson at a costume jewelry store. Her parents are supporting her.

Note: to preserve her anonymity, the photo is a publicly posted one of other people. Also, I've changed a few irrelevant details above but the following text is hers verbatim:
Bottom line, I think I'm lazier than a lot of people. I fool myself into thinking, I'll get stuff done later.

Also, I prioritize feeling healthy and looking good. To look that way, I sleep as much as I can and work out a lot, but all that takes time from me being productive, from getting a job.

It's weird, although being healthy is so important to me, I do a lot of weed and alcohol. It's always been hard for me to say no to friends. They can easily convince me to hang out and drink or smoke. I also waste a lot of time talking to my friends who don't live here.

I get down on myself easily, and to feel better, I hang out with friends, watch TV, smoke, drink etc. instead of looking for a job or getting stuff I need to get done.

When I finally do something productive, after a few minutes, I tend to think "That's enough" and go do something more fun. Maybe that's because it's been a long time since I had to do anything productive for very long.

I don't know how I got through school and I don't know how I'll get the motivation to be productive.
If you were her career counselor, what would you say to her? And what other reactions do you have to her missive? For example, I wonder whether her having graduated from an Ivy League school is testimony to massive grade inflation and the irrelevance of what is taught.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Four Deadly Myths about Job References

This is adapted from an article by the Allison & Taylor Reference Checking Co.

Myth No. 1: Employers aren't allowed to say anything negative about a former employee.

Reality: While many employers have such a policy, people violate it every day. Half of our (Allison & Taylor's) clients receive a bad reference despite a strict policy.

Myth No. 2: Most employers direct reference checks to their human resources department, and those people won’t say anything bad about me.

Reality: Most HR people will follow proper protocol, but in addition to what is said, reference checkers often evaluate how something is said, notably tone of voice.

Myth No. 3: If I had issues with my former boss, I can simply leave him or her off my reference list and nobody will know.

Reality: Many employers check references that are not on your list, often without your even knowing. They conduct a “social security check” to determine where you have worked and then call the human resources department or office administrator at each employer for a reference. That practice is also used to see if a prospective employee has left any places of employment off the resume.

Myth No. 4: I sued my former employer and now they're not allowed to say anything.

Reality: They may not be able to say anything definitive but there are subtle ways to take a shot at you. There have been many instances in which a former boss or HR staffer has said something like, “Hold on a minute while I get the legal file to see what I am allowed to say about Mr. Smith.” Many employers may be uncomfortable hiring someone who has a legal history.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Case for Genetic Enhancement of Cognitive Ability

On my NPR-San Francisco radio show today, I interviewed Ruud Ter Meulen, co-editor of Enhancing Human Capacities (Wiley, May 2011)

That interview has triggered these thoughts:

How much of the difference between America's successful and its underclass is genetic and how much is environmental? Over the last 3/4 of a century, we've put all our chips, literally trillions of dollars of cost and opportunity cost, on trying to improve the underclass's environment. Yet the achievement level of the underclass has remained intractable.

As we contemplate what to do for the next 3/4 century, would we be wiser to double-down on that bet or might we reasonably conclude that we've been fighting a giant opponent with one arm tied behind our back and that we'd be wise to untie that arm.

Speaking non-metaphorically, as I've asked in previous writings, is it time to resist our visceral repulsion against funding the research that would lead to prospective parents to be able to elect to genetically enhance their child's cognitive and emotional abilities? Indeed, such gene therapy would likely benefit the underclass more than it would the successful because the underclass has more room to grow.

As long as parents were not coerced into using such gene therapy and as long as the procedure was covered under MediCal so as to not to exacerbate the gap between society's haves and have nots, I cannot see a rational argument against allowing the necessary research, including the risks and rewards of intervening in the germline as well as the ethical issues, so we might eventually be able to fight this most tough opponent with both arms.

Beyond merely benefiting the underclass, making available to prospective parents the option to genetically enhance their children's cognitive ability and emotional well-being/efficacy makes likely that we'll sooner cure our horrific diseases, have wiser electorates, not to mention the ultimate iPhone.

Dear readers, your thoughts?

A Case For and Against Perfectionism

I go back and forth on the wisdom of aiming for perfection versus aiming for the best work that can be done in a reasonable amount of time.

In an attempt to gain some clarity on where I stand, I thought I'd make the case for both:

The Case for Perfectionism: There's too much stuff out there: too much content, too many products. The last thing we should do is contribute to the burying of the excellent amid the mediocre. Another reason to strive for excellence: We all want to feel special. Why produce just the easily duplicable or exceedable?

The Case for Time-Effectiveness: Few of us, even if we spend huge amounts of time, have the talent to create something truly great. Better to aim for the sweet spot: What will, for a particular task, strike the ideal balance between quality and time-expended? That's a more attainable goal.

I guess my conclusion is this: If you feel that if you took the time, you could create something that would be appreciated as clearly superior, it may be worth striving for perfection. But if you likely lack that potential, you may be wiser to aim for the sweet spot of time-effectiveness.

But then there's the matter of motivation. I delude myself into thinking that if I took lots of time, I could, for example, write the definitive book on why education is America's most overrated product and what we should do about it. But I lack the patience and the discipline to stay focused on writing such a book--To avoid being torn apart by the higher education establishment would require abundant, air-tight documentation. It's more fun to dabble around--for example, writing this blog.

My Road Trip Nation interview: Lessons from My Life

I was just interviewed for Road Trip Nation. The topic: Lessons from My Life.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

What Career to Pursue? Advice to an Older Person

I received this question from a reader:

I'm a 60 yr. old man and have never been able to answer the question, "How does one figure out what to do for a living"?

When I answered him, he responded,

"Extremely useful suggestions and ideas. I WILL heed your advice."

So I figured I'd share my answer with you.

Dear Pat (name changed,)

Here's a short answer.
At 60, the most likely to be successful routes are:

a) To live your self-employment dream: create something, run something.

b) Tell everyone in your current and past that you're interested in a job, perhaps one that utilized (insert your best skill or interest) and whether they know someone you should talk with.

c) Look through directories of careers. An easy way to find them is to visit the career section of a public library.

If you end up finding work using b or c, you may well want to have a creative avocation--write , paint , take photos, act, sing, etc.

Hope that helps.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Matters in Education: A New Approach to Figuring it Out

Here's another video of me doing an unscripted brain dump on some topic. This time, it's "What Matters in Education." But I'm doing it in an unconventional way.

Like most PhDs in education, I usually evaluate education analytically, with experiments and reviews of data and the literature. But here, I'm trying an inductive approach: I simply turned on the webcam and said what I remembered from my education--kindergarten through graduate school. Perhaps that would offer hints of what educational practices are and aren't of enduring value.

I think you'll find it mildly entertaining and maybe even borderline enlightening. It's 12 minutes long, so if that's too long for you: my summary conclusions are:

1. From K-24, I mentioned only one bit of content I learned from a lecture: how advertisers try to manipulate you. Everything else that was top-of-mind was from an interactive experience.

2. We're more fragile than I realized. I don't think of myself as being unduly insecure, yet getting my one and only A+ (in philosophy) stays vividly reassuring to me and getting a B- in a course I cared about (advanced expository writing) made me feel like a loser.

3. School may be a poor judge of us. Just as Einstein and successful people were given bad grades in school, I was inaccurately judged to be a poor writer. In graduate school, a professor said I was a terrible writer and sent me to the writing center, where, in fact, I learned little of value. Indeed, graduate school taught me to be a worse writer. There was such an emphasis on precision of language that the writing ends up impenetrable or downright soporific except to the most motivated reader. I learned how to be a writer who can communicate when I decided to write in plain English and then got feedback on my drafts from just-plain people: my neighbor the plumber and my neighbor, the teacher.

4. It's frightening how little I remember from all that schooling. I'm not sure if it's me or what I've so often written in this blog and other articles: that education is America's most overrated product.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rather than legalize marijuana, should we prohibit pot and alcohol?

I'm aware that many people enjoy alcohol and pot in moderation and derive pleasure from it. Indeed I enjoy a big glass of wine a couple times a week.

But alcohol and marijuana take devastating tolls on millions of people, their families, and society. For example, as a career counselor, I see again and again how heavy drinkers and pot smokers ruin their careers (damaged memory and especially motivation) and thus leave their families in the lurch. And in their personal life, they're more likely to abuse their spouse and children, and certainly be bad role models. Plus, alcohol and drugs are responsible for the majority of traffic injuries and deaths. Alcohol and drugs contribute to everything from heart disease to cancer to cirrhosis of the liver, which costs all of us in health care costs and reduced availability of medical services.

The toll is so great that I'm wondering whether, rather than moving toward legalizing marijuana, we might be wiser to make a smarter attempt at prohibition of both alcohol and pot. Stores would be prohibited from selling them, true medical marijuana would be available by prescription at pharmacies such as CVS and RiteAid, and there would be no raids of private homes and other private places. The penalty for public drinking or pot smoking would be a fine, not jail.

Of course, there would be black-market use but the amount of alcohol and drug abuse would likely decrease greatly from the elimination of easy availability, and thus society would benefit tremendously .

I know it's a cliche, but there really are so many more enjoyable and beneficial ways to spend one's life than getting high.

What do you think?

Live by "The Meter": a tool for living the meaningful life, the life well-led

A couple of days ago, I posted a stream-of-consciousness talk on what you should know about higher education that the universities won't tell you.

A viewer of that video, Justin Wehr, posted a comment asking if I might do and post more unscripted talks, and he suggested some topics, one of which was The Meaning of Life. So, here it is:

The Jobless Non-Recovery: Why There Are So Few Good Jobs

A reader asked me why there are so few decent job openings.

Here is an expanded version of my answer. You'll note that it includes liberal, libertarian/conservative, and apolitical explanations.
  • Per Marx, unbridled capitalism results in the rich putting maximum profits in their own pockets and letting as little as possible dribble down into new hiring. When employers do hire, no matter how rich, they usually pay the worker as little as possible, thus exacerbating the gap between rich and poor.
  • Ever more can be automated. That means, for example, that every innovation--for example, the iPhone, requires only a relative few people to create it, and ever fewer people to build it.
  • In the era of the Net, sales can often be done more efficiently by replacing expensive commission-based salespeople with a great website and interface.
  • It has become so very expensive in the U.S. to hire an employee: On top of Social Security, MediCal, disability, unemployment insurance, Americans With Disabilties Act expenses, and state mandates, there's ObamaCare, with paid fraud-riddled "family leave" on the horizon. And then there are the financial and human costs of the ever increasing wrongful termination, sexual harassment, workers compensation, and racial discrimination lawsuits. While, of course, some of those claims are legitimate, ever more are not--In this tough economy, it's more tempting to try to steal a windfall from the employer.
  • Because ever more work product can be transmitted over the Net, employers find it feasible to offshore many more jobs. And the early experiments in offshoring have yielded important lessons--more of those offshore workers are doing a good job.
  • The U.S. will be ever less competitive against low-cost countries, especially in Asia, with their ever higher-quality workforces.
I am coming to conclude that even people who lack the gift or burning desire to be self-employed should consider learning that art. Running your own simple business will likely be one of the U.S.'s few remaining sources of well-paying, stable employment. To that end, you might want to read my article, The Un-MBA.

What Colleges and Graduate Schools Don't Want You to Know

A couple of days ago, on an impulse, I simply turned on my webcam and started sharing with you what I think you should know about college and graduate school that the universities don't want you to know.

On viewing it, I liked its candor but didn't like its being disorganized. So today, I recorded a more organized but less spontaneous version.

I apologize for rushing --I was noticing that I'd have a hard time getting it finished within YouTube's 15-minute limit. In fact, despite my rushing, my very last word did get cut off.

If you prefer to read the text, HERE it is. Actually, I recommend that--it's faster and I'm not good looking enough for you to want to watch me for 15 minutes--and the text includes that last word. ;-)

One more apology. One viewer said it's conceited of me to mention my credentials. I did so only because, if the video is posted elsewhere, viewers should have a basis for assessing the speaker's credibility.

In any event, if you prefer to watch the video than read the text, here's the video:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Peter Pan Syndrome: Why Smart People Fail

Updated: 3/6/14.

Many clients come to me thinking they'd be successful if only they had an idea for a more exciting career/self-employment.

In fact, there usually are other factors at play, most of which boil down to what I call the Peter Pan Syndrome: They won't grow up.

In better economic times, more people had reasonable careers even if they suffered from the Peter Pan Syndrome but, alas, today that's less and less possible.

Here are the Peter Pan Syndrome's most common manifestations:
  • An unwillingness to get working or stay working when you're not motivated. If you're only willing to work hard when you feel like it, you won't feel like it often enough. Working hard must be something you do; it's not a decision to make. It's foundational.
  • Dabbling: unwillingness to stay focused on becoming sufficiently expert at anything. Brilliant people can achieve excellence in many areas but most people can't.
  • Networking aversion (I suffer from this:) not having taken the time to develop the deep connections with the right people that, alas, too often are needed to land a good job.
  • Betting on longshot dreams: becoming a self-supporting actor, artist, documentary filmmaker, etc. Yes, obviously, some people have achieved such goals but unless you are unusually talented and driven (ideally with great connections,) your chances are so very small. Yet some people cling to their longshot dream, sometimes as an excuse for not doing the work required to have a successful non-longshot career.
  • Doing too much alcohol or drugs.
  • Blaming your failure on something your parents, spouse, or former employer did to you. Many people who were terribly abused--including, for example, Holocaust survivors like my dad--did just fine. You've probably suffered a lot less. You too can triumph over your past.
  • Doing an insufficiently thorough job search. Here's what a thorough one looks like: identifying 100 people not advertising an on-target job but with the power to hire you for your target job or create one for you, and you not only pitch yourself to them but make the effort to build a relationship with them over months. You must also regularly contact your extended personal network to get leads and build the relationship, have a good LinkedIn profile, craft many top-of-the-heap job applications, including collateral material such as a white paper, a portfolio, and substantive follow-ups after job interviews, for example, a mini business plan describing what you'd do if hired.
Might any of those Peter Pan Syndrome behaviors apply to you? If so, is it a wake-up call? Or do you want to accept that you just don't care enough about career success to make the now usually-required effort ? Alas, today, more than ever in my 28 years as a career counselor, I'm finding that unless you're lucky, brilliant or both, landing and keeping a good job really requires you to be a grown-up.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Unscripted Talk: The Case Against College

I've just talked into my webcam for 13 minutes making the case against college (and graduate school.)

I like it because it is an unvarnished presentation of my thoughts, with no glitz. Its honesty and substantiveness seem to shine through.

On the other hand, its lack of polish (not to mention my not particularly looking into the camera) makes it less entertaining and less tightly structured than if it were a prepared speech.

I figure it doesn't hurt to share it with you.

It presents:
  • A case against college and graduate school
  • Who should and shouldn't consider attending
  • Questions you should ask of a college you're considering attending
  • A plea that government mandate all colleges to post a substantive College Report Card on itself, as I've written about previously.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lessons for Graduates

I was interviewed for an article. In the process, I said this:

A long line of commencement speeches have warned graduates that success in the real world requires unlearning key things they learned in college. Here are six such things:

1. Do not blame your lack of success on your race, class, gender, sexual orientation, what your parents did to you, or the evil capitalist system. It's usually not as true as you think and to the extent it is, thinking about that will disempower you and make you more likely to fail. Winners focus on working hard and smart, and when the inevitable failures occur, simply ask themselves what they can learn from it and move on. Wallowing is unacceptable; that would merely make you descend deeper into a quicksand of inertia. I know many Holocaust survivors and the ones who spent a lot of time "processing" it, often stayed stuck for a lifetime. Usually, the ones who moved on, well, moved on to a better life.

2. Dabbling is death. To succeed in the real world requires sustained focus on becoming the go-to guy or gal in something marketable.

3. Working smart is not enough. Today, you must work smart and long or you'll likely be viewed as expendable or relegated to low-level jobs. Don't worry. Working lot at what you're good at and toward an ethical goal will likely feel more rewarding than a more recreation-heavy life.

4. The most important skill you didn't learn in college is ethics. Sure, the professors may have preached ethics but by biasing their instruction to the left, their actions demonstrate that they value brainwashing you over exposing you to the full range of benevolently derived wisdom. Not all wisdom resides left of center. Too, professors not giving an automatic F in a course to a student caught cheating lets the other students know that ethics don't matter much to professors. In truth, cheaters usually win in the college and career games but lose in the most important game, the game of life: When you die, how much good or bad net impact you've had on the world. Want to get inspired? Read about Gandhi, for example, THIS.

5. The next most important skill they didn't teach you in college is entrepreneurship. You need it whether you're self-employed, working for a corporation, a non-profit, or the government. Well, maybe not the government.

6. Procrastination is career cancer. Professors actually gave you that cancer by allowing you, when you procrastinated studying for that test or doing that paper until the last minute, giving you a good grade. In the real world, except in low-level jobs and in low-level organizations, there's far less grade inflation.

Class dismissed.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Efficiency Expert: How I get so much done and how you can too

I've decided to write a book, The Efficiency Expert. Getting More Done in Less Time. (Alternate subtitle: How I get so much done and how you can too.)

HERE is a draft of the proposal for that book. It contains a good number of my tips. I'd welcome your feedback before I submit it to my agent.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Affirmative Action Plays Out in the Real World

Here is a video of a shocking lecture by Columbia University Ph.D, Steven Farron , author of The Affirmative Action Hoax, on how affirmative action plays out in the real world.

Farron provides extensive evidence that affirmative action as implemented in both universities and the workplace is not only unfair but dangerous to us all, and in less obvious ways than we might imagine.

For example, it's well known that white college applicants are routinely rejected so that black applicants with far worse test scores and grades in less rigorous courses can be admitted. Assessing the extent to which that is, net, deleterious is beyond the scope of this blog post, but the following unquestionably endangers us all:

Farron reports that because such a small percentage of African-American and Latino medical school graduates were passing the physician licensing exam, the exam was dumbed down so much that 99% of white examinees now pass.

I was tempted to stop watching the video because of Dr. Farron's initially phlegmatic manner and stuffy appearance and because the first two minutes were merely introductory, but I'm glad I continued. You might however, wish to start watching at the 2:20 mark. Its total length is 31 minutes.

A Case Against the Ten Commandments...indeed against all rules

A rabbi, Yisroel Cotlar (pictured right,) asked me if I agreed with him that the world is better if we live by absolute rights and wrongs: for example, the Ten Commandments. Here was my response.

I believe that living by absolute rights and wrongs will cause the masses to lead better lives, creating more net good within their sphere of influence. They, like the Simple Child of the Passover Four Questions, require rules to follow with minimal reasoning let alone discretion.

But in my view, absolutism will be dismissed as reductionistic by most of the intelligentsia, who so prize unrestricted analytic thinking. Such people believe, as I do, that absolutes impede wise decision-making.

For example, a core biblical absolute is "Thou shalt not kill." But, for example, at the point it became clear that Hitler was planning to exterminate millions of people, if a person thereby chose to assassinate Hitler, could one legitimately, unequivocally, as an absolute, insist that is bad or a sin?

"Thou shalt not steal" is another of the Bible's core absolutes. But if your wife desperately needs a drug but you cannot afford it, might it arguably be right for you to steal the drug? Insisting that people operate based on absolutes would, net, lead to greater injustice.

I believe the greatest good would accrue by having a continuum of "religion:" On one end, a deity-based, ritual-filled, absolutist approach, and on the other end, a situational-ethics-based "secular religion," no belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent deity required.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Alternative to a Resume: a cover letter with credibility and heart

A client asked me to review his resume. Here is its summary.
  • Energetic executive and project manager.
  • Goal-oriented, multidisciplinary professional with superior communication ability.
  • MBA with experience in international commerce.
Reading that reminded me of how unhelpful resumes are. What he wrote was, like most resume verbiage, unlikely to make his application rise to the top of the stack. And on reflection, even the "ahead-of-the-pack" resume strategies I tout are often insufficiently powerful.

So I suggested my client go home and draft a radically different kind of "resume" -- a one-page narrative that tells the true story of his career, including his failures, successes, detours, dreams, doubts, plus interests and skills that have nothing to do with career. Rather than a resume, it's more like a cover letter with credibility and heart.

Of course, many employers will be turned off, but I'm wondering whether it will result in the right employer being turned on. Such a narrative will reveal the person's true self, which means that if the boss likes that person, the candidate is more likely to be successful and happy on the job than if hired based on the usual obfuscatory resume. Besides, very few employers with a good job opening would be turned on by the standard cliche-filled resume unless it includes words like "Harvard" and "record-breaking" and shows a meteoric rise through the ranks culminating in being perfectly ready for the subject job opening.

Have you tried something like that? Or, if you're an employer, would you consider this Cover Letter with Credibility and Heart a plus or minus if submitted instead of or in addition to a resume?

Toward the Life Well-Led: The Meter

Many people believe that The Goal is happiness.

That trivializes life's meaning. You could fill your life with activities that make you happy: sex, favorite foods, movies, a Lexus, a beautiful house, hell, I'll even throw in a front-row seat at a Lady Gaga concert. Yet you would die leaving the world no better for your presence. And the extent to which you have left the world better is, in my view, the only valid criterion for assessing whether you've lived a worthwhile life.

It helps us live that life well-led if we use The Meter: -10 (selling crack to kids) to +10 (working to cure cancer) every time we're deciding what to do next. We simply need ask ourselves, "What could I do that would score high on The Meter?"

On my radio show Sunday, I discussed that approach to the life well-led with a leading public intellectual, Richard Posner. He raised objections:
  • It's too joyless. I stipulated to that but argued, as above, that making the world better is more important than an individual's pleasure.
  • Most people don't want to deprioritize happiness, even if, in the abstract, they believe that happiness should be subordinated to contribution. My response: the perfect is the enemy of the good. As with most philosophies and religious principles, they are ideals to aspire to. Because we are human, we will never achieve perfection but better for even a few additional people to strive toward an admirable benchmark than for them to live the life unexamined or in the service of less worthy goals.
  • Most people can't make enough of a difference to make it worth sacrificing pleasure. I disagreed. Take, for example, an accounts-payable clerk deciding on Saturday whether to watch a football game or to pay the bills he couldn't finish paying on Friday. If he chooses to pay those bills, he ensures the recipients have their money to spend when they're supposed to have it. If instead, the clerk elects to watch the football game, the recipient suffers unfairly. So even in this example of a relatively impotent person, his selecting the activity that would score higher on The Meter makes a significant difference. Multiply that by the clerk's countless such decisions and by all the people who might choose to use The Meter, and the total benefit is large.
  • The lack of recreation would hurt their health thereby, net, resulting in their doing less good for the world. In fact, working at what one does well is usually less stressful than are many recreational activities. For example, many sports game watchers' and video game players' blood pressure likely rise more than when they're doing pro-social work. Even a lauded activity such as taking care of one's child is often more stressful and less beneficial than more pro-social work. Fighting with children to clean their room or do their homework is more stressful and less likely to make less of a difference to the world (the research is getting ever clearer that parenting has far smaller impact than commonly believed) than to spend more time, for example, ensuring even that bills are paid, let alone if it's a cardiologist seeing patients on Saturday, a policymaker taking extra hours to optimize consumer-protection legislation, or a cancer researcher deciding to try another research avenue rather than to play Monopoly with his kids.
Let's say you accept my definition of the life well-led: spending as much of life as possible making the biggest difference possible. If so, key to accomplishing that is simply to keep The Meter top-of-mind: Every time you're deciding how to spend the next chunk of time, ask yourself, "What would that score on The Meter?"

Dear readers, I welcome your comments.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The secret to landing a job when not the most qualified: Love, yes love

Unless your resume is likely to be top-of-the stack, the secret to getting hired is to get the employer to love you.

Love you?! What?! It's not as crazy or as difficult as it may first seem.

Most employers' first thought is to do a broad search to find the very best candidate. To abandon that rationality requires a strong positive feeling for a job candidate. In other words, the employer loves that person.

How do you get an employer to love you? Basically, it's a matter of being more human, more honest than most candidates. When it works, doing that opens the door to an honest, intimate relationship in which the employer too reveals weaknesses and insecurities and, on the positive side, is open to laughing and being their true self with the person. Such interactions, sometimes sooner than later, lead to affection and, in turn, openness to the possibility of hiring the person for a current or future job opening, or even creating a job or at least project position for the person.

Of course, most of the time, that will not help the person land a job. An employer may well always opt to go for the strongest candidate he can find. Or she may decide that the weaknesses you describe would make you too weak an employee. Or he may view your very candor as weakness and/or that you'll be high maintenance. Or it may take so long that before anyone offers you a decent job, you're homeless.

But on average, if job seekers, indeed all of us, take the time to create true deep connections and friendships with potential employers and others, it will not only enrich your and their lives, it may be the most potent way to improve your career.

Is Helping a Weak Candidate to Land a Job Ethical?

I just posted this to a forum for career counselors but it has relevance to anyone who has or might try to help a weak candidate land a job.

I'd like to ask a question. America is mired in arguably the toughest job market since The Great Depression. And, worse than in the Great Depression, structural factors in the U.S. suggest that our jobless non-recovery may continue for a long time: job-killing technology innovations are advancing ever more rapidly, ever more jobs are being offshored to countries with intelligent, hard-working workforces willing to work for so much less than are American workers, and without employers forced to pay the ever greater government-mandated costs of and paperwork in hiring an American: on top of Social Security, Workers Comp, SSDI, FMLA, ADA, ever increasing employee lawsuits for wrongful termination, sexual harassment/hostile environment, there's now ObamaCare. And paid leave has just been okayed in Wisconsin. Can the rest of the states be far behind?

Those costs, of course, put additional pressure on employers to not hire, to automate, offshore, etc, and when they must hire Americans, to hire people only for a short-term contract or part-time/unbenefited position. And those costs to employers are likely to rise further. U.S. immigration trends and differential birth rates are such that there will be ever more Democratic-leaning voters and so the pressures to place even more burdens on U.S. employers will likely increase further.

In light of the paucity of jobs and likely exacerbation of that paucity, is it clear that top career counselors like yourselves are performing a net good for society by devoting--as you've reported here--so much knowledge and commitment (even making phone calls to employers on the candidate's behalf) to helping candidates like that person with Asperger's Syndrome so severe no one has hired him during his entire 20 years of adulthood, to beat out a candidate more likely to do a better job? As we're all painfully aware, even mediocre jobs typically get many applicants. The same question could be asked about the efforts you describe to help ex-offenders, who, as you know, have high recidivism rates and personalities and ability/skill deficits more likely to make them, on average, worse employees than are non-offenders.

When you choose to package and advocate for such candidates, is that unfair to the more qualified candidate who can't afford or isn't lucky enough to get an advocate as good as you are?

In addition, might your choosing to package and advocate for such candidates be unfair to the employer who ends up hiring an inferior employee because we the career counselor did such a good job of packaging and promoting our candidate?

And ultimately, might your choosing to package and advocate for such candidates, net, be bad for society? We all suffer when a weak person is hired. For example, think of how we suffer when we get an ineffective customer service rep or a car repairperson who doesn't fix our car or charges us too much, let alone a nurse who can't get the catheter in right or makes a more serious mistake---over 100,000 Americans die every year because of medical errors.

In an economy in which there are plenty of jobs to go around, that is less of an ethical problem. But in our economy, even mediocre jobs are difficult to obtain even when a candidate is fully competent and without major personality issues, let alone when the candidate suffers from something like the severe Asperger's Syndrome that afflicts the person you described. Even in the SEO job you suggested--his condition will--as implied in your comments--likely make this person a net worse employee than the employer could otherwise find without undue difficulty.

In light of all that, would we be wise to ask ourselves whether our efforts to package and promote job candidates would do greater good if focused not on the people with the greatest deficits but on the people who--in a well-suited job--are more likely to be good employees?

Update: The response from the career counseling group's members? Nearly universal opprobrium.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Time: U.S. debt is a time bomb

Time has moved from a centrist to a liberal publication, a virtual nonstop encomium to "progressive" causes and especially to the Obama administration.

But with liberals finally dragged into agreeing to at least look at controlling America's crushing federal debt, even Time now has published an article, "You Are What You Owe," discussing the issue's criticality.

It's written by Sebastian Mallaby, former editorial board member at the Washington Post and currently Director of the Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations.

Here are some quotes from it that I find frightening:

"On April 18, Standard & Poor's, one of those mysteriously powerful firms that grade the financial strength of bond issues, announced that it was starting to wonder whether the mighty U.S. government could be counted on to repay its creditors."

"The Congressional Budget Office projects that within 12 years, federal debt could reach 100% of GDP, putting the U.S. deeper in the hole than bankrupt Ireland or Portugal; the bond raters from S&P have good reason to be worried."

"America's largest creditor, China, urged...the U.S. to adopt more 'responsible measures' to protect investors. This came on the back of a hand slap from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) just a few weeks prior. The IMF had rebuked the U.S. for its lack of a 'credible strategy' to stabilize its debt--an indignity once reserved for poor countries."

"America's top creditor is a populous and rising power that does not necessarily sympathize with U.S. objectives. It's not difficult to imagine a scenario in which China uses its financial muscle against the U.S."

"The alarming debt of more than $14 trillion fails to take into account the $3 trillion owed by state and local governments, not to mention a further $1 trillion or more of shortfalls in state and local pension systems. Politics being what it is, the feds may ultimately bail out the localities--in which case the national debt could end up even bigger than projected."

"A crisis in the U.S .government-bond market would signify that the most powerful of sovereigns had run into trouble. Who would then save the savior? The answer, perhaps, is no one."

The article ends with:

"Lawrence Summers, Barack Obama's chief economic adviser until recently, put the challenge in blunt terms: 'America's not meeting its debt obligation is like allowing a child with matches to sit in a room full of dynamite.' he remarked. 'I continue to find it close to inconceivable that elected policymakers would allow such a risk.' Lets hope his former boss has heard him."