Friday, July 29, 2011

Reinventions: My best ideas on jobs, education, health care, and campaign reform

I hope to write a book, Reinventions, consisting of my ideas for reinventing 30 of society's linchpins.

My agent suggested I first write an article presenting a few of my best ideas. I've done so and thought you might enjoy seeing the article. HERE is the link.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Should a Law Prohibit Job Ads That Say "Currently employed only?"

I was interviewed today on KCBS on the pending laws in three states that would prohibit want ads that ask for employed or short-term-unemployed applicants only.

Here's an expanded version of what I said:

I understand the urge to feel sorry for the long-term unemployed and thus support such legislation, but would that be fair to job applicants who are employed? I mean, what would you say to the person who has been a good-enough and motivated enough employee to stay employed, even if the job isn't great. Now he'd like to look for another job and he's told that long-term unemployed people will now have as good a chance as he does of landing the job. Would that be fair to that applicant?

And would it be fair to the employer who placed the ad? There are no perfect hiring criteria: an attractive resume could reflect that the person hired a resume writer rather than that he's a better candidate; a college degree is no guarantor of an applicant being better than someone without a degree. In the economy of the last few years, employers often get dozens if not hundreds of applicants for every position. So employers need ways to narrow down to the handful of people they'll interview. The pool of employed people no doubt consists of, on average, better job candidates than the pool of long-term unemployed people. If you were running a business and got a hundred applicants, wouldn't you narrow down, in part, by looking for candidates who were employed or recently unemployed rather than the long-term unemployed?

If the long-term unemployed become a legally protected class, the EEOC or other government watchdog agency would likely require all employers to regularly report the percentage of their employees who were long-term unemployed when hired, just as employers are required to report the percentage of minorities in each employment category.

A similar law is also being proposed to protect ex-felons. If a business, say KCBS, were required to not discriminate against felons and the long-term unemployed, mightn't KCBS's quality be affected?

And if it becomes illegal for an employer to screen out felons or the unemployed, what's the next protected group? Applicants without college degrees? Underskilled applicants? People with difficult personalities? Fat people, ugly people, quiet people, and bald people also don't fare well in landing jobs. Should employers be required to hire a proportionate number of all those and issue quarterly reports to the government to ensure compliance?

We can make everything equal by requiring employers to hire at random. But if we care about quality goods and services for all people and care that employers don't offshore and automate even more jobs than they already do, we should decry legislation that makes it more difficult to hire based on merit.

It's NOT a Man's World, and Hasn't Been for a Long Time

F or a book she's writing, Former New York Times career columnist, Marci Alboher, asked me about the differences between male and female career changers.

I think you'll find my response instructive, not just about career changing, but about why I deeply believe that "It's still a man's world" is an utter canard.

Here is my response to her:

Of course, any generalizations across an entire sex will have many exceptions. That disclaimer made, here is what I have observed over the 3,800 career coaching clients I've worked with over the past 25 years:

Many men today are scared. They feel it's women's era. For example, the unemployment rate is 25% higher for men than for women, and the media and colleges disproportionately present men as inferior to women. Those are just a couple of reasons why fewer men than women try to change careers. They feel they're lucky to have what they have, even if it doesn't feel great.

Here's an even more prevalent reason why fewer men than women try to change careers. Despite societal changes in expected gender roles, many men still feel--perhaps encouraged or manipulated by their wife--to remain the primary or sole breadwinner. So they believe that the risk of making a radical career change, especially to follow their (unlikely to be remunerative) passion, is too risky to their family's financial security. So they stay put. They usually rationalize, "I'll follow my passion when the kids go off to college, when I retire, etc."

But in our economy, which is so fragile and unlikely to turn around for the foreseeable future, and with talk about cutting Social Security for future recipients, many of these men may never afford to retire.

Except for the top few percent of earners (rich executives, doctors, etc) most men will have to work on that non-passion-inducing job until they drop, which is 5.2 years sooner than women--There are 4+ widows for every widower. For so many men within the middle and working class, Death of a Salesman, isn't a play, it's reality.

Marci then asked for more on male career changers. Here was my response:

1. Most men feel they must make their career change FAST. As mentioned, they feel the need to bring home the money. His wife may contribute little or no income but expects that paycheck to keep coming, unreduced. (Remember, women do 85% of the consumer spending.) If a man's attempt to make a career change forces him to cut back on how hard or how long he's working on his current job, he may fear that risks his losing his job or of a promotion and the additional money he feels pressure to get. Such men feel they can't afford to leave their job until they have another source of good income. So they work hard at making the career change for a month or two. But if, after a month or two, there aren't signs that their career change efforts will pay off, scared of the loss of income, they usually give up.

2. More men than women look down on networking. They view "networkers" as people who are trying to substitute a smile for substance, people who do favors for others only so they can get something bigger in return. Such men feel they're more worthy if they put their time into working and into developing their skills rather than in networking. That's one reason why, for example, more men listen to a self-help book on their iPod as they jog rather than, as more women do, jogging with a friend or networking target. My doggie Einstein and I walk around a three-mile lake every day. I notice that when men are in pairs walking/jogging, they're more likely than women to be talking about work. The women much more often talk about friends, clothes, vacation, etc.

On average, men spend less time networking than do women unless absolutely necessary, for example, when trying to change careers. Unfortunately, by then, it's usually too late: For a career changer's networking to pay off, those networking relationships usually need to be deepened over months if not years. That's another reason why male career changers have such a hard time of it.

3. There are tremendous barriers to men setting up men's networking groups. Perhaps the biggest impediment is that they'd be attacked as sexist and pressured, with media support, to shut down. But for reasons beyond the scope of this email, women are not only allowed to set up women's networking groups so without reprisal, they're encouraged to.

4. As I wrote, far fewer men than women allow themselves to even consider a "dream" career that would be low-paying, for example, writer, actor, musician, artist, etc. Following their dream is too unlikely to allow them to keep bringing home that big-enough paycheck consistently. So most men suppress their dreams until retirement, a retirement that is unlikely to ever come. What often happens is they die, leaving enough money to their wife that the wife can, if she hasn't already, pursue her low-pay dream of being a writer, artist, singer, etc.

Why do so few men assert what legitimately should be a right, equal to women, to pursue their low-income-producing dream? My hypothesis is that society's main mind-molders, the colleges and the media, have done such a good job of portraying men as inferior to women, that many men have come to feel inferior and that to justify their existence, men feel they must BE a paycheck, a beast of burden. So they stay on a job, any job. How many women, compared with men, would stay on a job as a pest remover, plumber, roofer, ice fisherman, or even a traveling salesperson who must fly around the country to God-forsaken places to try to sell some widget, or even move their family to places like Montgomery Alabama to get a promotion?

Truly, the most important difference between men and women career changers is that fewer men contemplate it and fewer still feel they can afford to take the often years it takes to make a radical career change. After their 20s, most guys tend to just keep their nose to the grindstone so they can support their family. Career changing usually inhibits their ability to do that.

Marci's response to that email encouraged me to write this explanation for why it's so difficult for men's groups to form. More important, I then go on to explain why it is, nor has been for a long time, "a man's world."

Many opponents of men's groups who nonetheless applaud women's groups, sweep away their double-standard with a cheeky, "All other groups are men's groups."

Marci, that has long been untrue. Nor is their assertion, "It's a man's world" as self-evident as feminists would have us believe.

For example, if it were a man's world, men would have the full range of career options: from stay-at-home non-income earner to actor/writer/artist to CEO. But while women have all those options, a man who chooses the former two is widely viewed as lazy. It would be socially unacceptable. So most men don't even allow themselves to consider such options. Women feel greater freedom to do so. Men are made to feel they must BE the paycheck. If it were a man's world, a man would have freedom to make important choices about their careers. They don't. Women do.

Other examples of how it's far from a man's world:
  • Only men are allowed to serve in direct combat in the military, and 99% of the deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been men. Perhaps that's surprising in light of the media's unrelenting attempt to hide that fact with such phrases as "the men and women who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."
  • giving women preferences in Small Business Administration female-set-aside loans,
  • women but not men allowed to have caucuses in corporations and government to facilitate women's advancement
  • having many social-service programs just for women, almost none for men
  • having "targets," virtual quotas, for women hired and promoted to al levels, but not for men
  • having female-set-aside scholarships but not for men, even though there are many more female college students.
  • women's networking and other organizations are encouraged while men's organizations are attacked as sexist with media-trumpeted demands they be disbanded.
  • If a man impregnates a woman, even if she falsely claimed to be on birth control, he's stuck with 18 years of financial and temporal responsibility. Only she has the choice to abort.
  • 93% of workplace deaths occur to men.
  • And in a most painful example, when women have a deficit, for example, they're "underrepresented" in science, massive nationwide redress is undertaken, even though a recent two-decade study reported recently in the New York Times found that women in academic science fare as well or better than men. But if men have the deficit, even the ultimate deficit, they die 5.2 years younger, all we see are more pink ribbons or other women's health initiatives. There are seven federal agencies on women's health, none for men. 39 states have offices of Women's Health, none for men. Even more unfair, a PubMed review, indicates, as mentioned, that over the past 60 years(!), 95+% of gender-specific medical research has focused on women's health issues. Women claim this is because men don't take care of themselves as well: "If only they'd see the doctor." Well, would those women say that to minorities, who also "don't see the doctor" and smoke and drink at much higher rates than men?
  • and perhaps most important to the next generation, a school system that has replaced boy-friendly competition with girl-centric collaboration, boy-friendly adventure stories, with soporific-to-boys tales of girl relationships, and history textbooks disproportionately extolling women from Sacajawea and Pocahontas to Simone DeBouvier and Sally Ride while sparing no pages to pound home the evils of white men from Hannibal to Hitler, Joe McCarthy to Timothy McVeigh, and perhaps worst of all, an insistence on ever more seatwork, which when active boys can't endure, are put on a Ritalin leash at a ratio of eight boys for every one girl.
Rather than it being a man's world, men are beasts of burden, the target of ridicule in the media, and the disposable sex.

I'm glad you said that my previous emails give you a lot to think about. I hope this one does too, Marci.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Child-Driven Education: A Truly Exciting Reinvention of Education

"A teacher that can be replaced with a machine should be." Sir Arthur C. Clarke, futurist and author of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I have long called for what I call "Dream-Team Taught Courses:" a recorded course taught by a team of world-class teachers, available for download. A local parent or teacher would be on site to provide the human touch. That way, all students, rich and poor, urban and rural, can receive world-class instruction, for example, in difficult-to-teach subjects such as algebra. No surprise, the all-powerful teachers unions have squashed such ideas.

I just learned of a very different and even more radical yet very promising idea for reinventing education: a teacherless-classroom: A group of kids sit in a room with computers. They, with Google's help, teach themselves, based on simple prompts, for example, "Who is Pythagoras and what did he do?" Untrained grandmother-types are available via skype to encourage the kids, ask a few questions, etc. The results have been very promising. And the kids love it.

Of course, child-centered education has been around forever. It hadsearly roots in John Dewey and later, in the 1960s' Open Education movement, for example, Summerhill in the '60s. But the availability of the Internet, especially Google, makes it more likely that this iteration of child-driven education will be more successful.

Of course, much research is still needed to see how this might be optimally used and its limits, but for one of those rare times, I am excited about the potential of an education intervention. It's called Child-Driven Education and was presented in this TED talk:

Monday, July 25, 2011

A More Potent Approach to Creating Jobs

At the risk of hubris, I believe that my two-plank plan for creating jobs is far more potent than what's being proposed by others. I've written about this previously, for example, HERE and HERE, but perhaps it will be more compelling if I verbally explain it:

An Emotional Plea for Colleges to be Honest with Prospective Students: The College Report Card

I seem to have gotten nowhere with a rational approach, so here is a more emotional appeal for you to demand that colleges replace their deceptive marketing practices with a College Report Card. It wouldn't seem that this would be so important but it would dramatically improve the lives of literally millions of people and help America slow its descent into being a third-world country.

Below the video, I provide a transcript of it.

Transcript of the video
An Emotional Plea for Colleges to be Honest with Prospective Students
by Marty Nemko

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this, “I wasn’t a good student in high school but I wanted to prove that I could get a college diploma --I’d be the first one in my family to do it. But it’s been five years and $80,000 and I still have 45 units to go.”

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: According to the U.S. Department of Education, despite colleges having dumbed-down classes to accommodate to the weak students, among college freshmen who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their high school class, more than three of four won’t earn a diploma, even if given 8 1/2 years! Yet colleges admit and take the money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave college having learned little of value. And I urge you, before you trust me on this, see the frightening results of the definitive national study, Academically Adrift--Google it,) a mountain of debt, and devastated self-esteem from all their unsuccessful struggles at college.

Perhaps worst of all, the aforementioned people too rarely end up with a career that requires a college degree. So it’s not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you’re likely to meet workers who spent years and their family’s life savings, mortgaged their family's future, on college only to end up with a job they could have done as a high school dropout.

Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than non-graduates, but that’s terribly misleading:
  • For one, you could lock the college-bound in a closet for four years and they’d earn more than the pool of non-college-bound--They’re brighter, they're more motivated; they have better family connections.
  • What also makes that million-dollar statistic misleading is that statistic is retrospective. Yes, in past, when a far lower percentage of high school students went to college, college grads had a big advantage in the job market. But today, when colleges admit nearly any student who breathes, that advantage is far smaller. Now we have an oversupply of college graduates at the same time as employers are automating as many jobs as possible, offshoring as many jobs as possible, turning as many jobs as possible to part-time or temp jobs, to beat the enormous cost of hiring U.S. workers.
  • At the same time, the cost of college increases well beyond the cost of inflation and the average-time-to degree increases. The calculus is particularly bad for students with a less-than-stellar record in high school.
There is a desperate need for government to mandate a College Report Card, so prospective students and their families could see--for students with their high school records--their likelihood of graduating, the average amount of learning such students accrue, and the likelihood they'll be professionally employed if they defy the odds and graduate.

Public outcry is the only way we can get colleges to change and for the government to mandate that colleges prominent post on their website an externally audited report card on themselves. So please forward this video to your contacts, especially to college-bound students and to their families, and to any legislators you know.

For much more on the need for a college report card, see my blog:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Every College-Bound Student & Parent Must Know...And Probably Don't

This animated discussion between a parent and college counselor reveals what parents of college-bound students must know and probably don't. An enhanced transcript appears below the video.

by Marty Nemko

B: My son will be applying to college soon. I'm scared.

M: Scared?

B: First, I'm scared about the cost. It was really hard even to find the sticker price on the colleges' websites and when I did, I nearly had a heart attack.

M: I don't mean to scare you more, but the amount most colleges post omits thousands of dollars that the average student ends up spending each year?

B: The college's admission counselor...

M: You mean salesperson.

B: Don't be cynical.

M: Many college admissions people, including the campus tour guides receive sales training. They are salespeople. For example, how often will they suggest that your child attend some other college?

B: Anyway, the admissions counselor told me not to worry, that most people don't pay the sticker price.

M: Sounds like a rug dealer.

B: He said there's financial aid.

M: Did you ask him for an estimate of what the college would cost you, given your income and assets and your child's academic record?

B: That's a good idea. I will.

M: Be sure to ask for an estimate for the total cost for at least four years.

B: Why?

M: Because some colleges use the drug dealer scam: They give you a big discount in Year One to get you hooked and then jack up the price each year after.

B: That's disgusting. I'm also scared because I read an op-ed on called "College is a Waste of Time."

M: That's just the tip of the iceberg. This year alone, there were similar articles in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Atlantic. And prestigious book publishers like Knopf have published books with titles like Crisis on Campus, The Five Year Party, No Sucker Left Behind: Avoiding the great college rip-off, University Inc: the corporate corruption of higher education, Academically Adrift: limited learning on college campuses, and Higher Education? How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids.

B. And I keep hearing how even if you graduate...

M. And nationwide, more than half don't, even if they take six years!

B. You're kidding?

M. I wish I were. Dept. of Education statistics. The Education Dept. also reports that if your child graduated in the bottom 40% of his high school class, his chances of graduating from a so-called four-year college is only 1 in 4 even if he takes 8 1/2 years!

B: All that tuition. All that time.

M: All that assault to their self-esteem.

B: But even if they drop out, they will have learned a lot, right?

M: Wrong. According to the aforementioned book Academically Adrift, published by University of Chicago Press, which summarizes extensive nationwide research, of those who defy the odds and graduate, 36% grow insignificantly in reading, writing, critical thinking!

B: No! But even if you don't learn a lot in college, these days, with this terrible job market, you need the degree, the piece of paper.

M: Awfully expensive piece of paper. Sticker price for even just four years at a brand-name private college, even if you don't count all expenses, is over $200,000 per child! And that doesn't count if it takes the student five or six years.

B: But the colleges are always saying that college graduates, over their lifetime, earn a million dollars more.

M: You've heard the expression, you can lie with statistics. Well universities are pros at it.

B: What do you mean?

M: The lifetime that colleges report is in the past. Today, we have an oversupply of college graduates at the same time as employers are hiring fewer college graduates: they're offshoring and automating as much as possible. And when they hire, they use temps and part-timers as much as possible.

B: But college grads still get better jobs. Right?

M: On average yes, but according to the U.S. Department of Labor, of college graduates under 25, 44% are working at jobs that don't require a college degree or aren't working at all. Also, remember that the pool of college graduates are brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections than the pool of those who didn't attend college. You could have locked them in a closet for four years and they'd have earned lots more money than the pool of students who didn't go to college, which today is just a small percentage, the bottom of the academic barrel. And those college-caliber students wouldn't be locked in a closet: because they are brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections, they'd get launchpad jobs where they could learn on the job and get paid for it rather than pay all that tuition and be taught all the irrelevancies they teach in college: stochastic processes, the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars, the intricacies of Shakespeare.

B: Yeah, I remember Father Guido Sarducci saying he's thinking of starting a college where a degree would only cost $100 and would take only one hour: He'd only teach what students still remembered after they finished college.

M: Good comedy indeed contains grains of truth.

B: Are you telling me my kid shouldn't go to college?

M: I'm saying you should not assume college is the right choice. For many people, an apprenticeship, the military, a short-term career-preparation program at a community college, or on the-job training, for example, at the elbow of an ethical and successful entrepreneur, can be a wiser choice.

B: But my kid has good grades and test scores, he loves learning, and is eager to go to college.

M: Then he probably should go, but please pick wisely.

B: How do you do that?

M: First pick say ten colleges that enroll many students with grades and test scores similar to your child's and that are well-located.

B: Then what?

M: This is critical. Please do it. To narrow your list, ask each college these things: Given my family's income and assets and my son's high school record, what am I likely to pay in cash and take on in loan over the four years my child is there? What would I pay in year 5 and beyond?

B: What if they don't tell you?

M: That's a sign the college is more expensive than you think or that the college doesn't care enough about students to provide even that basic information: the true cost of attendance.

B: I guess that makes sense.

M: Here's the next thing to ask: What's the average amount of growth that your college's graduates with a high school record similar to my son's make in reading, critical thinking, etc?

B: Do they have that information?

M: Many colleges do, and if they don't care enough to monitor student growth, that's another sign you don't want your child there.

B: What else should I ask?

M: For students with high school records like my son's, what's the 4- and 5-year graduation rate? Also, ask for the results of a student satisfaction survey, the summary of the accreditation visiting team report, and the percent of graduates in your son's intended major who are professionally employed within a year of graduation.

B: That information would seem so helpful to prospective students. I wish all colleges would post it on their website.

M: They don't want to because, per all those articles and books I cited, the results would embarrass them. That's why I'm trying to get Congress to pass a law that would require it.

B: That would sure put pressure on colleges to improve. That would not only provide better education, it would help America remain competitive in a global economy in which India and China are taking so many of our jobs.

M: That's why I'd love it if more parents would demand answers to those questions: Tell or I won't apply!

B: That's a great idea! I'll tell each college: Tell or I won't apply! Hey, if I want a written copy of those questions...

M: I call it the College Report Card.

B: If I want a copy of the College Report Card, where can I find it?

M: The College Report Card is free on my blog, which can be reached from my site:

Monday, July 18, 2011

The College Report Card: An Animated Fairy Tale

I continue to experiment with ways to get my College Report Card idea to go viral. This time, it's an animation.

I'm convinced that, while simple, government requiring all colleges to post an externally audited report card on themselves is, arguably, the most potent yet practical way yet proposed to get colleges to dramatically improve the quality of higher education.

And of course, if all colleges posted a College Report Card, it would help prospective students to more wisely choose a college or graduate or to decide that a non-school option may be wiser.

I created this animation using a website,, that makes it remarkably easy to convert your text into animation. I did it in 20 minutes. I don't find that the animation adds sufficiently to the text but I thought it was worth sharing with you. A transcript of this 3-minute animation appears below.

There once was a young man, and he was admitted to a college. And he liked the college. He sang the song he had so often heard: "American higher education is a national treasure."

But decades passed and the man learned that his college had changed. The buildings were now fancier but instead of college costing what nearly anyone could afford, now everyone except rich people has to take out big loans. Really big loans.

And now, the college admits many weak students along with the good ones so the classes have to be dumbed-down. And so students learn much less. Despite the dumbing-down, most of the college's students, really most, 55%, dropped out. Even many who graduate, deeply in debt, can find only a job they could have done without college. And most dispiriting to the man, most of the students learn little--the tests show that half of them read, wrote, and reasoned no better than when they began college. The man didn't believe it at first but after reading the authoritative nationwide study: Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, he had to accept that it was true.

And the man was sad. He thought and he thought. What could make colleges better? Finally, he had an idea: He asked, "If the government requires each tire to have a "report card" molded into it, if government requires all packaged food to have a "report card" on the package, why doesn't government require all colleges to have a report card posted on its website: how much students learn in reading, writing, thinking, broken down by students' high school record? What percent graduate in four years? After deducting cash financial aid, how much four or five years costs? What percentage of graduates have professional jobs within a year of graduation, broken down by major--sociology majors aren't going to be as employable as computer science majors.

Having all colleges post a College Report Card would help students choose a good college. More important, it would embarrass the colleges into improving their poor quality of education: Instead of hiring professors based mainly on how many research dollars they can bring in, they'd hire professors because they were great at educating and inspiring students. Instead of spending on fat administrations and fancy buildings and shrubs, they'd spend on providing mentors and coaches to students.

And so the man went to Congress to try to get a law passed requiring colleges to prominently post a report card on themselves, with companies like Price Waterhouse coming in to audit them to avoid cheating. But that scared the colleges, so their very powerful lobby squashed the man--or at least his idea.

And so now, everyone continues to sing: "American higher education is a national treasure." And everyone is living happily ever after. But not really.

The Career Advice I Offered on the Ronn Owens Program

This morning, I made one of my every-three-months appearances on the Ronn Owens Program, (he's pictured right.) It's one of the most listened-to radio shows on the West Coast.

The foci were: choosing a career, landing a job, and being successfully self-employed in these tough times. The show is archived HERE. for one week only.

Most of the program consisted of my answering questions from listeners but Ronn asked me some good questions. Here are the ones I recall and a paraphrased and sometimes expanded version of my answers:

If you had an adult child facing this job market, what advice would you give?

If my child wanted the false security of a paycheck, I'd have him or her work for a top company, for example, P&G, Google, GE, Infosys--even if he had to start in the mail room. I'd teach him how to build relationships with higher-ups so he could move up.

But if my kid showed even the slightest potential for being able to run his or her own business, I'd have my child get an internship at the elbow of a successful ethical entrepreneur and then start a simple, offshoreproof business: for example, selling Harry Potter paraphernalia out of a box near movie theatres. Simple, cloneable, not-offshoreable businesses, especially low-status ones, may be the surest route to successful employment in the coming decades.

Relatedly, a caller asked for advice about how to start a simple healthy food business.

I suggested he have a soup cart called Souper, in which he sold organic, low-sodium, delicious minestrone, clam chowder, and--Jewish penicillin--chicken soup, located in the best location the police department, which issues the permits, will allow.

Let's say your brother or sister were in his 40s and just laid-off. What would be your advice?

You've been around a while so you've met lots of people. You don't need to be close. They only need to have liked you. Tell them what you're looking for or your best couple of skills and ask if they know someone you should talk with about a job or consultancy. Don't be too picky about the field. Be pickier about the boss and that it will be moderately challenging.

If your brother were 60, would your advice be any different?

Well, maybe it would be interesting to hear what I myself would do if I were 60 and looking for work. I'd run for office on a radical honesty platform:

  • There will be ever fewer good-paying jobs, so it's wise to find contentment in a materially simpler life. Look to relationships, creativity, beauty, etc.
  • Let's stop spending so much on education, including HeadStart. Education accomplishes far less than we wish it would. The money is better in your pocket.
  • America has neither the guts nor the money to win wars nor be the world's policeman. We need to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and become a more typical member of the world of nations. I'd return that money to the taxpayer. You will better spend the money than we in the government would. Your expenditures will create more jobs than the shovel-ready jobs that weren't, the stimulus that didn't.
I no doubt couldn't get elected to high office so, for starters, I'd try to get a city council job--It's often not that difficult to land such a job in a small city, and while they don't pay big, they often do pay and offer benefits. And in running for office, you meet lots of people, perhaps one who'd be interested in hiring you.

You always have at least one under-the-radar career you're bullish on. What do you have for us today?

With ever fewer people affording to buy a home, more people are renting. So if I were a blue-collar guy, I'd look for a job with a property management firm or for a developer that rehabbed distressed apartment buildings. If I were more entrepreneurial, I'd find some small apartment building that the tenants had ruined, get some friends or others to invest in my syndicate, we'd buy it, clean it up, and sell it.

The New York Times reported that people are staying put in their current job, afraid they won't find a better one. Do you have any new strategies for landing a job that are likely to work, even in these tough times?

One of my favorites is to interview biggies for an article you'd write for a trade publication. I had a client in finance. He got to interview a half dozen luminaries for the article, and at the end of each interview, he said he'd love to work for that person. One of them offered him a job.

Another strategy is to add ahead-of-the-pack collateral material to your applications for jobs. My favorite is a White Paper. Say you want a job in the fuel cell industry. Write a 2-to-5-page paper outlining core issues in the fuel cell field for 2012. That can give you an edge over most applicants, who just submit a sterile resume and cover letter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The College Report Card: Making Colleges More Transparent and Accountable (3-min. version)

Here's a three-minute version of my video arguing that perhaps the most potent thing that could be done to improve the quality of college education and, in turn, improve society, is for the federal government to require all colleges to post on their website an externally audited report card on themselves.

Below the video is a transcript of it as well as links to a longer version of this video, other writings on the College Report Card, including an actual proposed Report Card, and a version of a College Report Card that would be invaluable for students and families to use in choosing a college.

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Here is the transcript:

There has finally been a spate of books and articles in major publications asserting that higher education adds remarkably little value for all the time, money, and opportunity cost.

Colleges have been extremely resistant to change but I've come up with an approach that is remarkably simple yet would be remarkably potent: requiring all colleges to post a College Report Card on themselves on their website. The College Report Card would be externally audited to avoid cheating.

A College Report Card would include such items as:
  • how much freshman-to-senior growth occurs in reading, writing, critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, etc.,
  • the graduation rate in 4, 5, and six years, broken down by students' high school records.
  • employability: what percentage of graduates are professional employed within a year of graduation, broken down by major.
  • a student satisfaction survey-It's of course valuable to hear what the customer says.
  • A summary of the accreditation team's visiting report.
  • (Note: I neglected to include one key item: the true cost of attendance for four, five, and six years broken down by family income and assets.)
Of course, a College Report Card would help students choose a college, which is critical because it's one of the largest and most important purchases people ever make.

But also, importantly, a College Report Card would--because the students, the public, and legislators would see how much or how little value the college provides--would finally put real pressure on colleges to compete, to improve, rather than allocate so much of their resources to fat administrations and to research, so much of which they know apriori will be of little value.

I'm doing my best to promulgate the idea of requiring all colleges to post a substantive College Report Card. I think that would do great good not only for students and for higher education, but for the nation as a whole because while education is far from the magic pill we wish it would be, educating our best and brightest, most of whom go to college, could go a long way to helping us survive if not thrive in our ever more challenging global economy.

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HERE is a link to a longer (14-minute) version of this video.

HERE is a link to a four-page proposal for a College Report Card, which includes a sample Report Card.

HERE is a link to a College Report Card that students and families might use to help pick a college

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Marty Nemko on KGO Radio's Ronn Owens Program

This Monday, July 18 from 10:07 am to 11 am, I will be making my every-three-months appearance as the guest on KGO-AM (ABC-San Francisco)'s Ronn Owens program. It is among the most listened-to shows on the West Coast.

I'll be answering questions about how to choose a career, land a job, keep a job, and be successfully self-employed in this difficult economy.

You can hear it from most places on the West Coast on AM-810 or worldwide on

Friday, July 15, 2011

The College Report Card: Making Colleges More Transparent and Accountable

Here is a video--with lots of visuals with supporting data and photos--in which I make the case for colleges to be required to prominently post on its website an externally audited report card on itself.

Such a College Report Card would help students choose a college more wisely. Even more important, it would pressure colleges to finally add sufficient value for the enormous time and money that a college or graduate degree demands.

Below the video is a transcript of it as well as links to my other recent writings about The College Report Card, including a version for students and parents to use in selecting a college.

It's very difficult to choose a college wisely.

And it's not surprising. We require tires to have "report card" grades molded into their sidewalls. We require packaged foods to prominently list their calories, fat, even vitamins and minerals. Yet, colleges, one of our most important and expensive purchases are required to prominently post nothing on their websites.

So colleges just hire marketing firms to manipulate students into choosing their college based on such things as deceptive pictures, for example, pointing out the prettiest part of campus. It will not point out, for example, that the weather is bone-chilling miserable half the year or that the campus crime rate is terrible. At Tulane, despite all the pretty pictures on the website, there were three rapes, 30 burglaries, 193 cases of larceny--in just one school year.

Or the pretty pictures somehow don't include, for example, a picture of the mice and rats in Georgetown dorms, which I first heard about decades ago and recently in College Prowler, which posts student reviews said, "Often you will find rats. There are lots of rats."

The colleges post photos on their websites of small, personalized classes taught by an inspired professor and deeply engaged students, even on campuses where most of a student's time is spent in large lectures, or with boring professors.

Colleges post pictures of an engaged student peering into a test tube, which implies that many undergraduates are intimately involved in important research, when in fact only a small percentage are and even if they are, it's usually of little or no benefit to their development let alone their career.

Of course, nearly all college websites include a shot of happy graduates. But few colleges reveal the fact that most students don't graduate even if they take six years. Most students!

And in the coup de gras, the colleges post pictures that suggest that a degree from their school is the key to a great job. In fact, almost half of students are not working or with jobs that don't require a college degree.

Colleges love to trumpet the grossly misleading statistic that college graduates earn a million dollars more over their lifetime. Why misleading? It would take a long time to fully explain, but I'll just quickly say here that that data looks backward not forward--today we have an oversupply of college students. Second, the pool of college graduates is very different in ability, motivation and connections than the pool of non-graduates, so you could have locked the graduates in a closet for four years and they'd have earned more money. And indeed, they wouldn't be locked in a closet, they'd be learning on the job, making connections. Don't fall for deceptive statistics marketed by colleges and repeated in the media.

More basic, on most colleges' sites, it's hard to even find out the total cost of four years: assuming you graduate in four years. (I showed U.S.C.'s financial aid page.) No cost listing. Where's the sticker price?! Note their again deceiving with statistics: "60% of students at USC receive some type of financial assistance." How much? Where, based on your family's income and assets is an estimate of how much financial aid you'll get--not loan, the cash aid! Not just in year one, where they may give you a bigger discount to get you in the door, like the drug dealer who gives you the first dose of crack free or cheap to get you hooked and then jacks up the price.

And indeed, graduates and dropouts alike are terribly weighed down in student debt at the same time as the glut of college graduates has resulted in nearly half of them unemployed or doing jobs they could have done with a mere high school diploma.

It's particularly important to report the true cost of a college education with report after report showing how little value students actually get from higher education. Here, I include shots of articles excoriating higher education in New York magazine, the LA Times, New York Times,, the Wall Street Journal, and books: Crisis on Campus (Knopf), The Five-Year Party, No Sucker Left Behind, University Inc, Higher Education?: How colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids.

Among the most scathing books is Academically Adrift, the 2011 authoritative report from the University of Chicago that found that nationwide, students grow frighteningly little even if they defy the odds and graduate: 45% grew not at all in the first two years. 36% not at all from freshman to senior!

Again, may I remind you how many even of the graduates are unemployed and countless more underemployed? Nearly half!

It's time for government to mandate that each college issue an externally audited Report Card on itself. It should include:
  • The full projected four-year cost of attendance (subtracting cash financial aid), disaggregated by family income and assets.
  • Freshman-to-senior growth in reading, critical thinking, etc., disaggregated by student’s high school record.
  • 4- and 6-year graduation rates, disaggregated by student’s high school record.
  • The results of a student satisfaction survey
  • The summary of the accreditation visiting team report.
  • The % of graduates who are professionally employed within one year of graduation, broken down by major.
Of course, such a College Report Card would empower students to choose their college wisely or even to decide that, for that person, a wiser choice would be a short program at a community college for example in robotics repair or cheffing, the military, or on-the-job training, for example, at the elbow of a journeyman electrician or an ethical and successful small business owner.

Bringing transparency to how much value-added a college provides for all the time, money, and opportunity cost would bring another important benefit: It would pressure colleges that add too little value for all that time and money, which according to the research, is MOST colleges, to improve. (Currently, colleges experience no such pressure.

Mandating a College Report Card would help colleges become the national treasure they claim they are, help our students to get an education that will make them more thoughtful human beings, better citizens, and more employable. That, in turn, would help America remain vibrant in our ever tougher global economy.
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HERE is a link to a four-page proposal for a College Report Card.

And HERE is a link to a College Report Card that students and families might use to help pick a college.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eight Questions You Must Ask Before Buying a Business Opportunity

Here's an advance look at the guts of the keynote address I'll be giving at the Work-at-Home Business Expo at the San Mateo County Event Center (pictured above) on Aug. 21 at 2:30 pm. (Update: It's been postponed to Apr. 29, 2 pm.)

The Eight Questions You Must Ask Regarding a Home Business

A. Questions you must ask of yourself

1. Am I a self-starter, not a procrastinator? That's critical in all self-employment but especially in a home-based business.

2. Am I resourceful? able to come up with solutions to the frequent problems that come up in running any business. And when I'm stuck, will I be able to usually find free and low-cost help?

3. Am I good around money? Do I have a good sense of whether an item is really worth buying? Do I have the ability to buy things inexpensively?

4. Am I a good salesperson? able to, in a low-key but persistent way, close deals?

5. Am I resilient when the inevitable setbacks occur?

B .Questions you must ask of the seller of the business opportunity

6. Would you show me the spreadsheet showing, for each franchisee, their annual net profit, ideally going back a couple of years? Be wary if all they want to share is "The average profit per franchisee is...," let alone, "We project that the average franchisee will earn..."

7. What are the common denominators among your successful franchisees, other than the obvious: being smart, hard working and resilient? For example, previous experience as a salesperson.

8. Would you give me a complete, unedited list of all the franchisees? That will enable you to call some at random rather than ones cherry-picked for you by the franchisor. After speaking with a half dozen by-phone, visit, at their home-based worksite, the two who seem most like you.

My father's story (inspirational)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Toward an Honest Conversation About Poverty, Race

I just watched Harvard law professor, Randall Kennedy (pictured right,) deliver a speech excoriating America for not doing enough for its poor and being especially unfair to people of color.

That moved me to write this letter to him. I thought you might enjoy reading the tough questions I asked him:

Dear Randall,

It was my privilege to watch your recent National Press Club/C-Span speech on America's treatment of poor people and of people of color. You made the case with rigor and emotional restraint, which I believe is key to being heard.

Your talk moved me to run to my computer to invite you on my show to have a conversation with me about poverty and race.

I should let you know that I am not an Ehrenreich/Alter leftist yet I believe your excellently articulated position deserves greater attention and I know that my NPR-San Francisco listenership would be well served by a respectful conversation in which I raise questions about it, for example:
  • Metaevaluations of efforts to address poverty, from EarlyStart to HeadStart, from job training to job retraining, have--other than some pilot studies the results of which have proven to be unreplicable--been failures, certainly yielding extremely poor value for the literally trillions of taxpayer dollars spent since the War on Poverty began when you and I were young.
Some empiricism and much logic suggest that such redistributive "justice," has dispositively outweighing negative side effects. For example, welfare payments to able-bodied people (cash, housing, food stamps, MediCal,etc) encourages the working poor to not work because, to earn a similar amount of money,they'd have to earn roughly $50,000 a year in after-tax dollars, which their skills/work ethics etc will not come close to commanding. Such payments--just as when rich people give trust funds to their children--discourage people from wanting to be productive. And mid-to-upper-income people, who are working 40-80 hours a week in societally productive activities, grow more resentful of the poor upon seeing that many of the poor (including prisoners) receive better health care than many middle-class people get and that many welfare recipients do live in decent-to-nice housing (Have you seen low-income housing developments lately?--they look like the condos that middle-class people must spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on) with the mice you mentioned being the result not of the housing but of residents' leaving food wastes out and about, urinating in a doorway when annoyed at a neighbor, etc. I have been in many low-income residences and I was, indeed, often welcomed by the smell of urine.
  • You said that anyone who has spent significant time with the poor would realize that much of their situation is beyond their control. I have spent more time with the poor than you might imagine. I was born in and spent more than five years living in a tenement in the Bronx. I left a prestigious biomedical research position at the Rockefeller University when, in 1970, swept up by civil rights fervor, I became a drug counselor and teacher in inner-city New York City and Richmond, CA (heavily Black and Latino) schools, visited my students' families in their home many times, and had intimate conversations with their parents, grandparents, or aunts with whom they lived. While indeed, much of people's poverty lies beyond their control and your position deserves broader exposure (although the likes of Alter and Ehrenreich certainly got much more positive press attention than do conservative views), I believe that a more full-dimensioned exploration of how to address poverty as we move forward, requires addressing the aforementioned and other controversial questions.
Attorney General Holder calls us a nation of cowards about race. Yet, since that indictment was issued, I have not heard a truly full-dimensioned, brave public conversation about these most difficult-to-discuss issues. I invite you to come onto my show to have such a conversation with me. Especially in these difficult economic times, a truly full-dimensioned conversation about poverty and, yes, about race, which considers a wide range of intelligent, benevolently derived ideas, may be one of the most important civic actions we could undertake.

The first available slots on my show are 8/21, 8/28, 9/4, 9/11, and 9/18 all at 2 pm eastern time. Of course, we can do it by phone. Alternatively, if you plan to be in the San Francisco Bay Area at any point in the coming months, we should do the interview when you're in town.

What do you think?

Marty Nemko, producer, host, Work with Marty Nemko, KALW-FM (NPR-San Francisco)

UPDATE: He will appear on my show on Aug 21 at 11 am Pacific time. The show will be archived on the npr site for a week and permanently on