Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"Six Fresh Ideas for a Budding Entrepreneur" named "This Week's Best"

I was browsing the New York Times online tonight when I was surprised and honored to see one of my U.S. News articles, Six Fresh Ideas for a Budding Entrepreneur named This Week's Best.  (To see that, scroll to the bottom.)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hail-Mary Thank You Letters

Sending a thank-you letter after a job interview is standard operating procedure but rarely helps you stand out from the pack.

My post today on AOL.com, Hail Mary Thank You Letters, offers some risky tactics that could put the final nail in your application coffin or give you a prayer.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Making Colleges Accountable: College Scorecard Version 2.0

I continue to try to make the case for requiring college to post a substantive report card on themselves as a condition of receiving federal financial aid. Today, I make that point in the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Magazine, Insight.

The article also includes seven questions you should ask a college or graduate admission person before agreeing to attend.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Video of How I Create My Columns and Posts

Last week, I gave a talk to the Napa Valley Writers Association on how I write columns.

Instead of just telling people how I write a column, I actually created a mini-column in 15 minutes, while saying aloud my thought process, in the moment.

Although nearly all the attendees were fiction writers, a number of them came up to me and said that it will greatly improve even their fiction writing.

Afterward, someone who couldn't attend, wrote to ask me if I'd be willing to make a video of that presentation. Here it is below.

Because I'm too busy and/or lazy, I didn't do it carefully. I just sat in front of my webcam and let 'er rip. Although it's unedited and the first few minutes of the demo are not visible, just audible, I'm hoping that you'll find this a useful 1/2-hour writing lesson.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Make Conscious Your Deciding to Interrupt or Not


In conversation, you pay a price every time you interrupt:
  • It makes the person feel invalidated and thus more likely closed to what you have to say.
  • It makes the person feel you're rude and thus less likely to support you in anything.
  • You are making your point when their mind is still focused on what they were saying. As a result, the person may not fully hear what you're saying.
We rationalize the value of interrupting:
  • We think it saves time---After all, we're confident we know what they're going to say. We often are right but, for the reasons above, we're less likely to obtain the desired result than if we let the person finish talking. True, you can cram more ideas into a conversation by interrupting but that's a poor metric for assessing the conversation's value. What counts is the amount of benefit that the convo yields and on that metric, you may save time by not interrupting.
  • We think that interrupting shows we're motivated, that we care. It may, instead, be interpreted as rudeness, inability to control ourselves, even narcissism.
  • We think that interrupting shows we're smart. It may but the value of that is often outweighed by the above negatives. 
If you truly care about being effective and perceived positively, be conscious in deciding whether to interrupt. Decide, consciously, whether the benefits of interrupting outweigh the liabilities. Indeed, sometimes you'll decide interrupting is worth it. Other times, you'll decide to, when someone finishes talking, wait a full second before speaking. The latter makes the person feel you really were listening rather than just waiting for them to finish so you could offer your pearls. It also allows their mind to clear so it's available to truly process what you're going to say. Plus, it gives you time to craft a more thoughtful response.

The no-interrupt/wait-a-second principle also applies to meetings. Often, the person who hangs back until the end of a discussion and then, carefully, tactfully, comments or asks a question, will be taken more seriously and liked more than the person who has peppered the discussion with comments, especially if s/he interrupted others. 

Of course, if you're an inveterate interrupter, changing is much easier said than done. I believe your best chances of succeeding are:
  • Trying a zero-tolerance policy at least for a while: No interrupting, under any circumstance. It's more likely that you'll make progress with that all-or-nothing policy than if you try to ease off. Having to decide, in the moment, whether to interrupt, is just too difficult. You can later back off, replacing the no-interrupt rule with a rule of staying conscious to interrupt only when it will yield net benefit. 
  • Tell someone close to you that you're trying to develop a new habit: interrupting less and that you'd appreciate it if, every time you interrupt, s/he not complain but simply raise one finger. That's a quick, minimally threatening way to give you feedback. 
  • In business meetings, if you're afraid you'll forget what you want to say, simply jot it down.
Learning to control a tendency to overinterrupt is crucial but difficult. I speak from personal experience. Candidly, despite knowing all of the above, I still interrupt too much. Especially when it's something I'm passionate about, I just can restrain myself.

The good news is that you needn't be perfect. If you interrupt inappropriately, forgive yourself but get back on that wagon. You will reap significant professional and personal benefits.

Video: College is Overrated

I was on Huffington Post Live again today. This time, we discussed whether going to a university is as wise a decision as it used to be. Especially if you were a weak student in high school, the opportunity cost of attending a university is so high that for many students it's a worse choice than entering an apprenticeship, a short-term community college program, the military, or working at the elbow of a master guitarmaker, an ethical entrepreneur, etc. I enter the discussion at around the 5-minute mark. Here's the video:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Jobs Fighting Terrorism

My AOL contribution today: jobs fighting terrorism. I list lots of options.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

America the Tootiful: We brag even when we're not very good


Here's an advance look at my next The Life Well-Led column in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer.

America the Tootiful

America loves to toot its own horn, even when we're not very good. For example, after the Boston Bombing, President Obama crowed about how great America is:

The terrorists failed because, as Americans, we refused to be terrorized...That American spirit includes staying true to the unity and diversity that makes us strong -- like no other nation in the world.

Huh?! The terrorists didn't fail: Despite America having spent billions on anti-terrorism, the terrorists accomplished just what they wanted: They disrupted that iconic American sporting event The Boston Marathon, killing three, wounding hundreds, and spawning a manhunt and aftermath that has already cost all of us billions of dollars. And did we truly react "like no other nation in the world?" Does Obama really believe that not one of the world's 196 nations could even match our unsuccessful effort?

Our undeserved horn-tooting descends from there. Examples:

In the most recent presidential election, both candidates fell over themselves to genuflect before the altar of American exceptionalism despite, for example, the U.S.'s child poverty rate ranking 34th among the most advanced 35 countries, edging out only Romania. But don't worry, we rank #2 in beer consumption. Politico reported, "The President took American exceptionalism to a whole new level Wednesday by suggesting that not only is the United States the greatest nation on Earth, but every other country wants to be us." But even that pales in comparison with Romney's view, which the Huffington Post summarized as, "God chose the U.S. above all the nations of the Earth to bring light, hope, and freedom to all humankind."

Of course, politicians far from monopolize the gasconade.

According to a panel of experts convened at Columbia College (IL), Michael Jackson is widely referred to as a genius. Michael Jackson, a consensus genius??! 

As a career counselor, I can attest that the amount of puffery in job seekers' resumes, cover letters, and interviews could fill a dirigible: "I'm uniquely qualified for the job. I'm a self-starter yet also a team player who delights in exceeding customer expectations, and I spearheaded initiatives that saved the company $10 million." If you added up all the savings job seekers claimed, it would exceed the Gross Domestic Product.

Of course, product marketers know absolutely no bounds. For example, Here's how Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice has been promoted: "This 'antioxidant superpower' is straight-up 'health in a bottle' that’ll help you cheat death with beneficial effects on everything from prostate cancer to cardiovascular health to impotence." In fact, Time reported, "The FTC says there is no science to back up the claims. The results of studies that have been done show that Pom products show no more efficacy than a placebo."

"Wonderful" is downright modest compared with, for example, a kitchen cleaner named Fantastik! not to mention  the makeup, Super Orgasm.

Even the world of theatre, where stage plays relentlessly assault capitalism, can't resist its unwarranted horn-tooting when it comes to lining their pockets. For example, Berkeley's very non-proletarian-priced Aurora Theatre's current play is The Arsonists. Its promo: "See what everyone's talking about!" I live heavily in the Bay Area theatre scene. Not one person has mentioned The Arsonists.

A decade ago, the company that made the two-wheel Segway promised it would revolutionize travel. When was the last time you saw a Segway? Perhaps the revolution was impeded because its CEO James Heselden died when his Segway accidentally rolled off a cliff.

From whence stems America's bloviation? One likely suspect is America's obsession with building people's self-esteem. We praise them or certainly don't criticize them for bragging about attributes they've acquired without effort: "Black is Beautiful," I'm Italian and I'm Proud," Girls Rock." Such phrases are no mere sideshows: A Google search on "Girls rock" revealed 3.4 million hits (and only 0.9 million for "Boys Rock" but I'll leave the reasons for the disparity for another column.) Ironically, studies find that Asians have the lowest average self-esteem and the highest achievement while Blacks have the highest self-esteem and the lowest achievement. That makes sense: If you think you're already wonderful, you're less likely to feel the need to work hard.

Sure, when it's exigent, we may feign modesty. After all, humility is core to America's New Testament roots: "I accept this honor not just on behalf of myself but of my colleagues, friends, and family without whom this wouldn't be possible. It truly was a team effort." Not withstanding such calculated understatement, we are America the Tootiful.

I cannot claim that every word that has emerged from my lips or fingers rises to sainthood but I write this column in hopes it might encourage all of us to pull on ropes of restraint and become a little less tootiful. It is key to the life well-led.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Hail Mary Cover Letter: For when you're a longshot job applicant


If you're a longshot job applicant it may be worth a Hail Mary resume and, the topic of my post today on USNews.com, a Hail Mary cover letter.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What's New in Finding a Job

My AOL post today is on some relatively new angles on using the internet in finding a job.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's New in Finding a Career, Landing a Job, and Starting a Business

I was on KGO Radio's Ronn Owens Program today. In preparing for the show, I made notes. Lest they go to waste, I've adapted them into this post.

Likely source of new jobs: Comprehensive immigration reform/mass legalization. It will create jobs preparing immigrants for the citizenship exam. Illegals are high users of the health care, legal and social service systems, so just these should burgeon: bureaucrats, translators, health care providers, lawyers, court clerks, bailiffs, etc. In the private sector, supermarket chains such as Mi Pueblo should burgeon and nightclubs, radio, and TV shows, etc. will be repurposed to accommodate the change in audience tastes. And this amnesty, if it's like the previous ones, will trigger new waves of immigrants, ensuring that the job market in these areas will be strong. Learn Spanish. 

Growing areas in tech. there's a decent chance that mobile and social media, currently hot, will soon peak. I'm more bullish on:
  • computer security 
  • digital forensics: prosecute hackers, spouses hiding money, employee theft.
  • and especially Big Data: data warehousing, architecture, and mining. I'm bullish because the massive data is already close to enabling marketers to predict what you'll buy, when and why. In the health care space, the data will be used to identify more cost-effective diagnoses and treatments. Credit card companies will use Big Data to more accurately predict if a transaction is likely to be fraudulent. Stock pickers will use Big Data to develop more predictive models of what to buy and sell. 
Some careers that many people would find fun: pyrotechnician, store merchandiser, hairstylist, garden designer or coach, beer brewer, sports announcer. Alas, it's not easy to land a good job in most of these fields. 

What's new and working in landing a job?
·         Writing a business plan: what you could do in the first 90 days.
·         Including a portfolio of your work products with your applications
·         Cleaning up your Google results: If you've posted things you wouldn't want your employer to see, consider taking them down. 
·        A  great LinkedIn profile including an engaging headshot,
·         Twesume: A 140-character resume on Twitter. e.g., Tech PR pro, experience both in-house and agency: [link].
·         CareerSonar ranks all jobs available online by the strength of your connections on Facebook and LinkedIn. That makes it easy for you to know when to try to get a connection to try to help you.

Job-search Hail Marys
  • The resume as an Amazon page, infographic, or Monopoly board.
  • Walk in. If there's a security guard, arrive when lots of employees are and try to get one to say, "He's with me."
  • Take control of part of the interview, for example, ask if you might go to the white board and explain.
  • Ask probing questions: "Would you tell me something about working here that wouldn't appear in the employee handbook?" or "Why should and shouldn't I want to work for you?" 
Advice for people who get frustrated with coworkers. It's tough to change people so after a brief effort, minimize interaction with them, get them to leave, or you leave. 

Self-employment ideas  
  • Match.com ad coach
  • High-quality coin-operated laundry: with a kid center, coffeehouse/concerts/videos/internet access, big-screen TV. 
  • Videoscribe/Whiteboard Animation (using Powtoon or Sparkol.)
Semi-retirement jobs. Interim executive, healthcare advocate, inn sitter, tour guide, advisor to returning college students, teach classes in adult school or as guest speaker in university classes.

Advice for new college grads that are stuck: Circle a date on your calendar a month or two out by which date you will have picked something. Most people who are happy with their careers wouldn't have known it going in. They end up loving their career only when they've become the go-to guy/gal. Then look for a launchpad job--an entry-level position that will put you at the elbow of people who can teach you and get you promoted.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

What's New in Landing a Job

Sometimes it feels that job searching hasn't changed in eons: Write a resume, network, answer ads, interview.

There are new factors, all internet-based:
  • Employers will google you. If there's something you've posted that you don't want prospective employes to see, take it down. If someone else has written something unfairly negative about you, see if you can get him to take that down.
  •  Be sure your LinkedIn profile is complete, including an engaging headshot. 
  • CareerSonar ranks all jobs available online by the strength of your connections on Facebook and LinkedIn. That makes it easy for you to know when to try to get a connection to try to help you.
  • Glassdoor.com makes it easy to dig up the straight scoop on what it's like to interview with and work for a specific employer.
  •  It can't hurt to make some smart posts on a blog, Twitter, or LinkedIn forum. 
  •  You might create a website containing a portfolio of your work
  •  If you're camera-friendly, post a YouTube resume or you explaining something you're expert in. 
  •  You might try posting a Twesume: a 140-character resume on Twitter. Employers like to screen fast and many are looking for social-media-friendly applicants. Sample: Tech PR pro. 16+ years experience both in-house & agency. Looking in LA.  
  •  You can also use Twitter to try to get leads, for example,  Looking for a job in X field, and would greatly appreciate feedback on my online portfolio! [link]  
  •  In answering job ads or making unsolicited queries to prospective employers, include a portfolio of your work products and/or a business plan explaining what you could do if hired. 
  •  What's working less well is asking for informational interviews. People are sick of being asked. Replace that by being a savvy googler and searcher of LinkedIn groups.

Beware of The Gorgeous Ones: Don't Overvalue Looks

In hiring and in choosing a long-term romantic partner, don't overvalue looks. The additional pride and sexual attraction you feel may well be outweighed by these negatives:

The Gorgeous Ones often feel entitled to be catered to or spent-big on, ironically because of something they deserve little credit for: they were born with good looks.

If only unconsciously, The Gorgeous Ones may believe they can get by on their looks, that is, they needn't work hard on their job skills, work ethic, or personality.

Many of The Gorgeous Ones can be quite cruel to others.

The Gorgeous Ones are more likely to use and withhold sex to get what they want. That can be true not only in a romantic relationship but in the workplace. You want to feel free to make choices on the merits not on having been manipulated.

The old song may have been right: "If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife." (and perhaps your supervisees.)

Of course, this all applies to both sexes.

Should You Try to Change Someone?

We all get frustrated with people and thus are tempted to try to change them.

Unfortunately, the odds are poor of being successful in doing so. Much of who we are is hard-wired or the result of early experiences.

Even shrinks, spending years with patients, have a hard time fundamentally changing them. Patients are usually satisfied with tweaks around the edges and learning to accept their basic selves for who they are.

If therapists, highly trained at that sort of thing, find it difficult to fundamentally change people, is it not hubristic of us as bosses, co-workers, romantic partners, and friends to think we can?

I am reminded of a study that looked at 92 couples on the brink of divorce. They were assigned at random to one of two types of relationship counseling. One group's therapists tried to get the people to change. The other group's therapists tried to get them to accept each other as they are. Six months later, most of the couples in the "change each other" group had filed for divorce. Most of those in the "accept each other" group chose to stay together.

So next time, you think about trying to change someone, think twice. Examples: 

If you're a boss with a supervisee that frustrates you, after a brief attempt to try to improve them, you may be wise to get them transferred or to let them go, offering to help them find a better-suited position. 

Try to focus on your romantic partner's good qualities and accept that their bad ones are unlikely to fundamentally change in the near future. If that's not acceptable to you, after a brief attempt at remediating the person (and yourself?) it may be wise to cut your losses. 

By the way, that's one of the many hidden liabilities of having children: you can't cut and run. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Job Search Made Simple



My post today on AOL: the job-search simplified. I reduce it to the chart above. (Click on it to enlarge it.)

The post describes the four ways to land a job and offers advice on how to pick the ones that will most likely work for you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Choosing a College: 7 questions to ask before picking


It's the moment of truth: You or your child has been admitted to more than one college and now needs to pick one.

You'll make a wiser choice if you ask each finalist college's admissions representative these seven questions. These are the sorts of questions that insiders ask when choosing a college for their kids or for themselves.

If you're worried that asking seven may be too probing, just ask the few you most care about.

May I see the results of the most recent student or alumni satisfaction survey? Most colleges conduct student or alumni satisfaction surveys. Seeing the results will show you how a large sample of a college's students or graduates rate their experience in and outside the classroom, including employability. If an institution doesn't post it on its website, refuses to email it to you, or says it hasn't conducted a student or alumni satisfaction survey, that's instructive in itself.

What are the statistics on campus crime? The Clery Act requires all institutions to collect crime prevalence data on and surrounding campus. 

May I see the executive summary of the accreditation visiting team report and Association Action? Nearly all colleges periodically undergo an accreditation process. That culminates in a visiting team's report on the institution's strengths and weaknesses and an Association Action. The latter states the number of years before the institution must undergo its next review. It it's much sooner than ten years, it may be cause for concern. The visiting team report will explain the reasons for a short term of accreditation.

Given my academic record and my family's income and assets, how much cash and how much loan will I be likely have to pay in the first four years, and if it takes me longer to graduate, in years 5 or 6?  On many if not most colleges' websites, it's difficult to find even the one-year cost-of attendance, even unadjusted for student record, and family income and assets. Your cost of attendance depends heavily on those. Complicating matters more, at some colleges, your bill may rise significantly after the first year, with an especially big increase if you don't graduate in four years. And lest you be too sure you'll graduate in four years, know that nationwide, less than 37 percent of freshmen at so-called four-year colleges graduate in four years. Only 58 percent graduate in six years!

How much do students with high school grades and SAT score like mine grow in critical thinking, writing, etc? That's important even if you or your child is attending college mainly to get a better job. Why? Because the better you write and think, the more likely you are to succeed in nearly any career.

Many if not most colleges test at least a sample of its incoming and graduating students on such skills as writing and critical thinking but few colleges make the results public. That's understandable because, as reported in a major national study, Academically Adrift, a shocking 36  percent of students nationwide "did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning" between freshman and senior year.

Colleges vary in effectiveness, so you want to find out how your candidate colleges measure up. If a college doesn't post this information on its website, refuses to tell you, or says it doesn't measure student growth, that's instructive in itself. 

What is your four- and six-year graduation rate for students with grades and test scores like mine? The graduation rate varies greatly across institutions and on the student's high school record. Comparing your finalist colleges' graduation rates will be instructive but don't give that undue weight in choosing a college. That's because an institution can jigger a high graduation rate by lowering standards. For example, at one institution, administrators meet with faculty members who give a failing grade to an above-average percentage of students. Rather than praising those professors for their high standards, the message subtly is "lower your standards."

What percent of graduates are professionally employed within one year of graduation, broken down by major? What percent are in graduate school? The institution's alumni survey usually contains such information. 

Asking even some of these questions will increase your chances of picking an institution at which you'll be happy, successful, and feel was worth your money and years.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Job Interview Hail Marys

Let's say there's good news and bad news. The good news is that you've landed a job interview. The bad news is that you suspect you're a longshot candidate.

My USNews.com post today is Interview Hail Marys: high-risk/high-payoff interview strategies.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Job Search Shortcuts

The process of looking for a job can be daunting. Sometimes there are shortcuts. My AOL post today offers shortcuts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The College Report Card--picked as one of "100 Great Ideas for Higher Education"

I am honored that the National Association of Scholars chose to include, in its 100 Great Ideas for Higher Education, my proposal that all colleges be required to, on its homepage, post a substantive report card on itself, what I call the College Report Card.

It is far more more helpful than, for example, the College Scorecard President Obama announced in his State of the Union address.

I describe the College Report Card in the  Washington Post, and in The Atlantic, the latter which was republished on Stanford's blog on higher education reform.

Not only would a College Report Card enable prospective students to more wisely and easily select a college, that transparency would exert real pressure on colleges to finally treat students as the treasure they are rather than a mere "cost center."

Today, 'four-year" colleges behave as irresponsibly as the researchers who ran the The Tuskegee Experiments. Every year, colleges recruit hundreds of thousands of weak students without disclosing to them that 3/4 such students don''t graduate even if given 8 years, meanwhile having accrued a fortune in debt, little learning, a non-stop assault to their self-esteem, no more employability than they could have had straight out of high school and, critically, the opportunity cost: They could have likely learned far more and become far more employable had they pursued an apprenticeship, the millitary, working at the elbow of an entrepreneur, or taken a short career-prep program at a community college.

It is time to stop giving higher education a free pass. We require every tire, every packaged food, every drug, to provide substantive consumer information. We should require no less of colleges.

Jobseeker Hail Marys: Longshot resume tactics

If you're a longshot candidate for a job, it may be worth trying risky strategies.

Today, I start a series for U.S. News called Jobseeker Hail Marys. The first, which also has been published on Yahoo! is Resume Hail Marys.