Dec 22

Who Needs Social Media?

It's only a tool if you use it.

It’s only a tool if you use it.

Before you answer that question too quickly with your typical knee-jerk reaction, think about how you formed that opinion. Is it based on facts or are you blindly following suggestions planted by faux experts of the online realm. Do we accept it as a true need because of our incessant need to feed our personal addiction or deny its importance because of some subconscious aversion to technological change? Like most tools its use is situational. Anyone who has ever stripped the head off of an overtorqued screw needs the “Speedout Damaged Screw Extractor” set in their toolbox. If you don’t screw up, then its need is not quite so apparent. Seeing social media as just one tool to get things done can give us perspective if we are not blinded by the shimmer of glowing technology.

The true answer to this question is “Nobody!” It is hard to argue that it is as significant as oxygen to our survival, but it really depends on how broad you consider the definition of the word “need?” As a verb, to need something means that it is essential or at the very least extremely important. As a noun it implies something that is necessary or deserving of immediate action. The importance of needing or having needs seems to feed some sort of human drive to neatly arrange everything into some stair-step model that makes it easy to visualize complex ideas. In our minds we organize needs into distinct buckets ranging from the least to the most important. Where would you put social media in Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs? Ah, there is the real basis of the question. How do you differentiate a want from a need?

Most social media tools are psychologically addictive. When you honestly believe this as a possibility and look into the research you will see conflicting scientific viewpoints, but also find other significant evidence that it can be harmful. Bringing the relativity of a situation into clearer focus gives a clue into why that happens. People who are uncomfortable directly approaching other people face-to-face or cold-calling to expand networking connections will find comfort in an online hideout where an immediate response can be delayed forever. The same lure of passive job board applications gives a feeling of doing something when actually nothing is happening. When more socially adept people do the same thing it is only the beginning of personal connections that will grow other connections. In one instance it is planting seeds that will never grow and on another it is cultivating a harvest that will bring rich rewards.

Recruiters and their managers often engage in arguments about using social and other electronic media to source, recruit, and hire talent. When you take a Google-Earthish viewpoint and look at these discussions from a broader perspective, it becomes evident that nobody is communicating. Taking a microscopic view of any situation and using occasional positive results as proof of concept is totally illogical. Sowing a millions seeds and hiring X number of people is no more significant than cultivating fewer seeds and hiring X number of people. Every situation is different and there is no school solution as to the correct methodology. It is a matter of choice and it doesn’t mean that if it works it is “the” way or any guarantee that it will work for someone else.

When we give job seekers advice that they need to use social media tools, are we helping or hurting their situation? Once again, it depends. Many people who are unemployed tend to experience forms of psychological and social losses which include diminished social contacts. Social media helps them maintain relationships, but studies1 of unemployed people show mixed results. Although they can use social media to cultivate their social support networks the opportunity to establish new contacts is often underutilized. The social network differentiation between the unemployed and employed is the same online in social media. This does not mean that it is a useless exercise for job seekers. New studies2 show changes to the data from 1998-2001 surveys and show that unemployed persons who look for work online are re-employed about 25% faster than comparable workers who do not search online. Internet job search including social media appears to be most effective in reducing unemployment durations when used to contact friends and relatives, to send out resumes or fill out applications and also to look at advertisements.

What are your expectations and will your social media plan realistically get you to your goals. Most people will probably find that it must be leveraged with other tools for the best impact. Neither side of these arguments can be colored as absolutely right or wrong. The areas between those opinions are also not necessarily gray. There is a rainbow of situational solutions. Observers of the ongoing dialog will also have to endure pretentious elitism toward use social media and technology as the only possible solution.

Image credit: Courtesy Leute Management Services, LLC original photo

1 A social net? Internet and social media use during unemployment, Work, Employment & Society August 201428: 551-570, first published on June 3, 2014

2 Is Internet Job Search Still Ineffective?, Kuhn, P. and Mansour, H. (2014), The Economic Journal, 124: 1213–1233.

Jul 18

When is a job not a job?

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience.” – George Bernard Shaw

Recently I acted on emotions rather than logic because of a hard lesson that was taught to me years ago. Last week I publicly confronted a job spammer on LinkedIn. I should have known better. Showing someone the error of their ways never works if they are as despicable as I suspected this liar to be. It is like blowing your horn at a reckless driver… they don’t learn and you look like a jerk. The temptation to react rather than to respond intelligently comes from somewhere deep inside where the bad things live. Here is the story of the events that planted that seed of angst.

Without going into a total opening of the kimono, I returned from Vietnam in one piece and managed to maintain a bit of sanity through it all. War does that. It puts a lot of unspoken things into perspective and a bit of forced premature maturity doesn’t hurt either. Opening my mind to anything and everything, struggling to find a future course for my life, some decisions looked bright and shiny because the brand polishers had been at work hiding the flaws of some opportunities. Enter the Holiday Magic Business… stage left.

Holiday Magic was the brain child of William Penn Patrick, a failed serial entrepreneur who bought out a struggling manufacturer of home care products and cosmetics, Zolene, and its entire inventory for under $20,000. A student of Alexander Everett, the founder of Mind Dynamics, Patrick used these methods and also the Silva Mind Control Method to recruit and train an almost cult-like following using the mantra that anybody could become rich. He used legitimate lessons from authors like Napoleon Hill whose book “Think and Grow Rich” was almost a bible. Military psychological ops techniques were not as insidious as this group and its leaders. Enter me… stage right.

Called Multi-Level Marketing, or MLM, this form of business takes legitimate products and offers “opportunities” to sell the products at a small mark-up… obviously a larger margin to the company from which these distributors had to order their inventory. The real money was supposedly not from direct sales, but the further recruitment of other distributorships where a portion of those sales also went to the person recruiting the newbies. This became to be known as a “pyramid” because of the totally illogical premise that everybody can make something from the enterprise. Obviously, if you do the math, only the ones at the top win and everybody else loses.

Fortunately, I was too busy to devote the time necessary to build my “distributorship” even though it was preached over and over again that this was a job anybody could do in their spare time. After all, don’t millionaires just sit back and count their money while everybody else does the work for them? I didn’t buy that philosophy then and saw through the scam before getting in too deeply. The best thing I learned from this experience was that some people are not as honest as I hoped to be, but also that they couldn’t convince me to join them in doing something dishonest. I could hear my father’s voice telling me as a child, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn’t!”

So rather than confronting the job spammers last week, an action accomplishing nothing, what is the best action to take? How about writing a blog post to let others know? Ta daaa! In assisting job seekers in their search for legitimate opportunities it is important for someone to sound the alarm that opportunity may only knock once, but everything that knocks is not necessarily an opportunity. This is why it is also very important for recruiters and employers to be involved in building trust… with their customers, with their employees, and with candidates for hire. Trust can be given, but it cannot be assumed to be free. Trust must be earned after a brief period of simple risk assessment allows it to happen.

So don’t learn from my lesson or because I tell you that there are scams out there. Learn from the history:

After a ten year run, led by a charismatic leader in William Penn Patrick, that leader met his untimely end in a tragic plane crash. Following his death, it was less than a year until his company also died. The company’s CEO and President Roland Nocera pleaded guilty to securities fraud unrelated to Holiday Magic. Larry Huff, another leader in the company, served two years in federal prison for a Ponzi scheme. These were the esteemed characters in charge of dispensing Mind Dynamics over their converts! A class action settlement against the company awarded $2.6 million and the company was dissolved. A lot of lawyers got very rich, but most of the rank and file “investors” lost much more than money. Confidence is an investment that is hard to repay. This case is cited as the classic example of pyramid schemes in graduate level courses on criminal justice and in law journals.

Some additional reading:

“History repeats itself, and that’s one of the things that’s wrong with history.” – Clarence Darrow

Image Credit: Copyright ijacky / 123RF Stock Photo

Apr 04

Talent Wars – The Talent Strikes Back

A few years ago I wrote a series of articles for job seekers based on The Art of War by Sun Tzu. There have been numerous analogies comparing warfare to business practices, but this week, prompted by a NY Times Op-Ed piece, my colleagues and I engaged in a dialog about whether or not the perceived “skills gap” is a reality and how the “war for talent” is progressing for the long term unemployed. I have long been of the opinion that the so-called gap in skills is based on myth rather than actual research. The resulting war for talent is often a rationalization of the reality that it is sometimes tough to find the right talent or skills for a job. Get over yourselves! It this were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the plate and be a professional. 

To job seekers, don’t even enter this debate without considering the risk of sounding like you are making excuses for your lack of accomplishment. If it isn’t a war, treat it as if it is an all or nothing battle or you will never win. The best defense is a good offense and not a pile of lame reasons why you can’t do it. Yes it’s hard to find a job. If it were easy anybody could do it, so step up to the mound and pitch your best. 

How do we tackle the problem of the long term unemployed? Discussions on this topic are often laced with politics and that only serves to polarize the issue and keep solutions from surfacing. It is not about government. It is not about business. It is not about job seekers. It is a partnership of all three looking without prejudice at alternatives and doing something.

Job seekers, prepare yourself for battle! 


Mar 07

How to Engage and Learn From Twitter Chats

TwitterVsTruthTrustTalentHave you ever wanted to get a glimpse at “the making of” a job search chat on Twitter? The decision that we made (a little bit me and a lot of Steve Levy and Cyndy Trivella) to move Open Mic Career Chat (#OMCchat) to Friday at Noon happened because we had good metrics on that time slot for a chat and because it seemed that the regular followers on Thursday evenings were never able to get together at the same time. Yes, we do talk and prepare for these things! Above all else, the three of us agree wholeheartedly that it should be uber-organized but not involve heavy lifting. What we do is a gift… NOT a business. We are not searching for sponsors to monetize this, but it is an obvious place to help people if it is done right. Why does this work?

In our daily lives we have the advantage of seeing those around us in 3D. When we dip into our cyber reality several of those multidimensional aspects become cloudier. Whether or not we are totally aware of this process, body language, voice intonation, and sometimes an invisible projection of intangibles contribute to our believability of the person speaking. When I tell chatters on Twitter to engage all of their crap filters it is because the message is often not what it appears to be. Most job seeker advocates are sincere in their desire to help, but as we know there is a lot of static. Among the experts there are also pretenders. Not all who profess to be experts are bona fide experts. So how can you tell if somebody is a fake or a credible source? How can we attract a wide audience when we have declared war on the traditional chat format of being overly nice to everybody?

In order to keep it on track it is necessary to know some of the danger signs and how to address them. There are not a finite number of characters, but here are leading candidates for the “Sad Seven.”

  1. Not-so-hidden Agenda – A veiled sales pitch for a service, product, or branded concept may be helpful only to the seller and not to those who are desperately seeking answers applicable to them. The author of a glitzy book title or catch phrase will seldom be objective about their advice, so expect to be called out for pandering.
  2. False Projection – Preaching that all should accept a truth supported only by anecdotal evidence or hearsay statistical references leaves obvious gaps in complete understanding. Most will back away or offer excuses when pressed for evidence of their “truth” sprayed for general consumption. I will always ask for proof.
  3. Jargonizing – Using a popular saying, statistic or cliché to make a point has its place in the discussion, but simply parroting a popular viewpoint in order to appear knowledgeable may not be appropriate. A failure to revel sources of information is a clue that the advice is not applicable. Just because somebody famous said something doesn’t make it true.
  4. Negativity – Individuals that always resort to one-upmanship to prove how miserable their lives have become refuse to give up and move on. Their input may be useful in showing that bad things do happen to good people, but basically they are toxic and don’t offer much meaningful input. I may not call you out on this one, but I may ignore you.
  5. Groupthink – This is the tendency of some people to promote harmony and minimize conflict rather than providing a realistic appraisal of the situation. This is not to say that the chat environment should not be cordial, but it is wrong to perpetuate bad advice when so many are counting on good answers. The Twitter suck-ups have a fertile ground for their drivel here.
  6. Narcissism – Probably the easiest bad advisors to detect are those who offer solutions to others in such a way that it only flatters themselves. Much can be learned from the experience of others unless their ego gets in the way of presenting a clear and accurate account. Thanks for giving us fodder for the “worst of” topics.
  7. Absolute Fakes – Finally there is advice that comes from those who are afflicted with a puzzling need to be something they are not. Offering job search advice from an HR perspective should come from someone with actual HR experience. Finding problems and then taking an opposing viewpoint gives people the ability to “fix” recruiting, culture, and just about any other need.

In spite of all the fakery and foolery, a chat session on Twitter should be the epitome of connecting through social media. As old friends are seen joining the chat there is always a virtual hug given and an acknowledgement of their presence and expertise by other chatters. This is a huge meeting in a room bigger than life where there are literally millions of global impressions in a one hour session. In spite of its flaws, it remains one of the best sources of critical information for a job seeker. Every participant has the right to speak, but this also carries a responsibility to be honest and true to the cause. Most groups will self-police and there will be little need for a moderator to step in to make a correction.

Image credits:
Scale by FSergio / 123RF Stock Photo [modified] 
Stones  by scol22 / 123RF Stock Photo [modified]

Mar 05

The Tangled Dynamics of Twitter Chat Advice

I am a regular on Twitter chat events and have been a participant, moderator and guest host on many of them. My latest endeavor is through a partnership with two scions of the Twittersphere, Cyndy Trivella (@CyndyTrivella) and Steve Levy (@LevyRecruits) in the Open Mic Career Chat (#OMCchat). Our objective in hosting this weekly chat… at Noon Eastern Time on Fridays… is to take the job search chat experience to a new level. Without presuming to speak for my colleagues, I think we have done that by challenging the status quo of ambiguous and fluffy job search advice, changing the format to one that calls for quick knee jerk opinions that can be debated online, and allowing a free flowing dialog which may at times appear to be a bit irreverent. Promoting that kind of freedom can also increase the tendency of human nature to intervene and undo all the best intentions. We sometimes forget that the online world is a mirror of the real world including the fact that there is a diverse cross section of talent, ability, honesty and integrity. Nobody should check-in to a Twitter chat session if their crap filters are not fully engaged because online is not reality. At best it is an imitation of reality, but that only becomes real by matching advice to personal need.

It is a good thing that we are only striving for a better chat because that “perfect chat” is not possible when human beings are involved. Being job seeker advocates, it is troubling that along with excellent advice from the pros, which at times may even appear conflicting, there is also occasional blatantly bad advice. Our job then is to keep the signal-to-noise ratio at a bearable level. Why does static happen?

  1. People are different – No two people have the same life experience so their perspectives will be different. Job seekers looking for a one-size-fits-all solution will almost always be disappointed. Every question will have multiple answers that must be weighed against the personal need of participants.
  2. There is not always a right or wrong answer – Sometime all paths lead to the same destination, but at the crossroads in life it can appear that everything depends on making the correct choice. The good news is that most paths also are very forgiving and allow midcourse corrections to change the way you reach your destination.
  3. Experts do not always agree – There is almost always more than one right answer. Because they all have arrived at their current station in life through different paths, their perception of next steps will differ. Listening to the experts will always be instructive if not taken out of context. Conflicting advice is not bad advice, but it does involve listening and choosing a very personal answer. 
  4. The experts are only human – There are multiple reasons for bad advice happening. Most of it is unintentional and for the most part participants may be giving the best advice from their body of knowledge. Bias can be introduced into the conversation for several reasons, primarily because of offering generalizations from a background that is limited in scope.

These are only a few of the many facets of human nature involved, but they all have one thing in common: These are not bad people. They are only people that are compelled by their humanness to act in a manner that can lead to misleading or incorrect advice. Diversity of thought is not something that needs to be fixed, but intentionally misleading a group for personal gain is almost universally bad… and this is a topic for another time.

Image credit: Business Man on High Wire by lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo