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LinkedIn vs. Facebook

September 6th, 2011 No comments

This WSJ article has gotten quite a bit of buzz over the past week (anyone know why “troll” is in the title?), and I’ll agree with the general sentiment that Facebook will have a big impact on hiring in the future. However, I’m not convinced by author Joe Light’s premise that LinkedIn is at large risk from Facebook in the near term. There are two reasons why:

  1. I believe LinkedIn’s research saying “users tell the company they want to keep their personal and professional networks separate.” This is the mindset of generations that have grown up keeping work and life separate, and any shift in this thinking should be slow enough for LinkedIn to react.
  2. LinkedIn has built a strong network effect. Sure, it only has 120 million users to Facebook’s 750 million, but LinkedIn’s population has tacitly signed up for career networking. Facebook’s users are there for many reasons, making it harder for career conversations to be relevant.

Facebook has shown it can be a big player and has interesting and potentially game changing plans. It has a lot of work, however, to dethrone LinkedIn for professional networking purposes.

Update: Lou Adler comes to a similar conclusion by a different route.

Categories: hiring, social media Tags: ,

How Not to Use Social Media

September 29th, 2010 7 comments

This post is probably going to definitively out me as an HR person (if I haven’t done that already).  I’m already a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to hiring and social media, but the existence of this company frankly just makes me uncomfortable.

Social Intelligence essentially touts itself as a way for HR folks to screen information about candidates available on the public internet, while somehow preventing us from learning protected class information.  The ERE article on Social Intelligence is studiously neutral, but let’s just say I’m less than convinced that “researching a job applicant’s online activity inevitably reveals a great deal of insight about a candidate.”  You know, like the fact that they follow this guy on Twitter…

The Social Intelligence website actually provides little information about how the hiring product actually works.  But looking at ERE’s screencap of the tool highlights the problem I have with using social media this way.  How do you connect information someone posts about violence, drugs, gangs, or poor judgment with actual concerns about these things? Let’s say I post Wu Tang Clan lyrics(very NSFW) on my Facebook page.  It would certainly look like I do lots of drugs, but it turns out I don’t. Where’s the line between what I consume, and what I do?

Social Intelligence’s monitoring tool is maybe even worse.  Do we really want to reinforce an image of HR as a nosy, Big Brother type of function?  And again, there’s no distinction between what people choose to do on their own and behalf of their employer.

Ultimately, this feels like a solution finding a problem to solve by scanning the headlines.

More on Education

September 27th, 2010 No comments

I’m a documented skeptic about education and hiring, and the release of the College Board’s College Completion Agenda 2010 report added further color to the debate.  Its headline finding is that the US ranks 12th of 36 developed countries in the percent of 25 to 34 year olds that have a college degree.

The New York Times’ reporting on this finding typifies the hand-wringing that has ensued.  I agree that the following statistics are a concern:

While almost 70 percent of high school graduates in the United States enroll in college within two years of graduating, only about 57 percent of students who enroll in a bachelor’s degree program graduate within six years, and fewer than 25 percent of students who begin at a community college graduate with an associate’s degree within three years.

Something is clearly not working, and I agree with the various experts cited in the article that we need to do something about it.

However, this overlooks an important nuance to America’s challenges with the numbers of graduates we’re producing: as a system, we don’t have any way of ensuring students are enrolling programs in match the needs of market.  This point is well articulated in this article by Ilana Garon, and nicely captured here:

Statistics like those put out by the College Board are misleading: they promote a foolish sense of tunnel vision, leading students to believe that the only possible way of obtaining even a middle-wage job is through the traditional, four-year college route. Reliance on the standard liberal arts degree as a benchmark for competence belies not only the fact that many jobs simply don’t require such an education, but also that middle-wage jobs are going unfilled due to a lack of applicants with the necessary specialized skills.

The reason Garon’s article stood out for me is that it highlights two reasons why the conventional wisdom that degrees are inherently good is dangerous.  First, it’s a misallocation of resources: students spend time and money on degrees that don’t give them a positive return.  Second, as our system evolves away from career and technical education programs, our business and industrial base suffers from talent shortages.

Again, no earthshattering conclusions.  Just that it’s important that we look at the utility of a particular degree, rather than a woolly notion of its benefits.

Women in Finance

September 20th, 2010 No comments

I find this to be a surprisingly haphazard article from the Wall Street Journal. The data it cites from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is striking: from 2000 to 2009, the number of women working in financial services fell, even as the number of the women in the overall workforce grew.

Like Felix Salmon (whose post brought this article to my attention), the explanations cited range from the unsupported:

…technology likely accounts for some of the shift.

To the downright offensive:

They’re always perched on this edge, and if the value of staying in a high-pressure job goes down just a bit, then that might make a big difference in the number that jump.

Buried in the second to last paragraph of the article is what I see as the most plausible explanation of this trend:

Many women report that sexism is still rife on Wall Street, albeit less overt. Sexual-discrimination charges by women at finance companies dropped 28% from 2000 to 2009, according to data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. But the number of charges per woman in the industry climbed during the recession in 2008 and 2009.

A 28% drop is significant, but it’s not zero.  So it stands to reason that this sexism is a disincentive for women to enter financial services.

This trend puts them squarely on the wrong side of America’s changing workforce gender demographics.  For an industry whose success is based on hiring the best and the brightest, it would seem obvious that this is an urgent problem.  Given the self-delusion that we’ve seen from the industry in the last 10 years, I won’t hold my breath that they’ll admit to it.

Hiring and Social Media

August 30th, 2010 No comments

Last week German legislators introduced a bill to limit how employers could use publicly available information about candidates in their hiring decisions.  Although I have personal sympathies with the intent of the bill (more below), it’s ultimately a futile exercies.

Beyond the philosophical argument against this bill, there are the practical difficulties:

  • How will the German government differentiate between private social networking and job social networking? You can link your personal Twitter account to your LinkedIn account-does that put your whole LinkedIn profile out of bounds?  Lines will only become more blurry.
  • Candidates will have virtually no way to know if social media was consulted in their hiring decision.
  • How much enforcement resources will actually be devoted to this? If I were a German voter, I’d be disappointed if it were a lot-the government should have better things to do with its money.

From my perspective as an American this is all fairly moot, as I think our job market is far too neoliberal for something like this to ever pass.

One other point. As a I said above, I actually agree on some level with the intent behind this bill.  Social media is a poor evaluative tool in the hiring process. Lurking on someone’s Facebook page is akin to eavesdropping on conversations in a restaurant: at best you get a snapshot of someone’s life.  You simply don’t get enough information to draw strong conclusions about people.

So to recruiters and HR people that use social media as an informal reference check: please stop, you’re making us look like nosy fools.

Categories: hiring, hr Tags:

Hiring Transparency, ctd

August 27th, 2010 2 comments

I’ve written about transparency in the hiring process before, and this post lays out simple things recruiters can do to ensure candidates know what to expect and when.

Two things always strike me about lists like this:

  1. It really should be simple to have an easy to understand hiring process, shouldn’t it?
  2. An undervalued skill needed for effective hiring is project management

Since the first point is fairly self evident, I’ll expand a little on the second. The general thrust of the post is that it’s important to clearly articulate the job and the hiring process, and provide regular updates.  Sounds an awful lot like project management to me.

As recruiters, I don’t think we’ve done enough to build these skills.  And I think it does us a disservice-we tend to think that our work is all about a successful hire, and the way we get there isn’t as important.  Hence a lot of sentiments towards us like the ones in the comments section to this post (via TS).

Categories: hiring, recruiting Tags:

Education Matters

August 11th, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been struck with a case of writer’s block for some reason or another.  It may be because I decided I needed to write the hell out of this article since it left such a strong impression on me, but for whatever reason I haven’t found the right inspiration.

So a breakdown of our current unemployment by the BLS, nicely represented graphically by Matt Yglesias, nicely crystallized a few loose thoughts I had on the subject of education. Yglesias’ simple bar graph of the differences in unemployment is striking – the Great Recession is so different for people with degrees than it is for those without.

My personal experience drives this home for me (as stories about ourselves often do).  I was laid off from a great job last year, and experienced a bit of the anxiety and uncertainty of being unemployed. But I can’t claim much kinship with the long term unemployed, because I was unemployed for almost exactly 6 weeks. Good luck explains a lot of that, but I also have a bachelor’s degree, and work in the services sector. Exactly the kind of person that our new economy favors.

I struggle with the common idea that a degree has intrinsic value beyond the knowledge it should represent. A finance director I used to work with summed it up nicely when he said (roughly) “completing a degree shows drive and commitment, which are important attributes for a financial analyst.”  He then dismissed a candidate who had the right experience, interviewed well, and for whom the only reservations were the lack of a degree, and an apparent lack of interest in completing one.

I won’t argue with that sentiment because I agree that spending 2, 4, or more years completing a degree takes drive and commitment. But I don’t think the converse is true, that those without degrees are lacking these things. Using degrees as a proxy for these and other intangibles is lazy, and has uncomfortable implications around race and achievement.

Of course this is a complex issue, and I don’t have any real answers.  But I think it’s important that recruiters and HR folks think long and hard about what we’re actually trying to get from educational requirements.  They’re a blunt instrument at best.

Update (8/17): a friend who’s looking for work just had an interview cancelled because she doesn’t have a BA. She’s been working on completing it while working full time, so I’d submit that it shows she’s extra committed. She’s been working in accounting and finance for 10 years. Does the fact that this company noticed her BA is pending change anything about the relevance of her experience? Nope.

Gender and the Future Workforce

August 5th, 2010 No comments

I serve on an advisory panel for the Seattle University Career Services team, and this summer the panel was asked for our thoughts on the imminent gap between college graduates and jobs requiring degrees.  That Seattle U takes the time to think about these things is a big part of why I enjoy working with them.

I had a hard time not being a skeptic though, because this crisis just doesn’t ring true to me.  Setting aside the fact that this has apparently been looming for decades, I also think it misses an important fact: people aren’t necessarily going to retire the way they have in the past.  I think it’s likely that people will hit 65, stop working full time, and pick up part time or project work from time to time.  Plenty of others agree with me.

On the other hand, I found this article in the Atlantic Monthly about another trend in college completion very compelling. In it, Hanna Rosin details the ways that secondary educational achievement for me is lagging behind that of women.  It’s long, but well worth a read.

Since it’s such a big topic, I’ll focus on one thing here:

The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.

We constantly hear about how the future of our country is a knowledge-based economy, and Rosin puts her finger nicely on what that means with these two sentences.  Although much of the discussion we hear is about educational attainment being the key to success, I’d argue that looking for degrees is really a proxy for seeking these kinds of skills.  In turn, the way that we as recruiters screen for these skills will become increasingly important.

A former colleague that worked on diversity hiring once joked that he would get a perverse pleasure in being able to say about a particular job “we need to figure out how to attract more white males.”  That scenario may not be far in our future, and it will be interesting to see how academia tackles this challenge.

Career Advice

July 14th, 2010 No comments

I’ve been mulling over this article from the NY Times since it was published last week. The punch line: an unemployed 24 year old turns down a job offer with no other options, rather than “waste early years in dead-end work.”

The reason I didn’t post anything right away is that I need a little time to get past my first reaction, which was to write Scott Nicholson off as a spoiled idiot. I mean, really? You’re just going to find a better job in the midst of the worst job market for 60 years?

After thinking about it, I’ve realized that Scott Nicholson is, in fact, a spoiled idiot.  But the interesting part of this story to me isn’t so much him (he’s never had a real job, how does he know a recession from a depression), it’s the lack of credible advice he’s getting.

Granted, his father didn’t agree with the decision.  But the fact that only now, after months of searching, Nicholson is “beginning to realize that refusal is going to have repercussions” shows what a disservice his family has done him.  When he turned down that job offer, his parents should have locked him out of the house until he went back and begged for the job until he got it.

Relatives and friends often give bad career advice because, as in Nicholson’s case, they may hesitate to deliver a hard message.  So here are the things I think are important to look for when seeking career advice:

  • Balance. Pessimists sometimes need reinforcement and encouragement, optimists sometimes need a dose of sober reality.  All Nicholson seems to be getting is reinforcement of his natural optimism.
  • Relatability. Someone that knows the current job market in an applicable field, and so can offer much more realistic advice. Nicholson’s parents have successful careers, but they built them in a completely different era, and admit they don’t know how to help him.
  • Practicality. Tips and advice on how to manage a search day to day. It’s great that Scott’s grandfather thinks he can go abroad to find work, but back in the real world an international job search is degrees of magnitude harder than a domestic one.

I don’t worry about the Scott Nicholson’s of the world, since they obviously have a strong safety net in their families.  It would be nice if I could be confident that people are getting good advice in this market, but I’m not so sure.

Categories: hiring, job search Tags:

Unemployment Insurance

July 13th, 2010 No comments

I promised myself I’d update more frequently once the World Cup was over (viva Espana, by the way).  So here goes.

As Daniel Indiviglio illustrates better than I ever could, extending unemployment benefits just plain makes sense.  It’s simple math: more unemployed workers competing for a constant number of jobs results in long term unemployment. 

However, Ezra Klein points out an interesting nuance that’s been lost in the politics of this debate.  Ben Nelson, A Democrat Senator that opposed extending benefits, argued that his state doesn’t need extended benefits.  He’s probably right, but he’s being disingenuous, because there are triggers built into extended benefits that solve this problem.  If your state doesn’t have unemployment above the national average, extended benefits don’t come into effect.

So unemployment insurance is, as it turns out, a pretty well-designed system.  And extending beyond 99 weeks is just plain the right thing to do.

UPDATE (7/14): Ezra Klein posts this pithy summary of how little the UI extension would cost.