Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recruiters gone wild

For those of you keeping score at home, I have now been on 10 job interviews in the last 9 months. 10 at bats, and 10 strike outs. What's bothering me, though, is what I've observed on my last 3 interviews, all of which have occurred in the last month.

Recruiters seem to be playing some kind of weird head game where they don't ask any questions and force me, the interviewee, to ask all the questions. So the interview goes something like this:
Recruiter: (Leans back in his chair, takes a sip of coffee, and picks up a short stack of papers from the table) Ok, let me take a look at your resume. (He scans the piece of paper and hums the "Pina Colada" song. He puts the papers on the table after a moment and again leans back in his chair, smugly.) So, do you have any questions for me?
Me: (Our hero looks slightly startled. She looks down at her her pink boucle jacket with the black trim, hoping to find the answer somewhere in the fabric.) Oh, ok. (She hastily looks down at the list of 4 questions she prepared for the END of the interview.) Well, what are the challenges facing your company today, and how would I, as a product manager, work to confront those challenges?
Recruiter: Blah blah, canned corporate crap, blah, yada yada. What else?
Me: Uhhh, can you tell me more about the new XYZ product line? I saw that you mentioned it on Twitter. (Crosses fingers that her intrepid investigatory skills will be rewarded.)
Recruiter: (Does not appear impressed that our hero obviously spent 3 hours this morning preparing for this 15 minute chat). It's a new product we're working on for our younger customers. We think it's going to be huge. What else?
This bullcrap will go on for the next 10 minutes - I ask questions about the position, he gives me curt answers, and I get increasingly uncomfortable while he gets increasingly hostile. One interviewer actually told me at the beginning of an interview, in a confrontational tone of voice, that I obviously wasn't qualified for the job, and that it was a waste of time to speak to me. Uh, ok, so why did you bring me in???? I don't recall holding a gun to anyone's head just to get an interview (though maybe that's something to keep in mind for the future).

Why are recruiters playing head games with me? I feel like everyone's in on some kind of joke, and I'm the only one who doesn't get the punchline. Empirical evidence and common sense say that the best way to interview a candidate is to ask what they would do in a given scenario. Or to find out what they have done in the past, given a set of circumstances. How can you find out what kind of worker I am if you never ask me to define what kind of worker I am? And what is the purpose of bringing in a candidate, only to be hostile and unpleasant to them? What will you learn from that?

I think recruiters are mostly people who couldn't get real jobs doing valuable stuff like marketing, financing, and waxing stripper poles. So they're destined to make a lot of poor choices. And given the current glut of job candidates, recruiters are drunk with power and are abusing their positions. Well I have only one thing to say to that: Do you think they would give me a job if I promised to wash their car for a year?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

On Second Chances (and Third and Fourth, and Fifth...)

I watched the Syracuse game yesterday morning. The new quarterback, Greg Paulus, was a high school football star, then a point guard for Duke for 4 years, and has now landed as the captain of the Orange football team at the age of 23. His debut performance, though phenomenal considering he has not played football in 4 years, was marred by a foolish interception during overtime which cost Syracuse a win they otherwise deserved. His one poor pass notwithstanding however, it was considered an auspicious day for Paulus. Football seasons, like life, are full of second chances. Even if you screw up one crucial play, another opportunity will present itself.

Just look at Michael Milken, the junk-bond felon turned philanthropist, who was lauded in 2004 by Fortune magazine as "The Man Who Changed Medicine" for his contributions to medical research. How quickly we forget that this guy ruined tens of thousands of lives, destroyed untold millions of dollars of wealth, and made Gordon Gecko look like Mother Theresa.

But for this post I want to focus on another football player, one who also has a Syracuse connection. Todd Marinovich (pictured in his heyday and in his most recent mugshot), older brother of Syracuse Defensive End Mikhail Marinovich, is a poster boy for wasted talent and squandered youth. I read this article yesterday from Esquire which painstakingly detailed his 20 year long slide from stardom, to rehab, to homelessness, to irrelevance and obscurity. To give you an idea of how good Marinovich was, he was drafted ahead of Brett Favre in 1991. Nicknamed "Robo Quarterback", he was an outstanding talent when he played for USC and he would likely have been one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time had it not been for his addiction to drugs.

The article detailed how Marinovich would repeatedly screw up, get another chance, and screw up again. While at USC he was busted for drug possession (marijuana and coke). He was kicked off the team, but was allowed to enter the NFL draft instead. He signed a 3 year deal for $2.25 million plus a $1 million signing bonus. As the team's third-string quarterback he saw little on-field action, and so started taking speed before games. He showed up to games and played while drunk, hungover, and on drugs. He was sent to rehab repeatedly, but could not pass the requisite drug tests, and in 1993 he was let go.

After several years spent surfing and using, he landed in the Canadian Football League as a backup quarterback. In Canada he resumed his heavy drug use, picked up a heroin habit, and began growing pot. He shot up heroin during games, played while on drugs (again), and was a generally terrible employee. Despite all this, he was offered an extension of his contract with the CFL - an offer he turned down because he could no longer deal with the easy availability of drugs in Vancouver.

So to sum the story up, this is a man who utterly failed as a football player, failed at being a responsible adult, and failed at staying clean for any stretch of time. And yet, after nine arrests, five felonies, and one year in jail, Todd Marinovich is still not down for the count. What I found fascinating about this article was the part which detailed what he is doing now: besides several menial jobs, he is a budding artist with plans for a gallery showing and a website for direct buying, and he is becoming known as a "quarterback whisperer" working with promising talents of all ages and levels of achievement.

What I want to know is, how many chances do we as a society give someone, even someone who's really good at sports? And what value would Marinovich have as a quarterback whisperer given that he attained relatively little professional success and frequently chose to take drugs instead of improve his game? If experience is the name given to one's mistakes, then Marinovich would have a tremendous amount of wisdom to impart, but if he keeps screwing up (including a February 2009 drug bust), then the mistakes must not be worth much in the way of learning opportunities. I think our society likes to reward the troubled and the tortured by giving their art (in whatever form) more weight and gravitas, but I'm not sure what correlation there is between propensity for mistakes and great art.

Bernie Madoff will not live long enough to see if society forgives him for his transgressions, but Michael Vick will. I'm interested to see what his legacy will be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Internet use linked to increased douchebaggery, loneliness

I just read this article from Cracked about why the 21st Century is making people miserable. The author claims that the proliferation of technology has allowed people to build up a wall around themselves, thus allowing us to lose the sense of community that used to be so vital for survival in the past. The Economist ran a brilliant special report on this in their April 2008 issue (I can't link to the full articles, as they are premium content). Highlighted in this report were the findings that 1) interaction between strangers has decreased while interactions among existing friends and family members has increased 2) but these increased interactions among family and friends had degenerated from meaningful connections (long conversations about feelings, goings-on, etc.) to more insignificant "pings", often sent through text messages (im in frnt of physics bldg - wher u at??).

The impact of this is that we draw closer to our existing friends and family, but we simultaneously push out the possibility of finding new friends. I'm not the only one to notice this - "I Love You Man" was about a successful, normal guy who couldn't find friends and had to go on "man dates" to find someone to hang out with.

People are getting sadder and lonelier too - and they are getting more dependent on their spouse for friendship and companionship than ever before. A study from 2006 suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly isolated from one another and are losing close friendships and confidants. If you couple the loss of a sense of community with the anonymity of the internet, you get a lot of people who feel disconnected, isolated, sad, and free to do as they choose once they're online.

This ties in to the job search because job seekers are getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of common courtesy they're being shown throughout their interactions with companies. Job seekers report that the biggest frustration during the job search is not the lack of available jobs, but the lack of response from companies that are hiring. Companies are literally pummeled with resumes all day and sometimes must sift through 500 per day for one position. This makes that task of interacting with each applicant very difficult, but not impossible. And what companies like to forget is that these job seekers that they so happily shovel off into a trash pile will one day have jobs and may be potential clients or customers. It pays to treat everyone with respect, regardless of how worthless you initially deem them to be.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

This b**** is crazy (but her website is pretty sweet)

I've been looking through a lot of so-called career resource sites lately and I came across this one called Brazen Careerist. This site is meant to be a place where Gen Y workers can read about job advice, blog about their own experiences, and explore companies who are Gen Y-friendly. It's an impressive site if only for its expansive and ever-changing blog posts on such topics as "5 networking tips for shy or introverted people", "The power of resourcefulness: A guide to peeing in the shower", and "Paula Abdul and workplace inequality" (lol, I know I hate it when I come to work zonked on oxycontin and my co-workers make fun of me).

Brazen Careerist is based on the work of self-styled millenial guru, Penelope Trunk, and her book of the same name. I've been reading her blog for a little while, and that lady is seriously crazy. Her site is good, she's probably smart and knows stuff about marketing and entrepreneurship, but some of her stories are plain bonkers. In her most recent post she says she has never worked for a man for more than 3 months without developing a huge crush on him. Her next topic in the same post is how to tell if a business meeting is actually a date.

Now I'm certainly no Gloria Steinem, drum-beating feminist, but I don't think that, at a time when women still make on average $.78 to every dollar earned by men, it's good for male managers to think their female employees are a bunch of empty-headed giggling school girls only interested in flirting and unable to focus on doing real work. If Penelope Trunk is one of the foremost experts on careers, millenials in the workplace, and job advice for women (specifically young women), then I seriously have to doubt the quality of her advice if it appears that she's so hormonally charged (and maybe unhinged).

Scroll through her blog posts and you'll find out that she's had 2 abortions, both for the sake of her career, she was a first-hand witness to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11, and she spent time in a mental asylum for an eating disorder in college. She may be one of the most interesting women in the world, but I'm really not sure she should be dispensing advice. And at a time when young people, and especially young women, are vulnerable due to a poor economy and sucky job prospects, I think we all need to be wary of whose career advice we take.

Monday, August 3, 2009

More heroes of a litigious society

According to this BBC article, a woman in the Bronx is suing Monroe College because after getting a bachelor's degree in IT, she can't get a job and she blames the college's deficient career services department for her unemployment.

A) Cry me a f***ing river. B) Why didn't I think of that? C) This girl is my hero.

Colleges lure students in with promises about jobs, and connections, and blah blah blah, but they can rarely deliver on their sales pitches. Let's take a look at a quote from the University of Iowa's placement rates page: "100 percent of the College of Nursing's graduates are typically employed within six months of graduation." I'm not sure how to interpret this sentence. Does it mean that most graduates TYPICALLY get employed within six months of graduation, or does it mean that 100% of graduates ARE employed six months after graduation? You see the number 100% and think, wow, what a great school, but the word "typically" is sufficiently vague such that the real placement rate could be just about anything.

I'm curious to know more about this specific case with Monroe College: Was she a good student? Did she put in a tremendous amount of effort to get a job? Exactly what was promised by career services? And was the career services office at Monroe lazy and incompetent, or were they malicious and counterproductive? My own experiences with career services offices have been extremely unfavorable, so I wouldn't be surprised if the people at Monroe told her politely to go eff off once her tuition check cleared.

So will she win the case? Probably not. Is she justified in suing? My gut says yes. Colleges have become de facto trade schools, and most students are only there for the job training and alumni connections (and the beer pong, natch). Colleges do nothing to dispel this image, so they need to be more accountable when their graduates can't get jobs. If career services does not exist to get jobs for students, they should change the name of the department to "Office that organizes a bunch of garbage seminars you're forced to go to but which yield no benefits other than free stale bagels".

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The myth of Etsy

(Sorry for not posting in a while - I had a wicked case of writer's block/not giving a crap)

I went to the Renegade Craft Fair last week and was astounded by how talented and creative the crafters were. This wasn't one of those hideous craft fairs where the average exhibitor is 65 and makes her living carving and painting "Gone Fishin" signs. The people at this fair were all pretty much in their 20s and 30s, and were uniformly witty, trendy, and unbelievably talented. My crappy crocheted hats I have at home seemed laughable in contrast to the screen-printed cashmere sweaters, quirky t-bone steak earrings, and cupcakes adorned with handlebar mustaches.

Being at the fair reminded me of this article on double X about Etsy, the online boutique for crafters and independent artisans to sell their stuff. The article explains how Etsy seems like a great way for crafters to make money, but how most people don't make even remotely enough to earn a living. This doesn't surprise me, as I originally learned how to crochet and knit with the intention of making things and selling them. The problem with this idea however, is that your hourly wage ends up being miniscule. If I make a good looking hat, which can take, at my speediest, 4 hours, I need to sell that hat for about $30 to even make minimum wage. The unfortunate reality however, is that a hand-crocheted hat probably won't sell for $30 - it'll probably sell for $15 or $20. And who wants to make minimum wage anyway? With my masters degree, my opportunity costs are very high if I pursue crocheting as a career.

The other thrust of the double X article is that Etsy was founded by three men (who no doubt make a nice living off all those hard-working crafters), but the site is by and large used by women. The article asks, "If the site is such a great way for anyone to market handmade goods online, then why is it such a female ghetto?" The author goes on to say that men are likely immune to the allure of combining meaningful work with parenting, and are better able to evaluate the site in terms of its economic merit. I find this claim slightly offensive, since it would only take a woman 3 seconds of basic arithmetic to figure out that you can't live off of crocheting wages, so to say that men can grasp this concept and women can't is troubling. But maybe it's true and women are deluding themselves en masse. I'm sure Etsy is making bank through this recession though, as more women are laid off and try crafting as a way to earn income.

My solution is that all these talented women need to form a collective, rent out brick and mortar stores, and start a national chain of hand-made stuff. Then they'd benefit from economies of scale, a unified brand, and face-to-face exposure to customers. The problem of wages would still persist, and would maybe cause some crafters to outsource production, but I see this as the only way to make any real money off of crafts.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Career Advice Fail

I read an interesting article today on Careerealism that says you must proactively brand yourself to show up favorably in Google searches, or risk looking like...shudder...yourself. Apparently 4 out of 5 recruiters are using Google to snoop at potential candidates, and if they don't like what they see in the first few hits, you're SOL for your job search.

What about this is fair? Nothing. The article suggests that you put up a nice photo of yourself for your Facebook profile (not just one where you're sober, but avoid looking sleepy, sloppy, interesting, unique...). The article also recommends that you blog, comment, and create an online personality that would appeal to recruiters - this advice fails on many levels: a) most people don't have anything interesting to say, present company included, b) it's guaranteed that commenting on marketing blogs won't actually get you a job unless you want a job commenting on marketing blogs, and c) I think it's a sad day when the unemployed are not allowed to be as apathetic and self-centered as they want to be. And to force people to feign interest in something in their spare time, just to get a soul-crushing desk job, is cruel and unusual torture.

The article caps it all off with an anecdote about an Iraq War veteran who was profiled in an article about his experiences. This article, available online, caught the eye of a recruiter who Googled him, and propelled him tot he top of the resume stack. Soooooo...the takaway message of this anecdote is....get a newspaper to write an article about you, and then pray like hell that a recruiter sees it? I was featured in my college newspaper for barfing on the chancellor - does that count?

This kind of ridiculous advice springs from two places: 1) the current recession has spawned a vast industry of "job search gurus" who need to say stuff all day long to stay relevant, even if their advice is garbage, and 2) recruiters think they're gods ever since the economy dried up. I'd be really interested to find out how many recruiters have begun demanding bribes to advance job seekers through to companies. Do you think cupcakes and scotch would do the trick?