A Common Job Application is Needed

August 17, 2010

It’s August. Students, teachers and administrators are heading back to school. Many will be freshmen on college campuses, and high school juniors and seniors are looking at colleges and starting the application process. An article in the New York Times talked about the Common Application for college admissions. I remember hearing about the Common Application when I was in high school, and how it simplified the process of applying to multiple schools. You basically supply all your basic information: name, address, birth date, along with your academic history, demographic information, extracurricular activities and work history. Standard information every college applications requests. The difference comes in the essays, which is what usually interests admissions officers more so than your contact information.

You know what else requests standard information like name, address, birth date, education and work history, etc? Yes, that’s right. A job application.

Regardless of whether you are applying for a position with a Fortune 500 company or the local retailer down the street, you are handed or fill out online, an identical application, with the exception of the corporate logo at the top. Unlike college, however, there is no Common Application for the job seeker. As I mentioned at the bottom of this earlier post on job applications, being able to submit the same general information once, instead of multiple times, will make the job application process easier. No need to create account after account with what essentially amounts to a handful of companies (Taleo, BrassRing, Jobvite to name a few), and continually fill in the same information.

The ability to enter standard information once will add a level of efficiency job hunting has yet to experience. Now there’s a frightening thought, no?

I’m convinced there is a better way to job hunt, from both sides of the aisle. A key ingredient is jobs, of course, but since no job board is devoid of open positions, there are jobs to be had. So it becomes a question of how to more efficiently match prospects with openings. And with millions fed up with the job hunt, simplifying the process might entice them to return while eliminating a step or two for hiring managers. If you only wanted local candidates, wouldn’t it be easier to have those applications automatically filtered out? And as a job seeker, wouldn’t you rather spend your time crafting tailored cover letters, or responses to additional questions, than filling in your name, address, phone number, email address, education and work history for the Nth time?

Perhaps a way to spur job growth in this country is to focus on improving the job application process. And perhaps a common job application is one place to start.



Trend Observations: Privacy and the Economy

August 10, 2010

I’ve noticed some trends recently:

On the subject of privacy:

  • The Wall Street Journal published a series on the obvious, but then again it may only be obvious to those of us who have been paying attention and studying it. So kudos for deciding to use its heft to educate the populace, for once. We can argue about the Murdoch slant, and the issue of “tracking” WSJ does in another post.
  • Facebook is the first to take a body blow on the subject of privacy, and often pointed to as the villain we can’t live without. People seem to forget the amount of data Google collects across all of its services. I suspect it’s because Facebook puts all its offerings under one roof, or one website, while Google has spread its out over multiple websites (Gmail, Picasa, Reader, Search, etc). And let’s not forget the amount of information it collects/tracks from its Android mobile OS. And there is the other brick-and-mortar places that collect data as well yet remain nameless since, well, they are brick-and-mortar stores, not bytes exchanged over the Internet. What harm could they possibly be?
  • People are getting wise to what they give up in the name of convenience, from credit card transactions to Web search histories to photos uploaded to wherever, not to mention “checking in” on FourSquare, Gowalla and the like. There is not yet a mass against, but there are tremors of something as people start to pay attention, to learn, and not like what they have discovered.
  • The population at large will have to do some soul searching on what, exactly, privacy means and what value, if any, it has.
  • Building privacy education into curriculum is still not an idea, outside Germany. Another example of US falling behind in education? Then again, how can you teach something you still can’t define?
  • Wikileaks finds itself caught in the cross hairs again after it released thousands of once-classified documents. Another instance of innocent bystanders caught in the middle, perhaps, that I have written about before. However, you have to admit that Wikileaks accomplished something many can’t quite figure out (or refuse to do): putting all documents related to a topic in one spot.

On the subject of the economy:

  • Bailed out financial industry is reporting profits.
  • Bailed out auto industry is reporting improvement, perhaps profits.
  • Another stimulus package is saving…ahem…retaining…jobs….government/education jobs.
  • Industries that get a bailout return to profitability.
  • The general public has yet to get a bailout, and will thus continue to suffer.

A few things are clear. There is no escaping the issue of privacy, and sooner or later we’re going to need to come to a consensus. You can bet those who feel their interests (wallets) are threatened will mount a hefty lobbying effort. Be interesting to see how lobbyists react when their “privacy” is violated in some fashion. If it doesn’t exist, as they might claim, then they shouldn’t get so upset, right? Kind of like the ridiculousness of Eric Schmidt getting upset that people could use Google to find his house. Expect much “cleaning up” of online profiles from lobbyists, which itself begs other questions. We are going to need to come to a consensus.

The government bailouts are working, though not in the manner in which the government wants us to believe. Industries that were bailed out have turned profitable again, yet aren’t being quick to hire. And industries that have not been bailed out are struggling, if not collapsing. One can conclude that a bailout = profitability, and the general public is putting two-and-two together. How well they do that may be reflected in upcoming elections.

It is clear, however, that there is no one solution to the ailing economy. We’re all a bit “Great Recession” weary now, and it is not surprising that tempers are flaring. Everyone gives a knee jerk reaction to news, good or bad. Hard pressed to find good news, come to think of it. There is too much uncertainty, no one knows what to believe. The public also¬† seems to be weary of the “trial and error” method the government is using.

With such creative job quitting the past couple days, though, from the flight attendant to the woman who quit via a dry erase board, you can only hope such creative thinking will be applied to creating jobs, too.

Mixing Lawyers and Entrepreneurship

January 21, 2010

Tonight I attended #TechThursday, an OfficePort staple. If you’ve never been to one, come to the next one. You remember Shortcts.in, no? From this post?

Anyway. Tonight featured a guy named Raman Chadha (Twitter, website), who runs the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center at DePaul (Twitter, website). He asked for questions on his site, and, naturally, people posted some today. We may be entrepreneurs, but for some things, we still wait until the very last minute, a point that did not go unacknowledged.

The first part of his presentation started out like just about every other presentation from a business person or an entrepreneur: hatered for Corporate America. We all have come to the realization, on our own or by force, that we simply cannot work for other people. I know this. You know this. Yet the point always has to be made, like it isn’t a discussion of entrepreneurship without saying how much we despise Corporate America, regardless of reason.

Truth be told, I tuned out.

He mentioned something that caught my attention, though, as it continues to dog the legal industry: wealth of information and experience in fragmented fashion. In other words, there aren’t connections, or bridges between groups because everyone works in a “silo.” They are given a specific task, or series of tasks for a department and that’s that. Each “silo” has its own expectations, tasks to complete, rules, etc. He pointed to educational institutions, of all these great universities in Chicago but no bridges between the “silos.” No bridges even within university departments.

A thought occurred to me: pity DePaul Law School for not taking advantage of what’s in its own back yard. Pity any law school for not taking advantage of something like the Coleman Center to help teach what law school can’t (or won’t, depending on your point of view).

And what is it that law school doesn’t teach? How to be an entrepreneur. In legal speak: how to successfully hang out your own shingle and run your own law firm.

Instead, other people form companies to teach lawyers how to market their skills, how to become “rainmakers.” Please don’t mistake this as an insult, or bashing of those companies. I think it’s good that people are willing to step up and fill a gap law schools, and thus their graduates, ignore. Not because they must, but because the market hasn’t called for change. The market hasn’t said hey, I need to be able to market myself, I need to be able to bring in clients, I need to be able to sell services.

The market hasn’t said hey, I need to do all these things within the ethical confines of the law.

The market hasn’t said.

Yes, it has. Bar associations are starting to pay attention, as are other legal consulting companies. There are a number of laid off lawyers out there looking for work, or looking to hang out their own shingle. They might be terrified of the thought because they only know the law, not how to be an entrepreneur. That can be scary, especially when it’s just you. Something like the Coleman Center is in a position to step in and be supportive. And it is in a position to help bridge the gap between the success and energy that comes from attending conferences on the “business side” of law, and the inevitable return to “the grind.”

Alas, changes in law move slower than molasses. That’s just the nature of the profession, they say. And perhaps we are all a bit slow to react. 2008-2009 was a bit of a whirlwind, we’re all just catching our breath.

Chang is coming though. The upcoming MH Connected webinar “Navigating the Ethical Pitfalls of Social Media,” on which I am a panelist, is just one example.

And what better time to take a breath, step back and look around. While we’re all re-evaluating, what exactly are we preparing future lawyers to do? More of the same? Or is it time to shift, even just a little, and give future lawyers (and the rest of us) a skill set beyond just the law?

A course or two, maybe a series of electives, for those who want to start their own firms. Those who have struck out on their own (by choice or necessity), have remarked that though well versed in the law, they know little or nothing about the business side of law, the “entrepreneur” side. If you follow me on Twitter, or read this blog, this is a topic I’ve discussed before. Until tonight, I just figured it was law schools that needed to start developing these courses, or bring in alumni for a seminar on “Going Solo.”

Something like the Coleman Center, though, can provide a broader understanding. It can do that by providing a different viewpoint from that of the solo lawyer or small law firm, help solos and small firms see the bigger picture. Legal professionals have a habit of focusing on their particular area of expertise, and forget to step back and take in the sights. An entrepreneur must step back, re-evaluate, correct and eventually replicate.

I’m really interested now, in what would happen if you brought in law students, current solo lawyers and/or newly laid off lawyers looking to start their own firms. I wonder if anyone else has thought of this.

So what would happen if you mixed young lawyers with an entrepreneurship…training ground like the Coleman Center?

Another Use for Google Wave: Therapy

January 5, 2010

There the article, “Poll Reveals Havoc of Unemployment¬† on Workers and Family”, in the New York Times that reminded me of an article I read awhile ago about video conference or virtual therapy for soldiers, which has been a topic in the news lately. More often, it seems, in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings. There are also been articles on the long-term unemployed struggling under burdens no one expected, and then a Wall Street Journal article out today, “Studies: Mental Ills are Often Overtreated, Undertreated” that got me thinking: What about Google Wave as a tool for counseling?

Let that sit for a minute while you think of what normally qualifies as “counseling” or, to be less confusing, therapy. “Counseling” is a term that gets tossed around by many different groups, and thus has many different meanings. College counseling. Credit counseling. Legal counseling. You get the idea. “Therapy” is usually distinguished by another description or qualifier, like “physical therapy.” Without such a distinction, it usually means psychotherapy.

Therapy falls under a favorite health care insurance term: “pre-existing condition.” And seeking treatment for even the most minor of issues, like job transition stress, can be considered grounds for denial. Most health insurance plans don’t cover therapy anyway, or cover such a small number of sessions it is not worth submitting claims. Psychologists and other therapists still take insurance, though, but many do not for a variety of reasons. I never quite understood that until my own battle with individual insurance coverage, which you know has been an enlightening experience on many levels. It’s kind of ridiculous that “health” is not an all-encompassing phrase. It has to be divided into “physical health” and “mental health,” with “physical health” receiving the majority of coverage and “mental health” being an after thought.

After coming across the above mentioned articles, meshed with the chaotic mess of health insurance, I found myself thinking Google Wave, along with Skype, might provide a low-cost, not to mention more convenient, alternative to the standard form of therapy. Standard form as in showing up at an office at a specific time to discuss a topic (or topics) for a 50 minutes (though you pay for 60, I think). And there is that potential hazard of being “seen” though I think in this day and age, no one would pass judgment. We could all benefit, on some level, from therapy, no?

Continued talk of budget cuts, especially in Illinois, make people nervous. Some service is other is always on the chopping block, and our support systems are failing, failed or on life support. Take the CTA, the way most people get around in Chicago. Instead of worrying about your bus route getting cut, or service reductions, both of which would impact your ability to get to the office of a therapist, making therapy a “luxury” instead of a “necessity,” wouldn’t it be nice to just plop down in front of your computer at home? Log into Wave or Skype and start chatting for 50 minutes, then sign off and move on with your day. Or call it a night.

Of course, there are a few barriers. Not everyone has access to the Internet, and probably wouldn’t feel comfortable Skyping from the library (if Skype is even accessible from the library). Or even using Wave since, well, Google would know more than you care to admit. Yes. That’s right, the big “P” as in “privacy.” Patient confidentiality. Not necessarily a guarantee if using Skype or Wave or any other form of electronic communication. That is precisely why the profession is slow to adopt email. But if people willing type information into Google that they wouldn’t dare share with anyone else (so claimed a CNBC segment about Google), then using Wave for therapy does not seem that far a stretch.

This aversion to technology is bothersome and annoying. Don’t get me wrong; I understand why. However, it is time to overcome that aversion in the name of better care and better service. Someone, undoubtedly, will play the “eye contact/facial expression” card, arguing that you just can’t provide effective therapy if you aren’t able to read the nonverbal cues, or hear the tone of voice. I beg to differ, especially since Skype has video capability.

And not all therapists have an aversion to technology. Do a couple Google searches and you’ll find those who have built sites around email therapy, or some kind of online talk therapy. Moving to Wave wouldn’t be too difficult, especially if Wave can be hosted on their own servers instead of Google. May not matter. No doubt all email communication contains a lengthy disclaimer at the bottom.

Perhaps Wave and Skype are not the best tools for long term therapy, but I’d wager them to be effective for short term therapy. Alas, we won’t know until some people somewhere try it out. And that requires a therapist and a patient (participant?), or a few, to try it and see what happens.

I’ll let them figure out the whole issue of billing/payment. PayPal seems the obvious choice, or perhaps industry standard billing methods still apply. I bet there’s a way to better qualify (quantify?) that, and streamline it as well. Now wouldn’t that be something?

I’m curious to see what people think of this. No doubt there are other uses for Wave in the medical profession, and many other professionals, as well. Merely scratching the surface, as they say, no?

Where is the Job Application Transparency?

December 11, 2009

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to present this, and each time I end up arguing with myself. One side tosses up the pros while the other shoots them down with the cons.

As you may know, I use Meebo to chat with people on just about every IM client, and I think it is a good model for a Web Dashboard application. I’m a fan of Meebo not only because I can talk to many people on different IM clients at once, from one window, but also because of its simplicity. It isn’t busy, like Gchat or Facebook chat. Those open up in Gmail and Facebook, respectively, which means I have to stare at my overflowing inbox and stuff people post to Facebook. Sometimes, I just want to chat without all that distraction.

Every once in awhile, I need to refresh the screen, which prompts me to log in again. That happened today, and my eyes fell on a new blog post: “Hiring Secret Sauce.” I couldn’t believe it. Was a company actually providing more than a cursory glimpse into its hiring practices? Was it, *GASP* being transparent?

Yes, as a matter of fact, it was.

Elaine states that “Without amazing hiring practices, you’ll never find or attract the team that will build amazing products,” which seems to be the mantra all companies strive for but never actually vocalize in such a succinct manner. Really. Ever notice how much text is on a corporate Careers page? And how the content often sounds boastful, like you’re a complete idiot for NOT wanting to work at such-and-such a company. It seems to me that companies would rather keep their Careers sections a secret, especially when the only way to find the section is through a Google search.

So, amazing hiring practices are necessary to attract a team to build amazing products. That almost seems like a no-brainer. It is this “amazing hiring practices,” or just “hiring practices” at all, that is puzzling. To be perfectly blunt, it’s a black hole. The Internet is overflowing with news articles, blog posts, tweets and other information about it. You send out countless resumes and receive, more often than not, one of two things as your reward: silence or the cookie-cutter rejection.

Reading about the “Meebo simulation,” then, was rather refreshing and a bit encouraging. It also seems like a common-sense approach to hiring, and one other companies might be more apt to employ.

The post describes it as this:

a 3-hour exercise that represents a typical task that someone would expect on day one in that role. For instance, a potential Visual Designer might be asked to create three icon concepts, work with the team to narrow it down to one, and then spend the remaining time polishing that concept. Just like a day-one experience, candidates are encouraged to ask questions and to consult whatever resources they’d normally have available to them (online searches, favorite books, even previous snippets of code written).

It achieves two goals: it showcases whether or not a candidate has the skills candidate claims to have, and it introduces the candidate to expected functions of the position. I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say it: experience is an irreplaceable tutor.

Being told what the job functions are, even reading the job functions (so often for the same position at different companies you have them memorized), does little to prepare you for the actual work itself in the actual environment. You get that experience during the “probation” period, those first 90 days when you and the company get to know one another.

Meebo’s “simulation” takes care of that at once. Or at least it sounds like it does. You basically get to be a Meebo Employee for a day, which seems to be more effective than shadowing, or going through round after round of interviews and the other, standard hiring methods. Meebo immediately caters to your strengths, which presumably are why you applied for a particular position.

It strikes me as a fresh approach to job hunting, from the other side of aisle. I still think there is a better way to look for a job than endlessly sending out resumes, networking and other standard methods. For one, being able to submit a resume to one, or all, of the software recruiting firms (Taleo, BrassRing) instead of creating account after account at different corporations, educational institutions and the like, would make a difference. That discussion, however, I will save for a later post.

Suffice to say, there is now a glimmer of hope in bringing transparency to the job application process.

Why Bringing Back the Draft is Good

November 7, 2009

Before you start jumping down my throat, hear me out. And I write this knowing full well that if the draft were, in fact, to come back, I myself as still of drafting age. And yes, I am operating under the assumption that women would be included. I have difficulty seeing a draft without women, but that is not the focus of this post.

I only ask that you keep an open mind, and hear me out.

The jobs report came out this past Friday, showing unemployment has risen to 10.2% and that the “broader measure” stands at 17.5%. That is an astounding number. That is an awful lot of idle talent, talent that may be put to effective and productive use if the draft is brought back. And here is why I think that:

  • Drafting Americans will increase troops which eliminates the issue of having more troops to send aboard.
  • Drafting Americans increases the size of the armed forces, which means that more weapons, vehicles, armor and other products are necessary.
  • Making more military products requires transform factories.
  • Transforming factories puts them back on line.
  • Putting factories back on line puts people back to work.
  • Putting people back to work makes more effective and productive use of idle talent.

Innovation is a topic that comes up time and again in this country. Innovation leads to job creation. Innovation leads to technological advancement. Innovation leads to continuous prosperity. Well, how can people be expected to innovate while unemployed? The question is tricky. Having been there, it is not easy to answer. Bring back the draft, and subsequently turning idle, abandoned factories into productive ones, who knows what innovation may occur?

Taking people off the streets and putting them into the armed forces will do the obvious: dramatically increase troop levels. But it has the potential to do more than that. Who knows what bright, idle minds can accomplish when given a set of tasks to complete? Tasks that aren’t sitting in front of a computer screen mindlessly looking for jobs, or standing in line at a career fair or the unemployment line that produces nothing. I can tell you from experience it is quite demoralizing. Endlessly applying for jobs, getting one or two interviews only to be turned down takes an incredible toll on the pysche. It makes it that much harder to repeat the process knowing that it has a high probability of being in vain.

Being put to work, though, whether as a member of the armed forces or as part of a factory team, creates purpose. It creates a goal, something that can and will be achieved. Be it meeting a quota of automatic rifle parts or coordinating the logistics of a raid, the result is tangible.

I know it may be a temporary, and highly unpopular, solution. But given the state of the economy, given the general depressed mood of the country, there are good gains to be made by bringing back the draft. And there is nothing that says if drafted you are automatically put on the front lines. The Washington brain trust wants to get the best out of its bright minds, and putting everyone on the front lines will not accomplish that goal. Strategists are needed. Translators. Support staff. You get the idea.

Mandatory service helped us out of one Depression. It is possible it can help us out of this Recession. And who knows, we may end up creating a wealth of innovation that will last for the next generation. There was great prosperity after World War II. And this time, we’re already in a war so there isn’t question of involvement. It’s a question of resolution, which now can include innovation and growth.

All options must be put on the table. Like the reset, there are good reasons to bring back the draft, and there are bad reasons too. All I ask is that you think about it in a big picture context.

After Thought: Bringing back the draft will also relieve the many service members who have served more than one deployment and, as the shooting at Fort Hood, numerous counts of suicide and homicide committed by veterans demonstrate, need a long break. And that break can be given without detracting from the goals that have been set out in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Lawyer Connection and the Total PMA Community

September 30, 2009

Last week, the Total Practice Management Association (TotalPMA) launched its new website, and with it the TotalPMA Community. Having joined early, just before the “Get-A-Life” Conference, I was quite pleased with the redesign, and with the community.

The membership is quickly approaching 900 (at the time of this writing), which quite a few people have pointed out to me is considerably more than the membership of Lawyer Connection in days, instead of months. Isn’t that exactly what I don’t need? Another competitor to Lawyer Connection? And how do I plan to compete?

My answer is: no.

I don’t see the TotalPMA Community as competition; I see it as being complimentary to Lawyer Connection. The two serve entirely different needs. TotalPMA is affiliated with Total Attorneys, a company dedicated to helping solo and small firm lawyers handle the business side of law, the stuff law schools don’t teach, so that lawyers can “get a life” or be in a better position to find that often elusive work/life balance. The TotalPMA Community builds on that goal, providing a space where solo and small firms can share ideas, experiences, etc. on work/life balance.

Lawyer Connection, on the other hand, is about helping out-of-work/laid off lawyers network as they look for a new job, or take the plunge and hang out their own shingle. It’s lawyers helping lawyers through the economic downturn, and beyond. The membership is a good mix of seasoned veterans and newly minted lawyers, along with people in between and legal consultants. There is some overlap in membership between Lawyer Connection and TotalPMA, which is perfectly OK.

So, from my perspective, they serve complimentary purposes, and work better in collaboration than in competition. Lawyer Connection is a good spot to find and connect as lawyers get started in one way or another, and TotalPMA is a good spot to find and connect with lawyers who have figured out, or are figuring out, how to strike a work/life balance.

If this recession has taught us anything, it has taught us that work and money aren’t all there is to life.