Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting Back in the Groove

Yep, another long absence. I've got to get better about this. Sigh. Well, it's another chance to use my "lame excuse" tag, at least.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Spicing it Up, and Standardization Thoughts

JobSpice is a neat online resume creation tool. If you haven't seen it already, I recommend checking it out.

In my ideal world, every company would use the same application system and want resumes in the same format, so that we all wouldn't have to spend so much time and effort not only submitting resumes and applications, but reviewing them (on the receiving end) as well. I'm kind of surprised there hasn't been more standardization on this front yet, but who knows? It could happen. Until then, though, tools like JobSpice will make things easier by helping the resume creation and editing process take less time.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Still Alive

Yes, I'm still here, though it might not seem that way. The new (old) gig is going well, and I will start another year of grad school in a couple of weeks.

I've got some possible post topics in the works -- anonymity and privacy online, long-term development, learning new skills, networking, and more. I'll post them as they are written; I tend to do much of my writing and brainstorming away from my computer in spare moments here and there.

So, in case I don't post again until Fall (hopefully I won't be that lame this time around), enjoy the rest of your summer!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Permanently Hired Mind

It's been a busy month. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen that I was offered and accepted a permanent position at the company where I'm currently working as a consultant. Though I received word of this a couple weeks ago, I will still be a contract employee for one more week, and after that I will be a permanent employee of the company.

This is the first permanent position I've held since I graduated from college seven years ago, so it's a new experience for me. As such, I expect the transition will provide some good blog material, since I plan to keep this blog despite no longer being one of the people on which it focuses. When you've done something for seven years, you get a lot of experiences and subjects to talk about, and I'm not done talking about it yet.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

On Disclosure

I hope you had a good May, since I clearly wasn't around here for most of it. Since I came dangerously close to letting the whole month go by with only one blog post, I decided that I should do something today in order to salvage it at least a little bit.

I want to talk a little bit about disclosure and what I do, since I haven't made any official statements about it before now. So, here it is:

-- I won't identify any companies I currently work for or have worked for in the past on this blog. If you really want to know, contact me by email or track me down using another method (I'm not too hard to find).

-- I also will not identify any consulting firms, staffing agencies, or other organizations that have placed me or that have had me do work for their clients. Again, I will discuss this with you in private, and am willing to share my experiences, but not in public here on the blog.

The privacy of those who employ me and their clients is very important to me and I will respect it. Now, that is not to say I will not ever mention these organizations, just that if I do so, it will not be regarding anything that affects or involves me. If my policy ever changes, I will post a notice to that effect.

Now, back to talking about being a Hired Mind. See you in July!

No, just kidding. I'll actually post some things this month, and I have a number of topics already in the pipeline.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Specialization is for Insects

If you're a fan of science fiction (like me), you've probably heard of Robert A. Heinlein. Even if you're not, I think the following quote is an excellent summation of the need to be well-rounded:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

I don't actually think he meant this literally, of course. It's very unlikely that someone would have all of those skills. However, the underlying argument -- that a person should know how to do as many things as possible and not limit themselves to one narrow niche -- is very sound. You never know when having a skill will help you take advantage of an opportunity that otherwise might not be there. This doesn't mean you should flit about from one discipline to another, being a Jack (or Jill) of all trades and master of none. But when you have the opportunity to learn something new, take advanatge of it.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Top 50 HR Blogs to Watch in 2009

While Hired Minds isn't an HR blog per se, there's some overlap with them, as I talk about work and career issues in my corner of the world, albeit from the other side of the desk. As such, I read a lot of HR blogs, and think that anyone could benefit from doing so.

Evan Carmichael agrees with me that HR blogs aren't just for HR pros, and as such his list of The Top 50 HR Blogs to Watch in 2009 is definitely worth reading so that you can find about some of the best HR bloggers out there.

And, of course, I have to shamelessly plug it if for no other reason than my wife's blog, HR Minion, is listed at #45.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wordle Resume Analysis

It's been a busy few weeks for me, what with starting my new gig and wrapping up my last class until next fall. So, it's time to ease back into blogging. To start, here's a neat little activity you can do with your resume that I discovered at Kerry Sandberg Scott's blog Clue Wagon:

  1. Go to
  2. Copy-and-paste your text resume.
  3. See how it looks. Do you see a lot of action verbs? Do you reuse the same ones over and over? Is it too heavy on the buzzwords and acronyms?
I thought this was pretty cool. I'm familiar with Wordle and knew about its potential uses for text analysis, but I would never have thought to have used it for something like this. A big thank you to Kerry for showing us this!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Creative Resumes

Normally, when it comes to resumes, it's best not to get too creative. It's generally preferable to use an established format and layout with standard fonts.

That said, this resume is totally awesome, in a geeky way (you'll probably need to zoom in to see all the detail).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Direct Feed

I've started a Twitter feed specifically for this blog here. After this post, I will use that feed for any future announcements of blog updates unless I decide it isn't working out. I'm not sure if I will keep the Twitter widget on the right hand side or not, since just showing Twitter updates that I've posted here wouldn't make any sense. However, some of you might like my random thoughts and chronicles of my day, so we'll see.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Back in the Game

You've probably already seen this if you follow my Twitter feed, but in case you haven't, I'm going to be joining the ranks of the employed again soon (in a little less than two weeks, to be exact). I will have a contract position at my former client, and on the same team, but in a different role working on an ongoing project. I'm very happy to have landed this, not just because it's work, but also because I'll be working with people I really like and helping implement something that will add a lot of value for the company once its underway. I'm looking forward to being back there.

I'm still going to be writing in this blog, though, even if the past two weeks might make it seem like I've forgotten about it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are Job Fairs Worth It?

Remember me? It's been a while. I've been busy with the same stuff, and am still doing a lot of job hunting. One aspect of job hunting that I've been thinking about this past week is job fairs.There's going to be one here in the Twin Cities this week sponsored by a certain large job site. I was thinking about going to it, but today decided against it. Here's why:

-- I don't know who's going to be there. The certain large job site was supposed to list the participating companies, but hasn't yet. For all I know, it could be companies that wouldn't have anything for me even if the market was strong. It's hard to do research on the attendees when you don't know who they are.

-- I might not get to speak to hiring managers. They could be there, but it's also just as possible I will be talking to an intern or someone else who is representing the company, but doesn't actually have any hiring authority. And that's assuming the company is actually hiring. Sometimes, companies attend just to collect resumes or promote themselves. Nothing wrong with that, but my time is limited.

-- It's a lot of work for an unknown payoff. I'd have to spend a lot of time preparing for this to be effective, doing things like printing more resumes, getting my interview outfit ready, researching the companies, preparing specific pitches to these companies, and so forth. Now, the counterargument is that I should be doing these things anyway, and I'll cop to that. But it doesn't change the fact that I'd be going in mostly blind. I think you need to take risks, but you also have to be smart about using your time in a job search.

-- There will probably be a ton of people there looking for work. As such, it makes it harder to get a chance to actually talk to anyone.

-- There's plenty of other ways I can look for work that would be as effective. It's 2009. Not only are there numerous job sites and aggregators, there's company websites, social media, and online networking sites, not to mention all the recruiters and staffing firms I could talk to (and I do all of these things). Job fairs are just one option of many.

Now, are there reasons to go to a job fair? Sure there are. For example, there might be presentations that look interesting or feature speakers you've heard good things about. There could be services such as resume critiques or interview coaches that would be worth checking out. Additionally, if it's a fair for a specific company or industry that you know is hiring, then it's probably worth going to.

Generally, though, I think you need to think about whether a job fair is worth your time. In my case, I think there's job hunt activities I can do that day that will be more effective.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Run Silent, Run Deep

So, after a week where I managed to post every day, I follow it up with one where I don't post until Friday. I've had a busy week, though -- met with recruiters at two staffing firms, attended my HOA's board meeting, and had the usual homework, job hunting, and stuff around the house to do as well. Next week promises to be pretty full too, but I want to do a better job of regular posting.

In the meantime, I suggest you check out my wife HR Minion's blog. She's currently working as a contractor after working in an exempt position for the past two years, and she discusses some of her recent thoughts and experiences here, here, and here. The other entries are excellent as well -- but of course, I'm biased.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

One Week Later

Well, I made a commitment last Saturday to post each day this week, and I'm glad to say I've kept it. Granted, yesterday's post was very light, but they don't all have to be weighty dissertations.

I will say that I think I'll have an easier time posting regularly from here on, as long as I don't take any long breaks. If you do something often enough, it becomes second nature. Despite posting every day this week, I still have a backlog of topics I want to post on, so I don't think I'll have trouble keeping the pace up.

I'm not sure if I will post tomorrow or not; I will have some stuff to do to get ready for a busy week ahead. But we'll see.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Movie Day

Well, today's going to be the equivalent of those times in school where the teacher just puts on a movie for the hour. What can I say -- Watchmen comes out today. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Logistics of a New Gig

So, you've landed yourself a freelance or contract gig and are all psyched up to start. It's a very exciting time! However, before you begin working at your new job, there are some logistical details you will need to find out in order for everything to go smoothly:

Where exactly is the job located? You should find this out before your first day, when you're running late due to forgetting something at home, need to put gas in the car, etc. Use GoogleMaps to find out how to, and if you're taking mass transit, figure out which routes you need to take, where to get on/off, and how much it costs. Also, does the employer provide onsite parking (in the downtowns of large cities, they often don't), and will you need to register for a permit to use it?

Who do you report to? Besides their name, you should get their phone number and title if possible as well. Additionally, if you were placed through an agency or consulting firm, you should have the contact information for the people you work with there as well in case there's a problem and they need to verify something with the client.

How will you be paid? I'm assuming you will know how much you're getting paid, but there's other things you should find out too. On what day will you be paid? How do you submit your hours -- do you need to fax in a timesheet, enter information in an online system, etc.? When does that information need to be entered by? Who approves your hours, and if they can't do it by the required time, who is there backup? Who do you contact if there's an issue?

If it seems like there's a lot of questions to ask there, you're right -- there is. I can't begin to tell you how many issues I've seen with this over the years from myself and other people. They all get worked out, of course, but it can save a lot of worry and frantic phone calls to know all of this up front.

What's the dress code? Nowadays, these run the whole range from allowing t-shirts and shorts to requiring suits. Business casual seems to be the standard nowadays, but you can't assume this. If for some reason you don't know what the requirement is, dress up. It's always better to be overdressed than underdressed.

What are the building hours, and when specifically are you expected to be there? It's important to know the earliest and latest times you can be in the building in case it comes up, and if there is weekend access. Additionally, you should find out when they would like you to report on your first day and what hours they expect you to keep going forward (they may have exact requirements, as is often the case in a call center, or they may not care at all). Furthermore, are there holidays or other days when the location will not be open? This could affect how much you're paid that week depending on what you get for holiday and vacation pay.

If you can think of anything else that's good to know before starting a new contract or freelance position, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What's In A Name (And Does It Matter)?

I chose the name for the blog that I did because I was looking for something that could serve as a catch-all for the types of workers I blog about. It's not something I would use in everyday discussion, of course. Mostly because, while I think it's a nice blog title, I think it would sound pretentious and dorky to seriously refer to oneself this way.

This does raise the question, though, of just what exactly you should call yourself. Obviously, if you do mostly freelance work, then "freelancer" works just fine. However, it gets muddier when you get your paycheck from a company that pays you to work at a client full-time. Are you a consultant, a contractor, a temp, a vendor, or what?

Honestly, I don't think it matters very much, if at all. One client I worked at referred to everyone who worked onsite but wasn't paid by them as contractors, another one called them all vendors. Meanwhile, the staffing firm I've worked at most recently calls us all consultants. "Temp" seems to have falled out of widespread use except for certain specific meanings (like a temp-to-hire employee). What about companies that call themselves consulting firms -- how are they different from a firm that calls itself a staffing company if they do the same thing? This all gets confusing very quickly if you let it.

So, don't let it. Odds are very good that you'll have an official title that addresses what you do anyway, so just use that and note on your resume that it was a contract or consulting position, whichever you think better reflects the nature of what you did.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In the Pipeline

Reflecting on my recent posts, I realized that I haven't talked much about the original focus of this blog -- that is, the working life of us hired guns. So, I'm going to remedy that in the near future with some stuff I have in the works that's more devoted to consulting, contracting, and temping than the more general career discussions I've had lately.

Here's some topics I'm going to be looking at, though I make no promises as to when I will post on them:

-- Your staffing/consulting firm and you
-- Contract positions for newbies (focusing on people moving into these from permanent positions)
-- Permatemps, and why companies use them
-- What you need to know before starting a contract, consulting, or temp assignment
-- The difference between contractors, consultants, and temps (short answer: pretty much none)

In addition, there will be posts on more general topics as well as I feel like doing them.

By the way, I added a number of links to the blogroll over there on the right that I think you'll find interesting. If you have a blog or website that you'd like added, and it's related to the subject matter on this blog (even loosely), let me know in the comments or send me an email, and I will consider it.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Too Much Information

When you're writing your resume (in your pajamas, not your best Brooks Brothers suit, I might add), it's important to know what needs to be on there and what shouldn't. Over at, HR blogger Ask a Manager has a great blog post titled 7 Things to Leave Off Your Resume that's very much worth a read.

Some of these are widely known -- for example, it's not common practice in America to include a picture of yourself unless it's for something like an acting or modeling gig. Also, it's widely agreed that a third page is a bad idea outside of very specific situtations. But a few of these are actually things many people do, such as including objective statements (seriously -- your objective is to get a job, hello?) and including proficiencies that are obvious or extremely common in 2009 (like being able to use Word). Not everyone will agree with all of the advice -- I've worked with some recruiters that wanted me to list every single individual software program I knew, for example -- but it's all at least worth considering.

Check it out and see what you think. Plus, check out the author's main blog as well. Which reminds me, I need to update the blogroll...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

All Dressed Up, and Nowhere to Go

(Note: astute readers will notice that this blog has gone through a few different visual incarnations lately. I changed the template back to this one after deciding I didn't care for the others.)

I don't know about you, but I usually don't spend my days at home sitting around in a suit and tie. Frankly, it's an accomplishment if I'm wearing socks. No, when I'm home, I keep it casual.

And yet, there's quite a few articles and blog posts about there on job hunting that say you should get dressed each day as if you're going to work when doing your job search.

Why? This doesn't make any sense to me.

I suppose the reasoning is that, by putting on your work clothes, you get in the business mindset and are more likely to treat your search like a job, with regular hours and a structured day. Now, the treating-it-like-a-job part is something I agree with. Most of us need structure to get the best use of our time. But the clothes? I don't agree there. Being professional and focused is something you should be able to do no matter what you're wearing, and I think that most of us are perfectly capable of staying on task, writing great emails, and talking to recruiters and contacts on the phone while wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants.

Of course, I don't like saying "never" on this blog. If you really finds that this helps you, then by all means do it and don't let me tell you otherwise. And obviously, if you're going out and meeting with people face-to-face, you should look professional. But for day to day searching of job websites, maintaining your social media networks, and researching companies? Bring on the bunny slippers.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Self-Imposed Challenge

Lately, I've been averaging about a post a week here on Hired Minds. While that's not bad for a blog that's just starting out, it's not where I want to be, either.

As such, I plan on posting at least once each day starting tomorrow through the end of the week. Mostly, it's just to get myself in the habit of posting regularly. I don't know if I will keep up that pace afterwards, but surely I can do it for just a week, can't I?

I don't plan on giving myself a prize if I make it or anything like that, nor punishing myself if I don't. This is just for the sake of doing it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Piece Of Your (Hired) Mind

If you're looking for work right now (and, statistically speaking, there's a reasonable chance you are), part of your job search process should be finding out as much as you can about possible employers or clients. And what better way to do that than to hear from the people who have actually worked there?

Two sites that let you do just that are Glassdoor and Jobinions. Both of these sites let you read anonymous reviews, both positive and negative, of companies from past and current employees. Glassdoor also includes salary information for various positions (real numbers for specific positions and companies, too, not the abstract ranges you'll find at some job sites for general titles across an industry).

Of the two, Glassdoor has much more information, as Jobinions was just started this week and thus far only has two reviews. That said, Jobinions has big plans, including eventually creating reports on companies that give a summary of company characteristics based on the reviews submitted.

Of course, these sites will get better the more submissions they receive, so you should feel free to contribute (in fact, Glassdoor lets you see a lot more information if you do so). If you do that, be sure to follow some basic guidelines:

1. Post anonymously. Should be obvious, but still worth pointing out.

2. Be civil, fair, and mature. Criticism is fine -- that's why these sites exist, after all, not just for the benefit of prospective employees, but also so that employers can identify issues in their organizations and compare them to others. However, anonymous or not, you'll just look silly if you post critiques that are petty or immature.

3. Share the positive as well as the negative. If you really don't have anything positive to say, then fine, but it's good for companies to get credit where it's due. Plus, different people like to work for different types of organizations, and a place that other people hate may be just your thing.

I'm sure there are other sites out there like this as well. If you know of any, feel free to share them in the comments.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why Vlogs Aren't All That

I hope you had a great Valentine's Day if you observed it, and that you, uh, have a great President's Day, I guess. Today I'm going to talk about a growing trend in blogging, and why I'm not really a fan of it most of the time. The trend? Video blogs, or vlogs.

It's easier than ever to record, edit, and post video on the Web. Even my cheap little EeePC comes with a basic webcam and simple video recording software. I've yet to use it, though, and odds are you won't see a vlog post on Hired Minds anytime soon. To be honest, I'm concerned that this is taking off so much (even though it's been around for several years). It's not just that I'm not a fan of them for the most part, it's also that if you're a blogger, vlogs are quite possibly causing you to lose readers.

Why the drama, you ask? Well, consider the following:

1. Most people spend time at work reading blogs, and (let's be honest) this is often done somewhat surreptitiously. If you have a video on your blog, the reader either can't listen to it or has to dig out headphones to hear the sound, considering that they probably wont want other people to hear it. This will also apply when the reader is, for example, reading your blog on their laptop while watching TV with their family. Better hope they have a DVR so they can pause American Idol! Additionally, watching a video will draw a lot more attention than reading text on a screen. These factors will combine to cause people to not read your blog post at work.

2. They can be hard to view. Not everyone has a fast Internet connection, and sometimes people may be reading your blog on a mobile device. In the latter case, video can be especially problematic since some mobile browsers don't handle video well unless it's formatted specifically for mobile devices and, more importantly, unless someone has an unlimited data plan, the video will eat up tons of their allotted download memory. As a result, these folks are going to skip your blog.

3. Most people can read faster than you can coherently speak. People typically can read significantly faster than a person can talk while still being understood. Granted, this is a generalization, but I would guess that's probably very true in the case of frequent blog readers. Unless you're doing an auctioneer impersonation, I can read your blog post faster than you can talk about it.

4. Most of the time, vlog posts don't add value. The bulk of vlog posts I've seen are just someone (or people) sitting there talking about something. How does this add value to your blog? We can get this information just as easily by reading it. Plus, I will bet dollars to doughnuts that you spend more time working on a vlog post than you do on a standard written post, unless you are a fantastic improvisational speaker and have a slick video setup. The caveat here, of course, is that sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. If you're showing how to do something, for example, a video could be the way to go. They can also be interesting if you are posting from a unique location or have a special guest on your blog. But most of the time, text is king (or queen).

Brad over at Brad Ideas wrote a post about this a few years ago. I'd say it's still true today, if not more so. If it ain't broke...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


If you're not looking for a job yourself right now, I can pretty much guarantee you know someone who is. It's tough out there right now for a lot of folks. In addition to the standard methods of finding work, there's some great grassroots efforts out there for people to help each other get jobs. One of these is JobAngels, started by Mark Stelzner of Inflexion Advisors, a friend of mine.

The idea behind JobAngels is that, by helping just one person find a job, we can all make a dent in unemployment. Of course, you don't just have to stop at helping one person! There's an official website in the works (and it will be added to the links here once it's up), but for now you can check it out on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Whether you're looking for a position now, want to help others do the same, or both, I recommend that you check out JobAngels.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Get Over Yourself

I've known some people in the past who have been adverse to the idea of taking a temporary or contract position when they've been looking for work. They thought that, in addition to it not being a "real" job, that they were too good for that type of position and that it was better to hold out for a permanent position somewhere instead.

It's understandable that many people would prefer to have a permanent position with benefits and advancement potential. I can't and won't dispute that; some people and their families rely on those benefits. What I will challenge, however, is the idea that anyone is too good for this type of position, because they're not.

Here are some reasons why you should take a contract or temp position if you're looking for work:

1. It's money. Enough said.

2. It's a way to learn about a company. My contract positions have given me the chance to see a number of Fortune 500 companies from the inside, including some that are in the same industry. It's great for finding out what companies you would like to work for on a permanent basis, and which ones to avoid like a simile about the plague.

3. Temporary positions can lead to permanent ones. This will vary depending on the type of position, the company, and said company's current hiring situation. Generally, though, working as a contractor, consultant, or freelancer for a company is an excellent way to show them firsthand what a great employee you would be; it's something no resume, cover letter, or interview can show them.

4. Outsourcing is a growing trend. I can (and will) post about this at length, but more and more positions are being outsourced to consulting firms, staffing companies, and independent freelancers. The reasons for this are too complex to get into in this post (there are a number of factors involved), but it shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Many types of jobs that used to be strictly in-house (human resources functions, accounting, etc.) are now going to contract staff in addition to the long-standing ones such as IT and advertising. If you refuse to take a contract gig, you will increasingly put yourself out of competition for a lot of good jobs.

5. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. Seriously, many people in this country, let alone world, would be very thankful to have any job right now. Going for a permanent job is fine, and in the long term, it's probably more compatible with your goals, but for right now you just need to suck it up. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend the movie Slumdog Millionaire -- not just because it's a great film, but because it can really put your current situation in perspective (it did for me).

Ahh, catharsis. :)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Here Comes Social Media, Part Four

So, what did I think of the book?

Generally, I agreed with Shirky's arguments and conclusions. In particular, I liked how he stressed that the tools themselves are not what are causing social change -- people are the ones doing this, just like they always have; the Web tools are facilitating this, but the users are the drivers. At one point in the book, Shirky uses the printing press and how it replaced scribes as a historical analogue for what is happening now. People always wanted to create books and share information; Gutenberg's printing press just let them do this much more easily. I think the analogue works very well.

I also appreciated Shirky's understanding of the complexity of social media interactions and why they occur. In Chapter Eleven, he stresses that there is no "magic formula" for the success of a platform and that the interplay between its users and elements can create success that is hard or impossible to replicate elsewhere. A network of people on LinkedIn may look very different from one on LiveJournal, and a viral marketing campaign using Twitter could be either more or less successful than one built around Facebook. There's much about using these to accomplish a goal that is still unknown, and Shirky acknowledges (and even embraces) this.

Really, my only criticism of the book is that Shirky at times comes across as too triumphalist regarding social media and the Web as far as improving society. In his defense, he does acknowledge that they can have a dark side, such as his brief mentions of terrorists using them to coordinate attacks or his raising the question in Chapter One of whether social media can reinforce class differences. Nevertheless, I somewhat agree with reviewer Stuart Jefferies of the Guardian who wrote that Shirky sounded "naive about the desirable social changes being unleashed in new media...these tools and these rhetorics can just as readily be co-opted by The Man." Shirky often does come across as someone with an advocacy agenda, and a more balanced view would improve the book.

I hope that Shirky writes a follow-up to Here Comes Everybody at some point in the future, if not as a full-fledged book, then at least as a long article or series of blog posts. I think that it would be very interesting to look back five years from now, for example, at what he got right and what evolved in ways he didn't predict (if in fact anyone could). Shirky is correct that social media is helping people transform society faster than they have been able to before, and, although I think he underestimates the possible negative results, I do mostly agree with him that these changes are for the better.

Here Comes Social Media, Part Three

The decreased transactional costs associated with organizing, networking, and sharing using social media tools creates challenges for established institutions. Blogging platforms, for example, let users publish writings on any subject they desire. Though most blogs and LiveJournals are just used to talk about one's life and keep others informed on one's activities, some use these for chronicling current events and conducting their own version of online investigative journalism. Shirky asks the question, if anyone can be a journalist, does that mean everyone should be afforded the privileges given the established concept of a journalist (such as shield laws)? Traditionally, professions exist because of a need for skilled practitioners in a field with substantial barriers to entry, such as law or accounting. But what happens when someone can use a site such as Groklaw to find case history and precedents instead of paying for a lawyer's services? Shirky argues that the sharing enabled by social media and the Web in general will require us to redefine just who exactly a professional is.

Other examples of challenges to the existing order are Shirky's description of the birth of Wikipedia in Chapter Five and the illustration of how flash mobs were used to protest against the government of Belarus in Chapter Six. Wikipedia showed how people can be brought together by something other than a motivation for financial reward to produce something that often rivals (and sometimes exceeds) the work made by paid professionals. The protesters in Belarus show how social media works by “replacing planning with coordination” (p. 172) and the implications of institutions being unable to predict or forestall group activity, instead being only able to react to it. Improved coordination allows a smaller, weaker group to outmaneuver a larger, stronger opponent. Of course, the actions taken by these smaller groups can sometimes be destructive; Shirky uses terrorist cells as an example of the dark side of enhanced coordination. This reinforces the idea that social media and the Web are only tools, and that the end result is up to the user. Likewise, in Chapter Nine, Shirky uses the unsuccessful Howard Dean presidential campaign to show that just being connected is not enough – people need to have motivation, commitment, and drive to accomplish their goals, and just signing on to be a part of something big by itself will not get results if nobody is willing to commit to the grunt work.

Read on to Part Four to see my overall thoughts on the book and its arguments – where I think Shirky is right, and where I'm not so sure.

Here Comes Social Media, Part Two

Shirky's central argument in Here Comes Everybody is that social media tools by themselves are not going to change the world or drive significant changes. Rather, they enhance forces and behaviors that already exist in society by enabling the ease of coordination, and as a result, the speed of social change and the ability of small groups of people to influence it are greatly increased. As Shirky states in the book's first chapter, “The tools are simply a way of channeling existing motivation.” (p.17)

Shirky begins by providing examples of how events that have been happening long before the advent of social media tools (ranging from someone in Manhattan losing a cell phone to the 2006 coup in Thailand) can be dramatically changed by them. The tools enable people to communicate with others about their plight, connect with those in the same situation or who are sympathetic to them, and solicit advice and ideas from others to assist them with their situation. Additionally, they help with the sharing of information to those who otherwise might not know about it, raising public sympathy and even driving established institutions to action (such as causing the New York Police Department to treat the missing phone as a theft, or compelling the media, NGOs, and government bodies to pay attention to the coup by means of posting photos on Flickr). The people in these situations could have tried to do these things before the tools were around, but their chances of success were significantly enhanced by using them. Like Timothy B. Lee wrote in his review of Here Comes Everybody on Ars Technica, “Building an organization with thousands of members is an expensive and cumbersome process when your communications tools are the telephone and the US Postal Service. It's much easier and faster when members can sign up on a web site and communicate with one another via e-mail.”

A point that Shirky first makes in the second chapter and returns to throughout the book is that social media is enabling this phenomenon by lowering transactional costs. For example, it used to be that someone looking for a model railroad club to join near where they lived would have to find a physical directory of such organizations, ask around, look for announcements on bulletin boards or in local media, and generally expend significant time and energy to locate such a club (and that's assuming its presence was well-known or publicized). Not surprisingly, many people would think this was a lot of work, get discouraged, and give up. Yet with tools such as Meetup, Facebook, and others, finding the model railroad club would be just a matter of typing some words into a website. Furthermore, if a club didn't exist, these tools would make it very easy to start one and recruit members.

When one considers that these tools can also be used for activities with much greater effect on society, such as political organizing or issue advocacy, one can see how lowered transactional costs enables people to take collective action in unprecedented ways. Here Comes Everybody discusses this at length, which will be the subect of the third post in this series.

Here Comes Social Media, Part One

Note: the following will be a series of posts for my PWR 662 class in which I introduce and review Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky. Regular posting will resume soon.

Since this is a blog, you are at least familiar in passing with social media by virtue of the fact that you are reading this. Social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other applications are becoming increasingly large parts of not only individual lives, but nonprofits, businesses, and even governments as well. As with any other widely adopted technology, social media and Web 2.0 applications change how people do things. Furthermore, they are seen as causing long-established institutions and systems to be, if not transformed or even destroyed, then at least challenged. To use this blog as an example, fifteen years ago I would have had to post this on a Web page using either a clunky template or HTML rather than a simple interface like Blogger, and twenty years ago I would have had to publish my thoughts in a newsletter or 'zine rather than online, since the Web as we know it did not exist yet.

But are they actually causing these radical changes? Clay Shirky, a consultant, adjunct professor of New Media at New York University, and the author of Here Comes Everybody disagrees. Shirky argues in the aforementioned book that the applications and software themselves are not causing the disruption – they are simply tools that people use to conduct activities (networking, organizing, sharing and creating) that they have been doing forever. The practical effects of these activities has been limited until now. With social media tools, however, they may be limitless. Starting in Part Two, I will examine what the book says about these ideas and their implications.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tweet Tweet

As you may have noticed, I've added my Twitter feed to the right hand side of the page. My Twitter comments are much more stream-of-consciousness (and often less serious) than my blog posts, so you are forewarned.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


In my last post, I talked about how, although you might be unemployed, you still probably have a lot of stuff to get done. A successful job hunt (usually) takes a lot of time by itself, and in the meantime, you have everything else in your life that normally needs doing. Although it seems like you have all the time in the world at first, it soon becomes all to easy to put things off and wonder where the day (or week, or month) has gone.

The best way to avoid this? Structure. When you plan out your day, even loosely, and maintain good habits, you'll be much more productive, and probably be unemployed for less time than if you just do whatever, whenever.

You shouldn't try to plan your day to the minute, or even to the hour, unless you find it works well for you. However, a basic plan or agenda will go a long way. The specifics of the plan will vary based on your needs and circumstances -- maybe you want to keep your evenings clear so that you can spend time with your family, perhaps you have classes or meetings during the week that you need to schedule around, or it could be that you're a night owl who works best when the rest of us are asleep. Whatever your needs, though, there are some aspects of planning that can apply to everyone:

Don't try to do everything in one day. Pace yourself, and set realistic goals for what you can get done in a day or week. Otherwise, you'll burn out. You may need a job, but spending twelve hours a day searching is not the most effective way of going about it.

Exercise. Physical activity will not only help you stay healthy, it will also energize you and keep you mentally focused as well. I'm not a fan of gyms, personally, but if you belong to one you should take advantage of it, and there's many other ways you can be physically active as well. Even just a walk around the neighborhood to get some fresh air is a great way to keep inertia from setting in.

Get enough sleep. Seriously, if you're unemployed, there's no excuse not to. That said...

Be available during standard work hours. If people call or email you about an interview or other opportunity, it will most likely be during the workday. Sleeping until one might be tempting, but if someone calls you at nine, that's at least four hours before you get their voice mail and can respond to them. And sometimes, getting a gig is a matter of speed. This doesn't mean you have to be at your computer for nine straight hours during the day (in fact, it's probably best if you're not), but you should stay in touch as best as you can.

Take part of a day (or even a whole day) off once in a while. Maybe it's to get a project around the house done; maybe it's just to get a break from the long slog of finding a new employer. But occasionally, you should put the search aside for a little bit to recharge, reflect, and relax.

Evaluate your time use periodically. Every so often, stop to think about what you're doing with your time and make adjustments if needed. Don't fall into a rut.

There's probably more you can do as well. I'll post suggestions down the road if I think of any good ones, and feel free to post anything you have found that works well for you in the comments.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Too Much Time On My Hands...Or Not

Since I am, ahem, "between positions" right now, my days are pretty much wide open. With a few exceptions, I don't have to be anywhere at a particular time and can spend my time how I please. At the same time, however, I have a lot that I need and want to get done. Obviously finding a new gig is by far and away the highest priority on the list, but there are some other things I need to do as well:

-- Blog (duh).
-- Finish renovating the master bathroom. I've been starting and stopping this for a long time and need to just finish this once and for all.
-- Organize the house in general and sell or donate a number of things I don't need.
-- Continue to develop my professional skills, and maybe start learning some new ones.
-- Continue to do the readings and homework for my classes (and eventually register for future classes and apply for financial aid for this summer and next year).
-- Start exercising regularly and getting a decent amount of sleep each night.
-- And of course, spend time with my family and friends.

So, as you can see, what looks like a day all to myself can very quickly be filled up with all kinds of things to do. How am I going to accomplish all of this? That's going to be the topic of my next post.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Curveball Redux

In my last post, I talked about finding out how my contract was finished at the end of the month and that I was interviewing for a permanent spot on the team. Well, I found out earlier this week that, although I almost certainly would have been given the position and did very well in the interview, the company was no longer able to extend the offer to outside applicants. This was a week known for its massive amount of layoffs, and my client was one of those affected. They were laying off several hundred employees, and not filling several hundred more open positions. Although this position was not included in that number (i.e. they still were planning on filling it), the company decided they could not justify giving it to candidates who weren't already part of the company when so many were losing their jobs.

I understand where they are coming from. Even though in the short term its definitely more advantageous to hire a candidate who can hit the ground running (in my case, I already performed 95% of the duties for the position, and have done so for almost three years), the company also feels quite strongly about protecting and retaining its current employees. When you're a hired gun, it's important to remember that you are not actually a company employee -- you work for either your consulting/staffing firm or you are self-employed. I've seen too many people forget this over the years, and it causes a lot of hurt feelings. But, that's a post for another day. The point here is that the company wants to support and keep its employees even when it might not be the most operationally effective tactic, and I respect that even if I lose out personally from it.

As for what's next, I'll get into that next week. I certainly have plenty of time to blog now!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Thrown a Curveball

Speaking of opportunities for hired minds this year, I'm currently looking into those right now, as I found out a little over a week ago that my current gig will be over at the end of the month. My understanding is that this is fairly widespread in the company where I'm on assignment now, as they are discontinuing the long-term use of contractors and consultants in order to save money (which makes sense, since they are expensive to use for long-term roles and it's more cost-effective to just hire these people outright -- but that's a post for another day). I would imagine they will still use them for short-term needs, however. So, I have a couple of weeks left until possible unemployment.

The good news, though, is that my team is also adding a full-time position for which I am extremely qualified (since it has about 95% overlap with my current responsibilities). I've applied for it and I think it is very likely I will get an interview, particularly since I was strongly encouraged to pursue it. There will be competition, obviously, but I am ready for it. Of course, I'm looking into other opportunities as well -- to borrow a phrase from my wife, you never want to put all of your eggs in one basket, no matter how nice the basket. I will keep you all posted!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CNN Says I'm Right

Well, not in so many words. However, there was an article posted today that discusses how businesses are making more use of independent contractors than they used to, and why. As I discussed in my 2009 predictions post from last week, the uncertainty, reduced costs, and increased short-term nature of staffing needs are the driving forces behind this. The article also discusses why people choose to go freelance rather than work on a full-time basis for a company. Definitely worth a read.

Welcome PWR662 Readers!

Just a quick note to welcome everyone from my Writing for Digital Media class to my blog. If you're interested in the subject matter, I hope you'll stick around, otherwise thanks for the visit!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Obligatory 2009 Predictions Post

Yes, I know it's been 2009 for almost a week now. However, it's still early enough where I feel I can participate in the prognostication of what the year will bring in the subject my blog covers. So today, I'm going to look ahead at what I think 2009 will bring for consultants and contractors.

On the one hand, companies have been and will continue to slow their hiring, pretty much not doing so unless they have to in order to keep running, at least for now. This will affect contractors, consultants, and temps just as much as it does regular employees. Furthermore, when there are layoffs, they will definitely be included, and may be among the first to go.

Yeah, that's some deep analysis, I know. However, there's another side to this. When companies do have a staffing need for a project or business expansion, many of them will be more likely to use outside vendors first rather than go to the trouble and cost of hiring regular employees (especially if they think -- or know -- they'll just need to lay them off later). Additionally, it's also possible that companies will decide to make a greater use of vendors as part of their normal workforce composition too. So there will be opportunities as well as challenges in the months ahead.

Overall, I think it will definitely be a tougher year than 2008, but the work isn't going to dry up completely, and there's always the chance things could turn around sooner than it seems. Though I am trying to keep my expectations low, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Just a quick note to let you know that I'm still in the process of getting everything on this blog set up the way I want it, so don't be surprised to see new things appear, other things change or disappear, the layout changes, etc.

Also, I've started adding blogs and other sites that I like and are related (albeit maybe loosely) to the subject matter. If you have a blog or site on here that you don't want included for any reason (or no reason at all), just let me know and I will gladly take it down.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What's In A Name?

So why did I name this blog Hired Minds, anyway?

Well, it took me a while to think of a good name. I actually first got the idea for this blog a while ago, but have been putting it off, and using my inability to think of a good name as an excuse. I tried to think of a title that was both catchy and reflected the content of the blog.

My first idea was Contract Killer, which probably would have gotten me readership, alright, but not the kind I want. I thought about other variations on the hired gun/ronin theme, but couldn't find something that I liked and wasn't already in use by another blog or company. I then considered something along the lines of Hired Geek or This Geek for Rent, but ran into the similarity problem again (plus, I didn't want this blog to seem too focused on IT or technology consulting; I do want to cover that, but not exclusively).

Since this blog is about the 21st Century corporate equivalent of hired help, I brainstormed plays on the phrase "hired hand", and came up with the current title. I think it's appropriate because it reflects how modern work for most people is an intellectual (and social) rather than physical endeavor, so the traditional term needs to be updated for the modern day. It kind of sounds like "higher minds" too, although that was accidental.