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.