Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Empathy for the Other

The emotion I keep coming back to with recent events in the Muslim world is empathy.
Here's an entire, race, religion, region, and many generations who have lived in the shadow of the greatness of their ancestors. Distillation, early cryptology, trigonometry, optics, early understandings of the human eye, early attempts at producing gliders, the crank-shaft, the banking cheque system, etc. All were invented/discovered/rediscovered and promulgated by the Muslims at different heights of their civilization.

Then, well after the decline of their civilization, you have the enlightenment, industrial revolution, global communications, space pioneering, information age, and the digital age all seeming (and sometimes literally) flying over them just out of their reach. There has been an explosion of innovation and quality of life in the world but it has not been distributed evenly.

Compounding this you have the rule of the last several decades by tyrannical rulers in most of the Muslim world resulting in reduced freedoms and opportunities for multiple generations. And sometimes these regiemes seem (and sometimes are) propped up by those who are enjoying the greater quality of life, greater peace, and greater freedoms than you have.

Being immersed in this kind of environment and legacy with a generation or two not knowing anything else, I can empathize with a people who seem to be easily agitated or don't understand that liberty requires freedom even (and especially) for those who are disrespectful. It doesn't excuse violence or hatred, but it does give me empathy towards those who act that way.

But I'm hopeful (some would say naive). The "Arab Spring" could well be the beginning of a kind of Muslim enlightenment where generations wake up and return to much of the greatness which they are inheritors to. Of course it will be messy, the US revolution and establishment were messy too. But the fact that millions of Muslims are now beginning to breathe the air of freedom gives me hope.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Job Hunting in the 21st Century: Your Professional Network

With the advent of the internet and online social networking, there are many more opportunities to network professionally than before. Many in-person networking skills are transferable to the online space, but it can take some initial getting used to. Just like in-person networking, networking online requires a dedication of time but pays dividends down the road.

Networking Online


The beauty of online social networks as compared to in-person networking is speed. Online networking allows you to quickly build your network, search it, and find useful information in ways not possible in person. However, there's still no replacement for in-person networking. Online networking should be used to supplement in-person networking. Effectively using online social networks can be a very powerful way to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in your industry and make connections that lead to in-person contacts or that otherwise wouldn't have been possible.

Building Your Network

The process of building a professional online social network is essentially the same across most social networks.
  1. Find people/coworkers/companies/organizations/authors/technologies/bloggers/etc. that are prominent in your industry.
  2. Follow/Subscribe/Like them.
  3. Look at others that those from #1 are following.
  4. Look at others who also follow those from #1.
  5. Repeat from #1 now including those you found from #3-4
Traversing connections like this, you can see why these sites are called social "networks".

As you're building your network, your account page will begin to have a steady stream information from those in your network. Information which can be very valuable from this network includes:
  • Upcoming events
  • Conferences or conference recordings
  • White papers
  • Interesting articles/blogs
  • Webinars
  • Job fairs
  • Open houses
This stream of information can be a powerful way to keep current in your industry and can lead to in-person networking opportunities as you attend events, conferences, job fairs, and open houses.


Although valuable in and of itself, consuming this information is only part of the approach. The internet was built to be interactive and social networks thrive on this principle. Some ways that you can begin participating include:
  • Posting status updates relative to your industry. I find it good to ask myself at the end of the day, "What cool thing or skill did I learn in my industry today?" and post about that.
  • Re-post content from your stream that you find interesting. This is appreciated by those who originally posted it and highlights your activity in the industry.
  • Reply to those who post content in your stream. This can strike up conversations and lead to good connections with others.
  • Write a blog post about what you know and your experiences in the industry then post a link to it on your account page. You do have a blog don't you?
In each social network, there is a way to direct your post at people and/or reference others in your network. Doing this causes your post or update to appear on the page of those you referenced as well as the pages of those who follow them (according to their preferences). Many companies and organizations have staff who are dedicated to managing online social accounts and posting information linked to them can be a way to make good contacts within these companies.

With all of this it is important to be genuine. Just because the activity occurs online, does not mean you shouldn't be just as professional or thoughtful as you would in person. Also, be careful not to post privileged information about your current or past employers.


All of this may seem like it requires quite a bit of time--and that's true. Building a good professional network, whether online or in-person, always requires time and dedication. Now multiply this by a factor of 3 or so in order to replicate this across different social networks and it can be quite time consuming to initially get your networks built. But doing so can have a very positive impact on a job hunt or a career in general.

Fortunately, many social networking sites have a feature where you can link your accounts from other social networking sites. I find this to be a good time saver as it allows me to focus my efforts on one or two social networking sites and allow the others to pull updates from them.

Using the above general strategy, the following are some specifics for different online social networks:



After you create an account, start following the process described above. Besides finding other Twitter accounts to follow, there are particulars on how to effectively communicate on Twitter.


For the uninitiated, a "Tweet" is a status update you post to Twitter that is restricted to 140 characters or less. With this limitation, Twitter has developed a more abbreviated communication style.

The "@" (at) symbol:

This symbol, placed in front of a Twitter account name, puts your Tweet on that account's Twitter page as well as the page of those who may be following it (depending on their individual settings). There can be multiple "@" symbols in one Tweet.

Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs. I learned a lot!
@TrainOSHA Great webinar!

The "#" (hash) symbol:

This symbol, placed before any word, indicates words which you wish to to have this Tweet searchable by. Think of it as a way to tag or categorize Tweets. Generally, it is best to find which hash tags others are using so you use similar tagging terms. These are generally called "hash tags".

Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs. I learned a lot! #google #jobs #openhouse
@TrainOSHA Great webinar! #osha #safety #webinar #free


It is best to link to content. Twitter lets you skirt the 140 character limit when it comes to URLs. It does this by allowing you to link your account to link shortener services (bit.ly) or by automatically using it's own link shortener t.co. This can be configured in the settings portion of your account or by going to those sites and connecting your Twitter account to them. Adding links to your Tweets adds context to what you are talking about and makes your Tweets more useful to others.

Enjoyed the open house @googlejobs ([URL_HERE]). I learned a lot! #google #jobs #openhouse
@TrainOSHA Great webinar ([URL_HERE])! #osha #safety #webinar #free
Once you familiarize yourself with this kind of communication style, Tweeting can be a very effective way to participate in online professional networks.

The above communication style in Twitter is mostly applicable to other online social networks. Rather than re-describe '@' symbols, # hashtags, and contextual links, I will only point out differences in communication styles between the different online social networks. 



Linkedin is a social networking site specifically designed for professionals. Networks in Linkedin are centered around colleagues and groups (both past and present) you've worked with. The networking steps above are applicable to Linkedin.

The most valuable content you put into Linkedin is your resume. See my post on resumes (coming soon) on how to build your resume so it will be easily importable to sites like this. Although Linkedin status updates don't impose the 140 character limit, Linkedin has the ability to pull status updates from your Twitter account and that is what many (most?) people do for convenience. This can be configured in your Linkedin account settings.

Once you've setup your Linkedin account, it is critical to enable public access to it so employers and others who may be seeking to connect with you can find you via public searches. Instructions on how to do this can be found in Linkedin's excellent learning center.



Facebook and Google+ also do not impose the 140 character limit. This allows for longer, more thoughtful posts rather than simply short status-driven messages. However, they are not blogging engines and readers on social networking sites are looking for quick access to information, so keep your content succinct.

Both support '@' symbol directed posts. In a post, after typing '@' and the first character of the person/group/company/etc. in your network, you'll be presented with a list of matches which you can select from. As described above, doing this will cause your post to appear on that person's/group's page as well as the page of those who are following them. 

A Note on Privacy:

Since often Facebook and Google+ are also used for your personal connections, it is important to judiciously use the privacy controls to separate your personal and professional information. One way to do this is to enable your public profile and only use it for your professional networking while keeping personal activity private. Here are instructions on how to enable public profiles for these sites:
  • Facebook: Under "Home -> Account Settings -> Subscribers" click to "Allow Subscribers"and configure its controls. Then when you want to post something related to your professional profile, select "Public" before posting. Be careful to change this back to "Friends" after making a "Public" post.
  • Google+: Under "Account Settings -> Profile and Privacy" click "Edit visibility on profile" and configure how different areas of your profile are available. Similarly, add "Public" to the list of circles your are posting to if you want a post to be public.



Meetup is different from other social networking site listed here since its purpose is to physically connect you to people with common interests in your area. The purpose of this site is to join local groups in and attend "Meetups" where that group gets together in-person. Groups often have guest presenters and events are sometimes hosted by companies. Attending these meetups provides opportunities to make very positive in-person connections in ways not as easy to come by in purely online social networks.



Online social sites provide opportunities in your industry which otherwise wouldn't have been available via more traditional means. As companies search for and leverage these networks, this is becoming the next evolution in career advancement. Following the activity of and participating in these networks can provide an effective way to stay current on the latest developments in your profession and seize new kinds of opportunities.

Previous Post:  Your Online Profile
Next Post: Lifelong Education (coming soon)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Job Hunting in the 21st Century: Your Online Profile

Your social network profiles often form a picture of you that can be more telling sometimes than even your resume. It is important to understand these mediums and learn how to use them to your advantage professionally. For a long time, your professional profile consisted of your resume, the references on it, and any reputation you had otherwise built with people or in the industry. While those are still the core parts of your professional profile, the digital age has changed this dynamic.


How Employers Use a Candidate's Online Profile


Recruiters and employers are increasingly using social networks to gather information on potential and current candidates (source, source, source, and source). Not only is this information being gathered, it is being used to make decisions. A 2011 study from Reppler and Lab42 produced some interesting findings about employer's use of social networking in the hiring process:
  • 91% said they used social networking sites to screen prospective employees
  • The three most popular social networking sites used by employers were (in order): Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin
  • 69% said they have rejected a candidate because of what they saw on social networking sites, with the top reasons why including:
    • Lied about qualifications
    • Demonstrated poor communication skills
    • Posted negative comments about a previous employer
    • Posted inappropriate or discriminatory comments or photos
  • Conversely, 68% said they hired a candidate because of what they saw about them on social networking sites. The most common reasons here including:
    • Gave a positive impression on being a good fit for the role
    • Profile supported their professional qualifications
    • Profile showed candidate was creative
    • Showed solid communication skills
This could be seen as a dangerous slippery slope since there are laws about not disqualifying a candidate based on certain aspects of their private life. However, items you post on public sites are just that, public, and can be included in the hiring processes. The laws that prevent companies from discriminating are usually based on protected classes, so information you post about yourself being in any of those protected classes (e.g. race, sex, gender, religion, political views, etc.) should not affect a recruiter's hiring process (unless you do so in a derogatory manner). In the past, many companies had strict hiring processes that prevented interviewers from interviewing someone if they even became aware of this kind of information about a candidate. Yet now they seem to be all too eager to review online profiles that often contain this information.

Some companies are even taking this further and using tactics like asking (demanding?) candidate's usernames and passwords so they can browse all of their private information, asking or requiring that you friend them, or creating an application you must use which will give them privileged information. If you find yourself in this situation, with rare exceptions perhaps such as law enforcement, do yourself and favor and get up and walk out immediately as it is a sign that the company doesn't value its employees and is too cheap to pay for a background check.

Clearly, the majority of recruiters will look for information about candidates on social networks, so the answer here is not to shutdown your social media accounts or crank the privacy way up. Instead, you should accept that employers are looking at your online social profiles and learn how to use that to your advantage.


General Suggestions


Rather than give detailed instructions, or insights into the inner-workings of different social networks, which will likely become outdated in a short while as these sites and the web itself evolves, I'll just introduce several different sites and give some general tips which will help you take control and build your online professional profile.

First off, it is important to distinguish between public information vs. private or privileged information. Not everything you post on social networks is public information. Most social networks provide different privacy controls. These controls are different for each site and are changing all the time. You'll have to familiarize yourself with these controls and occasionally keep up with important privacy changes sites make. Generally, information which only you can see could be termed private. Information which you share out to specific friends you have connected with could be termed privileged. While a lot of people focus on privacy on social networks, the profile you want to cultivate for recruiters is your public information. You want this information to be found and accessible by anyone.

To test what your public profile looks like, some sites have a "view my public profile" link or button. Otherwise, you'll have to log out and go to your public page. Having different browsers (e.g. IE/Firefox/Chrome) will let you view your public profile without having to log out and in all the time.

Although private or privileged information generally isn't viewable by recruiters, social networks are always redefining what is public information or accessible to 3rd parties. So I find it is best just to ask yourself, "What would an employer think about this?" before posting information. Think before you post.


Do's and Don'ts


First off, some do's and don'ts based off of the study referenced above:
  • Don't use derogatory or inappropriate language. This is good life advice in general. Do your part to make the internet a better place.
  • Don't ever post negative things about your current/former employer or fellow employees. Besides being mean-spirited and totally unprofessional, you'll send potential recruiters running.
  • Don't overuse slang and/or internet memes. Use some discretion here.
  • Don't lock down or delete your online profiles. Disappearing from the internet won't help you with recruiters. Unless you've done enough of these don'ts that you're better off just starting fresh.
  • Don't post sensitive or proprietary information about your employer.
  • Don't use a photo you took of yourself in the mirror of your bathroom for your profile pictures.
  • Do try to use proper grammar and spelling. I know the internet is all about slang, abbreviations, and memes, but try to find a balance. This is especially important if your field of expertise is writing, public relations, politics, etc.
  • Do speak as if you actually care about what you're talking about.
  • Do fill in your likes and interests to reflect what you are passionate about in your career.
  • Do link to your landing site (see below) and other online professional profiles you have.
  • Do post public updates on what you are learning about in your field. Not only is this a good way to demonstrate that you are passionate about your field, it will help you stay current.
  • Do "Like" or "Follow" prominent figures, organizations, companies, technologies in your field. Where possible, join alumni groups of companies you've worked for in the past. This fills out your profile and is another good way to stay sharp as you get updates from those sources.
  • Do use a consistent quality photo of yourself for your online profiles.
Adapting these general suggestions and do's and don'ts across all of your online professional profiles will enhance instead of detract from your resume.




It's very likely you've already joined. If you're a late to the joiner like I was, have avoided it all together, or otherwise aren't interested, simply create an account and just use it professionally. Look at it as merely a part of your online professional profile. If you're an avid Facebook user, pay attention to what employers stated they are (or are not) looking for and build your public Facebook profile accordingly.

Facebook has the concept of friend lists (thanks Google+). This can be helpful in judiciously selecting whom you send posts to. It can be easy to only post to the same restricted group of friends. Be sure to post public information which will be accessible to recruiters.

Learn more about Facebook privacy:




This site is the go-to professional social network site. Rather than just being about friends, this site is geared around resumes and professional contacts or networks. It is heavily used by recruiters and companies. It's surprising how small the world can be and what opportunities can be opened to you simply through the network of people whom you've worked with. This is why it is crucial to build strong, positive relationships with those whom you work or have worked with. Setting up your profile here can take longer since it involves importing or building your resume. See my post on resumes for tips on how to make your resume easier to upload and/or import.

For help getting started with Linkedin:




Twitter is a bit different since it is about short and quick status updates (140 characters or less). This site is a great way to follow your industry. The major exception to the above do's and don'ts is the total abandonment of grammar. With only 140 characters to cram your tweets into, you'll find people get pretty creative with their abbreviations. There can be a bit of a learning curve with becoming familiar with the tweeting style. But once you get the hang of it, you'll see how powerful tweets can be.

For guides on how to have effective tweets:




Some people feel Google+ is just a clone of Facebook. However, Google+ was, in my opinion, the reason why Facebook added friend lists. Competition is good, so I say do the same kinds of things on Google+ and keep the competition alive. Google+ also has the benefit of being run by the search giant of the internet. The potential for search-ability of your Google+ profile is high.

Here's an excellent guide to get you started:




With all of these online profiles, it can be very necessary to provide one single profile landing page which then links out to your other profiles. This way you avoid cluttering up your resume by only putting one link. For this site, it is important to let your creative side out. An aesthetically pleasing page (appropriate for your industry) can really establish a positive connection with any recruiter or company searching. If you're going to put a photo of yourself on here, go get a nice professional portrait. This photo can be different since About.me allows you to use a large, full-screen image. This kind of personal landing page can serve as a kind of online cover page.

Being a web-professional, instead of using About.me I built my own site by hand. If you are in the web industry, a custom-crafted personal site can act as a kind of portfolio piece.

Whatever you use for your profile landing page, you generally won't be coming back regularly to connect with other people or post new content. Set it up once, really nail it, and let it make great first impressions for you.

Here are some quick links to help you see what this site is all about:


Monster & CareerBuilder.com


Since these two sites were created prior to the introduction of social networking, they are a bit antiquated. These sites are mostly just a place to go upload your resume. Many recruiters and companies do pull resumes from the databases of these sites, so I say it is still worth the effort. You'll spend less time on these sites since you don't need to come back regularly to follow people or post new content.




Doing all of this and getting it "just right" can take the better part of a week or more. I've skipped over the details of how exactly to configure your profile for each site, so you'll need to read up on all of the different features available (use the resources links). By understanding how companies use social networks and using them to your advantage, you can build an online profile that will have a positive impact on your job search as well as your ongoing industry reputation.

Previous: Building Your Resume (coming soon)
Next: Your Professional Network

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Job Hunting in the 21st Century

I've decided to write up several posts on my experiences with and knowledge of job hunting. I am, by no means, an expert in the different areas I'll be posting about. However, as an individual who has had to look for work during an economic down-turn and had success, perhaps my experience can provide some help or motivation for those who may be currently looking for work.

Here are the areas that I'll be posting on (I will link to them as they are completed):

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Road to Plutocracy: Follow the Money

I must admit that I am still in a state of shock from Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission where the supreme court essentially stepped aside, or otherwise felt they couldn't or shouldn't get in the way, and allowed one of the most fundamental, profound, and revolutionary statements to be redefined:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Centuries old, and these words still carry the power to light a spark in the human soul. We, through some kind of legal contortion, felt that the foundational idea of a government deriving its power from the consent of the governed could not be upheld in its simplicity. Yet, here I am finding myself still mystified at how this could have happened. There's a part of me that believes that I've allowed myself to get too wrapped up in an academic political discussion about dysfunctions in government and that I just need to wake up from it and get back to reality where I live in a government "of the people, by the people, for the people" as was so eloquently stated.

Fortunately, I still do live in a democracy. However, I feel like I can see this democracy slipping away. When we change the very definition of a person such that it explicitly or implicitly allows for the exact situation which leads to a plutocracy, is that not putting government on a path that ultimately is destructive towards its only rightful ends? And with statements like:
Permit me to issue and control the money of the nation and I care not who makes its laws.
...coming from political-economic greats of long past, it can be easy to lose hope and feel we are doomed to repeat history.

Now, I'm not much of a revolutionary. Nor am I a doomsayer. Perhaps I should be. Perhaps I should care more and be more outraged than I am. But one cannot help but feel totally powerless in a world filled with trillions of dollars, billions of people, gigabytes, wait no, terabytes!, wait no, petabytes!!, wait no, exabytes of information!!!

Despite my lack of being a revolutionary, there is one thing that I am passionate about--data. Data, truth, light, knowledge... we've all heard how it can make you powerful, set your free, fill your heart/mind, and change the world. Indeed, humanity itself is in the information revolution where entire industries have sprung up simply around the acquisition, management, or interpretation of information.

So my small contribution in the fight against corporate person-hood and its precursor to a plutocratic government is a very simple calculation about how money flows into the U.S. government, what that means for representation, and how "we the people" compare against our newly "emancipated" fellow citizens. The purpose of this calculation is more of a thought exercise than it is any kind of detailed audit. My hope is that through this, people can clearly picture what the flow of money means when it comes to staying true to the fundamental concepts on which this nation was founded.

Following The Money

It is no secret that our elected representatives are compensated for their service. Indeed, they should be. Otherwise we would only limit our elected representatives to those who are independently wealthy (although that hasn't stopped that trend from occurring anyways). In 2010, the salary for a senator or representative was $174,000 (source). With 435 representatives and 100 senators, that's a total of $93,090,000 spent from taxpayer money in 2010. Assuming 250 working days in year and 17 waking hours in which politicians can work (have you ever known a politician who stops being a politician before 9am or after 5pm?), this works out to $40.94 an hour per politician. Note that this ignores private citizen campaign contributions.

Now, fortunately, recent reform has required more transparency in lobbying activities. This reform is not perfect, but it at least makes some actual numbers available. From 1998 - 2010 $28,919,684,431 of registered lobbying occurred (source). This works out to a simple average of $2,224,591,110 per year. With the same 535 politicians, same 250 working days, and 17 working hours, this works out to being approximately $978.38 an hour per politician. This too ignores campaign contribution activity.

From this, we have a basic ratio which compares the amount of money private taxpayers provide to their politicians to the amount of money lobbyists provide to politicians: 0.0418.

Now, 0.0418 is not very meaningful so here are a few ways to interpret what this means:
  • If time equals money, then U.S. citizens only get 43 minutes a day of their politician's time. The rest of the 16 hours and 17 minutes goes to lobbyists.
  • For every dollar spent on a politician, $0.95 came from a lobbyist.
  • For every tax payer dollar that goes to a politician, $23.90 is spent by a lobbyist.
  • Citizens spend $40.94/hr on each of their politicians and lobbyists spend $978.38/hr. Who do you think the politicians serve?
Now almost certainly, the initial numbers I started with in this exercise can be debated. I hope they will be. But more than that, I hope any debate around this simple calculation comes back to put things in perspective. I believe that however someone wants to frame the initial numbers, the amount of money flowing from private citizens to politicians will pale in comparison when compared to the amount of money flowing from lobbyists. And for a country that so strongly believes that money is power while also believing that government is "of the people, by the people, for the people" this strikes me as one of the greatest hypocrisies in modern U.S. history.