Saturday, June 14, 2014

New York Now a Toxic City

Bigotry takes many forms.  One form of bigotry involves intolerance of others' political views or economic behaviors. Such bigotry can be as violent as racial or religious hatred.  Dissidents in big-government states have been prevented from working, have been incarcerated, have been tortured, and have been killed.  Examples include the McCarthyism of the 1950s, when communists were prevented from working in the film industry; the suppression of the Soviet Union and China, which often involved incarceration in prison camps, torture, and murder; and the  suppression of dissidents, along with Jews, Gypsies, and uncooperative Catholic leaders, in Nazi Germany.* 

New York increasingly exhibits political bigotry.  The New York Post reported on June 4 that 26 of 51 New York City Councilmen wrote a letter to Wal-Mart demanding that the firm stop giving charity in New York.  The Post reports that Wal-Mart had announced $3 million in gifts to New York this year. It adds, "Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito called the donations “toxic money,” and accused Walmart of waging a “cynical public-relations campaign that disguises Walmart’s backwards anti-job agenda."

Rather than Wal-Mart's charity being toxic money, New York has become a toxic city. It is New York that destroys jobs and destroys wages through its inept regulatory regimes, specifically including the state ban on fracking, whose harms are vastly exaggerated. The high cost of regulation in New York has driven hundreds of corporate headquarters out of the city.  When I was a child, a quarter of the industrial firms still had headquarters there. Because of the policies of jobs-destroying politicians like Melissa Mark-Viverito, three quarters of the headquarters are gone.
*When I visited the Dachau concentration camp in 1975, I learned that many Catholic priests had been imprisoned there along with Jews.  American universities today are frequently anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic, just as Hitler and Stalin were.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

New York Times Finds That Brooklyn College Grads Have Trouble Finding Jobs

The New York Times  has published an article about the difficulty that Brooklyn College business program students, in effect the students whom I teach, are having trouble finding jobs.  That is not surprising because the program does little to identify what jobs are available and what the program can do to offer skills that specifically target the job market that the students face.  My response to the Times is as follows:

Dear Editor:
Thank you for “Degree? Check. Enthusiasm? Check. Job? Not So Fast” (New York Region, June 8, 2014), concerning the inability of Brooklyn College grads to find jobs.  Over the past decade one or two Brooklyn business faculty have proposed that the college establish an objective outcomes assessment system to measure  job placement,  but Brooklyn College has resisted.  The public ought to demand that higher educational institutions publish measures not only of job placement but also of objectively measured performance improvement in skill areas like writing, mathematics, and interpersonal skills. In order for Brooklyn College to improve the job placement outcomes that you describe, the first step for us educators is to objectively know what the outcomes are.  The second is to deliver competencies to our students that enable them to do better. The Brooklyn business program has resisted objective measurement; you have done it for us. 


Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.

Writing: A Basic Skill All Graduates Need

This is the fourth and last  in a series of blogs that I have written  in response to a request from Bob Clary, Webucator’s community manager. The series concerns professional and business competencies that recent grads need. The competencies that I am covering are ethics, job search, interpersonal skills, and writing. This blog concerns writing.

It is important to write well, and it is not too late to learn how. In 2013 CNBC reported that one of the chief reasons that firms reject job applicants is poor writing. CNBC adds: In survey after survey, employers are complaining about job candidates' inability to speak and write clearly.”  USA Today lists Siemens, UPS, BAE Systems, and Loyalty Factor as firms that emphasize writing skill when they hire recent grads. The USA Today article quotes the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (p. 147), which indicates that 97%  of executives believe that the ability to write clearly and persuasively is “absolutely essential” for a student to be ready for college and a career.  

Nevertheless, in 2003 the College Board’s National Commission on Writing published a report entitled The Neglected R: The Need for a Writing Revolution. The report notes that only about 25% of students at grades 4, 8, and 12 are at the proficient level of writing. That is, most high school grads “cannot produce writing at the high levels of skill, maturity, and sophistication required in a complex, modern economy.” Moreover, Jill Singleton Jackson finds in her 2003 doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas that a sample of master’s degree students does not write better than high school seniors.

Three steps are helpful to better writing:  (1) practice, (2) learning, and (3) observation.  The steps do not need to be followed in any order; rather, students and graduates should integrate practice with learning.     
Students can practice by writing at least two 200-word letters to editors or posts to blogs each week.  I comment on Forbes my favorite business publication, and I have my own blog at Having your own blog is an excellent way to practice writing if you post at least two 200-word posts each week.  
The second aspect of practice involves focusing on grammar. Look up grammatical issues online and in textbooks.  When you send a letter or post to a blog, try to perfect your grammar and syntax by referring to grammar books. That leads to learning.  Learn further by reading a few pages about grammar each week.  The Chicago Manual of Style, English Grammar for Dummies, Purdue's Online Writing Lab, and similar books and websites are excellent sources. 
The ambitious student might read a few pages from Strunk and White's classic Elements of Style each week.   The Chicago Manual of Style is available online for $35 for one year.  I also subscribe to the Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Third, you should read every day. This site posts two lists of great novels (one from critics and one from readers).  Well-written business magazines such as Forbes are also useful reading. The point is to observe how good writers write. 
Common Writing Issues

I grade about 200 student papers per year.  The following are common writing issues with which students grapple.

A. In regards to

 In regards to is wrong.   The following are right:

With regard to,
In regard to,
As regards,

B. Semicolons
Several of my students have been grappling with semicolons. They are simple. They only do three things.  This essay is short and to the point.  Recall that independent clauses can stand as sentences.
Semicolons are used as follows:

(1) To join two independent clauses: I go to class; I learn grammar.

(2) To join lists in which commas are present in each item: To learn, I have traveled to Midwood, Brooklyn; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Los Angeles, California.

(3) To join complicated clauses that include commas: I love to study grammar, my favorite; to do my writing assignments; and to read Hayek's and Hazlitt's books.

C. "Would" and “could.”

Recently, about one third of my students has misused would or could in their papers. I wish that would and could were easy to use. Making them easier is their limited number of uses. If you commit the common uses of would to memory, you can limit yourself to those uses and so refine your English writing. If I were you, I would not overuse the word would.

Here are five common uses of would:

(1) As the past tense of "will": "You said that you would let me drive your Lamborghini today."

(2) To express a polite request: "I would like a Lamborghini please."

(3) To describe a repeated action in the past: "When I was a lad, I would walk nine miles to school each day. After school I would chop wood."

(4) To express an unreal situation: "Owning a Lamborghini would let me drive fast."

(5) To express an unreal conditional: "If I were a millionaire, I would own a Lamborghini."

Would is not used for statements of fact or general truth: "George Washington would be the first president" is incorrect. It is also incorrect to write "Under most human resource systems today pay equity would be permitted." 

"Would" is used for unreal situations; it is also used for situations that are conditioned upon unreal situations or unreal circumstances: I wouldn't do that if I were you.

These are related to the second and third conditional forms.

Zero or present real conditionals are statements of fact,  generality or law. They state what you usually do. They use the present tenseWhen I attend Professor Langbert's class, I sleep. 

First (real) present conditionals are statements of conditional fact.  They state the condition that makes a real future event possible and a future real event contingent on a present action: If I attend Professor Langbert's class, then I will sleep.

Second (unreal) present conditionals state an unreal or impossible condition to an unreal or impossible situation. They express the present, but the present condition is expressed with the past tense and the contingent event is expressed with would or could. In the second or unreal conditional you use would to express a situation that you don't think will happen: If I never attended Langbert's class, then I would never sleep.

Third conditionals describe an imaginary past and use the past perfect to express the imaginary past condition and would plus the present perfect to express the unreal past situation that would have resulted: If I had not enrolled in Langbert's class, then I would not have slept this semester.

 If you limit your uses of "would" to unreal situations and conditionals, then you will avoid a common writing error.

D.  Avoid unnecessary or extraneous words like very, extremely, totally, and really. Avoid using the first person (in my opinion).  Don’t insert phrases like  I think that… If you didn’t think it, you wouldn’t be writing it.

E.  Check that the verb tense in each paragraph does not change unless you have a specific reason.  

F. If necessary, check the verb tense that you are using against the discussion on English Page: .

G. Only words that require capitalization should be capitalized. Check your writing against the capitalization rules on .

H. Check your writing to make sure that restrictive phrases and clauses are not preceded or followed by commas and that non-restrictive phrases and clauses are preceded and followed by commas. To understand the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, read these websites: and  .

Non-restrictive clauses add a little information: George Washington, the first president, rode a white horse.

Restrictive clauses are central to the sentence's meaning: George Washington the first president rode a white horse, but during a parade white horses rode upon George Washington the bridge.

I. Do not use a comma to separate the subject of the sentence from the verb. Do not use a comma to separate a dependent or subordinate clause that ends a sentence unless it contrasts with or contradicts the meaning of the rest of the sentence or is nonrestrictive.    When you inject nonessential remarks into a sentence, enclose them in commas: , in his view, ; , as she remarked, . There should be commas before and after the nonessential or parenthetical remark.

J. Check your sentences for independent clauses, and if two or more are in a sentence, punctuate the linkage or linkages correctly.  An independent clause can be a sentence in its own right. If there is more than one independent clause, then there are four potential options for correct punctuation:

(1) Use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are FAN BOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
(2)  Use a semicolon.
(3) Use a semicolon followed by a conjunctive adverb or adverbial phrase followed by a comma.
(4) Bite the bullet. Often, the best option is a shorter sentence. Consider breaking the separate independent clauses into separate sentences.

An Example of a run-on sentence, a sentence that lacks proper linkage of independent clauses, is as follows: 

Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star, he broke box office records and he broke many hearts.

Four alternative potential corrective measures:

1) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star, for he broke box office records, and he broke many hearts.
(2)  Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star; he broke box office records; he broke many hearts.
(3) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star; specifically, he broke box office records; also, he broke many hearts.
(4) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star. He broke box office records.  He broke many hearts.

As revised, all four are grammatically correct from a technical standpoint. Which is the most effective? I say (4). Yet, students insist on long sentences. One time, I broke one sentence, written by a senior, into six separate sentences.

 K. Compound words

Students grapple with writing compounds. For some compounds there is a single convention, and writing it differently from the convention can be viewed as incorrect writing. For other compounds there is disagreement, and you need to consult a style guide that you use consistently.  For example, mother-in-law is always hyphenated, racetrack is always closed, and post office is always open. Notice that the three ways to handle compound words are hyphenated (part-time), closed (keyboard), and open (real estate, middle class). In other cases the handling of prefixes and suffixes may be controversial, but you can consult a style guide and consistently use the style guide's approach.

In deciding which form to use, the first step is to consult a dictionary. This is true for words with prefixes and suffixes if the prefix or suffix is frequently used. For example, overeater is a closed compound word because says so (see:

I usually use the Unabridged Merriam-Webster Dictionary or, which is available for free on the Internet.  If the word is not in the dictionary, then you need to consult a style guide. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is a widely used style guide that is appropriate for business and academia. I subscribe to it for $35 per year and can access it online at . I also own the hard copy and, as well, several other style guides. A style guide commonly used in business schools is the American Psychological Association guide.

Happily, CMS's excellent hyphenation table is available for free online at shows how to handle words with prefixes and suffixes as well as many compounds. For example, a student may wish to write I am an overthinker. The Microsoft spell checker does not accept overthinker, but in the CMS list of words with prefixes it is evident that overthinker rather than over thinker or over-thinker is the right form. This is what the CMS hyphenation table shows:

Over   overmagnified, overshoes, overconscientious

 CMS consistently uses the prefix over with a closed form.

L. Compound Adjectives

If you are unsure of a compound's form, you should look it up in a dictionary, and if it is not in the dictionary, you should consult a style guide that you consistently use.  There is an additional issue: hyphenation of compound adjectives that precede nouns. Note that when compound adjectives follow nouns they are not hyphenated.

 There is a good discussion of compound adjectives at the Kent School of Law website.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Skills Recent Grads Need the Most: Interpersonal Skills, the Sine Qua Non of Business Success

This is the third in a series of blogs that I am writing in response to a request from Bob Clary, Webucator’s community manager. The series concerns professional and business competencies that recent grads need. The competencies that I am covering are ethics, job search, interpersonal skills, and writing. This blog concerns interpersonal skills and communication.

Interpersonal skills are among the competencies that are most critical to early career success.   The classic book on the topic is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Three other excellent books on interpersonal skills and communication are Whetten and Cameron’s textbook Developing Management Skills, especially Chapters Four, Five, and Seven, Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, especially Chapter Five, and Andrew DuBrin’s Winning Office Politics: A Guide for the Nineties. 

Whetten and Cameron point out (p. 285) that junior managers who are insensitive, abrasive, intimidating, cold, aloof, arrogant, or untrustworthy frequently find that their careers have been derailed. Learning how to deal with people is essential to getting ahead and moving up in any organization, whether it is in industry, government, academia, the military, or healthcare.

Empathic Listening

Dale Carnegie gives simple, sound advice: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Give honest appreciation. Be honestly interested in others. Remember others’ names. Smile. Be a good listener. In short, getting others to trust and like you depends on your communication skill as well as your dependability, hard work, and efficiency.  

Steven Covey also emphasizes the importance of what he calls “empathic listening.” In Chapter 5 of Seven Habits, “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood,” Covey emphasizes the importance of putting oneself in the shoes of the person with whom one communicates.  Covey writes (p. 240): “When I say empathic listening, I mean listening with intent to understand.”  In other words, we should care about those with whom we work. 

Certainly, building personal relationships or even friendships with our coworkers is a desirable strategy.  Covey writes of an emotional bank account to which we make deposits when we make others feel good, and from which we make withdrawals when we ask for favors or forgiveness.  Covey shows that empathic listening can be especially effective with respect to integrative or win-win negotiation whereby we attempt to expand the pie rather than to divide it.

There is no question that empathic listening and integrative negotiation are effective much of the time.  They are most valuable in the context of long-term relationships that are important to us.  The more that we can use emotional intelligence to build trust, respect, and understanding through listening, the better our long-term relationships will be.

Contingency Theory of Interpersonal Tactics

Not all relationships in business are long-term, though.  We frequently need to interact with customers, suppliers, consultants, or associates whom we will meet only once or a few times.  Also, we may have colleagues with whom it is difficult to be empathic.  Empathy is a crucial strategy, but it is high in cost.  It is important to be empathic with those who are most important to us, especially our boss, higher ups with whom we work, and employees and colleagues with whom we frequently interact. We need to decide when the empathic strategy works best and when the alternative, managed communication, works best. We manage our communication when we provide responses and information that are appropriate to the situation but may not reflect our natural feelings. 

Management experts call a strategy or tactic that depends on the circumstances a contingency theory. Contingency theories suggest that an appropriate response depends on circumstances, task requirements, personalities, and organizational characteristics.  Organizational culture, for example, may dictate that we always seem smart or that we never seem smart.  Whether we are smart or not is less important than conforming to the requirements of the organizational culture, one way or the other. Other organizational factors such as the organization's tasks and structure also modify how we communicate.

Such organizational demands may pose adjustment difficulties for recent graduates. Most educational institutions emphasize intellectual achievement and ignore interpersonal flexibility.  The idea of appearing in ways other than high achieving is alien to most students' education.  The high-achieving style fits some but not all organizations.  Much as a yogi can bend his or her body in unusual ways, so can an individual adept at interpersonal skills bend his behavior patterns to fit organizational demands.

If an individual works for a firm for a long time, he or she is likely to acclimate to and adopt the organizational culture as part of  their personality.  At first, though, it is necessary to manage responses so that they fit.  

The same is true in dealing with a boss. We need to understand our boss’s aims. Our goals need to coincide with broader departmental and organizational ones.  Moreover, it is useful to mirror.  Mirroring means that we adopt characteristics of our boss or an important client so that we seem to have much in common with them. The characteristics can include interests, appearance, communication style, preference for entertainment, and place of residence. I once worked for a bank in which all of the higher ups lived in Summit, New Jersey.  When an employee was on the fast track, one of the first things that he did was buy a house in Summit.

I once had a student who worked at a major investment bank. He told me that when he had first been hired, he had had trouble fitting in because he had never been interested in sports before, but most of his fellow traders spoke chiefly about sports.  He realized that in order to fit in he would need to follow sports, so he bought subscriptions to Sporting News and Sports Illustrated. After reading these publications religiously, he developed an interest in sports. He found himself fitting in.

A key to the contingency approach to interpersonal skills, then, is deciding when to be empathic and when to adopt a calculated response.  It is important to understand that not everyone in an organization is trustworthy.  For instance, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare’s book Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work outlines the characteristics of workplace psychopaths. As I point out in  Cornell HR Review (and here), between three and six percent of corporate employees may be responsible for the majority of ethical breaches in corporations.  Workplace psychopaths tend to be “manipulative, glib and grandiose."  

Although white collar psychopaths are a small proportion of the population, corporate employees are forced to take on a defensive behavior pattern, creating a Gresham’s Law of psychopathy. In monetary history, Gresham’s Law is the principle that when gold coins were undervalued relative to silver coins, people saved the gold coins and only used the silver coins.  Gresham’s Law is that “bad money drives out good.” Lack of trust drives out trust in many corporations. Under such circumstances, which are common, it is foolish to be overly empathic. One must assess those with whom one deals. If you have seen the HBO series Game of Thrones, you know what I am talking about.

The need for a contingency theory comes up in many interpersonal contexts. In negotiating it may not be possible to share information with a bargaining partner who prefers to be distributive (emphasizing splitting up the pie to their advantage) rather than integrative (expanding the pie).  In motivating others it may not be possible to use Theory Y or trusting leadership because employees may have values that cause them to take advantage of trust; in such circumstances Theory X or controlling leadership is necessary.

Managed Approaches

In developing a managed approach to communication, Whetten and Cameron emphasize the importance of understanding the sensitive lines of others.  The sensitive line is the point at which one’s self-concept is threatened.  If you cross someone’s sensitive line, they are likely to become defensive or disconfirmed.  Defensiveness means one is inclined to protect oneself by attacking the other party. Disconfirmation occurs when one of the parties feels ignored or insignificant. Whetten and Cameron advocate the use of supportive communication tactics. Supportive communication tactics reduce the likelihood of causing defensiveness or disconfirmation in others. 

The supportive communication tactics include being honest, avoiding value judgments, focusing on factual discussion, and validating others by treating them as equals and by being flexible in response to their opinions. When a conflict occurs, the discussion should focus on facts and the behavior rather than the person.  People should take responsibility (or own) their communication, and they should relate what they say to what the other person says.

Whetten and Cameron also emphasize supportive listening. They describe four listening responses: advising, deflecting, probing, and reflecting. These can also be managed to influence the other person's feelings. The point of listening responses is that we can modulate them to encourage or discourage the other party from expressing themselves. Supportive communication means encouraging the other party.   

In advising the listener responds by giving advice. In deflecting the listener responds by changing the subject and  focusing on their own experiences: “If you think what your boss did is bad, take a look at what my boss did.” In probing the listener asks questions. In reflecting the listener responds by acknowledging that he or she is listening. Reflective responses include summarizing and restating what the other person is saying. It involves giving back the message in different words.

The reflecting and probing responses are the most supportive and least likely to cause defensiveness or disconfirmation.  The advising and deflecting responses are the most intrusive and most likely to do so. 


The ultimate key to developing interpersonal skills is practice.  Certainly, empathy is important to developing sound, long-term relationships, but the appropriate response is contingent on factors like personality, ethics, organizational culture, organizational structure, and task.  Good business people need to develop alternative tactics that are appropriate to different settings, personalities, tasks, and organizations and to choose the most appropriate ones. 

Skills Recent Grads Need the Most: Job Search, a Fundamental Competency for Success

This is the second in a series of blogs that I am writing in response to a request from Bob Clary, Webucator’s community manager. The series concerns competencies that recent grads need. The competencies that I am covering are ethics, job search, interpersonal skills, and writing. This blog concerns job search and informational interviewing.

Finding a job, from students’ summer jobs to retirees’ part-time jobs, is a challenge that most of us face at least a few times. The challenge is most acute for those finishing a degree. Finding the right job from the get-go is important to a recent grad’s future, and the sooner that you find the right job, the better off you will be.
For one thing, the salary on your first job affects your future pay increases, so decades later you will still feel the ripple effects of your first salary rate.  For another thing, by finding the right job you will be empowered to do what you believe.  That enhances commitment, focus, and purpose. Clear goals lead to successful performance, and by targeting your chief interest you establish clear, motivating goals.

One of the best books on job search is Richard N. Bolles’s bestseller, What Color Is Your Parachute? (also here).  Bolles makes many useful points: The success rate for mass mailings of job letters is painfully low. A job search should start by identifying your aims and interests. The best way to look for a job is not to look for a job, but rather, to interview for information.

Many students think of looking for a job as a bidding process. They set out to find the one job that offers the optimal opportunity, and they don’t consider whether they are really interested in the field, the occupation, the firm, or the position. That is a mistake. You will spend more time with your career than with anything else, and a loveless career is as unfortunate as a loveless marriage. 

As with marriage, focusing chiefly on the financial dimension is likely to lead to divorce.  Without passion for what you do, the money will not be enough.  It is more expensive to change jobs than to figure out what you want to do beforehand, yet it appears that few do.  According to The Wall Street Journal, half of workers between 20 and 24 have been with their employer for less than a year, and in 2008 the typical American was on the job for only 4.1 years. These statistics suggest frequent job changes.

The Importance of Goals

In my teaching career, which began in 1991 and has included teaching organizational behavior and managerial skills classes at nine higher education institutions, I have asked more than 5,000 students to read What Color Is Your Parachute? and then write an essay about their career mission and goals.  Many students have trouble conceptualizing their goals, and many students have little faith that they can execute the goals that they choose.

Besides doing the exercises in What Color Is Your Parachute?, students who have trouble setting goals for themselves can take the Strong Interest Inventory by consulting with a career counselor or other career professional.  The Strong Interest Inventory is more than 85 years old, and it has been revised many times; the questions concern the test taker’s occupational interests, subject area interests, activities interests, leisure activities interests, and personal characteristics.  It gives scores relevant to occupational themes, basic interests, and personal style. These can help you to identify fields that are of interest to you.

To some degree it is not so important that you find a goal that you love as that you find a goal to which you are committed. If you cannot think of anything that you really want to do, then pick something that you think is a likely suspect, and focus on it and only  it. 

Interview Not for a Job, but for Information

Once you have focused on a specific job, field, salary, and set of achievements that reflect your mission, your practical job search can begin. Bolles says that 1,400 letters and resumes are needed if you are going to play the numbers game of mass mailings.  Moreover, it is unlikely that you will find the very best jobs that way.  The reason is the unseen job market.  Applicants fill most jobs, and virtually all of the great entry-level jobs, through personal connections.  If you do not have personal connections, mass mailing of cold letters will not likely help you to get the best jobs.  Advertisements and headhunters won’t either because entry-level jobs are mostly filled through the unseen job market. The unseen job market is the web of personal connections through which employers fill most jobs.

In the early 1990s, before the advent of the Internet, I taught an on-site class at a major cosmetics firm’s Long Island plant.  I asked the class this: “How many of you got your job through newspaper ads, through personnel agents, through headhunters, through career fairs, or through personal connections?” Every single student in the class had gotten his or her job through a personal connection.

If you wish to work in advertising, investment banking, consulting, or in other high-end jobs, you need to consider how to make the contacts that will give you a leg up.  The answer, which Bolles establishes in What Color Is Your Parachute?, is informational interviewing.

Informational interviewing is a way to tap into the hidden job market by establishing personal connections with a number of professionals in your field.  One way to informational interview is to start by identifying people who are already successful in your field.  You can do this in a number of ways: through scanning a listing of alumni available through the college career center, through reading articles about specific managers in the business press, through calling firms, or through visiting professional association websites.

Many professional associations list their members, but they only make the membership list available to other members. That’s one good reason to join the professional association in your field. Another reason is that professional association meetings are great places to use a slightly different method of informational interviewing:  setting up informational interviews at professional association meetings.

After you’ve identified 30 to 100 managers who are likely to have information that will be of value to you in beginning your career search, write each a letter to set up an interview. Don’t write them all at once; rather, write them sequentially.  You will only be able to do one or maybe two informational interviews each day. Job search is a full-time job.

In the letter say that you have heard of them and their achievements and that you would like to request an in-person meeting so that you may learn from them. State explicitly that you are not looking for a job.  The reason is that you are asking for an informational interview, not a job interview.

Using bullets, indicate a few sample questions that you would like to ask in the interview such as how they got into the field, whether your degree is appropriate, and what the emerging problems in the field are. Make a mental list of 10 or 15 questions, but when you actually go on the interview you are unlikely to need a list. Once you ask a few questions, the interviewee will open up, and the meeting will become a free-flowing conversation.

In the letter give a specific date and time on which you will call to set up a meeting.  When you call, attempt to make an appointment with the individual’s secretary, or leave a message on an answering machine. Three failed attempts are the maximum.

Many students wonder whether business people will be willing to meet with them. The answer is a qualified yes. From five to thirty-five percent of the individuals whom you contact will be willing to meet with you in person.  Even if the percentage of yes answers is only five percent, the response rate will be twice that of mass mailings. More likely, you will be able to achieve a ten to  fifteen percent response rate, three-to-seven times better than that of mass mailings. 

The reason more managers will see you because of an informational interview letter than because of a job search letter is, first, that they often don’t have a job opening, but they are interested in meeting an available applicant. Because people hate to say no, they will see you for an informational interview but not for a job interview. Second, most people enjoy giving advice, and this is a great opportunity for someone to indulge themselves in that great pleasure. Third, many managers know about informational interviewing, and they are happy to participate because they may someday be in the same position as you are now. Who knows? Maybe when they are looking for a job in the future, you will be willing to interview them.

After the meeting, ask whether they know of anyone else who might be willing to meet with you. Also, tell them that you will keep them apprised of your progress.

The informational interview serves at least two purposes. First, by going on 20 or 30 informational interviews, you will learn a great deal about the field.  In 1996 I went on a series of a dozen informational interviews, and I found that after about six or seven the interviewees were asking me for information rather than the other way around.  By learning much about the field through an informational interview, you place yourself in an advantageous position when you obtain interviews using traditional job-search methods. In a sense, you are engaging in a benign form of industrial espionage.

Second, by meeting people in the field, you establish connections.  Since most of the best jobs are obtained through the hidden job market, through connections, you are opening up the possibility of an offer in three, six, or twelve months.  Bring a resume, but do not offer it. They are likely to ask for it.

Many students are reluctant to pursue informational interviewing because they fear rejection. Given that only five to thirty-five percent of interviewees say yes, that means that ninety-five to sixty-five percent say no.  That means that people who informational interview have to put up with rejection most of the time. The same is true of many high-value-added business tasks, such as sales. Rejection is a necessary stepping stone to success, whether you aim to be an entrepreneur, a trader, an author, or a scholar.

The job-search skill is important because your first job is likely to define your future ones. It is just as or even more important to know how to look for a job as it is to have gone through the best academic program.  By doing it right the first time, you will make early gains that will multiply over your career.  

Monday, June 9, 2014

Skills Recent Grads Need the Most: The Ethical Dimension

Bob Clary, the community manager of Webucator, has asked me to identify and blog about a valuable skill  that recent grads need to succeed. Bob would like to make the job market a less scary place to recent grads of his program, and he's asked bloggers with relevant knowledge to offer advice.  Bob writes this:  "We’re excited about this newest blogging campaign in our Webucator Asks series, and we look forward to reading about creative ways to help guarantee success!"

I decided to do Bob one better and identify four skills to write about.  The four skills that I am covering are ethics, job search, interpersonal skills, and writing.  Interpersonal skills boil down to communication, and communication is the focus of my discussion on that topic. This blog and my next three will cover these skills just as I discuss them with my students.

I start with ethics, the most basic of all managerial skills. Ethics is a competency or skill just like job search, interpersonal skills, and writing. Many students mistakenly believe that there is a dichotomy between profit-making or high wages and ethics.  That is a false dichotomy. Making money is a good, just as honesty and concern for others are goods.  Our job as business people is to balance these and other goods or virtues so that we, our associates, and society, can flourish.

As Warren Buffett pointed out in a talk he gave in the 1990s to MBA students at the University of North Carolina, ethics is much of the reason high achievers achieve.  It is true that in the short term money can be made through dishonesty; it is also true that low achievers can become successful by dishonest means. Look at those who engage in organized crime or in government corruption. They can be successful, although corrupt executives, as in the cases of Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom, pay a high price when they are caught.  Nevertheless, the reason we seek education is to achieve well, not to become drug dealers, confidence men, or thieves. Education is not necessary for such professions.  We achieve well and successfully on an ethical foundation.

The reason the most successful achievers achieve is that they play by the rules of the game. They respect their customers, their employees, their stockholders, and their society.  As society becomes more concerned with the environment, environmental concerns become business concerns.  That is why customers repeatedly return to a firm that produces great products, and that is why society turns to business in times of crisis. One of the great triumphs of General Motors was its ability to convert to war production to assist the US government during World War II.  Without such assistance American victory would have been more difficult, and more soldiers' lives would have been lost to tyrants in Europe and Japan.

Business's products are moral goods because they help many billions of people.  The ability to expand the availability of such goods to ever greater numbers of people is the moral triumph of business.  Making business more efficient and helping business to better meet customers' needs, the mission of recent grads entering the workplace, fulfills a higher moral good. To do so one must rest his or her actions on a moral foundation.

The moral foundation is a set of competencies that students need to identify for themselves.  These likely include what Warren Buffett called the "Ben Franklin virtues" that were identified by his teacher and the inventor of value-based investing,  Benjamin Graham. Buffett calls them the "Ben Franklin virtues"  because Franklin identifies them in his writings in Poor Richard's Almanac and in his 1758 book The Way to Wealth.  Franklin's virtues include honesty, sobriety, hard work, and prudence.  In ancient Greece, 2,500 years ago, Aristotle listed similar virtues--not geared to commercial life, although there is much overlap--as necessary to success.  The reason that there is much overlap between Aristotle's and Franklin's virtues, written more than 2,000 years apart and in different cultures,  is that Aristotle's students aimed to become leaders of the Athenian city state, and the virtues that he describes in his Nicomachean Ethics were geared to success in that ancient society.  These included the cardinal virtues: moderation, prudence, courage, and justice.

Justice, as in Aristotle's day and in Franklin's day, is the cornerstone of ethical competence when working in business. Just as is the case with emotional intelligence, in order to act well we need to develop ethical intelligence. Ethical intelligence means asking ourselves whether an end is justified, whether we can accomplish it prudently, whether we can reduce or eliminate costs or harm, whether we can improve quality or increase the good that we do, whether any harm is more than balanced by the good, and whether our actions serve our colleagues, society, and ourselves.

Many corporations recognize this balance. For example Johnson and Johnson's Credo describes the firm's vision of ethical intelligence in dealing with nurses, doctors, customers, employees, suppliers, and the greater community.  J&J's conclusion is this: "When we operate according to these principles, the stockholders should realize a fair return."  Compare the success of this great firm with that of any of the dishonest ones that have made the news and often no longer exist.

Ethics is the most important competency because all dealings depend on it.  It is the chief recipe for long-term success. Whether we are looking for a job, dealing with the challenges of interpersonal communication, or negotiating an important deal, it is important to ask ourselves whether we are doing the right thing by balancing all considerations in a way that yields an optimal outcome for others, for society, and for ourselves.