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    Friday
    Aug242012

    Vacation Rewind: Some applicants ARE awesome and can do lots of pull-ups

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!

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    (originally posted in February 2012)

    Recently another 'clueless applicant' tale bounced around the interwebs, this one centered around what was described by Business Insider and Forbes as 'The Worst Cover Letter in the World', so bad that the applicant was 'laughed at by everybody on Wall Street.'

    Give me 35

    If you missed the story, and don't want to click through to the linked pieces above, here is a quick summary:

    An unnamed student at New York University, applying for what was described as a summer analyst position with JP Morgan, included a cover letter that was a bit over the top, a bit long, had a couple of really kind of stupid mistakes, but mostly seemed, (at least to me), to be coming from a hard-working, positive, ambitious, and eager individual that is determined to get his career started.

    You can read the full, (with personal identifiable details redacted), cover letter here, and I am sure you'll be as equally amused as Forbes, BI, and most of Wall St. was with the applicant's references to his bench press progress, 'double my bodyweight', and ability to pick up computer programming languages quickly, 'I learned a year's worth of Java in 27 days on my own.'

    And if you do read the full cover letter, and the corresponding article ripping the kid for mistakes, bragging, length, and overall lack of polish and professionalism in communication, you'll probably agree with the conclusions and comments in the Forbes and BI pieces.

    Ha-Ha-Ha. What a joke, what a doofus. What in the heck are they teaching kids at NYU anyway. Let's all have a good laugh at this kid who clearly doesn't get it that no one cares about how much he can bench press or how many pull-ups he can do.

    Here's what I think. If I were looking to fill spots for one of these summer analyst programs, I'd bring the kid in for an interview. I know the cover letter was not technically perfect. And yes, the kid probably needs a refresher course in some basic rules and mores here. But that doesnt' take away from some important considerations as well.

    Assuming the kid's grades and program of study checked out, (easy to verify), I would look at the bragging and the posturing in the letter as an indication of a kid that has drive, that had goals and met them, and is probably the kind of kid that has had to work hard to get as far as he has.

    Bench pressing double your body weight is hard. No, make that really freakin' hard. I have known maybe 3 guys in my whole life who could make that claim. And 35 pull-ups? Good luck passing ten. So maybe I am overvaluing the level of effort, sacrifice, and commitment it takes to make those claims, but to me, they show some character. And that I think would make me want to meet the kid.

    On a broader level, I sort of get really angry and frustrated when I read these kinds of pieces, and read the smug know-it-all comments and insults lobbed towards job seekers who in an attempt to make their credentials stand out from the pack, fail to execute in just exactly the way we 'professionals' want them to. I am not defending spelling errors, shaky grammar, and sloppiness, but I am standing up for making a claim as to why you're awesome and why you deserve consideration.

    So yes, if it were me, I'd bring the kid in to interview. And I'd probably ask for some workout tips. 

    Thursday
    Aug232012

    Vacation Rewind: The Wall: An Old-School Self-Service Example

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!

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    (originally posted in October 2011)

    Over the weekend I spotted out in the wild a classic example of the oldest of old-school Human Resources supplied Employee Self-Service implementations - the Wall of Forms, (see picture on the right and click the image to view full-size).

    Years ago, these displays of paper forms to support employee transactions like changes of address, set-up of payroll direct deposit, benefits enrollments, expense reporting, and on and on were once common, particularly prior to the emergence of automation tools designed to simplify these and many other employee initiated processes. If you as an employee needed to get something done, you walked over to HR, picked up a form, filled it out, (hopefully without needing too much help), and turned it in. If you HR or Payroll department was really cool, the person accepting the form whipped out a big red-ink stamper thing and stamped 'Received' on it. Click image for full-size

    But as time passed, and more and more HR organizations of all sizes were faced with the insistent pressures to become more efficient, to reduce the risk and impact of errors inherent in manual processes, and often sold the promise of 'chance to do more strategic things' with the decentralization of many manual and administrative tasks, (let's save for a moment the debate of whether and to what extent this has really happened), the 'Wall of Forms' method of employee communication and entry point for HR/Payroll administration seems to be a relic of a bygone age.

    And while that is altogether expected and mostly necessary, when I looked at the Wall of Forms pictured above, I couldn't help but be struck by the effectiveness in design from this old-school presentation. Sure, it is not pretty. Sure, it doesn't make one marvel at the amazing use of white space or offer much in the way of personalization or customization, (as far as I can tell, the 'wall' appears and presents exactly the same no matter who is looking at it). And sure, it won't port well to the iPhone or iPad.

    However the wall does a few things really well that should not be completely discounted in this age and world of self-service. Here are just a few aspects of this old-school Employee Self-Service portal, (yes I called it a portal), that those of us that design and deploy these kinds of systems should keep in mind:

    1. The Wall requires no training. Once the employee knows where the Wall actually is, then no further specialty training is necessary.

    2. Maintenance is simple. Once a form is no longer needed, or a new one needs to be added, maybe 15 minnutes of someone's time is required to make the changes to the Wall. Like a good SaaS product, once the Wall configuration changes are made, they are immediately available to all Wall users.

    3. Everything you need is there. While many system designers are wondering how to shrink applications and functionality to 'fit' smaller and smaller form factors for mobile and tablet, the Wall happily and unapologetically expands as needed. There are over 30 form containers on the Wall, and room for more as needed. If processes/rules/regulations etc. require that many forms, then why not have a system that puts them all within view?

    4. Help is only a few feet away. The door right next to the Wall is the main entrance to the facility's Human Resources department. Can't find something on the Wall? Have a question about something you have found? Take two steps to the right and find someone to ask. Sure, this method of front-line, in person help can't scale really, but for this facility it probably works. Here, like most of the rest of the world, employees really don't want to spend much time at all futzing with HR processes and paperwork. They have better things to do.

    In technology, heck even in general life, it can be pretty easy to turn down our noses at our less than enlightened or 'lower-tech' colleagues. It's also common to fall into the trap of thinking that applications and strategies that worked 15 or 20 years ago have no relevance today - after all everything has changed, blah-blah-blah. But I am not so sure about that.

    I think we still can learn from organizations and designs of the past and when we work to combine the best ideas from back then with all the amazing capability and potential of our technologies today, then we can really see the greatest impact on our workplaces. 

    What do you think? Do you have any 'old-school' practices that still work for you in your organization?

    Wednesday
    Aug222012

    Vacation Rewind: A 6-Year Old's Kick-Butt Cover Letter

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!

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    (originally posted in April 2011)

    Yesterday the always entertaining and informative Letters of Note site ran the following letter - essentially a job application cover letter for the position of Director of the National Railway Museum in York, England.

    Why this letter was deemed 'notable', is that is was written by a 6-year old. Check the image of the letter, with the full text (with my commentary in parentheses) reprinted below:

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    26 July

    Dear Mr. Tucker (kid is networked or informed enough to directly address the hiring manager, nice)

    Application for director (hiring manager gets what this letter is about)

    I am writing to apply to be the new Director of the National Railway Museum. I am only 6 but I think I can do this job. (Acknowledge surface limitation, but immediately discount it, and boldly assert competence and confidence)

    I have an electrick train track. I am good on my train track. I can control 2 trains at once. (Demonstrable and relevant skills. Indicates passion for the work as well. Two trains at once in not easy)

    [PHOTO]

    I have been on lots of trains including Eurostar and some trains in France. (Interest and expertise in the field) I have visited the museum before. (Familiarity with the business) I loved watching the trains go round on the turntable. (Humanizes and connects at an emotional level)

    On the other side is a picture of me.

    Hopefully I can come and meet you for an interview. (Asks for the interview)

    From

    Sam Pointon

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    To me, this letter is money all the way around.  I will be more than happy to give the 6-year old the interview based on this letter alone. And additionally, the pattern that young Sam followed to describe himself, assert what we was capable of doing, offer some insight to his passion for the work, and to plainly state his case is one that really anyone out there trying to make a similar pitch could do well to learn from.

    Sure, you can drop two or three bills with your local resume writer/cover letter coach/career guru to help you wordsmith that just right message, and it might be worth your time.

    Or you could take a lesson from a 6-year old that just made a pitch that quite frankly is better than 3/4 of the bilge that crosses most recruiter's desks every day.

    Oh and by the way, young Sam did not actually land the job as Director of the Museum. But, he was named 'Director of Fun', a post that sounds in some ways, way cooler that Director could ever be.

    Tuesday
    Aug212012

    Vacation Rewind: Relative Creativity

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!

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    (originally posted in November 2011)

    Take a look at the promotional posted for the 2009 movie 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' :

    I didn't see it eitherNot a bad looking promotional effort most would say - edgy, creative kind of typeface, clever use of the actual goat in the series of profile images, stars of the film staring out wisfully into the middle distance.

    Some big time names in the form of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey also help the piece achieve a little bit more wow factor.

    I am pretty sure the movie was not what you'd call a smash hit, or even a 'hit', (the IMDB page for the movie indicates about a $32M gross on an estimated $25M budget). But surely any disappointment in the eventual box office receipts for the movie would not be attributed to the poster that you see on the left, after all, while perhaps not being incredibly artistic and memorable, it certainly is a solid, 'B' kind of effort.

    But take another look at the 'Men Who Stare at Goats' poster, this time in a larger context of very similar looking pieces, (courtesy of the Daily Inspiration site):

     

    Look closely at the 'collage' image on the right - the 'Goats' poster is in there, (second row, third from the left). Keep looking

    Weird how alike so many movie posters seem to be in terms of design, layout, color schemes, etc. If you take a longer look at the Daily Inspiration piece you'll see more examples of how similar movie genres, (Action, Romance, etc.), have consistently spawned similar looking promotional posters.

    What might be interpreted as interesting, attractive, and well-executed when approached individually, (like the 'Goats' poster), takes on a slightly different tone and feeling when viewed through this lens. When thrown together dozens of other pieces informed with the same mindset and sensibility, the 'Goats' poster simply vanishes into the sea of sameness, (and safety, I suppose).

    The point to all this? Not much of one admittedly, I saw the Daily Inspiration piece and it simply seemed interesting to me. I guess if there MUST be a point, (I think the Blogging for Dummies Book I read five years ago mentioned something about each post having some kind of point), it's that understanding context, and the ability of your audiences to compare the work we produce, the systems we design, and the strategies we devise and deploy with what else is being created, designed, and deployed is an important, and sometimes overlooked component of our success.  

    It can be really easy to spring something out to our internal customers with the mindset that they are a kind of captive audience, without the ability to make free choices from competing alternatives. Kind of like a movie-goer whose multiplex has the same film running on all 12 screens. And for many workplace systems or policies that is indeed true. Employees can't choose their own HRIS if they don't like the one the company has deployed, and they can't create and elect their own medical or dental plan coverage if yours are not to their liking. 

    But what they can do, and what has become increasingly easier in the age of social networking and open communication is have a much, much better understanding of competing alternatives and what is possible outside of your own organization. It has never been easier to compare almost everything about one organization's operations with others that are potential competitor's for a good employee's services. 

    The 'Goats' poster is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. It just looks like every other one you've ever seen. Whether or not that is good enough is really the question.

    Monday
    Aug202012

    Vacation Rewind: How much does the office furniture matter?

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!

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    (originally posted in January 2012)

    Like most of you, I've worked in all kinds of office layouts over the years. Cube farms, open plan, private offices, 'hotel' desks for more transient workers. I am sure at one time or another I have spent time in all of them.

    And I probably don't have any really strong feelings about any of the office spaces I've worked in. They were, and are, mostly forgettable. Aside from the one consulting project years ago where my 'office' was a telecom equipment closet and an extra door propped up on some boxes was my desk. That one I still remember for some reason.Look like your office?

    But there is a growing awareness of the importance of design, intent, and function of things like desks, chairs, conference rooms, and common spaces in the modern office. While some think the future of work will eventually become almost completely virtual, (meaning everyone will work out of a Starbucks or Panera), for most desk jockeys today, the 'office' still is the central and most common place where work gets done.

    So while work is changing a lot, where we do work doesn't seem to be changing quite so rapidly. And while this is seems like it will continue, at least for the time being, creating spaces that are adaptable, comfortable, and effectively support the shifting demands of workers and organizations is still important and still should be something HR and talent professionals think about when designing spaces, creating work environments, and procuring office furniture. And if you are still trying to manage that balance between work that wants to be more fluid, collaborative, and virtual; and workplaces, that want to be more, well, static, rigid, and boring, then I suggest you check out this piece from the Workplace Design Magazine site.

    The article, a take on the challenges facing workplace designers, is valuable not only for some of the practical design ideas it might provide, but for the approach to design decisions it advocates. Namely, to think about design issue as more that tables, offices, and furniture. To think bigger. From the piece:

    In contrast, I believe your job as workplace professional is to support work, wherever and whenever it takes place. And for me “support” means focusing on the work itself, and how it’s being done, almost more than the workplace.

    Nice. A more expansive way to see the job of designer. In a way, it is a good piece of advice for any of the classical support functions - facilities, finance, IT, even HR. Focus on the work and not on the tools you want to bring to the table. 

    It is a really interesting way to look at things, and kind of instructive. If the best workplace designers don't start with blueprints and fabric swatches, what does that say about the way us technologists and talent pros approach our challenges?

    Are you thinking about the work first? Or your toolkit?