Wednesday, September 30, 2015

239. There has to be a better way

Looking for employment is probably one of the most stressful and humbling experiences in life. Unless you are one of the coveted in a particular area of expertise, job searching is a time-consuming, exhausting, and emotional journey.

Unfortunately, I think companies sometimes forget that.

Before I get into the details, my first plea to companies is that if you already know who you are going to hire, please don’t waste everyone’s time posting the position. I know sometimes there are company policies that require such, but each time a job is posted, it is reviewed by perhaps thousands of applicants. If the matter is settled in advance — and I don’t fault companies for hiring or promoting someone they might already know and trust — please be respectful of the time and effort of those who might consider applying for the position.

Many companies require that, in addition to submitting a resume and cover letter, applicants must also apply for the job online. The applications can be lengthy and often ask you to repeat much of what is on your resume. And in some cases, online applications include lengthy tests for candidates. I applied for one job while going to law school and I could not believe the amount of time it required: 10 years of college wasn’t enough, I still had to multitask through some silly email tests and many others. Cover letters are bad enough, more annoying than anything else when you are in a hurry, but the online applications and tests can eat up a good part of your day.

If you’re fortunate enough to get through the application process, you must deal with the interviews. I’ve experienced a number of different interview methods—including one-on-one, group, rotating and multiple interviews. I’ve also encountered more tests and even had to make presentations. What does it say about the quality of colleges and the integrity of applicants that companies feel the need to make applicants take basic tests?

The most worthless of the interview methods are the structured interviews. The pretense is to be objective in the process and give each candidate the same canned questions and evaluate their ability to give canned responses. It’s usually the favorite of those terrified of the legal consequences of favoring one candidate over another (which happens anyway).When I’ve interviewed candidates, I’ve wanted to get to know them. I want to ask them about their values, their experiences, why they would be a good fit for our company. To me, it goes way past the same boring questions. For me, it is the follow-up questions where you get the most information. Some structured interviews only involve people reading questions from a piece of paper and recording the answer. There is no interaction, no getting to know that person. All that is being tested is whether the applicant is versed enough in interviews to give the answer he or she is supposed to give.

It’s actually interesting the weight put on interviews in any capacity. As the American Psychological Association asserts, “For over 50 years, psychologists criticized employment interviews on the grounds that they were subjective, subject to bias, and most important, poor predictors of future job performance. Hundreds of studies of the employment interview had led most industrial psychologists to conclude that they were nearly worthless and that interviews often did more harm than good.”

In fact, they are probably as worthless as contacting references. I would think that a candidate’s resume would be incredibly more valuable than a one hour interview, often in which the candidate is nervous, anxious, and programmed.

Other pursuits of employers now often include a background check, credit check, and review of social media. A background check is vital, and I have no complaint there. Credit checks can be revealing, for sure, but any decision made using credit checks is supposed to be conveyed to the employee, which probably never happens.

Social media is a new component to the employment process, one on which I disagreed with the assessment of Human Resource professionals at a recent conference. I think it is both an easily accessible resource for employers and one that not only allows insight into the applicant, but also subjects them to biases. How easy would it be for an employer to use his or her own social values in making an employment decision? If I were a career coach, I would probably recommend deleting social media accounts until a job is secured.

In an economy in which employers still hold most of the cards, prospective employees are subject, more than ever, to a time-consuming and intensive, even intrusive, hiring process. Employers certainly have a duty to hire the best person for their company, as turnover is a significant cost. However, they also need to be respectful of the stressful, perhaps desperate, situation of job seekers. Some, especially those who are unemployed, may have their entire life — family, house, self-esteem — at stake.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

238. Is your phone changing your behavior?

There can be no argument that technology is changing our world—and our behavior. And it’s not just the habit of obsessively checking our phones—though that is part of it. There seems to be an underlying perception issue of our place in the world.

These perception issues, in my opinion, include a lack of self-awareness, narcissistic behavior, attention deficit, societal disconnect, and the need for instant gratification. My reasoning for each are discussed in turn:

Self-awareness:  My favorite quote of this subject comes from the baseball movie, Bull Durham, “The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self-awareness.” Self-awareness, whether is it mired in space and time, perspective or social etiquette, is becoming a lost personality trait. A synonym of sorts is “oblivious,” which is how the lack of self-awareness is often recognized. The more we are wrapped up in ourselves, the more oblivious we become. Some people seem to think that they, and their interest, are the only things that exist.

Narcissistic behavior: A great read on this subject is “The Narcissism Epidemic,” by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell. Chapters include the, “The many wonders of admiring yourself,” “The Disease of excessive self-admiration,” and “Hell yeah, I’m hot.” It’s an exploration in self-promotion, materialism and how parenting is leading to the delusional perception that each of us is especially remarkable. Parents coddle and label their children as princesses or stars. When their children fail it is always the fault of others—which result in whining and lawsuits. Through social media and reality shows, many people talk of themselves as being a “brand.” Because anyone can open their world to the Internet, it’s easy to engage into a false sense of relevancy-- and obsessively take selfies of yourself.

Attention deficit: On the show Brain Games, they conducted an experiment in which young adults we told they were part of a focus group. They were to watch a video and offer their feedback, but in order to get paid for their participation they had to put their cell phones away. Brain Games faked a problem with the video, left the room and reiterated that participants could not use their cell phones. As you might guess, within a matter of minutes, these adults could not resist and started checking their phones. Despite being paid not to check their phones, the need for consistent stimulation was too overwhelming. It was too much to suggest just sitting there quieting, or gosh, even maybe talking to each other. Our technical world is creating a population that has the attention span of a goldfish (which is about 3 seconds, I looked it up!).

Societal disconnect:  Carrie Brownstein said, “I think that half of us feel fraudulent in our lives anyway. There's that strange disconnect of not really knowing what we're doing sometimes, or why it matters. It's our existential crisis.” Thus, for the things we do know we ignore the consequences of our actions through justification or assumed disconnect. For the things we don’t know, we choose to act out of ignorance rather than make an effort to understand why things are the way they are. This disconnect is widespread and now includes most human endeavors—such as politics, religion, economics and nature.  We seemingly can’t pay attention long enough to make the connection.

Instant gratification: Now is not soon enough anymore. From materialism to education, it’s about getting what you want when you want it—usually as soon as possible.  Credit has allowed people to buy things they can’t afford; colleges keep shortening the time it takes to earn a degree. Adora Svitak commented, “We're used to the characteristics of social media - participation, connection, instant gratification - and when school doesn't offer the same, it's easy to tune out.” Once out of school, there is an impatience to work up the corporate ladder. The lack of self-awareness and narcissistic delusion creates unrealistic expectations.  And the need for consistent stimulation and individual reward has come at the expense of community and reflection. Judith Wright relates, “As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.”

We live in a competitive world—one that is shrinking—which may be partly responsible for the attention to self-interest. That the Internet has offered a voice to those who would otherwise not be heard is not necessarily a bad thing. And, there is certainly nothing wrong with working hard to be the best you can be. However, social media and our obsession with glamour—sports, music, wealth, image—has created a lack of perspective. Maybe we need to make more of an effort promoting qualities such as unselfishness, consideration, kindness, understanding, patience, reflection and humility.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

237. Questioning credit to God after Charleston

It is hard to find words to describe the senselessness that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina. Such tragedy often brings out the best and worst of people. While those with political or religious agendas rush to find a way to connect the dots to blame their enemies, it’s always amazing and uplifting how communities can come together to support each other.

Tragedy often leaves people looking for answers, and that search often leads people to their religion. In the juxtaposition of tragedy with an all-powerful god, it’s remarkable that god is given glory for any splinter of joy but escapes blame for the terrible suffering. I know it is not polite to say, especially in the face of tragedy, but even as an ideological contention, it is logically preposterous.

This ideological contention includes several incidents of the credit given to “divine intervention” in regards the Charlestown shooting.

Almost inconceivably, three persons involved in the incident found a way to give god credit following the shooting that took place in god’s house, of all places, and during a Bible study class.

One person who normally participates in the Bible study, Reverend Brenda Wilson, was absent on that fateful day. Apparently her air conditioner broke and she did not attend the Bible class in hopes that someone would come to repair it. While I would regard this as truly fortunate timing—fateful is even a stretch—she attributed it to god.

“What we saw as an inconvenience we know now by our faith, in our faith and through our faith that it was god’s divine intervention” she said during a CNN interview with Erin Burnett.

That statement was even more incomprehensible when she followed it up with, “Regardless of what happens, that God is truly in control strengthens my faith.”

Does she realize what she just said, what she just implied? If god was in control, why did the tragedy happen at all?

Felecia Sanders had to experience the calamity with her 11 year-old granddaughter, but responded as a heroine would when she pulled her granddaughter down with her under a round table in the fellowship hall.

However, in surviving the event, she gave credit to god, claiming that “it was the hand of God that put me under the table.”

Doesn’t it seems a bit arrogant to think that god saved Sanders and her granddaughter but allowed the others to die—including Sander’s own son?

When the killer failed to kill himself as planned, he escaped until noticed by Debbie Dills on her way to work. She led police to the killer, but likewise she gave all credit to god.  “It wasn't me, it was God. He used me as a vehicle. If anyone is a hero, it is Him. I feel like God had his hand in it. I feel like he had me where he needed me to be,” she said.

While I appreciated her humility, does it occur to anyone that it would be much easier for god to prevent the killing than to arrange for a broken air conditioner, guiding a potential victim under a table and leading someone to notice the South Carolina license plates? Why not just have the killer stuck down by a lightning bolt or have the gun backfire? Why not have an off-duty cop attend the Bible study on that day? Or maybe the killer’s car breaks down on the way to the church? That seems simple enough for god, and would make a case for true divine intervention.

Better yet, why not inspire the killer to change his viewpoints about racism and lead him to embrace all of humanity.

Not all religions believe in divine intervention, but if yours does, how can you not question the lack of intervention amidst a terrible, unwarranted tragedy—and then give credit to god when others are left to pick up the pieces?