Have I called you lately?

If so, you are a privileged many: sororities, fraternities, academic societies, pre-professional organizations.  We want your ear.

We are trying to restructure the labor economy, and we are starting with the top of the food chain. The campus elites, the homecoming kings, the debutantes, the corporate jet set. We want you all.

What are we planning to do with you?

We are going to make it easier for students to construct a future that makes sense. And do the same for graduates, who are trying to build firms with the best people.

Who might the best people be? We’re changing that definition, too. Instead of allowing corporate america to assume that the only students worth hiring are the ivies, the state techs, the universities of wonderful, we are saying something new. The students you wish to hire are those who care about your business model, are steeped in expertise in what you are, are players, ready to play.

Corporate america should make assumptions, no more. They should hire graduates who wrote papers on things you want them to know, coming in. There should not be a long break-in period for your graduate hires. There should not be extensive training. There should be near-immediate ROI, no risk to hire, and no doubt that they will make impact on day one.

In short, we are delivering the highly productive, highly relevant, best-trained people to your doorstep. We are delivering the young energy you assume you are getting when you recruit graduates — and narrow any ambiguity to zero.

 How?

We’ve constructed a technology that asks for your job description, the skills you demand, and gather a group who possess background that fits it. It changes the way recruitment works, and it alters how students pursue career growth. Instead of asking “where are the jobs,” our users are asking “who cares about what I care about?”

 It’s time to up your expectations

Companies no longer employ people to do rote, repetitive or mindless work. Each job requires someone with commitment who can generate immense value, due to their deep insight into their industry. Each student aspires to be this person, but cannot become this unless they can connect their academic interest to an actual job.

When the student’s most passionate topic can be pursued at a company, the student becomes the ideal employee. We strive for this moment 24/7 x 365 days a year, and we are the place to accomplish this miracle pairing.

It’s information technology! We can do this!

When a student describes what they wrote about in term papers, and reveals what they spent their days studying (inside their chosen major), they can give employers decisionable insight. Since your interests can be boiled down into language which we treat as semantics, our search technology can go to work assembling the opportunities students seek, and the individuals corporations demand.

A new economy is upon us that demands high output from employers and high job satisfaction from a new generation. We can do both, and do this for a large population, and we are beginning with the groups that are always on the cusp of doing this: hellenics, associations, pre-pro societies and alumni groups.

We are going where the work is — in helping these highly cohesive organizations accomplish their lifetime missions.

We hope we get you on the phone to discuss how we can help you make your organization the most vital it can be.

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When you’re too busy to blog… It’s probably best not to

It’s because you’re engaged in too many trade secrets to blog. So apologies for not blogging for several months (I used to blog bi-weekly!)

Truth be told, it’s easier to tweet than blog. Perhaps because you don’t actually write tweets. One must only press a button in order to be meaningful. Reconstituting others’ content is just fine.

We are live, fully operational, and able to serve clients. We’ve transitioned to a full pay service now. This is due to several important considerations we’ve learned:

  • paying customers make demands. We’re capable of meeting them.
  • paying customers on a site that demands user input, create input. They throttle the service to get the best value for their dollar. We like these kinds of users.
  • paying for the service guarantees it gets better. Money creates budgets.

But most importantly, when the user pays a small monthly sum, the user becomes an active participant. Our model is similar to the array of dating sites (sort of like employers looking for potential mates, er employees – a strange but linear comparison). When the daters pay for the site, they tend to invest time to match their money. No different than buying a tool for your garden, a sponge for the kitchen, or a toy for the kids. Buy it, use it.

But above simply using it, when students pay for the service, companies know they are serious about the labor market. Strange but true, many students exit college with little idea about how companies work. This is ok, but when they exhibit professionalism in the form of a research chronology or electronic portfolio, they make placement so much easier. This form of consideration for the employer shows professionalism. It says, I understand your challenges, and I am doing something about it.

 Making a website devoid of advertising

We found, quite simply, that making advertisers pay for the site ran into two problems:

  • the experience suffered, as ads intruded into the immersive experience
  • advertisers paid less and less, due to the explosion in ad inventory, everywhere

We were earning less for their imposition, and had to cut that cord.

 Enhancing the Experience

But for a site to go ad-free means, also that they have the confidence to charge for their services. This is a shift toward a more affluent user base, such as the Wall Street Journal, who actively charges for news. We mitigate the barrier cost by lowering the monthly fee. By making it cheap we avoid deterring potential users.

Back to the idea of quality. When you fear charging users, you also send the message that the site is not worth even a small amount of money. It also opens your site up to the perception that you earn money in some invisible way. Selling user information, or allowing user information to seep out to apps. Either way, it strikes the user as mellifluous, non-transparent, and generally un-american. We hated the feeling that advertisers collect the web history of each user, and though no online advertising is possible without this, we simply knew we could make a product worth paying for.

So we embarked on a project to build up the quality of data, and the quality of experience. We drew down data from search engines, web APIs, and other communities, and composed a new product that went far beyond the initial design.

 In the latest version of Next you’ll find:

  • tools to connect you to students who share your academic focus (which we will turbo-charge in the future)
  • tools to connect you to jobs posted outside of Next
  • tools to deliver real-time news related to your major areas of concentration
  • tools to deliver live blogging in your areas of focus

In short, Next has transitioned to become a tool for 360-degree career development. That’s why we changed the name to Next Vantage. Now, you achieve a viewpoint over the landscape of opportunity, as it relates to you and you alone.

 Why this matters. Now, it’s what you know that matters. No more must you wade through the daily news, because all that is relevant to you, appears. And the news that appears helps you build up your life’s pursuits, deepen your expertise. When you get the landscape view, you overcome the barriers to awareness that block traditional career growth.

I found that with the new product, each time I logged in I received the news I really needed. I spent vast amounts of time with the quantity of material. The new Next exposed everything that was going on that I need to be aware of. It was true that for every hour that I spent, the tool opened up new nuggets I could really use.

In short, I knew we had to charge for it. Give it an hour, and it will realign your career. It’s that simple. That is the Next Vantage. It’s renewable, constantly available, and it overcomes all barriers for you, instantly.

Forget Social

The macro-buzzword of our micro-era is social. However, what I find is that the design of the major ‘social’ sites is that they make the user into a silo. You must obey the boundaries of your neighborhood, high school, college friend-set, or employer. Though this may open things a bit more for you, it doesn’t make progress on the key concern I have, which is, how do I overcome all those boundaries to arrive at where I am supposed to be? Why can’t my day-to-day life center around my needs, rather than the constraints of my community? I know this sounds rather harsh, but in order to fulfill my missions, my ‘friends’ are really just bystanders to my progress. Additionally, the further I  pursue my ambitions and succeed, the more friends I find I have.

We as a culture struggle with this objectivist dilemma. We define compassion by the extent to which we help those around us, but define success by the extent to which we pursue our own self-interests. I am now sure what to tell you. All I know is, if you want to communicate within the boundaries of your network, use the current tools.

But if you want to locate the people and companies who can help you to be you, use ours.

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Creating the 360 degree vantage point, in building a career

I was very inspired to read Lou Adler’s assessment on the state of corporate recruiting. Occasionally I read a blog post that gets remembered as a tipping-point; in this article Adler makes it clear that the era of monster.com-type systems, and the corporations that favored them are done.

Let me get to the gist of the article: when companies allow themselves to be deluged by resumes, they do not select superior talent. Adler claims that the interconnected digital talent economy is now an economy where recruiters can locate the talent they desire, and lure the talent they desire more effectively. Because of the flatness of the talent landscape, driven by search technologies and professional networks, the same talent will become available to everyone. This leaves firms in the position of having to make the best deal to land and secure the talent out there.

Adler insists that a newer, more 360 degree form of recruitment must emerge. Though this model is not made clear in the article.

Almost to flesh out the details missing in this idea of 360 recruiting, I defer to the recruiting industy’s guru, John Sullivan, whose recent blog post, “The 25 Irrefutable Laws of World-Class Corporate Recruiting” leaves me in awe. Spending five minutes with this man will leave one thunderstruck.

In this brief but highly effective post, Sullivan highlights the need for corporations to build pre-hire networks, built of people they would ideally hire as an opportunity arises.

I am very influenced by the talent-requisition systems modeled at Cisco this decade under John Chambers, where an internal social-network system helps an executive locate talent relevant to an idea he or she has. The talent is assembled on-demand and a project is initiated.

The way that Cisco operated in its heydays  is emblematic of how industries across the board must instruct its recruiters and hiring managers to operate: create the pools of talent now, and draw from them later, with little warning. The online group is a highly effective means to do so.

As I have written earlier this year, the online talent community is possible, but difficult to construct beyond what recruiters make themselves. This is what I believe Adler is pointing to, as the next-gen talent network.

Inside our peer technologies we provide a rich set of tools to a recruiter who wishes to do this. A recruiter has the ability to peer deeply into the current talent pool within the global university system, then cull them into a distinct pool belonging to them to make strategic hires.

Where we distinguish ourselves among peer firms is our ability to offer a recruiter a flat, unlimited space in which to identify people of high impact. Having the wideness of search capability is really our ace-in-the-hole, given our focus on young people, and early professionals moving through the global education system.

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Enhancing the labor market economy by coupling the search and social web

This month contained a set of important milestones for us, including:

1) the completion of our first complete version, helping students expand their awareness of the relevance of their academics
2) employing graduates and current students in the marketing of our offering

We are seeing several important new trends in our work. These include including the users in the profit structure of the organization, and enhancing the user experience to expand the real time data informing them.

Including Users in Our Profit Structure
We firmly believe that our core user group are students. Corporations are the other major user group apart from this group, but we have learned that student mass is the primary attraction of corporations, not the opposite. Given the importance of attracting students to use our offerings, we have implemented a new program compensating student leaders on campus to attract students. We could spend monies on advertising, public relations and other means, but paying students to spread word of our system has a far different effect. Students respect the opinion of other students, and should not learn about what we have to offer from an ad on facebook. Getting students to see our system in action means paying members of their peer group to instruct others about Next.

I believe that the end-effect is potentially a tradition where our profit structure is significantly shared by the users. If in future years we can expand this practice, we will have this to say: this is a system that benefits students, and it is build by students. We hope to reflect on the success of this program in the next four months.

Enhancing the User Experience
In February we set about marketing the first version of Next Acropolis. We found several important things:

1) students who created an eportfolio did markedly better in seeking jobs, due to the exposure of their preparation. These students were able to escape the "black box" effect of the traditional resume.
2) Our services had to attract more employers to create news / blogs / jobs. This is difficult with only a small group of users, when employers desire a mass of students to pick from.

We respect their opinion and are actively implementing new features that provide a wide array of real-time data, blogging, and job leads from the wider web. In the June release users will find a vast array of data associated with how their studies are relevant right now: which companies share your focus, which jobs are open now in your area, and what bloggers are saying related to your research.

Given the insight possible from the eportfolio, and the ability to pull in data associated with how to use your research focus, the system now has a data-intensive means to instruct students on possible career direction. We hope to learn more about how students use this panoply of information, and construct decisions.

Compared to our Quarter 1 release, we are learning how to engage the user as the community of users grow. This reveals two tiers of use of the system, 1) a social tier, where users interact based on shared interests, and 2) an individual, user-centric system that cultivate data for the user. In this market, these represent two coherent trends in Internet use since 2000, and the rise of first, Google and search engines economics, and second, social networking systems. As a hybrid system incorporating the potentials of both typologies, we have more to learn, and we expect these new developments in how we market, and how we structure the user experience will yield new learnings in how to grow and succeed.

We are keenly interested in how our users value location-specific information, and are therefore energized by new pacts between VISA and Gap, as well as corporate collaborations between Foursquare and others. The internet community is learning how to pool this data into increasingly meaningful data packages for consumers. We doubt that location has vast meaning for college students, but can see better linkages between what they study, who needs such skills in local economies, and how to cluster groups of users into more meaningful groups, and match those groupings with employers.

On our core site we are documenting the importance of student groups to recruiters. We hope to promote the use of these tools to our student-users, whom we expect to form small groups for the purpose of job-hunting, and attracting the recruitment of companies. We are aiming to enable local firms to transact recruiting business with us, for the purpose of reaching these neatly-ordered groups of talent. This goes above and beyond what competing firms are doing. This is yet another example of the search-driven nature of the web, coupled with enhanced social features.

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recital: why resumes are failing grads

In my last post I shared some advice with a recent graduate. It really kills me to see a person I have trained not graduate to immediate success. I feel that professors are really the only people who can successfully guide a young person right now. I also feel that when students send a resume to an employer, that they can’t capture the essence of what they have to contribute.

This is attributable to two true things:
1) resume details what you’ve learned, via experience, in an industry. This is equatable to an education at a school.
2) academic details are absent from the resume. So only industry experience is served through this medium.

I have found that resumes gain relevance for students once they put in some academic information. But for students to submit electronic resumes into the career placement systems in corporations, they almost always lose. Our belief that the eportfolio helps students is remarkably true. We have found that when students divulge the rich skillset they acquire while in school, they can present a much more viable case to employers. A resume hides what you have to contribute because it only permits the language of the profession, and students fundamentally lack that background, and want to move beyond what they’ve already done.

The young person whose emails I shared last time were real. Her plight reflects how little students are steered into a particular industry. They must know that industries value knowledge about their industry. It’s imperative that you not steer yourself into a job, but toward a particular field of human endeavor, and that’s where you will succeed.

Next is fundamentally about helping you discover what kinds of companies value your knowledge. This is the kind of education you need beyond just the things we discuss in class.

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Your resume, and how insignificant it is right now

Some out takes from an email exchange, me advising a former student. The student had just sent me her resume. Threads below:
BUND:
[student], do you have a preference for an industry you want to get involved in? (ie clean energy, oil/gas, finance, law…)

that would really help focus the resume

STUDENT:
Unfortunately I do not. I am going to be taking a Surt Training which will give me a certificate for the oil and gas industry. but really I’m open to all right now. I know they say don’t act desperate. Stephan, I just want to work, hell I’m open to everything right now

BUND:

I just feel that the resume is lacking for nothing. The resume is constructed very well.

I feel that the ‘open to anything’ attitude is not attractive to employers. I feel that if your objective is to say everything you’ve said, plus, ‘committed to entering the [fill in the blank] industry’ it would resonate.

STUDENT:
Stephan, The last two years of being unemployed has played with my head in many ways. I have gone through several course for resume building, thinking it was my resume. I’m now attending classes to improve odds. I realise that without certifications my chances will be limited. I unfortunately do not have the funds for getting A+ or CCNA. But trying to find free classes all over. I know I may be spreading my self thin, I’m just doin right now. If you have any suggestions or places to increase my odds, please share the wealth

BUND:
Let me offer some more details on what I am saying.

I think the internet has a lot of job boards and search engines, but these are really the last places employers look for people. Here is how they source employees:
1) internally, hire people already at the firm
2) hire friends of people at the firm
2.5) search for resumes submitted via corporate careers website
3) hire people at competing firms (poach, recruit, seduce, wine/dine)
4) go to industry conferences
5) try to hire highly visible people
6) hire a recruiter to do #3
7) go to a college campus to hire entry people (not productive always)
8) hit the job boards

This means that by the time they get to #7, they’ve exhausted some pretty rigorous methods. IT people frequently get sourced via craigslist, monster and others, however. They are more in demand.

I personally think that buying an A++ book would be good. It would also be good to have Westwood buy their grads a training course. This would up their graduate employment numbers. (every college is suffering this economy, no one is exempted)

But back to the above table. If a company really only wants to limit their job search to people exposed to their own industry, they are not open to folks without exposure to it, unless they have to be. This is because of the regulatory environment over most high-paying industries:
health care (hipaa)
finance (sarbox, GLB, dodd-frank, TARP)
oil and gas (special tax breaks)
tech (privacy)
autos (TARP)
insurance (obamacare)
airlines (TSA, homeland security)
real estate (unpopularity)
food/hospitality (health regs, always there)
farming and food (organic, FDA)
post-secondary education (acreditation, DOE)

This means that once you’ve learned how to operate in any of the industries above, you’ve become a tradesperson, and understand what they are up against. IT people really safeguard the company’s liability structure, ensuring data is collected that ensures against malpractice, fraud and quality failure. Each of the above regulatory structures are implemented via IT systems…

I think if an IT person wants to get a solid job, they should target an industry, learn its ins and outs, and target the various careers websites each company offers, with a smartly authored cover page reflecting how much you care about that industry. Having IT skills is one of the top most-desired skillset, but we are industry-agnostic.

Truth is, having technical skills is only 1/2 the knowledge needed to be successful, because every industry has its own set of laws, traditions and best-practices. So work is like a degree unto itself, helping you implement your IT skills in service of the mission of any company in their industry space.

So you could express the equation this way
(IT skills) + (industry knowledge) = [total human capital value]

You have the first part, now you need to get the second. The big industries in the LA basin are:
1. everything
2. health care
3. insurance
4. oil/gas
5. finance, real estate, insurance (FIRE)
6. media (advertising, broadcasting, entertainment, music, vid games)
7. aerospace
8. biotech & gene tech (thousand oaks, nice place to live)
9. clothing, design, fashion, lifestyle
10. manufacturing (clothes, planes, misiles, satellites)
11. high tech (green tech/clean tech, defense, IT, R&D, bio, NASA stuff)
12. logistics (shipping, ports, global shipping and import/export)
13. law, accounting, investment banking, consulting (IT, tax, economics, HR)
14. internet start-up (pasadena, santa monica, irvine, san diego — my turf)

Really, you should choose from one of these 13 sectors. Learn who the big, medium and small players are, apply to all. If you care about that industry, you will be successful, I promise. You can’t be just anybody, you’ve got to exhibit concern for a given sphere of human endeavor. I guarantee that a person of your integrity, personal magnitude will be an asset to any one of them, and have a long/fun career in any of them. The opportunity lies in choosing one of them, and really committing to solve its problems via IT.

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Questioning the value of higher ed in a tippy labor economy, and forging on despite the rapids

I hate to get sucked into the techcrunch news blog, but it’s unavoidably the best news source for venture-internet stuff.

I was drawn to Peter Thiel’s rant on the value of higher education. In it he casts doubt on the efficacy of college enrollment, and uses the remarks as a means to pump interest into his venture fund, supplying capital to kids mature enough to stage interesting ventures, instead of go to college. I wanted to bring attention to this idea for a few important reasons. It’s something we watch carefully here.

It is commonplace now to hear journalists describe our era as containing a new bubble – higher education. In this matrix is the individual investment in education, expectations of social mobility, and the daunting notions of failures in the job market. In the background is the spectacular ascent/crash of capitalist college campuses, whose public stock has ridden a bubble wave to the beach.

Thiel questions the worth of attending college when employment prospects are minimized in our landscape, and that young, enterprising kids should rethink the assumption that college equals social ascent.

Thiel is right. The flight to higher ed is not guaranteed to avert poverty and lift all individuals. In fact, the commoditization of the advanced degree means two things, 1) it’s commonplace to locate educated individuals, going forward into the future (not inherently right now), and 2) getting a degree does separate you from those who do not have one. However, Thiel is insistent that the elites need not attend college. For some famous drop outs, they would likely make it without college.

But only in the internet/app market economy. Those areas are conquerable by a person behind a laptop. But banking on this singularity is probably difficult to impossible for most, if not all programmers, despite the cult of Mark Zuckerberg.

The internet bubble, housing, credit, and school-lending bubbles all circulated around massive participation in advanced, civlized things. And the failure to implement each subsequent revolution (mass internet commerce, mass home ownership, now — mass college graduateship) are all good goals, corrupted by unregulated markets.

But look what each bubble produced: mass home ownership, mass internet adoption, and most recently, mass college graduateship. All of these things are meritous, and though rocky, all transpired over the course of a decade. When talking with Arne Duncan (head of US DOE) it is clear that the US federal government is hell-bent for massive higher education, and will reach it. When the employment index rises, as it may do — the scores of new graduates will lift many families out of poverty and irrelevant industries.

What I am talking about here is the normalization of higher education, and the creation of a many-tiered education system that serves all who desire it. It is a bubble-infested industry, it needs regulation, but it heralds a new era where higher ed is the conduit to a better life. Taming the proprietary college beast is important, as well as taming the spiraling cost of traditional institutions. The government probably must exit the massive monetization of each brand of institution, to ward off the abuse of executives in each college.

Individuals must also undertake school lending with the full knowledge that they will need to find relevant, gainful employment for themselves. This generation will be singed by the experience of the new normal — a stagnant employment index, which dropped while they had already invested in a degree. It is true that if you entered school in 2007, expecting similar rates of college recruitment, that you would have seen the highest rate of such an index — and then witnessed it drop precipitously.

Thiel’s is an unfair generalization, and we cannot honestly see college as a poor buy, long term. Simply expecting a life-long investment in learning to pay off immediately, during a global economic crisis, is too much to expect. Especially when the Wall-Street-USA-centric world is expecting much more of the same.

We contend that student can now achieve a deeper, more penetrating analysis of the practicality of what they study. This will arm them with the landscape understanding of the choices open to them, at each stage of the expensive, and daunting educational process. We look forward to much debate on the above.

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