Research About Befriending Your Boss

A Wall Street Journal article describes the positive and negative effects of being friends with your boss. Research shows that managers do give preferential treatment to employees they consider friends.

However, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology demonstrates that managers may favor others when decisions are public. To avoid perceptions of bias, Alex Shaw, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, offers three solutions for managers:

  • Recuse yourself. I’m skeptical about this because a manager’s job is to make such decisions, but I see the point: if you can get out of being the final decision maker, that might be best in some situations.

  • Make the criteria public. This is a good practice, anyway, to ensure transparency in decisions, particularly those that are sensitive and affect people personally.

  • Ask for opinions. This could work, for example, when peer feedback may be as relevant—or more relevant—than the manager’s point of view.

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Discussion:

  • Have you considered a boss a friend? How might the relationship have affected decisions?

  • What’s your view of the strategies suggested here? In what types of situations could each work or backfire?

Graphical Resumes

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Are employers becoming more open to graphical resumes? The boring, standard resume format hasn’t changed much despite some attempts at infographics and video.

A Wall Street Journal article indicates that acceptance may be increasing for resumes that look more like a social profile:

The stodgiest of business documents is in the midst of its most extreme makeover yet—whether employers want it or not. Gone are the utilitarian, black-and-white documents covered in bullet points. As Gen Z enters the workforce, companies are seeing digital CVs filled with artistic flourishes, including illustrations of college mascots, logos of past employers and icons to denote hobbies such as home renovation and watching movies.

Particularly for jobs in fields like marketing, graphical resumes are more common. Candidates might include an avatar or a section called “By the numbers.”

For more traditional fields, it’s a bigger risk: a visual resume might get you noticed but not for the right reasons. For any jobs, bitmojis and other images that seem childish don’t represent candidates in the best light.

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Discussion:

  • How traditional is your resume? Would you consider adding graphics? Why or why not?

  • In addition to marketing, which fields might be more open to a graphical resume?

  • What’s your view of the resume shown above? What about this Microsoft template resume?

Shirtless Video Calls

Child interruptions, toilets flushing, clinking ice—I’ve seen and heard it all on video and audio calls. The Wall Street Journal reports that more remote workers have brought more mishaps, like a coworker appearing shirtless, forgetting to turn off his camera. And who can forget the adorable kids who walked in on a BBC interview.

The article suggests signs outside a home office door to indicate when calls are in progress—”On Air” or “Do Not Disturb.” Double-checking your mute button is a good idea too.

I would also suggest being clear about whether a call will be video or audio. A job candidate was surprised to know that her interview was via video. The employer insisted that she turn on her video, and she wasn’t dressed for it.

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Discussion:

  • What mishaps have you experienced on audio or video calls?

  • What other ideas do you have to prevent embarrassing situations?

  • How does this story relate to the concept of authenticity?



How to Deal with Being "Ghosted"

Too often, employers stop responding to candidates. Even after an in-person interview, candidates never hear back. The CEO of a job search platform advises people to follow up in a few ways:

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  • Send one email a week. Be thoughtful about your messages to express interest; maybe share new research about the company .

  • Try different channels. For example, send a LinkedIn message instead of email, but only once.

  • Reach out to others. Contact another recruiter or the hiring manager directly.

All of these actions come with risk, but the writer argues, and I agree, that the risk is worth it. None of these follow-ups are too annoying, and you may turn the tide in your favor.

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Discussion:

  • Why do you think employers ghost applicants? Consider what incentive they have to follow up.

  • What’s your view of these follow-up approaches? Which are you more or less comfortable doing?

Relaxing Dress Codes

Just as schools are relaxing their dress codes, so are companies, including some financial firms. For schools, motivation comes from reducing body shaming and recognizing that gender isn’t binary.

At investment firm KKR, executives sent a memo to announce a new dress code. The rationale is stated, “Given the changing nature of workplace towards less formality…we believe this is the right change for our employees.” A Wall Street Journal article explains that KKR follows Goldman and JPMorgan in easing requirements in order to compete with technology firms for talent.

In the memo, KKR doesn’t give examples of acceptable and unacceptable attire, leaving the decision to employee discretion: “We trust you all to strike the right balance and exercise good judgment.” But executives did include this caveat: “At the same time, we recognize that many of our clients and other external relationships have a more formal expectation of professionalism. So please always have business attire available.”

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Discussion:

  • How important is a company’s dress code to your job search? Could a more relaxed dress code make a difference in accepting an job?

  • Should KKR be more specific, as companies such as Starbucks are, in what is acceptable attire?


Noncompete Agreements for Interns

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A Wall Street Journal article reports that college interns are increasingly asked to sign agreements that restrict their job choices in the future. “Noncompete, nondisclosure and forced arbitration agreements,” which have been common for senior-level employees, have made their way down the ranks.

Now, interns are asked to sign agreements on their first day with a company, and they don’t always understand what they’re signing. An agreement can prevent a new grad from, for example, accepting an offer with a competitor within a geographic region.

Some agreements are important for companies to protect their intellectual property and preserve confidentiality, but critics say they go overboard. Also, such agreements may not hold up in court, particularly when they affect low-skilled workers.

Bottom line: interns should be careful about what they sign. An agreement may be more of a deterrent and might not inspire legal action, but students shouldn’t have to feel as though their choices are limited right after graduation.

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Discussion:

  • What’s your experience with these employment agreements?

  • What would you do if asked to sign one?

  • What should companies do differently to protect themselves?

How to Navigate Multiple Offers

It’s one of those “good problems”: getting more than one job offer. But navigating the relationships and making a decision can be tough.

A Wall Street Journal article tells the story of a man faking his own death to avoid telling a company that he didn’t want to take the job after accepting an offer. According to an executive at the staffing company Robert Half, “ghosting” a prospective employer is most common among people out of school between two and six years. More and more, employers receive last-minute text messages or no-shows on the first day of work.

A management consultant believes the trouble is that college students lack the communication skills to handle these situations more professionally: “This is the generation that breaks up by text message, so in a professional context, to have to let someone down or give bad news was terrifying.”

Twice this past semester, students asked me for advice in reneging offers. Overall, I’m not a fan of the tactic. To me, it’s an issue of integrity: when students make a commitment to one employer, they shouldn’t change their minds when a better offer comes along. I also worry about their reputation in the industry—and whether their expectations will be too high for the new job, and they’ll end up disappointed. At Cornell, students also give up their access to career services in the future when this happens.

But students do what is best for them. What matters after the decision is how it’s communicated. I always suggest a phone call rather than an email, which takes courage. A direct, honest approach is best, with an apology and some understanding of how the decision affects the employer, who’s left with an unfilled position and additional recruiting time.

Ideally, students get offers at the same time with the same decision deadlines, but of course, that’s not always the case, and comparing offers becomes challenging. The WSJ article recommends these practices for evaluating and accepting job offers:

DO

Make clear early what you’re looking for in a new job.

Ask employers their timeline for making a decision.

Express appreciation and enthusiasm when receiving an offer.

Take time to assess each offer carefully, weighing both financial and quality-of-life factors.

DON’T

Communicate important decisions by text or email.

Try to pit one employer against another in a bidding war.

Respond to a job offer by announcing that you already have a competing one.

Base your decision solely on pay.

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Discussion:

  • Have you been in a situation of having multiple offers? How did you handle it?

  • Have you reneged on an offer? How did you communicate the decision, and how did the employer react?

  • What other advice would you give students who have multiple offers?

Robots Screen Candidates' Social Media

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A Wall Street Journal video explains how DeepSense uses artificial intelligence to analyze a job candidate’s personality. When companies post a job, recruiters or hiring managers identify what is most important for success; for example, how important is teamwork or project management? DeepSense then looks at a candidate’s social media profile to assess personality.

Founder Amarpreet Kalkat explains that the system may review a social media profile for only six seconds and will generate a report about the applicant’s DISC profile (a personality assessment) and “Big Five” personality traits. Using psycholinguistics, the computer analyzes language the candidate uses.

Kalkat says their results are 75% accurate, while traditional personality tests are 82% accurate.

Discussion:

  • What’s your view of using AI in this way? How confident would you be applying for a job that uses this technology?

  • How relevant is personality to a position? What are the advantages to a company of using such a system, and what are the potential disadvantages?

  • The video refers to “DeepSense,” but the website shows “DeeperSense.” How do you explain the discrepancy?

Acting Attorney General's Credentials Questioned

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Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker seems to have inflated his self-description as an “Academic All-American.” The title appeared on a bio for his previous law firm’s website, on an application for a judge position in 2010, and on a resume discovered from 2014.

Whitaker played football at the University of Iowa for two years, but he didn’t receive the official honor, according to the organization that grants the title. In 1992, the title went to another Iowa player.

Part of the confusion may be caused by a media guide produced by the university. An assistant athletic director admitted to describing Whitaker as “District VII academic All-American,” which is not correct.

Whitaker image source. Resume icon image.

Discussion:

  • The Wall Street Journal report doesn’t include a quotation from Whitaker. What, if anything, should Whitaker say to defend himself?

  • What on your resume could be called into question? Have you exaggerated any of your experience that could be discovered? Should you change anything to be more accurate?

  • How is this situation an issue of integrity? What other character dimensions could be at play here?

Good News, Bad News About Student Preparation for Work

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A survey of freshmen and seniors at 500 U.S. colleges shows that students feel positively about their career preparation. The According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), 93% of students say what they learned in school is relevant to their future career, and perhaps surprisingly, students with professional majors agree only slightly more than students in arts and sciences programs.

This is good news. But a Chronicle of Higher Education article identifies a disconnect: employers aren’t so confident about graduates’ preparation. Employers want students to immediately apply skills on the job, but faculty may not be teaching specific work-related skills, such as running a meeting or writing memos—two examples from the Chronicle article.

Discussion:

  • Students of business communication certainly know how to write a memo—or more accurately, an email. What other skills should be included in a college curriculum for any major?

  • One argument is that employers are responsible for skills training, while the university teaches critical-thinking skills. What’s your view?

  • What report writing principles does the NSSE follow, and how could it be improved? Particularly analyze the charts and graphs, such as the one shown here.

Woman Fired for Racial Profiling

A woman refused to let a black man into her apartment, and she was subsequently fired from her job. Hilary Mueller is shown on video, taken by D'Arreion Toles, asking to see his key fob and questioning who Toles was going to visit in the building. Toles eventually moved past Mueller, who followed him to his apartment door.

When the video was posted, it attracted more than 5 million views. Toles included the captions, "to be a black man in America" and "this is America in 2018." Complicating matters, Mueller called the police after the incident. Also, Mueller’s husband posted a video condemning her behavior. They have been separated for more than a year.

Mueller’s employer, real estate firm Tribeca-STL, also saw the video and terminated her employment. An ABC report includes a statement from the firm:

"The Tribeca-STL family is a minority-owned company that consists of employees and residents from many racial backgrounds. We are proud of this fact and do not and never will stand for racism or racial profiling at our company."

As of this writing, both the company website and its Twitter feed are unavailable.

Discussion:

  • Explain how this incident is an example of racial profiling.

  • Do you agree with the firm’s decision to fire Mueller? Why or why not?

  • In what ways did Mueller demonstrate and fail to demonstrate integrity and humility?

Video: "The Columnists on Risk"

The Wall Street Journal has gathered ideas from artists, celebrities, and business people on taking risks. Risk-taking is essential to address situations that conflict with your values, to have difficult conversations, to innovate, and to advance your career.

To demonstrate courage, we must assess risks. in his book, Moral Courage, Rushworth Kidder identifies three questions to ask ourselves when faced with a decision that requires courage. First, we must be willing to face ambiguity and confusion. Situations that require courage are rarely straightforward. Can we handle conflicting, complex points of view without having one “right” answer? Second, are we willing to face exposure? By taking action, we make ourselves vulnerable. Are we ready for the leadership role that’s required? Third, can we accept the loss? We may lose our reputation, our relationships, or our job.

Discussion:

  • How would you describe your risk tolerance?

  • To which of the ideas shared in the video do you most and least relate?

  • Some people in the video describe physical risks. What’s the difference between physical and moral courage?

  • How do your own ideas about risk affect your work and your employment choices?

School Policy for "Natural" Hair

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An 11-year-old black girl was sent home from school because her hair didn't fit guidelines for "natural" hairstyles. Over the summer, Christ the King Parish School in Terrytown, Louisiana, established a new policy, published in its handbook, banning hair extensions, which Faith Fennidy was wearing.

Videos show Fennidy crying, and critics called the policy discriminatory. But the Archdiocese of New Orleans defended the school's decision:

"This policy was communicated to all parents during the summer and again before the first day of school, and was applied to all students.

"The school offered the student's family an opportunity to comply with the uniform and dress policy and the family chose to withdraw the student; the student was not suspended or expelled."

A representative for the school also said, "We remain committed to being a welcoming school community that celebrates our unity and diversity." Fennidy decided not to return to the school.

Discussion:

  • What's your view of the policy? Do you find it appropriate, discriminatory, or something else?
  • How do attire policies in companies compare? What examples of similar policies have been problematic for companies?
  • Read more about the situation on BusinessInsider. How well did the school handle the situation? What, if anything, could have been done differently?

Professor Fakes Offer Letter

To negotiate for a higher salary, a Colorado State University faculty member invented an offer letter from another university. At first, Brian R. McNaughton was successful: he received an additional $5,000. But the university eventually found out the truth.

McNaughton resigned and now faces criminal charges for his actions. In a long letter, he cited personal pressure and other faculty submitting fake offers for increases in salary, but the university denies this history.

A Fast Company article offers advice for whether to use this approach to negotiate for more money. Of course, the article doesn't recommend faking another offer. Still, even presenting real offers is complicated and risky.

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Discussion:

  • What do you see as the possible complications and risks associated with presenting your current employer with another offer?
  • Consider using another offer during the recruiting process. What should you consider before you use this tactic?

Women Run "As Themselves"

After years of female politicians running for office in the pantsuit uniform, we're seeing newcomers present themselves more authentically. Women on the campaign trail are wearing skinny jeans and sweaters and talk openly about their children, mental illness, and credit card debt. A New York Times article describes their approach as "vulnerability that campaign consultants have long told women to avoid."

A 29-year-old Democratic candidate for Congress says the race is "so dang personal to me," and "It's personal" is a tagline for her commercials. Other examples are showing tattoos, wearing natural hair styles, and discussing a divorce.

A 2017 study, "Modern Family: How Women Candidates Can Talk About Politics, Parenting, and Their Personal Lives," confirms the approach. Comparing tested images, the study authors conclude, "Images [should] work strike the right balance of authenticity, formality, and the interaction between the candidate and the child." According to the findings, the image on the left side "works" but the image on the right doesn't: "Images that don’t work fail because they look too staged, are too casual, and either center the child too much, or seem like the candidate is ignoring the child."

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Discussion:

  • How might this approach relate to our current political environment and the MeToo Movement?
  • What are the potential downsides for women using this approach on the campaign trail?
  • How does this story related to women leaders in business?
  • Which business writing principles of report writing does the report follow? Analyze the report organization, content, and writing style.

Scott Pruitt Resigns

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt resigned after months of accusations of overspending and other ethical issues. Questions about Pruitt's judgment involved expensive travel, getting a job for his wife, and underpaying for an apartment.

President Trump had supported Pruitt, but the controversy may have reached a tipping point. Discovery of secret calendars could have been the last straw. A whistleblower said Pruitt kept three different calendars to hide meetings.

In his resignation letter to the president, Pruitt referred to "unrelenting attacks on me personally, [sic] my family, are unprecedented and have taken a sizable toll on all of us." In a tweet, President Trump was gracious and complimentary.

Discussion:

  • If you're familiar with Pruitt's history in the position, which of his alleged ethical lapses do you consider more serious? Which are less serious?
  • On balance, do you agree with Pruitt that he was attacked? How might your own political views affect your perspective?
  • Did he do the right thing by resigning? Why or why not?
  • How does Pruitt's resignation letter differ from resignation letters written for corporate jobs?
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Body Language During a Job Interview

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A Business Insider article gives tips for body language, and some suggestions are better than others.

The best advice is to "sit up straight" and "walk in with your shoulders pulled back and head held high"―good for an interview and for posture. The given example is for when you approach a receptionist, and this is a good first test of your communication skills and how you treat people throughout the interview process. Also good advice is to "nix sweaty palms with cold water" at a restroom before the interview starts.

Other advice is questionable. The point of "hold still" and "don't cross your legs" is to avoid excessive fidgeting, but a natural, comfortable position is probably best. In an hour-long interview, you can certainly shift your body a bit, which may include uncrossing and re-crossing your legs a couple of times. You don't want to appear stiff; authenticity is best.

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Discussion:

  • Which advice from the article do you find most and least useful?
  • In what ways do you tend to fidget? Have you found ways to control this, such as pulling back your hair or avoiding dangling jewelry?  

Cornell Student Presents Thesis in Underwear

Upset about a professor's advice to wear professional clothing, a student at Cornell University delivered her practice senior thesis in her underwear. The news is making international headlines, and some of the facts presented aren't quite what transpired.

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In this theater class, "Acting in Public," the faculty member encourages students to consider everything about their presentation, including dress. When a student wore cut-off shorts, she was asked to consider the impression she wanted to make.

Most students in the class did not agree with how the situation was portrayed, and 11 of the 13 other students in the class wrote a long description from their perspective. They write that, although they support the student's fight for equality, "All of us feel that our professor’s words and actions were unfairly represented in the post, with certain quotes taken out of context, and we wish to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred." They also explain that the professor "apologized for her choice of words, acknowledging that the notion of 'short shorts' on women carries a lot of cultural and political baggage." But the student wasn't in the classroom to hear this comment.

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Discussion:

  • Read the Cornell Daily Sun article and the other students' perspective. Whose side do you favor and why?
  • How do you view the student's actions: courageous, distasteful, disrespectful, or something else?
  • What's your opinion on "professional attire"? In what situations should people adjust what they wear?
  • Compare this situation to an employment interview. What is similar, and what is different?

How to Talk About Failure During an Interview

A new podcast, Change Agent, explores creative solutions to people's problems. In one episode, "Telling the Truth," a recovering alcoholic talks about her challenges during job interviews. Should she explain the gap in her resume?

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For help, the moderator looks to Domino's, which had notoriously bad reviews of its pizza. CEO J. Patrick Doyle explains how the company took an open approach to admitting failure. Doyle led a turnaround by running commercials admitting criticism about their pizza, for example, that the crust "tastes like cardboard." The results are documented in a Domino's video posted on YouTube.

The woman looking for a job was able to apply what she learned during a mock interview. Part of her recovery process is about being truthful, so was open to the strategy.

During the podcast, we hear the woman admitting her challenges, although she goes on longer than may be useful or appropriate during a job interview. Still, the interviewer reacted positively to her telling the truth.

Discussion:

  • What are the risks to admitting failure in this way?
  • How could you apply this strategy to your own job search? What failing or misstep could you explain in a way that demonstrates self-reflection and learning from failure?
  • In what ways does the podcast demonstrate authenticity and vulnerability? 

Tweets Cause Journalist to Lose Job Offer

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The New York Times has rescinded a job offer to a journalist because of reactions to some of her tweets. Criticism about Quinn Norton came after people discovered her relationship with a neo-Nazi called "Weev." Norton referred to him as a friend. The Times also reported new information about Norton: "It also turned up years-old tweets by Ms. Norton in which she used slurs against gay people and another in which she retweeted a racial slur."

We know that most recruiters use social media to vet candidates. The practice is controversial: some believe it's an invasion of privacy, while others believe it's potentially discriminatory. In this case, information was discovered about Norton after an offer was extended, which led to the awkward situation of pulling the offer. Other companies will do a thorough review of candidates before an offer is made.

According to Jobvite's 2017 Recruiter Nation report, recruiters disapprove of candidates' "political rants" online. This situation may fit that category.

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Discussion:

  • What's your view of companies "Googling" candidates? What are the arguments for and against this practice?
  • Did the Times make the right decision? Why or why not? Read more about Norton's views here.
  • How does Norton's potential job with the New York Times affect the outcome? Would a different media company have made a different decision? In other words, how is this an issue of integrity?
  • Norton chose not to disclose her social media history. Would her vulnerability have helped or hurt her candidacy at the Times?