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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Cover image source.

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?

WSJ Article Encourages Exotic Clothes for Networking

TempTime to go shopping. A Wall Street Journal article profiles Pradeep Aradhya, a digital marketing executive and investor, about his approach to networking. He says that networking didn't come easy to him, but he now attends events for six to eight hours a week and finds ways to stand out.

Aradhya follows a model he learned to "entertain, enlighten or enrich" others. He also changed his wardrobe from traditional suits to "crushed silk or woven with metallic thread, and wears exotic-looking designer shoes." According to Aradhya, he doesn't always have to start conversations; often, people will comment on his unusual clothing. Another strategy is saying something shocking, such as introducing himself as the king of India.

An article in Career Ladders offers advice for networking attire. The recommendations sound prescriptive-based on the event, for example, a barbecue or a cocktail party. For women going to a cocktail party, for example, the article suggests the following:

Choose a cocktail dress that is flattering and exposes a tasteful amount of skin. No plunging necklines or bandage dresses, please. Look for a hem that grazes the knee - any longer, and you will look dated; any shorter, and you will look like you belong in a club. Dresses made in chiffon or silk lay nicer than satin, which tends to rumple in all the wrong places. A silhouette that flatters almost any women's body is sleeveless, with a scoop neck, fitted waist and slightly fuller skirt. Avoid fussy prints and stick to colors that translate well at night: black, gray, shades of red and navy. Wear open-toed heels and your favorite ear or neck sparklers for a finishing touch.

Compared to Aradhya's strategy, this is certainly a conservative approach.

Discussion:

  • How do you balance presenting your "best self" and being authentic? Can you think of times when you felt inauthentic during a networking or another type of event? What were the circumstances, and what did you learn?
  • How do you know what risks to take during networking? What's enough to distinguish you, and what's too much?
  • How important do you think attire is during networking events? How difficult is it to overlook someone who isn't dressed for the part but may be a great business partner or hire?

Applicant Asks About Salary and Employer Cancels Interview

Skip3SkipTheDishes1It was a tough lesson for Taylor Byrnes, looking for a menu developer position in Winnepeg. After a phone interview and before an in-person interview, she dared to ask her prospective employer, food delivery service SkipTheDishes, about wages and benefits. The company didn't appreciate the questions and cancelled the interview.

After the predictable outrage on Twitter, co-founder Joshua Simair said in a statement, "The email sent to Taylor was wrong and does not represent our team's approach or values," and "We are very disappointed in how it was handled. We do share a compensation package prior to hiring. As soon as we became aware of it on Monday, we reached out to Taylor to apologize for the email and reschedule her interview."

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Discussion:

  • Your thoughts? It typically is considered poor form to ask about salary on a first interview, but what about this situation? Did Byrnes behave badly? Did she make the situation worse with her posts on social media and therefore get what she deserved?
  • How well did SkipTheDishes respond? Should they have done something else?
  • Would you offer Byrnes the job if she's qualified? How easily can she and the HR staff get past this?

What's in a Handshake?

Trump Body LanguageBusiness Insider asked Dr. Lillian Glass, a self-described body language expert to analyze President Trump's body language. She says Trump's "robust" handshake with the prime minister of Japan communicates, "Hey, we get along. I really like you." She says the PM's body language communicates the same and says that Trump's "cupping" his hand (placing his hand over the prime minister's) also indicates affection.

But comedians The Young Turks criticize the exchange, including audio of the prime minister telling Trump, "Look at me" and, immediately after the handshake is finished, pulling his body away and looking like he wants to leave.

Dr. Glass says Trump's handshake with the British prime minister shows "he's very respectful" and that "he doesn't know her that well or, you know, that he doesn't have the same affection towards her as the others."

With Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, Glass says Trump and he had a warm handshake, and placing a hand on the arm "indicates friendship." A body language expert who analyzed this move by President Obama said it demonstrated power. Glass says Trump's body language with Obama shows tension.

Discussion:

  • If it's not obvious from this post, I'm skeptical about some of Glass interpretations. What do you think?
  • What about the context of these interactions could affect our interpretation? Consider that these are short clips, possibly edited, and are in front of the media.
  • What, if any, lessons from this can you glean for job interviews? How would you describe your own approach to shaking hands in a business situation?

Judgments People Make Within Seconds

8 JudgmentsBusiness Insider tells us about eight judgments people make right after meeting you:

  • If you're trustworthy
  • If you're high status (based on clothing)
  • If you're straight or gay
  • If you're smart (based on eye contact, expressive speaking, and eye glasses)
  • If you're promiscuous (based on tattoos)
  • If you have a dominant personality (based on having a bald head)
  • If you're successful (based on a man's suit)
  • If you're adventurous (based on how you walk)

Business Insider identifies research institutions, but we don't see citations for further study. Each judgment seems to be based on one study, so I would be wary about drawing too many conclusions. Yet, we have plenty of research about quick impressions, particularly during job interviews.

Discussion:

  • How are quick judgments helpful and harmful? They do serve a purpose, but what are the dangers?
  • How does knowing about this research help you personally and professionally? For example, if you know that you make judgments with little information-knowingly or unknowingly-how can you ward against them?

Resumes for Inexperienced Applicants

Business Insider recommends good advice for students and others with little work experience. For a resume, this video suggests focusing on accomplishments and highlighting social media skills, which could be coveted by employers.

Resume advice
 

But other advice may be outdated or inappropriate. For example, including a goal or objective at the top of your resume may not be necessary your interest is clear on your cover letter or if you're applying for a job through your school's on-campus recruiting program. In both cases, the job you want is obvious.

Career website The Muse goes further, suggesting an objective only when you're making a major career change-not for students, as Business Insider suggests, and Cleverism recommends the same.

Discussion:

  • Which advice in the video do you find most and least helpful? What, if anything, contradicts what you have learned in the past?
  • What other advice would you give to a high school student creating his or her first resume?

"Top Skills" According to LinkedIn Analysis

LinkedIn analyzed recruiting activity on the site in 2016 and identified the top 10 skills employers want. A more accurate heading may be skills for which employers search. Not surprisingly, all are technology related.

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I'm glad to see Data Presentation make the list; it's a core skill in our Management Communication classes at Cornell. LinkedIn's commentary expresses companies' growing interest well:

Show me, don't tell me: For the first time ever, data presentation, which is visualizing data, makes the list with the #8 spot. With statistical analysis and data mining holding strong again this year at #2, employers need employees who can organize data so it's easy for people to understand.

In addition to the overall number, LinkedIn identifies skills by country, and we seem interesting differences. A few non-technical skills emerge when we drill down:

  • HR Benefits and Compensation (Australia, Brazil, UK)
  • Corporate Law and Governance (Australia, France, Singapore, UAE)
  • Business Development and Relationship Management (Brazil)
  • Public Policy and International Relations (China, India, South Africa, UAE)
  • Social Media Marketing (China)
  • Business Intelligence (China)
  • SEO/SEM Marketing (France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Singapore, UAE, UK)
  • Compliance and Employment Law (France)
  • Marketing Campaign Management (France, Ireland, Singapore)
  • Retail Store Operations (Germany)
  • Channel Marketing (Germany)
  • PR and Communications (India)
  • Economics (India)
  • Recruiting (Ireland, Netherlands)
  • Foreign Language Translation (Singapore)
  • Renewable and Sustainable Energy (UAE)
  • Mining and Commodities (UAE)

Of course, many of these involve technology, but they are not as tech heavy as, say, algorithm design. 

LinkedIn's analysis also indicates, "Demand for marketing skills is slowing because the supply of people with marketing skills has caught up with employers' demand for people with marketing skills." 

Discussion Starters:

  • What, if anything, surprises you about these lists? Consider the source: LinkedIn. Could some of the data be skewed?
  • Looking at the list of non-technical skills, what conclusions do you draw about business and about supply and demand in those countries?

"Robo-Interviews" Become More Prevalent

HireVueMore companies are interviewing applicants via webcam, and the process is not interactive like Skype and FaceTime interviews. About 90% of these interviews have no interviewer present. Applicants respond to questions on the spot, sometimes with a warm-up question and a few seconds to compose a response, but not always. A Bloomberg article quoted one candidate about his experience:

"I'm not a YouTube star, obviously," he said. "It's such a weird experience talking to a camera. It honestly was pretty horrible." Jamie Black, who suffered through the video interview experience for a job at a school, said it felt "more like a game show than an interview." 

HireVue, which provides interview software, reports 2.5 million such interviews in 2016. The company's clients include JPMorgan, Deloitte, and "most of the major airlines."

The process has some advantages. Of course, it saves companies travel and other expenses of live interviews. But some companies also say that are able to meet more people through the technology. The Bloomberg article ends with a quote from HireVue's founder, Mark Newman:

"Candidates will generally say, 'I would have preferred an in-person interview to this,' but that's not the right comparison," HireVue's Newman said. "The alternative is no interview at all."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • What's your experience with interview videos?
  • What benefits and downsides do you see for applicants?
  • How do you think this technology affects people of color? If companies want a more diverse workforce, will the software help or hurt?

Recruiter Rejects Candidate for "Vulgar Comments"

O-OKCUPID-facebookThe Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) tells the story of a recruiter who rejected a candidate because of comments found on the dating app OkCupid. The recruiter, Sam Oliver, explains his decision in an article and describes the post: "[H]e was calling her obscene names and threatening sexual assault."

Oliver also describes his process for screening candidates online:

"Like most recruiters, I use a variety of sources when evaluating candidates - LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, AngelList, github, reddit, dribbble, the list goes on. Most people's social media is pretty benign: shared memes and jokes, vacation photos, interactions with friends and family. When looking at people's social media, I'm mostly looking to corroborate facts and timelines on their resume - where they live, previous jobs, alma mater, etc. If they've put enough information out there, I might also get an accurate glimpse of their personality, which is very helpful in hiring."

"Unfortunately for him, he had used his LinkedIn head shot as one of his OKCupid profile photos, and it was very easy for me to confirm his identity via a reverse Google image search. To any seasoned recruiter, I deduced his real identity using well-known tricks of the trade; people often do not realize how much information is public and readily accessible via social media."

Both the SHRM article and Oliver explain that the rejection is perfectly legal. You may be thinking that you can't discriminate against applicants, but that applies only to certain qualities, such as race, sex, and age. On the other hand, employers have a legal responsibility to maintain a harassment- and discrimination-free environment, and an employee who writes "threatening" messages online may put an organization at risk. 

Although he had no obligation to, Oliver told the applicant why he wouldn't pass his resume along to his client, which gave the applicant a chance to deactivate some accounts and remove incriminating photos. 

This situation is a good lesson for students seeking jobs. Assume everything you post can be retrieved and traced back to you.

Discussion Starters:

  • Does the recruiter's decision surprise you? Why or why not? What are the downsides to rejecting a candidate based on social media posts?
  • What advice from Chapter 12 would have helped this applicant?
  • What about your own social media history may put your job search in jeopardy? Use Google and other sites to find as much information about yourself as you can.