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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall

It's better to
do a few things
really well than
than to do
a lot of things
If you can't
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commitments of
time and energy
to your
scale back
your plan.
John Sumser

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Negative Information
(December 08, 2000) Take a bland, ill considered description of a job and try to match it against a badly written personal marketing document. Better yet, get lots of both and call it a marketplace. Measure the volume in tonnage (millions of resumes and jobs) and call it friction reduction. It sounds like a recycling program, not an employment market.

It's a world in which no negative information is exchanged, a sort of Stepford Talent Market. Bland and superficial, one might imagine a Stepford Talent Market Group that polishes hyperbole in search of market momentum. Like many of today's consultancies, no real experience is required. Fluff, flattery and upbeat obfuscation can take the place of results.

It's not surprising that negative information wants to keep a low profile. After all, how far would you get with a resume that said "I've taken the computer at each of my last 4 jobs" or "I enjoy viewing my collection of company office supplies" or "I prefer having my haircut in the mid afternoon" or "I often forget to shut up when I don't know what I'm talking about".

At the same time, who'd apply for a job described as "Responsible for loose ends; scapegoat potential is high" or "Boss has strong inflexibilities regarding the question of who is right" or "Seeking third CEO in a year" or "impossible deadlines with inadequate funds".

But, the Internet has shuffled in an era when the cat is out of the bag. It turns out that negative information is the foundation of early trust. Before shared experience, negative information indicates the strengthening of a relationship. Companies like Vault.com, WetFeet (before they leaped headfirst into the land of hyperbole) and our favorite unmentionable layoff tracker garner huge volumes of traffic by tracking and publishing the "inside skinny". (Read the icplanet story and see if you don't get a clear picture of corporate culture). The stock market message boards (see Webhire, Kforce or CDI) provide volatile conversation with strong swipes at senior management.

We got to thinking about the importance of negative information after laughing hard at the parody site, kfarce. The absolutely wonderful site includes rich multimedia presentations of xeroxing skills, interview techniques and, our favorite, supervisory skills (you'll need a media player). We can imagine that the management and legal teams at kforce, suffering under public scrutiny, have had lots of meetings trying to figure out how to shut it down.

We think that they'd be better off proudly pointing out the fact that someone thought they were worth parodying. When you consider that the alternatives are essentially self parodying, this is a badge of honor. Were it our problem, we'd find ways to celebrate and promote the negative stuff.

Across our industry, negative information is freeing itself from its shackles. It's a good thing, although it takes some getting used to. 

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Wisdom Automation

(December 07, 2000) We continue to wrestle with the notion that software is a form of media (like a compact disc or a piece of paper) and will eventually be priced accordingly. The question, we think, is how to maintain high margins in an environment that is continually turning high margin business into commodities at an extraordinary pace. Reaching far beyond the realm of Electronic Recruiting, this question is central to the long term success of any company in or out of our business.

Simply, the question is "How do you continue to provide your customer with novel, high value services?". Like we see everyday in Electronic Recruiting, the moment a good new idea hits the market, the competitors begin to copy it. Either market advantage is fleeting and dependent on a continuing stream of innovation or it requires a non-repeatable (or labor intensive) method. We think this question is at the center of the development of a workable strategy in our industry and the rest of the Internet industry.

One approach to solving the problem is to institutionalize a wisdom department. You may remember the scale of value that goes something like "Data - Information - Insight Wisdom". Wisdom represents the highest value, data the lowest. We believe that all wisdom has a half-life. At the half-life point, wisdom degrades into information and can be automated. A Wisdom department would be in charge of developing a constant stream of new wisdom and figuring out how to deliver it to the customer.

The other, more widely practiced approach (demonstrated by the HRXML consortium among others) is to wait until wisdom is totally degraded and becomes repeatable data. This approach, appropriate for a large institutional player, assumes that commodity pricing is a good thing and that low margins are the key to market dominance. In this model, survival is sold rather than the opportunity for a customer to gain real market benefit. We believe that this approach values mediocrity and consistency over innovation. It's much easier to execute (particularly if you are a big player with relatively limitless budgets),

We tend to look at the market as leaning towards one extreme or the other. The highest return on your investment is likely to come from the former while reliable performance, at rates consistent with all other players, comes from the latter. In a "War For Talent", no one can really afford the luxury of market performance. It is, by definition, declining.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

The Search

(December 06, 2000) Believe it or not, we're all engaged in a search for a new metaphor.The difference between contemporary Electronic Recruiting practice and future evolutions is as simple (or complex) as finding a different way of thinking about the problem. The key to unearthing the "different way of thinking"? Don't think about it the way you currently do.

It's one of those puzzles that OD people are great at having in the odd moment. Don't think about your nose.Imagine your office if it were totally different. A mental Catch 22, the search for a new metaphor is what moves things forward.

The airplane languished as an interesting but unprofitable technical achievement until the underlying metaphor was correct. The Wright brothers and their competitors all thought of the the airplane as a bicycle. It was intended for use by one or two people with weight being the primary concern. By the advent of the 1st World War, the metaphor was becoming more car-like. However, it wasn't until Howard Hughes understood that the airplane was a bus that the Aviation industry started seeing regular profitability. Even then, it was not until the 1980s that air travel became completely commonplace..

The trouble with searching for metaphors is that its hard to see how deeply integrated they are in your experience.

Much of our criticism of the current Job Board industry comes from the fact that the central metaphor is a database. That's a slight improvement, after 6 years, from a Job Board is online classified advertising.With these notions, we're limited to "you put it out, someone else reads it". It's hard to integrate targeting disciplines into a database.

In many HR environments, they say, "Recruiting is my biggest headache."

That's why we sometimes say, "Recruiting is advertising" or "Recruiting is direct Marketing" or "Recruiting is precise communications" or "Recruiting is Marketing".

We're beginning to like "Recruiting is the path people take into an organization." or "Recruiting is a relationship that matures into an employment decision". or, like Icarian, "Recruiting is the development of an adequate supply of the right people." (It's a little wordy, for sure).

The underlying metaphor shapes the way you think about the problem. It limits possibilities and focuses solutions.

In many HR environments, they say, "Recruiting is my biggest headache."

Here at interbiznet, we say, "The search for a new metaphor gives us a headache".

If you have a new way of thinking about Recruiting, we'd love to hear about it.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Passive Candidates

(December 05, 2000) We had the interesting pleasure of stumbling across a Monster.com infomercial while flipping between the presidential talking heads the other day. Taking a cue from Ronco, Jenny Craig and a Christmas Sing along special, the program featured Jeffrey Taylor (Monster's CEO) doing an impression of the Clark Kent side of Anthony Robbins. Laced with testimonials and closeups, the audience told stories of finding employment (and meaning) on Monster.com.

We're always a little rough on Jeffrey and his company. Part of it is the terrain that comes with being number one. Part of it is the fundamental disagreement we have with their strategy.

On the road to trying to be come the "number one source for talent online", Monster and its parent are recreating the diversity of the web under a single brand name. Now the third (nearly second) largest owner of staffing agencies, we argue that there are embedded conflict of interest problems and too much overhead associated the method. We think that the buckshot approach to brand segmentation is a show of muscle and a recipe for ultimate failure.

It makes picking on them an easy fall back position that occasionally clouds our judgment.

We were tempted to dwell on the syrupy "Mom and Apple Pie" approach and ask if they were going to launch a "Veg-O-Monster" product line.

In a fit of near objectivity, however, we noticed something important. There are tons of people who are peddling the "Internet Secrets of Finding Passive Candidates", the ability to "Find Candidates Before the Competition", and the "Jealously Guarded Secrets Of Online Recruiting". We tend to think of these approaches as "things Recruiters can do to avoid making a phone call". The bogus search for so called passive candidates is a distractor from the real task at hand.

We've railed against the very idea that there are such things as passive candidates. We even registered the domain name "JobMarley.com" as a part of a plan to guarantee the delivery of the most passive candidates available. As an old friend used to say, "Either you is or either you ain't".

Monster, on the other hand, has gone into the business of trying to create fresh inventory. The show featured many images of people who were other than the best and brightest (you know, the normal kind who work hard and are loyal) discovering that their market value exceeded their wildest expectations. It explained how easy it is to use the features of Monster's Resume system. Kidding aside, it was an insightful look at the question of motivating and educating new users. We're going to have to applaud this particular venture. Monster is working hard to develop new ways to expand their database. It's a model worth following.

To enlarge the market, Monster has to unlock a riddle: how do you motivate currently content people to seek a change in employment? Given its clout and the size of its war chest, Monster is shouldering the burden of education and new candidate development for much of the industry. It's a part of the price of being number one. Many of the folks who applaud our needling of the company benefit in nearly direct ways from the largesse Monster is required to show to grow the market. Not a small amount of job hunter traffic is built on Monster refugees who are looking for alternatives. Some of the silly, doomed for failure, business plans that we see assume that candidates just wander around the web waiting to see a banner ad. What they're really doing is sponging off the work that Monster has to accomplish to retain its position.

So, we'll give them a little time out from under our harsh light.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


(December 04, 2000) It's always dangerous when we get too literal. After pondering an article about Beatnik in the New Gig, we decided that we grokked things enough to get out our bongos. We were almost ready to grow a goatee. Man, that lingo seems so familiar.

It turns out that while we weren't looking, there was a retro beatnik revolution. It's a Russian Space Mission. It's a record company. It's audio software. It's a band. It's a user's group (community). You can even get a beatnik job (which tells you in pure beatnik fashion that there is no such thing).

Did you know that a beatnik ran for President? No tie!

Or that the web will write a "groove" for you? Perhaps that's the way to exchange poetry with a real California Beatnik.

According to British Fashion News:

One of the coolest looks around, which doesn't rely on irony, is beatnik style. Simplicity is the key to getting it right. Budding beatniks should stick to black and invest in a beret and a polo neck for effortless cool. The only accessories needed are plenty of eyeliner, pale lips and poker straight hair.
They must have been wandering around our offices. Or maybe they met Ralph at bongobeat. We got to looking for a picture of Maynard G (for Walter) Krebs. Some think he was the quintessential beatnik. Some think he wasn't.

Turns out that our industry is located in squaresville, daddy. It's nowheresville, man, Can you dig it? We didn't even know there was a jobsville.

The point of this morning's ramble is that there are deep trends in the culture that we don't always see. Reaching out to workers who have roots in these cultures requires the kind of research (see above) that the web is great for. Take a look at the Maynard G. Krebs Dictionary to remind yourself about the complexities of a subculture. It's a lot harder to reach into the HipHop world or the immigrant subcultures. However, they have similar depth. Accommodating and celebrating is what real 21st Century Diversity programs will be about.

Meanwhile, Beatnik is the kind of technology that just sneaks up on you when you aren't looking.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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Materials written
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© TwoColorHat.
All Rights Reserved.

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