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Virtual Learning

January 15, 1999

It certainly looks like 1999 will be the year of cyber-classrooms, online education, and virtual learning. Universities are quickly moving to offer online courses, and students are clamoring for more. For example, the University of California has joined with Cal State University and California Community Colleges to offer nearly 2000 online courses and degree programs.

The question is - How do online classes stack up against more traditional methods of education?

While it will take years before any valid statistical information is available (subject requires further study), there are a few reasons to believe that virtual learning will turn out to be substantive. First, classrooms are an arbitrary setting in place and time that are meant to serve economies of scale rather than individual learning requirements. Second, email as a means of communication is becoming second nature to students and professors. Third, students listening to lectures on CD-Rom can play them when they want, and as often as they want.

At home study, like telecommuting, requires more discipline. But it certainly makes a lot more sense to study and work when your creative juices are active, rather than inert. Sort of like an ergonomics of labor versus time, flextime versus assembly line shifts. Most of the students I was in class with would probably take tests late at night, as that is when the bulk of their studying took place.

There are obvious drawbacks as well. Email conversations eliminate some of the spontaneity and visual cues that are inherent in face to face interactions. Recent reports indicate that the students that suffer the most from using online classes rather than traditional methods are those that need to be 'bottle fed' information. Stanley Chodorow, Dean of California Virtual University, notes that cyber-learning "students must be active. There is a certain percentage of students whose only action is to get themselves to class… then they sit there dead silent."

An overlooked benefit to online discussions may involve the very students who you might think are most likely to fare the worst. One reason some students don't participate in class is the fear of appearing ignorant. Some of this fear may subside when asking questions during online lectures, and will disappear when asking questions when only the professor is checking email. What is harder to imagine is a 'chat room' that can successfully mimic a traditional classroom discussion, without degenerating into a series of shallow observations. It may be a case of breadth over depth, which will suit ever-shortening attention spans.

Western Governor's University provides more than 300 online classes from 26 different universities, colleges, and corporations. Look at what online classes are offered in your area, and try one out. Some proponents of online classes think that they are more appropriate for core introductory material, or for specialty/technical classes.

If you think about it, online classes are no worse than classes at large universities that have four hundred students, ten teaching assistants, and 'interaction' with the professor amounts to watching them on a monitor. And it will be just as easy for a dog to earn a degree online as it was for one to get a degree from Indiana University several years ago.


-Mark Poppen


January 14, 1999

Job Interviews are not only one of the Holy Grails of Jobhunting, they are also regarded with fear and loathing. You are assessed like a piece of meat, fodder for the labor grist mill. And it takes a lot of effort for most of us to walk away still feeling good about ourselves, especially since the odds are so great we'll be rejected for the Job.

Given our Love/Hate relationship to Job Interviews, there are some important things to remember before you thank the Inquisitor, er, Interviewer, for their time. First and foremost, don't forget to ask for the Job! Most Interviewees forget (or are too shy, embarrassed, etc) to ask for the position they are Interviewing for.

Offer to come back for another Interview. Recognize the plight the Interviewer is in, talking to dozens of candidates and trying to discern relevant differences between them. Showing your compassion, or ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, may be the deciding factor in your favor. If not this time, maybe it will stick with the next Interviewer.

Find out the Employer's hiring timeframe, and whether they inform all applicants of their decision, or just the ones they hire. You need to know when you should be crossing this company off your 'possibles list', and concentrating on the next Job lead.

Finally, at the end of every Interview, ask the Hiring Manager for leads to other Jobs. They may be the best possible source anywhere for Job availability information. You've just made an effort to sell them on your skills, and they've reviewed your work history in some detail. Hiring Managers travel in a circle of associations with like-minded concerns, namely, "How do I fill these positions with competent and dependable Employees?" What a goldmine! Their professional success is dependent on finding good Employees. Even if you are not the best candidate for the particular Job they are filling today, you may be the best match for one they are (or a colleague is) filling tomorrow.

So don't leave an Interview on a depressed note when it looks like you're not 'the one and only'. Remember that the Interviewer is human, prone to errors in judgement, and may yet serve as the critical resource in getting you either the Job you want, or something close to it. And send a thank you note!!! Hiring managers are almost universally surprised (read disappointed) that less than one out of fifteen Interviewees takes the time to perform this simple courtesy. They remember the Jobhunters that give them respect, and this may just be the edge you need.


-Mark Poppen

Weigh Your Options

January 13, 1999

Many of us are in the position of having to grab the first Job offer that gets within grabbing distance. Unfortunately, this does not constitute 'career planning'. Even if the first Job offer is in a field that interests you, I hope you will have the time and financial wherewithal to make a conscious decision to either accept or reject any Job offer.

Throughout your career you are going to be judged (to some extent) by the length of time spent with previous Employers. If your periods of Employment are too brief, then Hiring Managers will mark your application with cautionary red flags. In some cases you will have excellent reasons for your brief tenure at your last position - the Job was temporary or seasonal, or the particular project ended. In other cases, you may have true but weaker explanations for why things didn't work out. For example, the classic "My Boss was a jerk." Although the vast majority of firings occur because of personality conflicts rather than incompetence by the Employee, Employers get nervous when they look over work histories that read like a travel log.

Some questions that are worth asking yourself before saying 'yes' to the next offer that comes down the pike:

Am I taking this Job just to be Employed?

Am I willing to work for someone I don't respect?

Will I sell goods/services I don't believe in?

Does this Company promote Employee growth and learning?

Will this Job further my career goals? If so, how?

These are not always easy questions to answer, and you're bound to make mistakes. In fact, you're guaranteed to make mistakes because you'll be evolving from one Job to the next, and your likes, dislikes, and career plans will change several times as you gain experience. One way to help make these kinds of decisions is to chart the pros & cons of a Job offer on a page. Sketch out what you think is positive about working for Company X, and write down possible negative consequences. While the items don't have equal weight, just writing them down often allows the subconscious a chance to emerge and give you some input.

Whenever possible, delay impulse decisions regarding Job offers. Employers will understand (usually!) that decisions like this are important and should require some reflection. If they push you, remind them of the serious consequences of hiring the wrong person. If you show them that you consider accepting a Job offer to be a serious commitment on your part, they should be appreciative of your thoughtfulness and respect your decision-making ability in the future as well.

Someone who leaps before looking will eventually take a portion of their hard-earned business down the drain.


-Mark Poppen

Best and Worst Methods

January 11, 1999

What are the best (and worst) methods for getting a Job?

Knowing the answer to this question is one of the first steps in your Jobhunt. And one of the best resources available is Richard Nelson Bolles' Industry Standard for Jobhunters, What Color is your Parachute? Both the hard copy book and associated website should be accessed repeatedly by the diligent Jobhunter. His advice? Use a combination of the best methods so that if you are screened out by on you may access the person you need to talk to by other means. Bolles rates Jobhunting methods by the average number of successes (per 100 Jobhunters) for each of the following methods, from best to worst.

86/100 - Thoroughly research the target company, know what skills you have to offer and how they mesh with company needs, and talk to people already working there. Find the person with the ability to hire you, use your current contacts and those you've acquired by showing an interest in this field, and show your prospective Employer how you can help solve their problems and make their work lives a little easier.

69/100 - Use the Yellow Pages to identify fields of interest near you (or in a target city). Call potential Employers to find out what needs they have, and explain how you can help solve them. The success rate for this particular method improves if you conduct it with other Jobhunters as a group.

47/100 - Apply in person at the company that interests you, whether they are advertising for help or not. Ask for the Job, and tell them why they should hire you.

33/100 - Ask friends, family, guidance counselors at your school, etc one simple question: Do you know of open positions anywhere?

The worst methods of getting a Job?

7/100 - Sending out Resumes. There are appx 1500 Resumes circulating for every Job offer made.

7/100 - Answering Job Ads in professional journals.

10/100 - Answering out of town newspaper ads. Local ads result in a marginally better rate.

15/100 - Using private employment agencies.

Evidence about the utility of finding a Job using the Net is less documented, and is highly dependent upon the type of Employment. To date, Information Technology Jobs dominate the Internet Job Ads. If you have the appropriate technical skills, the Net is a good starting point for your Jobsearch. If not, then the primary use of the Net is as a research tool to find company information and Jobsearch techniques.

Caveat - In looking at these averages, don't misunderstand what the numbers mean. If you send out 100 Resumes, that doesn't mean you will receive an average of 7 Job offers. It means that of 100 Jobhunters that only send out Resumes, 7 will acquire Jobs thereby, and 93 won't.


-Mark Poppen


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