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Spies R Us

January 22, 1999

Do you use your computer for email, surfing on the Net, or passing along off-color jokes to your friends? Done from home, these are perfectly legitimate uses for your PC. Done from your PC at work, they may be sufficient to get you fired.

Both Federal and State courts have been weighing in with decisions that paint a dismal picture for privacy rights at work. Even if your Employer has told you that your communications from your desktop at work are private, they can still be used as grounds for termination.

At Chevron Corp. in San Francisco, computer security analysts were shocked to learn, in a general survey of Internet usage administered in the last quarter of 1997, that 46% of usage fell into the broad category of "non-business." That included 5% that appeared to be for the purposes of reading or downloading sexually explicit information, says Rich Bowman, a specialist in information protection for the company.

The technology for monitoring personal computers is blossoming like a mushroom in fertile soil, and Employers are not immune to sales pitches that convince them their Employees are slackers when no one is watching the fort. Or promises that worker productivity can be quantified easily, like how many keystrokes/hr is our new hire pounding out, & what percentage of those keystrokes are work related? Better still, "Monitoring can be done at little cost!"

While that may be music to the ears of some, there are always costs involved that are not immediately apparent. Monitoring Employee activity intensely can increase Employee stress levels, limit camaraderie and team output, and devalue the overall quality of work life that makes a particular company's atmosphere attractive to begin with. While jokes and distractions can eat up large chunks of the work day, few people enjoy working in a tomb. Creativity is a fickle mistress, and stifling the freedom to think and speak 'out of the box' can lead to Company wide stagnation.

A survey conducted recently by the American Management Association notes that over one-third of all Employers responding conduct some form of electronic monitoring of their Employee's desktop PC's. Whether or not Employers monitor their Employees is partially a function of Company attitude and how Job performance is measured. If performance is measured by output rather than by straight hourly pay, then electronic surveillance methods are less likely to be in effect.

If you have a natural tendency for voyeurism (or just like spying on people), the FBI is looking for a few good men and women. When I say a few, I mean it. They screen out anyone who has 'done' Marijuana in the past three years, which has got to eliminate roughly 90% of potential Employees between the ages of 18 and 45. For a broad listing of firms that do private investigating, look into this site.

For good or ill, being online means leaving tracks that others can follow, interpret, and make public.


-Mark Poppen


January 21, 1999

Everyone has strengths and weakness. Personally, my strength has always been with math - "Numbers are my friends!" And my glaring weakness has been in computer technology. Coercing my computer to do what I want has been a constant struggle since I first bought a 386 - 16 Mhz computer nearly ten years ago. I remember fighting for eight straight hours just trying to access wordperfect one day. Friends who claimed to be 'computer literate' would only get stymied deeper in the operating system's labyrinthian maze, like owners of a four-wheeler whose only advantage over a two-wheel drive truck was their ability to get stuck deeper in the mud.

Fortunately, computers are a lot more user-friendly now then they were even five years ago. And I've learned the two most important lessons of the computing age. First, control + alt + delete (and it's corollary, turn the power off, wait ten seconds, and turn it back on). Second, cut and paste. All other computer lessons pale before these two foundations. At least in my book. My friends (other than numbers) refer to me as technologically challenged (post PC), or before the advent of political correctness, computer disabled.

In some sense we are all disabled, though we tend to make this distinction on purely physical or mental grounds alone. The ADA defines an "individual with a disability" as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Most 'disabled' people of working age are unemployed, and estimates run as high as a 70% unemployment rate.

Most (72%) of the working age, unemployed people with disabilities say they would prefer to work. This represents a potential work force in this country of almost twenty million people. One of the many organizations that are helping these potential laborers into the workforce is the National Business & Disability Council.

A continuing perceived labor shortage, combined with the rise of telecommuting, may encourage Companies to train (and tap into) this underused resource. When you hear about the coming labor shortage, remember that what it really means is Companies are having trouble filling specific Jobs that require advanced training. Or they haven't made much of an effort to find and train willing workers.


-Mark Poppen

Job Fairs and Testing

January 20, 1999

Submitting yourself to individual Employers takes a lot of time and effort. Since you may have to make several trips before finally getting past the first layer of screening, and you'll probably have to visit a dozen different prospective Employers, you're potentially looking at hundreds of hours of leg work.

One way to bypass some of this effort is to utilize Job Fairs. At good ones you may be able to submit your resume and make eye contact with anywhere from ten up to a hundred Employers. One of the largest online Job Fair services that comes highly recommended is Westech, which focuses on high-tech careers. They also have an interesting new tool for Jobhunters called Job Agent, which functions as an automated matcher (and email notification system!) between Jobs and Jobhunters using selected keywords.

While Job Fairs do save a lot of Jobhunting energy, they tend to have a meat market flavor to them. You'll find yourself hustling & bustling with other Jobhunters, wondering if their credentials are marginally better than yours, or substantially better. Keep in mind that Employers are looking less at how you appear on paper, and more at how you seem in person.

In fact, the next technological wave hitting the recruiting industry that Jobhunters need to be aware of concerns testing tools for Hiring Managers. If you say you are familiar with Windows 98, you may have to prove it during your Interview. Other testing instruments are not far behind, and psychological tests may become common for evaluating your temperament, stress level capacity, and ability to play well with others.

Kevin Wheeler, a consultant and editor/publisher of Corporate University News, a bi-monthly newsletter on corporate education and human capital, is advising HR managers as follows:

"GPA, degrees, experience, years of management experience, and number of programming languages

or other activities that a person may have been involved in are often not indicators of anything at all. If you want to hire for success, focus on past job performance. It IS possible to measure many of these "soft" traits, even though many of us don't like to do it. Many of them can be determined through the right kind of interview process, or through an assessment center, through testing, or by talking to references.

"Forbes magazine recently ran an article called The Tyranny of the Diploma, which illustrates how misleading an indicator a degree has become. A large number of very successful companies (Dell,

Microsoft, Apple) are run by people with no formal college degrees."

When doing research on your target companies, see if you can find any info about their HR dept. Know Thy Enemy. While Hiring Managers are not the enemy, knowing how they operate and if the corporate culture is pushing them toward a particular bias is useful information before you Interview with them. And stay abreast of the changes in what Hiring Managers are looking for in Job candidates - you never know when these bits of knowledge will come in handy.


-Mark Poppen

Best and Worst Methods

January 18, 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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