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Monthly archive for December 2012

Can I earn a degree from the School of Hard Knocks?

In the December 18, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter considers an online, or “distance learning” degree:

I have over 24 years experience in industry, but I never got a college degree. Now I want to get a bachelors. A “distance learning” college has approved my application for a B.S. in Business Administration. This is one of those schools that delivers its courses online and also awards credits for “life experience.” Please give me your opinion on degrees of this nature. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

These “life experience” credits can be legit. They are based on knowledge you’ve acquired on the job rather than through college courses. The school administers a test on the material and if you pass, they give you the same credits you’d get if you actually took the course. You just need to be sure the school itself is legit — or those School of Hard Knocks credits could be worthless. Several times each week I get solicitations for questionable degree programs.

My advice: Whatever state you are in, contact the state department of education. Find out whether this school is accredited. If it is not, forget it. Find one that is.

To test the value of this school’s programs, contact a few well-known colleges or universities and talk to the admissions office. Ask whether they would accept “transfer credits” from the school in question. A good distance school’s credits will be accepted toward a degree at other good schools. If credits are not transferable, find another school.

If the online school you choose is legit, you may be able to leverage your investment by finishing your degree program at a bricks-and-mortar school — and you’d get your diploma from a more recognized school. Just beware: Some online degree programs cost more than traditional schools charge! The good news: Many good traditional schools offer online courses and combination programs. Don’t assume you need to start with an online-only school.

Want more certainty? Ask the company you work for (or want to work for) how it regards degrees from the distance school. This will tell you a lot about the value of the degree.

I’d start your research by checking the Sloan Consortium to see whether the school you’re considering is a member.

(For every problem, there’s a flip side. And the flip side of this problem is academics with degrees who can’t overcome their own obstacles to win a job. For more on this, see Breaking Ranks & Rules: How academics can avoid 5 fatal mistakes in the job hunt.)

Do you have an online degree? Has it paid off? Does your company look favorably on distance learning schools? On credits from the School of Hard Knocks? What are the alternatives to traditional education, and what do they mean to employers?


The Ask The Headhunter Newsletter and this blog will be on hiatus for two weeks while I take a vacation, spend time with my family, and finish up a new project that I can’t wait to tell you about in January! I wish you a Merry Christmas or a Merry Whatever You Celebrate, and a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year. I’ll participate in the comments through this week — then I’ll see you in January!


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No College Degree, No Problem

In the December 11, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter wants to know how to get past the college degree requirement when he’s sure he can do the job anyway.

I just discovered your blog and have purchased How Can I Change Careers? and Keep Your Salary Under Wraps. I have some questions regarding the job hunting process that keeps biting back at me.

How do you get past the stigma of not having a college degree? I am reading my way through your website and have taken in some of the information, such as networking to meet the people in charge of making the decision. However, I want to know how can I compete for jobs that require degrees when I am fully capable of meeting the job requirements as listed?

Many employers set this as a requirement and don’t even want to talk to you unless you have a degree, regardless of whether you can do the job. I appreciate your help.

Nick’s Reply

Success requires turning the job hunting process on its head. The way it normally works, you provide your credentials and they decide whether to talk to you. If your keywords (that is, college degrees) don’t match, they tell you to go pound salt.

But there is another way to approach this that can get you past the college requirement. Learn to talk shop before “credentials” dominate the transaction. ATH reader Thomas Lafferty explains it in the comments section of this blog posting: You can’t get a job because employers hire the wrong way. Tom basically wrote this column for me.

Take a look at his approach and, more important, his attitude. First, he dismisses his resume and avoids triggering the college credentials problem:

I’d also like to ring in on the discussion about the effectiveness of demonstrating your abilities in an interview: It works. If I had relied on my resume for the last 3 jobs I had, I would not have gotten them. I had neither the experience nor the education, so my resume definitely hid my ability.

Lafferty says he’s got no degree, but that didn’t stop him:

This [demonstrating his ability to win the job] worked so well that in the first job I’m talking about I was the only person on staff without a degree or experience.

Employers require degrees because the degree is considered a proxy for skills, knowledge, or ability. Managers don’t have time to vet every candidate thoroughly, so they depend on this institutional stand-in for a value judgment. It borders on irresponsible, but they do it. Some of the time, it works. But, understanding why they rely on degrees in the selection process should help you address what they really want: Proof you can do the work and proof that you have the sophistication to grow in the job.

Sometimes, as Lafferty points out, you have to take a lower level job so you have the opportunity to demonstrate what you can do over time:

The second job was created for me after I had already been hired at a lower level.

Most people would balk at a lesser job. Not Thomas. He capitalized on it and got more than most job hunters do in the end: a custom job. Not bad, eh?

In another case, he earned the job on the fly by doing the job in the interview:

The third company I’m talking about hired me without going through the traditional four-tier interview, and again I did not have the background or the education. In any case, what I did have was the skill to do the job and to prove it in an interview as well as a good dose of passion.

Resumes and degrees are not always valid indicators of ability to do a job. So, help employers by giving them other ways to judge you. No one says this is easy — sometimes you have to be clever. I know one guy who followed a manager to a professional conference, chatted him up, talked shop, and got an interview and an offer. This shared personal experience tops any formal credentials — but it’s a lot of work. It should be. Managers are sometimes foolish to hire based on a piece of paper, or on a sheepskin — because candidates who deliver credentials can’t always do the job.

Since you have a copy of How Can I Change Careers?, check the sidebar on page 9, “Create your next job.” Pretend you’re creating that job from scratch. Prepare a brief plan for how you will contribute to the business through your work — and through that job. Be as specific as possible. Once you’ve got your notes together, try to write a resume with a “Free Sample” in it — page 23.

Finally, and most important, check page 27. You must enter the “Circle of Friends” that the manager is part of. I know this seems daunting if you’re a bit shy or lack confidence, but it’s critical. (If you need more help, try a few Toastmasters meetings — learn to be more comfortable breaking the ice with others.) Make one phone call to an insider — and ask just one question. Get the info you need, politely say thanks and end it. Don’t push yourself. Try two and three questions on the next calls. It gets easier. The contacts you make turn into advice and referrals and gaIn you the credibility you need with the manager. And that renders the college degree (and other indirect judgments about you) less important.

You can compete for jobs that cite criteria you don’t meet, if you take an alternate approach that addresses what the employer really needs: proof that you can do the job.

(Special thanks to Thomas Lafferty for his candid and inspiring comments on the blog that served as the guts of this Q&A column!)

If you’re without a college degree, have you nonetheless won jobs that required a degree? How? Have you overcome other “requirements” to win a job? Tell us your story — give us some inspiration and alternate ways to prove you can “do the job.”

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Webinar: University of Michigan Ross School of Business

This is a special posting connected to today’s webinar:

  • Ask The Headhunter / Making Your Next Career Move: Sourcing leads & executing your value proposition
    Ross School of Management, University of Michigan
    December 5, 2012

(This event was limited to students and alumni of the Ross School.)

I’ll add more content here after the event — but the main purpose is to answer questions we didn’t have time for, and to carry on the discussion.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below — I’ll do my best to respond to them all. Thank you for joining me, and special thanks to the Ross team for their wonderful hospitality!

Quick access to resources I referred to:

How to Work with Headhunters

How Can I Change Careers?

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less by Milo Frank

Six Degrees: The science of a connected age by Duncan Watts

 

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LinkedIn: Just another job board

In the December 4, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a writer wonders about “social job hunting” on LinkedIn and Facebook. Is this a good new thing?

LinkedIn has recently expanded its job search functionalities. Facebook is also planning a job portal. What do you think about them? Do you see any value in linking job postings with personal social networks?

Filtering job openings using connections to people instead of keywords might give fresh ideas about where to work. An example of a simple filter: “Find openings where at least one of my contacts is working for that company.” If the search returns something interesting, there’s already an existing personal connection to someone who can help in the next step, which is finding out what the company is doing and whether it is the right one to apply for.

Do you think this topic would be worth an article in your newsletter or in your blog?

Nick’s Reply

First let’s be clear: LinkedIn is now a job board, not a social network. Just read its own home page:

LinkedIn Talent Solutions: Cut your cost per hire in half. Build a great employer brand.

Compare to CareerBuilder:

Job Postings: Gain exposure to the most candidates, enjoy powerful screening tools, and access the best training resources with CareerBuilder’s Job Postings.

Compare to Monster.com:

Power Resume Search: Stop Searching. Start Matching. Find the candidate you’ve been looking for.

It’s the three stooges of job boards. They’re all dopes. Compare the pitches. You’d never tell one from the other except for its name. LinkedIn sold out “relationships” for “jobs” when it launched its button.

These are database companies

I’ve been watching the moves by social sites into the jobs business. While at first glance it seems a natural thing for them to do, I think it’s more expedient than smart. They’re trying to find ways to generate revenue from their databases, and job boards are easy to add to any database model.

What LinkedIn and other social networks are avoiding is what’s far more challenging: adding more and better “social” to their models.

I think it would be more compelling for LinkedIn to use its social network to promote social behaviors that lead to job connections — without turning into yet another keyword-matching business. But it’s not.

I really haven’t seen anything smart come out of LinkedIn’s move. If anything, LinkedIn is now regarded as “the job board companies use.” Stealing Monster’s customers is an accomplishment, but hardly an innovation.

Sidetracked: LinkedIn turns to telemarketing job ads

LinkedIn had so much potential to be so much more — it’s the company went off on a side track that leads nowhere. I know some of the world-class relationship builders LinkedIn hired to create a robust social networking approach to jobs. Then LinkedIn suddenly instituted a quota system and told them to dial for dollars. A new management team hired telemarketers straight out of a sales boiler room (a job board) and booted the people who might have done something revolutionary. The new crew could be working at TheLadders, selling job postings.

Don’t limit yourself to links

That said, I think there’s tremendous potential here. Your idea of exploiting “links” to pursue jobs is a good one. But what concerns me is the premise: Asking the database for job openings where you know someone.

While it’s one logical avenue to follow, isn’t it incredibly limiting? This use of LinkedIn focuses on the low-hanging fruit — people you already know. In his book, Six Degrees, applied mathematician Duncan Watts shows that the most productive nodes in a network are the ones on the outer edge — in this case, people you haven’t met yet. On LinkedIn, there’s a great tendency to chase down nodes (database results) — and no compelling tools that actually foster new relationships on the edges of networks. (LinkedIn Groups are nice, but big deal. Yahoo! has those, too.)

The Zen of job hunting: Meet the people who do the work

My advice to job hunters is to “go hang out with people who do the work you want to do.” The object is not to link. (That’s too easy.) The object is to have shared experiences, so others can teach and judge you — and lead you to opportunities with others in their circles. You don’t need LinkedIn to do this, but it would have been a brilliant direction for the company.

So, maybe a smarter way to use LinkedIn is a Zen kind of approach. Don’t go searching for jobs through people you already know (your contacts). Go to the groups that are talking about the work you want to do. Go to the work. And meet totally new people. Make sense? Why limit yourself to where your friends work? Go to where you want to work and make new friends — who will get you in the door. This takes a lot more effort and probably more time, but I think you need to be clear about your goal — the work you want. Just don’t expect LinkedIn to help you with this Zen approach; LinkedIn is too busy counting job postings.

LinkedIn: Just another job board

I’d love to see LinkedIn get past “the database” and start thinking about how to foster experiences between its members. But LinkedIn’s myopia is seen clearly on its home page: It defines itself as a job board. Just read this claptrap from the leading “business network”:

Reach top talent with premium access: Find and engage passive candidates with premium search, full profile visibility, and best-in-class pipeline tools.

Gimme a break. LinkedIn is a job board and the world’s biggest resume repository. It can do far better.

As for Facebook’s foray into the job board business, can you spell ZYNGA?

How do you use LinkedIn? Is it just a fancy phonebook or rolodex? (I contend that’s all it is.) If you could take over LinkedIn, how would you change it, to make it a more productive tool for working with others? Join us on the blog with your ideas — or just to slap me around if you disagree.

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