NPR, Media Bias, Employee Referral, and Diversity

A friend emailed me to ask: “Todd, you are a media guy, you probably have thoughts on this … how could anyone not know by now how biased NPR is, and what do you think of the whole government funding thing?”

Well, the government funding part — whether a media company should be partially government funded — I will skip because I’m not feeling the connection to recruiting. But the other part is very relevant. 

And here’s my take, and it applies to NPR and much of the media and Hollywood, college professors, and anyone else.

Maybe I’m not cynical enough, maybe I’m too optimistic, too naive or something, but I don’t think many reporters (or professors) wake up and say “I’m going to push my agenda today! I’m going to present a distorted view of reality! I’m going to be totally subjective!”

No, having met many writers and artists and others through MediaBistro and elsewhere, I can say most want to do their job well and fairly, whether they’re supposed to be an opinionated commentator or supposed to be a more balanced, more objective reporter.

Having said that, again having met many writers and artists and others through MediaBistro and elsewhere, I can say that most, like anyone, surround themselves by family, friends, and colleagues who think mainly like them. Their Facebook friends post things that generally are very similar to what they believe. Their Thanksgiving tables probably contain a rogue voice from whatever opposite end of the political spectrum they’re on, but mostly dittoheads.

They generally view TV or comedy shows, listen to radio programs, or read online blogs and articles that generally represent their point of view.

The people in their neighborhood, for the most part, vote for similar people.

They shop at grocery stores (think Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods) that generally are frequented by people who think like them.

If they read an opposite point of view, which reporters and professors do sometimes attempt to do, it’s often still done in context: the conservative criticizing conservatives, or the liberal criticizing liberals — that sort of thing.

I don’t think employers usually have bad intentions either. Most, in my mind, don’t wake up and say “we’re not going to be diverse today! Let’s hire someone who’s as much like us as we can!”

(Though I was just discussing this all with Lance Haun, who says that many corporate culture/branding efforts do have this effect.)

Anyhow, again assuming corporations at least claim to be about diversity, people still refer people who they know, and they know people like them. They’re often not trying to do it. It just happens.

Even “diversity hiring,” in my mind, can result in hires who have a different skin color but a similiar mindset. 

Once an interview starts, the employer often interprets people who don’t see the world as they do as having certain negative characteristics. 

True diversity would involve hiring people who think differently — and often, as a bonus, results in them looking different. This sort of hiring of truly diverse people, people who see the world quite differently than you — is not as easy as hiring a diversity consultant, plugging in some diversity software, doing a little diversity training, and visiting a diversity job site.

What it does involve: well, that’s a great discussion that we should have, but I’ll throw one idea of many out there. If I’m an employer wanting someone “diverse” as defined not by skin color but by thinking differently, I’d advertise on a website that people who work at my company would not be likely to frequent. Of course, I’d still want someone who could do the job. 

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How I Pick Winners in March Madness

My record the last few years in picking early-round games in March Madness is pretty mediocre. When I pick a big upset I often get it wrong.

My record over the later rounds — picking the winner of the whole tournament, and winning the entire pool I’m in — is actually pretty good, if I must say so myself.

My friend Jerry just asked me how I pick winners. In describing it to him on the phone, I felt like I was writing an article for a recruiting publication. 

Here’s what I do: I try to pick the team with the most talent. This may sound simple, but it’s not what many people do.

They pick the hottest teams. The one with the most experience. The best coaches. The best mix of players. The ones playing closer to home. The healthiest. The deepest (the teams with the best benches). They look for the ones that match up best with a competitor (in other words, an inferior club that plays well or is expected to play well against a certain opponent).

Anyhow, that’s often how I pick — talent. It seems to work. 

In hiring, it’s not such a bad plan either. I’m not saying that in human resources — in business — these other factors I mentioned above aren’t important: the mix of people on a team; the strength of a manager; a person’s experience; and so on.

But in the end, it’s talent. 

Of course, in basketball and in hiring, we all define talent differently (one definition I’ve heard is ability plus desire). In basketball, to figure out the most talented I look at what others are saying about a team’s talent — such as how many future NBA’ers are on the team.

Of course, talent is a vague and subjective term in hiring, too.

But it beats some of the alternatives, including just picking the winner based on a whim or an instinct. I admittedly do a little of that too. Sometimes that works for me, and sometimes it does not. Making decisions based on little information, a whim, an instinct — a favorite team name or uniform — it may sound silly, but we all know a few whims and instincts have been used to make hiring decisions too.

Paying People to Interview — Revisited

Remember way back when – like 2008 – there was a brief flurry of activity about paying job candidates who’d be willing to interview? John Sullivan wrote about it, and so did the website TechCrunch.

In the end, it didn’t quite take off. Candidates were into it, but companies not as much.

But the company most associated with the concept, NotchUp, lives on. The venture-funded startup is doing what founder Rob Ellis calls a “pivot.” Its new product, CloudFilter, is aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses who want help managing applicants (for free).

A restaurant is trying out the product in beta, as is a city tourism board in South Africa, a hiring manager at Motorola, and others. 

Interestingly, NotchUp is launching a new paid add-on product, using crowdsourcing. With this “CloudFilter Pro” product, you create a job description, get resumes, and then send them out to a crowd of “talent scouts” for screening, rating them “qualified,” “unqualified,” or “spam.” They don’t see the contact information, so they can’t go stealing your applicants. This “Pro” plug-in should launch in about three weeks.

 

Bourbon and Dog Food

I’ve been thinking about both bourbon and dog food.

First on bourbon: an interesting Fortune article profiled a company that makes Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, a drink that’s expensive and scarce. The company wants it that way: its goal has traditionally been to make “a fine bourbon” more than a fine profit, and to make very little of it. It wants a limited, scarce product.

If you buy into the idea, and want to replicate it, there are a number of human resources/recruiting angles, some that have been used before but perhaps not enough. One idea: to have “career fair” type events for a very limited and very select (“premium”) audience. 

Meanwhile, utterly unrelated, my dog has been on a bit of a hunger strike for about seven weeks. He is willing to eat a prescription food called I/D, which I’m feeding him temporarily, but it is not affordable on a long-term basis.

Anyhow, I’ve made a significant number of trips to pet food stores, a couple vets, done a lot of online research, and more, trying to hone in on the problem and find something he’ll digest that’s relatively affordable and relatively nutritious. Some stores — the most helpful — give you a sample of their food. Others can’t imagine giving free samples. One, today, gave me an entire small bag to try!

The free samples, and especially the one with the whole free bag, say a lot. They say they’re willing to put their product to their test. It sets up a sort of loyalty based on expertise. If the food works, rather than go online and find it, I’m likely to go back to the store, as they were the ones who understood the problem, found a solution, and may be able to find other solutions or modify the solution in the future.

When a company is more transparent, more forthcoming, more informative, more detailed, to candidates, it sends the message they have more confidence in their product — their job, their workplace. If you give a job candidate a list of current employees to call and hear about what it’s like working there, an invitation to spend some time with the company, and so on, a substantial, transparent taste of real life at your workplace, it is, forgive the analogy, a little bag of dog food. 

6 Benefits for a Changed Employment World

Has anyone noticed that the legacy benefits many organizations provide no longer make as much sense nowadays? 

Here are some benefits I think would be attractive to some potential recruits, of course knowing each person is lured by something different.

  1. “Vacation Support.” We all know lots of people who have vacation days but either a) don’t have time to take them; b) find it more stressful to take them than not; and/or c) work almost as much on vacation as when they’re, uh, working. I imagine some people would rather have what I’ll call 15 “vacation support” days than 20 vacation days. With these vacation support days, the employer would help the employee take a real vacation, mainly sans Blackberry, by helping get a temp, helping distribute their work, or making other arrangements so they can leave without too much stress. I also like the no-vacation-policy most associated with Netflix.
  2. Immediate Health Insurance. Employers would make up the gap between the start date and the insurance kicking in. If the job candidate is insured via COBRA, a union group plan, a professional association plan, or something else, they could reimburse some or all of the employee’s premium during the time (often one month) between when they start work and when they are insured. Or, they could help the employee buy into an individual plan. A relative of mine is in market for a healthcare job and is currently uninsured. If he gets two offers, one with more immediate health insurance would be more enticing, all other things being equal.
  3. Social Media Support. The employer would allow time and tools for an employee to blog or otherwise use social media. By your chef setting up a Facebook page about making pastries, she is viewed as an expert and it becomes marketing for the company. She is more valuable to future employers, which smart companies know perversely helps retention. In other words, recruits want to work at companies that boost their careers.
  4. Stay an Extra Day. Employees can stay an extra day (without taking a vacation day) and have some spending money following an annual department meeting or other business travel. 
  5. Benefits Navigator. The majority of Americans continue to be happy with the quality of U.S. health care, with happiness rising in recent years. But that doesn’t they like navigating health insurance companies. Small and mid-size companies could provide people a third party to help them with disputes and such, something that can be easier for employees at a large firm with a bigger benefits department.
  6. Revamped Maternity Leave. It’s hard to work 100% time when pregnant, and not everyone wants to work 0% after having a baby. Maternity leave could be reworked a bit to provide more time during the end of pregnancy and possibly less time after childbirth (realizing, of course, there are complicated legal and other issues here, like not wanting to let an employer know you’re pregnant). 

Notice I didn’t directly mention anything about flexibility, or working from home. While for some companies these are still foreign concepts, I see these less as benefits or “extras” and more of just smart management, something that in many cases should be, but isn’t, a no-brainer. 

 

Perfection

I’ve talked about perfection before. The more I think about it, the more I feel the same: having a weakness, misspelling something on a cover letter, saying the wrong thing during an interview, dressing slightly off … maybe I’m missing something, but I still think people should be allowed to be human.

What sparks this now is the wife’s name incident.

You’re probably thinking: “OK, Todd, forgetting something is human, but your wife’s name?”

Well, yes. I mean – in fact, the more obvious it is that someone’s forgetting something they obviously know, the more obvious is that it’s a case of the nerves. With such pressure and so many people watching, I wouldn’t be surprised if he forgot his own name.

This kind of thing goes on everywhere. Barack Obama was ridiculed by detractors for saying that there are 57 states … or 47 states, depending on whose story you listen to. Sarah Palin was ridiculed for once in a long talk accidentally mixing the two Koreas.

Many of us remember Denkinger. And Buckner. And Weber, who called the famous “Timeout” that didn’t exist.

As I recently read in a Malcolm Gladwell book, some of us choke and some of us panic. But none of us are perfect.

I think it’s healthier to admit one’s perfections and make fun of them than to give the illusion they don’t exist. Chris Weber ended up starting a charitable foundation, and named it Timeout. I guess he can make lemonade out of lemons, not a bad attribute for a job candidate.

Where Marvin Smith Went

You may have read that Marvin Smith had left Microsoft but may not have known where he surfaced.

Smith took a job at Blackberry-makers Research in Motion.

He had options. Last fall he got contacted by another organization I can’t name here. He’d also been exploring moving around within Microsoft, in a sourcing role. But, he says of Microsoft, “sourcing is a new discipline, and most are contingent folks.” He also had an opportunity to work at Microsoft on talent community-building for the Bing product.

He always wanted to work at that first organization I mentioned, and admired the manager, but declined. But for RIM he did not. For one thing, he liked the global opportunity, building a RIM candidate pipeline from India to China to elsewhere, rather than just mainly Redmond. He liked the idea of starting with a blank slate. And, he likes the RIM team, including Rodney Moses, Tito Magobet (who he calls a “great leader, great visionary,”) and Kat Drum, a smash hit at ERE’s Spring 2010 conference who’s appearing again next month.

Smith, like Drum, will stay in Washington, and not move to Waterloo, Canada, for RIM. He’ll be an “executive sourcing specialist” at RIM, and will be doing the sort of work he was doing with Microsoft. But, he said, on a “bigger stage to play on.”

I asked: “Bigger than Microsoft?”

Yes, he said, because Microsoft is divided into divisions, like entertainment and gaming, and this is work for a “single entity.”

He’s not sure what Microsoft will do as far as replacing him, but does (as you might imagine if you read his still-a-PC post) rave about the company, saying “it’s really hard to leave after five years, I have to tell you. It’s a great place. I was blessed with some great opportunities to create and innovate.”