Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Can your Klout score become discriminatory in the ‘real’ world?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

I recently came across a very well-penned article by Wired’s Seth Stevenson regarding Klout; an online service that measures your influence in the social media realm. In a very cursory summary; it works via a metrics-measuring algorithm developed to track how many times your tweets, Facebook posts and various other iterations of social media are passed along to followers, as well as by who retweets them and how much influence your overall network of people commands.

Klout logo look alike with a dark shadow holding a lighter question mark in black and white conjuring up questions about what Klout says about you.
What does your Klout score say about you professionally?
Good or bad. It may be influencing how people judge you personally and professionally.

Stevenson discusses the potential perks and pitfalls of the service. I am not going to go into further explanation, as I am more interested in the comments following the article and in the story of Sam Fiorella, a Canadian interactive marketing executive, who was allegedly passed over for a job because his Klout score was too low.

In a social business marketing arena, I can understand that an employer may want to take a quick look at a score or how many people follow you. I’ve even had a former colleague tell me that he found it preposterous that a social media consultant would ever approach his company with only three recommendations on LinkedIn. However, to discount Fiorella’s 20 years of experience in favor of a number generated by a proprietary algorithm (meaning we’ll never know exactly what data it’s crunching) is absolutely ridiculous (and perhaps illegal?).

Background checks on potential employees are common but constrained to specific instances to protect people from discrimination (in the US). For instance, a negative FICO score could possibly tell you whether or not to give an employee the keys to the corporate coffer. A positive drug screen might reveal that a candidate is not the prime choice for a heavy equipment operator position.

Even if a background check comes back with a negative result, you must give the candidate an opportunity to explain the circumstances (and/or individualized analysis) and cannot discount them based solely on criteria such as these.

The Klout story is tricky because frankly, there are no EEOC regulations specifically referencing: ‘We’re sorry…love your experience, you’re the top candidate, a great leader, but we’re passing. You don’t have enough Klout.’

Some of the comments regarding Fiorella’s journey we’re insightful. The overwhelming sentiment was that Klout has no clout, especially when it comes to hiring decisions. One commenter said they would check Klout scores and immediately disqualify anyone with a score higher than theirs because it meant they were on social media too much. There were also a few adopters and purveyors of this type of media service lauding the insight it could have for marketers, in building brands, and yes; even hiring.

The idea that there are people out there who think Klout could provide any insight as to whether or not to hire someone for an executive-level job, or any job, for that matter is troubling. There are those who might say Fiorella was in social business marketing, his score should have been high, and he should have known that Klout existed. Possibly a valid point; if he thought it was a relevant medium for his type of clients.

It’s not just marketers. Say you’re applying for a sous chef position. The head chef uses Klout personally to monitor her Klout and how popular her foodie blog is becoming. Out of curiosity she checks your score. She finds out your involved in a controversial organization that does not match her views or, even worse, those of the restaurant owner. Or what if she finds something that could violate EEOC mandates about your sexuality, or that, even though you look 28, you’re really approaching 50, and wouldn’t likely be able to handle taking orders from her; a 30 year old.

EEOC regulations are intended to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, sex, convictions and more. Information found on social media and ranking services have the potential to be in direct conflict with these rules.

Last year, Advertising Age published an infographic on social media demographics for several services that influence on your Klout score. At that time, nearly two-thirds of Twitter users were white and nearly the same ratio women. Couldn’t using a Klout score at all in hiring decisions, based on these ratios alone, have the potential to be discriminatory? It would be interesting to see the demographic breakdown of the top ‘influencers’.

I know it’s a stretch, but the idea of giving any credence to this type of score in hiring decisions seems ludicrous. (Unless of course you want to hire Ludacris to be your next spokesperson.)

If you are connected to any form of social media, your data is out there and people are using it and manipulating it in every conceivable way to make it sellable. Unfortunately, it can also be used to judge you as a job candidate, which opens up a host of new questions for HR folks to handle.

We stand on the edge of a ‘Jumping the Shark’ moment, possibly for all forms of social media. Users are catching on to the ramifications of posting too much information. Services such as Klout, being that their data relevance has already been called into question by many, run the risk of becoming irrelevant as users tend to shy away.

I am very interested in hearing about how much clout you give Klout.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Lesson in Accountability: Yahoo!’s former CEO, Scott Thompson, hurts his former company and an industry by deflecting

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

It’s tough at the top. It’s even tougher when ethics and integrity are called into question.

Former Yahoo! CEO Thompson. (Yodel Anecdotal/Yahoo! Inc.)
A ‘missed’ inaccuracy on a resume continues to worsen the reputation of top executives the world over and placed them at the front of the bashing line. Some of the ire is seemingly deserved.  

Accountability and integrity matter, not just at the C-level, but on every level.

A recent article by Business Insider writer Nicholas Carlson speaks of how former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson, although not naming the recruitment firm directly, threw the company that got him hired, first at eBay and then at Yahoo!, ‘under the bus’ while explaining inaccuracies on his resume. Carlson notes that Thompson took some of the blame, but ultimately, in my opinion he should have stepped up and taken all of the blame.

Here’s why.

In the IT recruitment game, resumes are often reformatted and reordered to highlight areas of expertise and to make it easier for client hiring managers to scan everything they need to know quickly. I talked with several members of our recruitment staff and am told the only edits made to resumes are to typos or to make the verb tense of the resume unified. They do not add information (like fictional degrees or continuing education) to CV’s to get someone hired.

Why would they?

It would be counterproductive to their success and to that of the company that employs them.  If you send just one person to an interview with false information it can change your relationship with your client forever and for the worse. Plus as one employee put it, “it just wouldn’t be right.”

As there are unscrupulous people out there who pad resumes there too are unscrupulous companies that can give the recruitment industry, my industry, a bad reputation. They are few and far between and usually don’t survive long.

Can mistakes happen? Of course they can, people are not infallible. There is always a possibility user error could come into play. Does it occur often or could it occur twice over a period of years? Our recruiters say no to both questions based on their experiences here and at other firms. It is a general industry practice and one of our best practices to ask for an updated resume every time we submit a candidate for a position, even if a month or two later. The chances of the same mistake being made twice with the same candidate are virtually impossible.

There is also the case of the interview stage of the recruitment process. Even if a mistake had been made, the false information would likely come up in a background check, although some colleges will not disclose degree type and only confirm graduation) or during the interview itself; or perhaps in an interview on NPR.

Guilty as publically ‘charged’ or innocent; Thompson is ultimately to blame for the second instance of his resume allegedly being submitted with false credentials. As a leader, it is his responsibility to hold himself ultimately accountable for the misstep and no one else’s. It is my opinion that he should have said as such. Unfortunately the damage has been done and several others potentially hurt, including the entire resources industry, as a result of his actions; and there is no turning back.

Rather than participating in the sport of CEO bashing, I am taking this discussion to a different level regarding the importance of accountability, integrity and honesty in our dealings with others as the headlines about corporate leadership continue to roll in.

Shifting blame or saying nothing can, more often than not, hurt others. Taking responsibility for ones actions or being honest from the get go is a much better practice on all levels. Had Thompson come out and said flatly, “it’s my responsibility no one else’s” my industry wouldn’t have been affected in the least. The end result is that the executive search firm in question, Heidrick & Struggles, is most directly affected by his comments. Some companies and job seekers have the idea that our industry is full of money hungry hacks that provide no real value. Thompson’s stance only further propagates this misconception.

The lesson here?

One simple statement to save face or keep your job can have an unseen impact on others far beyond those directly involved. This is true at the C-level all the way down to those closest to the work. While the story of his resume inaccuracy may have broken because of investor hostility, Thompson’s reaction, intended or not, affected Yahoo!’s public image, possibly the recruiting firm which he claims is partially at fault, the workers at that firm not directly tied to the alleged mistake and the industry as a whole.

A lie to cover you tracks at work can have the same effect no matter how small. Say you made a big mistake and let it go in hopes it would just go away. Then your supervisor is blamed for sloppiness. Then his or her supervisor is called into question. In the end it comes back to you, but you’re all let go.

You’ve just cost yourself, your co-workers and their families dearly. They keyword here is ‘you.’

We all make mistakes. Sometimes we make big mistakes. How you deal with them and holding yourself accountable is the key.  Although lying is hard to overcome, mistakes, even the big mistakes, are often an opportunity from which one learns and grows.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Bonus Blog: Forward this blog to 10 of your friends and Microsoft will pay you 1 million dollars (and other respect destroying communications)

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

All too often during the course of a normal business day people commit technology communication etiquette disasters without ever realizing it.  By committing even a couple of these faux pas on a regular basis can alter the way people view your professional image, lose respect in the eyes of the people you are communicating with, and potentially also lose credibility.

What other damaging email mistakes do you see?
Communication suicides are not a new phenomenon, one specific example comes to mind when I received a letter in the mail 25 years ago from a close relative who I very much looked up to.  There was a single dollar bill in this letter, along with instructions for how I could make a fortune by sending out 10 dollars of my own money to 10 different people…and eventually I would receive many times that back as the pyramid continued to grow.  I never forgot this, and my relative’s image has been tarnished ever since that this was considered such a successful way to make money that they would recruit their own family into the scheme.

As postal mail has given way to e-mail, Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter a whole new slew of potential communication disasters have been created.  Before you send out that next e-mail, or go into that upcoming interview, or reach out to a prospect on Linkedin - you should crosscheck what you’re about to do with the following list of reputation killers.

When you read some of these they sound like common sense, some are even comical, yet they all happen many times every single day.  Jeff Foxworthy has a very successful routine built around “You might be a redneck if….”jokes, so with that in mind this is the “You might be ruining your reputation….” list of technological suicide communications. 

You might be ruining your reputation if….

  1. You forward an e-mail that starts or ends with “If you forward this e-mail to 10 friends…”
  2. You hit reply all on an e-mail where the response should only go back to the message originator, not all 500 recipients.
  4. You try to connect to to someone on Linkedin whom you’ve never met- and you don’t write a personalized message letting them know why you are stalking them.
  5. You stalk someone weekly on Linkedin looking at their profile and always showing up under the recently viewed list.
  6. You haven’t talked to someone in 20 years and you try to their friend on Facebook without sending any kind of personal message.
  7. You try to friend someone on Facebook who you vaguely knew 20 years ago and try to make them your friend on Facebook so you can see their pictures.
  8. You keep trying to be someone’s friend on Facebook no matter how many times they hit ignore.
  9. You send a txt using more emoticons than real worlds.
  10. You BCC someone on an e-mail.  (There is no good use for BCC)
  11. You CC someone on an e-mail in a conversation or topic they have never been included in and know nothing about.
  12. You forward an e-mail saying “FYI”, and nothing else after it- showing that you have not put any thought into what is important for the recipient to pay attention to.
  13. You send an e-mail that says “Got it” or “I’m on it” as a response to a task.
  14. You forward any e-mail that purports to be a dying child’s last wish to reach 10,000 people.
  15. You tell someone how they can make $1000’s of dollars working at home, or turning their computer into a money making machine.
  16. You ask someone if they really think that you are the sole benefactor of your long lost unknown uncle in Nigeria.
  17. You come into an interview and your phone ringer is the latest Nickelback song.

I encourage you to please leave a comment with any items you think should be on this list!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Three ways to get what you really want from an interviewee.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

A couple of weeks ago I posed a question to a group of executive peers on LinkedIn. I asked them what criteria are most important to look for when hiring a top notch sales person. Not only did they have different ideas about what order five traits I gave them were in terms of importance, they added their own. I felt compelled to share this information with my readers.

How do you arrive at the answer to these three questions?
Around the same time I read an article in Forbes by George Bradt. He, with the aid of some executive search industry professionals, came up with a list of the three most important interview questions you need your candidates to answer during an interview.

Here’s the list:

1. Can you do the job?
2. Will you love the job?
3. Can we tolerate working with you?

For the most part, I tend to agree with Bradt that these are the three most important questions. The trick to extracting this information from candidates is the questions you use to arrive at the three answers. It is a different set of questions depending on the type of job you want filled. In the recruitment and resources business, a salesperson or recruiter has to be able to master the art of altering and adapting his or her questions to fit the role. 

We already know in this age of resume padding or fibbing (Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson anyone?) simply looking at their CV will not tell us if they can do the job. So what questions need to be asked to determine if someone is full of Blarney or if they have stretched the truth nominally?

If someone did pad their resume, but has a proven track record of success should the padding be overlooked?  Is a proven track record enough to say someone can do the job, or is each individual success like flipping a coin and the next flip is still a 50/50 shot no matter how many times it has come up heads?

I am not willing to take that chance personally. It all boils down to integrity. What if that the next sales guy or gal I hire uses the same logic they used when creating their resume and applies it to creating a rapport with and making promises to our clients? 

I am interested to hear from you about what questions you use to arrive at the three important answers and how you frame your questions for your industry.

For instance, I am in the technical resources industry. My firm makes best-fit matches between IT, HIT, engineering and technical professionals and our clients.

Here are some of my favorite questions to ask when interviewing IT candidates:

1. How did you handle failure? (Aka - Can you do the job?)
We know asking what business task someone has failed at can tell a lot, just as asking for someone’s successes; but I think a better question combines the two sides of the coin. “What project or task did you initially fail at, that you took a step back, re-evaluated the situation, and came back to overcome it and make it a success?”  You can almost smell the synapses firing up to answer this question right now. Most of us fail at one time or another, but you get a really good idea about if someone can do the job if they can come up with an instance where they can demonstrate success as a result of failing.

2. What did you love about any of your previous employers? (Aka - Will you love the job?)
To determine if someone will love the job is tricky as well.  People are motivated to say they will love it to get the job. You can usually tell from their body language and inflection whether or not this is the case. However, there are some really good actors out there.
Asking questions about what they loved in previous positions and workplaces can give you much more valuable insight than telling them about your company and asking them if they think they’ll fit in. If they talk about management styles, amenities and benefits you simply can’t offer, probably just a matter of time before they bolt in search of a place that does.

3. Are you consistent in your front-facing persona and your backstage self?  (Aka - Can I tolerate working with you?)
Usually in the first five minutes of the per-screening process you can figure out whether or not someone is so annoying or out of their league that they will never make it to the interview. To see if you can tolerate working with someone that’s made it this far is a little easier.  It’s relatively simple for a candidate to put on a good face through 1 or 2 interviews, but the cumulative picture here is the key.

It’s not a question you’re asking but rather the actions they take in response to multiple contacts via e-mail or during multiple interviews with team members of varying personality. Are they consistent in their answers with the happy go lucky interviewer as they are with the behavioral HR contact? Call them on the phone during an off time; possibly even send them a text to confirm the interview. If you get positive communication back in a way that makes you comfortable, across all channels and all people, chances are they will fit in well.

We all arrive at the answers to these questions differently and I am very interest in your point of view. I again invite you to share your experiences and methods as it will likely be mutually beneficial to all responding.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Parlez-vous français? ¿Habla español? Google Chrome does and so will you.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.

Late last week the Google Translate team unveiled the beta version of a revolutionary app for the Chrome browser. It has the potential to change the way students, businesses, and just about anyone with an interest, learn languages. Language Immersion for Google Chrome does just what the name implies; it integrates language immersion study techniques into the Chrome browser as a user is viewing web pages.
Most of the best known language immersion programs (Rosetta Stone, Berlitz, Assimil, etc.) are either in-classroom, book or interactive CD format. The fact that Google’s app steps into the realm of a tool most people use every day; the web browser; makes the idea even more intriguing to me. The potential for its use is great and, unlike the aforementioned paid programs, Google’s app is very cost effective at the low, low price of free.

Don’t get me wrong. When the other immersion techniques are employed properly, they can be extremely effective. What I am really getting at is that the deployment of this app opens up the potential benefits of immersion learning to a whole new world of people including students, businesses and the like.

Just think of it. You could build your workforce to be a virtual army of somewhat functional polyglots during normal everyday research and work on the web. Chuck in accounting could learn a bit about Mandarin working in the finance cloud (knowing that it is probably the future language of finance). Jackie, your lead North American salesperson could learn French to break into the untapped Quebec market during her regularly scheduled data mining time each day.

The other advantage to using language immersion software and making it free to the public is that those who had say, 6 years of a language in high school and college, but haven’t used it that much can brush up and possibly regain some level of fluency. That would make an already good employee even better in my eyes because I have a whole new skill set I can leverage into my plan of attack. Say Chuck from the example above had studied Eastern languages alongside his accounting degree. Say he brushes up on that Mandarin. Chuck is now in charge of our big RFP in Shanghai. Maybe someday he’ll be in charge of our China operations.

OK so maybe these scenarios are a bit farfetched. But are they really?

The app is not perfect but I have a feeling it soon will be with input from users and some more programming from the Google Translate team. They’ve already developed pretty darn good automatic translation feature for Gmail. Google admittedly says all translations might not be 100% accurate. For instance, the app translated a phrase about a ‘ key industry’ professional in Intermediate Spanish to ‘clave de la industria.’ The phrase was grammatically correct but probably could be said a better way and more colorfully in the context of the sentence should the whole thing have been in Spanish.  The same could be said for the French translations.

Grammatically correct is good enough for business though right? 

The point I am trying to make here isn’t that the app is flawed. To the contrary, the app is pretty solid. If I were to send my top salespeople to France for a big industry summit in 6 months, I would have them train on this app. Would they become masters of français in that amount of time? Probably not. Would they likely pick up some key phrases to communicate with others and bring some humanity and respect back in to the conversation with those in the host country? Absolutely.

This very minute, I can take out my smart phone, fire up a translator app that will listen to the person talking to me in any one of a number of languages and translate it into English. I then can speak into the phone to answer them, with very little effort. The translations are not always accurate and sometimes comical to both speakers involved. That being said, a $1.99 (USD) app on my phone can help overcome the language barrier with relative ease but it isn’t very personal.

Free language immersion apps seem as if they just might be a way to bridge the gap between the emotionless technology and the animation of humanity.

Software such as this has the potential to do good on so many levels. It helps bring that human touch and personality back into conversations between individuals. It can lift employees up to a new level within a business to the benefit not only the business, but to the employee as well. It can give your organization the reputation for being a global enterprise for reasons other than having office locations all over the world. It can expand the number of quality trade show and conference opportunities for you and your company. Heck, it can help open markets that were previously closed off via a quick conversation at one of those foreign trade shows.

One thing is for certain. All the technology in the world can’t replace a warm blooded handshake and a greeting in a native tongue. Language immersion training is beneficial to business because it brings a human element into the conversation. And even if the conversation is a little off or a little disjointed, it will go miles beyond what a machine voice pointed at your face can do in the relationship building process.

It’s my opinion that, even if we can develop the Universal translator for Ensign Hoshi (which oddly enough had emotions and inflections down pretty well), today’s companies should use this technology and encourage their workforce to immerse themselves into language learning during the course of their daily work. It just might provide that extra ounce of personalization to make your global organization even more successful.