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Be a Twitter Genius: Lessons from John McCain

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Senator John McCain

AP Photo/Matt York

Although he came up short on votes in 2008, Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain isn’t lacking in “Digital IQ” points. As reported by Politico, a joint study of politicians’ “online competence” by George Washington University and NYU ranked McCain as a “Twitter Genius,” scoring significantly higher than fellow senators at utilizing the social tool. This may surprise some, given criticism of the septuagenarian from some quarters as being “out of touch;” yet, as he faces a tough reelection bid, McCain is relying on social networking to preserve his career. In doing so, this “genius” offers a model for professional advancement in 140 characters or less.

Establish yourself quickly. Following his 2008 defeat to Barack Obama (and candidate Obama’s superior command of social networking), McCain wasted little time adopting the format himself. Since 2009, he has tweeted frequently, drawing more than 1.7 million followers. Of course, those weren’t as hard to muster for someone who was already a prominent public figure, but the beauty of Twitter is that anyone can generate a sizeable following if they have something interesting to say. To get noticed, don’t be shy—alert friends and coworkers to your account’s existence, follow them, and branch out to their followers. As you build a network, maintain a steady stream of relevant content that invites discussion, spreads ideas, and shares your skills and accomplishments. Just describing your lunch probably won’t cut it.

Tweet outside the box. Anyone can tweet a few thoughts; it takes a genius to explore the potential of the format. John McCain exemplified this when he and George Stephanopoulos conducted an interview entirely via Twitter—the imposed character limit stripped down the political dialogue, allowing direct questions to be met with unadorned answers transmitted live to the world. With today’s workforce using social applications for job hunting and self-promotion, standing out from the crowd comes down to uniquely interacting with the community. For instance, try reaching out to fellow professionals about their careers and accomplishments, or asking for details of their company’s recruitment process—the discourse can be invaluable, both for the knowledge shared and the initiative displayed.

Attract powerful followers. The axiom “it’s who you know” is as true in politics as it is in business. But for an elected official, the goal is staying relevant. So when John McCain began exchanging tweets with Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” it was an unexpected twist that won him regard for connecting with a younger generation. For the rest of us, however, being followed by Kanye West might not grant a desired status boost. Instead, aim for the attention of leaders—buddying up with top brass or being retweeted by the likes of Richard Branson or Michael Dell will earn you notice as someone with eye-catching ideas.

It remains uncertain whether the displayed mastery of next-generation campaigning by Senator McCain (and, to be fair, his staff) will pay off in this election cycle. But regardless of one’s own political beliefs, the elder statesman’s resourceful embrace of technology is admirable and inspiring. As workers of all stripes wrestle with new challenges presented by an uncertain economy, it’s imperative to remain open to new venues for networking and seeking opportunity. Senator McCain, once thought to be down for the count, is an example of someone even late in their career finding a way to stay relevant in the information age.

Big #@%*$%& Deal, or No Problem? What’s Your Opinion of Colorful Language in the Workplace?

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By now, Vice President Biden’s remark on the passage of health care reform has been firmly established in the annals of infamy—and will likely find its way into the term papers of mischievous history and poli-sci students in years to come. Perhaps most striking about the coverage of the incident is the lack of controversy it generated—surely a sign that we’re living in changed times. Just imagine if such a comment had been picked up on an open mike at the passage of Medicare, or when Social Security was established—those politicians would likely have been drummed out of office for offending the public sensibility. These days, however, we have everyone from the White House Press Secretary to the entire panel on Meet the Press offering little more than a rueful grin and their complicit agreement with Biden’s sentiment.

All of which has us here at Vault wondering: Does the free pass for Biden apply in the American workplace today? Are the rules on colorful language on the job any more relaxed than in preceding generations? And if so, is it a good thing? We’d love to hear your thoughts on any aspect of this issue—provided, of course, that you can keep it clean!

Written by Phil Stott

March 30, 2010 at 8:22 am

Four Hiring Boosts from the Health Care Bill

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During the final round of speechifying before last night’s historic vote on health care, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made the claim that the health care bill would also act as a jobs bill, creating four million jobs over the next decade. While it’s a claim Pelosi has made before, it’s one that has received surprisingly little attention in the media, given some of the plot points that have emerged over the past 14 months (death panels, anyone?).

According to Politifact, Pelosi’s statement is “half true”—while the site found that the bill likely will increase employment over the next decade, it suggests that “Pelosi is cherry-picking the most optimistic number” to arrive at her figure of 4 million. Regardless, the consensus seems to be that there will be job creation as a result of the bill. The main question, then, is where.

People with “an entrepreneurial spirit”

Another Pelosi quote from Politifact suggests that job growth won’t be restricted to the health care sector—if indeed it sees any net gains at all. Rather, she suggests that the economy as a whole will benefit from the changes in the bill:

“Imagine an economy where people could change jobs, start businesses, become self-employed, whether to pursue their artistic aspirations or be entrepreneurial and start new businesses, if they were not job-locked because they have a child who’s bipolar, or a family member who’s diabetic with a pre-existing condition, and all of the other constraints that having health care or not having health care places on an entrepreneurial spirit.”

The consulting industry

Wherever there’s regulatory change, there’s work for consultants. Look at the surge in business following Sarbanes-Oxley for an example. And HR consulting outfits should be at the top of the food chain on this one. Expect sudden interest in services from the likes of Towers Watson, Hay Group and Hewitt Associates. Also keep an eye out for management and strategy consultants being called in to help the insurance firms figure out how to adapt to the changes.

Insurance companies

Yup, you read that sub-head right. Sure, the bill might be aimed at curbing some of the worst excesses of the health insurance industry, but the New York Times points out that it’s also “giving the health care industry as many as 32 million additional paying customers in the next few years.” Is there an industry that could add millions of customers without having to take on employees to help deal with them?

On a similar note, the Times also points out that hospitals and drug manufacturers are set to see an increase in the number of people who have access to their products and services—so expect some job growth in both of those areas as well.

Working parents

The Wall Street Journal points out that working parents have a lot to gain too: “Health insurance has increasingly been the tail wagging the dog in many households–the first consideration in deciding who, if anyone, stays home with the kids. Regardless of what parents want, the person with health-care benefits is usually the one who works.”

Of course, getting rid of that concept of being tied to a job because of insurance isn’t exactly the same thing as creating jobs, but it may well result in more people taking exactly the sort of chances outlined by Pelosi above. It might not be about job creation, but it does allow more people to exercise career choice–and that has to be a good thing.

Written by Phil Stott

March 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Government Jobs to Apply for Today

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Pop quiz: Name the nation’s largest employer. Everyone knows that it’s the government, right? And everyone also knows that they’ve been ramping up hiring ever since the 2008 election and the passage of the stimulus bill. And there’s better news: according to Forbes, “Uncle Sam will hire 600,000 people over the next four years.” And we’re not just talking temporary census hiring either. Forbes were good enough to put together a list of positions you should apply for right now—and all of them pay well over six figures. But when they say “right now,” they mean it: the application date for some of the positions is as early as the end of this week. Here’s their list in full:

Management and Program Analyst, Department of Education

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 17

Supervisory Program Specialist, Department of Education

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 19

Senior Research Scientist/Specialist, Institute of Education Sciences, Department of Education

Application Deadline: December 31

Supervisor, General Attorney, Department of Education

Location: Chicago, IL

Application Deadline: March 19

Associate General Counsel for Policy Development, Peace Corps

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 17

Supervisory Contract Specialist, Peace Corps

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 14

Deputy Associate Director for Global Operations, Peace Corps

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 19

Financial Manager, Peace Corps

Location: Washington, D.C.

Application Deadline: March 23

For more information on any of the positions, check out Forbes’ slideshow–it’s in the same order as the list above.

Not sure what the positions entail? Why not check out Vault’s Guide to Government Agency Careers, which breaks down more than 60 different federal divisions, and offers invaluable advice on how to get hired by Uncle Sam.

The Census is Still Hiring (2nd update)

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Having focused recently on the fact that the Census Bureau is still hiring—and the reasons why it’s a pretty attractive short-term gig—I fully expected all the positions to be filled within a day or two of the blog going up. As it turns out, though, I’m not nearly as big an influencer on nationwide hiring as I might have assumed. (Who’d have guessed?) Which means one thing: the Census Bureau is still hiring. All across the country.

Make no mistake about it: there will be no other opportunity this year on this kind of scale for people to get out and fill in an employment gap on their resume. And, as I mentioned in my original post, the majority of the hours canvassers would be working are outside normal business hours, meaning you’ll still have time to conduct a job search on an almost full-time basis.

Let’s not get too carried away: not many lifetime ambitions are going to be fulfilled by going door-to-door writing down information on people who haven’t had the wherewithal to return their forms in the mail. But try looking at it another way: you’ll be knocking on the doors of hundreds of people in your own city: while it’s unlikely that it’ll lead to much in the way of professional networking (although you never know), you’re at least brushing up on your all-important one-on-one communication skills. And how far can selling the benefits of the Census to a complete stranger be from selling your own value to a potential employer in an interview?

For proof that the census is still hiring, here’s another half-dozen reports from local papers around the country saying just that:

  • The office in Phenix City, AL is hiring 500
  • The Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, MO reports that “the Census Bureau is still hiring census takers.”
  • The Census Office in Knoxville, TN says they “have thousands of positions still available.”
  • “Hundreds of positions” are available in Dayton, OH
  • In Green Bay, WI, Census officials “set a goal of hiring 7,000 people but say they’re struggling to reach that number.”
  • And job seekers in Brevard, FL are warned that they’re “down to the wire,” as there are only a “couple of weeks” left to fill positions.

Interesting side note: four of the six states above has an unemployment rate in excess of 10 percent, according to the BLS. Wisconsin (8.7 percent) and Missouri (9.6) are both under, Florida tops the charts with 11.8 percent.

And remember: those are just a smattering of the total positions on offer. (They’re literally among the first ten results that came up in a Google news search.) There are many, many more out there–see my previous post for another list, as well as contact details for the Census Bureau.

Written by Phil Stott

March 9, 2010 at 3:45 pm

How to Deliver Bad News Well

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Harry Reid

AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

What can we learn from the announcement of the unemployment number last Friday? Not the number itself, of course: the 12 million or so “officially” unemployed people in the country are quite beside the point (and never mind the discouraged or underemployed workers out there).  What’s really important is how the announcement of the number is handled, and which side wins the talking points, right?

As dismaying and counterproductive as the constant rounds of punch and counterpunch in the political arena may be, they do provide ample lessons for anyone with a vested interest in managing their personal career brand. In many ways, the hoopla surrounding last week’s unemployment number is a textbook study for anyone who’ll have to deliver bad news to a stakeholder—something that most of us will have to face in our careers at some point. Watching how the politicians spanned the divide between expectation and reality, there are definite pointers we can all learn from.

Under promise…

Getting your excuses in early isn’t exactly a new concept, but we saw it working to full effect last week. By Wednesday, thanks to Larry Summers, we all knew two things: that the February jobs report was going to be an absolute stinker, and that the weather was largely to blame. Warning stakeholders of potential bad news ahead of time gives them an opportunity to brace themselves for the shock. Painting a picture that suggests the news may be far worse than what you actually deliver: now that’s crisis management in action. And so effective was Summers’ message—he was talking distortions of 100,000 to 200,000 jobs—that we’re now left wondering just how good it could have been, given that we “only” lost 36,000.

…and over deliver

Now that we were braced for a shock (Would the number hit 10 percent again? Could it be worse? Were we looking at six figure job losses?), anything that could come in under our worst-case expectations would be a bonus. Cue the huge bump on Wall Street when the number emerged and it was revealed that losses weren’t as bad as expected—in fact, they were lower than they have been since 2006.

Sell whatever bad news is left as a positive development

“Today is a big day in America. Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good” – Harry Reid on the Senate floor, last Friday.

Your degree of cognitive dissonance when reading the Senate Majority Leader’s statement last week probably varies according to how generously disposed you feel towards him (and, dare I say, his political views). Leaving politics aside, however, Reid’s statement is a classic—if clumsy—example of how to place a positive spin on what is still a negative piece of news. Consider the following headlines:

“36,000 more jobs lost in February”

“February job losses better than expected”

Guess which one of those Reid was visualizing when making his announcement? However much heat he’s now attracting for his comment, he’s successfully steered the narrative away from what could have been a negative news cycle for his party, and back into the sort of petty political infighting that we’ve all come to know, love and—crucially—forget quickly.

Reframe the argument

Clearly, there are several elements at play when it comes to making bad news more palatable—regardless of whether you’re talking to the entire country, your company’s shareholders, or your boss. While I’m not suggesting that anyone go out to actively manipulate public perception or—worse—your figures, we as a culture are unfortunately transfixed by short-term numbers, regardless of whether or not they’re any use as indicators of long-term progress (and I’ve recently argued on Vault that the squabbling over the meaning of the unemployment number eclipses whatever use it may have). Be that as it may, we don’t get to choose what information our stakeholders—or the media—will seize on as a stick with which to beat our organizations.

As the saying goes, perception is reality. We’re all part of things that don’t live up to expectations from time to time. What separates those things from being minor career setbacks versus major bumps in the road is taking the time to consider how others will perceive the setbacks, and whether there’s anything you can do—within obvious ethical restraints—to control that.

*For the sake of clarity: neither am I suggesting that either of these things happened with the jobs report—either last week’s or in previous months.

The Senate Jobs Bill: Is it the Answer?

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The Senate just got around to passing a jobs bill that, if left unchanged by the House, will allocate some $13 billion to job creation. Well, at least we think it’ll help create jobs: the funds, according to BusinessWeek, will “fight unemployment by offering companies a one-year holiday from paying a 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax for each of the new workers they add who meet the 60-day unemployed criteria.”

All well and good, it would seem: what could go wrong with a plan that makes it cheaper for employers to hire workers? Not much–provided the bill includes some sort of provision that prevents employers from picking up the tax holiday if they jettison existing workers to replace them with the long-term unemployed so they can save on their tax bills. But they’ll have thought of that…right?

One other point that bears considering: is this something that’s likely to adversely affect the employment prospects of someone who’s been out of work for less than two months? For example: picture an interview scenario where two equally qualified people are competing for the same job. One’s been unemployed for a month, the other for nine. All things being equal, you’re probably going to hire the worker that’s 6.2 percent cheaper, right?

All told, these are fairly minor quibbles with a bill that seems otherwise very well intentioned. If nothing else, it’s refreshing to see the jobs issue finally being taken seriously in Washington. Job growth is the key to economic growth—at least in the short term—and any measure that will stimulate that is more than welcome, even if it’s overdue. It’s refreshing, too, to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggesting that this bill is a mere starting point. “We have a jobs agenda, not a jobs bill,” quotes The New York Times. “We’re going to have more votes, and create more jobs.”

For more insight and analysis on the job front, check out Vault’s Pink Slipped blog.

Written by Phil Stott

February 24, 2010 at 2:34 pm

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