Tag Archives: employment

Performance anxiety (Facebook edition)

If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise. — William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”
I noted recently that writing has become a performing art, one where we writers all have to be promotional and public. I’ve been mulling that over in regards to social media. Specifically, Facebook.
I made my first business career developing the consumer side of what we once called “cyberspace,” but I was quite late to Facebook. Most close friends who wanted to keep up with my personal life soon wised up and Friended my wife. My main reservation was Facebook’s awesome store of personal data (even now, my Facebook account is still under a different computer login than my work or personal logins), but it seemed harmless enough — shared humor, family updates and the occasional expression of political dudgeon by people whose politics I knew well.
When I signed up for the Superstars Writing Seminars, I joined their very active private Facebook group for news and updates on the seminar, and by extension, on the writers’ individual careers. To my great surprise, a lot of those people Friended me on Facebook — most before ever meeting me, and the rest after a very limited interaction (though you learn a lot playing Cards Against Humanity, and none of it good.)
I was bemused. Why on earth would these people want to Friend me? Did they care about my son’s new style of dancing to 80’s pop? Would they be as thrilled by the new retaining wall we’re getting as I am?
My folly was in not recognizing that Facebook has become a public space to the exact degree that one is a public person — and performing artists are public people, and writers now performers. This for me makes Facebook an increasingly staged and risky place. In Soho where she lives, a major fashion model can go shopping without makeup and in sweatpants — but when that same model hits the stores at Mall of America, she is not shopping. She is making an appearance, as rehearsed and planned and calculated as any Oscar Wilde bon-mot.
Thing is, I have plenty of friends, and extended family, for whom Facebook is not that space, and whose socializing there is more honest, more mundane, and in some ways more substantive. If I actually become a successful writer, commenting to me on a Facebook post will be the equivalent of meeting your friend for coffee when your friend is on a reality-TV show and has a camera following everywhere. Little-f-friends, are you ready for that? Am I? Continue reading

The future of the university, the bad part

When I posted on this subject a few days ago, I wish I had known this would be Mainstream Media Says College Sucks week. National Public Radio, the New York Times and the Economist have been discussing the ever greater burden of college tuition, the extremely poor guidance colleges give new students about the cost, the mismatch between graduates and the job market. Even the new sitcom Silicon Valley gets its hero his start by having him tell a major tech investor that if he doesn’t get funding, he might have to go back to college.
But no one has a solution, except regulation and future innovation. This avoids the problem. People go to college for different reasons, but most white-collar employers* use college as minimum requirement.
A college degree is not a guarantee of useful professional skills. A math major, a marketing major and an English major may join the same company the day after graduation, but the first two will get work in keeping with their training sooner than the last. I was a young English major looking for work in the recession of 1989, and I didn’t have a thing about me that an employer would want. But I didn’t quite know that until it was too late.  Continue reading

Hire the quirky!

David Brooks’s recent plea to our nation’s employers struck me deeply, resonating with both my personal history and my professional experience.
Not that I want you to skip the column, but in case you’re pressed, Brooks asks our nation’s employers to seek new hires who are more passionate than perfect, who are singular and irregular not conventionally well-rounded — not only for the health of their own companies, as counter-intuitive as that may seem, but for the health of our nation.
I despair at his reception. The disincentives are too powerful. No one who vets resumes is encouraged to seek the quirky; and if the quirky fail, few will question how the institution might have helped them succeed — blame is faster and easier. And, let’s admit, many jobs have nothing in them that appeals to restless creative intellects, save payment and the promise of something “down the road” — and are usually managed by people who themselves found that promise to be a mirage.
But still, it might happen. I share a professional anecdote, adding my small breath of wind to Brooks’s great sails.
In 1999, AOL’s Hong Kong office could not manage to find a graphic designer, and it was affecting our production schedule. When we finally confronted the HR people, face to face (a lesson in itself, about the limits of email), they explained there was a policy that everyone hired as the head of a department had to have several years’ experience.  Continue reading