Web Career Tips for High School Students

Someone on a list I belong to asked for tips to share with high school students considering a career in the Web. Here were my four tips:

1. View source.
2. Build stuff for your friends.
3. What they teach you in class is always going to be years out of date.
4. If you want to be successful long term, learn the business behind the site.

What would you recommend to the same audience?

Social Media on the Job Search

I was quoted yesterday in an article on CareerBuilder about the role of social media in job searches: Social Media on the Job Search.

Naturally, the visibility that could potentially ruin your career could also be what gives you one in the first place. David Gammel, author of “Online and On Mission: Practical Web Strategy for Breakthrough Results,” sees the value in social media’s prominence when used for good.

“If you have posted lots of content under your identity that enhances your qualifications, it will show up high in search results and benefit how you are perceived,” Gammel says. “If that content is unprofessional or otherwise at odds with the job you are pursuing, it may stop you in your tracks.”

Although social media is an asset, it’s yet to become the definitive way to land a position, he says.

“The best way to find a new job is still through a personal referral from someone who trusts you to someone who trusts them,” Gammel says. “Social media might be used for communicating, but it won’t create that trust. Good old-fashioned relationships will do that.”

I learned a long time ago that the purpose of a cover letter is to get them to read your resume. The purpose of the resume is to get the interview. The purpose of the interview is to convince them you are the best person for the job. The role of social media in all that should be, at a minimum, to do no harm to your progression through those steps. At its best, it may accelerate getting to the interview.

In short, I think that no presence on social media is neutral for most jobs, while an unprofessional presence may disqualify you. Strong professional content posted by you can certainly help but I doubt would seal the deal for anyone.

No One Cares About Your Intranet

James Robertson points to a post decrying the lack of attention that corporate intranets receive nowadays in a challenging economy.

Expecting executives to fund the intranet is like expecting them to fund fax machines: better make a good case leading with the value of the outcomes an intranet can achieve rather than the depth of your features or total document count or the purity of your taxonomy.

In fact, I’d stop calling your group an intranet team immediately. Rebrand yourself as the rapid solutions team, working tirelessly to help profit centers make more profit and cost centers to cost less.

Online Career Centers in the Current Economy: Huge Opportunity to Offer New Value

The employment market is dramatically changing as the drumbeat of layoffs and a shrinking economy continue. The potential value of online career centers is, counter-intuitively, skyrocketing at the same time. Here is why:

  • Employers may have fewer positions available but the ones they do have open are likely to be extremely important;
  • Employers will have to sift through a much greater number of applicants for each position;
  • There is going to be an influx of new job seekers who are highly qualified without recent experience in job hunting.

Online career centers have greater value for both the employers and seekers in this market. Think about what additional value you can offer to each.

Can you help employers to more easily sift through a large number of applicants to find the hidden gems?

Can you help the newly unemployed to present themselves in the best light?

Can you offer special services to senior executives and the recruiters looking to cherry pick the best talent in this market?

You get the idea.

The career centers that offer the most value now will be the ones that surge forward with the most energy when the economy inevitably improves and organizations begin hiring in much greater numbers. What are you doing to be ready?

When to Build and When to Hire

I though this article from MIT Sloan Management Review about hiring vs. developing internal talent was quite interesting. The article posits that the characteristics of the job should have as much, if not more, influence in the decision than the people in question. Here is a relevant quote from the summary.

When ‘Stars’ Migrate, Do They Still Perform Like Stars?

Consequently, organizations should not think of talent management as a simple “build versus buy” dichotomy. Rather, there are some positions for which they can buy, and others for which they must build. Within investment banks, for example, the retail brokers (who handle individual clients) work primarily on their own. In contrast, institutional salespeople (who sell to major institutional investors such as Putnam, Vanguard and Fidelity) are more likely to perform their jobs in teams. Thus, retail brokers are more portable and can easily be hired from the outside. Institutional salespeople, however, should be developed from within, and efforts should be made to retain them.

This has lots of interesting implications for career path development, recruitment and retention.

The Literate Web Developer

Rafe Coburn, a very long time blogger, posted today about how he is seeing more and more web developers who don’t know SQL very well.

It seems to me, though, that actual knowledge of SQL seems to be falling. I blame this on the growing popularity of persistence frameworks that abstract the database away, allowing developers to interact without databases without writing much (or any) SQL. … Many developers don’t even learn SQL in depth, period.

Rafe goes on to explain why knowledge of SQL (a way to query databases directly and with great flexibility) is key knowledge even when your team uses a development framework that abstracts away the database.

He makes a closing point that I think is good advice for any web developer. He recommends developing your skills in HTML, CSS, SQL, and Javascript, as they will be around forever (in web terms!) even as new frameworks rise and fall. Any developer with good chops in those areas will have a long term career advantage over someone who is exclusively a specialist in Ruby on Rails, for example.

For those of you who managed web teams and developers, make sure you are investing in these fundamental skills as well as in the specific technology that is unique to your operations.

When You Get Slammed Online

Eve Tahmincioglu, a columnist for MSNBC.com, quoted me recently in a blog post she wrote about her experience interacting with a blogger who slammed one of her articles as ‘sloppy journalism.’ It’s a good case for how to approach criticism online with good results in this instance.

The key thing Eve did was to take a deep breath and respond initially as if the person criticizing her was rational. Turns out he was and they were able to find common ground via comments and blog posts discussing the issue.

Getting the Interview

I was quoted on CNN.com yesterday in an article on writing resumes and thought I would expand a bit upon the topic of getting an interview (this is the purpose of a resume, by the way).

The single best way to get an interview that leads to a job offer is through a trusted, personal, introduction. The reasons should be fairly obvious. Work your network when you are looking. This can often pay off faster and more easily than sending blind applications.

However, that doesn’t always work when you need it to. In that case, read this post I wrote a while ago that discusses the roles of cover letters, resumes and the interview in the hiring process. Tailor each stage to provide value to the hirer, not you!

Good luck!

Cover Letters Matter

Guy Kawasaki shares his experience posting an announcement on craigslist. He point out how important a good cover letter is:

Write a cover email that addresses the position. Two people simply attached their resume to their response. I pushed back on one and suggested that he write a cover email. He copied and pasted my job description to, I guess, let me know which job he was applying for. Needless to say, both candidates didn’t get serious consideration. I don’t know about other employers, but the thing I can’t stand the most is laziness. Although, to be fair, the ad was for a position at the worst website in the world.

I hired a lot of people when I used to lead web teams at ASHA and I reviewed more resumes than I care to remember. A good cover letter that showed the applicant actually read the position description and thought about how they could contribute stood out like a shining beacon of hope. My usual vetting process on applications was something like this:

  • Rapid sort of those who obviously didn’t fit the job. Anyone who included a tailored cover letter would make this cut. I could usually cut out a third to a half of applicants at this stage. Each one got about 5 seconds of my attention.
  • More careful review of cover letters and resumes to cull more applicants who clearly did not meet what we were looking for.
  • Send what was left to the team for review and comment and then pick four or five to come in for interviews.

As you can see, a good cover letter got you past summary review and into a more in depth look at your merits. A cover letter is well worth your investment of time and effort.

A final note on the hiring process for applicants:

  • The purpose of a cover letter is to get the employer to look at your resume.
  • The purpose of a resume is to convince the employer that they should interview you (the cover can help with this as well).
  • The purpose of the interview is to convince the employer that you are the best person for the job.

If you design each stage with those goals in mind you’ll do better than 99% of the job seekers out there.

Generational Writing

ASAE received a letter from a member of the millennial generation, Brynn Grumstrup Slate, in response to an article they published about millennials. An excerpt:

As an engaged ASAE member and a member of the Millennial generation, I appreciated the column “Preparing for the Millennial Tsunami” in the May issue of Associations Now. The article would have been even more effective, however, if it had integrated the voice of a Millennial in addition to the experienced views of Bruce Butterfield and Susan Fox and shared a first person perspective on the work habits and career goals of this emerging group.

I’m right there with you, Brynn. The same thing always made me uncomfortable as a Gen X’er myself. There are still speakers and authors talking about how to work with Gen X even though some of us are now over 40 years old. They should start having sessions on “How to work FOR Gen X” soon. 🙂

My suggestion for Brynn and other Millenials (and any other generation for that matter) who feel cut out: start your own blog or other web site and express yourself. Formal publications are easily routed around these days.

Ben Martin had nothing to do with this post but I’m linking to him anyway.