Archive for April, 2009

Collaborating and coauthoring

Monday, April 13th, 2009

For those interested in writing, a useful primer from on one way to get yourself published:

The first step in finding opportunities to co-publish is to let your faculty mentors know that you are available to help if they ever get such invitations. Faculty sometimes receive unsolicited invitations to write an article or contribute a book chapter. Since faculty often plan long-term writing agendas, they may decline an unexpected invitation. They may be more likely to accept such an invitation if they know they can share the research and writing tasks with a co-author…

The benefit of collaborating is that all parties acquire new experience and skills, and have the creative opportunity to generate and test new ideas.

I was lucky in becoming a coauthor on Working World in that it all kind of just “happened” and I was in the right place at the right time (meaning I wasn’t actively pursuing this or any other specific opportunity to get published at the time). But in looking back, I did want to pursue writing in some form (including getting published) and I did let Sherry know about my writing skills and my desire to write (both in the projects I pursued and excelled at, as well as just by telling her straight up).

So when Sherry came up with the idea to invite me as a coauthor on Working World, it wasn’t a shot in the dark—she already knew that I could write and that I was certain to accept her invitation. If you’re looking to write and get published, whether in academic circles or otherwise, don’t be shy about letting people know, or about getting your stuff out there.

New-ish book: Working Across Generations

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Mark Rebstock at NCIV pointed me towards a new-ish book (published in October 2008, around the same time as Working World), Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership by Frances Kunreuther, Helen Kim, and Robby Rodriguez. Mark describes the book in his Nonprofit Best Practices feature in NCIV’s newsletter as “a comprehensive look at the leadership and generational shifts taking place in the nonprofit sector.” I haven’t picked it up yet, but hope to at an event featuring the authors coming up next week.

In the meantime, though, a twenty page excerpt is available on the book’s website, as is Frances, Helen, and Robby’s Leadership Top 5:

“Current nonprofit leaders often ask us what they can do now to work with Gen X and Y leaders. Here are our top 5 suggestions:

  1. Build clear steps for advancement in your organization. Newer generations recognize that they need to create pathways within the sector for moving up in their organizations or to positions of leadership elsewhere. Make skills-building trainings available to staff as they both prepare for and begin new positions within an organization. For smaller organizations without room for growth, consider ways that younger staff can be a part of decision-making or use their skills in other organizations in the sector.
    [Ed. note: Agreed---one of the points of my previous screed about salaries and career advancement in nonprofits.]
  2. Remember it’s more than technology. We often hear boomer leaders talk about the benefit of younger staff members’ technological savvy. Then we hear from newer leaders that they are valued for skills but not their ideas. Remember that Generation X and millennials may (or may not) have great skills for developing web sites to social networking, but they also want to contribute their ideas.
    [Ed. note: We might more easily understand the utility of an RSS feed, but that doesn't make us tech gurus. I was prompted today to install a new "script" for my email and was utterly defeated.]
  3. Provide mentoring opportunities. Mentors and networks provide Generation Xers and millennials with information about jobs, the connections they need to get their foot in the door, and the legitimacy they need with others. Offer connections to trusted colleagues in the field who can provide staff with a sense of perspective and history, advice, contacts and influence. And mentoring is rarely one way; older leaders gain insight and information by listening to their younger colleagues.
    [Ed. note: This book and this blog---need I say more?]
  4. Create room for more voices. Newer generations looking for more voice in organizations has led to a revival of interest in more inclusive decision-making models. Examine how decisions are currently made and consider ways to institute places where decision-making can be open to more voices. Consider reducing the amount of time spent discussing decisions and instead distribute leadership throughout the organization, giving staff members more authority and responsibility for running their own programs.
    [Ed. note: Sherry always says the best way to get someone interested in your cause is to invite him or her to speak. The same holds true here---invite us to lead.]
  5. Lead together. Younger leaders are often more interested in sharing leadership, building more on the experiences of some of the movement organizations of the 1960s and 1970s than on current business operations. Whereas boomer leadership-sharing often resulted in power struggles, Generation Xers and millennials are frequently recognized for their comfort with working in teams. Boards should consider phasing in co-directors, leadership teams, or other variations of sharing the top responsibility in your organization.
    [Ed. note: We love doing things in groups.]

The USG Guide to Blogging

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Via Chris Blattman, the U.S. Government presents Your Guide to Managing…Blogs. I’m certainly prone to take things like this tongue-in-cheek, as Blattman does, but actually, it’s a fairly useful, if basic, guide to blogging. A particularly interesting point in light of yesterday’s discussion on the “dangers” of social networking:

When blogging, remember that the Web has a long memory. Do not publish any material on impulse. Ask these questions:

  • Who else might read it?
  • Supposing a prospective partner, stakeholder, or customer read it, what would they think?
  • Would you be willing to have it on the front page of the newspaper?
  • In what other ways might it be interpreted?

Although my favorite pointer:

Choose words that have as few syllables as possible.

Interweb users aren’t reading, we’re scanning. Keep it dumb, people.

The potential trap that could be social networking (!)

Thursday, April 9th, 2009

News out of Yahoo Sports: one NFL team is friending potential draft picks on Facebook and MySpace with fake profiles of alluring women. The idea behind this “Trojan horse” is to unlock “a door to a world of Internet pictures and information which most NFL teams are now consistently compiling to help polish their dossiers on draft picks.” As a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has had somewhere in the range of 10-15 players get arrested in the past few years, I can understand why teams might want to know if a potential player is a liability.

While I’ve never heard of an employer luring a potential employee into a Facebook trap like this (seems pretty dubious and underhanded, though I guess there’s nothing illegal about it), it’s fairly common knowledge that employers often do Google candidates and check Facebook/MySpace pages, so always be mindful of how you are presenting yourself in the social networking world. You don’t ever want something you figured only your friends would see to come back and haunt you, like it did for this Twitter user.

The parallels between networking and food

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

On the heels of many discussions about networking, especially involving my own distaste for attending networking events (namely here and here), my girlfriend Katie, a certified foodie, gchatted me this:

so here is my theory about a possible approach to networking -
it’s the same as jeffrey steingarten’s approach to foods we don’t like -
try it at least 8 times, and the chance is, if you don’t like it, at least you will develop an appreciation for it

A very intriguing thought. She’d mentioned Steingarten’s book, The Man Who Ate Everything, to me before, as well as its underlying theory, so I checked it out. Steingarten has been the food critic at Vogue since 1989 (and is also a regular judge on Iron Chef, for those who frequent the Food Channel), but he also, somewhat notriously for a food critic, has an intense aversion to a whole lot of foods. So, in writing The Man Who Ate Everything, he set out to stem these aversions. Here’s Steingarten’s basic theory on how he got himself to like foods he’d traditionally hated:

Scientists tell us that aversions fade away when we eat moderate doses of the hated foods at moderate intervals, especially if the food is complex and new to us. Exposure works by overcoming our innate neophobia, the omnivore’s fear of new foods that balances the biological urge to explore for them.

Steingarten later notes that while babies might reject a new food on the first few tries, after eight or ten tries, they will accept nearly anything. So the same is (or can be) true for adults. Steingarten managed to overcome nearly all of his food phobias through this approach of trying things eight to ten times. Through this process of acclimatization and de-stigmatization, he came to find he now appreciates and enjoys the foods he once loathed.

So for Katie, by applying this theory to networking (especially attending networking events, during which you are required to be social and chat up people you don’t know), the theory becomes: though you may have an aversion to networking and networking events, if you force yourself to go to them (eight to ten times), you can then overcome your distaste and actually enjoy them. There’s definitely merit in this theory and, upon reflection, I’ve probably unconsciously experienced it to be true (the more networking events I’ve attended, the less I hate them to the point that I even enjoy them). But, a few caveats/discussion points:

1) It’s not just quantity here—quality and experience are important too. Take Steingarten’s battle with anchovies: “My phobia crumpled when I understood that the anchovies living in American pizza parlors bear no relation to the sweet, tender anchovies of Spain and Italy, cured in dry sea salt and a bit of pepper.” He overcame his dislike of anchovies not only by eating a lot of them, but also by becoming more experienced with them, by realizing that the anchovies he’d been eating— and had thus hated—were empirically inferior anchovies (of course you didn’t like them, an anchovy connoisseur would say). The taste of truly good anchovies is a whole lot easier to like than that of bad ones.

Transferred to networking, this idea comes to mean that, the more networking events that you attend: 1) the more you’ll be able to discern between “good” networking events and “bad” ones (i.e., what events hold the most interest for you, and thus which ones you’ll be most engaged at—just as Steingarten didn’t just stuff his face with raw anchovies to overcome his distaste, but rather learned more about the best ways to prepare and eat anchovies, so we too should not just attend every networking event we come across, but rather pick and choose those that are best for us); and 2) the more you’ll understand how you function best at networking events (i.e., always going with a friend or colleague, showing up early when it’s less crowded so it’s easier to meet people, etc.).

2) I’m fascinated by Steingarten’s assertion that we have to balance our innate, omnivorous fear of new foods with our biological urge to explore for them. We both love and fear the novel. It’s interesting to apply this idea to social situations like networking. Perhaps we all have some innate need for human contact and socialization, but at the same time a fear of those people we don’t know. That need-fear ratio is present in all people, but simply at different levels, just like the balance of “urge to explore-fear of the new” with foods is different in all people. I guess the key then becomes recognizing where we as individuals stand on that balance (are we more in need of networking socialization, or more fearful of it?), and then determining how we can best compensate one way or the other.

Pride begets perseverance

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The Times reports that if you’re in the doldrums of a job search, sticking to a routine, keeping up appearances, and taking pride can give you a much needed boost:

The fine art of keeping up appearances may seem shallow and deceitful, the very embodiment of denial. But many psychologists beg to differ.

To the extent that it sustains good habits and reflects personal pride, they say, this kind of play-acting can be an extremely effective social strategy, especially in uncertain times.

“If showing pride in these kinds of situations was always maladaptive, then why would people do it so often?” said David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University in Boston. “But people do, of course, and we are finding that pride is centrally important not just for surviving physical danger but for thriving in difficult social circumstances, in ways that are not at all obvious.”

And also:

Psychologists have found that wearing a sad or happy face can have a top-down effect on how a person feels: Smile and you may feel fleetingly happier. The same most likely is true for an expression of pride. In a 2008 study, the Northeastern researchers found that inducing a feeling of pride in people solving spatial puzzles motivated them to try harder when they tackled the next round.

Pride, in short, begets perseverance.

Hat tip: Ashton Rogers.

The dangers of development work

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Michael Kleinman reports the disturbing truth that 2008 was the most dangerous and deadly year on record for international development and aid workers.

Working World at American U. tomorrow

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Sherry and I will be on the campus of our shared alma mater, American University, tomorrow afternoon (3/7) at 5:00 p.m. (in the School for International Service lounge) talking about careers in international affairs to undergrads. If you’re an undergrad at AU, or in the area, or both, stop by!

Foreign exchange students = tasty

Monday, April 6th, 2009

A colleague here in DC reported last week on a Nestea ad he saw at a bus stop that went like this:

Tasty and foreign, like we bottled an exchange student.

He didn’t get a picture, and a quick Google search didn’t yield anything. While traipsing around with the Ridiculous Crowds this weekend to get a look at the Cherry Blossoms, I kept an eye peeled but also to no avail. But then, another Google search today struck pay dirt. Flickr user poza1 posted this:

Other reported sightings of the ad: a New York Ave. bus stop in DC and bus stops in Baltimore as well. (Anyone seen them anywhere else? More quick Google searches show that the new Nestea campaign is running in “all global markets,” though that doesn’t mean this particular ad is everywhere.)

A few initial reactions to the ad range from the incredulous (”WTF??”) to the outraged (”Exotification is the fun way to be racist”) to the cheeky (”Desperate play for the cannibal market”) to the humorously literal (”If I were an exchange student I’d be somewhat alarmed”). In the end, I can’t see how what is clearly goofiness can be construed as racist. Stupid or ineffective? You might think so, and you could make a strong case. Racist? That’s stretching things a bit far. Honestly, anything that helps heighten the American consciousness that the presence of foreign exchange students in our country is “tasty” (i.e., desirable) is in my mind a good thing.

UPDATE (4/28/09): I caught my first live siting of this ad today, from the window of the #32 bus going north up Wisconsin Avenue NW—the ad was on the side of a bus stop shelter just north of Glover Park, the first or second stop up from Calvert St.

Social networking as a skill? ctd.

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Several weeks back there was some discussion in this space about the viability of social networking as a skill. The results were split. My friend at the USDA International Institute, Lauren Jacobs, and I leaned toward the idea that “proficient in Facebook” is not a skill (anyone can set up a Facebook account and “use” it), but a certain depth of knowledge in social networking can be:

Lauren’s point is that social networking might be a good skill to highlight if you truly have a deep understanding of social media and how to use it for the benefit of an organization, especially a small international nonprofit that could benefit from the savvy of a young professional who knows how to utilize free technology to make a deep impact. But I think you really need to school yourself in such intricacies and that involves a whole lot more knowledge and experience than updating your status every hour.

Others chimed in, however, disagreeing (from commenter G):

Not a skill. Unless you’ve created your own social networking site (complete with html and all that fun stuff), I don’t think it belongs on your resume. I think if it was on there, I would wonder about your other competencies, as I don’t know anyone who is unskilled at social networking. If that’s the best thing you can say about yourself, you aren’t going to get the job.

I appreciate both sides of the argument, but I can’t agree with G’s assertion that “I don’t know anyone who is unskilled at social networking.” I would argue, first off, there are plenty of people who plain suck at social networking and don’t understand its implications. The argument inherent here—”if you can do it, you’re good at it”—is downright dubious. That’s like saying anyone who knows how to play baseball is ready for the big leagues. I played ball when I was younger and I can still swing a bat okay, but that doesn’t mean I can hit one out of Fenway.

And second, it now appears that having solid skills in social networking and being able to market them in the right way can get you a high-level job in the State Department: see today’s WashPost article on Alec Ross, a new senior advisor to Hillary Clinton whose job “will blend technology with diplomacy in an attempt to help solve some of the globe’s most vexing problems:”

Projects could include the use of cellphone text messaging as a way to reach isolated communities to warn people of natural disaster or remind patients to take medication. Social networking sites could bring together youth in warring tribes to communicate and organize cultural exchanges. Software could be used to help ensure aid is delivered by creating supply-chain systems.

I don’t know much about Mr. Ross’ qualifications, but I would guess that his experience with social networking extends far beyond the average Internet user. Because you have a Twitter feed and know how to post pictures on Facebook, do you feel this makes you qualified to be the State Department’s senior advisor for technology and diplomacy? It shouldn’t, and I’m thusly led to the not-definitive-but-still-pretty-stable conclusion that deep experience with and skill in social networking is a desirable and marketable skill in international and diplomatic work.

And an interesting final point about Ross: he has “no formal training in technology.” (Sub-text: anyone can become a social networking expert, but not everyone is.)

Volunteers for Prosperity (VFP)

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which got its final passage through the Senate on Tuesday, authorizes the Volunteers for Prosperity (VFP) initiative (recently discussed in this space here) at USAID and provides “matching grants for service stipends to deploy highly skilled professionals to address issues such as extreme poverty, clean water, preventable diseases, universal education, and business and information technology through participating nongovernmental organizations.” From what I gather, it all works like this:

  1. Go to the Global Giving website (Global Giving being a private foundation that helps administer VFP) and create yourself an account.
  2. Search the list of VFP partner organizations (full list after the jump, for your convenience).
  3. Contact tour VFP partner of choice and with them develop a volunteer assignment (the meaning of “develop,” I’m sure, is relative to each organization).
  4. Complete the online application for a VFP grant.
  5. Fundraise to qualify for a grant.

A few important points to note: VFP grants are for skilled professionals only—I’m sure what that means, exactly, is at least somewhat fluid, but the list of skills quoted above are a good starting point to know if you might qualify; VFP grants are for those who have a volunteer assignment through a designated org—you cannot develop an independent volunteer plan and then apply for VFP funding to pay for it; and you are required to do do local fundraising: “Grants match at least an equal amount of funds raised by volunteers locally.”

The VFP grant program is much more specific than I realized (not that this is a bad thing, it is just for a more specific group of professionals), though the Global Service Fellowship Program, introduced by Sen. Feingold this year, seems to be targeted at a much broader audience of potential international volunteers. It’s currently making its way through Congress, so I’ll report as soon as I know more.

Don’t forget, after the jump, VFP partner orgs…


Getting accredited to teach English abroad, ctd.

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Commenting on my original post about the merits of pursuing TEFL certification in order to teach English abroad, reader Debbie passes along some very useful tips:

I spent a year teaching English in Prague (after getting my TEFL certification there), and have just a few more pieces of advice: has a lot of information about teaching abroad and lists hundreds of programs. It can be a bit overwhelming, but if you poke around for a bit, you can find really useful info. Also, if you have an idea of the country/countries you’d like to teach in, you can search by country or city.

-Through Dave’s ESL Cafe or just by searching around the blogosphere, try to find someone who is already teaching English in a country or region you’re interested in. Getting info straight up from someone who’s there is key. Helped me immensely. If you find a school or program you like, email them and ask if you can contact some of their alumni to get more unbiased info.

-If you don’t have connections in your desired city/country, it may be worth it to search for a program that promises/offers/aims to help you find a job. Very helpful!

-”…not to mention that it actually trains you to be an English teacher, which is not as easy as it sounds”––I couldn’t agree more! The TEFL course is rather intense; not only are you expected to pick up skills like classroom management, error correction, time management and lesson-planning in four short weeks but you’re also overloaded with the basics and complexities of English grammar––which is a lot harder than it sounds! My university educated classmates and I couldn’t have labeled an auxiliary verb or diagrammed a sentence in the present perfect tense before the course, and it took many months of teaching to actually feel comfortable explaining grammar.

Of course, teaching English isn’t all grammar and technicalities. But the ‘easier’ stuff (vocabulary, slang, pronunciation etc) comes more naturally. If you’re serious about teaching English, I’d highly recommend it. TEFL etc. is intense, but definitely worth the time and money.

Thanks so much for the useful information, Debbie. Labeling an auxiliary verb or diagramming a sentence in the present perfect tense was definitely something I couldn’t do while teaching English in northeast China (and still can’t do, for that matter). My Chinese colleagues would often ask me grammar-related questions and I always had a near-impossible time answering them—the English as a second language speakers always knew far more about grammar than me (I took to prefacing all my grammar-related answers with, “Well, this is what we would say…”). In hindsight, some preparation in this regard would have been really useful.

And even more than that, some preparation in the matter of, as you put it, “classroom management” would have been a godsend. I got plopped into my classroom with nothing but a classlist, a Side by Side and an encouraging pat on the shoulder. Learning how to be a teacher on the fly (in a completely foreign culture to boot) was formative in a “whatever doesn’t kill you” kind of way, though I would have saved myself mountains of frustration and been a far more effective teacher much earlier on had I been properly trained.

Elbow patches are awesome, but only if they’re not stained, ctd.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Lindsey Gerdes, blogging at First Jobs on, agrees with my previous post and says we should cut the whining out of networking:

It’s not only your attire that makes a first impression. It’s your attitude as well. And while sharing your woes might win you some sympathy, it probably won’t land you the potential contacts and opportunities that having a positive and professional demeanor would.

My comments to Lindsey’s post:

Thanks for this post and the link to Working World, Lindsey. I’m with you 100% that an important part of any job search is commiseration. The solitary nature of the job search can be one of its most difficult aspects, so the support and encouragement of fellow job seekers and other contacts can be really necessary to help us persevere (my co-author Sherry has always encouraged job seekers to form a support group to find this kind of camaraderie).

The point of my story about “JS,” though, as you note, is that venting frustration, while needed to help keep us sane, has a time and a place– and that time and place is probably not at networking events. Networking is all about building relationships, trying to organically develop contacts and opportunities. And I think “organic” is a key word here: I’ve found that people want to help you, they want to do for you what others have done for them– but only if it is natural and unforced, genuine and without obligation. If you present yourself as a talented, hard-working, polished young professional who is looking to connect with like-minded people and hopefully in the process gain some advice and help, then you make it easy for potential contacts to want to help you– because it will be not out of obligation but genuine interest and connection. But if you come across as sloppy, whiny, and borderline accusatory (as I felt “JS” did, almost like, “I’ve spent all this time networking with you, now why haven’t you found me a job?!”), then fewer people are going to want to offer the help you’re looking for.

There’s no denying it’s tough out there and, though you may indeed be having a rough go of it, leave the venting out of your networking and keep it confined to your support group and friends.

UPDATE: An added “how to dress yourself well” bonus, especially apropos of my slip yesterday into Project Runway territory: Tim Gunn’s Guide to Laundry and Closet Organization

Elbow patches are awesome, but only if they’re not stained

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

I was at a networking event recently and ended up talking to a job seeker who I’d already met on a few separate occasions. Despite the fact that our meetings were spread out over the course of almost six months, this job seeker (from now on, JS) unfortunately still didn’t have a job. It can be tough out there, especially in “this economy” (one of my new, least favorite phrases), and JS was hard proof of that. I offered my support and whatever advice I could. Walking away from that encounter, I wondered why this particular job seeker was having such a tough time of it—after all, JS was, it seemed, showing up at all the right networking events. Then a friend I was with cut to the chase:

“From what you know, would you recommend JS for a job or pass along an opening?”

I admitted I would not. And not because of a lack of qualifications or skills (in fact I knew very little about JS’ qualifications and skills) and not because I wasn’t impressed that JS was taking a lot of initiative to come to all these events (I was impressed) but rather, frankly, because JS made a very poor impression: came off as a whiner, appeared to have no confidence, and was dressed poorly and unprofessionally. JS’ tactic at this and other events seemed less like networking and more like fishing for sympathy; a discussion of job search difficulties came across to me more as unhelpful whining; and JS’ appearance, dressed in a pilled sweater and frumpy corduroys, and rocking some fantastically disheveled hair, didn’t do much to help the cause. The cumulative effect was none too impressive and rather off-putting.

In this bluntness, I don’t mean to downplay the difficulties of a job search nor suggest that some righteous bitching and moaning isn’t a key part of staying sane during the process. But you need to pick and choose those moments, and a networking event is not it—rather, that is the time to buck up, shine your shoes, and put your best foot forward. I was reminded of this encounter by an article on Monday in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. advocating for this idea: “Can’t we be smart and look good, too?” A pretty funny and fascinating article (subscribers only, sorry).  While I’m still unsure of the effects Botox, highlights, and sparkly lotion will have on my self-esteem (they seem to have worked wonders for the author, Rachel Toor), I appreciate Toor’s greater point that, in all professions, appearance, and thus the impression you make, matters. Says Toor:

For years, as an acquisitions editor, I traveled to campuses, knocking on doors and visiting professors in their book-lined lairs. What I remember most about those encounters was the ugly shoes…I also attended the annual conferences of a number of disciplines, seeing academics in their dress-up duds…Men wore badly fitting suits, or ancient corduroy sport coats and food-stained ties. Professorial jewelry tended toward “interesting,” which usually meant big, clunky, and inexpensive; there’s rarely anything shiny on an academic woman. Those clad in tailored jackets and pencil skirts, with glossed lips and flat-ironed hair, were either publishers or graduate students on the market for their first job.

A friend finally made Toor realize that “I could be both a thoughtful person — indeed, a feminist — and care about how I looked. I could even look good.” But, Toor was still conflicted. Even though she felt good when she looked good, she felt like she was doing something wrong:

Why, then, did it feel like a betrayal of academic values?…Because we’re supposed to be above all that.