Archive for June, 2009

Beware apartment rental scams when moving with a new job

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

<i>Too good to be true? Probably.<em/>

Too good to be true? Probably.

Starting a new job often means moving to a new city, and moving to a new city means the dreaded task of finding an apartment. Craigslist is clearly the preferred method for renters and landlords to connect, and for the most part this system seems to work well. But beware the scams, the Times tells us today, as they abound these days and aren’t as easy to spot or avoid as they used to be.

One of the most pervasive scams is a keys-for-cash gambit. Carried out online where almost all rental transactions begin these days, this ploy separates would-be renters from their money before they so much as set foot inside a dwelling. In this scheme, information and pictures from legitimate rental or sales listings are lifted from other sites and reposted under another name at an eye-poppingly low rent.

The article focuses on New York, but this happens everywhere. My cousin got scammed moving to DC about a year ago by someone trying to rent an apartment that didn’t even exist and lost her deposit and first month’s rent. Casually scanning for two bedroom apartments on Craigslist not three weeks ago, I came across one of those too-good-to-be-true posts: a beautiful condo in the heart of Dupont for $1300, all utilities included. No way, I thought, must be a scam. But still, I convinced myself, sometimes amazing deals pop up—and if this was one of them, I didn’t want to miss out. So I emailed.

I got a response about a day later from “Nicole Miller,” who told a version of the story referenced in the Times article: in oddly stilted English, “Nicole” said she was the owner of the apartment but now lived in the UK working as a construction engineer. She didn’t have any way to show the apartment except to mail the keys, so I should email back and she’d fill me in on the details of how this would work. She also sent along 10 pictures of what looked to be a truly amazing apartment (one of which is above).

At this point I knew it must be a scam, but I was still intrigued to see what would happen. So I sent a very vague email back, betraying no personal information, and said I’d like to know how to proceed. “Nicole” emailed right back, telling me in lurid detail how I was to set up a “CASE ID# at eBay Company,” an account into which I was to deposit $2600, at which time she’d ship the keys and I’d be able to view the apartment at my leisure and decide whether I wanted it. If yes (and she was sure I’d want it), the lovely people at eBay Company would release my money to her. If not, the money came back to me and I was to ship the keys back to the UK. I decided it was best to cut off communication with “Nicole” at this point.

I also decided to Google her and found that she owns a very similar looking apartment in Santa Monica too.

Anyhow, no larger career message here, other than: if a career change or new job takes you to a new place and you need to find a new apartment (or you’re just looking for a new apartment in general), be careful and beware the scammers.

Use a temp agency to get your foot in the door

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Temp agencies are often viewed as a last resort, the refuge of those who have gone as long as they possibly can without work and now desperately need a paycheck. This might be the case for many (and there’s no shame in it), but temping can also be viewed as a practical way to make some money, gain some experience, and maybe get your foot in the door.

I met this week with a representative from TSI Staffing in DC who told me that their company is seeing more and more recent college graduates and other young professionals seeking temp work as a way to get experience in and gain contacts at international organizations, experience and contacts that they hope might lead to full-time jobs in the near future.

“Young professionals are increasingly seeing temp work as a great way to get their foot in the door,” the TSI rep told me. “You get direct and relevant experience, meet people working in the field, show a potential employer that even when you’re unemployed you’re still willing to work, which looks good, and you get a paycheck on top of it all. What’s not to like?”

And are there possibilities to temp for internationally-focused organizations?

“Oh absolutely,” the rep replied. “Especially in DC, there are lots of international organizations looking for temporary help.”

The TSI rep did emphasize, though, that not all staffing agencies work like they do—that is, trying as best they can to place temps with organizations that match their interests. According to the rep, some staffing agencies won’t go to this trouble. I can’t speak to the veracity of this, but it does seem to me that this is a vital point to consider when searching for a staffing agency to help you find a temp position: will they help you seek, as much as possible, positions in the field you want to pursue professionally? A worthwhile criteria to keep in mind as you also consider the broader idea of temping as a way to get a foot in the door.

“Rewarding excellence” v. pay-for-performance

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

The Obama administration “strongly supports the concept of rewarding excellence with additional pay”: but is rewarding excellence the same thing as the much-maligned “pay-for-performance” system? Joe Davidson examines:

The notion of rewarding superior work is not unknown under the GS system, though it’s never called pay for performance. Quality step increases “can be granted to recognize employees in the general schedule who have received the highest available rating,” says the privately published Federal Employees Almanac.

Orszag did note the quality step increases in his letter, but he went on to say “alternative pay systems may have the potential to improve individual and agency effectiveness by tying objective staff performance rating and pay more directly to agency goals and achievements.”

Nonetheless, he hinted that current pay-for-performance systems may not survive the Obama administration review in their present form. “The Administration will not support any pay system that is unfair or has the effect of suppressing wages or discriminating against employees,” Orszag wrote.

That’s exactly the arguments federal unions raise against pay for performance.

Reality check

Friday, June 26th, 2009

World Learning is cutting 14 positions and implementing a 5% salary cut for FY 2010. Guh.

I haven’t heard of many (or any) other major organizations in the fields making significant cuts to their staff—in fact I feel like there’s been a lot of positive lately, what with the good news that State and USAID should be receiving new funding to significantly increase their staff. But maybe I’m blinded by optimism. Does anyone else know of other organizations in the fields who will be making cuts in the coming year?

Careers in visa issues, immigration, and global mobility (or, how to use your law degree for something international), ctd.

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Responding to my impression that the world of visas and immigration is chock full of lawyers, Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel (and a lawyer herself), tells me that while she understands where my impression came from (a large number of presenters at their 2009 symposium were in fact lawyers), in reality, not even 25% of ACIP’s members are actually lawyers. The majority of those working on visa issues and immigration are typically HR professionals at corporations and international student and scholar services professionals at universities. Duly noted.

I think my point still stands, that there are a lot of lawyers doing this kind of work and that these issues seem particularly suited to the skills of lawyers. But I certainly appreciate Lynn’s clarification, if for no other reason than it’s important for job seekers out there to realize it’s not just the lawyers working on immigration and visa, but a lot of other folks as well. So if these issues are where you find yourself drawn, law degree or not, take a look—there’s a ton of important and interesting work being done.

Don’t get caught questionless at the end of an interview

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

You know your interview will end with the inevitable, “So, do you have any questions?” but you still don’t know what to ask. Alanna suggests 10 questions to fill the void. Her focus on using that Q&A time as opportunity to find out if the job and the organization are good fits for you is right on, I think—the interview is a chance for potential employer to see if you’re right for the job, yes, but don’t forget that it’s equally an opportunity for you to judge if this is somewhere you want to work. As Alanna notes, the simple question of “What do you like about working here?” is easy and a good conversation starter, and can also be quite revealing.

One other question I would add to Alanna’s list: ask of your interviewer, “So, how did you get involved in this work?” Everybody likes to talk about themselves, and it’s never a bad thing to show that you’re interested in others and that you recognize the work you will potentially be doing is not just about your skills and contributions but also about being able to work within a team. And you might learn something interesting about your interviewer’s career path or career decision-making process that you find helpful down the road.

[On another note, apologies for the slow pace of posts lately, but I've been deployed on Alliance business, first in Boston and now in Portland, Maine. More normal posting to resume when I return.]

Basketball as the new golf

Sunday, June 21st, 2009


“What’s the hottest invite in Washington?” former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers asks… “It’s a pickup game with Obama. That’s the inner, inner, inner sanctum.”

A terrific article from Wright Thompson at ESPN on the nature of networking in Washington—and how Obama’s love of basketball has made after-work and weekend pickup games the best place to advance your career and your political agenda. It’s long but full of great moments, especially if you like sports or are interested in the inner workings of DC, or both.

One of my favorite insights from the piece is how a game of basketball, unlike the small, privileged foursome that comprises a round of golf, is disarmingly informal (trash-talking abounds and once on the court, everyone is the same, no matter your rank or position) and far more inclusive, giving even the lowly interns and assistants a chance to get their feet in the door:

This is the dramatic difference between basketball and golf. Nobody’s taking an intern to play golf at Congressional Country Club. Basketball is much more democratic. During a break, [Sen. Bob] Casey is talking to scheduler Courtenay Lewis, explaining that she should treat him like anyone else.

“I fouled you, and you didn’t call it on me,” he says.

“Well …”

“You should have,” he says.

“I’m a chance that no one is taking”

Friday, June 19th, 2009

I’ve never been a big proponent of too much planning when it comes to a career. While I’ve always been a person of many interests, I’ve never been blessed with the grand foresight as to how channel those interests into a coherent and linear professional career. I’ve made a lot of career choices that to others (i.e., my dad) seem incredibly random: studying abroad in France as an English major, an internship at a small newspaper, a year in China with no experience with the country or language, an internship at the French Embassy… “You’re all over the place!” my dad would say in frustration. “Where are you going with this?”

The truth was I didn’t know—and five years into my career, as things have settled down a bit and leveled out some and seeem to be heading down a less random path, I still don’t really know. And I’m okay with that. Looking back I’m actually quite glad I didn’t have a plan coming out of college and that I allowed myself the space to see what would happen. If I’d gotten caught up in the rush to “figure things out,” I fear that I might have ended up in a job where I knew I didn’t want to be. Instead I was able to explore those interests I didn’t know how to channel and, through experience and poking around and seeing what was out there, allow them to be channeled for me.

But I suppose this is misleading in some ways. Even though I ended up in the job and career I’m in today by “following my gut,” “by a series of fortuitous accidents,” by whatever other cliches we might use here, the fact remains that it all didn’t just happen with no effort on my part. I still had to, at many points, make decisions about what I wanted to do and what opportunities I wanted to pursue, and then go out and doggedly pursue them. As much of a fan as I am of whimsy and the philosophy of letting the chips, to some extent, fall as they may, I’ve got too much of my dad’s practicality in me not to realize that at certain points, it’s up to me to make things happen for myself.

I’ve been thinking about this tension between letting things happen and making things happen a lot lately. A good friend of mine is struggling to break into an international career. She is first and foremost dealing with the deflating paradox that many young people trying to break into these fields face: in order to land the job, you need experience, but in order to get that experience, you need to land the job.

But beyond that, she is also fighting with that tension between exploring and obtaining. She’s not entirely sure what kind of career she wants to have. Like me, she has many interests and passions but is unclear how to channel them. In this she recognizes that giving herself time to explore some of those interests in a professional setting would be advantageous.

Yet she doesn’t necessarily have the luxury of exploration, as the practicality of life (i.e., the need to pay rent) dictates she get a job now. And this is where things get tangled up. Even though one of the jobs she’s interviewed for is really intriguing to her and something she thinks she really could do as a career, she still second-guesses herself because of her lack of experience: “What if I just think that’s what I want to do, but once I start doing it, I realize I actually hate it?”

Then she begins to doubt that any organization, especially the one she thinks she’d really like to work at, would even want someone like her, someone looking to gain experience but without much at the moment: “If I put myself out there, what else can I do? I’m a chance that no one is taking.”

It’s entirely true that the job she thinks she wants might be one she ends up not liking once she starts doing it. But to that, I state the obvious: you’ll never know unless you try. If it’s a job in a field you’re passionate about (which she clearly is), then it probably won’t be that far off the mark. And even if it isn’t exactly what you’d hoped for, the experience and time spent in that job won’t be time wasted, as she fears. It will be a building block to the next step in her career, even if that next step is to a completely different field. As long as the position and experience is something you think you’re going to enjoy and will provide you with new professional experiences and teach you new professional skills and allow you to emerge a better, more well-rounded professional, I tell her, then it will be a worthwhile experience, no matter where it ends up leading you next.

“I guess so,” she responds, “but I don’t have any experience and I need someone to give me that opportunity. I have no control over their final decision.” To this I am led to think: here is one of those times when whimsy and seeing what happens and letting that fortuitous accident take place isn’t enough—this is when you need to make things happen for yourself. If you really think this organization or this job could be what you love to do, then go after it with everything you’ve got. If you’ve landed an interview, it’s not enough to just show up. Convince them that they should take a chance on you. Convince them that they should “give” you this opportunity. And if you can’t convince that one organization, which is very possible, then go after the next one and the next one until the right opportunity sticks.

No one can or should know exactly what they are going to do for their entire career, and we should all allow ourselves the space to grow, to explore, and to continually see what’s out there. At many points during our careers, I think we’ll find that things emerge and happen as a result of fortuitous accidents, of being in the right place at the right time. But when career opportunities do emerge that are worth pursuing and present themselves to us, I think it’s on us to take action and to make ourselves the chance that someone wants to take.

Flexibility and patience will help you weather the economic storm

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

My friend Geoff Gloeckler at BusinessWeek compares the difficulties the Class of 2009 is facing with those the endured by the Class of 2002. His focus is on MBA grads, but I think his overall message applies to international relations graduates too. And that message is a hopeful one: it may be a longer haul than you’d prefer or than other classes experienced, and you may have to consider that what seems like a less-than-ideal job now may actually be a stepping stone to that ideal job, but in the end, you’ll land on your feet:

If there’s one thing that members of the Class of 2002 agree on, it’s that graduating at a time of economic upheaval is, despite appearances, not the end of the world…

If the Class of 2009 is looking for rules for navigating a slumping economy, there’s really only one: There are no rules. Flexibility and patience will be rewarded in the end, but so too will a single-minded focus and jumping at the first opportunity that comes along. In the end, everyone must discover what works best—for themselves—and make their own way in an economically inhospitable world.

Careers in visa issues, immigration, and global mobility (or, how to use your law degree for something international)

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

I spent much of the past two days immersed in the numbingly-detailed yet vitally-important world of visas, immigration, and global mobility at the American Council on International Personnel’s (ACIP) 2009 sympoisum. The aspect of the conference that struck me the most (other than realizing that the business of employment-related mobility and visas issues is big and incredibly complex) was that 90% of the people there were lawyers. Lawyers working on issues of immigration, global mobility, and visa regulation; lawyers working for nonprofits like ACIP, for subcommittees on the Hill (such as the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees, and Border Security and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law), for corporations (like Intel, Walt Disney, Marriott, and Oracle, all of which rely heavily on skilled foreign workers, and thus rely on skilled lawyers to help get these workers into the country quickly and properly), and for law firms themselves.  There were also a host of folks working for the government…

…as well as many working for universities across the country on visa and immigration related issues (i.e., the issues that surround bringing scholars and researchers from other countries to their schools).

The point of this post being three-fold: 1) to highlight the incredibly long names that many Hill and government offices have; 2) to highlight the areas of visas, immigration (and immigration reform), and global mobility as often overlooked but extremely robust areas in which one can engage in interesting international work; and 3) to point out that lawyers can use their law degrees to engage in meaningful work in the international arena. Certainly the skills obtained with a law degree can be used in any number of international jobs (example: a colleague in DC, formerly a divorce lawyer, now works as a lobbyist for the Armenian National Committee of America). But the incedibly complex, detailed, and legalistic nature of visas, immigration, and global mobility policy is tailor-made for a lawyer.

Don’t sabotage your job search

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

CNN throws us a bone with 25 ways not to. These are solid, practical tips, many of which have been discussed here in some form (including, most recently, #7: the generic cover letter). Of particular interest:

#1—”Assuming you’ll never need to look for another job”: We tend to think that once we’ve gotten a job, it’s the end of something: the end of a search or a process. Which is true to some degree, but in reality your job search is never over: it’s a “continuous journey.” I don’t mean to suggest that you need to think about your departure as soon as you’ve landed a job, but it’s valuable to think about the progress of your career in an active way, even if you feel secure in your current job.

#16—”Thinking the interview starts and ends in a meeting room”: As Sherry says, “you’re always on.”

#24—”Assuming you got the job”: But also, assuming you didn’t get the job. You never know what’s taking them so long to get back to you, or what’s going into their decision making process. Have faith.

Hat tip: GG

A hardship post is different than a dangerous one

Monday, June 15th, 2009

James Fallows ponders the seeming incongruity of an FSO post in Shanghai warranting nearly half as much hardship pay as posts in cities like Kabul and Baghdad. Doesn’t seem like serving in a major, booming city like Shanghai is quite as “hard” as serving in a war zone, Fallows thinks. A commenter writes in, though, to inform him that hardship doesn’t mean danger:

I’d like to point out that the hardship differential is not designed to compensate Foreign Service Officers for dangerous duty. The hardship differential is paid for a variety of reasons: if the duty location is heavily polluted, or if it is very isolated, or if it is in a very poor area and amenities are hard to come by, and so forth…

Hardship pay is separate from danger pay, which is paid for tours where life and limb are risked.

The potential trap that could be social networking (!), ctd.

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

We all know that everything on the Internets is fair game. It’s becoming more and more common for a potential employer to Google you to see if they can uncover anything (especially something unseemly or unsightly) that didn’t come across in the interview. So it falls on you, the interviewee, to make sure your social networking sites are scrubbed of anything dubious and/or set at the highest levels of privacy.

The anecdotal evidence I’ve heard of employers Googling potential employees is all pretty low key, though—just simple searches that, if they don’t lead to anything juicy right away, are usually over as quickly as they started. If you privatized your Facebook page to keep non-friends out, most employers aren’t going to go the trouble to find a way in. True, I’ve heard stories of more high level trickery, of employers going on the sly and looking for alternate ways into your digital profile (like NFL teams creating fake Facebook profiles in order to research potential draft picks), but I’d never heard of anything like this happening in normal life. Until recently.

A friend of mine was in for a few interviews at a market research firm. After her first interview, she received a Facebook friend request from a person who’s name she knew (a high school classmate, she thought) so she accepted. After visiting her new “friend’s” page, however, she realized that this actually wasn’t the person from high school she thought it was. A little digging and she realized it was a person who worked at the company with which she was interviewing and who happened to have the same name as her high school classmate (an odd coincidence, for sure, though their shared name is quite common). Her new Facebook friend was not someone involved with her interview process and actually worked in a different department in the company. He had, however, gone to the same university as her and thus was a member of that school’s Facebook network. So it became clear that her interviewers had asked their colleague to friend her through their shared alma mater network in the hopes that she would (blindly) accept based on that shared school allegiance.

Once she realized what was going on, my friend did a quick scan of her profile for anything dubious—for the most part everything was fine, she thought (a normal, active Facebook page). She figured she was good to go.

Her next thought, though, was, “Maybe I should scrub my page of everything, just to be sure.” But she concluded this wasn’t necessarily a good idea either: “I don’t want to seem too protective or not social,” she said. “It’s a weird line to walk.” A very interesting point. While we don’t want anything embarrassing or disreputable on our Facebook pages for potential employers to see, an argument can also be made that we should strive to seem “normally active” on our pages. What I mean is: as a younger, networked generation moves into positions of greater responsibility, and thus become the ones hiring, it might become important to ensure your Facebook page looks like a “normally active” one—as in, you are active on your page but not obsessively active; you have the typical playful Facebook banter on your wall but nothing too playful (or offensive or odd); you’ve posted some social-looking photos but none showing you passed out in a gutter. It will perhaps become important to think about not just what your Facebook page doesn’t contain, but what it does as well.

As my friend mentioned, Facebook is no longer just a time suck between friends—now it’s also both a public indication of who you are in your personal life and a self-marketing tool, if you want it to be. So while I would say it’s far better to completely hide your Facebook page from the world than give your employers access to embarassing information, it might also be worth considering how you can use your Facebook page to your advantage.

Caught in a storm without an umbrella

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

The following is a guest post from a young woman named Lauren Glasser, whom I recently met (the circumstances of our meeting are contained in the post). Enjoy.

I’m not necessarily sure if the myth regarding rain on one’s wedding day reigns true outside the confines of a chapel, however, if events that occurred last week during a torrential downpour in DC are any indication of its transcendence – I’m a believer.

After attending the first government-sponsored TED event at the State Department last Wednesday afternoon, I emerged from the auditorium optimistic about the impending job interview to which I was en route. That optimism was instantly smothered by the pouring rain, which greeted me upon exit. Down in DC for the day from Manhattan, I planned the contents of my bag strategically, leaving no detail unchecked or without consideration…needless to say, I was disheartened by my failure to execute a relatively routine exercise — verify the forecast. Hailing a cab sans umbrella in my newly pressed suit proved to be a sufficient challenge. And just as I was about to call my interview and apologize for my imminent tardiness, it happened. A kind, umbrella-toting stranger motioned for me to join her in the cab she had hailed.

Sharing a cab is a truly generous act…that soon paled in comparison to additional gestures of my cab companion. Sherry Mueller welcomed me into her cab during a tenuous moment of urgency, offered me valuable and constructive interview advice, and proceeded to gift me her umbrella, all before departing at her stop within ten minutes of our chance introduction.

Perhaps I’m just a jaded New Yorker, but Sherry’s random act of kindness and generosity was truly overwhelming, sincere, and deeply appreciated. The impact of my chance meeting only served to solidify my faith in ‘paying it forward.’ Furthermore, after reading up on Sherry’s professional endeavors, the irony of our introduction and its ripple effect emerged. Sherry’s recently published book, Working World, encourages professionals to take an active role in shaping their career paths through extra-curricular initiatives/activities and relationships – a mantra to which I’m a committed disciple. What’s more is that Sherry acknowledges the critical nature of developing relationships that transcend discipline, comfort zone, and age.

I look forward to encouraging my peers and colleagues to seek out the ‘Sherry’s’ in their own world and not only as an exercise in cognizance enrichment – it’s important to be aware of, engage, and learn from those available resources. You never know when you’ll get caught in a storm without an umbrella.

This probably won’t get you an interview

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I’m a proponent of well-crafted, solid, specific cover letters. This, which I received as a blind job inquiry, is not one of them:

Dear Hiring Manager:

If you could design the next team member for your organization, would the following meet your toughest requirements?

  • A [well-known university] educated attorney with a proven record of success at responsible levels,
  • A counsel with a gift for pulling together rock solid answers serving the most demanding clients so well, they use them with confidence…and remember who gave them the resulting advantages, and
  • A leader who helps people elevate compliance and regulation from being burdens to becoming tools that help them succeed.

You’ve just read the Readers’ Digest version of my resume. You’ll find the details on the next pages and my pledge of value—three value added capabilities you’ll see me demonstrate from day one—right at the top of the first page. Backing them up are over a half dozen examples of problems solved.

However, words on paper are no substitute for hearing more about your special needs and the mission essential 2009-2010 goals of the organization.

I look forward to speaking with you in person.


Enthusiastic yet misguided job seeker