15:42 pm
Of Ramen, Fat Bastards and Professional Organizers

Today's posting is a compilation of news from the world of work.

* NOODLE MAN DIES

Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen, has died. He was 96. "The company sold 46.3 billion packs and cups around the world last year," according to the obit in the New York Times, "earning $131 million in profits."

WHY THIS IS A WORKPLACE STORY: It begins with career failure. Again, from the NYT obit:

In 1958, Mr. Ando -- virtually penniless after a credit association he served as chairman went bankrupt -- began experimenting with ways to prepare flavored noodles by simply adding hot water.

WHY I CARE: I'm not into instant noodles. That's because I grew up in Japan, where real ramen--its noodles hand-kneaded, its stock painstakingly stewed from pork bone or other dashi--is available near every train station. But I didn't even taste real ramen until I was an adult, mainly because the noodle is considered low class and my ojosan mom would serve us dirt before she took us into one of those joints.

So, like many Americans, my introduction to instant ramen came at college. Then I read that some college kid in Japan nearly died from eating too much instant ramen; the stuff had built up a wax lining in his gut. That grossed me out, and now I never eat Cup Noodles except when Northwest Airlines serves it midflight from New York to Tokyo.

But inventing instant ramen is a career accomplishment not to sneer at. I'd love an epitaph of that caliber. It would rate me an obit in the NYT.

* FAT BASTARD LISTS PRETENTIOUS POSEURS

FAT bastard--the Seattle-based wine makers, not the flatulent and hirsute Mike Myers character in the Austin Powers movies--has come up with a list of the 10 most pretentious public figures of 2006. Only Bacchus knows why. I can only imagine that brainstorming session involved a lot of cheap red wine. Here's their list:

1. Paris Hilton

2. Tom Cruise

3. Donald Trump

4. Bill O'Reilly

5. Madonna

6. Martha Stewart

7. Oprah

8. Barbra Streisand

9. Kevin Federline

10. Jessica Simpson

WHY THIS IS A WORKPLACE STORY: It isn't.

WHY I CARE: I don't. The list would've been better if it included, like, Soledad O'brien. Don't you just know she's a wad of tightly wound self importance underneath that I'm-everybody's-BFF exterior?

* PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZERS AWARD EACH OTHER

According to MarketWire,

The Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO-LA) will honor the best in their business Saturday, February 3, 2007, at the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Organizing Awards, at The Olympic Collection Conference Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Did you even know there were people who call themselves professional organizers, let alone a whole national association of them? Take a look at these awards:

The Container Store - Best Organizing Product Resource

CBS 2 / KCAL 9 - Most Supportive Media Outlet

Neat - Best National Organizing Show

1-800-GotJunk? - Most Eco-Friendly Organizing Resource

Garage Envy - Best Garage Design Company

Get It Together LA! - Best Closet Design Company

The Paper Tiger - Best Organizing Technology

Organize Your Garage...In No Time - by Barry Izsak, Best Organizing Book

National Council of Jewish Women Thrift Shops - Most Organizer-Friendly
Charity

Brother P-Touch Label Maker - Best Office Organizing Product

3M Command Products - Best Residential Organizing Product

Barry Izsak - Most Innovative Organizer

Donna McMillan - Best Organizing Coach or Mentor

National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization - Best Educational Resource

WHY THIS IS A WORKPLACE STORY: Oh, this item is rich in interest for the office worker and those who own us. First of all, office- and home-organizing is apparently a booming industry worthy of national congregation and red-carpet award events (complete with "Master of Ceremonies and Los Angeles area comedian, Dave Linden"). Second, if you're considering this line of work, the award categories alone can tell you a lot about a burgeoning industry. Just from reading this list, I learned I could go into garage organizing, say, or organization coaching; I learned The Paper Tiger is some sort of software product that helps digitize filing. I learned there's a national organizing show (are there timed organizing contests? container displays?). If I wanted to learn more about becoming an organizer, I'd start by checking out the NAPO web site, where I'd learn about its mentoring, education and training program.

WHY I CARE: I love it! Most Eco-Friendly Organizing Resource! Best Office-Organizing Product! And there's a National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization--fantastic! ...one time I wrote about an event-planning association that awarded things like Best Gift Bag. I think workplace awards are meant to confer importance or relevance to things that aren't necessarily important or relevant. But who's to make that judgment? And who does it hurt? As MarketWire says:

"We are part of an organizing craze," said NAPO-LA member Kristine Oller. "We love a great container, but what we really love is the transformation of our client's lives."

Kristine sounds a little crazy. But any business that inspires insane joy in its workers has got to be worth awarding.

11:39 am
"MySpace for Professionals": A Social Networking Site Geared for Careerists

I'm kind of dense. Despite my 15 years in the journalism biz, I sometimes don't recognize a news story until it hits me over the head--a few times. Typically, the magic number is three. So when I realized today that I had heard about this new workplace tool three times in as many days, I thought I should check it out.

The tool is called LinkedIn. It's a social networking site for grown-ups--a MySpace for professionals, if you will--that's gaining a small but steady following. John Challenger of outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas first mentioned it to me during our interview on Friday, when he forecast that sites like LinkedIn would take off this year as a job-hunting tool. On the same day, I received a press release from the company, touting its recent growth. Then today, Sree Sreenivasen, the multimedia tech guru and dean of students at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, sent me a link to his column on Poynter.org explaining how LinkedIn helps him track and expand his voluminous contacts.

Sree explains the nuts and bolts:

You first create a free account, then fill out a profile of yourself and then explore the "find people" space to see which of your contacts is already in LinkedIn. Then you can ask them to connect with you. Once they do, they become your "first-degree" connections and their connections become part of your network, as "second-degree" connections.

The connections of those second-degree folks become your "third-degree connections." All of this is done through the system. My math's no good, but it adds up fast. As of this writing, I have 317 direct connections; 43,000 second-degree connections and 1.4 million-plus connections in my network. I can search my network and contact anyone on it, but the reason the system works is that I can only connect with my direct connections directly. Everyone else has to be connected through the folks I know. They hear only from people they already know directly. So it's basically friends -- or acquaintances -- making the initial connection.

Got it? And here's the juicy part:

LinkedIn is particularly useful when you are looking for a job. Knowing someone who works in the same division of a company you are interested in can help you get background information or get your resume to the right person. Nowadays, when someone asks me for contacts at a media outlet, I tell them to join LinkedIn, connect with me there and search my contacts. They use the system to send my contacts a message via me. I then judiciously decide whether to forward the message or not. I have declined to forward messages in some cases when the contact would not be appropriate. In the old days (i.e., last year), I would have just c.c.-ed my contact and the job seeker. I still do that, on occasion, with very good friends, but this way is better so that the contact can decide whether he/she wants to respond, without the job seeker automatically getting hold of his or her e-mail address.

I decided to give it a whirl. I went to LinkedIn's cleanly designed web site. There I signed up for free, logging in such nonintrusive basic info as my name and zip code as well as where I went to school and my line of work. Then the site asked me how I intend to use the site: did I mean to reconnect with old colleagues, and/or find a new job? Did I want people to contact me with deals for my company, and/or to pitch consulting gigs?

Then you get to the tedious part, at least for me, which is entering your contacts/colleagues/classmates. I'll get around to this. Meantime, LinkedIn explains through little diagrams, each contact can lead to exponentially more contacts (as John Challenger put it, it's like "your Microsoft Outlook Rolodex--squared").

LinkedIn has 8.5 million users, which shrivels in comparison to the 150 million who reportedly use MySpace. Its limited reach is clear; though LinkedIn can search its database to find your old colleagues, it appears nobody at any of my six previous and current employers are on the network. Recruiters are just starting to sign on to LinkedIn, which means they aren't likely to come looking for me there. In contrast, biggies like Ernst & Young and Microsoft have Facebook pages intended to help fill thousands of openings, according to this Wall Street Journal article.

But LinkedIn is a totally different animal than those social sites, argues Keith Rabois, vice president of business and corporate development for the company. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., LinkedIn launched its site in May 2003 to target what its founders envisioned were millions of hard-working, salary-earning folks without the time or inclination to maintain social networks online--but who would benefit from keeping and expanding their professional networks in a similar fashion.

"The world is moving to a free-agent nation," says Rabois. "Specifically, individual employees are no longer spending 40 years at the same company. Every individual today is creating a mini brand. No product existed anywhere back in 2003 that allowed professionals to manage that personal brand."

How will it help job seekers? "Imagine you want a job at Google. I heard they had 100,000 resumés sent to them last year. The way to separate yourself from that massive pile of resumés is you find someone working at Google in your network, in the same type of role. Ask him to give you specific guidance. Better yet, maybe he'll walk your resumé over to the hiring manager's desk. Everyone knows that's the best way to get a job. And that's what we do in scale."

So far, most LinkedIn users come from IT backgrounds, followed by those in financial services, then management consultants. "We have executive-level people at 499 of the Fortune 500 companies," says Rabois. (The missing link: Auto Owners Insurance, "which I didn't even know was in the 500.")

I better get cracking on those contacts. There's word of coming layoffs at my company, and maybe there's a job for me sweeping floors at Google.

22:12 pm
This Year, I Resolve to Hide and/or Remove My Tattoo

Career advisers love to prognosticate about the coming year: the number of layoffs, the size of your bonus, what kind of shrimp they'll serve at the holiday party. Equally popular among HR professionals are career-related New Year's resolutions. Along with turning flab to fab and memorizing your kids' teachers' names, it seems office workers start each year aquiver with the possibilities of achieving career milestones over the next 365 days.

One well-known recruiter, Dale Winston, chief executive of Battalia Winston International, advises creating a board of advisers. In an article titled "Eight Ways to Enhance Your Career," Winston tells The Wall Street Journal:

Find two or three people you admire, and take each one to lunch a few times this year. Look to your advisers for counsel, feedback on your career progress and introductions to new people or ideas. The ideal board will include someone at work who understands your company better than you do, someone within your industry who has a broad sense of what's happening in the field, and a third person who understands what you want from life.


Got that? Just make sure your board agrees to backdate your stock options. Seriously, I don't know what kind of person would read that advice and think, Hey, I never thought of that--I ought to have supportive people playing key roles in my life! But then again, we office workers tend to wear blinders when it comes to our own careers; we can't see the corner office for the cubicles.

That's where advisers like John Challenger come in. He's a widely quoted HR pro--CEO of the Chicago-based global outplacement consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas--whom I've known for many years and who's a no-B.S. kind of guy when it comes to career advice. So when I saw a release from his office titled "2007 WORKPLACE RESOLUTIONS!"--all-caps and the exclamation point his--I had to call for some explanations.

RESOLUTION: Start a MySpace Page. More companies are searching the Internet for more information about candidates, so create a professional-looking page that tells them you are exceptional. With more than 67 million members, MySpace is also a valuable networking tool.
Work in Progress: Seriously?
John Challenger: I feel like social networking is here to stay. We're increasingly seeing that employers do want to take a look at what's out there. A MySpace page is my ideal conception of myself--my social self. But we're more and more going to need something that's an ideal conception of my professional self. People just out of college who might already have a MySpace page are saying, I don't want to be seen as a nerd but I recognize that I have to edit my page in case an employer sees it. Or they're creating a separate account elsewhere for professional use. The site LinkedIn is the adult MySpace. I think it's reaching a tipping point.
WIP: Would you list your MySpace page on a resume?
JC: I think that's not a bad idea. I haven't seen it start to happen a lot yet. But if you're in sales, and you're highly networked and it shows, that'll make an employer more interested in you.
WIP: Are recruiters trolling social networking sites for candidates?
JC: Some are. Look, it's not a sine qua non yet--you don't absolutely have to have it. But it's free. And it may not be for long.
WIP: Are we going to see social networking sites geared specifically for job searches in '07?
JC: Absolutely. It's inevitable. In many ways, they're web 2.0 Rolodexes. It's like your Microsoft Outlook Rolodex, squared.

RESOLUTION: Meet your boss's boss. At the next company event, go out of your way to meet those at least two rungs higher on the corporate ladder. They are the ones who can advance your career.
WIP: How do you do that without seeming like a total--
JC: --brown noser? Easy: at company events. And the more of these events you go to, the more chances you get at that. I do think you have to be intentional about it. And you have to work at becoming capable at it. If you're an extrovert you can do this naturally. It certainly was not true for me for most of my life. I made a decision that I had to change. The way you do it is by making a point of asking people you do know to introduce you. The more times you go to these events, the more people you'll know.

RESOLUTION: Attend all after-hours company functions. Do not skip the company picnic or holiday party, even if attendance is not required. These are excellent opportunities to socialize with others in your organization, including high-level executives.
WIP: Come on. All of them?
JC: The world is about relationships. Of course it's also about the quality of your work, but there are a lot of really talented people who don't get the promotions or the plum assignments or get recognized for what they do because they don't work at building relationships. Companies are communities. The more engaged you are, the more insulated you are from layoffs, giving you an edge, or support, in putting you out there. The more you participate, the more in the center you are. Going to all events--all--means you build stronger relationships.

RESOLUTION: Meet 10 new people in your field but outside of your company. Building these relationships may help you in your current position and they will definitely help when you enter the job market.
WIP: Why would you do that?
JC: When people start their job searches and only then start to do this, they're behind. Not only will you find a better job more quickly when you are let go, you're much more likely to be picked out when you're working [by a new employer]. A lot of people who do this find jobs while they're working. Those who lost their jobs say, I put my head down and did my work--never again. This year, I'll devote 10% of my time to getting out there.

RESOLUTION: Remove/cover tattoos. While body art is becoming more common and more accepted in some offices, many still find it unprofessional.
WIP: But it's 2007. Who doesn't have a tattoo these days? And if you're a good worker, does anyone really care?
JC: We've been talking a lot about this lately. A tattoo is sort of like an angry blog--once you put it out there, it's really hard to take down. It's more or less permanent. As you hit 25, you think about your professional life, and if you've got some embarrassing tattoos that don't present you in a professional way, you might want to wear clothing to hide them. Yes, I do think it's far more socially acceptable. But realistically, people also hit a point in their lives when they begin to say, Is this appropriate? Your identity that's tied in with that tattoo begins to change.

So my mama was right. Dang.

13:47 pm
I Have a Crystal Ball in My Office

Actually, it's a paper weight. That may be why--though I stared at it very hard for at least a minute--I was utterly unable to make any credible-sounding workplace predictions for 2007.

In this I feel lacking. It's fashionable for those in the workplace arena to make forecasts for the coming year, judging by the newpaper articles and the press releases from recruiters and career coaches that claim to name upcoming office and career trends. I was tempted to just crib those lists, but most of the "forecasts" are so bland they belong in Chinese fortune cookies. Here, a few of the more interesting and/or potentially accurate predictions:

One in five workers will change jobs this year. This one's from CareerBuilder.com:

48% of workers planning to leave their current positions in the next 12 months say they are looking for a job with better pay and/or career advancement opportunities. 11% are electing to change careers, 9% are retiring and 6% plan to start their own business.

Why will workers quit? Reason numero uno, of course, is moolah. A third cited dissatisfaction with their pay. Over a quarter of workers saw no raise in 2006, and, of those who did, one in five said their raise was a piddling 2% or less. Two thirds didn't even land a bonus (which makes all that talk of Wall Street's record paydays this year especially pukey).

But that's not all we're kvetching about. Many workers complained of feeling stalled in their climb up the old corporate ladder (85% didn't get promoted in 2006, and 26% felt "overlooked")--even as their workloads increased. Work-life balance? Fuggedaboudit. It's a load of hooey, said a quarter.

This is the year you'll finally have to open a MySpace account. Call it MyOfficeSpace. While most workers still hew to resumés on parchment, the tipping point is near for workers and recruiters alike to mine for jobs and job seekers on social networking sites. So says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an HR pro whose crystal ball is unusually accurate. He bets on LinkedIn, a professional networking site that's still tiny--8.5 million users, compared to MySpace's 67 million--but boasts customers including Microsoft and Target who pay up to $250,000 for access to its database of job hunters. (Want John Challenger to make your 2007 New Year's career resolutions for you? Come back Monday.)

For us troglodytes who still lack real estate on any networking site, the basic idea is this: it's a place on the web to which you can direct potential employers that acts as a colorful, online resumés. Most people don't use them as such today, of course; it's called social networking for a reason. And if you've already got MySpace space showcasing your collection of Chinese-character tattoos, Challenger suggests editing it a bit in case a recruiter comes a-poking. But if you're unwilling to shut the beauty down, he adds, then open up another account on, say, LinkedIn just for professional use. (More MySpace- and tattoo-related tips from Challenger on Monday.)

Small businesses will go begging for workers. This isn't so much as a crystal-ball forecast as a stark reality, at least according to Labor Department numbers. Here, from USA Today:

Small employers ramping up hiring plans to levels not seen in two years face a labor shortage that's forcing many to increase wages and benefits. The pinch is tightest in 26 states with below-average jobless rates, new Labor Department data and private surveys show. More than half those states are especially dependent on small employers, those with fewer than 500 workers.

For you job hunters, this signals a trove of opportunities from mom-and-pops you may have overlooked in your search. The business proprietors quoted in the USAT piece mention adding great benefits and perks--think bonuses and paid sick leave--to compete with the big guys. Smaller shops can offer employees greater responsibility, more independence and chances to advance. Add to that the karmic rewards of helping a small enterprise explode, and suddenly that Fortune 500 offer isn't looking like a no-brainer anymore.

This is the year Cullen will get an enormous raise with no additional responsibilities. That's my own forecast. See? I told you my crystal ball was broken.

16:31 pm
Vying for a Dream Job on TV, Part II

A little while ago I wrote about an upcoming show on MTV called I'm From Rolling Stone, in which I said some interns would battle it out for jobs at the music magazine. I expressed skepticism that they could turn out a whole season of episodes about pimply college kids hunched in dark cubicles opening letters from kooky readers. My own internship at RS 14 years ago could put the dead to sleep.

It turns out I was wrong. The interns aren't interns at all but writers, grown-ups vying for gigs as contributing editors at the mag. They're young, yes, but all are viable members of the workforce striving for their dream jobs. (In my own defense, it turns out this is a popular misconception; maybe the marketing honchos at MTV figure interns sound sexier than Tums-popping, Visine-dripping writer types.)

To straighten all this out--and to find out what we could learn from what I envisioned as a televised job interview--I called Norman Green, the show's director.

Work in Progress: Who got the idea that it would make for interesting television to watch writers compete for a job?
Norman Green: Well, we've succeeded in making it more interesting than watching paint dry, I can tell you that. This idea was cooked up by [Rolling Stone founder and editor] Jann Wenner and the other executive producers.

WIP: The obvious comparison is The Apprentice, where would-be moguls compete for a job working for Donald Trump. Is Jann Wenner the new Donald Trump?
NG: We are very, very committed to not making it anything like that show. This is nothing like The Apprentice. There are no eliminations. There's no stagey set. Reality shows like The Apprentice--not to take anything away from that show--they're heavily formatted. This show is not at all. Once we found our young writers, we did evething we could to let them be Rolling Stone writers. That means Rolling Stone gave them assignments, and sent them out into the world to report these stories.

WIP: What kind of assignments?
NG: There were rock-and-roll stories that took them from Brooklyn to Roskilde, Denmark--site of the biggest rock festival in the world--and national affairs that took them from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, to Prince William Sound, Alaska. In some cases they all went together, others individually, in one case as a duo.

WIP: In the real world, most job applicants don't get to size up or even meet their competition, with good reason; no one wants a fistfight in their lobbies. How did these job applicants get along?
NG: They had a sense that they were in this together. There was a lovely sense of cameraderie. It was kind of sweet. There were some who obviously had more experience and professionalism, but that didn't always work to their favor: one can overestimate one's abilities.

WIP: So no backstabbing and sabotaging?
NG: What we asked them to do was very, very difficult. You're out of your comfort zone, and furthermore you've got crews filming you. It would've been superhuman to sabotage each other and compete on top of that. Because they were in this stew together, they socialized together, they went shopping, went out for Chinese food, celebrated holidays, traveled together. There was this sense of wonder they were sharing. Here they were--these young people plucked from their lives and put in this amazing situation.

WIP: Based on what you saw directing the show, what lessons do you think viewers might learn about how and how not to win a dream job?
NG: It might sound a little like a cliché, but it's about personal growth. Things like showing up early, staying late. If there's something you don't know how to do, stick at it. Nobody is born knowing how to be a good Rolling Stone writer. They had to learn how to do something by doing it.

For instance, a boss approached one person and said, I think you have the most to learn. But that person had worked very late the last night to try to learn more, and by letting the boss know that, it made a big impression. The boss had no idea. So, I would say, go the extra mile and let the boss know.

And a certain amount of social skills helped. The people who did well also had good personal skills. If you talk about people behind their backs, the people you're talking to will figure you're doing it about them too. I don't know how to put this more obliquely, but it doesn't hurt to be charming. People respond to that.

***

Words to work by. I'm From Rolling Stone airs Jan. 7.

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