Saturday, April 30, 2011

Career Change Success Stories

Because I've been having trouble helping my clients change careers, I searched the Internet for career-change success stories to provide inspiration and ideas.

I could not find recent success stories but found more than 30 from a few years ago. There were some accomplished by very high achievers, for example, those with Harvard degrees, but I didn't feel those would be the most instructive.

The following career changes were accomplished by more typical people. For more pleasant reading, I've edited and paraphrased a bit and put the stories in the first person, but the facts and the author's name are as originally published.

I didn't learn anything that would help my career counseling. Instead, I'm struck at how important luck and persistence are and how irrelevant career counseling seems to be--not one of the 30+ stories mentioned that a career counselor was helpful.

R. Marie Taylor
(This well-written one is presented here virtually verbatim.)
"Come to California, you'll love it out here!" I begged my sister to leave Louisiana for good.

"I'll end up being homeless with my kids" she fretted.

But I told her that she would have a home as long as I had one. So she came, by bus, with three very young children, a bag full of groceries to eat on the trip, two gallons of fruit punch and $100 pinned inside her bra.

She had a high school diploma and almost no work experience. She'd left behind the small town that she'd lived in for most of her life.

She worked as a cashier at a discount store. Before she could go to work, she had to take the bus to the daycare center, then get back on the bus to get to and from work, before returning to the daycare center, to get back on the bus and head home.

Life was hard but she signed up to take night classes once a week and eventually earned a bachelors degree in business and a master's degree in business accounting.

Today she is in charge of the payroll department of a large company and is studying for the CPA exam this year.

This is the woman who once pawned her high school graduation ring to buy the uniform I needed to sing in the school choir, the one person in the world who would be there for me and I for her.

She changed her career path from one dead-end job to another and made her way into the professional ranks.

That's my sis! And I'm proud of her.

Nicole Williams
I had been a stay-at-home mom, no college, no real skills, just a little bit of office experience and some odd job experience here and there. Yet I got a job in a bank. It turned out the new manager just had his admin give her two weeks notice. He was still trying to figure out what do to, he was overwhelmed, needed to hire someone, and he must have liked something about me and so he gave me a try. Looking back, I still can't believe they hired me and paid me that much.

Pat Gray
I had done a little tech writing as part of my job at a computer hardware company. After 20 years, the job and the politics got to be a little too much, so I wrote my resume to stress my tech writing skill. I got a job for 25% more money and 75% less responsibility! And most of the contracts were just a few months so I was always learning new things and meeting new people. I worked from home, no commute--I loved being with my dogs all day. And I scheduled my own time so if the weather was nice, I could spend an hour or two gardening in the afternoon and do my work in the evening.

Drew Mitchell
I was sick of the corporate world and sent out applications from everything from small office work to hospice. Finally, an app I sent 6 months earlier that apparently got caught in the employer's spam filter paid off: I got a job as a substitute teacher working with the autistic. It's a year later and I'm still just a sub but have found my calling and I'm applying for autism jobs elsewhere. I'm optimistic I'll get one with that experience on my resume. And importantly, I found something I really like, something I never would have thought of.

Neil Dixon
I was sick of working in a tannery, burning cowhide into leather. So I went back to school to become an accountant. I got a job and after a year it was time for salary review. I had done well and they gave me a nice title but just a few percent raise, still a pittance. I quit and helped my brother with his window cleaning business. I was scared of heights but got to like it. More important, my brother was lazy and did poor marketing. I took over and now the business is thriving.

Julie T
After graduating college, I took a job working for my aunt's pharmaceutical company. Every time I complained of being overworked, she guilt-tripped me by saying my hiring was a gift and there were plenty more intelligent working applicants and with biology degree. I believed her. I was even subjected to janitorial duties from time to time. Finally, I started applying for jobs at other places and one of the jobs was in regulatory affairs. Because I had a little experience at that and he only had a few applicants, I was lucky enough to get hired. Three years later, I'm still there and very content.

Newsweek: Middle-Class White Men are "Toast"

It is politically incorrect but true that the middle-class white male has provided us with a disproportionately large share of what enables us all to live well. From the sewer repairman to the corporate executive, they've stayed in school through those tough plumbing apprenticeships, engineering, computer science, and finance degrees, and worked the long hours needed to design and build our homes, cure our diseases, and yes, run the businesses we invest our 401Ks in so we have some money for retirement.

Yet the current Newsweek cover story package describes the middle-class white male's freefall with near glee. Rather than calling for redress as the media does when reporting women's or minority deficits, Newsweek reports the statistics on men's evisceration with a snarky shrug. It's titled: "Sorry. He's Toast" and dubbing the tossed-aside men, "BMWs: Beached White Males." The long article in the package is called "Dead Suit Walking."

I've been a career counselor for 26 years. When I began, my clients of both sexes were equally optimistic about their future. Now, girls and women continue to feel the world is their oyster but the boys and men, from the teenagers to the boomers, are ever more scared, angry, and/or depresssed. My middle-class white males are having such a hard time finding even a lower-paying job.

So sad. How can we do this to America's unsung heroes?

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Shortest Route to a Job

The most potent method to land a job is rarely to answer ads or even to network. For most job seekers, it's to directly contact people with the power to hire you, whether or not they're advertising a job.

Here, I attempt to enhance an excerpt on how to mount a direct contact campaign from a recent Forbes article, The Shortest Route to a New Job."

First, make a list of 50 places of employment at which you might like to work. Figure out who's the person(s) most likely to hire you for your target position, and get in touch.

Divide your list into three groups, A, B and C. The C list is made up of places that would want you though you might not want them so much. The A list is where you most want to work. Start with the C list, then move to the B list. By the time you reach the A list, you'll likely have at least one job offer so you can say to the A employers, "I have another offer but I'd like to explore the possibility of working for you."

Target each letter to the specific place of employment and, ideally, to the person with the power to hire you. Include bullet points outlining your specific accomplishments that would impress that employer.

You might try getting acquainted with the boss’s assistant before sending your letter and e-mail. Introduce yourself, explain why you’re calling, and ask if s/he'd look out for your letter. In the process, weave in a mini sales pitch, for example, "I have ten years of international marketing experience, which I'd imagine could be quite helpful to your boss." Include a Post-it addressed to the assistant, so that when she opens the boss’s mail, you’re addressing her directly.

Leave only one phone message for the boss but do follow up with more calls to the assistant, asking if s/he knows a good time to reach the boss. Try phoning early, before the assistant arrives, or late in the day. Prepare yourself to make at least two calls before you get through to the boss.

There are no guarantees, especially in this almost unprecedentedly tough job market. It really is a jobless non-recovery if not a downright job depression, but direct contact, as outlined here, is for most people, the most likely route to landing a job before you burn out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On-the-Job Training: A Story of a Five-Year Old

I received this from

Here's a truly heartwarming story about the bond formed between a little 5-year-old girl and some construction workers that will make you believe that we all can make a difference when we give a child the gift of our time.

A young family moved into a house next to a vacant lot. One day, a construction crew turned up to start building a house on the empty lot.

The family's 5-year-old daughter naturally took an interest in all the activity going on next door and spent much of each day observing the workers.

Eventually the construction crew, all of them "gems-in-the-rough," adopted her as a kind of project mascot. They chatted with her, let her sit with them while they had coffee and lunch breaks, and gave her little jobs to do here and there to make her feel important.

At the end of the first week, they presented her with a pay envelope containing ten dollars. The little girl took it home to her mother who suggested they take her "pay" to the bank to start a savings account.

At the bank, the teller asked her how she had come by her very own paycheck at such a young age. She proudly replied, "I worked last week with a real construction crew building the new house next door to us."

"Oh my goodness gracious," said the teller, "and will you be working on the house again this week, too?"

The little girl replied, "I will, if those assholes at Lowe's ever deliver the damn sheetrock!"

Kind of brings a tear to the eye, doesn't it?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Education: America's Most Overrated Product

USA Today: Gross oversupply of science PhDs: Only 13% get tenure-track U jobs, and there are few corp jobs:

WSJ: Yet more on why getting an MBA may be ill-advised:

Unlike what the colleges try to manipulate us into believing, here's how average folks CAN find good jobs:

Don't like your college financial aid "award?" Appeal.

Black 4-year grad rate @ Cal State U's is just 6%!! Should we provide yet more support or redirect weak apps to 2-yr coll, OTJ trng, etc?.

The Economist joins chorus: Higher Ed is a Bubble: the degree, the education, even the vaunted research:

CNN: A record high 85%(!) of college grads are feeling forced, jobless, to move back in with their parents.

15 well-paying careers requiring just a two-year degree:

The College Report Card: A great tool for deciding which college to choose:

PayPal founder Peter Thiel: We’re in a Bubble... and It’s Higher Education.

Forbes/#CCAP: Govt upping finan aid moves $ from taxpayer to colleges, NOT to students--colleges simply up tuition:

Forbes/#CCAP: Your tuition pays for things other than your educ: e.g., professors' arcane research.

WSJ: Great piece by Dilbert's Scott Adams: Most students need to learn how to run a business

I just wrote what I think is my best article on how to become successfully self-employed: an un-MBA:

To dramatically improve higher ed, require all colleges to post my College Report Card on itself;

Harvard study: BA nor MA ups teacher effectiveness. Per my recent tweets, it's ever clearer that educ is overrated.

I'm watching professor Rufus Fears on Churchill You can cherry-pick world's best instructors on YouTube, TED,

Washington Post: it may be wise to skip higher ed: . Higher ed cries out for reinvention.

And the exposing of higher ed continues. This time it's in The Atlantic:

Finally: U.S. senator demands law schools to stop lying about their employment stats;

Major authoritative new study says that students learn little or nothing at college.

My lecture at U.C. Berkeley: America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education:

Yet another piece on why college is overrated

Finally, HERE is an article of mine, America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education, which first appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and was republished in a number of other places. I like to think it encouraged the current examination of higher education, which had been America's most underexamined icon.

I want to thank readers of this blog, for example, Peter Christensen and Mark Drevno for sending me a number of the cited articles. I apologize for not recalling the other contributors' names.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Stump Speech I'd Give if I Were Running for President

I'm not delusional enough to run for president, but drafting what would be my stump speech helps me refine and articulate my ideas on how to improve America. HERE is the text of that speech.

HERE is the link to my delivering that speech on my NPR-San Francisco radio show. Scroll down to the 05/08 show, labeled "stump speech." The speech is the first 20 minutes. Then I invited callers, the first one was supportive, then some assaults, and last, a good question.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Very Short Course in Getting On, Being On, and Being President of a Board

Joining a board of directors can be most rewarding. Whether it's a for-profit or nonprofit, you get to make a difference in an organization, work with capable people, and may make contacts to abet your career.

Here's a quick course on how to get onto a board, the right board, how to be a good board member, and an effective and well-liked board president.

What's involved?
Typically, you're hiring and firing key leadership, playing with budgets, working with leadership to set strategy, doing fundraising, and solving all manner of problems. In short, you're core to the organization's success.

Getting aboard
If you're rich or hold a prestigious job, you may be solicited to be on boards. Assuming you're not, not to worry. Many small non-profits are eager for good board members.

Start by asking yourself, what cause(s) do you particularly care about? For example, I care about community theatre. If I hadn't been asked to join Chanticleers Theatre's board, I would have called a few board presidents of local community theatres and said something like:
"I've been involved in community theatre as an actor and director and would like to join a board. I believe in the power of community theatre. It's among the few recreations aimed at older folks, it's affordable to nearly everyone, the plays inspire, educate, and entertain, and cast, crew, and other staff often really grow from their involvement in theatre, not to mention they have a good time. I have planning, writing, and marketing skills and would be willing to donate some time by joining a board. Might you need someone like me?"
If they express interest, don't jump too quickly. Some boards are more trouble than they're worth. Ask questions such as, "Tell me a little about your board?" "What sorts of issues do you grapple with?" "What should I know about being on this board before joining it?" "What are be the time and financial expectations of board members" "What, if any, legal liability would I be assuming (The Sarbanes-Oxley legislation increased board member's liability) and/or "Would you mind if I sat in on a board meeting before we decide whether I should join?"

Being a good board member
On most boards, your major responsibility is to be a good participant at monthly or quarterly meetings and to put in a few hours a month on some subcommittee.

How to be a good participant at board meetings? Mostly, it's the same as being a good participant in any meeting: Listen more than talk--watch body language; pick the right time to talk. Look to emphasize the positive. Make suggestions sparingly and tactfully. Acknowledge the contributions of others to your idea. Volunteer to take on tasks outside the meetings, and if you can afford it, volunteer some money. My favorite way to do that is to issue a matching challenge, for example, "I'll buy a half-page ad in the program if someone else on the board will."

Being a good president
As I mentioned, many small non-profits are hungry for board members. That's probably why, after just six months after I joined Chanticleers' board, they asked me to be the president. Now, after a year and half in that role, here are some things I do that seem to work well:
  • I believe that food is a lubricant of effective groups. So when a board member, on a one-time basis, offered to host us for dinner and it worked wonderfully, I praised her and asked if she might do it again. She did, after which I lavished her with more praise and now she does it every month. If you're not that lucky, have the board meet at a restaurant.
  • Most issues don't require discussion at a board meeting. I simply email or phone a board member or two. Sometimes, I'll email the entire board on some issue.
  • I mainly put items on the agenda for the board meeting that require live discussion among the board. That ensures that the 2 1/2 hours of board meeting are spent on tasks that can't otherwise be done as effectively.
  • If there's a thorny issue on the agenda, for example, a controversial idea on which I'd like support, I phone or email key board members to discuss the idea. That way, the meeting is less likely to be bogged down by protracted debates.
  • A week before each meeting, I email the board a draft agenda, encouraging members to suggest changes. I usually put more items on the agenda than we'll have time for, which tends to keep things moving. Sometimes, I put the most important item near the end of the agenda, which motivates people to expeditiously get through the earlier items.
  • The first agenda item is always: 6:15 - 6:30: Fellowship and general merriment. Wine or champagne are served. The meeting always starts at 6:30 pm and ends promptly at 9:00. We eat dinner as we work.
  • To keep things moving, as soon as I sense that most or all the major points regarding an agenda item have been expressed, I'll synthesize and call for a vote. Sometimes, someone will object and say they want to make another point. That's fine but often they don't and that keeps things moving.
  • While I'm aware that interrupting is rude, two of my seven board members tend to be long-winded and redundant. I interrupt them whenever I feel their disappointment at being interrupted is outweighed by our getting more done and the other board members' appreciating that I interrupted them.
  • I look for every opportunity to issue earned praise. We're all volunteers on the board and the least I can do is give earned attaboys/girls.
  • I haven't had to do this but if necessary, I'd take the time to recruit excellent board members and train them. I have given private suggestions to a couple of members on how they can be more effective. I have had to neutralize one board member who was usurping power well beyond his skillset and poisoning the board with his behind-the-scenes, unfair backstabbing. If necessary, I'd orchestrate the exiting of such a member.
  • I try to keep a sense of perspective. I recognize that we're merely one community theatre among hundreds, and that theatre isn't life and death. So I rarely take a stand on something when the majority wants something else. Usually, greater good accrues by letting the majority have their way than for me to try to ram my idea down their throats.
In sum, the words I try to keep in mind in my role as president are "statesman," "smart problem solver," "wise steward," "motivator," and "fun."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The College Report Card: A Tool for Selecting a College

Dear Students and Parents,

You've narrowed down to a few colleges. This can help you make the choice wisely. Give each college you're considering a grade from A to F on each of these factors:

1. Academic fit (for example, you'd likely do best as a big fish in a less selective pond)

2. Social fit (for example, you're studious and would grow most among politically liberal students)

3. Emotional fit (for example, you're nervous and so you want a college that's small and close to home)

4. Weather (often important: it affects you every day of every year)

Ask the admissions office for the following. Even if a college refuses, that too is telling.

5. The 4-year graduation rate for students with your high-school grades and test scores.

6. Likely 4-year cost given your family income & assets

7. Results of the latest student satisfaction survey

8. Evidence for freshman-to-senior value-added

9. Most recent accreditation visiting team report

10. For your intended major, % of graduates professionally employed or in grad school within one year of graduation.

11. Any other factor you care about (prestige, size, religiosity, availability or quality of a major, disability services, etc.)

Now, average the grades for each college. If you wish, give more weight to the factor(s) most important to you.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Un-MBA: I teach the aspiring self-employed the opposite of what is taught in business school

Many of my clients aspire to self-employment, entrepreneurship. Much of what I teach them is the opposite of what's commonly taught in business school--and that's not surprising. I am most critical of universities' attempts to prepare people for a career.

For example, knowing that law schools, especially the prestigious ones, focus on theory not practice, good law firms have felt forced to create a comprehensive training program for their new lawyers.

Indeed, most law professors don't know how to practice law. Anthony Kronman, when he was the Dean of Yale Law School, received a frantic call from a friend who had just been jailed: "Please, Tony, get me bailed out of here!" Kronman was forced to admit, "I don't know how."

Same is true of education. I have a Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley in the evaluation of education and, along the way, had to take courses from professors who taught in Berkeley's K-12 teacher-education program. They may have been assiduous researchers of arcana but as teachers, most were mediocre or worse. Certainly, none were the master K-12 teachers who should be preparing our future teachers.

My physician says he learned most of how to be a good doctor after he finished medical school.

But it is in the field of business where I most personally see how badly universities prepare people for their career. I have helped many of my clients to become successfully self-employed, and also have clients, colleagues, and friends with MBAs. I see such a discordance between the principles of starting and running a business taught in business school and what I've seen work in the real world:

Biz schools say "Innovate." That is very risky advice. Sure, a large corporation can take risks. Its deep pockets allow it to stay in business even if many attempts at innovations fail. But individuals or small businesses are likely to run out of money. Indeed, there are so many reasons why an innovation might fail: development costs are high and subject to overruns, the product doesn't work, the public doesn't like it, the public too-quickly stops liking it, and/or a competitor comes up with a better or better-marketed product. That's why they say, "The leading edge often turns out to be the bleeding edge."

Sure it's fun to innovate and, sure, the world benefits from innovation, but if you don't have the deep pockets to afford the multiple failures that precede even most successful entrepreneurs' success, it's wiser to replicate a successful type of business than to innovate.

It's easiest to find a successful business to replicate in the small (therefore affordable) retail space: If a reasonable percentage of small retailers in a certain category are busy, it's a sign they're successful. So, for example, at lunchtime, there are lines in front of many food trucks. I'd simply watch the busy ones, incorporating their best practices plus consumer-tested recipes. I'd hire the owner of one of those food trucks as a consultant to help me prepare to open-up shop. (I'd agree to not locate mine near his.) In sum, my mantra: Don't innovate; replicate.

If I did want to innovate, I can reduce my risk by asking deep-pocketed business owners and executives, "What in your business is annoying you?" If my queries yield a simple, doable business idea, I'd ask similar businesses if they have the same problem. If so, I could create that innovative business with relatively little risk.

Biz schools urge you to quickly get big. "Scalable" is one of biz schools' favorite words. Alas, that too is dangerous advice for small businesses and especially for individuals wanting to be self-employed. True, even if the aforementioned food truck were successful, it probably wouldn't yield enough profit to earn me a sufficient living, so I would need to clone it in another good location. But I'd stop after just a few trucks--as soon I netted $200,000 a year. The more locations, the less control you have over quality and cost control, and the difficulty of operating it well tends to mushroom. So I teach my clients, "Don't be greedy. Get just big enough." (And live modestly so you'll always have enough money.)

Biz schools focus on high-status businesses: high tech, biotech, medical devices, environmental technology, multinational corporations, etc. I teach my clients the opposite: start a low-status business, the grungier the better. That way you're competing with less capable business owners. Few Stanford or Harvard graduates aspire to owning diesel repair shops, mobile home park cleaning services, installing and removing home-for-sale signs from lawns, shoeshine stands, cleaning out and installing cabinets in basements and garages, gourmet food trucks, rehabbing tenant-damaged apartment buildings, carts selling soup, scarves, knockoff designer purses, French soap, or coffee, or placing and maintaining laundry machines in apartment buildings. It's far easier to compete successfully in such low-status businesses. I teach my clients, "Status is the enemy of success."

Biz schools focus on intellectually meaty, complex businesses like the aforementioned high-tech, biotech, etc.. Alas, the more complex the business, the more that can go wrong. I teach my clients to choose a simple business, such as those I list in the previous paragraph. Each business location may yield insufficient profit to support a family but, once you've refined the concept, as I said, just clone your simple business in another location(s.) Yes, keep it simple, stupid.

Biz schools urge, "Choose a business with high barriers to entry;" that way it's tough for competitors to enter the market. That's valid advice if you're a deep-pocketed corporation but it's usually dead wrong if you're the typical cash-strapped entrepreneur. I recommend that most aspiring entrepreneurs start a business that requires little capital and then, as mentioned, use its profits to clone it.

Biz schools proceed on the principle, "It takes money to make money." I teach the opposite: You must constantly look for ways to get what you need for little or no money. For example, I urge that, where possible, you run your business out of your home, car, a Starbucks, a condo development's community room, or friend's apartment that's vacant during the day. When buying something, I urge such cost-effectiveness techniques as to ask yourself, "What must this cost to manufacture?" That enabled, for example, one of my clients to buy silk scarves wholesale for $1 a piece than from another "wholesaler" who wanted $10. Of course, I also encourage my clients to consider buying last year's model, used or cosmetically flawed items, and using the Internet for price shopping. In short, I teach my clients, "Start with 'How can I, without undue hassle, get this for free or very cheaply?'"

Biz schools urge entrepreneurs to delegate: "You can't do everything," they urge. In contrast, I encourage my clients to, when starting their business, to do as much as possible themselves. Of course, that conserves cash--the life blood you must preserve lest you go out of business before you become profitable. Also, spending time immersed in the business's weeds tends to build your psychological ownership in and enthusiasm for the business. Most important, being hands-on allows you to gain deep understanding of how to make the business work.

For example, if my goal were to make $200,000 a year from a chain of shoeshine stands, I'd run the first one myself, taking full shifts doing the shoeshines. That would enable me to truly understand the customers, the art of shoeshining, identify upsell opportunities, how to optimize the experience for the shoeshiner and the customer, theft and vandalism problems, disgruntled customer issues, everything. Only when I really knew the business and it was clearly becoming successful would I clone it and then delegate by hiring someone to run the two shoeshine stands. I would take all the time needed to find great employees and would treat them well, for ethical reasons and because I want them loyal to me. Even then, I would remain actively involved in the business: visiting, training, inspiring, and, where needed, setting limits. My rule: Don't delegate prematurely or too much.

As a way of summarizing, here's how I'd start the aforementioned shoeshine business to maximize my chance of ethically and relatively quickly, netting $200,000 a year:

1. I'd search Google and Amazon to find the best articles and books on running a shoeshine business.

2. Using service review sites such as Yelp, I'd identify a half-dozen shoeshine stands that had excellent reviews and many reviews. The latter would indicate that a business has many customers.

3. I'd visit each of those shoeshine stands and note everything: the characteristics of the location, signage, menu and prices, equipment, products used, procedure used, ergonomics, the shiner/customer interactions, how people who needed to wait were dealt with, amenities, everything. I'd buy a shoeshine at each stand and while getting the shine, ask such questions as, "What should I know about running a shoeshine business that might surprise me?"

4. I'd amalgamate into my shoeshine stand the best practices of the articles and books I've read and the half-dozen shoeshine stands I visited.

5. I would take the time to find an excellent location that I could get for free. (Remember, my rule: "Start with free.") For example, I'd ask the owner or manager of a large office building to let me run my stand for free in the lobby. My pitch: "That enables you to provide a useful service for your tenants without it costing you a dime."

6. I'd run the shoeshine stand myself for a week, a month, whatever it took for me to fully understood the business.

7. Then, because I don't want to make a career of shining people's shoes, I'd take all the time needed to find an excellent person to replace me.

8. Next, I'd turn my attention to finding another excellent location and an excellent person to staff it. I'd keep expanding only until I netted $200,000 a year, always staying actively involved to ensure the quality remained high, my shoeshiners happy, and my profit adequate.

9. Finally, I'd sell the business or keep it as a cash cow while I turned to my next project: entreprenurial, social entrepreneurial, or volunteer--like writing this blog.

As always, dear readers, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Proposal: Each College Must Post a College Report Card on Itself

In preparation for meetings with legislators, I've developed a proposal for mandating that all colleges post a College Report Card on themselves.

Here is the Executive Summary:
Higher education is among the few important purchases that essentially is unregulated, unaccountable, and opaque. That causes great harm to students and society. The research has become unambiguous that American higher education does a far worse job of education than what the higher education marketing and lobbying machines would have us believe.

This proposal recommends that all colleges be required or at least encouraged to prominently post on its website a substantive College Report Card. That would enable students to make a more informed choices of college. Perhaps even more important, it would encourage colleges to reallocate resources from ego-driven new buildings, bloated administrations, lush landscaping, and low-impact research to efforts to improve student growth and in turn the quality of the American workforce, citizenry, and the nation as we face ever greater challenges.

HERE is the link to the proposal. It's four pages long. (My wife says it's the best thing I've ever written.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education. (A talk at Santa Clara University)

I just gave a talk at Santa Clara University that I believe makes the most compelling case I've yet made for why higher education is, indeed, America's most overrated product.

If that's insufficient to motivate you to watch or listen to it, many attendees told me that in addition to being compelling, it was entertaining, and passion-filled.

Here's the video of it: Note: it starts at 1:08:03. It runs about an hour, not counting the Q&A.

The audio of the presentation is also accessible from that webpage but the starting place of the presentation is hard to find for reasons not worth explaining, so I recommend you listen to or download the audio from here:

Crazy U: One Savvy Dad's Experience with College Inc.

The new book, Crazy U, tells of a savvy dad's navigating the minefield of trying to make an informed choice about a college and negotiating the unnecessarily labyrinthine admission process. (The more complicated they make it, the more it seems desirable.) In the process, he provides yet more evidence of that higher education is America's most overrated and most deceptively marketed product. HERE is a review of that book, which provides an excellent summary of it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Distillation of Recent Articles on Higher Education's Dubious Value

The spate of articles questioning higher education's value has accelerated and is synthesized in this article just published in The Atlantic. Subsequently, I was just interviewed on that topic for a forthcoming Newsweek article, which the reporter hopes will be a cover story.

But higher education's media, marketing, and lobbying machines are prodigious and so I believe this surprisingly sleazy industry will change only if a fully-disclosing College Report Card, prominently placed on each college's website is required for accreditation or by the federal government. I describe such a Report Card HERE.

Even if the U.S. audits the Report Cards for misstatements, as Senator Boxer accuses law schools, some institutions will cheat in reporting the data. Nonetheless, I believe the Report Cards will contain sufficient valid data to empower consumers to more wisely choose a college and, in turn, force the colleges to improve the quality of what they provide for the enormous sums of money, four to eight years of time, and the opportunity cost.

U.S. Senator Calls Law Schools Liars

For 20 years now, I've been accusing American higher education of sleaziness from its recruitment techniques to poor quality of education, to misleading about its students' employment prospects.

A few other education consumer advocates and I have long tried to get the media to pay attention, but to no avail. Higher education's PR, marketing, and lobbying machine is second only to the teacher's union lobby.

But finally, there appears to be a glimmer of hope, from a source the media might actually pay attention to: one of America's most liberal senators. See this press release from Barbara Boxer:


Recent Reports Suggest Misleading Post-Graduation Employment and Salary Information Used to Skew Influential National Rankings of Law Schools

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today called on the American Bar Association (ABA) to improve its oversight of admissions and post-graduation information reported by law schools across the country.

Boxer’s letter follows news reports that have highlighted several law schools allegedly using misleading data to enhance a school’s position in the competitive and influential U.S. News and World Report annual rankings. Such inaccurate post-graduation employment and salary data can mislead prospective students into believing they will easily be able to find work as an attorney and pay off their loans despite a sharp decline in post-graduation full-time employment.

I'll Be on KGO Radio's Ronn Owens Program

If you'd like some free career or education advice, I'll be on the Ronn Owens Show, one of the West Coast's most listened-to shows, tomorrow, Tues, Apr 5, 10:07 am-11 am Pacific time on KGO (810 on the AM dial in San Francisco.)

In addition to offering advice to callers, the host will likely ask me about under-the-radar careers I'm bullish about, little-known but effective strategies for landing a job in a tough market, how to choose a college, and how to line up a good internship.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When You Have a Gifted Child Poorly Served By the Public Schools

I often get letters from parents frustrated with the public schools' denying their gifted child their right to an appropriate leveled education. Here's one I just received. Below that are my suggestions for what she might do:

Sent: Friday, April 01, 2011 9:53 AM
Subject: Active Smart Boys

I recently read your post Our Most Underserved Students: Active, Smart Boys, and agree with your assumption on this topic. I’m wondering if you can offer suggestions for parents? Our son is consistently at least two years ahead of his classmates in every subject. I home school him part time over the summer, in the afternoons after school, weekends, and breaks. It has been very frustrating for us, however, to see him take almost a “teachers aid” position in the classroom during the day in school every year. He has picked up the rolling pencil on the table, tilting his chair, staring out the window, tapping habits recently this year and this is a bad sign of boredom for the hours he spends at the school. Would it be insulting to the teacher(s) if I suggested he bring in work packets from home to work on after he completes their work?

I scheduled an appointment to discuss this with his teacher. I don’t know how to approach this without causing the teacher to become defensive. Last year the teacher picked on him and called him names throughout the year (if he answered too many questions she would yell at him to stop bragging). So I don’t want to annoy this years teacher.
I look forward to your input,

Dear MJ,

Indeed, these stories sadden me a great deal, both for your son and for all of us, which is not helping to flower the students with the greatest potential for improving society. Also, your description of your son's behavior fits me-- I was like your son--the tapping, tilting, etc., bored silly in school. Here are things you might try:

1. Observing your child in class to see if there's more going on than you're aware of.
2. Speaking with the teacher to ask, "What should my child be doing differently? What should I be doing differently? And finally, "Is there anything you think you might do?"
3. Speaking with the principal to help ensure your child is in a better-suited teacher's class next year. Especially if there isn't a very well-suited teacher, consider having him grade-skipped one to three years. Here's an article I wrote about that:
4. Teaming up with the parents of some other gifted kids to pressure the school into providing for gifted students' needs just as special ed parents successfully have done.
5. Perhaps start a one-room schoolhouse for gifted kids, which may not be as difficult as it sounds: I outline how to do that here:

When Your Intuition Tells You Not to Ask for More

An attendee of a presentation I gave told me that she charges too little for writing personal histories but can't make herself ask for more. She asked me, "How do I overcome my fear of asking for what I'm worth?" Here's how I responded:

Conventional wisdom is that many people, disproportionately women, are afraid to ask for what they're worth. I used to believe that, but more recently have concluded that a person's reluctance to charge a higher rate or negotiate for a higher salary may well be a rational appraisal of his or her fair market value, that which the buyer or employer would be willing to pay.

That person may, for example, know that he or she is not that brilliant or hard a worker, or that a person of equal or greater merit could be found at the same or lower cost.

That person may also be considering the likelihood that asking for more money will result in the offer being withdrawn. (Indeed that has happened to my clients and to me--twice, including at CNN.) Especially when, for that person, the real-life value of the extra dollars isn't great, the person may be wise in deciding not to ask for more money--better to have the job for less money than to risk not having it at all.

In sum, don't prematurely dismiss your intuition on how much to ask for. Consider your fair market value and the real-world risk/reward ratio of asking for more, and then decide.