Let's stipulate one "virtual" reality at the outset: If you are hell-bent on finding a new job, the Web is the only place to start. Forget the Sunday paper. Forget calling 10 friends. Vast numbers of job seekers are posting their résumés online, and vast numbers of companies are listing their job openings online. Type "jobs" into a Yahoo! search field, and expect to receive an index of more than 200 career sites, ranging from 6FigureJobs.com to social-service.com. Put simply, the Web is the employment office of the new economy.
But there's more to finding a job than, well, finding a job. People who realize that they are responsible for managing their career (and who doesn't?) spend lots of time asking themselves simple, revealing questions: "What kind of work do I want to do?" "What kind of company do I want to work for?" "What new skills must I learn to get the right job?" In short, "How do I invent the career that's right for me?" The real power of the Web as a career tool is that it helps you answer those questions.
Consider the experience of Monique Cuvelier, 28, a freelance writer from Belmont, Massachusetts. She began using the Web to manage her career in the mid-1990s. She kept track of writing opportunities and collected and organized links to sites that listed jobs for writers. Then she posted all of that material on her Web site. Over time, she started receiving email from grateful writers who used her site to find work. So she began writing and posting articles about how to search for work on the Internet and how to write an online résumé. Now Monique's NewsJobs (www.newsjobs.net) gets thousands of visitors a month, as well as countless requests from both writers and editors to post job openings and assignments. "My site has become my portfolio, my résumé, and my Rolodex — all in one," she says.
Of course, for every action on the Web, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Harry Cederbaum, 40, of Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., is amazed by how the Web increases the quantity, but not necessarily the quality, of applicants. According to Cederbaum, who is director of U.S. recruiting in the New York City office of the international consulting firm, "We see a number of people who apply, get an interview, but then have no idea what the firm does." That's why he's so enthusiastic about WetFeet.com, a Web-based career-research firm that educates job seekers about life inside hundreds of companies — including Booz·Allen. "From our perspective," Cederbaum explains, "it helps us get candidates who are truly interested in working here. And applicants get reasonably good, accurate, and credible information about what it's like to work at this firm."
This edition of @work evaluates some of the Web sites that can help you figure out the work that you want to do, the best places to do it, and the skills that you need to learn to get that job. It compares some of the best-known personality assessments and skills tests available on the Web. And it solicits Web-savvy advice from career coaches and HR pros. So don't just look harder for a job. Think harder about the kind of job that you want.
Do You "Get" Your Career?
It's hard to like your job if you don't like the field that you're in. Most career counselors agree that finding work you're passionate about is one of the critical factors behind career success. That's why so many career counselors love all those diagnostic tools that measure your personality traits, skill levels, professional interests, and job potential. The Web is virtually exploding with tests and assessments that you can take without having to trudge to a career counselor's office.
Many of these tests are useful, and many are free. But all of them should be handled with care. According to Richard Bolles, 72, author of the best-selling book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" (Ten Speed Press, updated annually), the best diagnostics are those that assess rather than test. "You can't flunk an assessment," he says. But you can misuse one. "Never let an assessment tell you what to do," warns Bolles. "Its purpose is only to give you some clues about your skills and interests; you've got to decide whether the clues are useful." And, Bolles cautions, no test is totally accurate. He suggests completing at least two or three tests before comparing their results and taking any of their conclusions to heart.
So which Web tests measure up? One of the best is John Holland's Self-Directed-Search (www.self-directed-search.com). This test is based on the theory that people and work environments can be classified into six basic types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. The test determines which three types describe you, and it suggests occupations that could be a good match. The Keirsey Character Sorter (www.keirsey.com) is a first cousin of Myers-Briggs. It sorts people into four temperaments: idealists, rationals, artisans, and guardians. Like Myers-Briggs, it not only places you in an overall category, but it also offers a more detailed evaluation of your personality traits. To find a bunch of tests in one place, visit Yahoo! and type "online personality tests" in the search field. You can learn a lot about yourself, and you won't even need a number-two pencil!
But there's a big difference between understanding what kind of work you want to do and knowing the best place in which to do it. Here again the Web can help, giving you information on organizations that best suit your personality and passions. One great place to start is WetFeet.com (www.wetfeet.com), where you can research hundreds of companies and more than 34 industries. Want to know what it's really like to work in the software business? Check out its "IndustryQuicks" section. You'll find out who the major players are and what they do. The site's "What's Great and What's to Hate" section tells you just that. And the "Real People Profile" section offers an interview with, you guessed it, a real person in a specific industry. Interviews provide valuable insights from those with experience: how they got their job, what a typical day is like for them, what career aspirations they have for the future, and the biggest misconceptions about their business.
You can get similar information at the "CompanyQuicks" section, where you can search by name, browse alphabetically, or get a list of companies by industry. Once you choose a "Quick" company, you'll get a brief description of its major lines of business, products, and services; factors that distinguish it from the competition; key financial statistics; personnel highlights; contact information; and opportunities for recent college grads and MBAs.
The site's "CompanyQ&A" can help you understand the interviewer's point of view. Besides getting an overview of a company's performance data, you also get information on its strategy (what the company does, who its competitors are, how it differs from the competition), careers (job opportunities, based on level of education and experience; how long most people stay; the skills needed to succeed), culture and lifestyle (what working at this particular company is like), and recruiting (what the application process is like, what to expect during an interview, some pitfalls to avoid). What's more, all this information is written in the company's own words.
All of the information found at WetFeet's site is free to anyone who is a registered member. But if you want a copy of one of its lengthy "Insider Guides" on a specific industry or job, you'll have to fork over some cash — about $25 for each 30-to-70-page report. Unfortunately, you can't download the report; you'll have to wait for a dead-tree version to land on your doorstep.
If WetFeet seems a bit daunting, check out Vault.com (www.vault.com). This site profiles more than 3,000 companies in more than 40 industries. Although its profiles aren't as extensive as WetFeet's, you get much of the same content in more digestable chunks — delivered in an edgy, in-your-face style. And Vault.com's company message boards add more spice to the mix. Topics range from answers to the brainteasers typically posed by many of the big consulting firms to gripes about life inside various companies. Here too, all of Vault.com's content is free, as long as you register with the site.
Of course, the inside dish you get from a Web site can never compare to getting the real dish from a real insider. For that kind of intelligence, go to Industry Insite (www.industryinsite.com), formerly BranchOut.com. This site started out as a networking tool for Ivy League alumni, but it has become a resource for all sorts of professionals. "Networking is a powerful way to get ahead," says David Ronick, 32, the site's founder. "The problem is that lots of people are intimidated by networking in the real world. That's why we created Industry Insite — to cut through the red tape and get results faster."
The site's membership comprises more than 60,000 professionals from thousands of companies, hundreds of industries, and many cities all over the world. To join the network, you just enter your name, industry, and primary job function. Then you can reveal as much or as little about yourself as you choose. (Additional information could include schools that you've attended, cities that you've lived in, and hobbies that you enjoy.) The "Your Network View" section identifies people who've posted information that's similar to yours. The site even tells you how many other members are online at the moment. You can also search the network by company, job title, interests — any of the fields that are listed in the profile.
Once you get a list of relevant contacts in the database, you can view each person's profile. If you'd like to contact someone, click on "send email," and a dialogue box lets you send a message without seeing the person's actual email address. If you're on the receiving end and you decide that you don't want to get any more messages from someone, you can block the transmission of new messages from that person. Now that's smart networking!
Creating Value on the Job
More and more people want to do work that they care about, in organizations that they believe in. But that doesn't mean that people have lost interest in being successful — in terms of money, performance, or getting along with their coworkers. The Web can help with all three of these issues.
If you've ever asked yourself, "How much am I really worth?," then head for JobStar: California Job Search Guide (www.jobstar.org), a remarkable site that's the handiwork of Mary-Ellen Mort, a business librarian who became obsessed with salaries. Her site, which focuses mainly on the California job market, offers what might be the most comprehensive collection of links to salary surveys and reports on the Web. The site also has links to articles about understanding salary surveys and developing smarter negotiation strategies. Simply put, you can find a treasure trove of data on making money — by industry, by region, and by profession.
In the long run, of course, the best way to make lots of money is to create lots of value — that is, to do a great job. And the best way to do a great job is to solicit feedback from people who are in a position to help you improve. ReviewMe.com (www.reviewme.com) is a new Web site that lets people receive anonymous feedback from their colleagues at any time. The site is designed for companies that want better ways to generate feedback among employees, but it also works well for free agents who are looking for feedback from members of their extended network.
ReviewMe.com lets you choose from a number of feedback criteria, including teamwork, communication, leadership, projects, and events. You can ask for big-picture feedback or more targeted reviews. You can also decide how much time people can take to complete their evaluation (one, three, or five days; one to two weeks) and whether you'd like input from one or more reviewers. Just enter the appropriate email addresses, compose the feedback requests, and wait for the evaluations to arrive. You'll get an overall feedback score, as well as results for each skill that you've identified — areas in which you need much improvement, a little, or none at all. The service also reports whether you've been able to maintain above-average, average, or below-average consistency in your skill areas.
In addition, the site has a "Feedback Vault" that helps you keep track of and store all of these evaluations. Of course, it's up to you to act on them.
So you're making a competitive salary, you're getting the feedback that you need to improve your performance, and you're well on your way to having a satisfying work experience. There's only one problem: Your boss is a jerk. (Or a colleague is taking credit for your ideas, or a member of your team is disrupting productivity.) The daily life of even the best job can present headaches and challenges that can test your patience — and your ability to come up with solutions.
The Web has some cures for such headaches. Hard@Work (www.hardatwork.com) is a case in point. One area of the site, the "Rock Pile," lets people post war stories and advice about the hazards of life on the job. The career site of the Wall Street Journal (http://careers.wsj.com) offers more sober commentary (from expert columnists) on many of the same issues. The Riley Guide (www.rileyguide.com) offers such a comprehensive collection of links to articles and resources that you'll find it difficult to identify a problem that this site hasn't already attempted to address.
When you're inventing your career, the best way to keep moving forward is to keep growing. And the best way to keep growing is to keep learning. People who are smart about their careers aren't just asking themselves, "What am I doing in my job?" They're also asking, "What should I be learning outside of my job?" And an increasing number of those people believe that the Web is the best place to design their personal curriculum.
But if truth be told, the Web gets only mediocre grades for its role as a teaching tool. Why has Web-based distance learning taken so long to come into its own? According to Vicky Phillips, 41, CEO of geteducated.com (www.geteducated.com), a distance-learning and product-development consulting firm located in Vermont, there are a few simple (but very real) obstacles to the success of distance learning on the Web.
"People need to be taught how to be online students and online teachers," says Phillips. For example, you have to be great at time management. "You need to know how to schedule classes and homework so that you don't fall behind," she says. You also have to be extremely motivated: "It helps if getting a raise or a promotion is contingent on your passing the course." You also have to be comfortable with the technology: "It's very likely that you'll have to download files and add new plug-ins. If you don't know how, you could easily get frustrated and give up."
But if you really have a hankering to experiment with Web-based learning, then Hungry Minds (www.hungryminds.com) is a great place to start. This enormous directory of educational offerings makes it easy for you to find and register for courses in both the online and offline worlds. Courses range from how to give a better presentation to the basics of marketing. The site also offers a variety of useful study tools, such as the Universal Notebook, which lets you keep all of your course notes in a central place. And the site's "E-Book" feature allows you to purchase only those chapters that you need for a particular course, rather than having to fork over money for an entire book.
While Hungry Minds focuses mainly on distance learning, EduPoint.com (www.edupoint.com) uses virtual tools to guide people to real-world education. It connects idea-hungry professionals with courses offered by brick-and-mortar institutions. The site, which lists about 500,000 courses, makes it easy for users to find the courses that are most relevant to their careers and to enroll in them — without having to spend hours thumbing through catalogs or standing in line at the registrar's office.
Of course, there's more to learning than spending weeks or months slogging through in-depth courses on mission-critical topics, whether at a training center or on the Web. Youachieve.com (www.youachieve.com) is designed to help you get a little better at a lot of things — quickly. The site offers 326 online learning sessions created by more than 180 gurus. Topics range from team building, to presentation techniques, to stress management. The material comes in three formats: 60-minute workshops, 20-minute clinics, and 5-minute articles. (Some subjects aren't available in all three formats.) But to save time on learning, you'll have to spend some money: A one-year subscription to the entire youachieve.com library costs $399.
Gina Imperato (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Fast Company associate editor. She still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up.
Action Item: Career Crossing
Does your career make you feel as if you're trying to get across a busy intersection? Then "CareerXRoads 2000" (MMC Group, 2000), by HR veterans Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler, will help you get to the other side. The book provides a directory of more than 500 Web sites relating to jobs, résumés, and career management. And, since the Web keeps changing, the authors have created a free email update service.
Coordinates: $26.95. CareerXRoads 2000, www.careerxroads.com
Sidebar: Cyber Coach
Even world-class athletes can't reach peak performance without a great coach. So it's no surprise that people who are trying to reach peak performance in their careers will seek the advice of career coaches. Thanks to the Web, getting career advice has never been faster or easier.
Judy Feld, 54, is a master certified coach and a certified mentor coach who offers advice to executives and entrepreneurs around the world. She works in a nice office in Dallas, but she provides almost all of her advice remotely — by phone or via email. In an interview, she spoke about the virtues of cyber-coaching.
More is better. "Email helps us move the advice-giving process so much faster. Using email, I've been able to review résumés, cover letters, even outlines of talking points for an interview. We can also do certain assessments — of styles, talents, and personality tests — by email." Routines matter too. "The power of email is that it allows you to communicate quickly. But it's crucial to have scheduled interactions as well. You can hear a lot in someone's voice."
Working by email takes work. "There aren't many coaches who do cyber-coaching. It takes a client who doesn't freeze in front of the keyboard. It's not easy to give nuanced thoughts. Cyber-coaching may take more time than conventional approaches."
Coordinates: Judy Feld, email@example.com; CoachU, www.coachu.com; International Coach Federation (www.coachfederation.org)
Sidebar: Career Fitness
For most individuals, the opportunity to invent a career path feels liberating and exciting. For companies, the same phenomenon presents a daunting challenge: How do we attract the best talent when so many talented people are moving in different directions?
Dave Aker, senior VP of worldwide human resources at Unisys Corp., says that companies should address the battle for talent by looking inside first: "You've got to keep the people you have, and develop them, so that you evolve your workforce over time."
How does Aker, 53, help Unisys's 33,000-plus employees keep their careers up to speed? With the Career Fitness Centre, an internal Web site launched in 1998. The site helps employees identify their strengths, as well as what they need to improve. It also offers tools that they can use to track their progress. "The bar keeps rising on performance," Aker says. "What better way to communicate the need to stay fit and develop new skills than the fitness-center metaphor?"
In the Fitness Centre, users can go to the jobs section and browse through a list of open positions. They can get their manager's approval online to submit a résumé. Moreover, users can track their "workouts" — skill assessments, feedback, coursework — in a Career Portfolio.
Meanwhile, the Feedback and Coaching Corner is staffed by Unisys volunteers who've agreed to serve as coaches for one year. "This is not a technology application," explains Aker. "It's an application by and for people."
Coordinates: Dave Aker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sidebar: Cyber Schmooze
One year ago, Lisa Imm, 25, an assistant marketing manager at Commtouch Inc., a global provider of Web-based email, was looking to change fields — from database marketing to Internet marketing. But she had no idea how her current skills would transfer. Bottom line: She needed to network, and fast.
She didn't hit the party circuit or attend career fairs. Instead, she joined the email list for Silicon Valley Web Grrls, a networking group for women who work in the technology sector. "I instantly had access to more than 1,000 people without physically having to meet them," Imm says. "The list is my virtual Rolodex."
Imm used the network not only to tap into what jobs were available but also to get valuable advice when she was considering offers: "People wrote back saying, 'I wouldn't work for that company, and this is why.' It was like having 100 personal recruiters and career counselors." A month after gathering information from the Web Grrls community and other sources, Imm landed her job.
What's her advice for others looking to take advantage of the power of a cyber-schmooze? First, be sure to join a group with credentials: "You can refer to the group on your résumé. Many times in an interview people will say, 'Wow! I've used that group too!' It's a great conversation starter." Also, give as generously as you receive. "If you don't respond to people when you've got the advice that they need, then you won't get much out of it."
Coordinates: Lisa Imm, email@example.com; Silicon Valley Web Grrls, www.webgrrls.com