Switching to my own domain…

I have – finally – put together my own personal website, hosting my blog therein as well. Please look out for subsequent posts on  http://shubhambhattacharya.com

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Change again! The only constant in life!

While I now sit at the  international terminal of the Mumbai Airport awaiting the boarding announcement for our flight to Brussels, I cannot help but think of it as déjà vu –  25 months back at the same airport heading to France for an MBA at HEC Paris.

This is a new chapter though. Having spent the past two years in Europe we ( my wife, daughter and me) believe we know what to expect. Some added preparations, additional research before going in are the lessons learnt from last time.
The biggest change would be a change in lifestyle from being a student to being a working professional. It will be a transition to a much desired routine that will be accompanied with a lot of new opportunities to learn, to interact and to create an impact. Look forward to making the best of it.

Are you happy with your LinkedIn account?

Being an active job seeker, I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Over the past few months I have seen several changes in LinkedIn, from the web user interface to the business focus. Starting with a Freemium business model back in 2003, it has evolved into a multi-sided business model. The LinkedIn Recruiter Product back from 2008 has transformed into a complete Talent-Solution and now contributes to over 50% of revenues as reported last quarter.

The huge professional users base ( 238 million members as reported here) is the key value-proposition in its offerings to Talent Acquisitions & Marketing Customers. However, being on the other side of this multi-sided business model, I sometimes wonder – Is LinkedIn providing appropriate features & services to its premium subscribers? What else can LinkedIn do to monetize its offerings and make this user base a happier lot? Can anyone else benefit from LinkedIn’s user base & features?

I have four specific aspects to discuss herein from the job-seekers perspective (premium account holder) unless mentioned otherwise. While I have elaborated some aspects I believe are not good enough, I have also tried to propose amendments to them.


1. Inmails – Guaranteed delivery or response?

In a discussion board here on LinkedIn, recruiters discuss the effectiveness of Inmails in talent sourcing strategy; it is said that LinkedIn itself suggests about 20% effectiveness (so if you send out 100 Inmails, you can expect about 20 to respond)

In my opinion this is quite low and the quoted figure is for recruiters. Turn the pyramid around – get into the job-seekers shoes – can he expect as high a response rate given the many-to-infinite relationship between recruiters and job-seekers?

Inmails also come with a 7-day-no-response return guarantee. That is to say, when you buy a pair of jeans, 75% of the time you may not be happy with the jeans – but we offer you a store credit. Does a Premium Customer care about the Inmail credit or is he really hoping to connect with a person who can help grab that career opportunity? Selling a 20% effective service to premium account holders, especially to job seekers accounts is like selling a deficient service with the promise of accumulating store credits.

Can something be done? – Notably, while you send out an Inmails, LinkedIn shows your Inmail Feedback Score. How about seeing a Receiver’s Inmails Acceptance score? That ways I know what are my chances of getting a response when writing to this person? Should I really waste the precious Inmail on a person who doesn’t bother responding to them and wait till it is credited back to my kitty?


2. Endorsements for Skills & Expertise – Real or Pseudo?

This feature that started off with good intentions, but I believe has lost its way! Being able to enlist skills & search people based on these is interesting and useful. But forcing your network to endorse skills of people in the network? Especially the aggressive pop-ups with four people & their skills appearing on the page right above the profile of a connection becomes annoying and mundane after a few rounds.

After I deliberate carefully for a few contacts, I am lost for specific skills of people who are relatively new on my network. Why would I expend energy and time on these endorsements? This has resulted into several endorsements that people make, but not many care about.

On the other side, ‘LinkedIn Recommendations’ is still a powerful way of endorsements; when someone has put the thought behind elaborating your strengths, it is more purposeful.

So what can be done here? In my honest opinion, the endorsements of skills & expertise should cease to exist! Save people’s time and clicks for more important aspects of professional networking LinkedIn.


3. Job Applications via LinkedIn – Whats happening?

As of date, “Jobs posted on LinkedIn” can be applied to in two ways

  • Redirected to company website
  • Apply on LinkedIn

Redirected to company website – the painful process of non-standard formats, no visibility on how many have applied (you do see how many have clicked). Not very useful apart from the fact that you could discover the opening on LinkedIn.

Apply on LinkedIn: Great features. You can actually see how many people have applied, so you know if it is extremely sought after position. Occasionally, you know through a notification if the recruiter ‘saw’ your application. But on several occasions, being in the job seeker’s position, I haven’t ever been notified of the progress on the job I had applied to? If the recruiter doesn’t see my application, why do I upload it? Why does the recruiter post it at all? Or is there another way that the recruiter sees it and I don’t know what happened with it. Well as a job-seeker, not the best experience I would expect.

Can anything be done here? Well for starters, there needs to be consistency in the job apps process. If recruiters have filled up a position – can LinkedIn’s tools inform the several aspirants that the show is over. A nice little summary page could also help tabulating the company name, posting/unposting/application date, number of applicants et al. How about bringing in that automated-job-search agent notification to LinkedIn Jobs. So, “I am looking at Product Management roles in the technology domain in London (oh yeah – work authorization needed – yes or no also helps)” … an email with periodic alerts on this query would make life much easier for the job seeker.


4. University Pages – Can you take over the alumni portal as well?

I kept the best for the last! Fantastic interface, great query modes and seamless. Its like some other design team formulated this for sure! If yes, kudos to them for a neat job.

This, I believe has immense potential for yet another segment. Consider University alumni networks. A busy professional keeps his profile on LinkedIn more updated than that on his online alumni network.

LinkedIn specializes in providing a professional networking platform, while schools specialize in knowledge dissemination (and not in software platforms & IT systems). Can LinkedIn provide the university pages in some form to these alumni network associations? Schools will benefit from a better managed online platform at lesser hassle & perhaps lesser costs. The student network will benefit from more updated information of the alumni network. LinkedIn will benefit by monetizing this service in some form. Subscription based revenue models will generate recurrent revenues over a large user base – students & universities. Surely a lot more possibilities can emerge out of this.


While the recent user interface changes have been good, sometimes basic features seem to get lost. For e.g If I search for people in Amazon, there is not way for me to ‘sort’ the results based on relevance, degree of connection et al. Now I click on Advanced – I don’t know why but it sets the default radius around my location – every time! Is this a feature or a bug – is for the product team to declare, but often a cumbersome experience for a user like me. Nevertheless, for now it is a tools of immense utility – I hope it continues to be.

Marissa Mayer’s Unauthorized Biography .. via Business Insider

Wow.. just finished reading The Truth About Marissa Mayer: An Unauthorized Biography” by Nicholas Carlson at Business Insider; I couldn’t stop myself from sharing this here.

Its quite long, but quite the thriller in itself.. ! The part I liked best  ….

The past two years at Google — since she was, according to the rest of the world “demoted” — had been quieter than the first 11, but in many ways more challenging and exciting.

In local and geo, she’d taken over a much more massive operation than the one she’d been running at Google.

Whenever people asked her about the “demotion,” as Wolf and the other directors might over dinner, Mayer always pointed out how she had gone from managing 250 product managers in search to supervising a much larger, more diverse group of managers — 1,100 people managing engineering, design, marketing, and sales. Mayer would tell people that she was supervising some 6,000 contractors.

She’d figured out that by the fraction of the company, the geo and local piece that she was running was something like 20-25 percent of the company’s overall headcount.

The business challenges she’d dealt with in those years had been as diverse as the types of people she managed.

…….

Perspectives! When you know what to learn from an experience than worry about what ‘people’ think, you prepare yourself for the right opportunities! While Yahoo’s recent products have seen a huge turnaround and there’s news about increasing traffic, one must agree that there is have positive change for now.

 

 

Product Manager: The messenger of the market!

I came across this presentation on the Pragmatic Marketing website about a year back and thought of sharing this on the blog here.

The author, Steve Johnson, presents an extremely interesting articulation of the Product Management role in technology companies – “A product manager is a messenger of the market”.

He also presents interesting insights into the role of product managers accelerating the adoption of agile methodologies. A must read for those interested in career options in product management.

The Perpetual Learner – where should he go?

This entry is a bit unusual as compared the last few. After interacting with several people & browsing through various ‘careers’ sections on websites of companies – I had the thought of articulating this post.

Before the MBA, during the MBA and after the MBA – we come across a similar set of questions. And then again who asks whom – Sometimes it’s us asking people, then it’s us asking ourselves, and then it’s others asking us!

How do we change courses in our career? Can I move from engineering to strategy? Is it possible to immediately land the right job-position for launching a new career path right after the MBA? As generic as these questions are, equally generic can be the answers!

I recall our Financial Accounting Professor jokingly remark often: “‘In Accounting the right answer is – It Depends”! I am tempted to extend the same to the search for “The Career Opportunity” as well.

Amidst all this it helps to have some guiding principles and an awareness on why there can be a (mis)match between recruiters needs and a potential candidate’s (read: job applicant) aspirations!

Potential candidates base the choice of their next career move based a variety of factors (a short but not exhaustive list) as below:

  • A promotion in a new job
  • Opportunity to learn a new skill
  • Opportunity to learn about a new industry/domain
  • Monetary gain – A higher remuneration
  • Opportunity to travel
  • Looking for a work-life balance – priorities can change right!

The weight assigned to these factors will define the profile of this candidate. I seek to define a candidate profile – The Perpetual Learner! If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for such candidate – it could look as below (0 – least significant, 5 most significant).

PerpetualLearner
The Perpetual Learner – Weighted Priorities

The Perpetual Learner can do this in two ways, each posing a different level of risk to the employer

  • Working beyond predefined responsibilities: Not being accountable for this: is it the right way to accelerate? What metrics can be used to measure success? Will it jeopardize the existing responsibilities?
  • Learning on the job: There will be a planned training to acquire these skills. It poses a calculated risk of failure to the employer – but can be mitigated by monitoring execution under a mentor

Organizations – specifically recruiters therein, seek certain behavioral qualities in their (future) employees. A few of them can be:

  • Level of expertise in their current role
  • Stickiness (If I may call it so)! – The hope that the employee will stick around until eternity and his/her skills will be useful for the same length of time
  • Willingness to grow, accept higher responsibilities
  • Capability to move across functions, adopt to new roles
  • Risk taking ability

Specific to an organization, each of these qualities will bear a specific weight in the bigger picture. This can be a function of its strategic priorities, the values of the organization, the risk taking ability, etc. Some people centric companies might believe in empowering their employees with new skills & expertise over time – readying them for greater responsibilities in the years to come, putting at risk the probability of success in the short-term – let’s call them “Employee Booster”. If I were to plot these qualities on a Radar Chart for an “Employee Booster” organization – it might look as below.

EmployeeBooster
Employee Booster Organization: Weighted criteria

Moving on – Lets Simplify! In order to unravel the sweet spot for job-seekers and recruiters likewise, I am making an attempt to plot this chart below. The two axes indicate

  • Learning needs of the Perpetual Learner – Along the X-axis
  • Employee empowerment motivation in an organization  – Along the Y-axis

HiringSweetSpot

For career changers, it is thus important to find a match on the top-right quadrant of the graph above. Assessing corporate culture in the target company is important while seeking opportunities. Will they recognize my thirst for knowledge? Will they consider my “quick adapting capability” as a skill? Affirmative answers to these show that you are looking at an Employee Booster! The second route – the much talked about “Transferable Skills”! Pitching these right can help lower the perceived risk for the employer. If this bet works out right – both the employer and employee stand to gain; if not, both stand to lose out in the short term.

An employer’s profile, as stated before, could be a function of its strategic priorities. Employee Boosters choose to build the capability to change. Building this adaptability to change opens opportunities for innovation.

  • Technological innovation can result from investments in researchers and R&D capabilities
  • Process innovation may result while striving for operational excellence
  • Business Model Innovation (BMI) will result by exploring new ways of business/corporate decision making

Which of these is the Employee Booster’s priority is a choice each organization makes, and needs to execute accordingly. The organizations (big or small) profile is evident from its hiring practices.

Perpetual Learners need to target companies which believe that ‘Change is the only constant’.  More importantly, the direction of learning desired will help shortlist the companies which value that direction more – technology, process, BMI!

A last word – Perpetual Learners need to have a plan B! After all, while every organization wants to project the Employee Booster image, not everyone is.

How much is enough ?

This is a question I’ve seeked an answer to from multiple sources. To clarify the question itself first, I’m referring to the cash requirement stated by French consulate authorities for the student visa processing to go smoothly.

(Again, this stems from my ongoing process of applying for a student visa for studying at HEC, Paris)

So firstly, how much is enough ?

There are two parts to this. First the student is travelling alone (the majority case) and second is where the student is moving alongwith a dependent partner.

You need to show funds for
1. Tuition Fees
2. Living expenditures (Self)
3. Living expenditures (Dependents if they are travelling with you)

For a student travelling alone the amount deemed required for the living expenditure of self is set at is 537 Euros/month for the duration of the course. (12 months in case of the HEC MBA, as four months are supposed to be paid internship)

If you are travelling with dependents (in my case I will be accompanied by my wife and 2 year old daughter), the above requirement is void. Instead, what I’ve been told is “You have to justify that you can provide for your family in France, you should at least meet the amount of 1 070,76 €/months which is the amout of the minimum wage determined for 2011”

Now the next aspect, what are the acceptable forms of proof of funds ?

Essentially anything with liquidity is acceptable.

  • Several candidates may apply for loan for part or entire amount. A sanction letter from the financial institution stating the amount provided as loan will act as one financial proof.
  • Savings Bank Balance: This is by far the best possible proof of source of funds. High liquidity makes this as the most preferred ( I do not know of any requirement of holding certain amount of cash for a pre-set period)
  • Fixed Deposits: Yet another easily accessible liquid source of funds.
  • PF: Some (like me) would intend to withdraw the hard earned provident fund. Well a PF statement showing the balance in your PF should suffice. This is usually not up to date when it is a government PF; I intend to furnish a letter from my company stating the current estimated PF balance. (will update this info once I’ve processed my visa docs).
  • PPF: PPF passbook statements should also be a good source to indicate source of funds.
  • Any other liquid assets like Equity/MF investments should also suffice…

In the case where we show funds from anyone-but-self, we need to furnish a plain paper declaration from the person, stating that he/she will be sponsoring our education and we must provide the essential documentary evidence supporting it.

That’s it. This was a good revision for me, before I prepare for my visa interview. Hoping this proves useful to others seeking info.