Tuesday, 1 December 2009

3D Virtual Connexions Advice Centre

Presented at INACOL Virtual Schools Symposium, Austin, TX November 2009.

We began with a bright idea of having a virtual, "Second Life"-style counseling center for our local 13-19 year old students. This case study explores how we overcame various barriers and obstacles to commission and establish a safe, virtual environment, where teenage students in our area can access resources, chat with counselors, and join live group sessions on topics such as career, health and personal welfare.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Quality, Choice and Aspiration

The government's new strategy for young people's Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) in England was published at the end of October.

This strategy has been a long time coming, and basically calls for more and better advice. It also calls for upskilling of careers teachers in schools, and greater involvement with parents. The social web of course offers a suitable vehicle for communicating and engaging with many parents - not all - but many. The key here is that social web engagement, once mastered can be faster, equally effective, but potentially less expensive than more traditional methods. Clearly there won't be lots of extra money to fund school parental engagement in the years ahead. Social web outreach is an obvious no-brainer here.

An interesting commitment in the strategy is to develop an online mentoring resource by the end of 2010. This could usefully build on the work already done by the Horsesmouth Foundation and its excellent site, horsesmouth.co.uk , which has amassed a willing body of some thousands of mentors, happy to share their wisdom and stories with young people seeking mentoring support. It would be a shame if public funding is used to establish a rival mentoring site, when a thriving community of mentors and mentees already exists in a similar space.

Whilst the commissioning of research to identify and disseminate mentoring good practice is useful, I don't believe it is necessary to be too prescriptive about what should or should not constitute online mentoring. Horsesmouth has not for example forced mentors to undertake any training, or demonstrate competencies in order to be approved as suitable mentors. Instead the community models good practice, and the rigorous moderation takes care of any potential miscreants.

One of the prongs of the strategy is "state-of-the-art online IAG". The on-line access section of the strategy does not have a lot of detail, but quotes from recent BYC and NCB surveys telling us 61% of young people cited the internet as a key influence on careers, only narrowly behind "parents" at 65%, "friends" at 60% and "teachers" at 58%. I don't think it's quite so easy to separate out "internet" from these other influences, since many young people will use the internet as the communication medium to talk to their friends, tutors (if they could) and other mentors. What needs to be remembered here is that friends and family are influential, but the way young people communicate with their friends and families probably includes the use of internet social web tools.

I agree that technology has considerable potential to transform access to high quality IAG. Social networking, web-chat and on-line video content are suggested as means of enabling a more personalised delivery of IAG, which can respond to young people's interests. You only have to look at the great clips at icould.com to see what a huge leap forward is created by this collection of people's real-life career stories.

The implication though is that a centralised strategy is being proposed here - the national Connexions Direct service is described as "the main online and telephone service". There is a danger that local authority Connexions service providers will feel that they don't need to worry about the social web too much, since Connexions Direct will be taking care of all that, from their centralised contact centre.

The pledges of innovation in on-line services describe projects already underway or in pilot at the centralised, national contact centre - Connexions Direct. So one should expect DCSF to fund the development of the official Connexions Direct moderated chat-room, their message board, and their web-cam facility.

But local delivery partners should not sit back. Apart from anything else, practitioners need to be able to signpost and help young people make sense of the enormous range of information on the social web.

It's unrealistic to believe that creating a few officially preferred IAG sites, counters the thousands and thousands of other social web content sources. Advisers need awareness of what's out there, access to the social web, and confidence to use sites.

Of course the strategy may turn out to be academic if scrapped by an incoming conservative government next year. Although David Willetts does speak of his party's belief in the importance of IAG, he envisages a different delivery model to the current one. It's hard, however to imagine any new tory model would fail to recognise the power and potential of the social web to transform IAG delivery.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

icould launch

This week I attended the launch of the innovative careers website, icould.

The site is a great example of the potential of the social web in careers work. It comprises more than 1,000 video stories, featuring a mixture of celebrities and members of the public telling their career stories.

This narrative approach is an exciting development and provides those exploring career ideas a new way to learn about the world of work. Everyone's story is unique, and the personal element is deliberately designed to inspire people. It's a refreshing alternative to the standard, impersonal careers information sheet handed out to generations of advice seekers.

Registered users can comment on stories, and share their favourites through a range of social media connections - e.g. Facebook, Bebo, Digg, Delicious etc.

Although you can search by occupational areas, the clips database can also be searched by very different life themes - for example stories from people who took risks to get where they are today, or people who have faced discrimination, or who did not blossom until after leaving school.

Some example stories are available on youtube - search for the tag "icouldstories".

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Internet Jobsearch Part 4 - Social Web Presence


Employers and recruiters routinely check out people online to see if their application forms are thruthful, and whether there is more information about them on the web than they have supplied in their CV or application letter. A quick search on google, or using a people search engine like pipl.com can yield a much better insight into what a job applicant is really like, showing details of who their friends are, and their social interests.

• Jobsearch need not be an individual activity if you get your whole social network on your side, helping find each other new career opportunities. The people in your network can be an invaluable source of help, advice and referrals. Tell your network about your jobsearch activities, ask for referrals.

• Tell others about opportunities you find which you think might interest them. For example if you find out about a new company opening in your town, it may not offer the type of work you are looking for, but it may be of interest to someone in your network, or their family, neighbours or friends.

• It’s not a good idea to say bad things about your work or employer on your social web profile.

• Check the privacy settings on your social network accounts, and think about what you want to be public, and what you’d prefer to be private between you and your close friends and family.

• Some employers keep tabs on their employee’s social web activities, and those who bring their company into disrepute are sometimes sacked as a result of what they say online. Sometimes what you think is a joke, or amusing photograph might be perceived differently by your boss, co-workers, or others in your company.

• Some subjects are best avoided on your social web profile (and also where you comment or are mentioned on other people’s sites) as they can give the wrong impression to a recruiter. References to drugs, alcohol, sex, illegal activities and extremist views (e.g. racism/sexism/homophobia) are all likely to influence recruiters negatively.

• Check what people will find if they search for you on google or pipl.com. If you find things you’d prefer employers not to see, take steps to remove content or ask friends to remove (e.g. drunken party photographs) from their sites. Photographs are a common feature of search results for people, so you may want to review what photos come up in results, and post new, more appropriate photographs online if necessary.


One of the best ways to increase your positive web presence is to start a blog using your real name, and write about topics which reflect your career interests. Search engines like google index blog articles, so the more articles you write the more frequently you will appear in search results for your name. Don’t be surprised if you turn up at interview and are asked a question about your previous blog posts.

Check sites and resources on the topic of “Personal Branding”, which offer advice and tips on how to develop and improve your online presence and reputation.

Respond to other people’s postings in blogs or discussion forums, on newspaper or professional journal or professional body websites, where you have something thoughtful and useful to add to discussions.

Ask or answer questions in Q&A sites like Yahoo Answers, or within Linkedin. This type of activity can help you promote yourself and your interests, and link you to others with similar interests in your chosen industry.


• Be careful with your personal information. Don’t publish your CV publicly on the web with your full address, telephone number and email address.

• Don’t arrange to meet people you’ve only met through a discussion forum or social web site.

• For advice on safe web use for young people visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk.

• There are unfortunately some employment related scams around and if you receive unexpected job offers at enormous salaries, from people you don’t know, for jobs you’ve not applied for, it’s most likely spam or some kind of scam. Ask your adviser if you are unsure about an opportunity.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27180696@N02/

Internet Jobsearch Part 3 - The social web

Social websites like Facebook, Myspace, Xing and Linkedin offer more opportunities for the internet job seeker.

• Some companies have profiles which you can monitor, or link to as a friend or fan. This will allow you to keep aware of new recruitment initiatives, or other company news.
• Some employees (past and present) set up unofficial social web groups for their company which you may be able to view or join. This can give you a different insight into an organisation, and may offer inside contacts, for advice on applying or being interviewed by a particular company.
• Professional groups are also common on social websites, and these generally welcome anyone interested in a particular field. This can be a useful source of industry insight, as well as advice on forthcoming recruitment opportunities.
• HorsesMouth.co.uk offers over 16 year olds in the UK free online coaching and mentoring. Mentees can search for a mentor with background, skills and interests relevant to their career aspirations.
• Careers services – some careers and recruitment services have social web profiles, and these offer another way of keeping in touch with advisers and recruiters.
• Professional social networks like Xing and Linkedin can help you find career histories of people who work ( or have worked) at a company you are targeting. This is useful as you can often gain an insight into the skills and background an employer may value. You can also see the sort of career progression which may be possible for people in specific roles. You can also start or become part of online professional communities, relating to your specialist interests.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaycameron/

Internet Jobsearch Part 2 - Company Research

Company websites are a great source of information for jobseekers. You can find content which will help you evaluate whether you want to work for a particular company. For example, you might look at their company report, or mission and values statements. You might also be able to access information about projects they have been involved with, those recently launched, or planned for the future. Many company websites feature news about the company.

Official company website information can help you prepare a more targeted application letter or form. It can also help you prepare for an interview where you are likely to be asked “Why do you want to work for our company?”, and also “Have you any questions you’d like to ask.” Both of these questions give the jobseeker a great opportunity to show they know something about the organisation and its activities.

Search engines like Yahoo, Google and Bing all allow you to restrict search results to news stories. This allows you to check for recent media coverage about a potential employer. Perhaps they just appointed a new chief executive, or launched an expansion programme, or commented on a government proposal.

“Google alerts” allow you to be emailed when a company is mentioned on the web, or when their content is updated. This can be a useful means of keeping in touch with developments at a company you’re interested in working for.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ollieolarte/

Internet Jobhunting Part 1 - Job Boards

Today many recruiters make use of the internet to publicise jobs and find candidates. Every job hunter can benefit from using the internet as part of their job search strategy.


General Job board such as Monster, Jobsite, Jobserve, Totaljobs, Jobcentreplus and Fish4jobs are among some of the UK’s most popular.

Microblogging site, Twitter is also being used by some recruiters to advertise job opportunities. Following, or monitoring specialist twitter recruiters may be worthwhile for some jobseekers.

Specialist job boards focus on particular sectors, such as IT or teaching. Some of these are linked to industry publications , or professional bodies and trade associations.

Some companies also operate online job boards just for their own vacancies. You can monitor these boards if you know a company is likely to advertise jobs you’d like to apply for.

Some Connexions /Careers services and adult employment advice services operate online vacancy boards for their students and customers.

• Ask your adviser which job boards may be most suited to your job search
• Learn what features your selected job boards offer – for example can you register your details, upload your CV, or receive email alerts of new jobs?
• Talk to your adviser about adapting your profile with a particular job board if you find you don’t get suitable matches.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/booleansplit/

Monday, 3 August 2009

Free online course for blog and twitter novices

Here's a link to the free online material I created for a workshop on using blogs and twitter. The session aimed to raise awareness and familiarize careers, education and employment professionals with blogging (specifically using WordPress). Participants examined personal and business motivations for blogging, different styles of blogging, as well as trying out micro-blogging with use of Twitter and Yammer.

Feel free to try the course material with your own colleagues if you wish! Look forward to hearing whether you find it useful and how you get on.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blogging to improve employment prospects

These days the web is highly participative - people contribute. People don't just go there to READ other's expert content. Netpop's research in the United States suggests non-contributors are now in the minority.

Jobseekers, those researching careers and those seeking career development can all benefit from blogs.

Producing your own blog can help people establish greater control of their online identity. At present many employers and admissions tutors search online to see what they can find out about individual applicants. This might trawl up facebook entries, photographs, youtube clips, as well as professional profiles on sites like xing or linkedin. If you are active blogger, any web search could also draw recruiters or those searching for you to your content.

We can help our clients to audit their online identity. For many people, "presence" could be important, as recruiters are looking to see whether you are engaged in the social web at all. Not being there could mean your client not being shortlisted for a job, and reduces the chance of headhunter approach.

What you share is important too - the links, files, content, ideas you post. Is it meaningful, legal, relevant?

What is your reputation? Do others comment postively on your posts? Are you considered knowledgable or expert and therefore being linked to by others?

Who are you connected to? Which other bloggers do you follow? The relationships we make visible online say something about us. For example if you follow industry leaders, employees from a company you want to work for, it demonstrates you are keeping yourself updated professionally, and might have some insight into how the company operates, and it's values and priorities. Following people in your industry, or the career specialism you aspire to gives you access to social labour market information. This is different from the statistics about employment in different fields, which some advisers share with their clients. You can't interract with employment stats, but you can ask a question of a blogger, or comment about their posts on a blog.

Recruiters are interested in who you are linked with, who inspires and influences us. For example a relevant professional network could mean you'll be perceived as someone who can bring business with them to a new employer, or be able to solve problems more easily because you can call upon your network for support.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Slides from ACEG Conference presentation on careers work and social web

Here are the slides from my 3rd July 2009 workshops at the Association for Careers Education and Guidance Conference in Cambridge, UK.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Jobseekers increase hiring chances by developing a strong online brand

A survey of 208 employers by recruitment firm Harvey Nash and the Department for Work and Pensions finds social networks are becoming an increasingly mainstream tool for recruitment.

Half of those surveyed claimed candidates would increase their chances of being hired if they invested time in "developing a strong online brand"

Unfortunately this message is not getting through to young people, with separate research finding only one in ten 18-24 year olds making use of social networking sites for the purpose of finding job leads or making useful career contacts.

One HR manager, Matthew Garrett says: "social network sites like LinkedIn and Facebook have become absolutely critical in finding new hires. Not only do they give us access to people who we might not find elsewhere, but they are also an excellent way to understand more about the candidate beyond just their CV. Certainly for figleaves.com, job seekers who have a strong online presence do stand out from the crowd, and we would encourage more people to invest in their online 'brand'.

18-24's are also bearing the brunt of unemployment in the current downturn. It is vital that career advisers working with teenagers and young adults fully appreciate the changing practice in recruitment sector, and advise candidates on how to develop a public online presence, designed to complement the formal CV, resume or job application. So many employers now check candidates details on the web that we must assume every employer will be making such checks.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toohotty/

Thursday, 2 July 2009

8 ways careers educators can use the social web

Here are some ideas of ways in which careers teachers and advisers can make use of the social web in their work with young people.

1. Set up a Careers Dept page on social networking sites. Find out which sites your learners prefer. Even if your institution blocks access to social websites, your students will still be using it outside school, so there is still an argument for having a presence.

2. Set up a careers forum in your institution’s Virtual Learning Enivornment. Your virtual learning environment may offer a way of establishing a collaborative space which students and teachers can access. Many institutions block access to most social networking sites, but VLE’s often have similar features such as document sharing, discussion boards, blogs, wikis, personal profiles, polls and surveys, status updates etc. While generally not as slick as the popular social networking sites, your VLE can offer a safe, controlled environment for collaboration and networking within your insitution’s community. Popular VLE’s include the free, open source Moodle, RM Kaleidos, Frog, and Microsoft Learning Gateway (SharePoint).

3. Set up occupational wikis, learners can update. Wikis are sets of linked webpages which can be created, edited, amended by their readers. Wikipedia can offer a good starting point. Content about a particular occupation, or region could be copied into your own new wiki, to provide some material which groups of students can build upon. Students add new pages and sections, and update the content as a result of their team research efforts. Many VLE’s will have WIKI features available, but there are also online services such as PBWiki and wikidot, which have free or low cost versions available. Various controls allow you to limit access by unauthorised users.

4. Encourage groups of learners to annotate and share web pages they find in their careers research. Diigo allows groups of users with shared career/education interests to view each other’s favourite webpages, and leave sticky notes on them, with their comments. When logged into diigo you benefit from being able to see your friend’s comments about the websites you visit – for example a user may highlight sections of a university website as being particularly useful.

5. Encourage groups of learners with similar occupational interests to share their bookmarks on Delicious. This site allows you to store all your bookmarks online, and share them with the world (or keep them private). Interestingly you can see who else has bookmarked the same site, and this can lead you to view another person’s bookmarks on your topic of interest. Often the resulting recommended links will be helpful to your own research.

6. Get learners to pose questions on Yahoo Answers and then evaluate the responses they receive to careers questions, or examine archived Q&A's from the site. Yahoo answers allows users to pose and answer questions. There is an active community of users who ask questions which are career and education related. The answers given are often immediate, sometimes quirky, and quite mixed in their accuracy, sensitivity, and impartiality. But they are real people’s views, and you do see real insights from people who know about specific jobs, giving information you would not find easily from more traditional careers resources. It’s helpful to discuss issues of accuracy, impartiality, bias with learners and help them to evaluate the quality of the answers they might get from sites like this.

7. Use Horsesmouth for learners aged 16 and over to find (and also become) an online mentor. There are thousands of mentors available. While their identities are not currently checked (you just have to have a UK mobile phone number), all discussions are carefully monitored and moderated by professionals, who intervene if they are concerned about conversations between mentors and mentees. The site also allows nuggets or pearls of wisdom to be shared. This is interesting because it potentially links young people with highly experienced professionals, with great understanding of their chosen occupational area. There are other ways to source online mentors, perhaps through sites like linkedin, or other social networks. If an institution is encouraging such use of social networks it will be important to check local policies, and if soliciting for mentors on behalf of young people, institution staff should seek to verify mentor identity.

8. Help learners find and subscribe to blog and RSS feeds from key experts in their chosen sector. This is a way of keeping up to date with the latest developments and issues in a particular profession or area of study. There are millions of blogs. Technorati offers a means of finding blogs, and often bloggers will list the other blogs they follow or recommend. Many news media sites will also have RSS feeds too. Setting up a blog can be a means for learners to express their own interests and establish some online identity and personal branding. Increasingly employers and admissions tutors check individuals out online. Having something positive in the form of a blog can be a useful way to prepare for such checks.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Permission to dream!

Klaus Nigel Pertl from Mindstore led a popular session on performance development at the National Learning Platforms Conference, held in Manchester, UK on 10th June 2009.

Klaus suggested we are used to change being smaller and more gradual than it is today. We used to “swim through” the waves of change by working harder and longer. But we can’t just do this in today’s business world because the size of the waves are so much bigger, and no sooner than you swim through you are hit by the next one. We need to become “surfers” and learn to enjoy the massive opportunities that big change creates, rather than simply battening down the hatches and weathering the storm. Action cures fear.

We all need more energy to cope with change. 5 factors for success:

1. STRESS handling – learn to relax, deliberately calm yourself down every 90 minutes, eliminate stress factors, change your belief system as to what things cause you stress (tell yourself daily and in 21-28 days such beliefs become habitual).
2. POSITIVITY – accept reality and when it is less than satisfying look forward and consider the next step. Immunise yourself by avoiding the use of negative words – don’t say “not bad” when you mean “good”. Rather than talking in the language of problem and worry, think of confidence, strength, challenge and opportunity.
3. CREATIVITY – we need both left and right brain activated to solve problems creatively. When you are being creative you have more alpha brainwaves, (similar to being relaxed). Define what you are looking for and understand the task ahead. Remember the subconscious mind is always working on potential solutions to our problems, so don’t expect immediate answers all the time. Pressurising ourselves does not always lead to faster solutions.
4. EMOTION – replace must or should with love to. When we are motivated positively by emotion (love, interest, pride, desire) we are much more likely (80%) to follow our plans through to fruition, compared to those without emotional motivation (10%). Goals become more achievable when emotionally backed.
5. GOAL SETTING – enabling ordinary people to do extraordinary things requires a new approach to goal setting. Committing and setting a goal marks the beginning of something – it is no longer a dream. BUT tying things down at the start to being “realistic and achievable” is not inspiring and constrains goals by pulling back with left brain thinking. Forcing goals to be realistic and achievable is a bit of a holy cow. These factors come from our past – so tend to bring us back to what we’ve done, tried and tested before, rather than allow us to be open to new ways. Also realistic and achievable requires us to plan. The obsession with planning makes ideas collapse. Plans have a place, but the details should be developed along the journey. The right brain is about flexibility and innovation. Maybe we use 10% of our potential each day.

Setting goals with the right brain.

P – PASSION – set goals which excite you and touch your heart as well as your mind, taking you out of your normal comfort zone. Ask yourself WHY you want it? What is your driving emotion? What excites you about this?

F – FANTASY – use imagination to think about something that is not yet reality.

D – DREAM – tap into alpha brainwaves in your relaxed state – create images, see yourself having already achieved what you want. Use visualisation since your mind can be programmed by seeing the ideas, the opportunities and this activates the subconscious mind.

Klaus closed by asking "When did you stop dreaming? Are your partner and kids still dreaming?"

As Careers Advisers I guess we must look frankly at the way we work with people and check we are not shutting down people's dreams, and that we ourselves continue to follow our passions. Are we being too rigorous in adheing to the SMART goal setting methods with our clients, and our organisations? Does everything always need to be quite so specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Connected Generation 09

There are still some free places left (at the time of writing) for the Connected Generation 09 Unconference on 11th July. It's being held near to Victoria Station in London, and will bring together a range of people interested in understanding digital technologies and using them effectively to engage with young people.

The "unconference" format allows the sessions to be largely proposed and selected on the day by participants, who convene discussions, workshops, meetings and demos according to what people feel are the hot topics of interest on the day. Very different to the usual planned conference agenda!

View the event website here.

Image credit - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdlasica/

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Computers could police social web bullies

A consortium of european universities, Professor Mike Thelwall of the University of Wolverhampton is leading a group of universities trying to develop software which can guage the emotional temperature of social websites like myspace of facebook. Bill Goodwin reports this story in Computer Weekly.

The potential for bullying is one of the many reasons schools, colleges and career advisers have shyed away from encouraging use of social networking sites for educational purposes. Schools also report they are regularly dealing with the aftermath of cyber bullying when pupils are inside the school gates!

The software has been trialled using myspace, and was found to correctly determine the emotional temperature in 60% of cases. While that may sound poor, it is as good as a human being reading the text entries. One of the problems is people mean different things when they use the same words. And those reading a negative comment meant as a joke, may not appreciate the joke, or misinterpret the original author's intentions.

The researchers plan to wire up human volunteers to measure the impact of emotional statements on users. Ultimately software could be developed which quickly detects deteriorating conversations, and steps in, perhaps alerting moderators, or temporarily blocking users.

Interestingly the researches found much more positive emotion than negative, countering the expectation that young male social networkers would be more likely to share nastiness than anyone else!

I'm not sure educators will be convinced they can totally dispense with moderation, but software which part automated the process of monitoring student online behaviour could help counter those who argue the social web is too challenging to use educationally because of the dangers of cyber bullying.

Image credit: Sybren Stuvel

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Turn to Twitter for *** instant*** jobs

Sky News has an interesting report about people using Twitter for jobhunting.

The link to Twitjobs is wrong though. You can find out about them at www.twitjobs.co.uk. They actually have a number of Twitter profiles targeting different broad occupational sectors. You can check out twitjobs here where you'll find around 5,000 people are following vacancy details being advertised on Twitter in the UK.

But there are also:

TwitJobsMedia TwitJobs_Sales twitjobsGRAD twitjobsCreativ and twitjobsFashion

The article also talks about the US site CLJOBS on Twitter, which checks and then tweets vacancies advertised on Craigslist every 15 minutes. Few people would have the patience to trawl Craigslist or similar classifed sites every few minutes in case of a new posting. This service takes that hassle away, and alerts you via Twitter of new jobs. Carefully composed twitter searches can be used to deliver you customised job notices via RSS feed to your chosen reader!

Both these sites are interesting. There's an urgency about jobhunting using Twitter, and CLJOBS particularly emphasizes the importance of being FIRST (or shall we say in the first few) across the recruiter's desk. I suppose it's quite appropriate to say in this case that the early bird catches the worm!

Image credit Matt Hamm

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Wolfram Apha Update

I attended a live webinar yesterday with Stephen Wolfram, who is behind the development of the Wolfram Alpha knowledge engine.

Wolfram Research will launch the tool in just a few weeks time. It's hard to describe, but unlike Google it does not trawl the web for weblinks in response to a query. Instead it tries to turn your question into a computation, and then applies that to the knowledge it has available to it.

For example a query "fish production france/poland" would assume you wanted to compare the production of the two countries. WA would access statistics it has on fish production and then create a graphical analysis over time for you.

The key difference to traditional search is that the content is being created for you in the few seconds after you press ENTER. It's not finding a graph in an existing document or website and linking you to it. So it could be the very first time anyone has ever tried to make that particular computation.

Wolfram Alpha is not going to work where questions don't have absolute answers - you need to be able to represent a question using computational terms, and obviously many questions won't fit that model.

Wolfram Alpha attempts to make up for this by using a side bar which will present results from other sources - such as Wikipedia if it knows nothing about the subject.

The system uses your IP address to make assumptions about the data and type of computation you may require. For example a query for "Richmond" in the United Kingdom would assume you wanted a statistical profile for the London Borough of Richmond, but in Virginia, it would assume you probably wanted a different area entirely. The results however give you options to clarify your query, so if I am in London but actually want to know about Richmond Virgina, I can easily select that option and the results change accordingly.

Stephen described the "four pillars" of Wolfram Alpha:

1. Data Curation - Wolfram has developed a methodology for curating data. They have a pipeline of data which comes to human experts, who correlate sources to produce reliable, computable data. 200 people are now working on the project. The topics available continue to grow on a daily basis.

2. Computation - The team has attempted to make accessible all known algorithms, formulae in the system. It now comprises 5 to 6 million lines of mathematica code.

3.Natural Language Processing - Wolfram Alpha carries out free form linguistic analysis to convert a question into a computation. It needs to be able to cope with different ways of expressing the same query, different spellings, short utterances, and ambiguity. For example does a query "11/7" mean a date or a division? The aim is that people can use it without having to learn analytical techniques.

4. Presentation of Results - The most important part is how the data is presented back to the user, so Wolfram Alpha prioritises elements of the data and decides which are the most appropriate graphics to render in relation to the query.

Stephen concluded that we have learned to compute lots of things in this world, but in the past carrying out such computation required expert analytical input. Now Wolfram Alpha will make it possible for the everyday web user to be an effective reference librarian/analytical scientist, performing analysis immediately and intuitively online.

There will be a free site, a professional subscription based site, where you could upload your own data to the system and make use of more advanced features. There is also the potential for corporations to buy services to apply the engine to their own corporate knowledge.

There will be a collection of APIs available which will allow users to use Wolfram Alpha or embed "pods" of information on their own sites, or even request data from the system to use in another website.

This could have enormous implications for the way in which both public and organisational data can be turned into knowledge by everyday users. It's clearly a very powerful tool, but I suspect its full potential won't be realised until the world is let loose on it in May.

Photo credit: Hybernaut

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Linked in liars - no surprise there!

Jame-Ane Irvin posed an interesting question to users of social networks this week:

is Lying on Linkedin comedy or career suicide?

Jame describes how an ex co-worker's profile changed several times, and his supposed length of service grew from the real period of under 6 months to a whopping 3.5 years. This person also claimed responsibility for company successes which pre-dated their employment.

So the question is how much on Linkedin - or for that matter other networks - is less than 100% honest? Well.... I guess if you think about the proportion of people who claim to embellish their job applications, CV's and resumes on paper, it should not really come as a surprise that people also do so in the newly emerging online networks too.

A few years back, Corporate investigations agency The Risk Advisory Group announced survey results showing some groups misled recruiters reoutinely. In fact women in their 30's were the most likely to have discrepancies. The proportion with discrepancies? 77% (of women in their 30's). And the most honest group? Men in their 20's

The researchers uncovered outright lies about qualifications, gaps in employment or even fraud against previous bosses. Another favourite tactic is to use friends as referees - providing you with a glowing recommendation every time!

So it comes as little surprise that Linkedin profiles also contain such discrepancies.

What's different of course is that in the past you tended only to share your paper CV or resume with the recruiter, the hiring manager and a couple of others on the interviewing panel. But with Linkedin the whole point is to share your details much more widely, and to do so with your former, current and potentially future colleagues. All of these people can potentially receive automatic updates when you update your profile, and you probably won't know which of your contacts are actually following your updates closely.

Lying on Linkedin is just as much a fact of life as lying on paper CV's, resumes or application forms! Getting noticed lying on Linkedin however is much easier, and being exposed is also very much simpler. So I agree with Jame-Ane that dishonesty on Linkedin (and other social networking sites where you are jobhunting) is indeed career suicide. Expect to get found out - if not by the recruiter or your boss, then by your co-workers.

So will those in your network agree with you that a little white lie is harmless, or that inflating your qualifications is not a problem since your job is not exactly brain surgery - right!? The social acceptability of dishonesty and deception may vary in different networks.

Surprisingly they may never tell you they know.... until that piece of information becomes valuable for some reason in future. What great ammunition! This shifts office politics to a whole new level!

Photo credit: Maria Trebol

Friday, 10 April 2009

20 ways to use Facebook for jobsearch

Tawny Labrum is from BINC, a professional headhunting firm on the West Coast of the United States. Tawny has posted this great article with a myriad of suggestions of how jobseekers can get the best from Facebook.

One example is Officebook, a Facebook Application which lets you check out the culture and values of a company before you join it. You add tags to describe your ideal values, and search against companies that other users have tagged.

Testimonials is another application which you can use from Facebook. It helps you to gather your personal, professional and academic references in one place from your teachers, friends, and co-workers. At the time of writing there are 4.5m testimonials from users of this app.

Easy CV has no connection with Stelios and budget european airline, Easy Jet... although the orange logo looks strikingly familiar! This app lets you add your resume to Facebook. It links data from your Facebook Profile to your CV/Resume. It also has a variety of formats including PDF and video. Some of the instructions are in french.

Other apps include, Linkedin Contacts which draws content from your Linkedin profile to display in Facebook.

There's also Inside Job, which helps you connect with friendly people working at US companies you'd like to work for. (There's something similar in the UK called CAREERMOLE - but it doesn't yet have a Facebook app.)

These are of course only a small selection of the huge number of applications people are developing for Facebook. Many job boards also have apps which stream matching vacancies to a user's homepage. This is valuable because for many people Facebook is their starting point on the internet - so if you want your content to be easily accessible you need to bring it to your audience using tools like Facebook applications.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Health & Safety Training

Here's a tongue in cheek look at the importance of health and safety in the office. Could be used in class as a great intro to the topic prior to work experience.

Health & Safety and YOU from Brandon James on Vimeo.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Graduates need work experience alongside their studies

CBI/Universities UK report, ‘Future Fit: Preparing graduates for the world of work’ was launched yesterday, and it makes interesting reading, but personally I think there's still a place for greater use of the social web to help students develop an insight into the world of work.

The research highlights the importance employers of graduates place on skills such as self-management, team-working, customer awareness and problem solving.

Eight out of ten employers said employability skills were a top priority in graduate recruitment. But a YouGov survey for the CBI also found that student's perception of the importance of work experience did not come close to this until students graduate and actually start applying for jobs.

At school/college only 49% think work experience will be an important consideration by graduate employers. After graduation this rises to 75% as reality bites. In fact half of graduates wish they had been offered a chance of work experience lasting more than one month and 41% wished they'd had a whole year's work experience as a sandwich year within their degree programme.

"Future Fit" recommends:

* Colleges should provide a dedicated resource focusing on the development of employability skills as part of degree courses, and use it to build long-term relationships with employers.

* More employers should offer work experience opportunities to students.

* Students should address employability issues from day one of their course, taking up the opportunities that are offered and regarding the acquisition of employability skills as a key part of their university experience, not an optional extra.

There are some interesting case studies demonstrating how universities and employers are working together to create opportunities for students to gain employability skills. The report also raises a concern that organisations may cut back on their provision of work placement opportunities during recession to concentrate on core business.

I believe the social web could have a part to play here, not just as a tool for students to use to find internships and placements, but as a place for reflection on the learning taking place in work experience, and for ongoing conversation between students, academics and employees.

* College career services can help update students about the latest opportunities, and provide tips and insights through services like Twitter, Facebook or blogs.
* Students should be encouraged to blog about their work experience.
* Employers should encourage their workers to connect with students through commenting on blogs, and writing their own blogs about their professional areas.
* Employers should also encourage workers to participate in industry social networking groups on sites like Facebook and Linkedin.
* Other ways employers can help may be through online video sites like icould.org offer learners the chance to view video case studies. In the US Career TV offers college students an insight into opportunities and employers.
* Careers Scotland has developed a virtual work experience for younger students, and a number of organisations have also used public environments such as Second Life to create virtual activities.
* Online mentoring is another possibility to explore. Horsesmouth lets learners connect with a variety of people at work to learn from each other and establish a mentoring relationship.

Even if physical placements start to dry up, and become shorter, students and employers can still engage through many of these social web tools. Of course we can't pretend virtual placements are a complete substitute for the real world, but they may still offer ways for learners to develop some of the skills and attitudes employers say they want from their future graduate workforce.

Photo credit: fotobydave

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The adventures of Johnny Bunko

You may think that in a time of recession the idea of being selective, picky and following your passion might give way to taking a job that's not quite that perfect fit for your passion....... but means the bank gets your mortgage repayment and your refrigerator gets stocked up.

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: Garr Reynolds created this excellent slideshow about the key points from Daniel Pink's book "The Adventures of Johnny Bunko - The last career guide you'll ever need". It all boils down to six tips presented manga style. I've added my own thoughts about how these tips might apply in today's economy.

1. There is no plan - you cannot map out your career path. (This is even more true in the current economy).

2. Focus on your strengths not your weaknesses - capitalise on your passion. (Strengths can be a powerful differentiator in a competitive job market).

3. Think how you can add value, solve other's problems and help others. (Employers are facing a range of problems and difficulties, and people with a solutions focus will be attractive).

4. Be persistent - keep trying, stay motivated. (We're hearing of hundreds applying for single jobs, so every jobhunter must expect knock backs, but persistence pays off).

5. Make mistakes - but learn from them. (Reviewing and learning from our experience leads to continual improvement).

6. Leave an imprint - make a difference, contribute, do something that matters. (Shape your job if you can, but if you don't have much scope to do so, find opportunities in your non-work time through volunteering, community involvement and supporting your friends and family).

Well I probably have to apologise now to both Dan and Garr - my summary doesn't do justice to either Garr's presentation or Dan's excellent book. I commend both of them to you!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Knowledge engine "Wolfram Alpha" won't give careers advice

Techcrunch featured an interesting article about a web service tipped to change the way we search the web for answers to factual questions. Wolfram Alpha is to launch in May 2009, and is described as a computational knowledge engine. It uses a natural language interface, so you can ask questions using everyday terms, and it "knows about" a variety of fields of knowledge.

It's very different from Google because it's not looking up answers and giving you a long list of possible matches. It's actually computing the answer, possibly to a question no-one else has asked it, making inferences and combining information to synthesise a result.

The writer, Nova Spivak suggests the system could never offer career or relationship advice, because this is by its very nature "fuzzy" - there's no single right answer. But it is certainly possible that information to support career decision making and job hunting could be processed by a tool like Wolfram Alpha. It could for example provide a fantastic user friendly way to access labour market intelligence (LMI), using data about starting salaries, occupational areas which are expanding/contracting, qualification or professional entry requirements for specific occupations in different countries. LMI has been notoriously difficult for the everyday user to access, and even professional advisers and counselors don't always find it easy to locate detailed, accurate, uptodate information about the labour market for their clients. Now more than ever, career decisions need to be based on best information, not gut instinct or best guesses or hunches. Making the wrong decisions about education choices could prove costly for those who get it wrong .

This tool is receiving a lot of attention online at the moment, and once it launches in May 2009, it will be very interesting to see how it may be able to support those researching career ideas!

Thursday, 5 March 2009

European Agreement to protect children on social networks

Last month 17 of the main European social web providers, including Bebo, Myspace, Yahoo Europe and Facebook signed an agreement to do more to protect children using social networks. It's good to see providers recognising their responsibility in this area. They will work to reduce risks of cyberbullying, risky behaviour (such as revealing personal data in profiles), and grooming by sexual predators.

Each provider will report to the European Commission in April on their own safety measures. The principles of the agreement are that providers should

* Have a "report abuse" button
* Ensure under 18's profiles are set to "private" by default
* Ensure their private profiles are not searchable
* Make privacy options prominent
* Preventing access by under-age users

These are all measures which can impact on safer use of the social web by teenagers. It will also make it more difficult for people to search for details of teenagers - for example careers advisers might legitimately wish to find out about a youngster's progression - perhaps from a school to a college or training programme. This will become harder if these measures are introduced, and will mean that career service providers will need to review policies, especially in relation to advisers presence on social networks, and how they interract with their teenage clients.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Social networks rot your brain

Or words to that effect. The Daily Mail brings us the chilling news that eminent Oxford University Neuroscientist, Baroness Greenfield believes that social networking sites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young. The Mail then recounts how many millions of youngsters are signing up to such sites as Facebook and Twitter, blissfully unaware of the harm they are inflicting on themselves.

One wonders if Susan Greenfield is a little out of touch with what people might be doing on social networking sites, and her comments to other politicians in the House of Lords appear to be based on observations relayed by a friend in the teaching profession. The Baroness also suggests we can't tell whether the increase in diagnoses of autism might also be down to increased social networking practices of the young!

This type of scaremongering is lapped up by the tabloid press, but appears to have little to actually substantiate the claims made.

It's ironic that children and young people today are over-protected by worried parents. They are prevented from going outside to socialise, because we believe it's too dangerous. Five years ago we'd have been complaining children were watching too much TV and not interracting enough with anyone. And now they are spending a lot of time interracting online, creating diverse, meaningful, collaborative relationships, older generations complain about that too. Of course the virtual world is full of danger - or so the tabloids would have us believe. So it's dangerous to go outside, but it's dangerous inside as well.

What's needed is some common sense here. There's space for young people to grow up and make friends in both the virtual and real worlds. And often these two groups overlap a great deal. Yes there are dangers in both of these, but there are also positive, valuable opportunities too.

Preventing or scaring young people from using social media deprives them of such opportunities. Closing off access to such opportunities cannot be a positive thing for young people.

Actually trying and exploring social media might be a more helpful approach for adults concerned or mystified by what it's all about.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Asking for help online

Mitch Joel blogged about a USA Today article earlier this month. The article was titled: Many turning to Web to ask for help. The story is that there is growing evidence that in this time of recession, people are turning to their online contacts and networks for support.

Mitch suggests that companies, as well as many individuals still don't fully understand the potential value that such networks can offer. They don't get the concept of social capital.

I think careers educators and advisers could play an important part in helping their clients appreciate the significance of social capital. We can also help our clients to adopt a more sophisticated and structured approach to building and utilising social capital in the research/job hunting.

One of Mitch's blog readers from Nashville, Tennessee comments: "I find myself recently unemployed but with the network of friends and colleagues that I have built up over many years the out pouring of encouragement is amazing."

What's interesting is that within our networks, it's believed that the loose, weak ties are often the ones which can offer us the most. The social web now offers us the ability to keep and maintain many weaker contacts, which we'd otherwise have long since abandonned.

At a conference recently a speaker commented that some young teenagers are happy to count almost everyone they have ever met as online contacts. For some it's a competition to collect the most "friends" or demonstrate popularity to peers. But it will be intersting to see how such young people make use of these contacts as they grow up.

And increasingly when times get tough(er), or we need help to find new opportunities, it's our social networks that will be the first line of assistance. Careers advisers, counselors and educators need to get to grips with the social web, they need to have a social web presence and learn how to engage with clients through this medium.

My picture here shows a cycle of social capital development. It draws on the work of John-Paul Hatala and FLOWORK - and if you are interested in this field I would thoroughly recommend their materials and resources. Check out their website here.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The social web and job hunting - stepping up a gear

Facebook spokesperson, Matt Hicks is quoted in a DM News article as saying that it's becoming more and more important for people to stay connected with their personal and professional networks. Those in and out of employment need to stay in touch and build their networks to find their next job and also get advice.

It's also interesting to see from the recruiter's angle that the potential of social sites like Facebook is gaining greater attention. Firms of all sizes are establishing a social web presence as a means of reaching out to potential recruits. Ernst and Young and JP Morgan are but a few examples.

Alongside this recruiters are taking advantage of the amazingly sophisticated ad targeting available on Facebook and other social web sites. For example you can control the presentation of your ad so it only appears to users in certain geographical locations, with particular experience, education or who have worked for certain companies. What's interesting to organisations is that they can reach out to both active jobseekers and also passive candidates. It enables a sort of online headhunting to be much more widely used.

The social web allows people to connect on the basis of very very specific niche interests and expertise. This means it is becoming possible to recruit with incredibly specific requirements, where previously only broad experience might have been requested.

Of course this brings implications for the candidate - if they have no online presence, or their profile lacks details about the specific experiences and expertise they have, then they won't learn of new opportunities.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Digital Natives

In November I attended a Conference run by the organisation, 4Children. Mark Weber from Atticmedia gave a presentation titled "Fear and Awe of the Digital Native".

The comparison between Digital Natives (young people who've grown up to be experts with technology) and Digital Immigrants (the rest of us) is well rehearsed. But Mark's take was slightly different.

He suggests the whole Digital Natives thing is overhyped, and when you look at the facts about users of social media sites, or indeed internet usage by age groups, some suprising things emerge.

I regularly hear the argument from professionals working with young people that they don't want to be seen to "invade teenage space". This excuse is used to suggest that Facebook, Myspace and other social networking sites should be off limits to adults. But Mark quoted US data from Jul 2008's Nielsen Online Reports, which showed the 35-49 year old age group was in fact spending the highest average time on their PC per month at around 91 hours, compared to the 32 hours 12-17 year olds spent on their PC. Even the over 65's age group spent on average 74 hours on their PC per month.

He also quoted data which showed under 18s formed just 16% of users of online communities. The largest group were 35-49 year olds, who accounted for 25% of online communities users.

Similarly when you look at Myspace and Facebook - the majority are over 18. And a large proportion are over 40.

Far from being technology dummies, older people are just as likely to be users of the social web and actively creating and using content.

So the suggestion is that the notion of the digital native and digital immigrant is an artificial categorisation used to excuse our lack of engagement with young people!

Of course young people may be using social websites in different ways to adults, and maybe older people like me spend twice as long online because they are just so slow with that mouse clicky thing...

It was interesting to hear Mark's suggestion that the real challenge for us in working with young people is to enable and encourage their origination of content and greater engagement. Young people should feel they are stakeholders not just consumers of our expert content.

Mark's presentation can be viewed at Slideshare.net