Beware Diploma Mills

For my BlogTalkRadio program I am looking for Ph.D.s to interview about their research.  The idea is to inform, enlighten and educate the general public about research that is being conducted at institutes of higher learning.

Today I received a response from a woman claiming to have a Ph.D. in “Natural Health.”  Not exactly a topic that interests me but, the purpose of the program is not to interest me but rather listeners.  Health and wellness are topical subjects, and “natural” is very popular.  So I asked her to send me her research proposal and I also asked her where she received her doctorate.

She wrote me back that she did not do her own research but rather researched other people’s research.  That might actually be legitimate, but the fact that she wrote “I did not do my own research,” set off some alarms.  Regardless of how she did what she did, all colleges require students to submit research proposals explaining what they want to do, how they are going to do it, and what the expected results are.  Something did not sound right.  So I Googled her school, Clayton College of Natural Health.  Take your time, I’ll wait.

So you saw the lawsuit.  You saw that the website no longer exists, except for one allowing graduates to order transcripts and diplomas.  And you saw Wikipedia’s first paragraph, “The Clayton College of Natural Health was a non-accredited American distance-learning natural health college based in Birmingham, Alabama, offering classes on natural health. It was founded in 1980 by Lloyd Clayton, Jr. According to its website, the school at one point had more than 25,000 students and graduates. Before 1997 it was known as the American College of Holistic Nutrition  The school and some of its more notable graduates have been the subject of controversy.”

When I e-mailed her back to explain that because her degree is from a non-accredited college I felt uncomfortable having her on the program, she politely replied that she had a friend from Stanford who just got his Ph.D. and she would tell him about my program.   She did not respond to the issue of the college’s accreditation or lack thereof.

What’s sad is that she goes around the country speaking and uses the Ph.D. openly.  On her website she even mentions Clayton.  She is hiding nothing.  It’s all out in the open.  Wasn’t it Sherlock Holmes who said that the best place to hide something is out in the open?  Need to hide a book?   Stick it on a book shelf.  Her degree is out there.  I Googled her and did not find a single reference to the fact that her Ph.D. is illegitimate.   In fact, on one of her websites, she states that she has attended programs at Harvard and at the National Institutes of Health.  I know for a fact that they do not require a Ph.D. to participate in Harvard or NIH programs.  But one would think that someone would have picked up on this.

The point, my friends, is that if you attend an unaccredited college or university, you may get away with it.  But you may not.  And if you get caught, by an employer who only hired you because you qualified – in other words, you met the minimum academic requirements – when it becomes known that your degree is from an unaccredited college, you could very well be fired.

A couple of years ago I had an incident with a candidate.  He had a Bachelor’s from a State college but a second Bachelor’s from another school and ten years later got a Ph.D. from that same school.  The first thing that was strange was that he had two Bachelor’s.  It happens.  But he did not have a Master’s degree.  Again, plenty of Ph.D.s don’t have Master’s.  A friend of mine, now a professor at Yale, went to the London School of Economics.  He was accepted to their Master’s program.   After maybe a year  they told him, with British humor, that he was being kicked out of the program.  They waited long enough for his heart to stop and then told him they were putting him directly into a doctoral program.  It happens.  But I decided to check.

Google “Glendale University.”  Did you notice the link at the bottom to “Glendale University diploma mill?”  If you visited the Glendale website, it looks impressive.  They claim to be accredited by the National Distance Learning Accreditation Council.  If you visit their website, they have a long list of schools that meet their “minimum requirement and standards.”  But it does not say that those schools are actually accredited by them.  Want to know why?  Because they aren’t.  The University of Phoenix, which they list near the top of their list,  ” is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association.” They are legitimate!

But look again.  Notice that some of the universities are highlighted and some are not.  Click on “Suffield University” and go to their accreditation page.  They don’t even try to hide the truth.  They make it clear that their degrees are not recognized.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Cheaters never prosper.  Don’t waste your time buying a diploma.  Do it the right way.  Just think about how embarrassed you will be if someone publicly asks you about it.  My Clayton Ph.D. claims to be a sought after speaker.  What will happen if one day someone questions her Ph.D.?  The rest of her credentials may be legitimate.  She may actually know what she’s talking about.  She may even be good at what she does.  But whose going to take the advice of someone who claims to be something she is not?  True, she claims to be a Clayton Ph.D.  But the inference is that that is a legitimate Ph.D.  And that’s where the cheating comes into play.

I do career counseling.  I have a Ph.D.  My Ph.D. is in International Relations.  It says so on my website.  When clients come to me they are coming to me for my expertise learned on the job, not in the classroom.  They know it ahead of time.  Nothing is hidden.  Why?  Because I never want anyone to questions my credentials, my ethics, or my credibility.  I’m not perfect; I make mistakes.  But I’m right about this.  If you are thinking about “cheating,” don’t do it.  Get the degree the right way.

WORD OF WARNING TO VETERANS:  If a college is going to give you credit for your military work, check them out.  My guess is that they are a diploma mill.  Don’t let them take advantage of you.

Pharmaceutical Fornication – Part I

We’re being screwed!  It’s as simple as that.  If you did not get the chance to listen to my interview with Dr. Jeffrey Lobosky, you missed a fascinating discussion about the pharmaceutical industry.  Here are some of the highlights, or perhaps I should say, lowlights!

The $802 Million Controversy

Following World War II the pharmaceutical industry took off.  The cost of drugs began to rise, especially for seniors.  Seniors have always been a powerful lobby because seniors vote.  Congress threatened to regulate the pharmaceutical industry.  So the industry held a conference and explained, and this is true, that in the development of medications there are very few successes.  Research and development (R & D) did not guarantee the creation of new medications.  If the price of drugs was regulated, so they claimed, there would not be enough money to develop new drugs.  Everyone backed off and the matter was dropped.

Well, not everyone backed off.  The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine decided to research the claims made by the pharmaceutical industry and, specifically, the claim that it cost $802 million to develop a drug.  What she discovered was that in their calculations they neglected to deduct the cost of R & D which is tax exempt.  Moreover, their research focused on the 68 most expensive drugs that were developed in the year on which the research was based.  Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry factored in what is called the “Cost of Opportunity” which means the money that the company would have made had they invested the money in, for example, the stock market, and not used it for R & D.  (Feel free to read that sentence again.)  For her part, the good editor looked at all of the drugs produced in the same year and, deducting the cost of R &D and ignoring Cost of Opportunity, she came up with the price of $260 million for the development of a drug.  A lot of money, but far less that $802 million!

The Price of Drugs and Medicare

The grandparents are going to love this one!  The price of drugs is determined by the manufacturer, the insurance company and the pharmacy.  The more bodies the insurance company can deliver to the manufacturer, the lower the price.  Good ole’ fashioned capitalism at it’s best.  However…

The largest health insurance provider in the country is Medicare with 50 million members.  Medicare is forbidden, by law, to negotiate the price of drugs with pharmaceutical companies.  According to the Prescription Drug Act which passed during the second Bush administration, not only is it illegal for Medicare to negotiate prices, but it is also illegal to import less expensive drugs from Canada.  And it gets worse…

When the Republicans took over Congress after the debacle of the health care insurance attempt of the Clinton Administration, Representative Billy Townsend, a Democrat from Louisiana, switched to the Republican party.  When George W. Bush was elected president, he picked Townsend to shepherd the Prescription Drug Act through Congress.  Townsend worked closely with the pharmaceutical industry and, after the law passed, he resigned and became the head of the pharmaceutical industry lobby at an annual salary of $2 million.   (Don’t scream yet; I’ll tell you when I’m finished!)

When Senator Obama was running for president, he used Townsend as the example of what was wrong with the system.  When he became President Obama and wanted his own health care legislation passed, he sent for Townsend.  They came to an agreement.  The pharmaceutical company would agree to give back $80 billion over a 10 year period to Medicare and to sponsor ads supporting the president’s health care plan, and Medicare will still be forbidden to negotiate prices.  The problem is that it is estimated that if Medicare could negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies the price of medications, they would save between $70 and $100 billion annually!  (You may now scream.)

The Bayh-Dole Act

Historically, if research was conducted at a public institution using public funds, the results of that research were in the public domain.  In other words, if the research resulted in a new process or a new substance, a private manufacturer would not be able to get a patent if it were to commercially develop the substance.  In 1980 Senators Bayh and Dole sponsored legislation that enabled researchers to obtain patents on their discoveries and to license those patents to private industry.  In other words, tax payer money goes to a team of researchers at a university who develop a new drug.  They get the patent and license it to a pharmaceutical company that then manufacturers the drug at the normal high price of a medication that the company develops on its own.  So not only do tax payers pay for the research, they don’t benefit monetarily from the fruits of that research – they pay full price and the pharmaceutical company makes huge profits.

Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Before 1997 only New Zealand allowed pharmaceutical companies to advertise.   Then the US joined them!  Between 1997 and 2006, with the birth of television, radio and print advertising of medications, the average price of a drug went from $30 to $68 and the average amount of money spent annually for medications rose from $72 billion to $300 billion.  The advertising budgets (and this would be a component in the price of a drug) rose from $780 million to $5 billion.

Academic Journals

Pharmaceutical companies have formed a relationship with medical journals.  It’s really simple:  the pharmaceutical companies pay for ads and the journals publish articles that downplay side effects or exaggerate the benefits of certain drugs.  It’s a clear conflict of interest.  Questionable science is being supported by major advertisers forcing editors to choose between staying in business or academic/scientific credibility.

Ad-Induced Diseases

Because of the ads seen by the public, mild medical complaints have become diseases.  Simple maladies are now complex conditions.  Heartburn is now acid reflux.  Instead of just taking a couple of Tums, people were prescribed Tagamet.  When Tagamet’s manufacturer lost their patent, the new drug was Prilosec.  And, of course,  each new drug is more expensive than its predecessor.  But it’s not just heartburn.  A runny nose is now allergic rhinitis requiring Claritin.

Managed Care

Physicians are now in the hands of the insurance companies.  When the new system began, if they wanted the insurance companies to send patients their way, the doctors had to agree to lower fees.  In order to make up for lost revenue, that meant they had to increase volume.  So they hired physician assistants and nurse practitioners to see patients, or they simply sent patients to the emergency room.  And when they do see a patient, and the patient asks for a drug they have seen advertised, it takes less time to simply write the prescription than to explain to the patient why the cheaper generic alternative is just as good.

Robert Torricelli

Torricelli used to be a senator from New Jersey.  (He decided not to run for reelection following a campaign finance scandal.)  In 1999 he was chair of the Senate Democratic Reelection Committee.  It was his job to raise money to get Democrats reelected (or elected) to the Senate.  The manufacturer of Claritin was going to lose its patent on the drug.  They went to the Senator, gave him a check for $50,000, and the next day he introduced legislation extending their patent.

You have my permission to scream again!  And you are invited to listen to my next program on the pharmaceutical industry, on Monday, June 27 at 2:00 PM.  My guest will be Tom Loker, author of The History and Evolution of Health Care in America: The Untold Backstory of Where We’ve Been, Where We Are, and Why Health Care Needs More Reform.

What “Non-Profit” Means

This post originally appeared in 2006 on my blog, Non-Profit Concerns.

Back in 1991, Governor Richard Lamm of Colorado told his state’s Association of Nonprofit Organizations Ethics Conference, “there are a large number of use nationwide who are looking at the reasons why we give tax-exempt status to organizations.  America is filled with nonprofit hospitals that give practically no charity.  Certainly they give far less charity than their tax exemption is worth to them.”

That’s the concern. Here’s the history:

One of the things of which we as Americans can be most proud is our tradition of creating non-profit organizations to help the less fortunate. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote with admiration about the “associations” that our forefathers formed. As eloquently stated by Larry Kennedy in Quality Management in the Nonprofit World, “An organization that attains tax-exempt status is the beneficiary of a profound opportunity to apply entrepreneurship, compassion, and practicality in fulfilling social motivations while remaining exempt from any responsibility to underwrite the nation’s infrastructure through taxes. We are exempt from these burdens because we operate under the public perception that what we do is important to society and that we are managing a business that provides services for reasons other than personal financial gain.”

In 1939 the House Ways and Means Committee noted, “The exemption from taxation of money or property devoted to charitable and other purposes is based upon the theory that the government is compensated for the loss of revenue by its relief from financial burden which would otherwise have to be met by appropriations from public funds, and by the benefits resulting from the promotion of the general welfare.” As stated by the US district court in Washington, DC in the 1972 case of McGlotten v. Connally, by granting tax-exempt status “the Government relieves itself of the burden of meeting public needs which in the absence of charitable activity would fall on the shoulders of the Government.”

Tax exempt status, therefore, is granted to enable a spirit of entrepreneurship to blossom in areas serving the public good, by saving the government the burden of funding programming that charities are able to provide for the benefit of society, and not for the benefit of any one individual. (Not to confuse the issue, there are tax exempt organizations that are not 501(c)(3)s. For present purposes I am only discussing tax exempt non-profits recognized by the IRS as 501(c)(3)s.)

Today, in fact, there are two type of non-profits. The first are the classic non-profits. For example, any disease related organization that provides advocacy and education, and conducts research to rid humanity of the evil of Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, Parkinson’s or any other true scourge on humanity. Relying on some government funding and charitable donations they offer free services to the community.

Then there are those of a different type, as mentioned by Governor Lamm. Today the government in many cases provides both tax-exempt status and 100% funding for these very organizations. That gives these non-profits an unfair advantage over for-profit competitors which could eventually lead to for-profits lobbying to have their non-profit competitors non-profit status revoked. In fact, these organizations would be better described as government subcontractors.

Far from unique, there is the example of a New York nursing home that received $32,702 in private contributions and $46,866,827 from the government according to its most recently available 990. Their CEO’s compensation totaled $578,524 or 1.2% of the total. All nursing home residents must either have government or private insurance, or be private payers. No services are provided gratis.

This charity provides important services. It pays no taxes. Should it? Its for-profit competitors do. They offer the same services. Why the difference? Does the fact that one employee receives over 1% of all government and charitable revenue bring into question the issue of “personal financial gain?” (To keep things in perspective, taxpayers pay $20,000 less to the above mentioned CEO then they pay the president and vice president of these United States, combined!)

Of equal importance is the prohibition on partisanship. Because non-profits are to serve society as a whole, they cannot support one political movement at the expense of another. That’s why during an election year non-profits refrain from honoring politicians or inviting them to events, as all candidates would have to be invited. Take the infamous case of the former Bronx-based Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club. While there are usually three sides to every story, it appears that the Club, either with the knowledge or apathy of its Board, transferred some $875,000 to the anti-Bush liberal Air America radio station. Forgetting about everything else – including the improper use of municipal funds – that alone should be enough to have its 501(c)(3) status reviewed and possibly revoked.

Non-profits are tax exempt because it is recognized that there is a tradeoff between the non-profit’s work and the need to support society through the paying of taxes. In exchange for its providing services for the betterment of the community which, in its absence, the government would have to offer, non-profits do not have to pay taxes in support of local, state and national services. It is thus a win-win for everyone but only if all non-profits remember that they are to serve the public by saving the public an expense. If there is no tradeoff, if the non-profits receive government support (tax dollars), pay no taxes, and provide no charitable services, does not society lose? Is not the purpose of the law establishing non-profits defeated? And does this not endanger the status of all non-profits if for-profit competitors protest?

“Non-profit” does not mean not making a profit. By all means, make one. But that profit must be used for charitable purposes. It certainly cannot go to the aggrandizement of an individual, which may be the case when exorbitant salaries are paid. As Governor Lamm warned, it needs to go, at least at a minimum, to offsetting the nonprofits savings by being exempt from taxation. That’s what “nonprofit” really means.

Quality Assurance and Customer Retention

This post originally appeared in 2006 on my blog, Non-Profit Concerns.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch made many things famous, not least of which is the quality assurance program knows as Six Sigma. As explained by Martin Kihn in the September 2005 issue of Fast Company, “Sigma is the Greek symbol used to denote deviations from the mean. And so Six Sigma is essentially a set of procedures and tools designed to measure and analyze ‘defects’ in a process and help determine what’s causing them. The goal – the ‘six sigma’ part – is 3.4 defects per million, or 99.997% perfection.”

Ever wonder how the Japanese took over TV, stereo, electronics and automobile production from us? In the US manufacturers were willing to accept 5% rejects per million. In other words, for every 1 million anything that was Made in America, 50,000 would be no good. The Japanese lowered that number to 200 and gained industrial leadership. As Jay Levinson notes in Guerilla Marketing, “Every error that could possibly be construed as a mistake was noticed by people actually hired by industry to count mistakes. In the category of mistakes included shoddy workmanship, tardiness, breaks that lasted too long, minor flaws in detail work, low morale, and anything at all that impeded production.”

So how many errors does your organization make? How can you implement a Six Sigma program at your agency?

How often do you send out a mailer that is improperly folded? How many of your employees arrive at work late (begin the day eating breakfast) and leave as the clock strikes five? How often do staff go out shopping on their lunch hour and return, purchases and food in hand, and then take an additional 20 minutes to actually eat lunch? How many typos are there on your publications? How proud are your staff of where they work? How much bureaucracy do you have which stifles creativity?

J. Edgar Hoover had a rule that phones had to be answered by the third ring. If I call your offices, how long is it going to take for the phone to be answered – dare I dream? – by a real person?

How long does it take for a receipt to be sent to a donor? How long does it take for a stock letter to arrive?

Here’s one: How much failure do you encourage? Do you let your staff try new things? Do you celebrate the attempt, regardless of the results? Do you see failure as a learning experience? At IBM a manager was given $10 million to start a new program. After a year the attempt was a total failure. He went to his boss and offered his resignation. His boss refused to accept it on the grounds that they had just spent $10 million educating him!

Of course it does not need to cost anything, let alone millions, to get it right. It is all a matter of recognizing for whom you really work.

When working at a nursing home, a colleague and I made a presentation at the Greater New York Hospital Association. In passing she mentioned something about working closely with hospital discharge planners and I said something about having stories about the home appear regularly in the local newspapers. They were just passing remarks of seemingly no great importance.

After the formal presentation was over, she was asked how long it took her to respond to a request from a discharge planner. She said about 10 minutes. I was asked how often stories about the home appeared in the newspapers. On average it was 15 times a month.

Our colleagues were shocked. And so were we. One hospital discharge planner said that he was happy if he got a response for a request for a bed in two days. One community relations director said that her boss was thrilled if she got them into the paper once a month. They wanted to know the secret:

There is a saying in the Talmud, Know before whom you stand. In other words, know who your clients are.

The nursing home where we worked was a good nursing home. It had been before the new admissions director arrived, and was after she arrived. But her predecessor could only keep the occupancy rate a few points above 90%. The new director had us at 99%. Same nurses, same certified nurse assistants, same doctors, same therapists, same housekeepers, same maintenance staff, same food, same everything. What was the difference? Her predecessor felt that her clients were the potential residents and family members. The new director saw the discharge planners as are her clients. Instead of going to the hospitals to interview patients, family members, doctors and nurses, she stayed at her desk to answer the phone when the discharge planners called.

As for press coverage, colleagues at other facilities told me that their bosses had them sending out long press releases going into great detail about this that or the other thing that was happening at their facilities. For them, their bosses were their clients. Not for me. I explained to the boss that we had little control over what actually happens to our press releases. The longer they are, the more editing will be needed and the more mistakes will be made. So all I would do is send out a 3 to 4 paragraph press release with a photo. Basically, they were fillers – photos with long captions. That is what my clients, the newspaper editors, wanted. And what my boss really wanted was to see the home being recognized in the press.

Remember, your clients are not your bosses and board members. They are only the ones who hire and fire you! Your real clients are the persons who allow you to succeed at your work. They may be donors. They may be hospital discharge planners. They may be newspaper editors. They may be politicians. They may be organization members. They are the ones who utilize your services and the ones whose cooperation you need. Whoever they are, if you keep your clients happy, your bosses will also be happy. And the secret to doing that is quality assurance. There are literally thousands of other nonprofits to where they can turn. Don’t encourage them by being sloppy.

Board Member Responsibilities

This post was originally written on January 26, 2006 for  my previous blog, Non-Profit Conerns.

Writing in 1995, Peter Drucker, the dean of leadership studies in America, wrote in part, “Many people do not realize it, but the largest number of leadership jobs in the United States is in the nonprofit, social sector. Nearly one million nonprofit organizations are active in this country today, and they provide excellent opportunities for leadership. The nonprofit sector is and has been the true growth sector in America’s society and economy. It will become increasingly important during the coming years as more and more of the tasks that government was expected to do during the last thirty or forty years will have to be taken over by community organizations, that is, by nonprofit organizations.”

Fast forward a decade and we read a quote from Harvard Business School Professor James Austin in the September 2004 issue of Fast Company, “The growth rate of new nonprofits now exceeds that of private business formation and government expansion. Entrepreneurs go where the action is.” And the action is in creating 501(c)(3)s!

The problem is that a great many civic/community minded individuals believe that all they have to do is get a few friends together, send in the forms, become a non-profit, and sit back while foundations and philanthropists provide them with funds for their pet projects. Not so. Forming a non-profit means one thing and one thing only: responsibility.

The primary responsibility of a board member is his (or her) fiduciary responsibility. All non-profits must have financial oversight committees. The most scandalous nonprofit failures have been because of financial irregularities which resulted from board members not asking questions or from accounting firms not doing their job. Board members can be held liable for the actions of a nonprofit if they do not exercise due diligence. So ASK QUESTIONS!

Choosing the organization’s chief executive officer is the most public decision a board member can make – along with the CEO’s removal. Of course, hiring the CEO is not the be all and end all of human resources. The important thing, when hiring the CEO and all other staff is, as the saying goes, “hire talent, not skills.” If you hire skills, you will get someone who can do the job. If you hire talent, you will get someone who will grow and take your organization along with her (or him). One of the most ridiculous exercises I was ever involved with was my annual employee review. My boss took a copy of my job description and by each item marked a 1, 2 or 3. Since it was against the rules to give all of one number, in addition to the 3s I also got a couple of 3 pluses. Nonsense!

If over the past year an employee has not been doing her job then her boss should have known it and dealt with whatever the problems were. Grading someone on job description is grading the supervisor not the supervisee. (In fact, it’s the supervisor grading himself!) More importantly, it is a formula for stagnation. The proper performance review is to look at what the employee has done above and beyond the job description. That is the only way an organization will grow, and that has to be the goal of all board members, the growth of their nonprofits.

Board members need to bring with them to the board table their professional skills (knowledge and expertise) and contacts. If their expertise is, for example, in marketing, they should assist in that capacity. They should never be compensated. If they “volunteer” their company’s facilities, for example, in providing printing services, it should be clearly documented that they are not profiting in the least from the relationship. While it would probably be lawful for them to make a reasonable profit, it would not look good. Looks are impressions and impressions are reality. It is never worth it.

Many board members cannot “write the check,” but they have to be willing to open the doors to those who can, or who know someone who can. Board members are a crucial source for networking. If they are uncomfortable in this capacity, they should not be on the board.

Boards, working with the CEO, must establish the organization’s agenda, priorities and expectations, in other words, policy development. All of this is necessary within the context of formulating the organization’s mission and seeing to it that the organization, top down, acts in accordance with societal morals and values.
Finally, Board members need to be aware of the organization’s structure. Who is responsible for what? What is happening on a daily basis? This is not micromanaging, but macromanaging. Make certain that the organization is receiving proper legal and financial counsel. Make certain there is a conflict of interest policy in case any board member is directly benefiting from the work of the organization.

Sadly, a good case study is that of the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club. The Bronx-based Club, which has subsequently lost its affiliation with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, apparently (remember, there are always three sides to every story – if you’re lucky!) gave a loan of $875,000 in municipal funding to liberal talk radio station Air America. The transfer was allegedly made by the executive director, without the knowledge of the Board, but with the use of a signature stamp of one of the Board members. So what did they do wrong?

First, if improper use of municipal funds (or any other type of restricted support) is not a felony, it should be. Second, non-profits are supposed to be non-partisan. Giving a loan to a political radio station is a partisan act. Third, an executive director must report to his board about all financial transactions. Fourth, board members cannot have stamps of their signatures made as that, by definition, violates their fiduciary responsibility. Fifth, board members must ask finance related questions. Sixth, the bank should never have permitted a check to go through with a stamped signature. And seventh, where were the Club’s accountants?

As noted by John Hawks in For A Good Cause? How Charitable Institutions Become Powerful Economic Bullies, “As long as an officer or director exercises ordinary diligence and care, no personal liability will arise, even when actions or decisions made in poor judgment cause injury or damage.” What it all comes down to is this: Use common sense, be aware of what is happening, ask questions, demand reports and accountability, and you won’t have to worry about being embarrassed when you see the morning newspaper.

Conducting an Effective Job Search

The following is the text of my June 14 broadcast on Bruce Hurwitz Presents.

Welcome to Bruce Hurwitz Presents, I’m your host, Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.

Today’s broadcast is the second in our Oral Essay Forum and I’ll be discussing how to conduct an effective job search.  If you have any questions feel free to call in.  The number is 323-792-2978.

For those of you living in metro-New York, or who may be visiting on August 10, I’ll be giving a talk at The New York Public Library’s Science, Business and Industry Library at 6:30 PM on today’s topic – but in more detail.  Visit my website, www.hsstaffing.com, and click on the link on the home page to get the details.

The most effective way to find a job is through networking.  “Networking” means establishing relationships.  It does not mean exchanging business cards.  The goal of networking is to get someone to endorse or recommend you.

Let’s take a simple scenario.  You attend a professional networking event.  You chat with someone and exchange business cards.  She likes you, or rather doesn’t dislike you, but it is doubtful she would let you use her name when contacting an employer who is looking to hire.  And she knows of one.  Or she might know of one in the future.

So how do you turn a business card exchange into a networking situation?  By asking her, the woman with whom you want to network, what you can do for her.  Networking is all about giving, not getting.  Once you give, you’ll start to get.

A more modern way to network is over the Internet.  The best networking website is LinkedIn.  It is a professional networking website.  Everyone with whom you are in contact should, ideally, be in your LinkedIn network plus everyone who is willing to join your network.  For example, right now I am just shy of 20,000 first degree contacts in my LinkedIn network.  That means there are potentially 20,000 individuals whom I can contact to tell about positions I am looking to fill.  That also means there are 20,000 individuals who can contact me directly, through LinkedIn, to tell me that they are looking for work.

There are job boards on LinkedIn.  Now is not the time to go into detail but I invite you to watch my podcast for The Learning Annex on June 22nd at 3:00 pm.  The link is not yet active but you will be able to find it at www.ustream.tv/learningannex and click on Business & Careers.

In addition to networking, of course there are traditional ads.  They work.  The proof is that employers advertise job openings.  If ads didn’t work, they would not spend the money.

Of course, when networking and ads fail, or when an employer simply does not have the time, they may use a recruiter as should you.  Find recruiters who service your industry or profession and send them your resume.  Most recruiters do not advertise.  Advertising is counterproductive.  Let’s just say I have a search, I place an ad and I find the right candidate.  Well, that candidate may very well inform the client that I found her through an ad.  The client will then say to himself, “If Bruce found Cathy through an ad, why would I hire him in the future to conduct another search?  I’ll just place an ad myself!”  So by connecting with recruiters you can learn about non-advertised positions.

Regardless of how you discover the availability of a job, the following rules apply:

First, you need a good cover letter.  “Good” means short, sweet and to the point.  The recipient of the cover letter will take 10 to 20 seconds to read it.  A two-page treatise on your phenomenal career will wind up in the trash can.  You have to be focused.  The purpose of the cover letter is not to get you a job, it’s to get the recipient to look at your resume.  So get to the point.

In the first paragraph you announce that you want to apply “in confidence” for whatever the position is.  The reason for the “in confidence” is to protect you if you are presently employed.  While no employer should ever contact a candidate’s present employer, or anyone else for that matter, without the candidate’s permission, it could happen.  If it does, the “in confidence” line will make it easier for you to sue the employer if that employer contacts your boss and you get fired.

Continuing the first paragraph, state where you heard about the opening.  That’s important because it shows the employer that you understand how the game is played.  You recognize that the employer wants to know what he is doing that is effective.  So by telling him, for example, the name of the newspaper where you saw the ad, he knows where to advertise in the future.

Of course, if you are not responding to an ad, but are writing at the suggestion of someone in your professional network, here’s the place to mention their name.

Now you may be responding neither to an ad nor to a suggestion by a friend.  You may just want to work for the company.  In this case you should explain the reason.  Write something like, “I read in The Post that you are about to launch a new initiative that seems to be identical to one for which I was responsible when I was with….  I would like to offer my services in making this initiative a reality.”

The second paragraph is your elevator pitch.  It’s that one sentence that is going to want to make the recipient of the letter look at your resume.  The best example I have was a candidate of mine for a vice president of Human Resources position at a nursing home.  Nursing homes care about two things: the care and dignity of their residents, and keeping the union out.  Keeping the union out would have been the vice president of Human Resources’ primary responsibility.

My candidate wrote that he had successfully fought 12 union elections, meaning that the unions lost each time and the homes where he was working were not unionized, and that he lowered average annual employee grievances from 50 to zero.  When my client read that, she stopped reading, called me, and we set up an appointment.  Find the one thing that will impress more than anything else and put it in the cover letter.

The third paragraph answers any questions the employer may have asked in an ad – assuming you are responding to one.  For example, if a writing sample was requested, and they asked about salary, here’s the place to refer to both.  Mention that the writing sample is enclosed and tell them what you are earning.  You are not conducting salary negotiations.  In the end you will get what you negotiate.  All you are doing is answering their question.  If you don’t answer it, they probably won’t consider you.

In the final paragraph reference the enclosed resume.   Next, thank them for their consideration and state that you look forward to hearing from them.  And on that note, make certain that your contact information appears on the top of the letter.

Some people do not like to provide an address.  You should, but don’t have to.  But you should at least include your city and state of residence.  The area code of your phone number means nothing since the number most people use today is their cell phone number which they can keep for life.  The area code may be in Texas, while the person may live in Maine.  Make certain that your e-mail address is not cute, and that your voice mail message is not silly.

For sake of argument you have written an excellent letter and the recipient now wants to look at your resume.  That being the case, the letter was a success.

How long will the person, on average, spend on your resume?  About 10 seconds, if you are lucky!  So you once again have to grab the recipient right away, just like you did with the cover letter.

Begin with your contact information.  If they can’t find you, they won’t call or e-mail you.  And, yes, I have received two or three resumes that had no contact information on them, just the word “Confidential.”  They certainly were that…

The important thing is to start the resume with a section called “Selected Accomplishments.”  This section will contain about five bullet points of successes that differentiate you from your competition.  The first bullet point will be the example of your career success that you used in the cover letter.  Then give a few more.

Remember one thing: Don’t lie on your resume!  If you lie on the resume you can be fired, for cause, at any time.  A colleague of mine once placed an internal auditor at a non-profit.  The auditor did not have to be a CPA.  Her candidate wrote on his resume that he was a CPA.  He was working there a week or so, doing a fine job, but for whatever reason his boss decided to check.  It turned out he had not taken the exams but only the courses.  He was fired on the spot.  Don’t lie on your resume!

If you are just starting your career, after “Selected Accomplishments” should come “Education.”  Include the college you attended, the degree awarded, the year it was awarded, your major and your GPA.  After your first “real job,” your education is no longer that important.  It might qualify you for a job, but it won’t get you one.  A Harvard MBA, fresh out of school, should not have too much trouble finding work.  After all, she’s  a Harvard MBA.  But after that first job, she has to rely on her work record.  So if she’s a lazy and unproductive Harvard MBA, and her competition is a hardworking innovative community college MBA, guess who’s getting the job?

The next section, or the one before “Education,” is “Work Experience.”  List jobs going back 20 years.  Give your title, the name of the employer, the dates or years of employment, and a short blurb about the employer so that the recipient of the resume will know what type of business it was.  Then use bullet points to list your main responsibilities and accomplishments.  Do not repeat what you wrote under “Selected Accomplishments.”

Now comes the fun part.  Everything up until now is pretty much what everyone else will do.  So now you really have to set yourself apart from the crowd.

List any media citations you have.  Not many people have them.  Sign up at www.helpareporter.com and become a source for reporters.  Then you can say that you are “a recognized authority in your field.”  I’m a source and in the past 13 months I have been cited in over 165 articles in print and on the web.

Next list any publications that you have.  After that comes “Awards.”  This is a way for you to show that other people think you are great, not just you and your mother.

Have a section entitled “Languages and Special Skills,” if you have any.  Foreign languages are a great asset to any candidacy, so list them all.

And finally, “Volunteerism” or “Community Service.”  This can be problematic.  You want to show that you are involved with your community and like to help people in need, but too much of a good thing can be bad.  Don’t overdo it.

So let’s summarize:  You found out about a job, sent a cover letter that resulted in the recipient reading your resume.  And it’s a good resume.  So she wants to invite you in for an interview.  That’s the point of the resume, to get the interview.  Does she pick up the phone?  Nope!  She Googles you.

Everyone potentially has two Internet presences.  The first is the one you create for yourself.  It’s your LinkedIn profile, comments you’ve place on other people’s blogs, maybe things you have written on your own blog, or possibly your own website.  All of these need to be professional.  What else needs to be professional are your FaceBook and Twitter accounts.  Persons have lost interviews and job offers because of the foolishness that they have posted, especially photos, on FaceBook and the nonsense that they have tweeted about.  Clean up your FaceBook and Twitter accounts.  Make everything private and, if you can’t, take down whatever makes you look foolish.

The second Internet presence is what other people have placed on the Internet about you.  Be aware of it, but don’t worry about it.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  Complain, and the person just might make matters worse for you.  Most employers will ask for an explanation, or simply laugh it off.  I know of no one who has lost a job offer because someone on the Internet said something bad about them.  It’s not worth losing sleep over.

For sake of argument, you passed the Internet test.  Your phone rings and you are invited for an interview.

The preliminary interview will be the initial phone call.  All the person will want to do is to set up a time for a real phone interview – although they might invite you in for a face-to-face meeting.  But let’s say they want a phone interview.

There are a few rules.  First, get dressed.  You have to feel professional to act professionally.  Second, don’t be too relaxed.  Sit in a comfortable chair but not one that rocks or spins.  You want to literally force yourself to sit up straight.  Third, if you have one, have a mirror next to the phone.  Look at yourself and make certain your are smiling.  It’s true that people can really hear a smile in your voice.  Since you will not be able to benefit from body language, you have to come across as positive.  Smiling should do it.

This will not be a long and complicated interview.  All you need in front of you is your resume.  You are being interviewed about you.  You should know the facts, but it is human nature to forget something – especially dates of employment. You don’t want to make any mistakes.

Let’s say you do a good job and are invited in for an interview.  Here are the rules to follow:

First, arrive early.  There is no excuse for being late for an interview.  If you are late, you will not get the job.

Second, dress conservatively.  And don’t wear any cologne or perfume.  Women should not wear too much makeup or too much jewelry.

Third, when you arrive you will be greeted by the receptionist.  She will be asked for her opinion of you and it will count.  Make certain you treat her with respect and professionally.  Shake hands with her.  Surprisingly, very few people do.

Fourth, when the person with whom you are meeting comes to get you, stand up, smile, look her straight in the eye, give a firm handshake and thank her for inviting you for the interview.

Fifth, follow her lead.  If she likes small talk, chat.  If not, get down to business.  And remember, body language is important.  Don’t fidget.  Be a bit animated.  Move your hands.  Smile.  Make eye contact.  Don’t look down or up when you are thinking about an answer.  Always look straight ahead.

Sixth, an interview is no time to be modest.  This is what I call “’I’ vs ‘We’.”  You want to come across as a team player, but the company that is interviewing you is not looking to hire your team; they are looking to hire you.  So I always say the following, “I worked with good people.  We were a good team.  But I’m going to focus with my answers on what I personally did.”

Seventh, open ended questions are a way for the interviewer to ask you illegal questions.  She may want to know if you have any children and will therefore need time off from work without warning.   So she might ask, Tell me your negatives.  Or, she might ask, Tell me your positives.  These are opportunities to talk about your values, morals and ethics.  For example, in the case of negatives you can say, “There was time when… but I learned my lesson and now you get to benefit from the mistakes I made with my previous employers.  The most important thing I learned was not to repeat the same mistakes!”  And in the case of positives, which could also be negatives, “I pride myself on the fact that I have never lost a day’s work because of personal matters.  I keep my personal and professional lives separate – although I do take work home with me when necessary.”

Eighth, in general, when asked any question, but especially difficult ones, tell the truth, don’t talk too much, and don’t think you have to confess your sins.  What you are concerned about may be of no interest to the interviewer.

Ninth, you have to have questions to ask.  The questions should show that you have done your homework and researched the employer.  And, if possible, research the interviewer as well.  In any case, here are some powerful questions to ask:

  • What is the company’s turnover rate?
  • What is the average tenure of an employee?
  • Do you promote from within?
  • Why do you like to work here?

The first two questions tell you if it’s a good place to work.  The third question let’s you know if you will have a future with the company.  And the last question makes the conversation personal and shows that you are interested in the person with whom you are speaking.

At the end of the interview, smile, look the interviewer in the eyes, give a firm handshake and thank her for the opportunity to be considered for the position.  It’s perfectly acceptable to ask about the next stage and when you can expect to hear from them.

If they say to call them in two weeks, call them in two weeks.  If they don’t take your call, or if they don’t return your call, you didn’t get the job.  If they say they will be in touch with you and you don’t hear from them, you didn’t get the job.  And if you don’t get the job, send a thank you letter.  No one else will.  They’ll remember it and may contact you in the future.

In any case, after the interview send an e-mail thanking the interviewer or interviewers for meeting with you.  Include any requested information.  Then, mail a hand written thank you note to the persons with whom you met.  Unlike the e-mail, the note is unexpected and will remind them about you.

Just as you did with your Internet presence, make certain that you are prepared for a background check.  If you have a criminal record, tell them about it.  If your credit is bad, tell them before they find out.  Have an explanation, explain what happened, what you learned from the experience and why it makes you a better employee, and in the case of the credit report, what you are doing about it.  The important thing is not to try and hide anything and not to surprise the prospective employer.   Employers do not like surprises when hiring candidates.

Best case scenario, you get a job offer. Now the negotiations begin.  They will ask you what you are looking for in a salary.  The answer is critical.

If you say, “What are you offering?” then they know you are not a serious professional.  If the salary range was not in the job description, then you should have some idea of what the market is demanding.  After all, it’s your profession.  It also sounds like you are playing games.  Employers don’t like employees who play games.

This is the answer.  “I am presently earning X.  To make a move I will need at least an increase of Y%, depending on benefits.”  Now the ball is in the employer’s court.  Some benefits are worth more than salary so listen to what the employer has to say.  You don’t have to give an answer on the spot.  Promise to get back to them the next morning.  If it’s a good offer, accept it.  If you want the job but need something more, explain why.  You can make one, and only one, counter offer.  For example, I had one candidate who told my client, after consulting with me, that while a $10,000 increase was totally acceptable, his new commute would cost him $5,000 a year in gas and tolls.  A $5,000 net increase was not worth the move.  They gave him the extra $5,000.

Finally, only resign once you have a written offer in-hand.  As a general rule, you should give your present boss notice equal to your vacation time.


CEO Compensation: A Bronx Tale

Please note that this posting was originally written on October 17, 2006 for my previous blog, Non-Profit Concerns.

The Bronx, New York is a great borough. In a relatively small geographic area you can find the wealthy and the poor. If I remember correctly, there are more institutes of higher learning in the Bronx than any other similar sized region of the country. And, according to Guidestar, there are 928 non-profits. That is a testament to the caring and compassion of Bronxites. It also makes the Bronx a good “laboratory” for looking at non-profits which all share the same geographic area and, for the most part, the same client base.

CEO compensation, by which I mean the total pay packages of the top executives of non-profits, is a continuing bone of contention. Is anyone worth a $2 million salary? Should half million dollar salaries be paid by non-profit tax-exempt organizations, like nursing homes, that receive almost all of their funding from the government? Can anyone find fault with organizations that pays their top salaried employee less than 1% of their gross receipts?

There are 93 non-profits, out of the 928, who have 990s on Guidestar that show that they have a minimum of $1 million in revenue, and at least one paid employee. As someone who worked in the Bronx for 5 years, I know that the list is incomplete. For some reason my former employer, Morningside House Nursing Home, did not appear on the Guidestar generated list. I added it. There are others missing as well. While incomplete, it is an interesting academic exercise if nothing else. Look at the salaries and look at the percentage of the total gross receipts that they represent. Draw your own conclusions.

The salaries listed are of the highest paid employees. That may be a president, a CEO, CFO, executive director, director, principal, doctor, nurse, coordinator, or administrator, just to name the most common.

Again, draw your own conclusions… (and apologies for the lack of columns… E-mail me if you would like the Excel spreadsheet and I will be happy to send it to you.)

Organization Gross Receipts Salary Percentage
1215 Seneca Ave. Houses $2,106,513 $70,000 3.32%
Abraham House $2,167,695 $80,500 3.71%
Aging in America Community Services $3,959,650 $86,169 2.18%
Aguila, Inc. $4,871,147 $65,000 1.33%
Argus Community, Inc. $8,362,503 $156,848 1.88%
Belmont Community Day Care Center $4,886,449 $175,185 3.59%
Bronx Aids Services $6,611,505 $122,111 1.85%
Bronx Arts Ensemble $1,009,349 $55,753 5.52%
Bronx Charter School for Better Learning $1,135,518 $96,703 8.52%
Bronx Charter School for Children $1,628,159 $102,818 6.31%
Bronx Charter School for Excellence $2,028,828 $100,000 4.93%
Bronx Charter School for the Arts $2,685,487 $94,500 3.52%
Bronx Council on the Arts $1,462,867 $98,085 6.70%
Bronx Defenders $5,318,231 $148,534 2.79%
Bronx House, Inc. $3,766,020 $134,988 3.58%
Bronx Jewish Community Council $1,990,187 $88,760 4.46%
Bronx JCC – Home Attendant Services $17,702,429 $62,150 0.35%
Bronx Museum of the Arts $2,462,020 $65,768 2.67%
Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. $3,666,734 $126,104 3.44%
Bronx Preparatory Charter School $4,753,853 $108,191 2.28%
Bronx Lebanon Hospital New Directions Fund $1,078,654 $32,176 2.98%
Calvary Hospital $78,910,500 $458,336 0.58%
Cancer Service Network $3,080,573 $142,228 4.62%
Casita Maria, Inc. $1,929,677 $162,522 8.42%
Christian Community in Action $25,559,793 $66,118 0.26%
Citiwide Harm Reduction Program $2,997,359 $63,558 2.12%
Citizens Advice Bureau $21,910,573 $166,632 0.76%
Claremont Neighborhood Centers $1,823,849 $94,821 5.20%
Comm. Resource Center Develop. Disabled $10,763,204 $154,636 1.44%
Com. Care Man. Diagnostic & Treat. Cntr. $6,150,887 $228,445 3.71%
Concourse House Housing Development Fund $2,605,453 $57,982 2.23%
Creative Lifestyles $5,364,153 $168,169 3.14%
Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association $13,192,715 $81,544 0.62%
Downtown Bronx Medical Associates $65,249,865 $412,408 0.63%
Dreamyard Drama Project $2,248,431 $53,334 2.37%
East Bronx NAACP Day Care Center, Inc. $3,757,638 $62,800 1.67%
East harlem Council for Community Development $6,681,837 $150,000 2.24%
East Tremont Alumni Day Care Center $3,959,099 $78,593 1.99%
Families Reaching in Ever New Directions $2,639,035 $61,010 2.31%
Family Care Services $21,426,143 $84,080 0.39%
Family Life Academy Charter School $2,476,685 $96,397 3.89%
Family Support Systems Unlimited $14,761,303 $122,872 0.83%
Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation $4,456,798 $151,238 3.39%
Fordham University $526,706,428 $316,244 0.06%
Friends of Bronx Preparatory Charter School $4,017,568 $46,745 1.16%
Geel Community Services $4,709,690 $118,899 2.52%
Health People Inc. $2,981,536 $90,106 3.02%
Highbridge Advisory Council Family Services $15,889,748 $124,136 0.78%
Highbridge Community Life Center $4,371,561 $65,543 1.50%
Horace Mann School $68,030,265 $385,988 0.57%
Hunt’s Point Mult-Service Center $23,420,220 $182,145 0.78%
Institutes of Applied Human Dynamics $33,285,736 $231,683 0.70%
Kinneret Day School $1,782,646 $76,500 4.29%
Kipp Academy Charter School $4,409,458 $115,945 2.63%
Kips Bay Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Inc. $13,967,572 $331,815 2.38%
The Learning Tree $1,093,111 $12,310 1.13%
Life Adjustments Center $5,322,711 $235,251 4.42%
Marc After-School Program $1,114,212 $87,765 7.88%
Morris Heights Health Center $29,340,109 $374,824 1.28%
Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council $5,394,667 $130,702 2.42%
Montefiore Medical Center $1,502,034,230 $1,979,453 0.13%
Morningside House Nursing Home Company $49,149,935 $497,845 1.01%
New Era Veterans $1,411,210 $103,714 7.35%
New York Botanical Garden $86,333,767 $382,336 0.44%
New York Harm Reduction Education $2,713,593 $96,740 3.57%
New York Institute for Special Education $68,848,475 $377,478 0.55%
New York Medical Alliance, UFPC $102,766,373 $612,448 0.60%
New York Westchester Square Medical Center $69,742,164 $477,987 0.69%
North East Bronx Day Care Center $5,412,024 $175,000 3.23%
OP & CMIA Local 530 – Welfare Fund $9,879,985 $180,333 1.83%
Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute $7,506,990 $125,929 1.68%
Pibly Residential Programs $7,786,799 $119,422 1.53%
Puerto Rican Home Attendant Services $11,968,687 $60,796 0.51%
Readnet Bronx Charter School $1,164,372 $93,022 7.99%
Riverdale Country School $58,416,025 $374,289 0.64%
Riverdale Neighborhood House, Inc. $1,802,183 $111,647 6.20%
Sammon Build Center Housing Development Fund $1,269,317 $66,444 5.23%
SEBNC Quality Vending Services $15,085,383 $53,939 0.36%
Seventh Avenue Center for Family Services $1,637,120 $81,261 4.96%
South Bronx Housekeeper Vendor Program $4,517,181 $57,920 1.28%
South Bronx Overall Economic Devel. Corp. $9,475,809 $116,586 1.23%
St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, Inc. $1,240,233 $87,234 7.03%
St. Peter’s Children’s Network $3,574,152 $54,627 1.53%
These Our Treasures $3,246,390 $135,650 4.18%
Tolentine Zeiser Community Life Center, Inc. $5,281,764 $85,133 1.61%
Tremont Crotina Day Care Center $4,655,869 $90,782 1.95%
Tremont Monterey Day Care Center $3,370,326 $65,120 1.93%
Union Community Health Center $16,257,607 $89,070 0.55%
United Bronx Parents $10,111,701 $150,040 1.48%
University Consultation & Treatment Center $4,652,848 $74,246 1.60%
VIP Community Services $16,114,551 $235,000 1.46%
Wave Hill Incorporated $7,579,059 $104,400 1.38%
YM-YWHA of the Bronx $4,907,517 $183,210 3.73%
TOTAL $3,231,350,245 $15,613,768
AVERAGE $34,745,702 $167,890 2.64%