Lenny Liebmann, a writer and consultant who has done a remarkable job of riding the ups and downs of the tech roller coaster, refuses to predict where the ride will take us next.
"Engineers believe because they can do something, there is a market for it," he says. Not so. Human factors and profitability trump technological know-how. "We have seen this time and again," Liebmann says. "Look at the picture phone. I saw it at the 1964 World’s Fair." The technology worked, but humans showed little desire to use it. "A lot of people talk about all the non-verbal cues, but we’ve learned to talk on the phone for business. People don’t want to be seen." Not when they’re on the phone.
Issues from messy offices to bad hair days helped put the picture telephone on hold, but the technology that made the devices possible did turn out to have commercial applications, among them adult entertainment (a.k.a. online porno) and distance learning.
Liebmann is reluctant to name the next big thing — or even the general direction of the tech revolution, but there is one indicator that he tends to trust. "Watch kids," he says. They lead the way in finding practical uses for technology. "Instant messaging is a great example," he says. "It’s something everyone missed." Everyone, that is, but kids. The grammar school set has been comfortable holding real-time computer conversations with multiple friends for years. "Instant messaging could be pretty valuable for business too," says Leibman, "but business is still not using it."
On Thursday, February 28, at 4 p.m. Liebmann speaks on "New Communications Challenges: Collaborating and Decentralizing" at a meeting of the New Jersey Technology Council at Brookdale Community College. Also on the panel is Tim Smith of Gartner Dataquest. Cost: $40. Call 856-787-9700.
"It’s really about telecommuting," Liebmann says of the event. Liebmann himself is not a telecommuter, nor does he work in an office. A graduate of Yale (Class of 1979), he has never spent time in a cubicle. The summer after he finished school, he took a job in a summer camp in South Jersey. There he met his wife, Gerda, a graphic designer. He had majored English, and the two decided to pool their talents and start a business.
"We were two kids with no money," Liebmann says. He wrote copy and his wife provided the illustrations. In the first of a number of accidents that made him into a technology expert, the couple got a contract with AT&T and Bell Labs to produce technical training materials. With no background in technology, Liebmann says, "I had to assimilate a lot about technology." That knowledge allowed him position his two-person company as experts in just-emerging fields.
"I gravitated toward networking technology," says Liebmann, "and the next thing I knew there were all of these start-ups." They all needed written materials, and the Liebmanns were able to pull in all the work they wanted.
Then another technology trend pushed Gerda Liebmann out of a job. Desktop publishing made graphics a commodity, and everyone with access to a computer an instant graphics expert. "I’d like to say I saw desktop publishing coming," says Liebmann, "but I didn’t." No matter, Gerda was more than content to stay at home raising the couple’s two children, Leif, now 15, and Asa, now 12.
At about that time, Liebmann went into consulting. Attending a conference, he met the editor of a networking publication that was having a little trouble pulling in advertisers. She asked him what she could do to make her magazine more attractive to them. "Add a column on the back page," he suggested. "It gives the publication a personality." Her next question was: Who should I get to write it? Liebmann, without much thought, said he would be perfect for the gig.
He then found "there was a tremendous market in technology for simple declarative sentences." He went on to write for a number of publications, including Network magazine and Communication News, both of which are still clients, and for Internet Week, which, not surprisingly, has now folded. He also writes white papers, reports, and speeches for technology companies.
He does this writing from his home in Highlands, although he did come close to becoming an actual employee during the height of the Internet boom. "When you’re offered enough money you always think about it," he says. In the end, the freedom of the home office won, and he remained independent. "I’d like to say I saw the Internet bust coming," he says, "but I didn’t." In speaking about telecommuting, Liebmann draws on both his background in technology and his experience as a remote worker. Some of the issues surrounding this way of working include the following.
Technology. In addition to computers, modems, and cell phones, innovations like instant messaging software can make work from home more feasible. "It’s a more important tool than E-mail," Liebmann says. "It most mimics in a virtual way the attributes of doing business in the same place."
With instant messaging software turned on, users see which of their co-workers and clients are online, and icons allow them to alert others that they are busy, or will be away from their desks for 10 minutes. Instant messaging also allows for instant file transfer. "It’s like passing a document across a table," says Liebmann. "It has much the same speed and feel."
Instant messaging will get better. Right now competing systems are often incompatible, and their virtual conference features — that let many people join together in a virtual room — do not work all that well. But no matter how sophisticated the technology, Liebmann doesn’t see it as tipping the balance toward more universal telecommuting.
Lifestyle. September 11 prompted a number of companies to get serious about setting up telecommuting arrangements for their employees, ensuring that they could continue to work if something happened to their offices. But Liebmann doesn’t see that tragedy as the biggest telecommuting driver. "There are much, much larger forces," he says, ticking off "scarcity of skills and talent pools, attitude toward lifestyle, and the nature of knowledge work."
Oh, yes, and traffic. "Look at the Route 1 corridor," he says. Or the bus ride from Toms River to Manhattan. "It just gets harder and harder." At some point, valued workers tote up the hours they are spending commuting, and decide they have had enough.
Business policy. But while workers may push to work from home, and employers may be eager to keep them happy, there are a number of details to be worked out. "There’s insurance," says Liebmann. What happens if an employee is injured while working at home? There are tax considerations, and questions of whether the home worker has become an independent contractor, or if he is still an employee. There are management issues, and issues of accountability.
Often a telecommuting arrangement is put in place for a valued employee who wants to stay home with a child or keep working despite a cross country move. Typically, there is no question that this employee will continue to be a star performer. But "what happens when it’s five people, and then 10 people?" Leibman asks. What happens is that telecommuting becomes more complicated for the company.
Culture. "When I first started working from home in the ’80s, it meant you weren’t a real business," says Liebmann. "It was something you concealed." Now, he says, "it’s a status symbol." People envy him, but may not realize what they would give up if they did manage to push away from their corporate desks.
"We have deeply ingrained psychological issues about what a water cooler is," he says. Pats on the back are also important. They may be replaced by the growing range of smiley face icons on instant messengers, but the change will take some getting used to.
Liebmann is fine with smiley faces, and gets along without water cooler chat. An example of how productive a worker with no boss at his shoulder can be, he says "If I’m working, I’m working." As is the case with most self-employed people, he works long hours. But he has flexibility. "I don’t answer to anyone," he says. "I fool around with my kids. I eat dinner with my family, and I play PlayStation if my brain is fried. Then I go back to work."
#h#Understanding Arab Americans#/h#
Why is it the less we know about a people, the more violent our judgments of them seem to be? In truth, most Americans, through ignorance, relegate all Arabs, Turks, Moslems — and frequently even citizens of India — into one "Mid-Eastern" bag. This ignorance has placed millions of Arab Americans in the crosshairs of potential prejudice.
To help remedy this lack of knowledge, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) presents a forum on "Multicultural Communication: Understanding the Arab American Experience" on Thursday, February 28, at 11:30 a.m. at the Madison Hotel in Convent Station. Featured speaker, Helen Hatab Samhan, executive director of the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAIF,) explains exactly who New Jersey’s 168,000 Arab Americans are, who they are not, and what their particular roles and challenges are today. Cost: $38. Call 973- 984-6184.
"We do not feel we can change minds, but we can help people form more educated opinions. We can help build relationships," says Michael Sheranton, president of the New Jersey chapter of PRSA. The nation’s largest public relations professional organization, PRSA offers members an opportunity to network, share expertise, and find positions via its electronic bulletin board.
"Did you know that most of the 3 million Arab Americans are Christian?" asks Samhan. If you answered yes, place yourself in a very small minority of Americans. Many wrongly meld the Muslim and Arab communities. This unfortunate lack of knowledge has served only to muddy our vision of exactly who Arabs are.
"Basically," says Samhan, "Arabs are a linguistic, cultural, and political — but not religious — entity of the 22 nations of the Arab League." Geographically, the league stretches from Morocco in the west, through the Levant, to the Arab peninsula. Ethnically, Arab Americans are those claiming either recent origin or ancestry from this group. Neither Turks, Iranians, nor Pakistani are Arabian by virtue of their nationalism. Yet, as with Tanzania and the United States, these countries hold many citizens who trace their roots to the Arab culture.
"Massive Arab immigration to America began about 120 years ago," says Samhan, "and has continued in several different generational waves."
Samhan, an expert in Arab immigration, grew up in New York and then in Englewood. In l975, she moved to Lebanon to take graduate studies at the University of Beirut, centering her thesis on the very early Syrian immigration to the United States. Since then, she has returned to the U. S. to work for the Arab American Chamber of Commerce in New York, the Arab American Anti-Discrimination League, and in l985 she become one of the founding board members of the Arab American Institute (AAI), which has a website at www.AAIUSA.com
Back in 1880, Arabs joined the Eastern and Western Europeans flooding through America’s coastal gateways. Most of these folks came as families, as Christians, and settled around urban centers. Facing the standard amount of discrimination against newcomers, they solidified and integrated within their communities. Following World War II, and then again in the late ’60s, a new type of Arab immigrant entered the picture. This was the refugee, frequently a student, or a single individual fleeing wars and political upheavals. These immigrants ran the full economic spectrum, and tended toward the higher end educationally.
Today the Arab American community has inconspicuously labored to fulfill the American dream while maintaining its own heritage. New Jersey, the most ethnically diverse state, boasts over 168,000 Arab Americans, with nearly a quarter of those in Bergen County. Of the nation’s 3 million Arab Americans, these facts may prove surprising:
Over 82 percent are U.S. citizens. Most were born in this country.
Thirty-six percent hold bachelor’s degrees. Over 93 percent of Arab Americans have graduated from high school — a fact that shatters the stereotype of an ethnic core of unschooled sheep herders.
Most earn a good living. Seventy-three percent of Arab Americans work in the professional, managerial, sales or technical fields, earning a mean income of over $53,000, which is $8,000 above the national average.
How have Americans scored on tolerance toward citizens of Arabian origin? According to Samhan, surprisingly well, and getting better. While the entertainment and news media have lagged, individual Americans before 9/11 proved generally accepting. But there were cultural challenges for Muslim Arabs. "It is a lot easier to provide time for the five daily calls to prayer in Egypt than it is in the U.S.," says Samhan.
Following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Arab American Community braced itself for a bitter racial backlash. Some such incidents did indeed come. Yet, says Samhan, "the president set a very positive tone, and the Christian churches came forth with surprising amount of sympathy and subsidy." But Samhan says there is a tendency to pass over Arab Americans for raises and promotions, particularly by businesses that fear placing them in highly visible positions.
Other issues include post-September 11 detention of terror suspects. These arrests, designed to root out terror cells, has fallen nearly exclusively on the Arab community. Samhan and other Arab American Institute members have worked with federal authorities to hammer out legitimate boundaries of interrogation and searches and screenings for illegal immigrants. Ironically, she notes, the FBI casts a much narrower net than the general public in its suspicion of this ethnic group.
An Arab who overstays her visa is no more likely a terrorist than a maid from Madrid, argues Samhan. "But too many of the public are ready to cast all Arab Americans in that role."
The AAIF insists that tolerance’s greatest ally is humanizing all people. Arab Americans must seek not to be inconspicuous, but rather to be known personally and individually among the rest of us as fellow citizens. Also, Samhan interestingly insists that we should not seek to separate Muslim Arabs from Christian Arabs, but rather to view the Arab community for what it is — richly diverse in all faiths, opinions and social levels.
Writing & Rewriting A Winning Resume
People are crazy desperate," says Susan Guarneri, "Either they have lost jobs, or they see the handwriting on the wall." Guarneri’s Lawrence-based business, Guarneri Associates, does job search coaching and career counseling. Another service is resume writing.
Demand is high.
"A lot of clients I’m seeing were very recently downsized, or see people all around them downsized, and are thinking `Maybe after 29 years with this company, I’m not as stable as I thought I was.’" Among Guarneri’s clients are supervisors and managers in the manufacturing, distribution, and transportation industries. While distress in the financial and pharmaceutical industries get more press, Guarneri notes that there is "a ripple effect." Think about it: If an AT&T or a Bristol-Myers Squibb is cutting back, it has less need for warehousing and moving goods and materials.
Among the suddenly out-of-work and the fearful employees Guarneri is seeing are a good number who have not written a resume in 10, 15, or 20 years — if ever. She is telling them that writing is a whole new game. A game with rigid rules, a infraction against any of which will send the resume straight to the trash. Well, not actually the trash, but rather a black hole in cyberspace.
"A seven-year-old resume is really old," says Guarneri. So old that it is useless. That is because optical character reading (OCR), introduced into personnel departments in or around 1993, has shifted the job of resume review from humans to machines. "Only the very largest companies used OCR at first," says Guarneri. Now, however, nearly all employers use the technology. "It’s cheaper," she gives as one reason for the change.
Efficient, speedy, and non-discriminatory, OCRs are not as flexible as the human mind. "They can’t figure out where you would fit in the company, what job would be good for you," says Guarneri. They search for specific information, and categorize resumes based on what they "see," not what they intuit. There are no "Ah!" moments when the machine, pausing to study a resume, thinks "I never thought of it before, but this guy would be perfect for that recreational director/corporate outing position I have been meaning to create."
No, the resume must be oh-so-clear on exactly where its owner would fit in, on what open position he is qualified to fill. "Employers and recruiters are telling me they want `quick match’ candidates," says Guarneri. Matching up in the age of OCR means crafting a resume with just the right keywords. Here is Guarneri’s advice on getting it right:
Figure out your focus. Some clients ask Guarneri for a generic resume they can use for the three of four types of jobs they would be happy landing. "It doesn’t work," she says. "It totally confuses the system." For each resume you must be clear on whether you want to land a position, for example, as a geriatric social worker or a teacher of social work at the graduate school level.
Search newspapers and the Internet. Find job listings for the exact position you seek. Then make a table of all the keywords you find. "It’s basically an extraction process," says Guarneri. "Extract all relevant words based on knowledge, skills, and abilities."
Separate required from desired. Count how many times each keyword appears in the ads you have cut out or downloaded. Then rank them. The words that appear the most are "required" words. The ones that appear almost as frequently are "desired" words. For example, the social worker might find "MSW" and in every ad, and "clinic" in six ads out of 10. The ubiquitous words must be included in the resume, and they must make it in more than once. Words that appear a little less frequently should be included if possible.
An OCR separates job candidates based on the keywords it finds. If every required word turns up, the candidate joins those being considered for the job. If many of the desired words are present, too, he moves up in the pack, and gets closer to an interview.
Get the keywords up high. Create a qualifications summary near the top of the resume, and pack it with keywords. Here is an excerpt from a resume Guarneri just worked on with a manager in the financial services industry. "Finance manager with in depth experience in financial administration and property management, proven ability to develop and manage client relations, insuring high productivity. Experience includes administrative management, property management, project management, accounts payable, cash management, billing, and visual practice management software (VPM)."
Use Synonyms. Notice that the last item, the software with which this manager has experience, is both written out and given as initials. Some electronic resume readers will search both ways, but others will not. So, for example, be sure to get in words both in their fully-spelled-out form and in their abbreviated form.
Prepare for both humans and machines. Sometimes humans do read resumes. The resume written for humans should be written in a fluid, readable style. Resumes that go straight to machines, however, should be written in truncated language Guarneri likens to that found in a telegram. Just string the nouns together, separated by periods. So it would be, "administrative management. property management. project management." Verbs and connecting words would be left out.
How to tell whether a resume will be read by a human or a machine? Guarneri says employment ads often indicate which will be the case. Any call for "scannable resumes" means the documents are going straight to the machine, and truncated language is the way to go. When carrying a resume to an interview or a job fair, prepare the human-friendly version, but bring along a scannable version too, perhaps with a sticky indicating it is ready for scanning.
Repeat keywords in the body of the resume. Some of Guarneri’s clients think it is only necessary to get the keywords in up high. Not so. Employers look for support for the knowledge, skills, and abilities enumerated at the top. They should find it in details of work history, education, awards, and professional affiliations mentioned farther down.
Don’t overdo a good thing. Given OCRs’ fondness for keywords, wouldn’t it be a good idea to throw in hundreds of them? No, says Guarneri. "Many OCRs stop reading after 80 keywords," she says. All of the important ones have to be there, but they have to be chosen carefully.
Follow the rules. Name always goes on top of the resume. "Not the word `resume,’ but name. Always name," says Guarneri. Next comes the qualifications summary, and then education. She sees many clients who put education down at the bottom of the second page, but the OCR may not get that far, and will toss them out for not having the degree or degrees that it is programmed to see as required keywords. Certifications and licenses come after education, which is followed by work experience in reverse order — last job first.
Send correctly. After all the work is done, and the keyword resume is complete, remember to send it off as an Ascii or plain text file. Anything else may come out the other end as gibberish.
While the keyword resume is one more step away from human interaction, Guarneri praises the focus it forces on job seekers. "I’ve seen too many people who don’t figure out what they want to do, and put it on others." With the keyword resume, there is no waffling, no "Gee, I don’t know exactly what I want to do. I just want to work with people." The job candidate must be crystal clear about who he is and just exactly where he fits in.
#h#Business ABCs for Tech Entrepreneurs#/h#
Since 1992 more than 600 new entrepreneurs have learned about balance sheets, marketing strategies, and loan opportunities by attending the Entrepreneurial Training Institute’s classes. A program of the New Jersey Development Authority for Small Business and Minority and Women Entrepreneurs, the ETI provides more than instruction. Bankers are present to help members of each class obtain financing to get their new ventures off the ground.
Now the ETI is offered specialized training to one of New Jersey’s hottest entrepreneurial subsets — people who have recently started, or want to start, a high tech business. Software or circuits, websites or biotechnology innovations, whatever the high tech product or service, the ETI’s new instruction initiative will help get it into the marketplace.
"High tech entrepreneurs know their technology," says Glenn Phillips, spokesman for the ETI. What they often don’t know is where to find funding, how to purchase equipment, how to negotiate a lease, where to find good employees, how to manage these employees, and how to build a business plan that will appeal to potential investors. To address these needs, the ETI holds its first series of "Business Planning for High Tech Entrepreneurs" classes on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. at DeVry College of Technology. The first class begins on Wednesday, March 6. Cost: $295. Call 609-292-9279.
Classes will be taught by accountants, lawyers, marketers, and banking professionals with expertise in high tech business, says Phillips. Benefits for students include not only instruction, he says, but also the opportunity to network with venture capitalists and potential lenders.
E-commerce may not be driving stocks to record highs, but it is relentlessly becoming a part of everyday business life. For those who want to enhance their position in E-commerce, the Mercer/Middlesex Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is offering a Managing E-Commerce Seminar Series on Thursdays, March 7, 14 and 21, at 6 p.m. Each of the three seminars takes place at the offices of the co-sponsoring New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO) on Route 206 in Hamilton.
Titled "Initiating E-commerce," "Developing a Winning Website," and "Marketing Your Website," the seminars feature Nat Bender, director of E-business services for the SBDC state office. Bender will lay out a coherent commercial program both for firms initiating new products as well as those seeking to expand sales of established brands. Cost: $20 one seminar, and $50 for all three. Call 609-989-5232.
The Small Business Development Center consists of 18 regional offices throughout the Garden State each with the goal of providing tools for the entrepreneur. On Tuesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrenceville Library, the SBDC (www.yourbizpartner.com) will repeat its free workshop "How to Start Your Own Business." It also offers a mentor/protege program in which veterans guide new capitalists through the business mine field.