Thursday, April 09, 2015

I am an Atlantic Magazine alumnus!!!

It has become a common practice for companies to refer to former employees, especially those who left on good terms, as “alumni.”  This is more branding than anything else, but it has some HR strategic advantage.  In many of the sectors that do this, employees switch jobs frequently and might be good networking contacts in the future. The company might want to reach out to the alumnus at some later point to make an introduction, to collaborate on a project, or to buy-out their new hot startup.  Who knows, the company might even want to recruit them back for a new position later. 

Some companies are even creating alumni newsletters similar to the ones we get from our universities. These keep the former employee up to date on all of the exciting things goes on at their former employer.  Again, this is largely branding (they haven’t started asking for donations yet), but it also keeps them primed for the time when the company does want to ask them for introductions or collaborations. 

But I was a little shocked when the Atlantic Magazine sent me a notice that my subscription had expired and they wanted me to resubscribe. I get these all the time, usually with a special rate for former subscribers.  But the Atlantic referred to this as their special “Alumni” discount. 

I am cynical enough to see through labeling that is designed solely to frame the brand relationship.  Kind of like companies calling their manual labor, minimum wage employees as “associates” or a “family member” and then refer to their customers as “patrons” or also as “family member.”  There are some pretty outlandish stretches of the imagination out there for both categories.  All intended, of course, to make people feel special without actually doing anything to make them special, which might cost some money.

But for a magazine to do for a former subscriber takes some chutzpah.  I got the subscription using frequent flier miles and never renewed even once, so I am the least likely to renew or to be considered any kind of preferred customer.  I guess it doesn’t hurt.  But it does seem quite silly.

The Failure Resume

If you have followed some of the latest research in learning and education, you already know that we learn a lot more from our failures than we do our successes.  The reasons for this make a lot of sense both logically and neuroscientifically. 

Logically, it makes sense to learn from failures.  If we do what we think will work but it doesn’t, we better learn from it. Otherwise, we will keep making that same mistake every time, possibly leading to disastrous consequences.  On the other hand if we do what we think will work and it indeed does, what is there to learn?  We are better off just leaving our mental processes just as they are so that we can be right again next time. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

From a neuroscience perspective, it also makes sense. There is an important module of our brain called the anterior cingulate cortex which has one of its primary functions to monitor for mismatches between what our default network expects to happen and what our perceptual system sees happening. When it matches the ACC stays relaxed.  But when it doesn’t match it jumps into action, bring other systems into the fray to figure out what went wrong.

OK, on the today’s point.  Jeff Beer has a great piece at FastCoCreate today on resume writing. He cites an idea by Oglivy & Mather New York creative Jeff Scardino that if failure is what we learn from, why do we promote our successes on our resumes?  All we are doing is listing the experiences from which we didn’t learn. Wouldn’t it be more informative to brag about all of the learning opportunities we have had?  Wouldn’t that demonstrate to the potential employer how much we now know and what we can do?

My Take

Riffing on the idea little: Instead of listing our degrees (and adding GPA only when it is high), or previous employers (with projects where we were most successful), and skills that we have demonstrated, why don’t we do the opposite?  List
·         the classes where we failed, and what we learned from the experience
·         the jobs where we didn’t perform very well, and what we learned from the failed projects
·         the skills we haven’t mastered, and why we still persist in trying
·         references from past co-workers who didn’t think we were very qualified.

I don’t see us changing the model of resume writing. The shift to experience portfolios is even a stronger opportunity to promote our successes and brag about our skills. But since these have all become hyper-exaggerated anyway, wouldn’t it set you apart as a job applicant to take this approach?

I don’t really think this will happen anytime soon.  It would be really hard emotionally for the applicant.  And I suspect it would be hard for the hiring manager reviewing the resume to evaluate it as a series of learning experiences.  And over time, we would find ways to manipulate these as well.

Your Turn

Yes, this is somewhat tongue in cheek. But what do you think of the idea as a strawman to perhaps reconsider our current approach?