Hire an MBA by the hour

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Tired of getting gouged by consulting firms? BusinessWeek recently profiled a new site called Skillbridge where you can engage consultants by the hour or on a flat fee basis for prices that are much more reasonable than firms like Bain or McKinsey. Or, you can rent out a qualified candidate as opposed to hiring a new employee.

A growing number of companies are using freelance MBAs to access the same brain power they might find at a top-tier consulting firm. The demand has given rise to online marketplaces that are a cross between executive search agencies and freelance job sites—where the featured contractors are skilled at financial modeling, competitive analysis, and marketing.

The site claims that every consultant is screened and has a minimum of two years’ experience. For small companies and startups, this looks like a nice option to have.

It also offers a nice career option for consultants who are sick of the long hours and endless travel.

Cutthroat professional life in Washington, D.C.

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Netflix scored big this year with its new, original TV drama “House of Cards,” depicting life in Washington D.C. Needless to say, the cutthroat nature of life in our nation’s capital takes center stage, as most of the characters will do anything to advance their careers and influence in the city. Yes, it’s fiction, and some of the stories are a bit far-fetched, but a recent book called “This Town” by New York Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich portrays DC as a craven town where everyone is just focused on getting ahead. You can get some of the story in his latest article titled “How to Win in Washington.”

It’s not that Washington hasn’t forever been populated by high-reaching fireballs. But an economic and information boom in recent years has transformed the city in ways that go well beyond the standard profile of dysfunction. To say that today’s Washington is too partisan and out of touch is to miss a much more important truth — that rather than being hopelessly divided, it is hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has both democratized the political conversation and accentuated Washington’s myopic, self-loving tendencies. And it misses, most of all, how an operator like Kurt Bardella can land in a culture of beautifully busy people and, by trading on all the self-interest and egomania that knows no political affiliation, rewrite the story of his own life.

So read the entire article and the book and check out the show before you venture off to DC. This way you’ll have some idea of what you’re getting into.

But keep in mind that you’ll be one of many if you venture off there. DC is booming and life there was detailed in an article last year in time called “Bubble of the Potomac.” The author explains how a new affluence is flooding DC and likes to refer to it at über-Washington, working off the name of the popular Uber limousine app that is so popular in the city. This affluence, along with the natural political power base, has helped amplify the competitive climate described above. The article describes some of the realities in the city:

- there are two government contractors for every government worker. Yes, people are getting wealthy on government contracts.

- Washington is filled with young people. That’s always been true but seems even more true today. That culture is definitely affecting the nightlife and the city in general.

- Thursday night wheels up parties at Happy Hour are huge.

- Much of this is fed by the intern culture, which starts with free internships during college, then paid internships or entry-level jobs, and then it goes from there.

For may this will seem exciting. For others not so much. It’s another example of where you need to have your eyes wide open before making a decision.

Unassigned desks and new trends in company offices

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The world is changing as more workers prefer to be mobile, and companies are adjusting by radically changing the layout of office workplaces.

More companies are shedding square feet by shifting workers into unassigned desks. Being untethered suits increasingly mobile employees, but it can be a hard sell for people who feel like they’re losing status or privacy. For employers, the rationale is simple: saving money, attracting young employees and popping personal bubbles to push collaboration.

Nowhere is that more evident than the Ernst & Young Tower in downtown Cleveland, the city’s first new multitenant high-rise building since 1991.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young, which moved into the tower last month, placed more than 60 percent of its employees into a “hoteling” pool — a group that flits in and out of the office and uses an online system to reserve desks. Even the partners share offices.

The cost savings and improved flexibility are huge advantages with this movement, though it will be interesting to see over time how these changes affect worker productivity, recruiting and retention. One aspect that seems cool is the ability to reserve spots electronically. This can also apply to premium conference rooms, or just hanging out and using the room when it isn’t reserved for specific business.

Shale gas boom’s ripple effects on job market

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If you’ve been paying attention, you’re aware that fracking has led to a domestic boom in the production of oil and gas, including places like North Dakota and Bakken shale formation. Naturally, this trend has created a number of jobs directly related to the oil and gas industry, but as populations explode in places like North Dakota with these workers, we’re naturally see a significant ripple effect as services are needed for these new workers. This goes far beyond just creating housing and other services. The economic ripple effect is great news for the American economy.

An example would be a company like Safety Oil Services, which is focused on helping “safeguard the wellbeing of employees and the natural environment within the high-growth sectors of oil and gas-related services, including drilling and fracking.” This is one of many companies that provides necessary services to this growing industry.

Also, the demand for workers goes well beyond those directly employed by the oil and gas companies and companies that service them. BusinessWeek has an interesting article on how the shale gas boom is bringing opportunities for women as well.

While men dominate North Dakota’s shale-oil industry, women in the region are starting complementary service businesses ranging from oil-well geology to occupational testing to day-care and medical clinics. “There are great opportunities for women,” says Kathy Neset, 57, president of Neset Consulting Service. “Whatever skill you have, we need it in western North Dakota.” Neset and her husband founded the geological services company in 1980 in Tioga, which is in the northwest part of the state. More than one-fifth of its 180 employees are women. Neset regularly gives presentations at elementary and middle schools in the upper Midwest, encouraging girls to pursue careers as geologists, where salaries range from $80,000 to $140,000 a year.

Naturally, this is having an impact on wages as well. Read the entire article for a great snapshot on how these job opportunities are expanding for everyone.

If you’re in a rut on your job search and you’re open to relocation, start researching the areas of the country that are booming due to the fracking boom. You don’t have to be an oil engineer or rig worker to find work!

Jobless rate falls

Stocks jumped on this news as the report was expected to be bad. Again, the Labor Deportment made significant upward revisions to reports from previous months.

Overall the unemployment rate is at a 4-year low of 7.5%. Of course there’s a long way to go but at least we’re making some steady progress.

Are you an ideal employee?

It’s a fair question, whether you’re looking for a job or you’re settled in with a job.

This articles describes 15 traits of the ideal employee. It’s a great list for prospective employers as they evaluate job candidates, but it’s also a great checklist for those of us looking for a job. What can we do to add more value to our company? Here are the first two items on the list:

1. Action-oriented – Hire employees who take action and take chances. While chances may lead to failure, they will more often lead to success and mold confidence while generating new ideas. Stagnant employees won’t make your company money; action-oriented employees will.

2. Intelligent – Intelligence is not the only thing, but it’s a strong foundation for success. While there are many variables you can be flexible on when hiring, intelligence is a must or you’re going to be spending an abundance of time proofing work, micromanaging and dealing with heightened stress levels.

The term “problem solver” isn’t on this list, though many of the attributes point to this quality. It’s important to be able to identify problems, but the best employees will help you solve them and also take the initiative where appropriate.

As you look for a new job and prepare for interviews, keep this list in mind.

Telecommuting issues emerge at Yahoo!

There are may significant advantages for a company letting workers telecommute and work remotely. Productivity often increases as this flexibility makes workers happier. In today’s world, it’s important for a company to offer this option for some jobs.

Yet there are disadvantages when you don’t have workers together on a consistent basis. It’s impossible to replicate the casual environment of workers being together at lunch and around the office. Much gets done when people are together.

Every company needs to strike the right balance, and that’s what Marissa Mayer is trying to do at Yahoo!, but her recent announcement has sparked a backlash.

Here’s a clip:

“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.”

Just reading this, it seems like this could have been handled better by bring up the issue and looking at specific jobs. As stated above, balance is best.

But I suspect the problem may have gotten out of control at Yahoo! and that has prompted Mayer to take a hard line. Workers can be very productive at home in terms of how much they work, but it’s harder to keep workers focused on what’s best for the company if they are always at home.

It will be fascinating to see how this story develops.

The emergence of social entrepreneurship


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With the rise of social media and the emergence of tech entrepreneurs giving money to charity, many of the lines between non-profits and regular businesses are starting to be blurred. Here’s a summary of the issue.

Whether there is a profit motive or not, the notion that business has a role to play in addressing societal issues is at the heart of today’s discourse on social entrepreneurship. Defining what social entrepreneurship is as well as the difference between it and traditional non-profit management as well as philanthropy is a flourishing discourse. Coined by Bill Drayton of Ashoka in the early 1980’s, the term social entrepreneurship has become somewhat of a catch-all phrase. Originally it referred to someone with the passion of an entrepreneur tackling a social challenge. Now, it has evolved to a number of meanings including but not limited to social interventions with distinctly business characteristics as well as businesses themselves.

With his remark, Dr. Yunus hit upon one of the main themes of the book: the blurring line between profit and non-profit, business and charity when providing a social good. The term non-profit organization has been used to describe what an organization is not rather than what it is. The equalization of social service work with non-profit balance sheets became sacrosanct. In order to do good, common practice and wisdom told us, we could not also do well. Now, that notion is being turned on its head. Not only do social investors believe that it is possible to do good and do well, other aspects of the old mindset are falling away. Many non-profit organizations are developing profitable income streams to both help their constituencies as well as the sustainability of their organizations by ensuring a stable bottom line. Throughout this book, stories of individuals and organizations are blurring the distinction between profit and non-profit are presented.

Read the entire article. It might spark some great ideas!

Considering job swaps


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There are all sorts of new management ideas and trends these days, but the idea of the job swap is very interesting, and possibly very useful.

One morning in May Nadim Hossain drove to work, sat in a weekly sales forecast meeting, met with the marketing team, and gave feedback on ad messaging. Only it wasn’t his office, his job, or even his company.

À la the TV show Wife Swap, Hossain, then vice president of marketing at San Francisco-based PowerReviews, was in the midst of an executive job swap. He traded roles for the day with Jon Miller, VP of marketing and co-founder of San Mateo, Calif., software firm Marketo, hoping to gain some insight into his own role by experiencing someone else’s.

It worked. Since PowerReviews — now owned by Bazaarvoice — is a Marketo customer, Miller came away better understanding the issues facing chief marketing officers. Hossain, for his part, returned to PowerReviews with pages of notes on ways to motivate his sales team, woo big brands, and identify leads. “A fresh environment is always a good way to generate new ideas,” Hossain says.

Check it out and then consider this for members of your team.

Fracking heats up the job market

Fracking, also know as hydraulic fracturing, is pretty controversial among environmentalists. The process threatens groundwater, but then natural gas burns much cleaner than coal.

Another issue affecting the fracking debate involves jobs. With the natural gas boom fueled by fracking, we’re now seeing a ton of drilling for gas, and also oil, and that’s creating many jobs.

On the East Coast, abundant natural gas flowing from the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, is enriching farmers who lease their lands to production companies and is estimated to have created 60,000 jobs in the region, with another 200,000 possible by 2015.

Cheap domestic energy is also good news for the manufacturing sector. “The discovery and development of North America’s shale resources has the potential to be the most remarkable source of economic growth and prosperity that any of us are likely to encounter in our lifetimes,” U.S. Steel CEO John Surma told the Congressional Steel Caucus in a late March hearing. It’s a virtuous cycle: More drilling requires more steel, and lower energy costs give U.S. steel producers a cost edge. This at a time when the Department of Energy reports that the energy intensity of U.S. steel companies is now among the lowest in the world.

In St. James Parish near Baton Rouge, ground was broken last year for a $3.4 billion steel plant being built by Nucor Steel (NUE), the first major facility built in the U.S. in decades. U.S. Steel is investing in a new facility in Lorain, Ohio, and V&M Star Steel (the North American subsidiary of the French pipemaker Vallourec) plans to spend $650 million on a small-diameter rolling mill in Youngstown, Ohio.

It’s not just Big Steel that will benefit. Feedstock made from cheap natural gas is a boon for the petrochemical industry. Citing “the improved outlook for U.S. natural-gas supply from shale,” Dow Chemical (DOW) says it will build an ethylene plant for startup in 2017. (Ethylene is used to make things like plastic bottles and toys.) Dow will also restart its ethylene plant near Hahnville, La. Shell, which is building a new petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania, is also considering a $10 billion Louisiana plant to convert natural gas to diesel. “Low-cost natural gas is the elixir, the sweetness, the juice, the Viagra,” says Don Logan, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. “What it’s doing is changing the U.S. back into the industrial power of the day.”

Studies show that fracking will support millions of jobs. Of course some will argue that green jobs are even better for the economy, and the environment, in today’s economy we can’t be too picky.

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