Unfortunately MoDo and The Moustache of Wisdom didn’t extend their long weekend, so we’re faced with them this morning. MoDo is still suffering from a bad case of unrequited passion, and has sharpened her little claws again. In “President of Scandinavia” she hisses that President Obama is not needy, except for his need to be above it all. MoDo, sweetie, this sort of thing is embarrassing. The Moustache of Wisdom has decided to instruct us all in “How to Get a Job.” He informs us that the rules have changed in today’s labor market, and that more employers care about whether a worker can add value, not where a college degree was earned. Here’s MoDo’s snit fit:
Like many others in our business, Jonathan Alter says he is “on fire” about the Justice Department’s snooping on reporters and attempting to criminalize investigative journalism, including labeling the respected Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation.
Alter — whose second history of the Barack Obama era, “The Center Holds,” comes out next week — is puzzled about why a former Constitutional law professor allowed such a sinister turn.
“What is it about Obama that he so disdains us?” he muses. “Presidents always hate leaks. Ronald Reagan said ‘I’ve had it up to my keister with these leaks.’ But they usually don’t act on it. Even if Obama didn’t personally sign off, people always sense by osmosis what leaders are thinking and go in that direction. His people know that leaks offend his sense of discipline and that he likes to protect his right flank by being tough on national security.
“Kennedy had been a reporter, but Obama is not friendly with the press. And he has contempt for people who don’t do their jobs, and, when you talk to the press out of school, you’re not doing your job.”
Alter, a fellow Chicagoan who thinks Obama has generally been a good president, has closely studied the central paradox about the man. “He won a majority twice in elections for the first time in half-a-century without liking the business he’s chosen,” the writer says. “He’s missing the schmooze gene.”
As Bill Clinton noted, it was strange that Obama was good at the big stuff, like foreign policy, and bad at the easy stuff, like connecting to people.
By 2011, Obama’s insularity was hurting him with Democratic donors, elected officials and activists, Alter writes, adding: “Democratic senators who voted with Obama found that their support was taken for granted. Many would go two or even three years between conversations with the president, which embarrassed them (constituents were always asking about their interactions) and eventually weakened Obama’s support on the Hill.”
It was not only powerful committee chairs and many Cabinet members who rarely spoke personally to the president, Alter notes. It was only in his second term that the Obamas invited the Clintons over for dinner in the White House residence.
Obama is not a needy person, but he needs to think of himself as purer than this town.
He wanted to be, Alter writes, “nontransactional, above the petty deals, ‘donor maintenance,’ and phony friendships of Washington. Here his self-awareness again failed him. In truth, he was all transactional in his work life.”
As Alter observes, “His failure to use the trappings of the presidency more often left him with one less tool in his toolbox.”
Obama did not understand why his stinginess with expressions of gratitude and phone calls could sting, or fathom the thrill of letters from the president.
“He fundamentally doesn’t relate to their impact because he wouldn’t particularly care if he got one,” the Obama adviser Pete Rouse explained to Alter.
At East Room events, Alter writes, Obama’s vibe was clearly: “I’ll flash a smile, then, please, someone get me the hell out of here. It wasn’t that he had to be back in the Oval Office for something urgent. He just didn’t want to hang out for an instant longer than he had to, even with long-lost Chicago friends.” The president sometimes “exuded an unspoken exasperation: I saved Detroit, the Dow is up, we avoided a depression — I have to explain this to all of you again?” That attitude caused him to tank in his first debate with Mitt Romney.
David Plouffe told Alter that Obama was “better suited to politics in Scandinavia than here,” meaning, Alter writes, “that he was a logical and unemotional person in an illogical and emotional capital.” Ironic, given that it was Obama’s emotional speeches that precociously vaulted him into the Oval Office.
When Obama was elected, he assumed he would be a good bridge-builder. “But he just had no experience dealing with Republicans in any significant way,” Alter told me. “He wasn’t in the leadership in Springfield or the Senate. He thought that just because he mussed up Tom Coburn’s hair that he knew how to deal with Republicans.”
On “Fox News Sunday,” Bob Dole told Chris Wallace that Obama “lacks communication skills with his own party, let alone the Republican Party. And he’s on the road too much.”
The president will have to learn the hard way: You can go over the head of Washington but it doesn’t get you anything in Washington.
The man who prides himself on his self-awareness is now trying to use more tools in the toolbox. So the main question, Alter says, is “whether learned behavior and his determination to have a successful second term and do things differently can win out against his natural inclinations.”
The historian believes that Obama does have the capacity to change. “He gets it now,” Alter says. “Is it too late? I doubt it. He wants to be remembered for more than being the first African-American president.”
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
Underneath the huge drop in demand that drove unemployment up to 9 percent during the recession, there’s been an important shift in the education-to-work model in America. Anyone who’s been looking for a job knows what I mean. It is best summed up by the mantra from the Harvard education expert Tony Wagner that the world doesn’t care anymore what you know; all it cares “is what you can do with what you know.” And since jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job — and, therefore, be hired. So, more employers are designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?
One of the best ways to understand the changing labor market is to talk to the co-founders of HireArt (www.hireart.com): Eleonora Sharef, 27, a veteran of McKinsey; and Nick Sedlet, 28, a math whiz who left Goldman Sachs. Their start-up was designed to bridge the divide between job-seekers and job-creators.
“The market is broken on both sides,” explained Sharef. “Many applicants don’t have the skills that employers are seeking, and don’t know how to get them. But employers also … have unrealistic expectations.” They’re all “looking for purple unicorns: the perfect match. They don’t want to train you, and they expect you to be overqualified.” In the new economy, “you have to prove yourself, and we’re an avenue for candidates to do that,” said Sharef. “A degree document is no longer a proxy for the competency employers need.” Too many of the “skills you need in the workplace today are not being taught by colleges.”
The way HireArt works, explained Sharef (who was my daughter’s college roommate), is that clients — from big companies, like Cisco, Safeway and Airbnb, to small family firms — come with a job description and then HireArt designs online written and video tests relevant for that job. Then HireArt culls through the results and offers up the most promising applicants to the company, which chooses among them.
With 50,000 registered job-seekers on HireArt’s platform, the company receives about 500 applicants per job opening, said Sharef, adding: “While it’s great that the Internet allows people to apply to lots of jobs, it has led to some very unhealthy behavior. Job-seekers tell me that they apply to as many as 500 jobs in four to five months without doing almost any research. One candidate told me he had written a computer program that allowed him to auto-apply to every single job on Craigslist in a certain city. Given that candidates don’t self-select, recruiters think of résumés as ‘mostly spam,’ and their approach is to ‘wade through the mess’ to find the treasures. Of these, only one person gets hired — one out of 500 — so the ‘success rate’ is very low for us and for our candidates.”
How are people tested? HireArt asks candidates to do tasks that mimic the work they would do on the job. If it is for a Web analytics job, HireArt might ask: “You are hired as the marketing manager at an e-commerce company and asked to set up a Web site analytics system. What are the key performance indicators you would measure? How would you measure them?”
Or, if you want to be a social media manager, said Sharef, “you will have to demonstrate familiarity with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, HTML, On-Page SEO and Key Word Analysis.” Sample question: “Kanye West just released a new fashion collection. You can see it here. Imagine you had to write a tweet promoting this collection. What would your tweet be?” Someone applying for a sales job would have to record a sales pitch over video.
Added Sharef: “What surprises me most about people’s skills is how poor their writing and grammar are, even for college graduates. If we can’t get the basics right, there is a real problem.” Still, she adds, HireArt sees many talented people who are just “confused about what jobs they are qualified for, what jobs are out there and where they fit in.”
So what does she advise? Sharef pointed to one applicant, a Detroit woman who had worked as a cashier at Borders. She realized that that had no future, so she taught herself Excel. “We gave her a very rigorous test, and she outscored people who had gone to Stanford and Harvard. She ended up as a top applicant for a job that, on paper, she was completely unqualified for.”
People get rejected for jobs for two main reasons, said Sharef. One, “you’re not showing the employer how you will help them add value,” and, two, “you don’t know what you want, and it comes through because you have not learned the skills that are needed.” The most successful job candidates, she added, are “inventors and solution-finders,” who are relentlessly “entrepreneurial” because they understand that many employers today don’t care about your résumé, degree or how you got your knowledge, but only what you can do and what you can continuously reinvent yourself to do.