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Photo courtesy of mrjoro

Looking for a job, particularly in tough economic times, can easily fray your nerves.  Cold calls, cover letters, interviews all put you on the spot.  When you feel observed and judged, it’s not surprising that you get performance anxiety.  If you’re able to manage your nerves, you may get past them and really connect with a prospective employer.  When our nerves get the better of us, we end up talking too much (usually about ourselves) or clam up and miss the opportunity to show the interviewer how we could help their company.

A mentor once said that the best way to make a connection is to start with THEM, their concerns, their goals, their context.  Then make yourself relevant.  In a job search, that means that every time you reach out to a prospective employer, you lead with what you know about them and the position they’re trying to fill.  Once you’ve demonstrated some knowledge of their company or industry, they will naturally be curious about what you think you can add.  You may feel more comfortable playing the role of the good student interviewee who answers questions politely, but you don’t really have their attention until you’re talking about them.

In addition to establishing credibility, this approach reduces self-consciousness.  When you’re talking about them and the challenges your company faces and how you can help, your mindset is likely to shift from performance to service.  Most of us relax, think faster and more clearly, and show authentic charisma when we’re focused on being helpful rather than impressive.

So next time you’re talking to a prospective employer, focus wholeheartedly on them.  Find out what you can about their business and what they’re up against — and connect upfront with their point of view in your letter or your interview.  In most cases, they’ll pay closer attention to whatever you say next.  Even if they don’t, you’re more likely to stay cool, focused, and real.

3425248707_5c1500ddc5_mSmall business and entrepreneurship stories may not always get front-page treatment.  In case you missed them, here are some of the week’s top stories.

  • Is America becoming less entrepreneurial? Scott Shane, professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western, thinks so. Among other data, he points to declining self-employment rates and a downward trend in the number of new establishments created annually. He attributes this trend to the “Walmart effect,” where large, efficient companies replace independent stores. (New York Times)
  • India has hired a famous entrepreneur to help with its universal licensing plan. Nandan Nilekani, the co-founder of Infosys, one of India’s biggest computer-services companies, was appointed to run India’s scheme to issue a new, biometric identity card to each of the country’s 1.2 billion citizens. India has over 100 million internal migrants, but no form of identity is recognized in all parts of the country, making it difficult to vote, receive state benefits or open a bank account. The scheme is also being promoted for national security and immigration reasons. (Economist)
  • If you want to land a job, should you turn to Linkedin?  Continue Reading »

2191403717_39717f33deThose are words I have never heard. Usually, I hear, “Why didn’t I fire him/her a long time ago?” What prevents us from taking that strong right action quicker?

Firing someone is one of the hardest matters for us to get right – and yet one of the most critical. Reasons why we delay making a firing decision include:

  • “I’m loyal to my people.” Being loyal to one person, or giving them “one more chance” too often, can make us avoid making the decision. Sadly, that avoidance often hurts all the rest of our people!
  • “What if I fire the wrong way?” Everybody has heard stories about firing someone then getting sued. Whether the lawsuit is warranted or frivolous, it’s a massive time and energy sink. None of us want to deal with the stress and distraction of a potential lawsuit.
  • “What if I’m wrong?” Firing the wrong person can damage the progress of our group and can have a serious detrimental impact on the morale. Plus, our mistake becomes very public. We often ignore that not firing someone can have just as severe an impact on work progress and morale.

When faced with a firing situation, Continue Reading »

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July!

This weekend, as we celebrate our freedom as United States citizens, it is important that we remember the words of Lord Acton.  He may have been British, but he was known as one of the most articulate defenders of religious and political freedom — Sir Harold Butler noted:

Acton was better equipped than any modern English thinker to expound the true nature of the problems which now beset us. … democracy was a revolt against the political autocracy of absolute monarchs or dictators, but democracy itself might breed a new kind of despotism. ‘Popular power may be tainted with the same poison as personal power.’ The authority of the people must be restrained by constitutional checks and balances [Acton in later life came to admire the American constitution] to safe guard freedom and the protection of minorities. ‘The will of the people cannot make just that which is unjust.'”

Here are some of the great thinker’s insights on freedom and liberty: Continue Reading »

Customer Feedback


At Acton, our students are our customers (for more on this view, click here).  We rely — thrive even — on our students’ feedback.  To this end, Acton students fill out detailed, online surveys every week, even during Pre-Matriculation.  This allows us to make changes quickly and effectively.  They give us feedback on everything from the quality of group discussions to the time it took them to complete a reading assignment.  Students also rank teachers, which is how their bonuses are determined.

We are proud to announce that, so far, our new online courses for Pre-Matriculation have been receiving rankings of 4 out of 5 or higher.  We’d like to thank our students for their thoughtful feedback and our staff for their hard work!

Too many would-be entrepreneurs believe, ‘If I build it, they will come.’ Following this self-centered strategy yields a high probability of pouring lots of money into a dark hole.

A Master Entrepreneur takes every opportunity to observe the buying habits of potential customers and tries to form hypotheses about their motives. This leads to questions that help her dig more deeply into the emotions and habits that drive buying behavior.” – Jeff Sandefer, “Putting Yourself in the Customer’s Shoes”

Iran_06_23_09_Fenton_MediaAs protests continue in Iran, the news is filled with stories of innovators rising to meet the challenges created by the media crackdowns.  They’ve used Twitter to confound censors, engineered ways around blocked websites, and found ways to increase internet access.  With 70% of Iran’s population under the age of 30, and a very tech-savvy culture (in the 1970s, before the Revolution, Iran had the largest concentration of mainframe computers outside the US, and engineering and computer science have kept up since) perhaps such ingenuity should come as no surprise.

Such innovation reminds us that entrepreneurship often rises out of conflict and hardship.  Entrepreneurship is, after all, about meeting needs and solving problems.  Hardship, loss and conflict are in no way good, but we should stop and celebrate those who have both persevered and helped others.  Here are four stories of people who made the best out of bad situations — through entrepreneurship:

Continue Reading »


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