I work on the team focused on helping job seekers find jobs at LinkedIn. Our team shows up to work everyday energized to find ways to help job seekers with our products. So, we felt a great deal of pain as we saw so many posts on our feeds sharing news of layoffs as COVID-19 hit and upturned our lives.

While some of these stories looked ahead with optimism, others shared real constraints – money/tuition loans, insurance, visas running out, and so on. We also saw so many members on LinkedIn repeatedly reach out to members who’d come forward asking for help with referrals and support.

As we observed all this in our attempts to figure out what we could do to help, we realized that one way we might be able to help is to move quickly to enable those who needed urgent support share this request (with the help of a frame on their photo).

We made #OpenToWork available to all our members yesterday. If you know someone in urgent need of help/are in need of urgent help yourself, we hope they/you find this useful.

And, if you’re looking to be of help, please just make your way to the #OpenToWork hashtag and reach out to folks.

Personally, this product was one in the “this might not work.. but wouldn’t it be incredible if it did?” category. There are many promising early signs so far and I’m really hopeful it’ll help.

Product aside, this also was a deeply fulfilling journey. As a good friend and partner-in-crime on the project nicely put it, it was one of those rare times when wonderful people, meaningful problem, and an opportunity to make an impact came together.


Solitude and leadership – a few excerpts

A few excerpts that resonated from the speech of the week – “Solitude and Leadership” by William Deresiewicz.

So it’s perfectly natural to have doubts, or questions, or even just difficulties. The question is, what do you do with them? Do you suppress them, do you distract yourself from them, do you pretend they don’t exist? Or do you confront them directly, honestly, courageously? If you decide to do so, you will find that the answers to these dilemmas are not to be found on Twitter or Comedy Central or even in The New York Times. They can only be found within—without distractions, without peer pressure, in solitude.

Here’s the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts. You are marinating yourself in the conventional wisdom. In other people’s reality: for others, not for yourself.

You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice, whether it’s yourself you’re thinking about or anything else. That’s what Emerson meant when he said that “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Notice that he uses the word lead. Leadership means finding a new direction, not simply putting yourself at the front of the herd that’s heading toward the cliff.

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought.

But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.

High signal reference checks

We see, ask for, and contribute to formal and informal reference checks often (“Hey, do you know x person? How are they to work with?”). And, while most folks who worked closely with a person can provide useful feedback, I’ve observed the following for the highest signal-to-noise ratio:

1) How well they communicate and hold a room -> their manager’s manager, an executive they reported into, or their manager (in that order).

2) Their ability to both lead and be a good colleague/teammate -> folks on cross-functional teams with no reporting relationship.

3) How good they are at their job -> peers, followed by the manager.

There are exceptions to these observations – typically folks up the reporting chain who manage to stay abreast of the detail. But, that aside, hearing strong positive feedback from a peer with close working experience is among the strongest positive indicators of a person’s ability to contribute on the job.

Getting a refund on airline tickets

Tip: If you had booked airline tickets pre COVID-19 that you’d like to cancel, don’t rush into accepting a credit from the airline. You can accept the credit till a few minutes before your flight.

Instead, wait till a week or two before the flight, call the airline, and check in on your flight status. The agent will likely explain that your flight has been moved significantly – e.g. 8 hours before or after – and that you’ve “missed a notification” (which you never received).

You can now explain that such a big move doesn’t work for you and that you’d like a refund instead. Your refund request will then be approved.

(H/T: ThePointsGuy.com for explaining how to approach this)

PS: Airlines are in a tough spot and are doing whatever they can to avoid refunds. The agents on these calls are doing their best to do their job and hopefully keep their jobs. So, while you’re at it, do spare a thought for them too.

COVID-19 – June notes

5 notes on COVID-19 –

1) We’re still in the first leg of the pandemic. Unlike notes I shared in the early days, we now have plenty of data on how things are going. So, I thought we’d take a quick look.

I had two takeaways when I looked at this. First, I expect the US, Brazil, and India to be up in any list that shows total number of cases. They’re among the most populous countries on the planet. But, that then raises a question – how is it that Indonesia and Pakistan (similar populations to the US and Brazil) aren’t featuring on this chart?

Next, the trend in the US is plain scary – especially given we’re clearly in the first wave.

2) But, since the chart above has a population bias, the chart below is a better chart to look at. This one looks at new cases per million people.

This chart, in turn, tells two stories.

On the one hand, it shows how well the European countries have flattened the curve. In the early days, we were talking about how impressively the likes of South Korea were dealing COVID-19 in comparison with the likes of Italy. This shows that the European nations found their way eventually.

On the other hand, it shows just how badly the US has botched it.

I also took a look deaths per per million people to see if it’d show something new.

I didn’t realize the extent to which the UK botched their response in the early days till I saw this. I wonder if Boris Johnson’s own COVID-19 experience changed his administration’s approach.

I’m still not clear why the death rate is significantly different across nations. For now, I’m running with the assumption that # of new cases are the best leading indicator we have.

3) I was surprised to India’s trend line to be so low on the “per million people” chart vs. the other. It speaks to the population related biases that makes this chart so much better. Based on this, it does look like the government has done an admirable job – at least relatively. That said, I do worry that we’re still in the early days of the pandemic. So, time will tell.

4) I think there are 4 factors that determine a nation’s response to a pandemic like this one – 1) competence of the government, 2) population density, 3) culture (collectivist vs. individualist), and 4) extent of politicization of important issues.

Based on this hypothesis, I wasn’t hopeful about how things would play out in the US and said as much in the early days of the pandemic – “The most dangerous places with COVID-19 on the planet today – particularly if you are over 50 years – are places which are neither acting early nor ramping up on testing. Sadly for those of us here, the United States squarely falls in that bucket. There are many good pieces of coverage that outline just how poorly the administration and the CDC have handled this situation.”

I did, however, hold out hope that a combination of significantly lower population density outside of the urban centers would help counteract some of the downside from 1), 3), and 4). But, that hope was clearly misplaced.

If there is a silver lining at this moment, it is a graph that Indeed’s Chief Economist shared about COVID-19 cases in Republican/red and Democratic/blue counties.

My hope is that the effect on the red counties will spur positive movement from the administration as we’re in an election year. Positive movement would include some or all of – acceptance of where we are vs. denial, significantly more testing and contact tracing, masks, and a more gradual, fact based, reopening. Fingers crossed.

5) On an individual level, it is hard to keep up the resolve to keep up the commitment to physical distance after three months of it. I’ve heard from plenty of folks about the frustration they feel. It is understandable. Video calls are tiring and we’ve definitely felt frustrated ourselves.

Given we’re likely going to be in it for at least another year, I don’t think living in isolation is the answer. But, that said, going back to the old normal isn’t either.

There’s plenty of middle ground in between and it involves avoiding crowds, meeting folks in smaller groups, and staying as safe as possible while not driving ourselves crazy.

Wishing all of us plenty of luck in the coming months.

We’re going to need it.

Be kind to yourself

A wise friend used to repeat one piece of advice for me in the early years of our relationship – be kind to yourself.

I was recently in a situation where I ended a day with a series of things having gone right. However, right before the end, I realized one thing that hadn’t gone as per plan.

So, obviously, I did what you might expect. I ignored all the things that went well and obsessed about the one thing that went wrong.

Soon, we were past an hour since I’d both realized it and taken constructive action.

That’s about when I remembered this friend’s message – “be kind to yourself.”

We all make mistakes. We also tend to over-index on obsessing about the things that went wrong over the things that went well. Both of these combined can mean a self-reinforcing and perpetual loop of kicking ourselves for mistakes.

The only way out is self compassion.

Be kind to yourself.

Doing and presenting

When doing the work, focus on the process.

When presenting the work, focus on outcomes and lessons learnt.

The former ensures we emerge from the experience with learning and peace of mind. And, the latter does the same for those being presented to.

Meeting size

Small meetings, if well run, are a great tool for efficiency – especially in the short term. They trade-off speed of decision making for inclusiveness.

Large meetings, if well run, are a great tool for effectiveness. While these may slow decision making, they often speed up execution in projects with lots of dependencies. Learning to run large meetings well is a valuable skill in larger organizations.

A lesson I repeatedly learn when thinking about meeting size is that the choice is binary. Either –
a) choose a small meeting, carefully control the size of the audience, don’t allow the meeting to be forwarded, and be comfortable about annoying a few people or
b) set the topic + agenda and don’t worry about the size of the meeting

A half-hearted attempt at control the size of the meeting nearly always backfires.

That’s because “medium” size meetings that involve some subset of a large group stakeholders and not others tend to be useless. They don’t end up achieving speed, inclusiveness, efficiency, or effectiveness sufficiently enough to make it worth anyone’s while.

Go small or go large. Either way, go all in.

Graduating during a downturn

There is a lot of good research on the impact of graduating during an economic downturn. The long and short of it is that your graduation year is a key input in your lifetime earnings and that the effects of graduating in a recession tend to persist.

By all accounts, COVID-19 is a ridiculously bad time to graduate. It isn’t just a bizarre year from the perspective of the job market. Graduates who have a job will face an unusual first year as part of the workforce. With organizations and the people generally unprepared and dealing with multiple stressors, they’re unlikely to get the training that they need on the job.

And, for those who don’t have a job, it is looking like it might be a long road back.

This is especially the case for the hundreds of thousands of students who made their way to other nations – predominantly the United States – to study. As one of those who made my way here a few years ago, I can only imagine the amount of stress today’s executive order would have caused.

This is not say that I am are above this stress. There are ripple effects of these orders that have immediate impact on the uncertainty we face. But, I have it a lot better by simple virtue of when I graduated..

These are moments when you realize how big a role dumb luck plays in any professional success we enjoy. It is so easy to attribute things that are going well to our smarts and hard work. But, there’s so much more to any success than that.

And, finally, every time I find myself in situations like this, I remind myself to stay focused on what I control and do my best to make the most of the opportunities that I have on my hands. And that this too shall pass.

It does.

In time.