Visa and Diploma Mills: The path of least resistance can be so destructive

I worked hard for my college degree at an accredited university. Although I was always a good student, there was a time in college when I thought I’d just scrap the whole plan. But I hung in there and finished it with honors. Didn’t mean I was guaranteed a job, but it did help pave the way.

Right on.

And I’m all for allowing non-US students attend our universities as well as non-US citizens to launch business ventures here that may create jobs.

So when I read a San Jose Mercury News report about a twist on the diploma mill epidemic – visa mills – especially in this still horrid economy, it’s frustrating and disheartening. Human resources must be extremely vigilant.

Unaccredited schools that had been paid millions of dollars by foreigners to obtain student visas that authorize them to remain in the U.S. — a scheme whose growth was fueled by a profit-sharing system that gave students who referred newcomers from abroad a 20 percent cut of the tuition, according to court records.

Entrepreneurism runs amuck in a black market, which is usually a big part of the legitimate business markets, and sadly the US government approves this currently.

A decade after terrorists in the country on student visas carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security — the very agency established to oversee a tougher visa system — endorses universities that should be ineligible to issue the necessary certificate for students to gain F1 student visas, records show. It even places these schools on the list that international students consult before pursuing a degree in the U.S. (Thankfully this is being investigated now.)

The students who attend these are attracted for another big reason: the promise of legal jobs. Unfortunately many of these students return home with little education, no accredited degree and broke. And for those who do get jobs, it’s at the expense of those who have been unemployed for months, even years now.

According to the SJ Mercury article: ITU contends that it meets federal criteria because its credits are accepted by recognized universities — but no proof was submitted. School officials asserted to the newspaper that their courses are accepted by San Jose State, Santa Clara, Stanford and the University of California system — a claim all the universities say is not true.

Of course not.

According to global background screening firm EmployeeScreenIQ:

Diploma mills are mostly online entities that offer substandard or bogus degrees in exchange for payment and not much else. Often these entities will grant a “degree” based on the submission of a résumé detailing life experience, and will even let the applicant choose his own subject and year of graduation. Others might require the student to do some work, but because of the lack of recognized accreditation or authorization to grant degrees, the certificates are worthless.

Systems of higher education recognition and accreditation vary greatly across the globe, making it easier for diploma mills to confuse and deceive.

EmployeeScreenIQ’s U.K. strategic partner, Verifile Ltd. has published their 2011 report on diploma and accreditation mill activity and reveals an astounding 48% increase worldwide in the number of known diploma and accreditation mills in the past year alone.

48% increase. Mercy.

And we don’t have to look as far as our own backyards.

The Accredibase™ report identifies the following red flags that may help in the identification of diploma mills:

  • The institution does not have authority to operate or grant degrees from the education authorities where it claims to be based.
  • Degrees are delivered in a very short space of time – sometimes just a few days.
  • Degrees are granted based entirely on work or life experience.
  • Contact details are limited to an email address and the institution is vague about its location.
  • The institution will allow the student to choose his/her own course title and specify the graduation year to appear on the certificate.
  • Sample certificates, transcripts or verification letters are available to view on the website.
  • Institutions make over-complicated or misleading claims about accreditation or recognition.
  • The institution’s name is similar to that of a recognised and respected education institution.
  • Internet domain names are misleading – such as ‘.ac’ instead of the regulated ‘’ used by higher education institutions in the United Kingdom.
  • The website is poorly designed, has poor spelling and grammar or it plagiarises copy from other institutions.

Again, it’s frustrating and disheartening that the path of least resistance can be so destructive.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

Remember, an employee contract is an employee contract

Whatever you do, don’t say one thing then do another. Particularly in business when it comes to people management, hiring and firing at-will.

At-will employment means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason at all (within reason of course that includes not promising to keep someone for whatever reasons, regardless if you’re an at-will employer).

That’s the trouble for companies big and small that have these policies, the fact that they have good-hearted, emphatic human resource professionals and managers who don’t want to be the bad guys, when in the end, the succumb to the beast of their businesses.

Lawyer Eric B. Meyer in a post titled An Employer Blueprint For How to Screw Up At-Will Employment shares the following case:

The case is Lapidoth v. Telcordia Technologies, Inc. In 1986, Ms. Lapidoth began working for Telcordia. All the while, Telcordia had an at-will employment policy in its Code of Business Ethics.

In 2005, Ms. Lapidoth requested a six-month maternity leave because she was expecting her tenth child. Prior to her nine previous births, Ms. Lapidoth had requested and received extended leave from Telcordia.

Before Ms. Lapidoth’s tenth birth, the company sent her a letter which set forth the conditions of her leave. In that letter, which also referenced the company policy on maternity leave, Telcordia guaranteed Ms. Lapidoth that her job would be waiting for her when the 12 months expired.

Fast-forward 12 months. Ms. Lapidoth is ready to return. However, the company has filled her position with someone it deemed to be a better fit. Ms. Lapidoth sues claiming that the company breached its contract with her. (She also claimed that Telcordia violated the FMLA, but she lost on that). Telcordia defended by arguing that, because Ms. Lapidoth was at-will, it could fire her for any reason or no reason at all.

What happened? Well the Appellate Court found that the company may have promised to reinstate Ms. Lapidoth’s position at the end of her leave.

Really. Surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Here are Eric’s three lessons for employers:

  1. Avoid creating contractual rights in your handbook, unless you intend to live up to them. Make sure the employee handbook contains a clear statement that employment is at-will and anyone can be fired with or without good cause. Also, if your leave policies are more generous than what the law requires (e.g., you offer up to 18 weeks of FMLA as opposed to 12), that’s fine. But, remember, that’s a contract.
  2. Avoid creating contractual rights in your communications with employees, unless you intend to live up to them. If you wish to provide an employee with additional time-off benefits, you should clarify in writing any conditions attached to those benefits. Here, if Telcordia had informed Ms. Lapidoth that her job would not be guaranteed to her upon her return to work (especially, if the company hires someone to replace her), then the outcome may have been different.
  3. Avoid deviating from the handbook. If your handbook says “A”, but you always do “B,” then employees will come to expect “B.” And if you don’t give them “B,” then see you in court.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

Forget work-life balance because it’s just life

Sometimes we find zen. A moment of harmonic convergence in our lives when all things family, friends, co-workers, employers, work and life become one.

Sometimes. Work-life balance. [sigh] Wait, who are we kidding, right?

We don’t time zone travel with a head cold on a flurry of work trips for balance. We don’t wake up every 1-2 hours for to soothe the savage 11-month-old baby “beast” for balance, or play

That’s me and my family this past few weeks. But, we wouldn’t give it up for all the zen in China because the intrinsic rewards outweigh the work-life imbalance — enjoying what we do and loving our family. In fact, it’s not even really about balance or imbalance — it’s the highly integrated work-life world that we ride for joy (and that runs us down in fear).

And if I’m your employer, I’m going to do everything I can to foster the emotional connectivity and encourage the internal motivational drive, as well as moving the motivation needle externally with “rewards” when appropriate. But I want you to work hard, I want results, I’m going to focus on pay-for-performance and if your position allows, I’m going to let you do it as you see fit (when, where and how). I will be empathic and trust you, but I will not be a pushover.

And if I’m your employee, I’m going to demand flexibility in exchange for regular, quality output whenever, wherever and however I’m doing it. I want to take time off when I need it, regardless of the reason, and I don’t want to be questioned. I want your empathy and your trust and I will reciprocate. I want to to be pushed and pulled and challenged to learn as long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing in the context of what you’re doing.

And like someone suggested to me recently: “It’s just life.”

Find a way to like what you do and keep doing it, over and over again. The mindful workplace presence of frenetic zen will take care of the rest.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)


What are you doing to prevent your folks from fleeing?

Living in and around Silicon Valley for over 25 years, one thing is clear – no one is safe from poaching.

I mean, the big tech firms may give lip service to the fact that they’re not going to “steal” away each other’s talent, but that’s a bunch of hooey.

But no one really gets stolen away, do they? Unhappiness breeds the need to look for love in other places, and the best headhunters and recruiters know this and exploit it. And right now in Silicon Valley (and the world for that matter) the sequel is upon us and bidding wars for specific engineering and software development talent is hotter than it’s ever been, in a world that’s still colder than it’s ever been economically.

As a people management professional, what are you doing to ensure your folks aren’t fleeing into the arms of your enemies?

According to a post by Josh Letourneau on the Fistful of Talent blog from last month, The Headhunters Are Coming … Are You Ready?, you should be doing these three things:

  1. Look at the roots of your Organization first. Are your Managers and Leaders those who instill trust and confidence in their teams?  Can they define “integrity”?  If not, you might as well get rid of them.  Sure, feel free to dump more money into “training”, but remember this – leopards rarely change their spots.  Upgrade your leadership and watch the impact on your retention.  “Leadership Retreats” and seminars look great in marketing materials, but breaking a leg while jumping off a ledge into a group of co-workers (who don’t want to catch you in the first place) doesn’t make one a Leader.  This isn’t easy and it takes time, but time and time again, it works.  Hire Leaders that people will follow, not run from.
  2. Do you have a Career Development Plan? What do your Employees have to aspire to?  20 years and a gold watch?  Those days are behind us, and playing Frank Sinatra in the background still doesn’t make a superficial “Thanks for the years” ring any better.  Instead, show Employees that caring about their development is more than just lip service – ensure you have a plan that is documented and accessible by all levels in the organization.  And, oh yeah, stick to it.
  3. Is “Black Friday” a term in your organizational vocabulary? Does your firm lay off 20% of the workforce every October so your numbers look a little better in January the next year?  If so, good luck.  The only talent you’re retaining is the Employee that either lives in a bubble or hasn’t heard of that “social media thing-a-ma-jigger” called LinkedIn yet.  Sure, in a down economy, you can screw people – that’s life.  But remember, once your employment brand becomes associated with hatcheting off employees to earn Executives an extra week of vacation at the Jersey Shore, it’s pretty darn tough to break that stigma.

Best of luck to you.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

If you couldn’t make it…here’s some SHRM 2011 news and recaps

For those who couldn’t make the 2011 SHRM Conference & Exposition this week in sunny (and boiling hot) Las Vegas, I’ve highlighted some of the great media and blogger coverage below. The keyword here is “some,” because there are a whole bunch more you can find elsewhere, including here at HR Blogger, courtesy of Blogging4Jobs.

Even for those of you who did go to SHRM this year, you probably haven’t read some of these. So fire up the grill, prep all the yummy food, light some sparklers (not close to the grill mind you, especially if it’s a gas grill), crank up some homemade ice cream to go with that apple pie, pour yourself your favorite beverage and enjoy:

SHRM Names Henry Jackson as New President and CEO (Workforce Management)

Most recently, he led the organization’s initiatives to educate HR professionals on the employment issues facing military veterans. After a yearlong national search for its president and CEO, the Society for Human Resource Management named interim leader Henry “Hank” Jackson to the post on the opening day of SHRM’s 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas…

SHRM Las Vegas Wrap: The Good, The Bad, and The Swag (TLNT)

The SHRM annual conference is a wrap here in Las Vegas, and usually by this time in the conference, I’m a blubbering, brain dead mess. But this conference has been exciting time for us here at TLNT (with a large, well received tweetup and the launch of our radio show). It’s been fun to connect with readers who just started reading us a few months ago, and introducing new people to what we have going on here…

SHRM: Give US staff more holidays, says Richard Branson (People Management)

The amount of annual leave American workers are given “stinks” and employers should be more generous with their holiday policies, Virgin chairman Sir Richard Branson has said. In the opening session of the SHRM 2011 conference in Las Vegas, Branson received rapturous applause from an audience of thousands of HR professionals when he called for US firms to come closer to the European approach…

#SHRM11 Wrap Up (Fistful of Talent)

Walking away from the SHRM Conference (and yes, walking, not stumbling like you might expect as it is Vegas), you can’t help but to be a bit introspective about the trip and for me, I’m stuck thinking quite a bit about two things: one, young professionals in HR and two, how intimidating and massive this conference is. The two things go together hand in hand though…

The Real Value of a SHRM Conference (The Tim Sackett Project)

Got into a really good HR conversation yesterday at #SHRM11 in Las Vegas.  The conversation wasn’t at a session or about a session or with someone I even knew – and to me this is the real value of an event like SHRM National.  I’m sitting down, having something to eat, and I strike up a conversation with the guy sitting next to.  He’s from Dallas, TX – we go through the small talk stuff – Mavericks rocked this year, yeah it’s hot and muggy – my brother in-law lives in Frisco, etc…

Talent Anarchy = Comforming to Engagement (HR Insominiac)

I had the pleasure of sitting in a fab session by two great HR pros named Joe Gerstand and Jason Lauritsen.  Their moniker is Talent Anarchy which is a) ultra cool and b) appropriate for the world of Talent management. Why? They are powerful zen masters; karmic HR dudes really keeping the message deceptively simple. Do good HR things > good HR things will happen to you and your teams.  Networking is about being authentic; Networking is not about a hard sell…

SHRM11: Passion Is The Word (HR Ringleader)

Each time I attend a conference, there seems to be a theme that I hear emerging.  At SHRM 11 Annual Conference, the theme I’m hearing is passion. Interesting word to throw around at a HR conference, right?  Even so, we talk about having passionate employees, passionate customers, passionate leaders.  The compelling emotion that can connect a person to an organization is the magic ingredient that companies are looking for.  It’s what I heard in two very different sessions…

#shrm11 2011 SHRM 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition Swag Video (The Cynical Girl)

(You just gotta see it.)

SHRM 2011: From Shuttle Buses to Lightning in a Bottle (Marcom HRsay)

Back to why I was here at SHRM 2011. The announcement was an important milestone, yes. But, I’m also here as a blogger analyst to report back in my way of what’s happening of interest in the “business of HR.”And if the enormity of the show this year was any indication, business is back on the growth path. And what better way to check on the business of HR than to take the bus…


(What? You didn’t think I’d include mine?)

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

New ActionHRM Article: Kick the paper habit

You’re in hiring mode and all is well with the world, except the fact that you’re drowning in applicant and new hire paperwork. In fact, you’re always drowning in it. Every day. All the time.

Did you know the average U.S. office worker wastes 1,500 sheets of paper every year?

Yikes. But maybe you’re one of the HR professionals have spent the better part of the past decade championing innovative business practices and processes. Maybe you’re part of the nationwide movement taking a powerful step toward greener operations by adopting HR management systems delivered via software as a service (SaaS).

Of course, one of the greatest benefits of these systems is that they help your company go paperless. So you’re not drowning in paper. Every day. All the time.

If you’re still trying to figure out how to kick the paper habit, check out these substantial rewards including:

  • Cost savings—Paperless systems mean energy savings, as you won’t be using the printer, copier or fax machine as much. You also can reduce the number of staff devoted to talent acquisition and management, so you’ll have fewer computers sucking energy and potentially fewer offices to keep lit and heated. Plus, automated processes enable you to slash costs on paper, printer ink, copier toner, folders and other office supplies.
  • Improved recruiting and hiring efficiency—After switching from primarily manual HR management processes to an automated HR management system, companies can see a dramatic decrease in time spent on hourly candidates’ applications and a much faster time- to-fill for corporate openings. SaaS systems help eliminate paperwork and processing steps, enabling staff members to work more efficiently and, ultimately, concentrate on more critical tasks.
  • A stronger brand—A green reputation strengthens your hiring brand, especially among younger talent. And it can stand as a differentiator when these candidates are deciding on an offer. In addition, many of your current employees will feel a greater sense of satisfaction and increased loyalty to your organization because of its conservation efforts. Studies have shown that green initiatives increase retention and engagement levels.

Want to learn more as well as the right questions to ask when selecting a SaaS HR management system?

Then download the latest ActionHRM article titled Help Your Company Kick Its Paper Habit: Adopt an SaaS HR Management System. It’s free and there is no registration required.

Kick the paper habit today. ActionHRM can help.

Your business could use a social media hug

So if your company is on the fence of whether or not to embrace social media, and you’re the head of HR, who should you talk to?

Why, other HR professionals who already embrace social media, that’s who.

I’ve had the privilege of attending and participating in various HR “unconference” events for human resources professionals, recruiters, and business leaders who come together and talk about the problems facing businesses today. (“Unconference” meaning each topic session was a facilitated discussion with everyone, not speakers talking at a passive audience.)

Most of these fine HR folks are social media savvy as well as business savvy. But it’s not just about the external networking and knowledge sharing that goes on. It’s more and more about the internal benefits of social networking and social learning that inspires collaboration, training that sticks, talent mentoring and mobility, employee satisfaction and engagement, and so much more.

Queue the article Embracing Social Media online at Human Resource Executive. Randy MacDonald, the senior vice president of human resources at IBM, shares the results of a recent IBM surveyed of 700 chief human resource officers and executives where more than three-quarters (78 percent) said they didn’t think their companies were good at fostering collaboration or social networking – AND – only 27 percent use collaborative technologies to spread innovation throughout the company.

For those of us who drink the social Kool Aid, we forget that no matter how many Facebook users there are, too many executives still consider all things social a “high-risk, low-reward proposition” Never mind that those same executives don’t know how to use them. Instead, social media usage is still relegated to recruiting and marketing.

But companies like IBM and many others are finally bringing social media kicking and screaming in full transparency into the 21st century, starting with new hires.

For example, according to MacDonald:

One way we go about building strong ties at IBM is through a program for new employees called Succeeding@IBM. For the first six to 12 months after a new hire joins the company, they are part of a social-networking group where they collaborate on topics and get to know other folks outside of their immediate departments.

Smart HR pros like Randy (and my friends from HRevolution) know how important this is for cultural fit assimilation as well as long-term retention.

So find those “social” evangelists to help convince you and your executive team to embrace social media inside and out.

Your business could use a hug every once and a while. The benefits will surprise you.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

Social gaming in workplace recruiting is fun and engaging

I haven’t played video games since the original Legend of Zelda “back in the day” when I was in college. Nope, no Farmville or Bejeweled or any of those silly Facebook games either. Well, at least until Angry Birds came out, which I unfortunately succumbed to, but no matter who tries to tell me it’s beneficial to our work in [enter your line of business here], I still say it’s only a great way to let all the life stressors of the day roll away into a mind-numbing, highly addictive, slingshot world of vengeful ball-bearing birds and thieving chortling pigs. Please, no work-life lessons here.

But, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t any redeeming recruiting workplace value in gaming for both external and internal job candidates, particularly when we’re talking about making job screening more fun and “engaging” (I know, there’s that buzz word again).

Being recruited to your company as an double-sided-ax-wielding dwarf in Second Life (or Dungeons & Dragons)? For me, no. Being recruiting to your company because you’re testing my skills at running a hotel restaurant online, just for supposed fun? Absolutely.

Social gaming is becoming popular in online testing, programming in the “fun factor” to test taking that improves applicant engagement and hopefully further strengthening the “true” results of the tests.

I mean, I’ve been watching how my almost three-year-old daughter has taken to my iPad and my wife’s iPod Touch, launching all the toddler learning games all by her lonesome and playing them. But not just playing them – working with them and learning – for example, in one of the word-builder games, the application sounds out the word and then the individual letter sounds upon the touch from the scattered letters that spell the word.

Pretty simple yet extremely powerful and engaging (I know, again with this word, but what else would like me to use?). Imagine if you applied these types of adult-skill games to not only your stagnant non-interactive internal applicant databases but to your current employees as well.

Like Marriott does. Hence my reference above about running a hotel restaurant online, which is part of a larger trend of using online games to recruit. Last week in the Wall Street Journal, there was an article titled Enough With ‘Call of Duty,’ Answer the Call in Room 417 focusing on just that. From the military’s foray a decade ago with America’s Army, to Marriott’s hotel restaurant recruiting game, to Siemen’s Plantville (which simulates the experience of being a manager for a bottling facility, a vitamin factory or a plant that builds trains), to many more companies launching social “screening” games to attract likely applicants and to keep their internal employees “engaged,” entertained, even initially trained and hopefully retained.

Here’s my formula (thanks to my lovely daughter):

Career Management Gamification + Engaged Talent Communities = Highly Qualified External and Internal Applicants and Hires

Because unless you’re playin’, they may not be stayin’. The applicability includes recruiting, training, wellness, and many other workplace activities across industries and positions.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

No one is psychic when it comes to applicant screening

I always thought of myself as a great judge of character, particularly when it came to hiring staff. The fact that my “gut” was right most of the time validated my intuition when it came to selecting whom to hire amongst the short list of final candidates. Hey, maybe I’m a little psychic.

Or then again, maybe not. Sadly I’ve been informed more than once from various recruiting thought leaders that my selection ability wasn’t necessarily any better than flipping a coin.

Flipping a coin? Mercy.

If that’s the case then that must be why more and more companies are using some form of pre-screening and assessment products and services.

In the last post I referenced the fact that according to a recent Work Management article, ‘a study published last year by consulting firm Rocket-Hire found that about two-thirds of companies use some form of pre-employment assessment tools. The report, which surveyed 148 recruitment and hiring professionals, also found that personality, knowledge/skills, and cognitive testing remain the most popular types of assessments.’”

According to Humetrics CEO Mel Kleiman’s Recruiting Myth #6, too many hiring decisions are based on fleeting first impressions and gut-instinct interviews, when the actual best predictors of success on the job are:

  • Testing – 53 percent
  • Temporary job assignment – 44 percent
  • Reference check – 26 percent
  • Experience – 18 percent
  • Interview – 14 percent
  • Academic achievement – 11 percent
  • Age – 1 percent

I agree that academic achievement and age would be lower on the list, but notice how the interview is only at 14%.

Testing applicants to screen for the stronger amongst them is obviously the more sound recruiting practice, and any software system you use to keep track of applicants and employees should either include their own proprietary testing tools or be plugged into other testing products and services.

At the very least companies should construct some sort of screening assessment for their applicants like “what-if” scenario tests or other basic skills-based tests beyond listening to their gut before, during or after the interview.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)

Online testing improves quality of hire

Companies just can’t keep up with the volume of job applicants today. And with the unfortunate job news of late, more and more people are continuing to look for work, whether recently unemployed, out of work for some time now, or those unhappily employed looking for new work.

While the argument can be made that those more recently employed are more employable, there’s still the enormous effort of sorting through applicants and identifying who is more qualified.

According to a recent Workforce Management article titled More Companies Go With Online Tests to Fill in the Blanks, spending on assessments of job candidates and existing employees rose about 20 percent last year and Bersin & Associates estimates the global market for assessment tools and consulting to be between $1.5 billion and $2 billion annually.

That’s a huge market for such a mixed bag in limited hiring. But the fact is that many of the old paper-based assessments, skills-based tests and personality tests can now be administered and tabulated online – efficiently, securely and cost-effectively. That makes a huge difference for employers trying to identify the most qualified applicants and improve the overall quality of hire while adhering to legally defensible hiring practices.

According to the Work Management article, “a study published last year by consulting firm Rocket-Hire found that about two-thirds of companies use some form of pre-employment assessment tools. The report, which surveyed 148 recruitment and hiring professionals, also found that personality, knowledge/skills, and cognitive testing remain the most popular types of assessments.”

Of course, consistent testing globally is critical and cultural localization must be considered when selecting testing and assessment vendors. Another challenge that employers have to deal with are those who try to game the testing system and share the answers with other applicant friends. I’ve spoken to multiple vendors recently that are programming their tests to randomize each time the test is taken as well as creating “adaptive tests, in which subsequent questions vary depending on the test taker’s answers to items.” Social gaming is becoming popular as well programming in the “fun factor” to test taking that improves applicant engagement and hopefully further strengthening the “true” results of the tests.

Online testing and assessments will continue to evolve, becoming more reliable and valid for employers vying for the highest quality of hire in an ever-changing global economy.

(Kevin W. Grossman, Guest Blogger)