In this episode of the WorkingTech show, Kevin W. Grossman talks with YouTern’s CEO and founder Mark Babbit. Mark is also a co-author of the bestseller, “A World Gone Social: How Companies must Adapt to Survive”.
Here’s the thing. Networking with peers and mentors is more critical than ever for young and old alike. And especially for those either just entering the workplace or in transition. Talent today becomes highly employable when they’re connected to high-impact internships and mentors. YouTern’s community features passionate support from college students, recent graduates, young professionals, career center pros, and all-star career experts.
Read the edited transcription..
Kevin: Mark, thank you so much for being on Working Tech.
Mark: Of course Kevin, thrilled to be here.
Kevin: Appreciate it. Listen, you’ve got a few exciting projects going on, and we’re going to get to those. But let’s first start with what you have been working on for a few years now, YouTern, which is a social resource for young professionals that Mashable has called, “a top five online community for starting your career”, which is pretty exciting. So, first and foremost, why YouTern?
Mark: So here’s the deal. When we launched YouTern, and it was way back in late 2010 now, you know we were right in the middle of a huge recession. Nobody knew how to get jobs. Social recruiting had just started to become a thing, and the hiring process was being turned on its ear. Even for experienced professionals, we didn’t know how to get a job, or who to ask for a job. And so we built YouTern, to help young professionals, recent graduates, college students, prepare for and excel in the workforce. And so we talk a lot about the importance of personal brandings, social proof, mentorship, internships, everything you need to not just be yet another college student, with yet another degree, but actually a valuable member of the team from day one.
Kevin: So then, Mark, how do you differentiate then? I mean now let’s fast-forward from the height of the recession to since more or less, for very much a recovery, although still a fragile economy globally, for a lot of different reasons that we don’t need to go into. But how do you differentiate that site continuously then going forward? Are there other competitors that have similar kinds of intern communities?
Mark: Well there are, and many of them, I guess to our credit, have come and gone. I mean internships, for a while, were the hot ticket. And we would see new a new competitor come along every three months. But they were yet another job board, a lot of spamming going on, a lot of not much mutually beneficial value there. And so the whole time we just kept plugging away with great content and a great community, and Twitter chat that’s still going strong today, and we were there for the community, not the other way around. And so we outlasted everybody it seems.
Kevin: So for those keeping score at home, who may, believe it or not, may not know what a Twitter chat is, why don’t you tell us what a Twitter chat is, and what yours is about.
Mark: A Twitter chat, for many people now, I know it’s kind of an era gone by, but the reality is there’s still no better way for usually one hour, for people to join a conversation that centers around a specific hashtag, in our case it’s internpro. And we have a one hour conversation about a specific topic that a young professional, an intern, might find value in as they go through it. And so, for 60 minutes all we do is sit around and analyze the topic chosen that night. And it’s still just a great way to learn and contribute and become part of a community.
Kevin: Just communicating actually, using Twitter via hashtags right? So a hashtag is a way to partition specific kinds of content related to a topic, theme, company, you name it. What is the hashtag you use?
Kevin: Internpro, okay. #internpro. To be able to follow along, not only what’s shared in your stream on an ongoing basis, but also participate in the twitter chats. And yes, you and I, we’ve been drinking that Kool-Aid for a while.
Mark: Just a little while, haven’t we?
Kevin: Yeah, but it’s great though. I mean I still think, that’s the one thing that I’ve always known about Twitter, and I still believe it today. It’s an amazing communication platform, and it was never intended to be a social network per se, but it’s become that because of the way you can partition the streams and the streams of content. And then it becomes more community-based because of that. Would you agree?
Mark: Oh absolutely, and I gotta tell you, the hashtags are about the only way that I communicate on Twitter anymore. There’s so much crap out there, and so many political posts and rants… and fake news, and man, if you’re not involved in a hashtag that interests me, I’m probably not going to see your tweet.
Kevin: And you wouldn’t otherwise, even if you were interested right? Because there’s too much fly-in on Twitter, as opposed to other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn and other even more knit sites where it’s a little bit slower on the consumption side, But even then that’s that old pun adage, “If a tweet falls in the forest, does anybody really hear it?” Well, not unless it has a hashtag. Right?
Mark: That’s right. That is exactly it.
Kevin: So listen, let me ask you a little bit more about, so the community again today with YouTern primarily has been, again the young college graduate. But you and I were talking before we did this show, before we recorded the podcast, that there has been, and I don’t have any specific statistics off the top of my head, even bringing to this podcast. But I know there’s a growing number of older individuals, older meaning older generations not necessarily right out of college. Maybe they went back to school to finish. There’s career transition, and there’s interning opportunities for even us old folks, right? Is that something that you’re finding as well?
Mark: There is, and still to this day even though we clearly target the college student because that’s where the majority of our community members live or have just graduated. Still, I think probably 20-25% of our community are career changers. And Kevin, it was much more than this just a few short years ago. Especially toward the end of the recession.
Mark: The career-changers, the Gen-Zers, the boomers, they were looking for any handle to grab ahold of. It was so hard to change jobs, let alone change careers, that many older workers, many workforce veterans were turning to internships and starting to rely more on mentorships and personal branding and social proof. And they became members of the community, and many of them, even though they’ve been gainfully employed for many years, they’re now giving back. They’re our mentors. They’re contributing on the chats. They’re contributing on the blog, because they got so much out of it at one point that now it’s their turn to help out. So it’s quite rewarding actually.
Kevin: So with the interns that use your platform as a community to learn more about internship opportunities and to network with one another, what are some of the kind of immediate value to the new candidate themselves, using YouTern, for them?
Mark: That’s a great question. I think if I had to sum it up, I would use the word confidence. I mean, again we have blown apart how people look for work, and frankly how employers look for companies. And we’ve lived in this community for so long, the social recruiting. We were there when it was born. And so we can walk our community members through the process and how it really works. Not how it worked 10 years ago, where all you had to do was go to Monster or CareerBuilder and click “apply now” 200 times and something good would happen. There’s a process that we have to follow now, and there’s certain expectations that recruiters, they just don’t talk about those. And so I think that’s a big thing, and let’s face it, it’s been a long time since roomies and besties and mommies were giving great career advice. So why not go to somewhere where not just the YouTern family, but the entire mentor network of recruiters, and resume writers, and employers, and hiring managers. We all hang out together, so why not learn from the people that are actually doing the hiring?
Kevin: Some of it’s obviously readily clear, but what are some of the other benefits on the employer side then when it comes to YouTern?
Mark: So the employer side, it seems like everybody is trying to build the talent community, let’s call it a sales funnel because sometimes that’s what it feels like. We want to know the young talent that’s actually out there making an effort. And fortunately for our community, and certainly for our business, YouTern is seen as a differentiator. If you’ve been hanging around YouTern, you’re probably more prepared online. You’re probably more prepared for the job interview. Your resume is probably better, and so, so many great companies have reached out to us and said, “Look, we want to be part of this, because you guys are clearly helping.”
So not only is it, let’s call it good salesmanship to fill that sales funnel, it’s good community building. Because if you’re one of our mentors, if you’re, say you’re working for Ford Motor Company, and you’re hiring young talent fresh out of school all the time, you probably want to be associated with an organization like YouTern, a community like YouTern. Because you’re out there giving back, and you’re out there helping. You know, you’re not getting paid for it. You’re just mentoring, and that’s good for your personal brand, and it’s good for your corporate brand.
Kevin: College recruiting isn’t new, right? I mean it’s companies big and small, primarily mid-size to global enterprises. They have just if not individuals, groups or teams, and divisions of college recruiters that are going, not only on campus but doing virtual events, recruiting them all the time. And one of the things that I’m hearing, particularly for a lot of trade positions in energy and other industries where there’s that dying breed of skilled professionals, right, to manage our gas pipelines, and our power plants, and it’s almost kind of scary when you start digging into it. But I guess my point is, they’re going even deeper. They’re going to high school.
Mark: Oh they are. Well especially in the STEM fields now.
Kevin: And STEM too, right.
Mark: Yeah, there are layers and layers and layers of recruiters looking for just the right person. And here’s the benefit of that to everybody I think. Now we start treating people like human beings early, and not just another candidate, but we’re mentoring early. We’re helping pay for college in many cases, early. We’re part of their lives, and you know this is not new Kevin. This has been around … The military’s been paying for a lot of college education for a lot of years.
Mark: And that’s what it is. It’s the military model, and especially the engineering companies. Man, they’re digging in deep, and they are going all the way to high school. And they are building their own talent communities. And they’re building that loyalty, and frankly that word of mouth very early. I mean you treat an 18 year old young woman, especially in the STEM world right now, well. She’s going to remember you the rest of her life as a mentor, as a giver, as a contributor to her success, and boy that’s not a bad way to go if you’re an employer.
Kevin: Oh absolutely, absolutely. So let me ask you. So first with interns, what’s one piece of advice you would give to a college, or soon to be college graduate, potential intern. What’s one really good piece of advice you’d give them?
Mark: Well we tell everybody the same piece of advice first. And that is to stop believing the big lie. And the big lie Kevin goes like this, your parents are telling it to you when you’re about eight, and they say, “Go to school. Get good grades.
Maybe play some sports or do speech and debate or drama club. Do community service, and you’re going to get into a great college. And then you’re going to go to college, and you’re going to rinse and repeat all of that for four years. And you’re going to end up with a college degree, and because you’ve worked so hard, and you followed the American Dream, there’s going to be a great job waiting for you just because you have a degree.” And we’re still selling that crap today, even though it’s been … That version of the American Dream has been dead for about 20 years. And going to college does not make you special. It does not make you different. In some cases it barely helps you meet minimum requirements.
Kevin: Well, yeah for those of us either that were in Social Studies or Liberal Studies, but I don’t want to talk about that Mark.
Mark: Yeah, that could be a 45 minute conversation right there.
Kevin: Well now, and I joke about this only because I was a Psychology major in college with an Anthro minor, and did want to be a psychologist. Didn’t go that route, and ended up in marketing and the HR recruiting technology space, or in just technology in general, then to this space. So for a lot of us, it’s never a straight line. It’s a completely jagged connect-the-dots. And let’s see what that picture looks like. What about the employer’s side Mark? What do you recommend to employers when it comes to basically bringing on board, developing, and eventually hiring these interns?
Mark: Be a mentor. Be something more than just an employer. Actually care about the people that you’re bringing into your company. Man, the industrial age hiring process, it kind of ruined everything for everybody. It was just terrible. And the best companies in the world now are figuring out that, especially younger employees, they want to know that you care. They want to know that you’re after something other than just profits. They want to know that if I’m loyal to you, I need you to be loyal to me. And if you’re not, you’re going to lose those people, and yet us old white guys we say, “Oh those millenials. They only last 2.3 years.” Yeah, that’s because you suck, and nobody wants to work for you. Right? Nobody does anything just for a job anymore.
We need value. We need purpose. We need integrity. We need all of that. We need mentorship. And if you’re not giving me that, I’m going to go somewhere else.
Kevin: That’s exactly right, and it’s always much more complicated than what we try to paint it. And we try to paint generations in a corner, and you know, “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” And that just dated me. So because of that right, and I’m Gen-X, and the thing is, is that I get really tired of that conversation over and over again. I mean yes there-
Mark: I’m so over it. Yes.
Kevin: Yes there are idiosyncrasies in every age group in every generation, sure, but at the same time we do want value. We want to be able to make a living, and we want to be able to do something that we like and/or love in particular. And we want to generate value and felt valued, right, when it comes to anything that we do. And if that means that we’re bouncing around a little bit, we’re exploring. We’re trying some entrepreneurial stuff, that to me, that shouldn’t be held against somebody, if they have the skills and experience potential that you want. You may only have … I mean it’s the whole thing about the tours of duty and the LinkedIn book that came out a couple of years ago. It’s a different relationship too, even from the employers side. I mean contract work is on the rise, the workforce continues to increase. So it’s really more complex than painting everybody in a corner like that.
Let’s talk about a couple of other things though, because you’re also the president of the leadership community that’s been known as Switch and Shift, and it’s soon to be something else. Tell us about that Mark.
Mark: We’re actually re-branding our site to WorqIQ. W-O-R-Q-I-Q. And about the time that our conversation goes live, it’ll be done. And we’re doing this for a very simple reason, Kevin. The more me and my business partner Sean Murphy talked, we realized leadership was one of six or seven things that we cared a great deal about, and that we were helping our corporate clients with in their business. And so we weren’t just a leadership site, and so we’re focused on many areas of making a workplace a better place to be. And sure, mentorship and leadership are one of them, but we also talk about employee engagement, and optimistic workplaces, and a whole bunch of factors that go into making people happier and more productive, so we’re re-branding to accommodate that.
Kevin: So the WorqIQ that’s coming then, how do employers engage WorqIQ? What is it that you can do for them?
Mark: We work with, probably our target group right now Kevin, is legacy organizations that just quite haven’t figured out how to transition from industrial age best practices, and when I say best practices, I’m using air-quotes, because some of them are not very best, to the social age. And what is it that’s making these great companies so great? The Zappos of the world, and the REIs of the world, what are they doing differently than we are as a public utility, as a healthcare firm, as a legal firm, as a fortune 100 firm? What are we missing? And companies are coming to us asking that very question. What are we doing wrong, and how do we get better?
And that’s where we help. So I used the term “old white guy” earlier. I think that’s a big part of it Kevin, is you know a lot of us boomer males, white hair and all, the leadership world, the corporate world has changed so much in the last 10 years, that we don’t know. You know, didn’t see the tsunami hit us, or feel the tsunami hit us. We didn’t see it coming, and there are so many companies out there who just have no idea how to recruit great talent, young talent.
Kevin: That, which can be a whole other conversation, and also those that are resistant not to adapt as well.
Mark: Oh well that’s. Oh my God.
Kevin: We could talk about that in a whole ‘nother conversation. What I wanted to ask you about really quick next, is that you also serve transitioning military veterans as the co-founder of forwardheroes.org, right? So tell us about that.
Mark: Well we do. We have a whole bunch of things lined up. We’re finishing the rebranding of Switch and Shift to WorqIQ right now. Shortly after that we’ll launch the new version of YouTern. And once that’s done, we’re going to begin work on forwardheroes.org, which what YouTern is to college students, young professionals, recent graduates, forward heroes will be for our military veterans. For many veterans right now, and their families, this transition is tough. And over the next five years, we have three million members of our military that are being forced out, that are being transitioned out. And so we’re starting a nonprofit. Everything we’ve learned from YouTern, Switch and Shift, now WorqIQ, and we’re going to help people in a nonprofit mode make that transition from their military careers to their civilian careers.
Kevin: That’s inspiring, very admirable work too Mark, so kudos to you on that one. You also co-authored a book titled, “A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt … “, speaking of adapting, ” … How Companies Must Adapt to Survive” Who was your co-author again, and what was one of the key takeaways that you’d like to leave with me today?
Mark: Ted Coine was the co-author on that, and frankly, it was his idea. I came along later, and I’m so proud of the work that we did. The key takeaway we’ve kind of already touched on Kevin, and that is, man the world’s different now, and we haven’t made this transition. In some cases we haven’t made it gracefully, we haven’t made it at all. The book came out over two years ago now, and anybody who’s written a book knows you finish the manuscript a year before that, so it seems like ancient history. But here’s our reality, Kevin, many of the things we predicted including our most recent Presidential election, and how they used social media to change that atmosphere, change that environment dramatically, we talked about three years ago. So it’s actually kind of fun to see much of what we kind of looked at ahead in the future and saw, and it’s happening now. So it’s a fun little process.
Kevin: Well, and definitely will continue to happen as well. Mark, obviously you and the teams that you work with, you’ve been all working really hard, and you’ve got a lot of exciting, not only services that you’ve been offering today to new ones coming. So what exactly are you doing when you’re hardly working?
Mark: Well first of all, I’m not sure that exists.
Kevin: I hear you on that.
Mark: I sometimes refer to myself as a recovering work-a-holic, but I suck at recovering it turns out. But here’s the deal, one I have a wonderful family that supports my work-a-holic tendencies. I get to work from home. I get to coach my kid’s baseball team year-round. I have two Labrador Retrievers that I run out on our five acres up here in the mountains in Colorado. And I take my breaks, and I love to grab a fishing pole, and kids, and the dogs, and now the grandkids, and head down to the river. I love my life, and so I don’t do that two-week vacation. I don’t do the unplug thing. But even in the middle of a work day, I can go for a 45-minute walk and feel just as content as somebody who went to Italy for two weeks. So I’m good, and I just love relaxing. Kevin one more thing, if you don’t mind, I’ll make it real quick.
Mark: Those of us who are making a living in this digital economy, and that are introverts, that’s how we recharge right? We don’t need to go on vacation for two weeks. We don’t need to go to a big city. 45 minutes at a time is good for us, and that’s how I live my life, is boy I’ve got to take breaks, but they’re on my terms in my place, and I like that.
Kevin: Amen. I completely concur. Mark it’s been a pleasure having you on Working Tech, and I look forward to seeing you again in person very soon.
Mark: Well thank you Kevin, I look forward to that also.