ALC Consulting

October 9, 2009

There Should Be No Question Here

Filed under: LIfe Balance — Anne Cloward @ 6:18 am
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Note:

There is no question here for me. If you ask me to help you with your résumé, this is the policy I will follow. This is taken from a newsletter I receive weekly. Marc’s thinking aligns with mine, and I feel his advice is sound.

Here’s the dilemma: you’re proofreading your friend’s resume and it becomes pretty clear to you that he is taking more than a little bit of liberty with the truth – saying he conceived the idea rather than just implemented it, calling it a promotion rather than a lateral move, and glossing over that 13-month stint at that crazy start-up back in the dot.com boom.

What do you tell him? Remembering that competition is stiff out there – you know it’s the “Great Recession,” after all – and that he needs to stand out from the crowd.

So what do you tell him?

Well, Readers, I hope you’ll remind him that honesty is the best policy.

That struck me as I was reading this Vanity Fair profile on Harvard-educated lawyer-and-criminal Marc Dreier:

Dreier says he can’t remember the moment he actually began considering fraud. But he acknowledges the decision was made easier by a long track record of what he calls “cutting corners.” As he acknowledges, “Yeah, I took advantage of expense accounts, statements on tax returns, that kind of thing. You know, I discovered once you cross a gray line it’s much easier to cross a black line.”

And once you cross the gray line, it becomes much harder to get on the right side of the truth. The little fib that you inserted into your resume winds up on the website in your biography, so your next employer asks you about it at the interview. Then the press repeats it when you are speaking at a conference. Before long, you’re stuck.

And once you’re stuck, you will be discovered. As we found in this interview with Accu-Screen, even the simplest resume fibs will really come back to bite you.

Honesty is just the right thing to do, you should tell your friend. Not only will you not have to cover your tracks, but you’ll sleep better at night.

So I hope that if you ever come across a friend who is bending the truth a little bit, you’ll send them this 10-page .pdf that we put together on the topic: “To Tell The Truth.”

And finally, folks, while I was researching this topic this week, I came across this page of quotes on honesty and thought I’d share these eight favorites with you:

No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar. ~Abraham Lincoln

A half truth is a whole lie. ~Yiddish Proverb

Those who think it is permissible to tell white lies soon grow color-blind. ~Austin O’Malley

The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold. ~Aristotle

Who lies for you will lie against you. ~Bosnian Proverb

The most dangerous untruths are truths moderately distorted. ~Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

With lies you may get ahead in the world – but you can never go back. ~Russian proverb

Always tell the truth. If you can’t always tell the truth, don’t lie. ~Author Unknown

Credit is due to Marc Cenedella (marc@TechnologyLadder.com) who sent me this article. You might want to check out his website http://technology.theladders.com/?LK_ID=327

Click on Career Advice.

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June 27, 2009

Interviewing—Answering the Tough Questions–Part 1

Filed under: Contracting,Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 3:39 pm
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For many people, an interview is faced with as much anticipation as a visit to the dentist. They view it as a necessary step to getting a job.

Depending on who does the interviewing, it can be a very painful experience, that’s for sure. Are you interviewing with an HR professional or a hiring manager?

Does it make a difference? Absolutely.

Most HR people are not familiar with the skills needed fill a position; after all, they have it right in front of them. They really don’t know what a lot of the acronyms mean, but they can talk their way through it. Hiring managers are the worker bees. They know what the job entails, because they work with the team and know how things work in the company.

Anyway, here are some typical questions that you will get almost all the time (with my editorial comments).

  1. Tell me about yourself.

    No, the interviewer doesn’t want to know your life story, just do you have the skills and background to program, design, write or whatever.

    Strategy:

    Use this question to discover the employer’s greatest need. Say something like, “I have a number of accomplishments, I’d like to tell you about, but in order to make the best use of our time together and talk directly to your needs. To help me do that, could you tell me more about the most important priorities of this position? All I know is what I (heard from the recruiter, read in the job description, etc.).

  2. What are your greatest strengths?

    Hokey at best. Try to keep your cool here.

    Strategy:

    Try to set a balance between arrogance and humility. Mentally you should have prepared a list of your 8 greatest strengths and you want to get them into the mix during the interview, according to Scott Olsen of The Olsen Group in Portland. But if you answered the previous question properly, you will know what they are looking for.

  3. What are your greatest weaknesses?

    This question is designed to shorten the candidate list. Either you get an A for honesty, but an F for interview.

    Strategy:

    Disguise a strength as a weakness. For example, “I sometimes push myself too hard,” or “I’m a nitpicky editor.” A problem with this strategy is that it is so widely used that it may come across as so canned to the interviewer.

    Another way to handle it is to go back to the needs identified by the interviewer as important and work them into the conversation. If you were applying for a sales position, you could say. “If given a choice, I’d like to spend as much time as possible in front of my prospects selling, as opposed to shuffling papers back at the office. Of course, long ago I learned the importance of filing paperwork properly, and I do it conscientiously. But what I really love to do is sell.”

  4. Tell me about something you did—or failed to do—that you now feel ashamed of.

    This is a trap! No interviewer should be asking a question like this. It’s none of their business. Some inexperienced interviewees get caught here, and use this as an opportunity to unburden themselves of a long ago incident that is way too personal. Don’t use the tactic by some members of a previous administration to declare they have no regrets.

    Strategy:

    Say that you practice some self reflection at the end of the day, and that if you recognize something is awry, you try to remedy it as soon as possible, and by doing that, you don’t let the garbage pile up.

    Next: More Tough interview Questions

May 10, 2009

How to Lose a Job in Six Days or Less

was asked recently what I wanted to accomplish with my blog, and it is a question that I have been mulling over for a while. I can’t say that I have a complete answer. I know that I want to write about hiring and how to avoid the pitfalls of doing stupid things that cost people jobs. There is plenty of career advice out there, but most of it is bland, poorly written and not very original. I hope my take is more original and helps you, my readers, look at unemployment in new ways.
Today’s column is a cautionary tale taken from my own experience. In August of 2007, I started a contract with a Very Small Company in Minneapolis (not pictured).

We were quite high tech and all seven of the employees were issued laptops. We were linked by a private network and docked our laptops at our desks when we hit the office. It wasn’t long before the boss, who was running a very lean operation, hired a key new team member, Joe, the Network Administrator. It was his job to keep the network running. As a part of our jobs we were roaming over cyberspace and could be picking up nasty things that could compromise the network. We had a firm rule that we did not download ANY software without letting Joe know what we were doing. Licenses were applied for and authorizations obtained. Joe knew what was on our machines and that the network was safe.

Fast forward to a Very Large Company in Portland (company not pictured). This employer has over 4,000 employees including contractors.

The issues confronting their Network Administrators are the same as Joe’s. The network needs to be protected and no unauthorized software is to be downloaded to their network. This is part of the formal agreement that is signed by all new hires and contractors.

A new developer (contractor) came on board to the Very Large Company in Portland. He was placed by a reputable firm, which checks out their people before placing them. He thought he knew more than the old fogies in Network Security and wanted to download some development software on his machine. He applied in writing and was told NO in writing. The Very Large Company in Portland did not have any licenses for it. They also had not performed any integrated testing and had no idea what it might do to their network. The contractor’s manager also told him he was not to put the software on his machine. He told the manager that he was going to anyway. After six days and several hours on the job, the contractor was escorted out of the building by security guards.

The contractor really messed up here. He has a black mark against his name. The contracting firm will not take a chance on him again and they are busy repairing their relationship with the Very Large Company in Portland. I know this is a true story, because one of the other developers on the team told me. He was dumbstruck that the guy used such poor judgment.

It’s a cautionary tale. Networking security policies are not about heavy handed people making rules to make your life miserable. The are there for a reason; to keep the company up and running and producing products so they can sell them and make enough money to pay your salary. Stupid things like the actions of this developer jeopardize their ability to stay in business. They can’t take a chance on someone who uses such poor judgment.

April 23, 2009

Boutique Recruiting

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:49 pm
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When I lived in the Twin Cities, there was a grocery chain called Kowalskis. They have nine stores, and shopping there is an unforgettable experience. They carry only the best in local and imported groceries. They have an in store deli, an outdoor café, a spa, a floral department and more. Fresh seafood is flown in daily. If you are so inclined, you can schedule a massage, and while you are being pampered in the spa, one of their personal shoppers will select your groceries for you from your shopping list. When you emerge from your massage, invigorated, you may sign your charge slip, and drive off with your groceries neatly packed in your car. Their stores are only located in the upscale suburbs. Nothing ever goes on sale there.

At the other end of the scale was the local Safeway, who just sold plain groceries with none of the frills. I shopped their specials and stocked my pantry with the basics at their stores. The fancy place could be more expensive for my every day needs. Each had their place in my life and budget. They knew their niche customers needs and met them.

Recruiting firms also run the spectrum from very fancy to down to earth shops. Each has their strengths, but you may find yourself working with both kinds depending on your circumstances.

First of all, understand that one size does not fit all. No firm can place you at any company in town. For example, one of the largest chip manufacturers is located in my town. They have a large complex operation. They hire thousands of contractors each year. In order to streamline their process, they have a preferred list (Tier 1) of recruiting firms who get their job requests and submit candidates for these positions. Likewise, the large athletic shoe manufacturer nearby has its Tier 1 contracting firms that they work with. The two lists of firms are not the same. None of the local recruiters do both of them. So they can’t represent you to the chip company and the shoe company.

What if their client lists overlap and they both can submit me for a job at a company? Wouldn’t my chances double if both of firms could submit me for the same position?

Nope. It doesn’t work that way. If two different recruiters submit you for the same job, when your name hits the client’s system. your application is kicked out so fast and NEITHER firm gets to submit you. Don’t ask me how I know this unpleasant truth.

So, how do you work with a number of contracting firms and still be fair with all of them?

As I build relationships with contracting firms, I ask them for a list of their main clients, (their niche). I keep track of them on a spreadsheet. When an opening comes up at the chip people, Company A can submit me. For the shoe guys, Company B can do it. Most recruiters understand this and will work with you, if you are honest with them. Some of the firms are great at finding positions for tech writers and trainers; others are big on placing developers and project managers. They know how to talk the tech talk with the IT managers, but don’t have a clue as to the skills needed for documentation. I have done a lot of educating of recruiters on what makes a good tech writer and what to look for in a trainer or instructional designer.

There have been times when I have found a job listing on my own for a particular firm. I will ask my recruiters if this firm is one they work with. It may take some time, but I can usually find one from the major contracting firms in town. I could just submit my résumé online, but having a recruiter representing me often gets my résumé read and then the interview.

When I have worked with a client for a contracting agency and there is an opening there again, I owe that firm the courtesy of having them represent me. For example, I had a wonderful contract at a health insurance company that a local staffing firm found for me. If another position comes up at that client, I will definitely go with my original company.

When I am looking for a contract and visit with a recruiter, I am also honest about which jobs I have been submitted for and by whom, so that everyone knows what is going on. The recruiters in my town know each other, and often have worked together in the past. It’s a small community and I try to maintain positive relationships with all of them. A relationship based on honesty and respect is the best way to keep working and have recruiters working for you.

March 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Contractors

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:28 pm
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I regard recruiters as being essential to my livelihood. Many companies will not hire contractors unless they come through a placement agency. Most recruiters are excellent professionals who really do want to match contract workers and clients successfully. The purpose of this piece is to put down my thoughts on the Recruiter—Client relationship.

Recruiters make their living by placing good candidates with clients. Their company’s reputation comes with each contractor they place, so they want you to do well. The good ones have good networking and people skills, since they spend all day trying to make good matches.

I do not know all goes on from the recruiter’s side of the table, but have worked with enough of them to know the qualities I want someone who represents me to have.

I am a technical writer with 20 years of experience, and have also taught in public schools, private colleges, and corporate training programs. I have worked as a Business Analyst and several of my projects have included SOX compliance work. My skills are pretty solid, and I generally have good reviews from clients. Most of the time, when I interview, I get a job offer. With this wide variety of experience, I can be easy to place.

Recruiters I Tend to Ignore

I prefer working with local contracting firms; ones who have a working relationship with hiring managers are authorized to submit candidates. I don’t like to work with companies who are not even in the same area code as I am.

These recruiters do not know the ins and outs of the local market. They are not a preferred vendor or even Tier 1 provider for the large employers. They have a job order they found on a Monster or Career Builder site and then have done a search and matched job titles to the req. Often, they have not taken the time to read my résumé and have no idea if I really do meet the requirements of the requisition.

Some positions presented to me (when I lived in Minnesota) by these dubious recruiters include:

    One in Detroit (doesn’t MI stand for Minnesota?)

One in Atlanta for a senior tech writer for $45,000 a year, FTE.

One for a help desk position in downtown Minneapolis at $16.50 an hour. (How could I pass up such a great opportunity?)

Some recruiters may not even be based in the US, and their companies never have a website. I generally know when a requisition has come out from a major employer in the area, since my mailbox fills with emails (often bad cut and paste jobs) or my phone rings constantly from area codes that are many states away.

After a two minute conversation, I had recruiter guarantee me a job at Nike at a phenomenal rate, if I would just give her authorization to submit me in the next ten minutes.. Her company had an in that no one else had. Since they were located in New Jersey and were not even remotely connected to Nike, I passed on this one.

Several times I have been contacted by recruiters for a job that didn’t exist. When I have checked with a legitimate Tier 1 provider for this employer, no such position has been posted.

Several recruiters have sent me emails with a job description requesting I respond to the email (skip the phone screen) authorizing them to submit me. They also request the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is a dangerous practice and goes against all the advice about giving personal information out to strangers over the Internet.

Know Your Contractors

Get to know the people you are marketing. Many skilled recruiters do good phone screens, and is a good first step. A face to face meeting is better. (Lunch would be nice.) But I (and most consultants I know) would be more than happy to come into your office and meet you. Meeting at Starbucks or Caribou gets old. You can see how I present myself, look over my portfolio and judge my interviewing skills. You have a chance to ask me more questions about my experience and skill sets.

Good honest feedback can help us contractors improve how we present ourselves and interview. I do not think it is realistic to expect recruiters to do major career development consulting, but good constructive suggestions are appreciated.

I will meet with recruiters even when they don’t have an outstanding req. They are building their network and it can work for both of us. I also am willing to connect with them on Linkedin.

Don’t submit me for positions that I am not qualified for. I am willing to stretch some out of my comfort zone, but will not lie about my skills. I can always learn to use new tools, but do not like to be misrepresented as being an expert in an application that I have never used before.

Don’t lie on my résumé. One contractor recently wanted to submit a candidate for a position, but he had some gaps (periods of unemployment) in his résumé. She was willing to manufacture some jobs for him and even had names of people who would pose as his managers in those fake positions. He wisely turned her down.

Talk up my strengths. Many IT workers and tech writers are not good at selling themselves. A good recruiter can help the contractor identify his strengths and play to them. I understand recruiters are not résumé writers, but I also am able to tailor my résumé, to a particular job, or rewrite it to focus on past experience specific to a particular position. It’s my job to rework my résumé, but guidance from a recruiter who knows the client is helpful.

Go to bat for your candidates. I remember one situation where a friend of mine was up for a position as a tech writer for a major hardware manufacturer. I had referred him to the contracting firm. I got a call from the recruiter asking me what she could say to the client who had interviewed for a tech writing job that required a heavy technical background in Engineering. They interviewed him, but had some reservations. Most of them were technical engineers. My friend was a laid-back Hawaiian who did not come across in interviews as being very intense. He had an Engineering degree and really did understand their business. He was also an excellent writer. The recruiter focused on his strengths and convinced them he would do a good job. On her word, the client took a chance on him. The client was so pleased with his work that six months later they offered him a full time permanent position. Because the recruiter knew the contractor’s strengths and style, she was able to market him successfully.

Know Your Clients

How obvious is that? I know that this is not always easy, but at least get the basics down. Get to know managers and hiring people. This is not always easy with some of the big places that have you work through their submission system. Every company has its way of doing things, and it helps to learn as much as possible about how they do it. The better relationship you have with a client, the better you will be able to place contractors (me). If you have other contractors there, pump them about the company.

There are companies who don’t let recruiters talk to hiring managers or limit to them to responding to poorly written job requests, which is a real challenge. Good long-term relationships and feedback from other contractors can help a good recruiter get a leg up when a req comes in.

Learn to read (interpret) the reqs. Like Tarot card reading or divining meaning from tea leaves, sometimes a request can be difficult to interpret. Do they use standard boilerplate that may not fit this particular job? Do all of the requirements make sense? Is this request based in reality, or is it a list of requirements that no human could possibly fill? There can often be a real disconnect between what the req says and what the client has in mind.

Sometimes a request comes through that is very clear and you can easily tell exactly what skills the client is looking for. Others are not so clear and you must guess what the client wants. I was sent one recently with the title of Technical Writer. About four lines into the description, it said, “this is really a position for a training developer.” Then about three lines later, it said, “needs to write test scripts for an application.” This carne from a large firm with lots of roles, and both the recruiter and I were confused as to which of the three roles they were trying to fill

I saw a job listing for a technical writer that had a requirement of a BSEE in electrical engineering. It’s very rare to find someone with that kind of degree doing technical writing, since engineers require a different skill set and a combination of a BSEE and technical writing experience is rare. I have also seen requirements for a technical writer who is has extensive background in specific programming languages. Again, this is an unrealistic request.

Separate the “must haves” from the “nice to haves.” Clients get hung up on tools and require experience with certain specialized ones. Others put together a laundry list that no one can fill. A good recruiter can make the call and decide when to submit a candidate who may have good experience, but not experience in every single application listed.

I had an experience where I was submitted for an instructional designer position. The standard company boilerplate was there asking for several years of experience, in Instructional Design. I was rejected because the hiring manager was looking for someone who had a PhD in instructional design, and she that was obvious in the req. When it was pointed out to her that there was no mention of a doctorate, she had to admit she had grabbed the standard material and had not read it carefully.

I was submitted for a training position for a large PeopleSoft rollout. My first response was that I have no experience with the PeopleSoft and so did not think I would be a good fit for the position. The recruiter said it was a “nice to have” but not necessary. Five minutes into the interview, I was asked about my PeopleSoft experience. When I said none, there was an awkward pause. Feedback from the client was they would pass on me since I had no PeopleSoft experience and the interviewer (who may not have written the req) considered it essential. It was a waste of time for the recruiter, the client and me.

Treat Contractors with Integrity

Don’t present me to a client saying I have experience that I don’t. My résumé is a truthful representation of what I have done and should be strong enough on its own merits.

Don’t ever submit me for a position without my permission. Some recruiters will ask for my verbal permission and I have given it. Others will send me an email and ask that I respond. Some use a combination of the two. There is always an acknowledgement on both sides of what we are doing and on what terms.

Keep me in the loop. You submitted me for a position, I interviewed and you got positive feedback. But a more qualified candidate showed up. This happens. It is not fun to make the phone call to tell me I did not get the job. Make the call anyway and let me know what is happening. As an adult, I can take the bad news and I respect you for letting me know. It happens, it’s part of the contracting game.

Be ethical. I had a nightmare experience with a firm for an excellent position with a major firm that was known for its high standards in the financial community. In the course of 72 hours, they:

  1. Submitted me for one rate and then tried to reduce it by 20%.
  2. Lied to me about the client’s time table, trying to force me into making a decision on the spot.
  3. Continued to phone me throughout the next two days telling me that I had to accept their offer. (I was trying to decide between their offer and another one). One day there were five messages on my machine from them, each one saying something different about the terms, often contradicting earlier information. It bordered on harassment.

I did not accept the position. I would have loved to work for the client, but the idea of having to deal with people who could not be trusted nixed the deal.

Pay your contractors promptly. Most large contracting firms have a time keeping system set up, and the money goes into a contractor’s bank account with direct deposit. I don’t worry about them. But some of the smaller ones have do not have a workable system and can’t pay until they get paid by the client. I cannot wait 60 days after submitting my timesheet to be paid.

Follow Up With Your Contractors

Once I have been placed in a position, I do appreciate communication to continue. My personal practice is to file weekly status reports with my boss (onsite) and cc the account manager. Any issues quickly surface and can be resolved. I always track my accomplishments so everyone knows if things are on track. Daily handholding and checking in is not required, but good communication makes for a better relationship.

Lunch away from the office is a nice break. If there is good communication between contractors and account managers, opportunities for additional business can happen. I may be able to work out an extension, or a raise. I had one six-week assignment last for a year, because the client kept finding more work to do.

Your contractors are often in a position to see other needs a client may have, and can pass that information on to you. Contractors are often a good source of referrals. We have friends who do what we do.

Anne Cloward

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