ALC Consulting

October 6, 2009

An Unabashed Plug for a Group

As you are looking for a job and getting beyond the applying online route and are actually talking to real people, you may find yourself panicking. You have to talk to real people and you do not know how to do it! How do you carry on a conversation? How do you gauge what kind of impression you make on others? How do you answer even basic questions about who you are?

There are several solutions besides the one of not doing anything. You can pay lots of money to a professional coach and take lots of public speaking classes.

But if you are on a tight budget and cannot afford any of these solutions, there is a rather inexpensive and fun way to develop your skills at speaking in front of and to others: The answer is (drum roll please) Toastmasters. They can be found at http://www.toastmasters.org/

Or, if you are local to Oregon, try this URL, http://reports.toastmasters.org/findaclub/searchresults.cfm?Country=United%20States&State=Oregon

Why would joining an organization, which forces you to get up and speak before others be good for me, if the job I am searching after doesn’t require me to do a lot of speaking? Well, even in IT shops, where I have toiled for years, you have to present information to colleagues and bosses in an organized manner. You have to talk to people who do not share your background and expertise, and get them to understand what it is you are trying to do. You generally have to go through an interview in which you want to present your best self. What better place to learn all of these skills for a very small amount of money.

I speak from personal experience. Most Toastmaster clubs are filled with supportive people who help each other develop their abilities presenting their best selves in front of others. Even though I have spoken in public many times, and taught school for many years, there are still many valuable things I have learned from my club; how to run a meeting, how to be a better listener, how to think on my feet.

Besides that, Toastmasters can be a lot of fun. You get to meet interesting people and who knows, one of them might know of an opportunity for you. Ya never know.

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September 9, 2009

Best Practices II

After the First Day

Oops! This never got posted when it was supposed to. Anyway, here goes.

Life in the office takes on a general rhythm, most of the time, and the unfamiliar begins to feel more comfortable. I struggle during meetings my first week or two, to learn names, company acronyms, and programs. If nothing else, I can observe how the team interacts and how meetings are run.

There are some personal habits that I try to follow here. I have listed them here, not in any particular order.

Create and send a weekly status report to your boss, and to the account manager or recruiter, if they would like. It is a one-page document that lists what has been accomplished for the week, what the goals are for next week, and any problems or other information the a manager needs to know (vacations, changes in work schedule, etc.) Some project managers have requested them and then use them for reports to their bosses. It’s a tool that helps assure management that you are aware of priorities and are on the same page.

If the account manager for the contracting firm does not want to view it, that’s fine. But I offer to email it weekly. I use it for myself to track my progress.

Keep your own “to do” list and other job aids. I often am asked to create several different documents concurrently for a project, and I track where they are in the writing process. If there is a style guide for the company, I use it. If no style guide exists, I create one for my personal use. If there is no glossary of terms, I create one.

On some projects, peer editing is the norm and it’s good to know who is supposed to be reviewing what. When sending a document out for this kind of review, I will include guidelines, asking the reviewer to focus on content and let me worry about grammar and spelling.

Keep administrative documentation in order. Documents that I need to keep may be either in electronic format or hard copy, but I keep them for tracking purposes:

Employment agreements

Confidentiality or Non-disclosure agreements

Any correspondence from the contracting firm regarding details of my assignment

Time sheets (copies, if the boss needs the originals)

Status Reports

Company phone directories,

Meeting notes with assignments marked. (To go on to my “to do” list)

Have an end of day routine. Even if I am in the middle of something, I leave my cube in order. Papers are either filed or put into an inbox, and other materials are put into the trash. Now, the boss may have the most cluttered desk I have ever seen, but as a contractor, I don’t have that luxury. It also helps to keep track of things.

I check my calendar for the next day. There is nothing more distressing than coming into the office and finding I have in five minutes or five minutes ago that I had not been aware of. If possible, I print up any documents or agendas that I need for the meeting. Walking into a meeting late because I was doing some last minute printing is unprofessional. Printers are fussy creatures and can detect when you are in a hurry, and immediately run out of toner or jam on you.

During the day, use the calendar that usually comes with email. Many companies use an electronic calendar to schedule meeting and conference calls. I use it, and set up an alarm to be set at least 15 minutes in advance, (adjustable to the circumstances.) If it takes me 20 minutes to get to the conference room, I set the alarm accordingly.

Always create an agenda. If you call a meeting, and send it out to the participants, asking for feedback and attach any relevant documents. Many times team members appreciate having the documents in advance and actually read them. Agendas make meetings more productive and it seems that you are organized. A focused meeting makes the best use of peoples’ time. The most common complaint I hear is about non productive meetings that keep the “real” work from getting done.

Try to be a team player. One phrase that is really unprofessional is “that’s not in my job description.” Sometimes the task may not be a part of a normal job description and the request is outrageous, but other times, it’s better just roll up my sleeves and get the job done. More than once I have printed up documents for meetings or prepared boxes to ship. You do whatever you need to in order to meet a deadline or complete a project. An AA may work for several departments and is not available to be at anyone’s beck and call, and often that means a contractor does what needs to be done.

Often I will receive a request from a co-worker for help with a Word document, since they assume I know all about the program. Some IT types don’t know how to use the program well and get frustrated in trying to get the page to work right. If it is quick fix, and I am able to help, I will oblige. The same goes with Visio. I try to explain what I am doing, so they can repeat it on their own. This does not mean I am giving classes on using Word, it just means, I help a co-worker with a report using a tool they don’t know all that well..

Another thing contractors have to deal with is the corporate culture and the unwritten rules that govern them. In some companies, the rules for employees are different than for contractors. I been in companies where long time employees shoot the breeze for half an hour every morning, make long personal phone calls, take two hour lunches and think nothing of it. Such behavior in contractors is totally unacceptable, and a good contractor behaves accordingly. I only make personal phone calls (dentist and doctor appointments, for instance) during lunch, and keep them short. I do not give out my company phone number, but use my cell phone.

People who have worked together for a long time find themselves sharing some personal events, be they a new addition to the family, a wedding, or even a birthday. On some assignments, I have signed good wishes and sympathy cards, admired new babies, and even participated in a secret Santa exchange. When asked to participate in breakfast exchange or pot luck, I do more than bring a bag of chips. At other companies, the line has been drawn and contractors are not asked to participate. It takes time to learn what the rules are in a company regarding contractor participation, but if asked, I participate.

Charge the client for time spent doing productive work. If Dave in St Louis is on the phone for two hours working on a problem with me from 11 to 1, I do consider that time that is charged to the client. Time spent in cafeteria with co-workers for lunch is my time and off the clock. My goal is to be productive and make the best use of my time while I am there on the job. Late or early meetings or overtime spent meeting deadlines are part of my work ethic. My focus is on making sure the job gets done and the client is happy with the documentation that is produced.

One Major Issue

We contractors are busy often quite independent people, who may have more than one iron in the fire. But some contractors carry this too far, and in the process give all contractors a bad name

I worked with a fellow writer who took advantage of the fact that our boss was one floor away and was not a hands-on manager. His side business was an e-commerce website and at least half his day was spent filling orders and emailing customers’ he even used the client’s PC to conduct his business.

Another entrepreneurial soul with whom I worked had several programmers working under him on a separate project for a different firm. When their programs needed debugging, he would spend hours on his cell phone talking to them, at the same time charging for his time spent onsite.

One fellow contractor was a multitalented person. He ran a dance studio, was a personal trainer and taught at the local community college in addition to the assignment he had taken on to provide training for an application being developed by our client, a major financial institution. He was constantly late to every meeting and often would be found out in the hall advising a client on his workout routine. Deadlines were missed, and the user documentation went out without any review. Training materials were thrown together at the last minute and went out without any testing. He had committed to the training effort, but several hours a day were spent on his other enterprises, and it showed in the quality or lack of it, in the incomplete training materials he sent out.

These three may have thought there was nothing wrong in what they were doing, but they were stealing from the client. The client becomes aware that the contractor has other interests that are requiring his time and attention and is not happy. The contracting firm often suffers also, since the next time they recommend a contractor; he or she is not regarded favorably. The damage has been done.

The client is being billed for a contractor’s time and expects the best from the contractor. When he feels he is not getting his money’s worth, the relationship between the client and the contracting firm suffers. A once favorable relationship has been compromised and the contracting firm finds it difficult to place a new contractor there.

April 2, 2009

The Farmer and the Cowman (Contractors and Recruiters)

Filed under: Contracting,Recruiters — Anne Cloward @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , , , ,

oklahoma-cover2

I participated in drama and public speaking in high school, which lead me to participate in the yearly musical. Since I don’t sing all that well and was not a long legged dancer, I got to work backstage. I like to boss people around, manage and organize things, so I was the stage manager. During my sophomore year, we put on Oklahoma, that old Rogers and Hammerstein chestnut, Some of my duties included feeding lines to actors and filling in for missing actors. By the time the final curtain came down, I knew every line of the play.
The story is set in the Oklahoma territory, just before statehood. There seem to be two groups of settlers there; the farmers and the cowboys. The thrifty farmers build fences and families, while the footloose cowboys want to roam free on the range. Things come to a head one night at a barn dance, where the two factions confront each other, at what is supposed to be a community building event. Being a musical, they spar throughout the song. Ike is a Farmer, as is Eller, and Annie is a lost soul who likes everyone).

(Ike Carns):

The farmer and the cowman should be friends.

Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow,

But that’s no reason why they cain’t be friends.

(Chorus)

Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals. (repeat)

(A Farmer)

I’d like to say a word for the farmer,

He come out west and made a lot of changes

(A Cowboy)

He come out west and built a lot of fences,

And built ’em right acrost our cattle ranges.

(A Farmer)

The farmer is a good and thrifty citizen, no matter what the cowman says of things.

You seldom see ’em drinkin’ in a bar room

(A Cowboy)

Unless somebody else is buyin drinks.

(Another Cowboy)

But the farmer and the cowman should be friends.

Oh, the famer and the cowman should be friends.

The cowman ropes a cow with ease, the farmer steals her butter and cheese, but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.

(Chorus)

Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.

(Aunt Eller)

I’d like to say a word for the cowboy, the road he treads is difficult and stoney.

He rides for days on end with jist a pony for a friend.

(Ado Annie)

I sure am feelin’ sorry for the pony!

(Aunt Eller)

The farmer should be sociable with the cowboy if he rides by and asks for food and water.

Don’t treat him like a louse make him welcome in your house.

(A Farmer)

But be sure that you lock up your wife and daughters!

(At this point, mayhem breaks loose and Aunt Eller clears the air by firing shots in the air and forcing everyone to sing.)

(Chorus)

Territory folks should stick together,

Territory folks should all be pals.

Cowboys dance with farmer’s daughters,

Farmers dance with the ranchers’ gals.

I am using this example to cite how we view others through our filters and assign stereotypical characteristics to each other.

Only the two groups I am talking about here are Contractorsand Recruiters. I was at a networking meeting recently in which a job seeker stated he just might have to talk to a recruiter one day soon. And he sure did not seem happy about it. He seemed to regard recruiters just as negatively as the farmers did the cowboys.

Get over it. Recruiters can be your friends. They can be your lifeline to getting interviews and eventually getting hired.

This is the way the system works:

  1. Clients have needs for people with skills.
  2. They contact recruiters with their needs.
  3. Recruiters screen and find the best candidates for the clients.
  4. Clients hire candidates and pay the recruiters for their services.

I was stunned when a friend recently that a recruiter had called him and said for $1500, he could find him a job.
You should never pay a recruiter to find you a job; you should thank him, but it is not your job to pay him.

Recruiters vary in their abilities and backgrounds. But their way of making a living is the same. Clients pay them to find people to work.

So Candidates, quit thinking of recruiters as the enemy. They are your friends.

For my next few posts, I am going to discuss the nuances of good candidate/recruiter relationships. There are things you can do as a candidate to help the recruiter do their jobs. There are also characteristics that you should look for in good recruiters.

Coming next: How do I find recruiters?

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