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.

June 30, 2009

Interviewing—More Wacky Interviewing Questions

Filed under: Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 1:48 pm
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div>These questions are culled from an extensive list compiled by Monster. In no particular order:

  1. Why do you want this job?

    I need something to do to keep busy during the day.

  2. There’s no right or wrong answer, but if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

    Somewhere where someone isn’t asking me some wacky questions.

  3. What is your favorite memory from childhood?

    What has that got to do with my ability to analyze Crystal reports?

  4. What do you do in your spare time?

    Go on interviews to see how many silly questions people can ask me.

  5. What do you like to do for fun?

    Stay up late playing video games till three in the morning.

  6. Sell me this pencil.

    Why should I waste your time? Aren’t you looking for a DBA, (Project Manager, Systems Analyst)?

  7. Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?

    I am an editor, my work is always up for criticism, it comes with the territory.

  8. Tell me one thing about yourself you wouldn’t want me to know.

    I still don’t want you to know, so I won’t tell you.

  9. What is your biggest regret, and why?

    That I am sitting here interviewing when I really would rather be at the beach.

  10. What are three positive character traits you don’t have?

    Um. Pride, patience, and honesty.

  11. What irritates you about other people, and how do you deal with it?

    Asking silly questions that have no relevance to the job. I am trying to be patient and not walk out of here.

  12. How many times do a clock’s hands overlap in a day?

    Can I put this in my file of “Dumb and Irrelevant Questions that really don’t have anything to do with the position, but give someone a chance to see if they can make me squirm.”

  13. How would you weigh a plane without scales?

    See above.

  14. If you could choose one superhero power, what would it be and why?

    See above also.

  15. If you could get rid of any one of the US states, which one would you get rid of, and why?

    Another one.

  16. With your eyes closed, tell me step-by-step how to tie my shoes.

    Again, please stop these!

  17. Tell me 10 ways to use a pencil other than writing.

    I use it to clamp on when I am having a seizure.

  18. What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?

    I don’t think this is the time to mention that when I found out my husband was having an affair, I was ready to kill him on the spot.

    Then there is the time the FBI wiretapped my phone for a year.

  19. What kind of car do you drive?

    Maybe, like many Portlanders, I don’t have a car and use public transportation. See Questions 12-17.

    Next: More questions that really don’t make sense, including my all-time favorite one.


June 11, 2009

Interviewing—The Phone Screen

Filed under: Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 8:42 pm
Tags: , ,

Once upon a time, there was a TV show called Laugh-in. It was edgy and irreverent and terribly funny. Ernestine, played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin was a star in her own right.  Ernestine had her own agenda and stuck to it, no matter who was on the line. And her laugh was pure snarkiness.  Today’s topic deals with the phenomenon of the Phone Screen.

 

I do have a phone screen story to tell from my tech writing days. I applied to a Very Well Known Company in Salt Lake. They were famous all over the world for their seminars, books and planners. I won’t name names, but they did have a stadium named after them at one time.

I received a call from someone. She had one question for me.

“How low will you go?”

“What?”

“How low will you go for a salary? If you answer with too high a number, we won’t call you in for an interview.”

I could not believe that was their main requirement for selecting a technical writer! So the Well Known Company in Salt Lake City missed out on having my talents define their seminars and other products. Their loss, I am sure.

Dollar%20Sign

For those of you who think that the phone screen is a preliminary call made to weed out people and once you ace it you are on to the “real interview,” don’t dismiss it lightly. The Phone Screen is becoming a tool of choice for hiring managers these days.

Sarah Needleman of the Wall Street Journal has a great article on the subject this week.

Job seekers, beware the telephone.

For years, the phone interview was a preliminary step that allowed an employer to give a candidate the once-over and schedule an in-person interview. But these days, many recruiters are using the phone interview to pose the kinds of in-depth questions previously reserved for finalists. What’s more, job hunters say the bar for getting to the next level has been raised much higher, catching many of them off-guard.

In a recent first interview for a senior marketing job, Robyn Cobb was grilled by a hiring manager for an hour and a half on topics ranging from her work history and marketing philosophy to her knowledge of the company and its industry.

“I thought it was never going to end,” says the 45-year-old Ms. Cobb, who lives in Alpharetta, Ga., and was laid off in December from a midsize communications firm.

Until recently, candidates could often breeze through most phone interviews in 10 minutes or less by answering a few softball questions. Little preparation was necessary, and most people could expect to be invited for a “real” interview before hanging up.

These days, job hunters are finding that they need to reserve an hour or more for a phone interview. They may be asked to discuss their full work history, including the exact dates of their experience in various business areas. They may also be expected to cite examples and exact stats that illustrate their strengths and offer details on how they would handle the position.

During a call earlier this year about a director-of-Internet-marketing job, Jaclyn Agy of Wheat Ridge, Colo., says she was asked to describe about 10 different marketing initiatives she’s worked on, plus provide metrics resulting from each. “I didn’t have those stats off the top of my head,” she recalls of the hour-long conversation. “I expected to be asked that in a face-to-face.”

Ms. Agy, 30, says she assumed she’d need only to describe two or three past accomplishments in general terms. “I was taken back by how specific [the interviewer] was getting,” she says. Ms. Agy was better prepared for a follow-up phone interview. She was later invited to meet with eight members of the hiring company in its Denver office, though she didn’t land the position.

Employers say they’ve raised the phone-interview stakes in part because they’re attracting more candidates who meet their basic qualifications. They’re digging deep to identify the best ones, and in some cases adding second-round rigor to phone screens as one way to accomplish that.

“You can be pickier,” says Joyce A. Foster, vice president of human resources at Hilex Poly Co. LLC in Hartsville, S.C. Salaried job openings at the company’s 10 U.S. locations have been attracting up to three times as many qualified applicants — including more candidates with experience in Hilex’s niche, plastic film and bag manufacturing and recycling — than during more robust economic times, she says.

“Before, if a person had only recycling experience in paper, we might have said OK,” Ms. Foster says. “Today we can be more specific. I’m going to find someone who’s an even better fit.”

Recruiters are also seeking to weed out those who seem likely to change jobs as soon as the economy turns around. “We’re trying to determine whether what we’re offering truly meets their long-term objectives,” says Paul Newman, assistant vice president of human resources at OppenheimerFunds. And when it comes to candidates who were laid off, recruiters for the New York-based asset-management firm want to know the circumstances behind what happened. “Was this person a high-performance, talented individual who was let go because of the economics of the business,” he says, “or an average employee let go in the first round” of layoffs?

For many firms, evaluating candidates over the phone also serves as a way to save on recruiting costs. “In this economy, you can’t afford to fly every person out for an interview,” says Jeff Cousens, vice president of organizational development at Patrick Energy Services Inc. in Lisle, Ill. After joining the energy concern in January, he instructed recruiters to complete up to four comprehensive phone interviews with candidates before inviting finalists in. Previously, they made just one brief call, mainly to schedule in-person interviews. “When a candidate comes in to meet the hiring manager, recruiters have already gone through every detail to make sure they’re a fit,” says Mr. Cousens.

 


Job seekers should prepare for a phone interview as seriously as they do for an in-person one. When asked about your qualifications, for example, you can craft a better answer by asking what the company wants and why, says J.T. O’Donnell, a career strategist in North Hampton, N.H.

If you’re asked how many years of experience you have with a program you have used extensively, but not for years, you could reply by asking how much is required and at what level, says Ms. O’Donnell. Maybe the company chose a number based on how much experience the last person in the position had, and you might have just as much, but in a condensed time frame. You can then provide a convincing reason as to why you should be considered for the job even if your answer doesn’t match exactly what the recruiter is looking for.

You should also prepare to answer more complex and detailed questions in phone interviews by creating a list of key statistics and abbreviated answers to commonly asked questions, says Bill McGowan, founder of communications-coaching firm Clarity Media Group Inc. Some examples: What do you know about the company? Why do you want the job? What are your greatest strengths? What are your career goals? How do you see yourself fitting in?

“What traps a lot of people is they think and talk at the same time. They make up answers on the fly,” says Mr. McGowan. “It’s better if you know your conversational path.”

Don’t expect to defer answering questions to your first meeting with a hiring manager, says Maureen Crawford Hentz, a talent-acquisition manager at Danvers, Mass.-based lighting manufacturer Osram Sylvania Inc. That may have been the case in the past, but not now. “People think if you’re talking to someone in HR, this isn’t a real interview,” she says. But these days, it might be your only shot.

Be sure to brush up on your phone etiquette, too. Ms. Crawford Hentz says candidates have put her on hold while they answered another call or tended to their children. Once she could tell a candidate was visiting a drive-through restaurant during a call because she heard a loudspeaker requesting the person’s lunch order.

Finally, be mindful of common faux pas, such as giving long-winded answers that go off topic. “Sometimes the longer you talk, the more it sounds like you’re trying to explain your way through something,” says Mr. McGowan. “The most confident people don’t need to drone on.” Another common flub: answering recruiters’ questions before they’ve finished speaking. Not only does that show disrespect, but it “makes it seem like you have stocked, canned answers,” he says.

Write to Sarah E. Needleman at sarah.needleman@wsj.com

June 1, 2009

Interviewing—The Series

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 5:23 am
Tags: ,

Several weeks ago, Mother’s Day was approaching. My grown sons were torn. The latest Star Trek movie was opening that weekend and they really wanted to see it. So when they asked me what I wanted to do for Mother’s Day, I sacrificed my longing for flowers that would wilt in a few days and opted to go to the movie with them. I was not disappointed at all! It was a great romp through outer space.

I have been a Star Trek fan since the beginning. I am not a Trekker, just a fan. I have followed the Enterprise through its various reincarnations. So, my graphic for this post is a traipse down memory lane (abbreviated, of course).

 

We began with the original series, with the gang playing cowboys in outerspace. And going boldly where no man had gone before. Captain Kirk was replaced by the properly British Jean Luc Picard, who was followd by the tough Kate Mulgrew character, to be followed by the Avery Brooks captain and finally the Scott Baluka captian (very nice on the eyes).

ultimate_star_trek 

The Enterprise kept rolling along on television and in the movies. Some were great, others not so great, but exploring new worlds all the same.

Finally we came to the latest in the franchise. These guys changed it to where no one has gone before, responding to criticism of that half the race was missing in the earlier prologue.

 It was nice to return to the roots and original humor of the first series. I mean, how can you not get a laugh out of Scotty beaming himself into the hydraulic tube or Bones boarding the shuttle with a massive hangover?

So now we have Interviewing: The Series. I don’t know how long it will go, certainly, not as long as Star Trek, but I have done a lot of research and have found a lot of misinformation out there that I would like to dispel. But hang in with me for a while and settle in for the ride. I promise none of my posts will be as long as any of the movies, not even as long as some of the TV episodes.

Next: Where to begin?

March 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Contractors

Filed under: Contracting — Anne Cloward @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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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