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Posted in News

Job hunt trends for 2014 and beyond – what’s changed, what you can do to keep up

Do your New Year’s Resolutions include looking for a new job in 2014? Here’s some tips on how the game has changed, and what smart seekers are doing to stay ahead of the pack.

LinkedIn – the new gotta-have

A detailed, professional, connected, regularly-updated LinkedIn profile is no longer optional. It may not be officially mandatory, but it might as well be. It has become equal to, or even MORE important than your resume as a tool for potential employers and contacts to find and evaluate you. Read up on how LinkedIn works (there are online resources and books available), look at other people’s profiles, and think about how to present your unique combination of skills and value. Just as importantly, look at the profiles that leave you saying, “um, nah,” and think about why they failed to hook you.

LinkedIn offers automated help with completing your profile – take it. Make sure your names, dates, and qualifications are all correct, and that they match your resume. Recruiters and HR people check for discrepancies, and you don’t want to get caught making inconsistent claims. In fact, many recruiters prefer LinkedIn profiles over resumes for this reason; it’s harder to lie on your resume when it’s a public document.

Use a clear, professional-looking head or head-and-shoulders photo, with a simple background.

When looking through other people’s profiles, take note of overused words and cliches, and avoid them. You don’t want to blend in with the thousands of other “results-oriented team players” out there. Specific skills and specific achievements are your best bet.

Once you’ve got your profile up and running, keep it fresh by updating it regularly. Time slips away very quickly, and nothing’s more off-putting than a profile that someone obviously made, and then abandoned and forgot about, two years ago. Join discussion groups that are related to your areas of professional interest and participate in them. Give endorsements. Make connections. Post links to blogs and news items you think your colleagues would find interesting or helpful. Be a presence.

Stalking your potential employer/interviewer

Back before the Internet, interview tips would always suggest that you go look up your target company: get a copy of their annual report, go to the library and look up news articles on them, etc. Props to you if you actually did do that, but it’s a safe bet that most folks just didn’t have the time. Even if you did, there was no way to find out anything about the actual interviewer who’d be talking with you.

Now, in the world of Google and 24-hour Internet access, there’s no excuse not to. So you have another “mandatory requirement” if you want to be a stand-out candidate.

Check out the company’s website, but don’t stop there. Read discussions of the company by various analysts, business articles about them; get to know their technologies, their major competitors, their projects, their position in the market, their current challenges, etc. Google the person who’s interviewing you – you may find them listed as attending various professional conferences or involved in certain projects. Check them out on LinkedIn – what other positions have they held? What are their educational qualifications? What are their areas of expertise? Do they have any connections in common with you? It will help you understand “where they’re coming from”, and how best to communicate.

Use employer-review sites like GlassDoor to get a sense of what it’s like to work there, keeping in mind that discontented people tend to post more frequently than contented ones.

Using your connections actively

When you apply, check the company on LinkedIn, see if you know anyone who works there or are second-generation linked to them. Gather information, ask for positive boosts if appropriate, etc. Also get a sense of whether you DON’T want this job. Sometimes it’s empty for a good reason.

Go ahead and use the online job boards, but realize that you are doing it the hard way

Modern recruiting practices place a lot of obstacles between you and a hiring manager. Apply for a job you see on one of the job-clearinghouse websites like Monster or Workopolis and you’re up against massive numbers of applicants, and the automated resume-screening software that discards your resume long before a human ever looks at it. This is a very poor-odds way of making it into the winners’ circle. Wherever you can, look for ways to do an end-run around The Machine. Go in as a contract worker, network, get friends to “walk your resume in” and show it to hiring managers, etc. It not only improves your odds, it also allows you to feel more in control of the process of presenting yourself.

Track your applications and note the outcomes

There’s a lot of reasons to do this. If you’re using different versions of your resume, you can see which ones are getting you the best response. If you’re applying to a lot of jobs, details can start to run together. It’s very helpful to keep notes on how the interview went, who you spoke with, how long they said it would likely take them to make their decision. It’s also very important to copy and store the job description you applied to. Too often, when you get the call for an interview, the posting has been removed, and you’re left trying to remember what exactly you applied for. Recruiters also like it when you can say for certain whether you have applied for a particular job through another channel.

A simple spreadsheet will do, or you can use a commercially-available product like JibberJobber.

Manage your online presence

Go back and check on abandoned email accounts and profiles on sites and services you no longer use. Make sure that unused accounts have not been hacked, or embarrassingly stale profiles are not your public face in places where potential employers might see them. Google yourself and ensure that there’s nothing offputting out there; use “View as” on Facebook to see what others will see when they check.

And don’t forget the human connection

Technology has changed the way the game looks, but it’s still ultimately all about people. Look for ways to meet people, exchange ideas, find ways to help one another out, make an impression. You never know which conversation will lead to your next big opportunity!

Posted in Job Hunting

Mentors – Why to have one, how to get one… or more!

Why have a mentor? You’re educated. You’re smart. You’re good at what you do. So why would you need a mentor?

Although the mentor-mentee relationship is as old as the concept of “work”, it’s a hot new concept in the modern skills economy. Companies and professional cultures are acknowledging just how powerful a mentor can be in helping you direct your career and achieve your goals. But there can be a lot of reasons to get involved with a mentor. You might be thinking about developing some area of your working life (or your work-life balance) that you’ve been struggling with. You might be stalled, or even bored, in your current career. You might be transitioning to a new industry, or a new line of work, or a new city, or a new culture. You might be thinking about striking out on your own.

Imagine having someone experienced, a “sounding board” who can help you work out how to get where you want to go, or just someone with a different perspective on things. Imagine talking with someone who has struggled with the same issues you’re facing, someone who can share some of the things they’ve learned along the way.

Start by thinking about your goals

You can’t figure out who’s the best person to help you until you figure out what you’re trying to accomplish. And as a “mentee”, you’ll be more productive and more satisfying for a mentor to work with if you start out with a specific goal that you want to pursue, or an issue you want to address. Do you want to develop your independent business smarts? Your ability to self-promote? Do you want to expand into a new industry, or make the leap into management? Do you want to function well in a new culture, whether you have moved into a new country, or have begun doing business in that cultural group? Are you working on your ability to navigate relationships and network? Identify your priorities. Which leads us to…

You can have more than one mentor

You can turn to different people for different types of help, and each one brings something different to the relationship. One who’s in your workplace will understand more about what you’re trying to do, and under what conditions. But one who isn’t in your workplace will have enough distance from it to offer a fresh, “outsider’s” perspective. One who’s directly in your line of work has struggled with similar challenges to yours. But one who’s in a different line of work can inject a completely different perspective, and help you see things through new lenses. There’s no one ideal formula for a good mentor, and no rule that says you can seek out only one.

Where to find a mentor

Some companies have mentoring programs, where people seeking mentors and people willing to be mentors are matched up. Some foundations also offer the same matchmaking service. But look around in all the areas of your life. Join professional groups. Offer to help out at a conference that is likely to be run by, or attract, the kind of person you’re looking for. Watch for someone who embodies what you’d like to be, someday.

How to approach a potential mentor

Don’t arrive with a long list of expectations before you even have a relationship. Many people may simply not be able to help you in the way you’re looking for. Start out by asking for a no-strings-attached chat – at work, or over coffee, or lunch, and have some key questions to ask. Focus on specific areas of interest that you and the other person have in common. The mentor has to find this discussion stimulating and engaging and rewarding as well; they’re not just there to “brain dump” for you.

Structuring the relationship

If you “hit it off” decently in the first chat, ask if there is a possibility of setting up a regular or semi-regular interactions, whether it’s a business breakfast once a month, or coffee every other week, or a quarterly dinner somewhere (paying for the refreshments is good form on your part). Explain what it is you want to know more about, what your goal is, and how you’re trying to improve your own abilities. The job of improving you is yours, not your mentor’s.

What a mentor isn’t

A mentor is not a career counselor. It’s not their job to study you and figure out what you should do with your life and supply all the directions on how to get there. They’re not a sponsor. A mentor may, if they come to believe that you are a good risk, share some of their network contacts and other relationships with you. But it’s not fair to ask for a chunk of their hard-earned industry goodwill right off the top. A mentor is not a fairy godmother. They can’t wave a wand for you and make your wishes come true. You have to take the advice and input, weigh it, and do the thinking and doing for yourself. And they are most definitely not a therapist. They don’t want (and shouldn’t have to) listen to you grouse endlessly about the things that frustrate you. Your angle should be, “How can I achieve this goal?” not “Why can’t I achieve this goal?” Take responsibility for your decisions and how they work out.

Being a good “mentee”

To get the most out of a mentor-mentee relationship, you must be self-aware, and willing to receive feedback. If you can’t talk openly about your weaknesses, then you won’t be able to do anything about them. Likewise, you should be ambitious, committed, and willing to go outside your comfort zone. There’s nothing more frustrating for the person who has taken the time and trouble to give you advice than having the advice go nowhere because you don’t have the nerve or the drive to pursue your dreams. You’ll need to be discreet, if you want your mentor to share confidential or personal information with you, and independent enough to think for yourself.

Mentoring is a two-way relationship

The mentor-mentee relationship falls into a kind of gray area, in business terms. It’s not exactly “quid pro quo” (giving something to get something), but it needs to be rewarding for both people involved, or it won’t last. Since the mentor is most likely not seeing a financial or business gain, it’s important that they feel that their contribution makes a difference, and that their time and effort is appreciated. Someone whose success is worth imitating is probably someone whose spare time is in short supply; show respect for the gift of time and attention, and don’t demand too much. Show yourself as willing to take advice and try out suggestions, and then come back to discuss how they worked out.

And, it should go without saying, when the time comes, be ready to help out someone else who’s just getting started. It’s the giving-it-forward that shows the true power of the mentor relationship.

Posted in Career

Networking for Introverts

We’ve all met the person who charges around a room, walking fearlessly into conversations, shaking hands with everyone they meet and somehow managing to come away with everyone’s name, business card and life story. If you are that person, good for you – your natural style meshes well with the fact that business relies on making connections with people you don’t know.

But what if you’re an introvert, even a little shy? You’re pretty comfortable with your friends and family, but the prospect of a room full of strangers fills you with dread. And maybe the whole “networking” thing strikes you as sort of shallow, sort of manipulative, not really your style?

Fear not. There are dozens of good resources on networking, but we’ll take a moment to discuss some ways to go at it, introvert-style.

Stop to Think about what Networking Really Is

Some people mentally group networking in with “sales” — as in, you’re cornering potential “customers” and trying to sell them a “product” (you). Immediately, their back goes up against the whole idea. “I’m a hardworking professional, why do I have to sell myself like some kind of commodity on the open market?” Or, “The flashiest ones always win those contests, and I don’t DO flashy.” Or even, “The whole idea of cold-calling someone or walking up to someone I don’t know makes me want to throw up. I’m just not cut out for this!”

Start by throwing out that whole mental model of what networking is. When you need a plumber or a dentist or a roofer, do you open the phone book and choose one at random, or do you ask around and see who’s known and recommended among your friends? Probably the second option. If your project needs a graphic designer or a user interface expert or a web programmer, would you rather wade through a hundred resumes, or call up someone that you already know is trustworthy, experienced, and a pretty good bet for working well with you and your team?

You want to be that known, trusted person. And while “working the room” shaking every hand and coming away with a fistful of business cards does get the extrovert… well, a lot of business cards, your introvert style can be the better one for the equally-important “trust” part of the relationship. Read on.

The Best Time to Network is When You Don’t Need Anything

If you walk into a situation focused on your own goal (such as a job), you won’t be relaxed and natural, and you’ll regard every interaction that doesn’t end in a job referral as a failure. Too many “failures” and you’ll lose heart quickly. People will also sense that you’re not listening to their thoughts and interests, because you’re too focused on your own, which is a major turn-off. Nobody wants to feel as if you’re only interested in how they can get you what you want.

When you aren’t after anything in particular, you’re more relaxed, and free to do a lot of listening rather than talking. As an introvert, you’ll be going with your in-born style rather than against it – another plus when you’re trying to come across as natural and easy to connect with. Building your networking muscles now, when it’s easy, will serve you well later, when the pressure’s on. So get started now.

What if you really DO need a job, or a client referral? Go ahead and be honest, but don’t put people on the spot to help you get one. Ask for advice, or perspectives on the part of the market they work in, or thoughts about who you should be talking to.

Know your Interactional Style

Some introverts find groups exhausting, because everyone else seems to be firing out comments and responses and propelling the conversation at a too-fast-to-process speed. Other introvert types enjoy listening and watching, and inserting the odd comment when there’s something they specifically want to say.

However, if groups are not your thing, then look for individuals. Pick someone who’s standing alone at the edge of the group, walk up, and introduce yourself. They’ll probably be happy that you took the initiative.

If even that level of crowd-surfing is beyond your comfort zone, consider getting involved in online discussions, where you have a little more breathing room to take in what people say and put together your response. Explore the groups on LinkedIn, and contribute positively in an area you have some expertise in. Try a few different groups, to see what kind of chemistry each one offers.

Get Into View

A study of students living in university dorms found that those who were randomly assigned to the rooms in the high-traffic areas near entrances and exits were rated as more popular by their dorm-mates. Why? In a world of open doors and foot traffic they were more familiar, and as such more approachable and overall better-known.

Do what you can to make this principle work for you. If you need a quiet work space away from noise and interruption, fine. But make a point of eating your lunch in high-traffic areas; volunteer to take tickets at the door for company social events; make choices that put you in people’s line of sight. You’ll become a familiar face to them, they’ll become a familiar face to you, and the first, hardest hurdle is painlessly accomplished.

Anyone Can Be a Networking Contact

Another common concern for introverts is the hurdles they’ll have to get over to even make contact with a VP or CEO or other bigwig, and then the pressure of having exactly four seconds to impress that person. What they don’t realize is that productive networking contacts can come at all levels and through all kinds of interactions.
One IT professional we know got wind of a major opportunity when a temporary secretary (an acquaintance from a previous contract) overhead the hiring manager arguing with a new hire who had just announced that they were leaving for another position. The security guard who stops to chat a moment on his hourly rounds can turn out to have a daughter who owns a company in the sector you’re most interested in. Some people are excited by the prospect of winning their way through the crowd to the attention of a highly-placed person; others are horrified. Just remember that if you are one of the second group, that highly-placed people can come in a lot of forms and roles. Talk to everyone!

Trick Other People; Trick Yourself

You may not be an extrovert, but you can pretend to be one, with a surprising amount of success. Think about someone whose get-out-there-and-connect skills you respect, and try on that persona for size. It won’t change your basic nature, but you may find that it’s something you can manage for a few hours at a time, without anyone knowing that it’s an act.

Keep tabs on your facial expression; introverts often seem to be frowning or unfriendly when what they really are is listening intently to what’s going on. See if you can keep a relaxed smile on at all times and you’ll seem more approachable – and you’ll feel that way, too.

If you don’t mind getting in touch with your inner brain chemist, try power posing before you need to go into a networking situation. In this fascinating TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes the science of using your body posture to change your brain response. It’s hard to argue with the results.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of why you should network, particularly in today’s economy. But we hope we’ve given you a few different ways of looking at what can be a very intimidating topic for many of us.

Posted in Career, Job Hunting

The Five Worst Interview Questions – and how to ace (or bomb) them

The good news is that you got past the online resume screening software (also known as “The Reject-o-Matic”) and have actually scored an interview. Congratulations. But there are some traps and no-wins ahead of you that you need to be prepared for.

“Tell Us About Yourself”

A nice open-ended question, which means you get absolutely zero guidance on what they’re looking to hear, how long you should go on for, how you should structure your response, nothing. In theory it should be an easy question, but it strikes fear into the heart of most interviewees. Part of this is deliberate. Interviewers want to see how you manage without outside direction, whether you can express yourself articulately, and what kind of things you consider most important to communicate about yourself.

And as a test, it works: many candidates freeze up and end up mumbling vague, rambling, or even too-personal facts that don’t leave the interviewer any wiser about who you’ll be if you end up working for them.

You need to do your homework ahead of time. There is no single answer to this question, but one place to start can be a simple, not-too-elaborate description of:

  • where you came from (professionally speaking) – your major areas of experience and expertise
  • what you’re good at and why
  • what you’re like to work with
  • where you want to go in your career

Practice delivering it with confidence, but avoid memorizing it as a set speech – you’ll sound “scripted” and “over-rehearsed”. Personal touches are okay (unusual interests, etc.), but keep in mind that this is a job interview, not a therapy session or a cocktail party.

“What’s your greatest weakness?”

There’s lots of advice on how to handle this one, and most of it’s bad. We’ll clear off a few of the worst ideas.

Don’t claim to not have any weaknesses. You’ll come off as either evasive or arrogant.

Don’t give a “weakness” that’s actually a strength (“Some people say I care too much about the job, I guess that’s my weakness…”)

Don’t give a weakness that’s vague — you’re giving the interviewer room to imagine the worst. (When you say, “I’m too independent,” does that mean that you forget to check in regularly, or does it mean that you flip out when anyone disagrees with you?)
And don’t give a weakness that’s pathetically trivial (“I’m not very good at spelling.”) It makes you sound like you’re not a good critic of yourself if that’s the biggest flaw you can come up with.

But on the other hand, don’t give something that will cause people to hesitate to allow you in the door, or near their projects. You don’t want to confess to losing your temper easily when you’ll be working in customer service, or intimidated by technical topics when you’re a technical writer (don’t laugh, we’ve actually heard this one).

Try for an issue that is specific, middle-of-the-road, not a deal-killer for the job, and something that your references will be able to, at least a little bit, back up. BUT DON’T STOP THERE. The key is that you also immediately supply a description of what you’ve done to fix the problem. Maybe you’re taking university courses to top yourself up with current technical information, or to solidify your weak written communication skills. Maybe you’ve set up informal weekly “mini-reviews” where co-workers can let you know how you’re doing with a certain task. Maybe you’ve sought out a mentor to coach you. The main point is that you don’t present as a problem for your future employer, you present as a solution that’s already underway.

“What do you see yourself doing in five years?”

This is another exercise in steering your way between not-okay options. Do you say “doing this job” (the one you’re interviewing for)? Possibly, but in many fast-past companies that can come across as lack of ambition. Do you say to the interviewer, “Doing YOUR job”? TOO MUCH ambition.

You want to come across as someone who has a plan, but is still open to new possibilities showing up on the horizon. A safe answer is to talk about what you hope to have accomplished at that point in terms of solidifying your skills and building new experience, and the kind of next steps you might be thinking about at that point. Maybe you’ll be thinking about moving into a supervisory role, or maybe you’ll be looking for an opportunity to bump up another level in your qualifications. Either way, you don’t plan to get stale.

“Why did you leave your last employer?”

It certainly is possible that your last coworker was unethical or an idiot, or your boss’s expectations were completely unrealistic. But leave those facts at the door. It’s time to take the high road. No matter how unfair or unjust or plain aggravating your last workplace was, you can’t diss a former employer. If you can’t give an explanation that sounds pleasant and positive, then focus on what you want in your next employer rather than what you hated about your last one. Maybe you want to move into a new industry or subject area. Maybe you want a chance to challenge your skills in a new way. Maybe you want to move into a smaller company because you’ll get to wear more hats, or into a larger one because you want to be part of a multinational team.

While you’re busy keeping your teeth clamped down on your real reasons for leaving, remember that lying is a deal-killer if you were fired or laid off. In those cases, be straightforward, but still positive, and prepared (in the case of firing) with a calm, simple explanation of the circumstances.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Another steer-between-the-hazards question. The main principle that should guide your answer here is: “it’s not about you”. While it may be true that you need a job, and this one sounds okay, or that you really want to get access to their technology (or their top-drawer benefits plan), the company’s goal is not to make YOU happy. Your answer to this question should be about what you can offer rather than about what you’ll be getting.

Talk about your hopes to contribute your particular skills to this company’s projects, and how you plan to grow your capacity and skills in a way that is useful for them. (“I have a lot of strength in creating client relationships, and I want to use it in an organization where clients are making long-term buying decisions,” or “I enjoy an environment where I get to have a lot of different irons in the fire, and I’d really like a chance to use that in a company that demands a lot of versatility in its employees.” Demonstrate your willingness to grow with them.

If you really want to shine, now is the moment to show that you’ve done some homework on this employer – you know the business they are in, you know who their competitors are and how they position themselves against those competitors, and the major challenges they are currently facing. But don’t get carried away – enthusiasm is good, but working yourself into a frenzy of flattery for this employer will leave them wondering if you were a golden retriever puppy rather than a job candidate.

You’ll have noticed a common theme in our advice for all these questions. Do your homework. Think things through ahead of time, and try out different answers out loud, and to a friendly audience. Every hour of preparation increases the odds that you’ll come off as polished and prepared rather than flustered, vague… or worse!

Posted in Job Hunting

Got Something To Hide?

A recently-published study caused a lot of stir when it showed that employers were more willing to hire a candidate with a criminal record than one who’d been unemployed for more than 2 years. Have you got a few skeletons in your closet? What should you tell? How should you tell it?

There was a lot of discussion floating around jobsearch and career forums after a recent study showed that employers were more willing to hire a candidate with a criminal record than one who’d been unemployed for more than 2 years. For anyone who has struggled with unemployment or under-employment in the current economy, that’s pretty harsh news. But it opens a broader set of questions. The fact is, life is a sticky and difficult business. There’s ill health, unemployment, being laid off, being fired, incomplete education, job-hopping, bad luck and bad decisions. A lot of challenging things can happen to you. How do you convince an employer that you’re a good bet for their organization nonetheless?

This article is not about the parts of your personal life that, under human rights legislation, should NEVER be asked in a job interview. Depending on where you live, an employer should not be asking about age, race, citizenship, marital status, politics, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other personal information covered under anti-discrimination laws. This article is about the less-clear-cut issues that might influence an employer’s view of you, and how to talk about them, if at all.

Rule #1: Honesty is the best policy

Plain and simple, don’t lie. In today’s highly-networked information age, it’s far too easy to get caught. More importantly, an employer will not easily forgive or trust you if they find you’re willing to act unethically to get what you want. So, if you’re directly asked about whether you completed your degree, or whether you were fired from your previous job, and the answer is an uncomfortable one, come clean anyway.

Rule #2: “Honesty” is not the same as “sharing absolutely everything”

Did you quit your last job because your boss was an over-the-top control freak, or you hated the boring tasks you were working on? Time to dial back the level of detail. You are “seeking environments where you can use more initiative.” You “want to challenge yourself and grow, by tackling a new set of technologies and projects.” At moments like this, talk about the future, not the past.

Maybe you have a consulting business on the side, and will be continuing to do work for other clients while you work for this one. As long as you’re confident that you can do high-quality, on-time work for everyone (and you shouldn’t be interviewing for this job if you’re not), then you probably shouldn’t put that fact on the table. The same goes if you’re only in this line of work until your screenplay gets bought, or until you’ve saved enough to launch your own business. On the one hand, it’s not okay to take a job if there’s a strong chance you’ll be leaving the gig early, but on the other, you don’t want to give the impression of being eager to leave before you’ve even gotten in the door. Be cautious with any details that might make an employer wonder whether doing a really good job for their organization is your top priority.

Rule #3: Be ready to talk about the ticklish issues

As you’ll see from Rules 1 and 2, the main challenge is the right amount of detail. Not “none”, and not “too much”. Practice if necessary with friends – keep your voice calm, your gaze steady, your expression open, and use simple, short explanations. Interviewers will be put off by too-fast talking (you’ll come across as someone who’s trying to cover up) or long, wandering, overemotional explanations (they aren’t interested in an in-depth discussion of your personal life, they just want to know how this will affect your performance as an employee).

Rule #4: Take responsibility for your role in a problem

This is your opportunity to show what kind of employee you will be. Will you step up and own it if you make a mistake? Will you take responsibility for making things right? Or will you cut and run while pointing the finger at someone else?

You’ve heard it before but we’ll say it again: don’t trash-talk a previous employer or supervisor. If there was a problem, admit the role you played, and talk about how you’d do things differently if you had it to do over again. Show that you learn from mistakes. Talk about any steps you have taken/are taking to fix the problem or prevent it from happening again.

Rule #5: Be ready to show how this isn’t a problem

Maybe the issue is not a one-shot event. Maybe it’s an ongoing thing, like your ongoing work to upgrade your qualifications. Here’s another opportunity to demonstrate energy, commitment and honesty. Okay, you don’t have the same degree that the other applicants do, but you’re not sitting on your hands — you are enrolled in a program and are on track to finish it in eight more months. Be ready to talk about the ways in which you will make sure that you’ll still be able to do the job well in the meantime. That’s what an employer really cares about. Point to other situations where you have managed the same issue well.

Rule #6: Consider talking about the elephant in the room

There are some subjects about which they can’t ask you. But you can choose to tell. We are not advocating one approach or another. The law is the law. However, some applicants choose to talk about things which are very easily apparent in an interview. Someone who is visibly pregnant, or who has a physical challenge that is readily apparent, might choose to share details about the work-arounds and adaptations that make them just as able to do a good job as any other candidate. It’s not required, and we’re not advocating that course, but some candidates see it as a way to replace misconceptions and uncertainty with knowledge and confidence in an employer’s mind.

For issues that are not covered by human rights legislation, this is certainly a good approach. Don’t assume that your non-chronological resume will cover up your extended unemployment or under-employment. Employers can add, and most can tell when something is being covered up. Don’t sit silent and let them assume, because it’s human nature to assume the worst. Best to seize control of the situation and make sure it’s your version of the truth that goes onto the table.

Rule #7: Ask advice from your recruiter

Your recruiter can provide guidance on whether, when and how to talk about issues that might come up in an interview. They know the employer, they know the market, and they know the legislation governing what can and can’t be asked. And whatever you feel awkward about discussing, it’s a pretty good bet that they’ve heard it before. They’re there to help you show at your best!

Posted in Job Hunting

At Least You Know Better Than This

It’s a sad fact of life. Summer is long since over, and here comes the snow. However far away your next vacation might be, it’s probably too far. You need a pick-me-up. And, well, it’s a guilty fact that nothing makes you feel better about yourself than hearing about people doing silly things you’d never dream of.

The following are real stories collected in over three decades in the staffing industry. Names and places have been omitted, to protect the guilty. But you wouldn’t do any of this anyway, would you? We hope not!

Yeah, I think they’ll probably notice

Don’t send one of your friends/someone to work for you on your behalf.

Don’t steal; money and products left unattended are still not yours for the taking.

Don’t eat at your desk all day long; coworkers don’t enjoy the smells, sights and sounds that make them feel as if they are working at a buffet.

Don’t show up late to work “because of traffic”, forgetting that your manager starts out at the same time from a place only two blocks away from you.

Do bathe regularly; when coworkers can smell you before they can see you, it’s time to reconsider your hygiene regime.

Wardrobe malfunctions

Don’t wear high heeled stilettos to a construction site where you’ll be installing the network connections.

If your outfit would look appropriate in a nightclub, it’s probably not doing much for your professional image at work. Even worse if it looks like you DID wear it to a nightclub last night… and haven’t changed since.

And while we’re talking wardrobe, being an hour late “because I couldn’t find the shoes that go with this outfit, and the outfit’s no good without the shoes,” may seem like a sound excuse to you, but probably notsomuch to your coworkers.

Phone etiquette

Don’t fight loudly with your spouse/significant other on the phone at the worksite.

Don’t fall asleep during a teleconference and snore loudly into your headset microphone.

Flushing the toilet while your headset microphone is turned on – also somewhat disruptive to the flow of conversation.

Exit, stage right

Want to leave your current placement? Some methods are better than others. It may be tempting to tell a fib, but odds are pretty good that it will come back to bite you sooner or later. Here are a few of the best ones on our not-this-way list:

Don’t simply stop coming to work or answering your phone. That may work in terminating a dating relationship, but it doesn’t go down well with an employer.

Don’t claim that you need to leave the country, then show up working for another company down the street just two weeks later.

Don’t claim a catastrophic illness (like sudden blindness). Your miraculous cure two weeks and one employer later is going to be awkward to explain.

Don’t fake a pregnancy.

And, once in a while, stuff that defies categorization

Don’t bring your pets to work, unless they are bona fide assistance animals; not everyone wants to meet your lizard.

It’s great to be creative (and hey, who doesn’t like a bit of free-form abstract poetry once in a while), but if you have problems with your coworkers, writing elaborate epic verses with veiled allusions to the people you work with, and scattering them around the office for everyone to read, well… maybe you’d be better off at a poetry reading. Just saying.

And with that break from the usual, we promise to return next time with more (and more serious) career-boosting advice from our dedicated team!

Posted in Career

How to make your current contract bring you the next one

How would you like a personal marketing team, one that goes into meetings and hiring managers’ offices to persuade them that you’re the right one for the job? How would you like a referral service that calls you up whenever it notices opportunities that match your skillset? How would you like them to work for free? Sounds nice? It can be done.

Sleek, readable resumes are important, LinkedIn profiles are a must-have, and a really good interview outfit is an investment worth making. But the best tool in getting you more work… is the work you’ve done already. Many contract personnel live quite comfortably on a steady stream of contracts, without ever submitting a single application. They’ve created a referral machine that brings the work to them. You can too.

Play nice.
Sounds kinda kindergarten, doesn’t it? However, it’s a tactic that eludes far too many contractors, who think that the benefits of life as a hired gun means not having to be nice to people. Guess what. You actually have to be nicer. But it’s worth it. Be the one who can get along with that unreasonable team leader, that over-fussy designer, that subject matter expert who snarls whenever someone darkens his office door. Your skill set may be common, but you’ll be remembered as a one-size-fits-all type who can fit in on any team.

Give free samples.
I’ve met lots of contract workers who take the mercenary line a little too far. They don’t lift a finger or utter a word without the meter running. You may think you’re being a hard-nosed businessperson, but it’s a huge turn-off for the client, and a lost opportunity to advertise to an interested audience. Go ahead and give some guidance on how to approach that upcoming project, or whomp up a training plan for the new technology. When they come to implement it, or anything related, who will they look for?

Take it a little farther — show them what they could have.
This is an additional spin on the previous point. You may be happiest working with the hottest, newest technologies, but for various reasons, not everyone is there yet. I’ve worked with contractors who spend their time at these client locations whining and grousing about the stone-aged tools they are being forced to work with. Good way to earn yourself a reputation as a diva. Try for enthusiasm, rather than complaint. Do what you need to in the old technology, but work up an exciting prototype to show how things could work in the newer one. Let your manager take it to the upper levels. Help your team leader put together a cost proposal showing the relative advantages of the updated approach. If/when the planets align and the client decides to make the jump, they’ll remember you as a trusted tour guide to the Brave New World.

When you’re working for the client, you’re working for the client.
It’s true that one of the benefits of contracting is staying largely outside of the usual office politics. But don’t take that so far that you’re completely disengaged. If you see an issue that might come back to bite the company in the long-term, speak up. If you can think of a way to improve a product or process, mention it. Go out for social time after work once in a while; donate to the office charity fundraiser. While you’re on the team, be on the team. Invest in the relationship. Act like someone who cares about the success of this group of people.

Make sure people can find you later.
In these days of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google, there’s no excuse for disappearing without a trace. Make sure that people can find you when a job comes up that has your name written all over it. And don’t focus on staying in touch only with management. Many assignments come along because a teammate or even a subordinate passes your name to a friend in another company.

As any salesperson will tell you, a repeat customer is the gift that keeps on giving… to both of you. You don’t need to make the huge effort to convince the client that you are the right person. They don’t need to go through the whole exercise of sorting through resumes, scheduling interviews and breaking in new people. I’d call that a win-win situation, and well worth a little extra investment by you.

Posted in Career

To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate?

At TES we see both sides of the story. More and more employers prefer fully-incorporated contract workers rather than sole-proprietors, because it cuts their legal risks, avoids complicated tax scenarios, and simplifies the relationship between the contract worker and the organization that hires their services.

But on the other hand, many contractors are what we call "accidental entrepreneurs" — they’re mostly focused on doing a good job in their area of expertise, and aren’t eager to set themselves up for a lot of paperwork along the way. Sure, they want to be successful, but they didn’t get into the business to spend a lot of time on legal and accounting concerns.

If that describes you, then TES can help. After careful research, we’ve selected CA4IT as our recommended service provider for contractors who are thinking about incorporation, or contractors who’d like their corporation to serve their career more efficiently. We like CA4IT because they align with our own values and approach: unbeatable service, competitive pricing, coast-to-coast coverage and powerful value-adds that aren’t available anywhere else.

Discounts for TES-referred clients
Mention TES when you call for a consultation, and you’ll receive a discount on your incorporation package.

Coast-to-coast presence
CA4IT has offices and service professionals in cities across Canada. There is a CA4IT location in easy proximity to all of TES’s Canadian branch offices.

Completely individualized solutions for your unique needs
Like TES, CA4IT does not believe that the cookie-cutter approach is the way to do business. Your CA4IT representative will ask a lot of questions to build a detailed picture of your business, your earning patterns, your income needs, your potential deductions, and your long-term plans. Then they’ll walk you through a set of strategies that will optimize your balance sheet and control the amount of tax you’ll pay. They’ll match your deduction patterns to your financial style (aggressive or conservative) and show you where you rank on that scale, when compared to others in your business. CA4IT will back you up in the event of an audit; they have never lost a major Canada Revenue Agency case to date.

IT specialists who know your business and your industry
CA4IT specializes in technical and IT workers; they understand the ups and downs of your work; where it comes from, the feast-famine cycles, the types of deductions you’ll be able to claim against your income. They serve more technical/IT contractors than any other accounting firm in Canada. They also offer free coaching and mentoring, to help technical professionals take a more entrepreneurial approach to identifying their financial goals and growing their business to reach them.

Full-portfolio accounting/financial services
CA4IT can also assist you with your personal balance sheet; they’ll help you calculate your income needs, plan your investments, and look ahead towards your retirement. When do you want to retire, and what income will you need to sustain the lifestyle you plan on? CA4IT can help you map out the milestones that will get you there.

They’ll help you land the contract
You’ve been meaning to look into incorporation but didn’t get around to it. Now you’re up for an exciting assignment that requires an incorporated worker. CA4IT can handle rush requirements, and get your paperwork completed and back in time to get you in the door.

TES promotes excellence in everything we do. We’re proud to serve industry-leading clients, and top-notch technical and IT professionals. We hope you’ll contact CA4IT.com and see what they can do for you.

Posted in Career, Job Hunting

Eating right in a maple-pecan danish world

It seems like everyone’s on a diet these days. Hang around in the lunchroom and you’ll hear the endless debates over Atkins, The Zone, South Beach, Ornish (just to name a few), as people sip on their meal-replacement shakes and go on about the “negative calories” in celery.

But that just won’t work for you. You LIKE food. And in the cold, damp, dark dead of winter, it’s really hard not to give in to your comfort treats. And really — who ever consoled themselves with celery when the stress-o-meter went through the roof, or grabbed a fistful of celery to get through a rough deadline marathon?

But there’s a lot of ways to fuel your body for optimal performance, and avoid that midwinter weight creep (or even persuade some of those pounds to creep off again). And several of them don’t involve celery at all.

Brown Bag It

It’s easier on your wallet, and easier on your calorie count. Restaurant and cafeteria food is often loaded with extra fat, sodium and starch, to make it more attractive to our primitive taste buds. Google “healthy lunch ideas” for hundreds of easy, make-ahead recipes that won’t leave you sagging under the midafternoon “post-lunch” slump. Chop up raw veggies and pre-bag for grab-and-go convenience. Try soups in thermoses, wraps, salads… brown-bagging has come a long way since the simple days of peanut butter and jam. If going out for lunch is a large part of giving yourself a break from workplace stress, eat at your desk and then go for a walk instead.

Develop a Drinking Habit

Often we reach for a snack when what we really are is thirsty. If your office doesn’t feature a cooler or fountain (taking a walk to get your drink scores extra health points), get yourself a water bottle and put it front and centre on your desk. When you get the urge for a snack, take a swig instead. If plain water doesn’t suit your taste, throw in a slice of lemon, or consider herbal teas served hot or cold.

Avoid Food as “Fidget”

It’s been proven that many of us think better when we have something to do with our fingers, or our mouths. Remember all those pencils and pens you gnawed ragged in school? Be careful that you are eating to satisfy real hunger, and not just responding to the need to chew. Instead of a snack, try substituting sugar-free gum, or at least go for a snack that gives you a lot of “bite satisfaction” (raw carrots, pretzels, dried apples) rather than just a muffin or doughnut.

Know your Game Plan Before you Walk into the Food Court/Restaurant

Cafeterias and fast-food areas are extreme “temptation zones”. You know that the French fries are not good for you, and those oil-and-soy-sauce-drenched noodles? Not exactly health food either. But it’s hard to say no when you are hungry, and overwhelmed by the delicious smells, and surrounded by other people eating those foods. This is the moment when you will crumble… unless you have already worked out your strategy. Think ahead about what you’re going to get, and how you’re going to keep yourself from falling into old (bad) habits.

Front-and-Centre Fruit

Bring an apple, or a banana, or a pear, or a bunch of grapes, to work, and set it where you’ll reach for it first when you need a snack. Anything that short-circuits the trip to the muffin shop downstairs is good. Consider pre-bagging a handful of almonds, or a few cubes of cheese with some crackers, or slices of pickle — whatever will keep the munchies at bay when you’d normally be ambling down the hall to score a candy bar from the vending machine.

Slow Down

Try not to eat while distracted. If you don’t notice the food going down, it can almost be as if you didn’t eat it at all, and you’ll stay unsatisfied. Stop and pay attention to the tart crunch of the apple, or the crispiness of the crackers, or the chewiness of each individual raisin. Take your time. You’ll be amazed at how much “fuller” you feel.

Practice “Harm Reduction”

This public health concept is based on the understanding that you can bomb people with hundreds of messages about good health, but people simply won’t always do what’s best for them. In that case, the next-best thing is to make the harmful things less harmful. If you can’t face life without your morning blueberry muffin, consider cutting it in half and stowing half in the freezer for the next day. If your coffee isn’t drinkable without cream in it, try it with less cream and see if you can adjust your taste buds. Share your fries with someone else. Identify your less-than-good habits, and see if you can push back, just a little. It makes a bigger difference than you think.

Posted in Career