The CIPS Career Climate event was well-attended last night, and interesting. The panel was great; there were two panelists from CareerDoor, one from Robert Half, one from HR One Consulting, and myself. There were also other recruiters in attendance, so if you wanted to make some contacts with recruiters who might be able to help you find a job, this wasn’t a bad room to be in.
But perhaps more importantly, there was a lot of useful information on the career climate and tips on how best to represent yourself in this climate and in any climate. I’m going to try and share some of that below, aggregating the advice from a lot of sources based on my notes.
Pretty much everyone agreed that there is a general slowdown in the economy in Toronto, and that that’s resulting in some reduction of positions and suspension of new plans that might have resulted in new positions. Add to that the seasonal side of recruiting — Late November and December are typically very slow times of the year to be looking for work.
However, there are still lots of bright spots – January and February are typically fairly hot months for employers. IT as a job market is somewhat more resistant to downturns and recessions than some other job markets, and while the technology job marketplace is definitely not going to be as hot as it was a year ago, it’s probably not going to fall through the floor either. People with specialized skills and experiences will likely be able to parlay that into new opportunities either within their current company or within new companies. Those hardest hit are likely to be the people with limited experience looking for junior and intermediate positions.
The contract market is also relatively stable in downturns — the number of contractors for hire tends to drop, making it easier for those who remain to find work in tougher times. Contract rates aren’t likely to be at their peak, but it should be possible for experienced contractors to continue to find work.
Figure out what your niche is, what skills and experiences that employers care about and that you have that others may not. Make sure to highlight those areas in your resume and cover letters. Develop ‘Personal Branding’. Given the climate, this is a good time to highlight the ways in which you deliver return on investment — how you can help the company make or save money if they employ you or offer you a contract. Although there may be core technical skills that will be required (.NET, Java, SQL, PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, Rails, JSF, EJB, Twisted, Zope, Oracle, SAP, ad infinitum), it’s often the esoteric technologies and soft-skills that will differentiate you. Do you have a good head for business? Good communication and presentation skills? Understand agile methods? Know algorithmic equity trading like you were born doing it? Can you port COBOL and Assembly to Ruby on Rails? These are the kinds of things that will help you stand out, particularly if you’re able to find companeis that need your unique skills and find the right way to help them to understand what you can offer.
If you’re not finding that you have the right differentiating skills, consider developing differentiating skills. Investigate areas that are in demand and try and acquire some knowledge in those areas that you can use to parlay your way into a job opportunity. One area that is likely to continue to be hot is compliance and governance regulatory issues in the wake of the companies that are failing in the downturn. This isn’t a bad time to know things about SOX, GLB, Bill 198, PIPEDA, and whatever legislation is to come. Consider checking out the free information or inexpensive seminars offered by ISACA.
From there, we moved into a more interactive discussion that moved around a lot, hitting some good points and some controversial ones. One attendee argued that a number of companies don’t check references or give references for liability reasons, while one panelist suggested that he always checks references even before talking to the candiadate and others suggested ways to maximize your use of references:
- Check your references yourself; have someone call your references and ask them the kinds of questions you expect them to be asked, make sure your references are good ones.
- Coach your references, starting on general terms — if you’re positioning yourself a certain way, make sure they understand the message you’re trying to communicate, so that they can highlight your experiences and qualities accordingly.
- Coach not just on general terms, but on specifics. If a particular employer is going to be calling them, help your reference understand what parts of your experience are useful to highlight, what the employer might be looking for. If you know an employer is using an Enterprise Service Bus to maximize their architectural flexibility and that’s key to them and something that you’re a good fit for, then help your reference to understand how best to communicate that you’ve got service-bus experience and that you’re an advocate of architectural flexibility.
- There may be a fine line here between marketing and manipulation, but as long as both you and your reference agree that you’re a good fit for the job for specific reasons, then it’s in everyone’s interest, including the employer’s, that you make those points clear.
- If you’re using job boards to post your resumes, several panelists pointed out that keeping your resumes fresh even without changing the content can make the difference between being seen and not being seen. On the other hand, another recruiter present suggested that she likes to look at the older resumes.
On business understanding:
- An MBA is an expensive undertaking, but might be a differentiator in some cases. CIPS has a deal whereby you can get an $8K scholarship for an online MBA with the University of Fredricton if you’re an ISP with CIPS. But then, where you got the MBA can be as big a differentiator as the fact that you have one.
- If you’d like to demonstrate business savvy without getting an MBA, you could educate yourself on things like Return on Investment, Present Value, Net Present Value. Steve Tockey’s Return on Software was recommended.
On interviews, take some control by asking intelligent questions. They demonstrate interest and allow you to showcase your understanding of their business, “How has your company been able to deal with the acquisition of Company Y you made last year? You were using different technology stacks; how were you able to integrate the products?” If you’re replacing someone, why did that person leave — did that person fail, and how can you avoid the same mistakes? What’s the manager looking for, how does he work, and how can you succeed in the role? How would you grow in the role? They also burn time in the interview that prevent the interviewer from locating the weak spots that you might have. On that note, I’ve been developing a list of questions that I use myself, I might work that into something I can share with you all, if there’s some interest.