Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Twitter Works

In case you don't know what Twitter is, it's a social networking site that allows you to send out 140 character messages to - well - the world, if you will.  Occasionally, I'll send out a tweet (that is the term for a Twitter message) about a new opportunity we have.  Generally, these seem to go unnoticed.

But not today.  Yesterday, I tweeted about an Information Architect position we have, and today I received an email from a candidate who read the tweet.  I'm calling this a success.

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I can be found as jmrecruiting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

You are What You Do

I have no formal training in Human Resources or Recruiting.  In past jobs, I just gravitated towards such duties, and decided that this would be the realm that I would pursue for my career.  When I worked as an HR Generalist (I didn't have that title, but it was, essentially, what I did), many people I worked with were surprised that I had no educational background in HR.  It seems most HR jobs require some sort of certification.

I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but it's likely a mixed bag.

Along those lines, Laurie at Punk Rock HR notes that she has been taken to task for 'masquerading' as an HR professional:
I haven’t held a job in Corporate HR in over two years.

As I explained to Peter Clayton on Total Picture Radio, I left Pfizer in 2007. We planned on moving down to North Carolina and I had every intention of finding a real job. Seriously. I have a spreadsheet that outlines every job I’ve applied for during the past two years.

Then this blog happened and I developed a personal brand — something that never really happens to HR Generalists and Recruiters.  I became known as a woman who provides common sense career advice from the perspective of a disaffected HR professional. I also became known as a crazy cat lady. Both observations are true.

Unfortunately, I was recently advised to drop the moniker of Human Resources professional. I was told, “You’re no longer a Human Resources generalist and you don’t recruit, anymore. You’re a critic and you give out career advice. No offense, but you are not HR.”

Peruse her blog. You'll see that this complaint is complete bunk.  Laurie is an HR professional - and a better one than many I've seen actually serving as such in a corporate HR department.

As I was working as a QA specialist, I returned to university to study economics.  I wasn't, necessarily, planning to get out of IT, but I liked studying economics.  My professor - long-tenured, congenial and disdainful of gate-keepers of acceptable opinion  (and who was friends with the head of the Bank of Canada at the time) - asked me, after class, what I did.  I explained that I was in IT and just taking some more courses.  He felt I should focus on economics because I seemed to be a fit for it.

My professor never felt that a title, an accreditation or a particular job defined anyone or anyone's place in a field.  It was one's aptitude, performance and output that made such a determination.  By those standards, Laurie is a leader in HR.  By those standards, I confidently consider myself a part of the field.

I can think of many examples where people allow the categories and definitions of others to determine what they are or what they are not.  It is no way to succeed and it is no way to build a career.  If there is something you think you can do, you should not worry about artificial barriers that others erect.  If you find yourself with the opportunity to perform, perform.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What's My Name? Personal Branding ed.

People I meet regularly ask me if I prefer Jonathan or Jon.  I always tell them I have no preference.  Most people, and most/all of my family, call me Jon; it's what I tend to go by in a casual environment.

Professionally/officially, I use Jonathan.  All business cards, email addresses and resumes display Jonathan.  When I write emails to consultants or clients, I tend to sign off, 'Jonathan'.  However, once I develop a bit of a relationship with someone, often resulting in more casual messages, I may revert to 'Jon'.

This is not just laziness (though typing three letters is easier than typing eight).  It seems to me that switching to a short form adds a personal touch.  It signals that you've moved past experiencing someone just as a potential candidate or client, and that you have made some sort of connection with them.  Though I spend about 173% of my work day in front of a computer screen, personal connections are important.

More than that, there is an element of branding involved.  Professionally, I am not Jon McLeod*; I am Jonathan McLeod.  It may seem unimportant, but it lends clarity and consistency to my professional life - two attributes that, generally, I have found quite important throughout my work history.

But getting back to the matter of the personal connection: upon creating this professional "brand", breaking it down and introducing a nickname can be very important.  Customers want to feel that they are valued.  Dedicated customers want to feel that they are especially valued.  There's not a whole lot that I can offer, but a I can offer a personal connection.

So, if you see me, feel free to call me 'Jon'.

*I hardly ever write or say 'Jon McLeod'.  The truncated first name preceding the last name always rings quite odd (except when a few people - who have been employing it for years - say it).  Just another reason that I pretty much exclusively go with Jonathan in any official setting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Helping a Friend: The (Potential) Joys of Recruiting

Last week, I was contacted by a potential candidate with a very familiar name.  It was, in fact, someone with whom I had gone to school for about nine years.  I hadn't seen her since high school ended, and it was nice to get back in touch.

She has spent the bulk of the last fifteen years in Waterloo, and has only recently returned to Ottawa.  Looking over her resume, it struck me that her life has followed a similar path to mine (not that great a surprise, as we had similar academic aptitudes and extra-curricular interests while in school).  She has a solid background in technical writing (having spent a number of years at RIM), but finds her career at a bit of a crossroads (which is likely aggravated by the return home).  Unfortunately, her experience lies in the private sector, and my company tends to work exclusively with the public sector, so I'm not sure if we'll be able to land her a contract.

Nonetheless, I am determined to help my friend get a good job and rejuvenate her career.  I'm not sure how I will do it, but I will try.  I am going to send her all the information I have regarding job searching and potential companies in Ottawa to target.  I'm also going to put her in touch with some friends who have similar career trajectories to what she desires.

I've always said that the best part about being a recruiter is that my job is to get other people jobs.  Such an activity can be extremely satisfying.  Now, I just have to be able to use my powers to help a friend.

The bulk of her professional experience is in technical writing, but she is looking to move past that, ideally, into more of a communication writing role.  She has experience doing PR, contributing to Zines and writing fiction.  She also enjoys working with the public, and is open to receptionist/office administration positions.  From what I know of her and her experience, she'd be a great pick up for anyone who needs an office administrator who can also draft documents and edit copy.  Despite her experience, she has no conceits and is open to junior positions.

So, here's where we I look to my dear readers for help.  Advice, guidance, opportunities: if you have any please do not hesitate to leave a comment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Pain of the Google Interview

The Business Insider tells the horror story of one new grad's interview with Google:
About ten minutes in, Oliver turned the tables.  “I’m going to ask you a few questions that may sound strange,” he premised.  I paused.  Is there really any good response to a comment like that?  He seemed to read my mind because he elaborated: “These questions are meant to test your analytical thinking.”  Oh no.  He was about to ask me the famous, ridiculously impossible Google questions I had been reading about online.
It's an fun read, and reminds me of a rather poor interview I once had with Cognos.  Needless to say, I never got a job at Cognos.

Perhaps I should alter my interviewing style.  Maybe it'd be good to start throwing in some Googlesque questions.  I probably won't; I'd probably wind up feeling a bad for my victim.

By the way, if you want a sample of some Google interview questions, go here.  I haven't gone through all the questions yet because I'm not in the mood to feel stupid.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bragging, Lying and Writing a Resume

About a month ago, Mrs. JMR applied* for a new job, one for which she was eminently qualified.  The challenge came in demonstrating just how qualified she was.  It had been a while since she had actively looked for a job, so it had been a while since she had updated her resume.  Since the new job is of a different nature than most of her recent jobs, she decided to write a new resume.  Like most of the world, she hates writing her resume, so she asked me to go over it before she sent it in.

This brought up an issue that was raised at the Q&A panel I attended a couple of months ago.  I felt Mrs. JMR was not fully describing her role in a previous job.  She didn't want to egregiously pad her resume.  So, the question is, when describing your past experience, at what point does highlighting your qualifications become bragging and at what point does it all become lying?

The question centred around her experience as an assistant dance teacher (the new job is Youth Worker, so this experience was applicable).  She was hesitant to claim to have taught dance, because she wasn't the teacher.  I felt that she should say she taught dance, because from what she described, she was instructing the kids on how to dance... even if she wasn't necessarily doing the choreography or designing the lesson plan.

Similarly, when I began as a technical recruiter, I was assisting my boss.  I was learning the trade and getting accustomed to the processes and methods of recruiting.  Legitimately, I could say that I was recruiting.  Had I been looking for a job at the time, I should have made clear that I was quite junior, but there would have been no need to downgrade my experience.

Still, one must be careful when writing a resume or answering questions in an interview.  Although you should take ownership of all the tasks that you did in a previous job, and should make sure to present the facts in the best possible light, ensuring they support your objective, you do not want to get caught lying.  Many hiring managers are subject manager experts, or will have SMEs sit in on an interview.  They will be able to catch your embellishments, and if they do, that'll probably be it for your candidacy... even if you were actually qualified.

It can be quite a difficult game, job searching.  Excessive modesty will limit your opportunities.  Dishonesty will do much the same.

*Yes, I have put off completing this post for so long that she now has the job and I have had to change all the grammar to the past tense.

Monday, November 16, 2009

How not to Introduce Yourself to a Recruiter

I received an email today from a candidate for a Business Systems Analyst.  The first line read:
I am a devoted Christian who believes in hardwork, honesty and transparency,because i believe we will all die one day and give accounts of our stewardship to God.
I'm not really sure what to do with that.

When interviewing candidates, I often have people who begin telling me about their family life, their medical history or their faith - all things about which I am not allowed legally to ask.  It is only in the rarest of circumstances that it would be appropriate for a recruiter to ask about these things.  Correspondingly, I am often quite uncomfortable when people bring these subjects up, especially the matters of faith and health.

Here's why:  In Canada, it is (or should be) fairly common knowledge that potential employers are not allowed to ask these questions, nor are they allowed to hire people on the basis of the answers.  Bringing up your faith demonstrates that you have no regard for the situation I am in, and no regard for the predicament that you are causing for me.  Such blissful ignorance will not serve you well should you find yourself employed and expected to function as part of a time.

Further, it is thoroughly unprofessional.  One's faith has little or nothing to do with the job at hand - doing enterprise scale .NET development.  If you can't keep focus during a 20 minute interview (or an email written in about 30 seconds), what 'faith' should I have that you will be able to remain focused through the course of your work day?

I would certainly never hire someone for reasons based on their family life, health or religious beliefs, but if you decide to bring them into the hiring calculus, don't be surprised if that decision turns out to be a mark against you.

By the way, the guy who emailed me was unqualified and lives in another country, so I couldn't present him to my client anyway.  This could mean that the error was a cultural issue.  Nonetheless, I have encountered this phenomenon with many people born and raised in Canada, so I stand by the intent of this post (and how do I know that they were born and raised in Canada...).

On Punctuality, Arriving Early and Not Getting a Job

Everybody knows - or should know - that arriving late for an interview will harm (or kill) your chances of landing the job.  However, many people do not understand that arriving too early can be equally harmful.  The getpickd blog has a great, succinct explanation:
Why is arriving too early a blow to your chances of winning the job? The answer is quite simple. One of the primary goals of the interview process is to determine a prospective candidate’s understanding of, and ability to operate within, the norms of a professional environment. One of those norms is an understanding of how your actions impact others around you and your respect for your co-workers schedules and time.
The lesson?  Arrive five to ten minutes early for an interview.  If you arrive earlier than that, wait before you go in.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My First "Real Job" Was in QA, or, Testing Despair

Coming out of school, trained as a software/web developer, my first job was working as a Quality Assurance Specialist for a local web company, non~linear creations.  It was a pretty good job (though it was in 2000-2001, just as the tech bubble was about to burst), and I enjoyed working in QA.

My career has taken a few turns since then, and it is highly unlikely that I'll ever be a tester again... and considering the current state of my inbox and voicemail, that's probably a good thing.

We currently have an opportunity for a tester.  I have a lot of applicants.  I have a lot of applicants following up.  I have a lot applicants following up a lot.  In the past 18 months, I haven't had a lot of opportunities for testers, so I don't know if this situation is typical, or if it emblematic of the struggles that testers are having in the current job market.

My gut feeling is that when companies fall on hard times, the QA department is one of the first to go (often after the recruiting department).  You can have your developers test each other's work, and considering that there might not be a whole lot of business coming in, they'll probably have the time to do that.  Consequently, testers are seen as redundant.

This would make a lot of sense, but it won't, necessarily, be good for the long term health of a company.  Just as the particular expertise that recruiters offer is valuable, so, too, is the particular expertise offered by testers.

By the way, if my old boss at non~linear is any indication, being a professional musician offers more job security than being in QA.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"What Kind of Recession Employee are You?"

Writing in The Financial Post, Eric Lam notes the various kinds of employees that exist in the current recession:
See where you fall on the sliding scale of recessionary employee archetypes identified by Douglas Reid, an associate professor of global business at Queen's School of Business, listed below in order of optimism — or cynicism (commentary in italics, to help you along):
  • The Engaged: the core of a company's renewal efforts. They understand the consequences of the recession and what needs to be done to help the business recover. If you fall under this category, you're a better person than most of us.
  • The Delighted: high performers who delight in the improvement in their situation relative to the average consumer via sales and discounts in the marketplace. It's not gloating if you keep it to yourself, apparently.
  • The Indifferent: this group is watching the recession occur and believe it is going to affect someone else. If I don't see it, it's not a recession!
  • The Longers: hoping for a severance package and optimistic they'll obtain rapid alternative employment. Turns out it is possible to be both cynical and optimistic. Go figure.
  • The Fearful: these employees believe they will be cut next. They are ready to search for a new job but cling tenaciously to whatever certainty their existing situation affords. As the poster says, Hang in there, kitten!
  • The Apocalyptic: a small group that believes that the recession presents a necessary "reset" for a myriad list of failures in the existing system of capitalism. Aluminum hats? Not so nuts after all.
  • The Terminated: while not physically present in the organization, their memories linger and affect those that stay. Especially if you leave something in the fridge.
I'd like to think that I'm part of The Engaged, though I don't claim to know what needs to be done to get my company through this recession.  I understand my role, but I'm putting a lot of faith in other people, as well.

In a sense, I'm part of The Delighted.  I'm happy to have a job, though I'm not happy that my relative well-being has increased because the actual well-being of so many has decreased (part of the reason I have little use for such concepts as 'relative well-being').  However, I am confident that my company will weather this recession and come out all the stronger.  As Tom Sweeney wrote, "...I can foresee the need for requirement – on the large scale – once the economy comes back around and starts growing again. The challenge for many will simply to be around once that curve starts to climb."  I'm going to be around for that climb.

As for The Terminated, we definitely have some ghosts in our office.  I don't know when they plan to leave or if we'll need to call in a priest.

So, under what category do my readers fall?

(H/T: Jonathan Chevreau via Recruiting Animal.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Does Recruiter = Slave Trader?

Well, it might in South Africa:
Parliament's labour committee head, Lumka Yengeni, yesterday lashed out at labour brokers, likening them to drug dealers and slave traders.

“Nobody wants to be labelled an exploiter but you do exploit. It is a fact and it’s the worst form of exploitation – it is slavery,” Yengeni said.

This after various labour brokers told parliament that they were key to job creation, and that they provided skills for workers at their own expense.
I can't provide comment on the goings-on within South Africa, but I can comment on the industry in Canada.  It should be obvious to anyone familiar with the industry that recruiting firms within Canada are neither slave traders nor drug dealers.  Further, there is no more of a similarity between recruiters and these disreputable industries than there is between Girl Guides and the aforementioned industries.

(In fact, since Girl Guides use children to sell their wares, and do not seem to have the same burdens of accounting as recruiting firms, you might say they're more like drug dealers than we are.  I wouldn't say that, but you might.)

This might seem like a pointless rant (and a tasteless joke at the Girl Guides' expense), but it's not, at least not entirely.  There is, often, a sense that recruiting firms are parasitic: attaching ourselves to the job market, sucking out some profit, and offering nothing in return.  Further, some recruiting firms are underhanded.  They try to manipulate the market, don't always negotiate in good faith and look for some inside information to exploit.  This doesn't mean we're evil; it just means we're like every other industry.

Moreover, we do offer value.  We offer expertise in finding jobs, interview techniques and resume writing.  We are the subject matter experts when it comes to our clients' needs and our consultants' abilities, and we're able to match these two when the individual actors might not.

Some of us even do some of these things for free.

It's very easy to ignore what we add.  In fact, when we do our jobs really well, we might be hardly noticeable.  However, to think we're dispensable is erroneous.  As Adam Smith wrote:
The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.
We're just one such division of labour... just like everybody else.

(H/T: Rayanne.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Printing... Two Days Ahead of Schedule

Recently, I've been working on a labour report.  The final presentation is Monday morning, but I've already finalized the report, and it's off getting printed as I type.  I'm quite pleased that I won't be running around at the last minute putting together each copy.

Take that, Parkinson's Law!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In Need of a Software Development Team

We have a client that needs a development team of about six or seven. If you're looking for a contract, and might be interested, please let me know.

Here are the positions we're looking for (links go to specific job ads):

Programmer/Software Developer
Programmer Analyst
Business Systems Analyst
Technical Writer

Even if you're not looking, we offer a finders fee if you recommend a successful candidate.

The positions are in the Ottawa ON region.  They're with the federal government, so they all require Government of Canada security clearance.  They don't require bilingualism.

I can be reached through this blog or at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I have no idea how it got to be 4:00 pm so quickly.

My labour report is, essentially, completed (just need to make copies of the report), but I have a number of job postings that I have to advertise. It's already past 4:00. I hope I'm not here too late completing this.

I'll be glad when the labour report is presented and I can get back to focusing on recruiting.

...and yes, I know; if I'm so short on time, I shouldn't be blogging. I'll stop now.

The Peculiarity of Shipbuilding and the Employment Standards Act

As some may recall, I'm a bit of an HR nerd.  I enjoy learning the intricacies of Ontario's Employment Standards Act, and contrasting them with the conventional wisdom.  This post, however, will just point out a seemingly odd amendment to the act.

I'm doing some work-related research regarding termination (I may expand on that at a later date), and in so doing, I came across this interesting tidbit from Ontario Regulation 288/01:
Employees not entitled to notice of termination or termination pay
2. (1) The following employees are prescribed for the purposes of section 55 of the Act as employees who are not entitled to notice of termination or termination pay under Part XV of the Act:
12. An employee,
i. whose employer is engaged in the building, alteration or repair of a ship or vessel with a gross tonnage of over ten tons designed for or used in commercial navigation...

I am sufficiently ignorant of the nature of shipbuilding to understand why an employee working on a vessel with gross tonnage of exactly ten tons deserves notice of termination, but an employee working on a vessel with gross tonnage just slightly over ten tons does not.

Anyone care to explain?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Maximizing the Marginal Revenue of Candy

Writing in the Digits blog for The Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler notes a fabulous new use of crowdsourcing:
The folks at have created their first Trick or Treat Housing Index, which draws on the site’s real estate data to determine the top-five neighborhoods in Seattle and Los Angeles to maximize candy intake this Saturday.

How’d they do that? “There is a common belief that wealthy neighborhoods are the Holy Grail for harvesting the most Halloween candy,” blogs Zillow’s Whitney Tyner. But to provide what it calls a more holistic approach, Zillow factored in home values alongside additional data on population density, neighborhood walkability, and local crime. “Based on those variables, this Index represents neighborhoods that will provide the most candy, with the least walking, and minimum safety risks,” she wrote.
I'm doing my best to stay up on social networking and new ways to use technology to benefit both the masses and me.  Once this service comes to Ottawa, I think we will have reached the pinnacle of the utility of new technology.

At least, I'm sure my daughter will think so.

(H/T: Radley Balko.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Labour Board Etiquette

Months back, my company released an employee.  There was ample reason, and she had been given many warnings and opportunities to improve.  She never did, so, sayonara.  We knew that she might be the type of person to file a grievance with the labour board, so we made sure that we had everything properly documented.  Though we assumed she would complain, we also knew she had no reason to complain.

And this morning we received a message from the labour board confirming our suspicions.

And less than an hour later, she showed up at the office to say "hi" to everyone.  I am not kidding; less than two weeks ago she filed a complaint against us and this morning she was all sunshine and lollipops as she visited.

The issue will easily be resolved in our favour.  We have a wealth of HR experience in our office and we consulted the labour board before we took any drastic measures.  She will be rather surprised when my boss and I show up at the hearing and demonstrate just all the ways she let us down as an employee.

The thing is, we have a small office.  We are owned by a large multi-national, but there were never more than five of us who worked in the office in Ottawa.  She might think she is only going after the head office, but the tasks associated with this naturally fall on the representatives in Ottawa.

Oh, and did I mention that she asked to be called when the owners are back in town; she'd love to see them again.  It was shocking; she was bringing action against these people, but also wants to be their friend.

So, here's my advice for anyone who will be lodging a complaint with the labour board: don't try to be friends with people against whom you are bringing action.  (Let's call it, 'Jonathan's Law').

I can't believe that it would even be necessary to explain this.  Well... I can believe it... but it'd be nice to be unable to believe it.

Monday, October 5, 2009

What's Your Best Offer?

Working for a consulting company, negotiating pay rates with consultants is a regular part of my job.  It's not my favourite part (at all), but it's gotta be done.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of unethical companies out there; consequently, a lot of consultants are wary when it comes time to negotiate.  This wariness overtakes them and rather than negotiate they ask for our best offer, and they'll either take it or leave it.  I don't blame them (I really don't blame them, companies can be ruthless), but this isn't a question I can necessarily answer.

For much of our contracting work, our company has rate ceilings that are locked in with our main client - the federal government.  Though we can't go any higher, we can often offer discounts.  Generally speaking, we want to offer discounts.  The environment today is incredibly competitive, and we're competing on price as much as we are on quality of proposal.  Even if we had the leeway to offer the moon, we wouldn't want to as there would be little chance that our proposal would win.

However, if I explain this, a consultant might only hear me obfuscating - refusing to answer a straightforward question in the attempt to wring as much profit out of the proposal.  Such an inference is reasonable (and, when dealing with some companies, accurate).  So, when faced with such a blunt question, I give a definite answer, but - here's the thing - in all likelihood, I won't actually give the person the best offer I possibly could.

I'm not trying to play games, and I'm not being spiteful.  On the aggregate, giving out "the best offer we can" is not feasible for the company.  With our fixed and variable costs, there is a particular margin we need to maintain on our bids (granted, a lower percentage margin can be better if it leads to larger gross margin across the board).  This does not mean that each proposal we send out must have the same margin (either in percentage or actual income).  We'll never take a loss, but sometimes we'll make very very little profit if the circumstances dictate  It's better that than no income at all, but I'd be making no friends with my supervisors if that was how I always operated.

When cornered, I have to balance the demands of the company and the demands of the particular proposal.  Likely, the result will be a sub-optimal proposal or a sub-optimal rate for the consultant.  It also means that if I am dealing with multiple consultants for one opportunity, someone with more flexibility will have a greater chance winning the day.

There doesn't seem to be an ideal solution to this.  I could try to engage the consultant in negotiations anyway, but I can't tell them that I am giving them my best offer and then come back with a better offer; that will play into their existing suspicion of consulting firms.

The best of times, generally with consultants with whom I have an established relationship, there will be no debates about the pay rate; there will be a discussion.  When consultants are unwilling to discuss the rate, I will give them best offer I can, considering the constraints they are placing on me.

But when we don't discuss the rate, odds are none of us will wind up too happy.

Another Day, Another Carleton University Event

I seem to spending more time at the old school that I did during undergrad.  Anyway, Carleton will be having two job fairs this week, and, again, anyone from Carleton who reads this blog should stop by an say hi.

Here are the details:
Fall Career Fair
October 6 & 7, 2009
University Centre Galleria
10:00 am - 3:00 pm

I'll be at the Microtime booth on Tuesday October 6 (we're only going the one day).  It should be a fun time.

Basic Netiquette

For those who don't know, 'netiquette' is a term for internet etiquette.  Essentially, it is a guideline for not being rude in your virtual encounters.  Being in an industry (and world) that relies so heavily on electronic communication, netiquette is quite important.  Recently at work, issues regarding netiquette have come up.  I won't bother going into great detail, but here are a few helpful hints:

WRITING IN ALL CAPITALS means you are yelling.  There's pretty much no way around this.  No matter what you think you are achieving, the result is the same.  The person reading your message will take it for boorish behaviour.

Writing in bold is only properly employed in very specific circumstances (say, headings or maybe an email signature).  Interspersed in the body of an email will come off as insulting or impolite.

Underlining words and sentences in the body of a message does not, merely, emphasize your point, it makes you appear condescending (and, again, boorish).

Writing in a different font colour achieves the same thing as writing in bold and underlining.

WRITING IN ALL CAPS, IN BOLD, UNDERLINED, IN A DIFFERENT COLOUR is ill advised unless you are notifying everyone that we've moved to DEFCON 1.  If you want to emphasize something, try italics, or just write it and assume that the person to whom you are writing isn't a complete idiot. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Supertrain: Lessons From a Failed TV Show

A few weeks ago, I watched an episode of Make or Break TV that told the story of Supertrain, a show that is regarded as one of the biggest TV flops of all time (it almost sunk NBC).  I won't get into the whole story (which was pretty interesting), but a few things stuck out from an HR/recruiting standpoint*.

Fred Silverman was brought in to rescue NBC.  He was a successful TV exec, who was a part of such shows as Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Three's Company (all of which were favourites when I was growing up).  He was some sort of TV Midas, bringing success to all his endeavours.  He was a natural choice to save the peacock.  (Actually, NBC had gotten so off track that they'd abandoned the peacock.  Silverman brought it back; for that alone he should be lauded.)

Unfortunately, Silverman had never been in a position where he had complete authority.  In previous roles, he was always answerable to someone else.  From the way the episode told it, Silverman was finally free to have the final say, and that final say included Supertrain.  This is not an uncommon occurrence, at least if my experience is at all representative.  People are rightfully elevated to new positions based on merit, but you can't always know how someone will react to new found powers.  In such situations, oversight from some other authority is invaluable.  Taking the whiz kid and setting him loose on your organization can have dramatic effects.  This is not to suggest that companies should never take such chances - they certainly should - but some form of risk management (say in the form of an experienced consultant or mentor who can sit back and keep an eye on things) is prudent, lest you want your own "Supertrain".

Further, merit-based promotion is good (and certainly better than seniority-based promotion), but when judging the merit of various candidates, one must keep in mind not just the job that the candidates have done, but the job they will be asked to do.  A mid-level manager who excels as a mid-level manager will not necessarily excel as a senior manager.  The respective skills of each position could be quite different.

As an example, at a web company for which I used to work, the Vice President of development was promoted into the role (as the company expanded and required a VP of development) because he was the ranking (and best) developer the company had.  He had the best programming chops, and he had a very good eye for new technologies that were about to blow up.  Unfortunately, in his capacity as VP, his main role was to build the development team and make sure they stayed on track.  His technical expertise was a minor aspect (both in terms of the time spent doing it, and the importance to the company).  This man was not great at building or leading a team.  From what I could tell, he had little leadership or managerial experience and, at times, it really showed.  As the visionary VP, he was great.  As the day to day team leader, he wasn't.

[As a post script, by the time I left that company they had laid off more than 50% of their employees (myself included) and were on the verge of insolvency (though they have since turned that around).  The lack of a strong development team was a big factor.]

Finally, the importance of delegation was on display in the story of Supertrain - and this has nothing to do with Fred Silverman (and I feel bad that it seemed like I was picking on him; that wasn't my intent).  One of the creators of the show (I can't remember his name) was a driving force behind everything to do with Supertrain.  He was writing scripts (or re-writing them).  He was directing episodes.  He was dealing with casting, production matters and set design.  This one man had his hand in just about everything.

Years ago when I was managing a wine store, our district managers asked all store managers to draw a pie chart depicting how much of their time was dedicated to work.  I thought to myself, well a 40 hour work week, divided by 168 hours, equals about 25%.  I thought this would be a little low considering all the unofficial hours I put in, so I upped to 30%.  I figured I'd have one of the lowest numbers, knowing how dedicated/controlling some other managers were, but I thought I was in the right ballpark.

Wow, was I wrong.

Two other managers had numbers around 33% and 35%.  Everyone else was over 50% (there were probably about 12 of us).  One woman was at 75% (she was a great manager) - she was a workaholic and, apparently, was always thinking about her store no matter what she was doing.

Here's the thing, the two other managers with low numbers were probably the best managers we had.  They had the best sales numbers, and their staffs adored them.  The more we discussed this situation, the more we learned that most of the managers with really high numbers just didn't trust their employees with any responsibility.  They also never challenged their employees with new tasks.  Their stores suffered.  Their employees suffered.  Their personal lives suffered.

I was new to managing at the time, but I had already learned that the strength of my stores (most of us managed two stores) was always going to be my staff.  Further, I knew that I could consider myself a good manager when I had multiple people at each store who could step in and do my job at a moment's notice.  Where other managers were threatened by successful subordinates, I yearned for it.  I wanted to seem redundant in my stores.

I was trained by the guy who noted 33% of his time was spent working.  He was a big believer in delegation.  He knew that it made his staff better, and he knew that it made his store more successful.  As he mentored me, he made sure that I understood how important delegation was.  It wasn't that he was lazy (he most certainly wasn't); it was that he could see the big picture.  Further, he knew that his staff was a reflection of him, and that if his supervisors saw a strong and determined team, they would know that it was because he was a very capable leader.

Poor managers try to belittle their staff.  They want everyone to know that they are the competent ones and their staff would be lost without them.  They don't understand that this stance (and it is little more than posturing) will bring them little success in the long run and expose them for the inferior managers that they are.

Who says you can't learn anything from TV?

*ED NOTE:  I am responding to claims that were made on the program; I am not commenting on the veracity of those claims.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

So, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Q&A Panel Question #2

At the panel last night, a student asked each of us to speak on questions that interviewees tend to flub.  I won't go into all of them (I don't actually remember everything that was said, sorry), but here's my answer.

So, tell me a little bit about yourself.  (Granted, it's not really a question, but a command, still, go with me on this.)

This is how I often start interviews.  It's not a particularly deep question, and it really shouldn't be too tricky.  However, recently, I have found that about three quarters of candidates can't string together an appropriate answer.

One point that came up multiple times last night (and which I have harped on in the past) is the need to have some sort of strategy or focus.  In an interview (and in your resume) you are marketing yourself; you are branding yourself.  You need to have some sort of idea of what you want to present to people making decisions about hiring.  By asking you to talk about yourself, I am holding open a big wide door for you to shove your strategy right through.  Tell me about yourself: I'm just begging for you to tell me all of your strengths, your desires, everything that would make you an asset to my company; all you need to do is offer up a semi-coherent value proposition.

But what do I tend to learn about:
  • Your dog;
  • Your family;
  • That you raise horses in your spare time;
  • Your ultimate frisbee team;
  • That you're looking for a job; etc.
Personal interests are great, and they could even be useful in selling yourself to a company.  Details of your job search could be persuasive if they demonstrate what it is you're trying to achieve in your career.  For the most part, though, these types of answers aren't telling me very much... well not much that you want them to tell me.

If, in telling me about yourself, you focus on your family life, well, then I know what you'll tend to be focused on during work hours.  If you cannot maintain focus through the first five minutes of the interview, you have told me way more than you had intended.

It is important to prepare for this type of question.  It doesn't matter whether or not anyone ever asks it.  It matters that you are thinking about your strategy, that you are focused on your goal and that you are tailoring your answers to the impression that you wish to make.

Easy open questions like this are an opportunity for you to set the terms of the interview.  You can set the framework by which your answers will be judged, you can set the foundation for other answers and you can (sometimes) lead the direction that questioner will take.

Goal.  Strategy.  Focus.  These are important, not your dog.*

*Apologies to my dog, whom I am sure is a regular reader of this blog.  Yes, Wembley, I always talk about you in interviews.

Q&A Panel Questions - Weaknesses

I thought it might be handy to provide some follow up on some of the questions that were posed by Carleton University students at last night's panel.  I didn't take copious notes, so much of this is running from memory.  The analysis I'll give is a blend of my own insights and thoughts from other panelists.  I won't bother to attribute each idea to a particular person.

The first question I'll mention is a pretty basic one: how do you answer a question about your weaknesses.

This is a "typical" interview question.  I put that word in quotation marks because I don't know how often it actually gets asked any more, but it is one that interview trainers always prepare people for.  Even if it is falling out of favour with hiring managers, it is good to prepare.

First, some don'ts:

Don't be a suck up.  If I ask you this question, I do not want to hear, "I'm a perfectionist; I just work too darn hard for my own good; I put the needs of the company ahead of my needs."  This is weaseling out.  You're being too cute by half, and you're trying to avoid actually answering it.  Worse still, you're insulting my intelligence by thinking that you'll be able to fool me.  If this is the effort that you'll display on the job, I don't want you on the job.

Don't be brutally honest.  You're going to need to answer this question but still get the job.  If you suggest that you're lazy, openly hostile to authority figures or generally incompetent, you're not going to get the job.

Don't give me your strengths.  I've actually had a candidate answer this question by listing her three greatest strengths rather than her three greatest weaknesses.  And I'm not talking about saying she's a perfectionist and claiming it as a weakness.  She actually said, "My three greatest strengths are...".  Although, on reflection, I guess this did demonstrate three of her weaknesses: inability to listen, inability to complete a task, self-obsession.

Okay, how about some do's:

Be honest.  Don't be brutally honest, but be honest.  No one is perfect and demonstrating that you are sufficiently self-aware to identify any shortcomings is an attractive quality.  Further, if you lie about your strengths and weaknesses, you are potentially setting yourself up to disappoint your manager.  Considering that most jobs have probationary periods where it's pretty easy to sack a new employee, you don't want to give them any ammunition.

Turn it into a positive.  I do not mean that you should masquerade a strength as a weakness, but you should demonstrate that you can take steps address problems.  Everyone is going to mess up at some point in their career, so managers want people who can fix any issues that arise.  When I was in school, our interview-prep person taught us to answer most questions about work using the CAR framework - Context, Action, Result.  In this case, take a weakness you have, put it into a work context, tell the interviewee what you did to alleviate the problem (or what you learned from it) and tell them how that will guide you in the future so as to not fall into a similar trap.  This sort of answer also has the benefit of ending your response on a positive.  It's always good to end on something positive.

Address it head on.  This goes with the previous point.  Don't try to evade or deflect the question.  Take it, answer confidently and let the interviewer know that you can handle uncomfortable or undesirable situations.  This is why we will often ask these tough questions.  We want to know how you will react under pressure.  We want to know if stress or confrontation will debilitate you.

There's a lot more that could be said (and I welcome anyone reading this to add more advice in the comments of this post), and there was probably a lot more that was said last night, but I'd say this is a good place to start.

By the way, if anyone ever asks me, I'll just tell them that my weakness is writing long-winded blog posts.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Resume & Interview Panel at Carleton University - Tonight!

If there are any readers from Carleton University, I will be participating in a Q&A session tonight.  I believe the event is for students only.  Here are the details:

Porter Hall
6:00 pm - 7:00 pm  -  Q&A session
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm  -  Networking

There will be five of us on the panel.  I don't know who the other panelists are, but, no doubt, they will be useful resources for anyone in attendance.

I'm a little under the weather, so I may not stick around for the Networking session afterward, but if you see me and would like to chat, just let me know.

Friday, September 4, 2009

23 Down, 0 to Go

So, you may be wondering where I've been for the past couple of weeks. Well, we've had a couple of proposals due in the past couple of weeks - one that required six candidates, and another that required 17 candidates. We're just putting the final touches on the last one (for 17), and, despite a bit of a SNAFU noticed about an hour ago, it looks like we'll get it sent off to the client quite soon.

Things should quieten down here a bit after today, so, hopefully, I'll be able to bring more quips and insights in the near future.

In case you're not following his blog, Tom Sweeney has some good recruiting-ish posts up over at his blog. He has a couple of posts on some bid rigging scandals. As well as some posts on employee turnover and retention. Do check them out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Can't We Just Assume?

Government clients can be quite picky when reviewing RFP resonses. If they say something is a requirement, you have to demonstrate explicitly that your candidate satisfies the requirement - often making sure to use their specific buzz words.

But, if they want someone with experience in Object Oriented development, and I've got a senior Java Developer, do I really have to write "Object Oriented"; can't we just assume that they have experience with OO programming since Java is, ya know, totally Object Oriented?

Sorry, just my little rant for this morning. I'm very tired of writing the words "object" and "oriented".

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Resume, Interview Tips and Strategies Discussion Panel

I will be participating in a panel discussion on resume writing, interview tips and employment strategies at Carleton University on Wednesday September 30, 2009, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

The discussion is for students looking to enter the fields of IT, Engineering, Science, Public Affairs or Communications students. I do not know if it is open to the public.

Here are the details:

Wednesday September 30, 2009
6:00 pm
Porter Hall, Carleton University
Ottawa, Ontario
It will be a 60 minute Q&A with the five member panel, followed by refreshments and networking.

If you're a student who might be interested in attending, I suggest you contact the Career Development & Co-operative Education Office at 410 Tory Building.

I do not know if they have confirmed all five panelists, so if anyone is interested, let me know and I can pass along the contact information of the person organizing the event.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to deal with a health-related gap in your resume

Recently, I was helping a friend prepare for an interview. This person had a rather significant gap in her resume which was related to a medical issue (which has been addressed and would no longer effect her ability to work).

Interviewers can be worried about gaps in resumes. It's something that everyone should be ready to address when going in for an interview. The question is, how much information do you give? I'm not a fan of lying in interviews. I find people who are forthright and tackle concerns head-on appear like much stronger candidates than those who try to obfuscate. Still, saying "I was sick for 8 months" isn't going to fill your potential employer with confidence.

Here's how I suggested she handle it: mention that you had a health issue that needed to be addressed, and that you refrained from gaining employment until you were certain that it was taken care of, so that you’d be able to focus 100% on a new job.

The run-on nature of the sentence aside, I'd love to know what people think. I often take the view that there are going to be questions you get for which there are no good answers, and you should do your best, move on, and impress them with your answer to the next question. Still, some things are difficult to just gloss over.

(And, yes, I know that they can't ask you about your health, and I don't recommend volunteering such information, but whether or not you're obliged to tell a potential employer something, sometimes there's just no way around it. My friend couldn't have answered such a question by simply saying, "I wasn't working and that's all the information to which you are legally entitled." Okay, she could have; but that would've moronic.)

New Monitor!

Hey everyone, I have a new 20'' widescreen LCD monitor. If anyone reading this had seen my old monitor, they'd understand why this is so exciting.

Now I'll get back to work.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Really Don't Mean to be a Jerk

The other day, in a discussion with my wife, I learned that a close friend, in her job hunt, tends to do no follow up. If she submits her resume, then hears nothing back, she doesn't contact the company. If she has an interview at a company, then hears nothing back, she doesn't contact the hiring manager.

Basically, her reason for not following up will be one of two things:
  1. The person is really busy, and I don't want to bother him/her; or,
  2. If this person can't even bother to get back to me, I don't want to work for him/her.
Both of these sentiments are completely understandable, however, neither will advance your goal of getting a job.

Okay, okay, this is pretty basic job-hunting advice, and I don't really mean to get bogged down on this, I just thought I'd use it as a jumping off point...

Since I went on vacation at the end of July, lots of new RFPs have come in. We've been spending a lot of time on these, vetting resumes, writing resumes, writing grids, writing proposals, analyzing financial proposals and so on. Consequently, I have not had time to respond to all the kind consultants who have contacted me about job opportunities. And there are about 100 of them, according to my inbox.

So, if any of you are reading this, I just thought I'd say, I'm sorry. I will try to respond to everyone very very soon.

And It's Done

The project that we've been working on for the past few weeks came back from the boss with a few recommended revisions. Those were taken care of pretty easily, and the entire proposal was wrapped up and sent in to the client. Now, we just wait for a response.

The timing of this is pretty good. Last week, one of our main clients sent us a request for six people. Now they've issued another request; this time for seventeen people. That's right, by the first week of September, we have to submit twenty three candidates. On the plus side, we have twenty three qualified candidates. So now it's just a matter of editing twenty three resumes and writing twenty three grids.

Oh, and my supervisor is away for the final weekend of August, so it should be a hectic few weeks. It's good that I got some vacation time in while I could.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Speaking of the weekend...

If you're in Ottawa, you might want to check out the play, Birth. It's about, well, birth. It'll be touching on a lot of topics regarding birth, including breech birth - which is fairly topical right now.

Following each performance, there will be panel discussions, some of which will feature Mrs. JMRecruiting - though the specific ones haven't yet been confirmed.

Here are some of the details:
Birth - A play by Karen Brody
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Matinee at 2:30 p.m.

Advance Ticket Prices: (DOOR PRICE: add $5)
Adults: $20
Student/Seniors: $15
Children/Volunteers: $10


Note: While children are welcome, this play is not written for children. Some parts may be frightening, confusing and parents should know that there is swearing throughout the play. Discretion is advised.
If you're interested, I'd suggest clicking over to their web site.

Parkinson's Law

So, a couple of days ago, our project to supply Business Analysts became much easier, seemingly.

But, in accordance with Parkinson's Law, we've decided to add some more elements to our proposal... and, thus, what would have been a pretty laid back week suddenly got a little busy again. On the plus side, the deadline for my part of the proposal is tonight, so it should be a pretty easy Friday, and a lovely lazy weekend (filled with sis-in-law's birthday, a lot of toddler time and some pre-season NFL action... it should be nice).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Green Shoots, Headhunter Edition

Apropos of this post, a few weeks back I got a call from another recruiter in the Ottawa area (you could call him a 'recruiter's recruiter' both because of his recruiting acumen and because he focuses on placements for recruiting and HR positions). Things had been fairly slow in the past few months (especially in Ottawa), but he was starting to see signs of life. There was a new opportunity in Ottawa that he thought might be a good fit for me.

I'm happy at my current firm, so I declined, but it was certainly nice to hear that the recruiting industry (at least in Ottawa) might be picking up.

Now, if employment is a lagging indicator, what does that make employment in the employment industry? Is it like some sort of economic double negative?

One More Thought About Those Business Analysts

In the previous post, I note that our client has altered an RFP so that we only have to submit one Business Analyst instead of four. I'm still confident we can win this bid, and it should mean that we will be able to secure contracts for all four BAs, so (fingers crossed) despite all the excess work, it should all be worth it in the end.

One thing I should mention is that all of our consultants have been fantastic throughout the proposal development phase. I bemoan all the time I lost working on resumes and grids that are no longer necessary, but I do not want to discount the amount of time that they put into this as well. If my time has been wasted, theirs certainly has been, too.

In order to effectively respond to government RFP's, there often needs to be a lot of back-and-forth between the recruiter and the candidate. They're the SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) when it comes to both the professional requirements and their work history. So, if I want to build the best proposal I can, I have to get this information from them. With each of the candidates with whom we were working, we'd trade emails and phone calls to hammer out all the little details to make sure that all the requirements were covered. Each consultant probably did two or three drafts of their resume, as well as little tweaking here and there.

One consultant in particular was really great about this. He sent us a resume reflecting the needs of our client. Unfortunately, it was not satisfactory. I looked through it, and I could tell that he had done (or probably had done) all the things the client was asking for, but it wasn't really spelled out clearly and succinctly in the resume. So I got worried - we didn't have anyone else to present, but this resume would get disqualified if we sent it to the client.

So at about 9:30 Friday morning, I left him a message saying there was a lot of work to be done. He called me back about 20 minutes later, and by 10:30 we were sitting in our conference room going through each requirement project-by-project, taking notes and writing adequate descriptions. For a lot of them, I would have to probe him for more information (what is obvious to the SME is not always obvious to the recruiter or, more importantly, the client). We were both still working on the resume yesterday when the amendment from the client came in.

There are a lot of candidates who would not go through such an arduous process. Often, understandably so. Consultants will have requests to complete these RFPs all the time, and most won't result in winning a contract. Some recruiting firms will ask consultants to fill out the RFP, make the submission, win the contract, then decide to sub-contract to another consultant who won't ask for as much money. If I were constantly going through this sort of thing, I'd probably be reluctant to give a recruiter too much of my valuable time.

Unfortunately, this time commitment is necessary. Things are getting really competitive out there, and clients can be extremely picky about the people they hire. Especially when dealing with government RFPs, we (recruiters) have to be meticulous when crafting proposals; one seemingly minor detail not quite covered can mean the difference between winning and losing the bid.

(At this point, I could go on a rant about why it is so important for recruiters to treat consultants with respect, lest we never be able to properly complete a proposal, but that's not my point right now.)

The bottom line is this: we've been working with four great consultants. They're not just great candidates (which they are), they're also great partners in developing a proposal. They've done a h*ll of a lot of work on this, and I hope that I can reward them all with contracts in the near future.

In the meantime, I can offer them my sincere gratitude.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

And All is for Naught

A few weeks ago, a big RFP came out from one of our major clients. They're looking for four Business Analysts, and the contracts will run for one or two years. For our little firm, this is a pretty big contract (sure, we've gone after bigger ones, but recently we've been doing a lot of three to six month single consultant placements).

We've got some really strong BA's that we work with, so we weren't too worried. However, we had a lot of work in front of us (and I missed the first week while I was away on vacation), so at the end of last week and over the weekend I spent a few hours each night working on a couple of resumes (I was up until about 1:30 or 2:00 am on Sunday night/Monday morning). Well, we got an email from the client today.

Don't worry; the RFP hasn't been revoked; they haven't cut the number of BA's they need. They have only cut the number of BA's that need be presented. They need four people, but they're only asking for one resume (one contract will be for the primary BA, and the other contracts are in slightly subordinate roles). So all the work we did on the three weakest candidates was completely unnecessary.

On Sunday, I turned a twelve page resume into a twenty-three page resume. All that was completely unnecessary.

Well, I guess that's not really true. We now have three extra consultants with vastly improved resumes, and I am now that much better at technical writing.

Of course, on the down side (other than the fact that the consultant can now shop that twenty-three page resume to other firms), this means that the bidding will be all the more ferocious and competitive. We would have had four great candidates; not every firm could have said that, but they probably each have one great candidate. We now have to have a fabulous candidate.

Oh well, such is life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


One of our client's managers appears to be moving on. This person has been in charge of a complex project, and, we're told the manager is getting out before the [expletive] hits the fan. I guess it's good time to make a change, then.

About a month ago, we had to let an employee go. Ever since then, problems have been arising from this employee's final month or two of work. Things either weren't done, they weren't done properly, or there was no follow up. I was not this person's supervisor, but I have to think that if a recommendation was expected when a new job search is started, the chances of one are seriously waning.

People leave trails, and these days, they're not like those fluffy white lines following airplanes that dissipate and disappear in a moment. No, our trails linger. It's good to remember that what you do in your job, and even what you do in your personal life, can have lingering effects. If you leave a mess behind, it might catch up with you, especially if you are working in a small community or a small industry.

On the flip side, if someone leaves a mess behind, that can be a perfect opportunity to show your ability. When I managed wine stores, I was transferred to a relatively new store that hadn't seemed to be able to reach it's potential. The manager I replaced was competent, but she had another store she was also managing that monopolized her time.

The company I worked for has about 160 stores. This store ranked in the lowest third in terms of sales by volume (the metric used was 9L cases), and due to its location, would probably never crack the top half of store rankings. However, in my first year there, the store ranked 6th in terms of the increase in sales by volume (they were using absolute numbers, not a percentage increase). This gave me a lot more leeway when I wanted to try new things, and it opened up more opportunities for me in the future (though I have always attributed the success more to the efforts of my team than to my efforts).

I guess the point is: don't screw around, even if you're planning to leave your job; it'll haunt you.

Or maybe the point is: to all those who screw around at work, thanks for helping with my career advancement!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sheds, Wine and Cycling

Apropos of this post, The Wall Street Journal has a story up about sheds. Specifically, about sidewalk sheds and the recession-proof nature of the sidewalk shed industry.

I used to be in the wine game, and I never got too nervous about my job security if there was a downturn in the economy. When times were good, people were buying wine. When times were bad, well, that's when they really needed a drink. I'm perfectly willing to believe that an investigation of Vincor's balance sheet will show a direct relationship with economic growth and retraction, but still, I never worried about the financial health of my company while working there... especially compared to when I have worked at a web company, a call centre or a recruiting firm.

So what's my point? Learn to build sheds, I guess, less you risk drinking wine underneath them.

H/T: Megan McArdle

Why would you want this person working for you in the first place?

Cleaning up my inbox, I found my letter of resignation from my previous job. Some might wonder, what the hell was I thinking?

Keep in mind that I liked the job, was good friends with my boss (and still am), and was on very good terms with the company... oh, and I wrote it in about a minute.

March 7, 2008

Ottawa, Ontario

To whom it may concern,

As wisps of daylight blend and fade, and weeks, as shapes, contort and fray,
the time within all swells and seeks
and sputters to give us but two weeks,
and I shall give you my last day.

Light hands can heal through bounty and fast,
but not, for never, the floundering quell.
Your light, though beams, is sad as well,
for March 21st shall be my last.

In Certain Sincerity,


Monday, July 20, 2009

A recession is when your neighbour loses his job; a depression is when recruiters lose their jobs.

Okay, maybe that's not how the line really goes.

This afternoon, my supervisor was on Monster and did a search for recruiters (we're not necessarily hiring anyone soon; he likes to check sometimes to see what's going on in the market), and his search brought 250 candidates. For reference, a similar search 18 months ago would have yielded about 100 candidates. We all probably have some guesses as to why this is.

The result was significant for two reasons. First, the sheer magnitude of it. Despite the faulty methodology of the analysis, a 150% increase is bracing. Second, the quality of the candidates was noteworthy. When he was looking through them, he wasn't finding people with only 5 months experience in an explicitly HR and recruiting role. He was finding candidates with 5 years experience with a variety of staffing firms or as in-house recruiters.

I have not done any sort of valid research into this (and I don't plan to), but I do have a couple of thoughts as to why this might be (beyond the simple, the economy sucks and everyone is getting laid off).

It seems to me that recruiting positions could be a fairly solid leading indicator for the job market. As the economy slows, stalls, grinds or implodes, employers do not automatically start clearing house. Not all employers are sociopathic villainous capitalists. Most of them are actually, you know, people. So, as a company's business slows, they'll generally still try to keep their employees. Most people don't like the idea of starving others, so they'll take a cut in profits (or an exaggeration of losses) in order to keep their team together (which can be quite useful if you think it is just going to be a short downturn - if you've got good people, you don't want to ditch them, have them get other work, then be out of luck when the economy starts churning again).

However, new hirings will cease in this sort of atmosphere. Not only will companies refrain from expanding their pool of labour, they may allow it to shrink by attrition. Eventually, though, this may not be enough, and the lay-offs must start.

So, now they've started lay-offs; what division should be first? Seems pretty obvious to me that if you're not hiring people, you don't really need recruiters. As such, we are the first fat to be trimmed. You can always tell your managers and team leads to do the hiring (assuming you're in a position to do any hiring at all). As well, even though some recruiters are better than others, they're often a dime a dozen, and don't, necessarily, require any special training or experience (compared to, say, a structural engineer). There's probably less concern about replacing the talents of your recruiters (especially if you had bad ones) than replacing the talents of the employees who actually 'produce' things.

Another hypothesis as to why recruiting positions seem to be procyclical has to do with the mentality of some corporations. From my limited experience as a company's in-house recruiter - and from some guesses about human nature - I'm quite willing to believe that a lot of bosses don't really see recruiters as part of the team. This isn't a slag against negligent bosses or the work of recruiters. It's just that if you work for a web company and the boss is/was a developer, he may see the contributions of recruiters as external to what the company produces and offers. It seems to me that a boss, even just subconsciously, is going to identify with the development team rather than the recruiting team, in this scenario. Thus, it'll probably make more business sense to him to release recruiters rather than releasing developers.

This is, of course, no great comfort to the 250 recruiters looking for jobs in Ottawa. However, it does make me want to hold on to the job I have all the more. I would hate to become #251.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Strategies in Everything

In the past few months, I have led some seminars for job seekers. I have also given some advice to a family member as she goes after a new job. In these situations, I found everything coming down to strategy (or focus).

There was never any grand vision when I began these tasks. Really, all I was doing was compiling whatever wisdom I had gleaned as a recruiter and candidate, as well as any information I had from other sources. It was through this process that I realized the key was having a focus and having a strategy to support that focus. It's about knowing your goals and figuring out how to attain them. It's about projecting a value proposition to potential employers - not just that you would be great at the job, but that, in fact, the job is meant for you.

This plays into pretty much every aspect of your job search: how you search, where you search, how you write a cover letter, the information included in your resume, the format of your resume, the way you conduct yourself in an interview, etc. However, there is one aspect, it seems, about which few people have thought, or, at least, about which they have not thought sufficiently. It is, my friends, the title of your resume.

I'm not really talking about the document title (though the advice is certainly applicable). If you send me a thoughtful cover letter, with resume, explaining how you would be a match for an opening I have, I won't care that the document has a title like, "CV20090609BusDev_v1.doc". Whatever, I don't think that's that important.

However, if you are using Monster or Workopolis or something similar*, you need to have an appropriate title for your resume/profile. Regardless of what the document title of your resume is, when I am doing a search, I should not see CV20090609BusDev_v1 as a title. Monster suggests using something eye-catching like Eager Technical Writer or Experienced Project Manager for the title.

Such titles are fine - in fact giving some information about who you are as a candidate is a good thing - but remember that being too specific can also be a problem. If you're a project manager who can also be a business analyst, information architect, communications specialist, or whatever, titling your profile, Experienced Project Manager, will mean that I, the recruiter, am likely to skip over it if I am looking for a communications specialist. If you're a junior web developer who would like to advance, but is still open to junior positions, don't put down intermediate or senior web developer. If I need a junior candidate, I'm not going to bother senior candidates. In such a situation, just write, web developer.

Now, this can be tricky. You want to project a concise message (your focus) and you need a good way to do it (your strategy), but you have to make sure you are on point. Think about what the title says to the recruiter - what sorts of inquiries it will draw and what sort of inquiries it will repel. If, upon reflection, you are satisfied with the answers to these questions, then you've probably nailed down a good title. If you're a little bewildered and have no idea about the sort of title to use, you can always just use your name. If, in a search, I just see the person's name in a title, I'll generally click on it as I'm inclined to think there's a good reason they came up in my search.

Full disclosure: if you were to find my profile on Monster, I believe the title you will read is jdsmcleod. Yeah, not particularly helpful. One day, I'll change that. One day, I'll update the resume, as well (the one that's up there is pretty horrific).

*Thinking more on it, this advice may only apply to Monster - it's the only one I use, but I assume other career sites work the same way.

Summer Lull, Piggy-back Edition

Tom Sweeney is right. Things are incredibly slow these days (and have been unusually slow for a while now).

You might think this would give me more time for blogging (which obviously hasn't happened), and you'd be right. Sadly, this slow grind gives no fodder for blogging.

Maybe I'll start doing some movie reviews...

Friday, July 10, 2009


A helpful note to wronged employees out there (or those wondering if they have been wronged):

There are many grounds on which you cannot be legally discriminated. Such grounds include, but are not limited to:
  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Parental leave;
  • Marital status; and,
  • Disability.
However, it must be noted that none of these grounds protect you from progressive correction, discipline or termination, if it is otherwise warranted.

Sadly, people do not seem to always understand this. Just because something seems wrong does not mean that, upon sober reflection, it is wrong.

Keep this in mind. No one is untouchable.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Progressive Correction, or, Saving Your Friggin' Job

I have had a number of jobs, some of which I did better than others. Most of them had performance evaluation components and I have been on both sides the evaluations.

Nobody likes to receive a bad review, but, here's the thing, every review is an opportunity for the employee. If they don't sack you, you can still excel*. So, when you receive that (fair or seemingly unfair) bad evaluation, what do you do?

Well, first and foremost, engage. Tackle the issue. Your boss has just told you that you need to improve; find a way to do that. If you don't understand what you need to do to correct things, ask. Take the initiative to fix the problems. Work with your supervisor to develop a strategy, and remain positive.

In my time as a manager, I have given poor evaluations and I have given people verbal and written warnings (by the way, all of my "verbal" warnings were, in fact, written down). I have told people that if issues were not addressed and the behaviour continued, termination might be the result. It was never a threat; I was always ready to work with my team to help them improve their performance. However, many employees didn't take the opportunity to better their performance. Those were the employees I eventually had to fire.

About a 8 or 9 months ago, I submitted a weekly performance report. It wasn't great. I filled it out and realized that I was clearly stagnating. I wasn't being innovative; I wasn't thinking of new ways to attract or meet new candidates; I wasn't pro-actively making myself a better recruiter. Realizing this, when I submitted my report I added a little note to my manager. I told her that I realized that things weren't really working, and that I had become a little complacent as a recruiter - following the same processes even though they were no longer reaping good results. I told her that I was going to re-evaluate what I was doing and figure out a way to get better. She spoke to me about it briefly. I don't know if she would have even brought the topic up had I not (my performance wasn't bad, but it was mediocre).

This is what I mean by tackling the issue. I faced up to the situation and worked, worked, to improve. And I'm still with that company, and I have been a much better recruiter and employee ever since.

All that being said, if you are confident that you are doing a good job, don't be afraid to say so. This doesn't mean that your boss is wrong in his evaluation (there could be some mis-communication), but if you know you are a hard working employee, say so. At the same time, listen. You may work hard, but that doesn't mean things are working well. Being assertive about your abilities while also being open to opportunities for improvement should demonstrate to your employer that you are someone they want to keep.

I had a first-year English prof (geez, I wish I could remember his name) who told us at the beginning of the semester that he had never failed a student... however, he had a lot of students who failed themselves. Similarly, as a manager I never terminated an employee...

Don't terminate yourself.

*Assuming you don't have a boss who truly wants to undermine you (which most don't), or you're not in a job for which you are clearly not qualified.

Back on the Blogging-horse

Well, things are settling down a bit these days, so it looks like I'll be able to resume regular blogging. I've still got much to do with the new house (including hooking up internet), so I won't have a lot of time, but it certainly is nice to be back at it a bit.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

White Space

I do not understand why people do not worry about the proper formatting of resumes. Specifically, I do not understand the aversion so many people have to white space. I first learned about "white space" in school. It was considered proper coding etiquette to use line breaks, indenting, and spacing to separate one's code so that it was presented in a fashion that was easy to follow when others would be reading it. White space is equally important when writing a resume (if not more so). Having words and sentences and lines and paragraphs mashed together without any spacing to give the reader's eyes a rest or to properly guide the reader through the information will not help. It is the CV equivalent of a poorly designed GUI. It is best to break up sections of your resume, using headings such as: (a) Profile; (b) Work History; (c) Education; (d) Awards; (e) Certifications; (f) Skills; and (g) Publications. Separate these headings with single or double spaces. Underneath these headings use sub headings, or order things in a neat and consistent way. On the page as a whole, work within the usual horizontal and vertical margins. Your text does not need to fill up every inch of the page; in fact, it is best if it doesn't. It will look less professional, and be more of an arduous task for the recruiter/HR rep/hiring manager to read. Paragraph breaks are good; spacing is good; bullets are good.

In case I haven't made my point...

White space in your resume is a good thing for the following reasons:
  • It will increase the odds of your resume being read in full;
  • It will guide the reader through your resume;
  • It will offer a pleasing structure and professional appearance to your resume; and,
  • It'll keep my brain from hurting when I'm reading it.
These are all good things. So go ahead, space out your resume.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Recruited a home

Tomorrow at 4:00 pm, the wife and I are scheduled to sign a lease for a new home - a condo in the Lebreton Flats area. It's a wonderful little place, with some advantages over our last home. Nonetheless, we are sad to leave the home we had created this past 16 months.

We are glad that we are able to move on and begin again. We were very lucky, as we suffered no damage to our belongings, and have retrieved everything (though the piano won't be removed until next week). Most everyone else who lived in our row of houses lost more than we did, substantially more. Some have lost nearly everything. Though we are happy that we are able to start anew so quickly, we are heartbroken for those who have lost so much. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers; they are most certainly in ours.

It appears that we may not have internet service at the new home for a week, so blogging will remain light.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


We have learned that the row of townhouses has been officially condemned by the city. We will be able to get contractors in there to remove whatever hasn't been damaged. Hopefully, that means we'll be able to save my mom's piano.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Recruiting a home

This is what I awoke to at 4:10 Monday morning. My unit is the closest corner unit. We're all ok, but not sure what's going to happen with the townhouses (they'll probably be razed). Consequently, blogging will probably be light for the next few days.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can't somebody else do it?

If we're talking about recruitment blogging, yes, Tom can.

Work has been mad busy for the last week. Throw in a bunch of other commitments, and I've had no time to blog. Thankfully, Tom Sweeney is running with the ball. Go to his site for all your recruito-blogger needs.

I'll be back when the man let's up.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Well, it's a little over 12 hours since I first posted about this project, and it's now 2:45 am, and I just sent the proposal off to my manager.

There is still work to be done on it, but it's not due for another 12 hours, so we've got plenty of time tomorrow to put on the final polish. The grunt work has been done, and the resume is solidly grounded in organizational development, change management and organizational cultural change.

This one will be winner... it better be!

Good Night / Good Morning.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Same bat-time, same bat-channel

It looks like this week's Thursday night will mimic last week's Thursday night. Our proposal last week was declined, but we've got another kick at the can, and the client has revised the specifications, so we have a better idea of for what they're looking.

Like last week, this thing is due at 3:00 pm on Friday, and it looks like we'll make the deadline - even though we've got less than 25 hours, and are still playing tag with a few different consultants to determine who'll be the best fit.

I guess it'll be another long night. I'm not looking forward to it as much this week.

P.S. Still no evidence that I'm not boring, but I'll keep looking.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

We do this for a living, ya know...

It never ceases to amaze me that so many candidates are incredibly unresponsive to resume and interviewing advice.

I work as a technical recruiter. I don't hire anyone to work at my company; I "source" people for contracts with clients (mostly the federal government). Consequently, a lot of my work is not about finding the right candidate, but making sure the right* candidate wins the contract. This means I not only search for people, read resumes and interview people, but I also edit resumes, write proposals and prepare candidates for interviews with clients.

During this process, it is often my duty to tease more information out of a consultant and have them modify or add to the information in their resume. Also, I will give people tips on basic interviewing techniques, and also try to troubleshoot potential issues that will be raised in interviews (occasionally, I may also have to calm someone down, or build up their confidence). Of course, some people just aren't interested. Their resume is already perfect, and they already know how to do really well in an interview (which might lead someone to wonder why they need to find a new job, but I digress...). Obviously, these people need no help from the rest of us.

Now, I will admit. For some, this is true. Some of them have awesome resumes and know exactly how to handle pretty much any interviewer they will encounter. Still, what's wrong in listening to another perspective?

And herein lies the twist. The good ones, they listen. We had a candidate in this afternoon who will be meeting with a client later this week. She knows what she's doing; she knows what they're looking for; and she presents herself quite well. Nonetheless, she came in taking notes, asking questions and generally soaking up any information she could from us.

There are very few of us who can afford to tune out the rest of the world. There are few of us who have such a high degree of expertise that they own the procurement process. The ones who do, are generally humble enough to make no such assumption.

A colleague has a blog that gives lots of tips in job searching and dealing with recruiters. If you don't think he can help you, that probably means he can.

P.S. In the middle of writing this post, I was contacted by a very capable consultant (whom I wrote about here). He's incredibly receptive to advice, despite the fact that he knows exactly what he's doing; I am certain such a character trait is a benefit in his career.

P.P.S. I am, by no means, suggesting that I know exactly what I'm doing. I welcome advice from others who have different experiences.

*Naturally, the "right candidate" is the one that I am presenting to the client.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I'd really like to give you all another post, but...

...I don't really have anything to say, and I should probably get some sleep. G'night.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How boring am I?

Here's some evidence that I'm a very boring person:
  • I think Economics textbooks are the funniest textbooks ever written;
  • I'm a fan of the semi-colon;
  • I was annoyed when National Post got rid of the game, "Add it up" in the Saturday paper (Sudoko is no substitute);
  • I wrote this post; and,
  • I enjoy technical writing.
Yes, right now, I am editing and re-writing a 35 page resume (I'll probably only work on about 11 pages of it). I may be up very late tonight finishing it, and I'm not horrified by the prospect. I actually find it an enjoyable aspect of my job (the writing, not the sleep deprivation).

At some point in the future I will present evidence that I am not a boring person... if I find such evidence.

[UPDATE: It's 12:42 and I just completed the first draft. A little more polishing tomorrow, and I should easily meet the 3 pm deadline.]

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Business Analyst? Organizational Development Consultant? - This post is a two-fer.

Those are the people I'm looking for right now. Unfortunately, in both situations, we're looking at pretty low rates (it seems that's the way things are going right now - you'd think we're in a recession or something).

Anyway, if you're a BA with about 8 years experience (or more), and are interested in a long term contract, let me know.

If you're an Organizational Development Consultant with experience in Change Management and exposure to a Learning Management System, let me know.

As always -

The interview's the thing...

A woman has been sitting in our lobby for 71 minutes. Patiently waiting. Sitting and chatting. More precisely, a candidate for our administrative/bookkeeper position has been sitting patiently for more than an hour. Part of this is her own doing - she was 20 minutes early; part of it is happenstance - our branch manager had another meeting this morning that is running muuuuuch longer than expected. She's not concerned; she's willing to wait.

This is a huge point in her favour. She has been speaking with our recruitment manager and our current administrator, and has been demonstrating how personable and professional she is - two key points to this position.

But I'm not writing this to talk about her; I'm writing this to talk about me (is there any topic more important?).

I have held positions for the last 5 or 6 years that have included recruiting and interviewing as main tasks. This is no coincidence. I like doing this. However, recently, my interviewing is more straightforward. Often, it comes in the form of "networking", so that by the time I am proposing a candidate to a client, I have already met and spoken with this person a multitude of times. The final "interview" acts more as a fine tuning of a proposal, rather than a qualifying interrogation. This process works for me, but I am kind of missing out.

Years ago, when I was in retail, my district manager suggested that at the end of all interviews I could ask candidates to "sell me this pencil" (referring to the mechanical pencil I had been using during the interview). It was a pretty great question. I learned next to nothing about the candidate's sales ability, but I learned a lot about the person's temperament. It was a frivolous question, but I wanted to find people who would take the request seriously. That would say a lot about how they would approach the job.

I have done other "tricky" things. I once had a candidate for an admin position express an interest to eventually get into HR. At the end of the interview, I asked her to grade my interviewing techniques (since hiring can be part of HR duties). Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my colleague (who shared the office space) shuddering as he tried not to laugh.

The point of this blog post is that I miss doing a lot of these things - these interviewing tricks - and I think I should re-focus and try to work them back into my interviewing process. The problem is that when I'm interviewing a Project Manager with 30 years experience, I can't really ask him to "sell me this pencil". I guess I'll just have to learn some new techniques.

P.S. Regarding "sell me this pencil", it was a damned nice pencil. I looked through all the pencils at the office supply store and picked that one out for a variety of reasons. When a candidate couldn't think of at least one good thing to say about my pencil, it irked me. How dare they be so dismissive of my pencil!