Thursday, May 28, 2009

The art of networking... Art-working?

A little while ago I posted a blog on about hobbies and whether or not they should be on your CV (I re-posted it here; it's the very first post on this blog). There was some discussion that followed, with, generally, a good-natured back and forth. I thought some people made some good counterpoints, and I was certainly willing to re-visit my opinion.

One guy, though, decided that a respectful debate between colleagues (it is a recruiting site, after all) just wasn't for him. Here's a segment of his post:

Believe it or not but I have experienced a couple of occasions where listed hobbies triggered a conversation (that’s something people will have when they show an interest in each other)...

It may not read the same out of context, but it was quite the snarky riposte. (I know what you're thinking - shocking that poor manners were shown on the interweb.)

I'm not posting this to try to start a battle, since (a) I have no interest in one, and (b) I doubt he reads this site - if I were to respond, I would have done so in the comments of the original post.

No, I'm trying to point out what bad form this was - not in some grand vision of manners and polity, but at an individual level. A group of colleagues were discussing a topic quite professionally, despite disagreements. This is what grown ups do. This is what we all should do in the workplace.

Recruiters live by networking. That's how we do our job. Why on earth would a recruiter want to poison a relationship with a potential colleague in order to get off a here's-what-the-meaning-of-the-word-conversation-is jab? It's silly, and it reflects poorly on him.

So what's the point? The point is you're always, potentially, networking. You're always, potentially, branding yourself.

(I should note that I am willing to admit that the original post of mine was perhaps a little snarky - it was a rant after all, however I think a fair reading of it would determine that the joking manner in which I described things was more frivolous than attacking. Further, it certainly couldn't be considered personal, as I used no derogatory examples from actual resumes.)

It's not that I'm lonely, but... (Contact Information)

I realized that I probably don't have any contact information on this blog, and even though I'll read any comments that are left, it's probably best that I give out some contact info, just in case.

If anyone wants to reach me, you can email me at .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

There's no excuse for typos, Part II

A few days ago, I noted that there is no excuse for having a typo-laden resume. Well, there is a b-side to this record; there is no excuse for typos by recruiters.

People's names are important. When contacting a candidate, or entering her into a database, make sure you have the right name and the right spelling. Calling Cecile "Cecil" isn't acceptable (just as calling Jonathan "John" isn't acceptable). This is especially important when your colleagues are relying on the information you provide about the candidate.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Counterintuitive Job Security

It has been noted in a few places that EI was up for the month of March. Obviously, that's not good news, though I can't say whether it's a leading indicator or a lagging indicator of our short run economic prospects.

I will, however, touch on another tangential subject, job security. I have been laid off in the past. I have been in other situations where I have worried about my job security. Before my current job, I was on a three month contract (which wound up lasting for about five months). I know what it's like to have an uncertain employment situation.

Many candidates come before me looking for permanent employment (unfortunately for them, my company deals almost exclusively with contract opportunities). I understand where they're coming from. They like the benefits; they like the permanency; they like the certainty.

Sadly, they're wrong. Permanent positions are lumbering towards extinction. There is no job certainty in a permanent position - termination, lay off, insolvency, any one of them can put the lie to your job certainty.

Contract positions have the same potential pitfalls, but with less risk of befalling any of them. Many of these positions are budgeted for; the money is set aside - the money "exists". (At this point, I should note the at my company deals mainly with government contracts, so I'm sure I have a different vantage point than people in other industries and other cities.) If you sign a 12 month contract, you may not know what you're doing a year from now, but you know what you're doing for the next year. This is certainty.

In today's job market, most people are going to be changing jobs every couple of years, if not more frequently - what is the difference to your career if you have two contract positions within a year or two "permanent" positions. There are certainly pro's and con's to both permanent and contract positions, but when it comes to duration and job security, it's probably a wash.

It may seem incredibly counterintuitive to suggest there is equal or greater job security in contract positions, but many truths are counterintuitive.

Some times, they get it right.

Right now (most likely), I have a senior consultant sitting in an interview with three representatives of a government department. Anonymity isn't a big priority at Jonathan McLeod Recruiting, but in this case, I won't divulge any more information.

I have worked with this consultant in the past. A few months ago we were preparing a proposal for a different government agency (at the last minute, we hit a snag and had to abandon it), so when this new opportunity came up, I already had a head start in preparing his resume and the "grid". All tolled, I have probably spent about 20 - 30 hours on his resume - which grew first from about 10 to 14 pages, then to 17, then finally to 19.

Here's the scary part - I hadn't had a chance to meet him in person. Many phone calls, many more emails, but never anything in the flesh, as they say.

I gave him some interview tips (though apparently I neglected to send him one document - though it shouldn't make a difference), and I made sure he knew the importance of appearance and making a good impression. Still, you never what that person is going to be like when he shows up at the client's office. We've had senior people come into our office in a suit and tie, then show up for a meeting with the client in a t-shirt; you can guess how those went.

This opportunity is pretty important. It's not a long contract, and won't make a lot of money, but it should give us a good chance at getting more work. Plus, having been up until one or two in the morning many nights, I have a bit more of a personal stake in this proposal than some others.

So our guy stopped by the office today before his interview with the client - shirt, tie, suit... he'd even come straight from the barber. It was great. We sat and spoke with him for about 20 minutes. We gave him some tips; he talked to us about what he was looking for from the client; we focused on some specific points in his work history that he should touch on. This is how the process is supposed to work.

So, kudos to you, "Mr. Consultant." I know you'll represent us well.

Of course, now I'll be checking my email constantly tonight to find out how it went.

[UPDATE: I just got word from the consultant; indeed, it went well, he tells me. Now we just have to wait for confirmation from the client.]

[UPDATE II: Yup, he nailed it. Apparently the technical authority was really pressing him, and he was able to win her over. He'll probably be starting soon. Things are pretty slow these days, so it's nice to put one in the win column.]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Three Hour Rule

I am not suggesting that if you drop a chocolate bar on the ground, it's fine to eat it as long as you pick it up within three hours. That's nasty.

I'm talking about one of those myths about the ESA (the Employment Standards Act - the labour law in the province of Ontario). There's a notion out there among hourly workers that if you come in to work, you have to get paid for three hours no matter how short the duration of your shift happens to be. This is wrong - or at least not quite right.

First, you can be scheduled for a shift less than three hours. If they book you to work from noon to one, you get one hour's pay. That's it. (By the way, if your boss does that without a good reason, s/he probably wants you to quit - it's probably constructive dismissal, a topic for another post.)

But now to the real crux of this myth: if you are scheduled for a shift longer than three hours, and they send you home before three hours, you are not necessarily entitled to three hours pay. The ESA states that you are entitled to the amount you earned at your hourly rate for the time you were on duty or three hours pay at minimum wage.

I can't remember what minimum wage is right now (it's been changing a lot in the past few years), but let's say that it's $10. So what if you get sent home after 2 hours? Let's look at two scenarios:

1. You make $12/hour
In this situation, 2 hours work at $12/hour gives you $24.
3 hours work at minimum wage gives you $30.
So, your boss has to pay you $30.
(If s/he's on the ball, you'll wind up working an extra half hour doing some boring task so that they get the full $30 worth of work out of you.)

2. You make $16/hour
Now, after 2 hours, you have earned $32.
Since 3 hours at minimum wage is $30, your boss has to pay you $32.

This is quite progressive legislation. The lower your wage, the more likely you are to benefit. Depending on your outlook, this will either be a way of protecting the little guy, or a situation where a bunch of people get screwed - but if this happens to you a lot, it is a blessing in disguise, as it will give you a lot of extra time to search for a new job because the current one just ain't gonna cut it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New grad or unemployed?

My boss and I are on our way to Algonquin college shortly to lead an open house for students in the school's IT program. So, do we tell them that if they work hard and search diligently, they'll be able to land a job in their field? Or do we tell them that right now the market sucks, the economy sucks, and there are a bunch of experienced junior and intermediate level developers looking for work who will jump at entry level positions in order to make rent?

We figure we'll be realistic, but also try to give them a pep talk. Here's hoping it goes well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Nerd, or, The Unfolding Mystery of the ESA

I find Ontario's Employment Standard's Act quite interesting - or, to clarify, I find the comparison between the popular interpretation of the ESA and the actual language and strictures of the ESA to be interesting.

Having been in management, HR and recruiting, it has been handy to have a solid understanding of the ESA. The more I have read it, the more I have found that society seems to have a very poor understanding of it.* I'm a bit of a nit-picker; I'm kind of pedantic, thus my interest in the ESA.

Every now and then, I will probably put up a post investigating some aspect of the ESA that seems to be popularly misunderstood. For now, this post should serve as a warning that even if you think you know what your rights are as an employee, you might be mistaken.

I know that this blog has already blurred the line between recruiting and HR, but I am broadly defining the objective of this blog. I feel comfortable with this decision.

(*This is purely anecdotal; I have no data to back it up.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Every 20 days

It has been working out that every twenty days one of our clients sends out the exact same request - a bilingual RDiMS trainer. Apparently, they can never find one, but that does not stop them in their search.

Unfortunately, their insanity fosters my insanity. So here I am again, looking for a bilingual RDiMS trainer. Are any of you guys out their?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

There's no excuse for typos

Please, everyone, when writing your resume, proofread!

I understand that in a 10 page resume there might be a typo or two; that happens. If you have 15 in 4 pages, that's unacceptable. Your resume will be the first example of your work that I see. Keep that in mind, please.

Just a little rant for your morning commute.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

By the way...'s day three of my plan to do a post a day, and, so far, I am succeeding.

I know I'll fail at some point, but if I can make it atleast a week, I'll be happy.

I once drove across the city during rush hour to terminate a friend.

It's true; I did. She was once my star employee, but in the end had too many other things going on to properly focus on the job (it was a part time job, and it did not pay enough to support her). She knew she was going to be fired, so she brought a letter of resignation. I didn't accept it, and just let her go right then. It was my second last day on the job; I'd already given notice.

This is kind of funny. I certainly tell it in a light-hearted manner when recounting it to other managers or HR people. The fact is, I went through all the steps of "progressive correction". I gave her lots of chances and clearly defined my expectations and the consequences of failing to meet them. And anyway, she had other jobs; this really didn't ruin her life.

But a termination could "ruin" someone's life. It can be a really tough thing to deal with - on both sides of the situation. Nonetheless, I have terminated a lot people for a lot of different reasons, and though it may seem ghoulish, I generally derived satisfaction from it.

An HR VP at the company I worked for at the time used to tell us that we owed it to poor performers to fire them. It was in their best interest to be held accountable for their actions. They shouldn't be allowed to goof off forever without any repercussions... or so the logic went.

I didn't totally buy into this. I never had any notion that I was doing someone a favour when I fired them. Moreover, by the time it got to termination, I never felt I owed them anything. As a manager or HR rep, I always made sure that employees received a fair chance at succeeding in their job. Some might think I was a little quick to fire people, but, as a manager I worked with people before I fired them, and as an HR rep I made sure their supervisors worked with them before termination.

No, my satisfaction came from what I was doing for the rest of the team. These people, who were diligent, prompt, courteous, and competent did not deserve to share the workplace with deficient employees. My job, when doing a termination, was to make things better for them. Short term, it might inconvenience them (someone would have to cover the extra work), but in the long run I would have created a better work environment. My team knew that. They appreciated what I did.

Still, some situations are really tough. Sometimes, even if you know you are doing the right thing, it can feel like the wrong thing. However, if you have addressed performance issues head on, and have given the employee every chance to succeed, eventually a time may come when you have to let that person go. The specific situation of that employee matters not; the boss has an obligation to ensure that everyone on the team is contributing appropriately.

It's about justice on an aggregate level. It's also about justice on a personal level. And it's absolutely true that a good manager never has to fire anyone - poor employees will fire themselves. It's just that circumstances can make things hard.

And in case you're wondering, I'm still friends with that employee, and I have little doubt that she will have success in her professional life.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Am I a Headhunter?

A couple of weeks back, I was at a friend's housewarming party. Her significant other, Kevin, asked me what I did. It's interesting; when I say I am a "recruiter" or a "technical recruiter" (and especially when I throw on "...with an IT consulting firm"), I get a lot of blank stares. Everybody understands the words, but few really have much of an idea as to what it is that I do. (Another friend noted, this weekend, that it seems like a job that anyone should be able to do, but probably can't - a fair assessment, and maybe a topic for another post.) Anyway, back to Kevin...

Kevin didn't know what, specifically, I did, but he knew enough to ask, "would you be considered a Headhunter or is that a derogatory term?" I had to think on that for a second or two.

My response was, "that wouldn't be a completely inaccurate description."

A while back I had a meeting with an experienced recruiter in the city. He runs his own shop which specializes in placing HR and recruiting personnel. We were chatting, and he asked if I would have a problem with headhunting. I had never thought about it at the time. Headhunting seems so very distasteful, and I'm at a point in my career where I can pick and choose a bit, and avoid tasks and positions that I have a deep moral objection to. My instinct was that I probably didn't want to be a Headhunter.

However, instead of giving a definitive answer, I discussed what was meant by headhunting. In the end, I said I'd be willing to be a Headhunter. In fact, through the course of my day, I'm regularly headhunting.

We get into a problem of definitions here. There are some very unsavoury tactics that Headhunters have been known to use. I am not willing to lie or manipulate in order to steal away the top talent from other organizations. Further, I'm not going to hack into another company's database to harvest all their resumes (of course, I do not have the technical skill to do that, even if I wanted to).

But I'm willing to headhunt.

Through research, networking and any legitimate recruiting tricks, I will do what I can to find the superstar candidates. When I find these people, I will be diligent in my attempts to bring them on with my company. Again, no lying, no misrepresentation, no harassment - just a straightforward dialogue (with negotiations, of course) to let them know what kind of opportunity I am presenting.

These people are not slaves. They do not have an eternal debt to their current employer. Very few of us will stay with one company our entire careers. I would never ask someone to renege on a contract, but if the contract has an "out" clause (eg giving two weeks notice), then it is up to the candidate/employee to decide on the appropriate option.

People want to be found by recruiters. They're on Monster or Workopolis or LinkedIn. They have their own blog or online web site. If they publish their professional profiles on something as public as the web, recruiters will find them - and they might have a great job to offer.

One of the reasons I decided to focus on recruiting as my career was because I liked the idea that my job was to find jobs for other people. I have found jobs for people who were in desperate situations, hadn't worked for a while or had some other obstacle to gaining employment. I always enjoyed helping these people. I still enjoy helping people get the next great opportunity.

For me, this is what headhunting is about, and I'm fine with it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

What if I wasn't a tree?

I led a seminar on interview techniques for job candidates the other week. Wouldn't you know it that I don't come across this article until now (H/T Steve Levy)? So, does this article render all my tips moot? Thankfully, no.

First, I'll be honest, I gave some typical interview advice (stress positives, context-action-result answers, etc). Some are applicable no matter what. Some might be a little fluffy. That being said, it seems to me that most HR/recruiting/interviewing people don't follow strict or aggressive interview strategies, so if they're asking fluffy questions, fluffy answers aren't necessarily a bad thing (I'm writing really superficially here; I'm not advocating fluffy answers).

But I think I scored a few good points that this article backs up:

1. An interview can be confrontational.
I'd read in a government pamphlet that "interviews aren't contests, we're all trying to work together to get the best result we can" (I'm paraphrasing... and kind of sarcastically). You know what, sometimes the interviewer is messing with you. Sometimes s/he doesn't want to be your friend. Sometimes it is an uphill battle.

2. Don't lie
This is pretty obvious. Address deficiencies in your experience head on, but move past it.

3. Some questions are wretched, so your answers will be wretched.
There's often not a good answer as to why you left a job or didn't finish your degree. Not much you can do about it. Move on and do better with your next answer.

4. Stress interviews
I warned them. They may still react poorly to these interviews, but at least I warned them.

All in all, I think my seminar still stands up, but I definitely have some things to think about for the next one (assuming there is a next one - which I hope there is).

I agree with some other comments I've read about this article, that despite its title, it's not about going negative. Interviewers will challenge interviewees. That's life. I probably don't do it enough. I'll work on that.

A post a day? Will my head explode?

So I'm wondering if I should try writing at least one post every day (and begging for candidates won't count). In many ways this is a stupid quandary; no one reads this blog, so what's the point?

Well, there are a few reasons I'm thinking of doing this.

First, maybe someday people will read this blog. If so, regular updates will probably help it's popularity. On its own, this seems too optimistic (both of readership potential, and usefulness of potential content) to justify such an endeavour. So why else should I do this?

There is a matter of discipline. Having this task to complete on a regular basis will force me to stick to with this and stick with a routine. Theoretically, this will help keep me on task during the work day.

Further, there seems to be a real professional development aspect to this. Often, the demands of my job won't actually involve much writing. Maybe some editing, maybe putting together job ads, but not necessarily long form writing. I believe it is a good skill to have - and one that has helped me in the past (and one I should have put to better use in university). To improve or maintain this skill, I need to do it.

Writing these posts should help me focus my thoughts. I have put up some random thoughts on this blog. Sometimes, they're not well thought out. They're just musings or rants or off the cuff statements. I can't promise that everything I write in this blog will remain my opinion for time everlasting, but I can promise that what I write is what I'm feeling at the time (I write feeling because I'm not sure I'll always be thinking when I write). With these thoughts written down, I should be able re-visit them, or analyze my thought process. This should help me refine my thoughts (or thought processes), thereby holding better developed opinions in the future.

And, years from now, if someone from The Economist or The Atlantic finds this blog and loves it, maybe they'll pay me to sit in front of a computer and "think" all day long.

(It should be noted that posting every day does not include weekends; I am not that devoted to personal or professional development.)

[UPDATE: I guess I should admit that this regimen didn't hold up very long, sorry. I'll try to do better in the future.]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Would this be a black fly in my chardonnay?

We regularly get calls for "ATIP" resources - Access to Information and Privacy (I apologize for the use of the cold sterile word, "resources"). However, we can hardly ever find any of them. I don't know where they are. This is the information to which I need access.

Does this count as irony?

(Sorry, reeeeeeally dumb post - deal with it.)

JAVA? ColdFusion? Senior Web Developer?

So it looks like I am doing it again. Sure, I could talk about the job seminars I led last week... or funny anecdotes from the recruiting and IT worlds... or offer some suspect advice on recruiting.

But instead, I will plea for applicants again.

I need a senior web developer for a public sector contract. I won't get into the nitty-gritty details and requirements, but you'll need experience with JAVA and ColdFusion. You'll also need government of Canada security clearance.

The job is in Ottawa and the contract will run for atleast a year. If you're interested, leave a comment or, better yet, send me your resume -

By the way, if we're talking about sending resumes, here is a tip for everyone:

If you're contacting someone at a hiring firm (or in-house recruiters as well), don't ask permission to send your resume; just send it. I'm a recruiter; I vacuum up resumes wherever I can find them; I am never going to say, "no." If I don't want your resume, I'll just delete the email. No harm, no foul.

If I have a vacancy that is closing that day, I don't want to have to send you a message and then wait for you to send your resume. I want it there waiting for me.

Remember, making me do less work will make me want to help you get a job. I'm all about doing less work.

Later days.