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.