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?