Note: This is Part II of a three part series; it is recommended that you read Part I – The Basics first.
A quick Re-cap I previously defined the Job search Marketing phase as “Finding and Advertising yourself to potential employers”. This is everything you do up until you get a person on the phone discussing a specific opportunity. Also previously stated is that the Marketing process looks something like this:
- Look for Markets - i.e. Research where (what roles\position\industries) that there are good opportunities for your skill set and will position you for growth
- Generate Leads based on your research
- Qualify your Leads
- Market to your Leads – By sending a targeted Cover Letter & Resume
- Get Responses
- Qualify Responses
Confession: For a few years after I graduated college, I was a Cockroach. I had a solid resume for a Classic ASP Developer with SQL Server (What more could you need?!). I had a Basic cover letter (“I would like to apply for your Dev position listed in the NYT…”). I had Word Mail merge and a Fax Modem. I’d go through the Sunday paper, queue up my Faxer-Spam-A-Bot-umus, then bask in the glory of a full answering machine upon my return from work the next day.
After the Dot-Com Bust everything was online and there where oodles more Cockroaches to compete with (Mass emailing is massively easier than mass faxing). The going advice amongst the pros was that Cockroaches are bad, you need to be a Monkey. This didn’t sit well with me at all. How could I spend all that time customizing each resume I sent out? With each resume so customized, each was sure to have a few typos! I’d likely get disqualified on that alone, besides how long is the hiring manger going to spend looking at my resume? With so many Cockroaches out there I’d be lucky if my resume even gets looked at, and then I would likely only get a 15 second scan. It just didn’t seem right (or fair) to spend 2 hours of work (per job application) for that. Needless to say, that was not a fun job search…. I eventually joined a friend’s venture as a semi-partner, thinking I would do that until the job market picked up.
5 years later, I was ready to go on the hunt again, but I knew my Cockroach strategy was a failure. I needed to be a Monkey, but if I was going to be a Monkey I was going to be a Highly Efficient Monkey. I needed to optimize every part of my job search so I could apply to a large number of jobs that I actually want; I needed to be able to do that with no typos. The remainder of this article will focus on the different phases of marketing (see above) and how to do each in an efficient and effective manner. This is not a single linear process: you should be doing many of these in parallel, every day you should be searching the job boards, and you should be returning phone calls every day.
Disclaimer: All of the below is based on my personal experiences job searching in the NYC job market, this is in no way meant to be a one size fits all. You should test out these techniques, as well as others, and do what works best for you.
Look for Markets The key here is to research what roles\position\industries exist that there are good opportunities for your skill set and will position you for growth, these are the jobs you want. This process should be an ongoing process, you should decide what you want to do next, and then develop the skills you need (See Managing your Career in IT). If you didn’t do this and you find your self unemployed. You have no choice but to evaluate your skills, then look for markets where they are suitable.
Doing this is fairly straight forward, browse the Job boards looking at the types of jobs you want and make note of the skills you see coming up over and over again. (This is a great way of determining the marketability of a skill in a particular location, just search the Jobs boards and see how many come up! It’s not perfect but it works).
If you come across a skill you never heard of, look it up. GlassDoor.com is great for checking what particular roles tend to pay. You should always be looking for new markets even you are not conducting a job search.
Generate Leads based on your research
Finding potential employers is easy, all you have to do is go to your favorite Jobs search engine and type in a word and click “Search”. (My favorites happen to be Dice, Monster and LinkedIn). Most sites have “Jobs Agents”, these will run a set of saved searches for you every day and email you the new listings for each agent. Jobs Agents are an unbelievable time saver, use them.
Making your resume searchable on job boards is common; I personally like the idea, though many people advise against it. If you do this, I recommend adding a “White List” stuffed with keywords to your resume (In a white tiny font so computers can see it but not people, think of it like Job Board SEO). This is a somewhat controversial idea, as many people believe it to be dishonest. In IT with so many acronyms and different terms that mean the same things, I feel this is a valid way to list all the different versions and acronyms that would look funny if you already mentioned them in a different way.
Qualify your Leads
You want to quickly scan each of your search results and only apply to the jobs you a) Want and B) Have a reasonable level of qualification. I briefly discussed this as a response to this now closed question. What I stated there still holds true. Scan the job posting much like the hiring manager will scan your resume. Look at the following and make a snap decision if you want to apply.
For me, the Quick Scan includes (You scan should include what you see as deal breakers.)
- Job title
- Pay Rate (Often not listed)
- Employment Type (Permor Contract, Contact length)
- Requirements List \ Tech Used.
- Then I start reading the Body.
The last thing you want to consider is the time it will take to apply: many companies\recruiters want you to reenter all your data into their proprietary system. Keep in mind that anything you enter there is going to be in that system till the end of time, and maybe used against you the next time you apply (if they see info that is inconsistent across applications). Any application that asks me to do more work, (e.g. retype my resume into a form) will also make me less likely to apply.
For Monkeys this is, by far, the most time consuming part of the process; particularly if you are applying to a large number of jobs. The good news is that this is also the place where you will get the most gains in terms of efficiency. Before you apply, develop a basic “Elevator Pitch” for this particular Role. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes and ask yourself “What am I really looking for here?”. You should be able to define the job requirement in no more then 3 or 4 sentences. Everything else in the Job description is Fluff. Next, you need to develop a sales pitch that directly answers that description. This answer is your “Elevator Pitch”: it’s short, it’s to the point, and most importantly, it’s easy to remember. This “Elevator Pitch” will stick with you through the rest of the process with regard to this particular job listing.
Suppose you read a job listing and you summarize it down to: They are looking for a Tech-Lead with 5-7 years of e-commerce experience within the high fashion industry. They use the LAMP stack and really need someone who can lead their team to success. (Note: they may not have used the words Tech-Lead or e-commerce in the job description; you need to read between the lines) 1
Your “Elevator Pitch” should be something like this: I have been working for the past 5 years with the LAMP and the last 2 as a Tech Lead, including the roll-out of an e-commerce site for a small kid’s apparel company.
Note that you don’t have the high fashion experience; you are going to need to explain that Kid’s apparel is close enough. This is just one example; you will need to do this sort of thing constantly. You must understand how your skills can be used, and more importantly how to explain the transfer-ability of those skills (to the skills your potential employer is looking for) in such a way that the gate keeper can effectively sell you to the decision maker. Your “Elevator Pitch” must be so simple that the HR drone or the recruiter can sell it effectively to the real decision maker.
Also note that your “elevator pitch” never said you used LAMP for e-commerce, that’s because you didn’t. You don’t need to highlight this, but if asked answer honestly, “It was not LAMP, it was package X, Everything I learned about e-commence rolling out that system will be invaluable should I be given this opportunity, I am confidant that I can repeat the success with LAMP”
The Cover Letter
The purpose of the cover letter is to do 3 things:
- Introduce yourself and formally apply for the position
- Explain why you are the perfect candidate, using your elevator pitch.
- Express your enthusiasm for the job
And that is exactly what my cover letter looks like. A two sentence opening paragraph along the lines of “Please accept my application for the XXXXX position, I feel I am an excellent candidate for it because:”. I then have a list of reasons in bullet form, highlighting the key points of my elevator pitch. I then have a closing paragraph saying: I’m very excited and interested in this opportunity, thank you for considering me.
Clearly, the Bullet list is the core of your letter. Bullets are easier to read then paragraphs and more likely to resonate with the reader. The first few times you do this, it will be very time consuming. The key is to keep every bullet you write archived for later (re)use. After a while, you will have your cover letter template and a list of 30-40 bullets that you have written over time covering just about every single one of your selling points. Then, when applying for jobs in the future you can quickly assemble your cover letter by selecting the bullets that match your elevator pitch on a job by job basis. Each bullet should reference a specific job or project so the reader can easily find the details on your resume.
For the example above, your bullets would look something like this:
- Proven Track Record Rolling out E-Commerce sites within the Apparel Industry, While at Kids-Yellow Corp, I successfully led the development and roll out of their E-commerce site fully integrated with inventory and order processing systems. The System was built to be scalable and is responsible for 35% of company sales, bringing in $35m annually. I am currently working as the tech lead rolling out the Mobile version of that same E-commerce site.
- Solid Understanding of SEO and Web Marketing, Worked closely with the Kids-Yellow Marketing team to ensure all web marketing activities are tracked and related back to E-commerce site visits and sales, allowing for internal analysis of marketing ROI.
- Certified MySql Developer
From the reader’s perspective, it’s clear you read the job’s description and know what they are looking for. It’s clear you have the skills they are looking for (or at least, why you think you do). It’s clear that you have some level of communication skills, and lastly there are no typos, because there is no original content. Also, notice how easy this makes it for the HR drone\recruiter to pitch you to the hiring manager.
While on the subject of Typos, here’s a Random Proofreading tip: Use Speech to Text software to proof all your correspondence by listening to it, grammar errors have a way of standing out when you hear them.
One last thing on cover letters, if you really want a particular job and you really feel you are the prefect candidate for it, include a sentence stating “I will follow up with a phone call later today”, and then do just that.
You should have a separate resume for each role you are looking for, (So if you’re a looking for a Lead Dev role or a PM Role you should have 2 resumes). If you resume is well done, you shouldn’t have to customize it for each job you apply. That being said it doesn’t hurt to move bullets around if a particular listing really wants a skill that you have hidden.
There are whole books on the subject of resume writing, it really is an art. The key thing is that you need to be constantly working on it, and fine tuning it. That being said, my resume is laid out as follows: (Everything in Bullets, needless to say I prefer the classic chronological resume)
- Name & Contact info, Including LinkedIn URL
- Professional Profile – A bullet point list of who I am professionally, a high level overview. If someone read my whole resume, and had to describe me to someone else. This is what they would say.
- Professional History, ordered chronologically with the latest first, I list the company, job title (if your job title is not very descriptive feel free to use a functional job title), accomplishments, responsibilities, methodologies & tech used, ect.
- Education & Certifications
- General Tech section – a list of Languages, Databases and Operating systems
- Appendices with project level info – Because for most of my history I have worked within the professional services, I use Appendices to discuss in detail specific project details, I often swap out appendices based on the job I am applying to. I find this is a great reference when discussing my work history with a potential employer. I also include my white list as an appendix, so if someone does find it, it doesn’t look out of place.
If you have a reasonably marketable skill set and do the above you will get responses, but you still have to manage them well. Here are a few pointers:
- Have a dedicated Email address just for your job search. Preferably YourName@???.com. Once you job search is done, this account will get spammed for years. This way you have established a quarantine.
- Have a dedicated phone number for your job search. I recommend Google Voice.
- NEVERever pick up this phone unless you are expecting a scheduled call; always let it go to voice mail.
- Before calling a lead back, review the original job posting (most job boards track the jobs you have applied for, and you can review them at any time), visit the companies’s website, review the cover letter you sent them, remind yourself of your elevator pitch for this lead (adjust if necessary). If this is a direct hire (not a recruiter) and the salary is not listed in the ad, check GlassDoor.com. If you have any other questions make note of them, and keep your paper and pen handy. Now you are ready to call them back. Nothing is worse then taking a call for a job you don’t remember applying to; you can kiss that opportunity good by. I learned this the hard way.
- On this first call back, you have 3 basic goals: learn more about the position, pitch your elevator pitch and discuss next steps. Let them speak first, let them tell you about the position. What they say should match the mental summary you made when you first read the job description, make note of the differences and modify your elevator pitch on the fly. Once it’s your turn to speak, if you are still interested blow them away by going through each of there requirements and knocking them down one by one (just like you did in your cover letter). Speak with confidence, show your excitement and personality. Finish by telling them “I think this is a great fit and great opportunity”, ask if they have any further questions and what are the next steps. (Next Steps are part of the Sales Process and will be the focus of Part III of this series)
- If you are no longer interested, thank them for there time and for thinking of you. Ask them to feel free to call you again should another opportunity come their way that may be a better match.
- At some point during this initial call, ask them the salary range. If they won’t tell you (or give you some crap about it being wide open contingent on experience) be insistent that they let you know before you go in for an in person interview, tell them “It’s to our mutual benefit to know we are on the same page and that you are just asking for a broad range, not an exact number”. The common advice is to never bring up salary until you have an offer. I adamantly disagree with this, more likely than not, a company that refuses to discus salary early on pays below market level and you are wasting your time talking to them. If push comes to shove tell then what you are looking for and ask them if that is within the range.
Recruiters are people too
In the IT world, there is a large animus towards recruiters, and with good reason. That being said, you still need them. There is no reason to be rude or mean towards them (not even to Indian recruiters). Selectively return their calls; always be civil (even if you are not interested). That being said don’t let them waste your time with endless meet and greets and online tests. Tell them you will be more than happy to meet with them once they have a specific opportunity they want to discuss. (If they have a specific opportunity where they feel you are their ticket to $$, there is no way in hell they are waiting till you meet them in person next week to submit you). Recruiters can be a great source of feedback and will often be very honest with you; passing along valuable feedback given to them by their client.
Next up, Part III – Sales, Stay Tuned…
Still Recommended Reading
My good friend Webster defines “Ultimate” as “the best or most extreme of its kind”. Needless to say that writing the Ultimate Guide to anything is no trivial task. But in this case it’s not too difficult, simply because of a loophole in the definition of the word. “The best or most extreme of its kind” implies “currently in existence”, and currently there is not much good information online with regard to this topic. Most (if not all) information online is bad, wrong or simply to basic to be useful. There are some good tips, but nothing that outlines a holistic, consistent, effective strategy to conducting and effective online job search. This article aims to do just that.
Truth be told I don’t really know if this is the “Ultimate Guide to Conducting and Online Job Search” or not. The reason I put the word “Ultimate” in the title is because adding that single word will likely double the readership of this article. It was put there for marketing reasons more than anything else, well sort of; it was actually put there to make a point about conducting a job search. That point being an online job search is an exercise in marketing, and marketing matters.
Some time ago, I decided I wanted to move into Sales Engineering, So (as per my article Managing your Career in IT) I decided to shore up my sales skills (I already had solid engineering skills) and then convince management to officially move me into a Sales Engineer position. I already often helped out the sales team developing prototypes, proof of concepts and tagging along on sales calls as a “Technical Expert”. Unfortunately I was too valuable an asset as Tech Lead & Project Manger, so I was shot down, and shortly thereafter I left the company. (See: So you want to be a Rock Star Developer? Maybe you should reconsider.) As part of my self training I read the book SPIN Selling (recommended by red-dirt in this now deleted question). SPIN Selling, a book on sales, turned out to be hands down the best book on job searching I ever read!
The premise of the book is fairly straight forward, 1) there is a big difference on how you sell low end (low cost) products and high end (High cost) products 2) To sell high end products you really need a very targeted and often elongated sales process. Often you have to get through a gate keeper to reach the real decision maker, and then you need to understand what the real decision maker is looking for, and then target your pitch exactly to that. This turns out to be very similar to what you need to do when conducting an online job search. And this brings me to my second point of this article: Just like a book on sales can be a valuable reference to one conducting a job search, so too can your skills be used in a variety of ways, (hence the importance of choosing to learn transferable skills). So, you need to understand how your skills can be used, and more importantly how to explain the transfer-ability of the skills (to the skills your potential employer is looking for) in such a way that the gate keeper can effectively sell you to the decision maker. (Read that sentence again) How to do this will be extensively discussed in Parts II & III of this article.
Your online job search had two (overlapping) phases
1) Marketing: Finding and advertizing your self to potential Employers. This is everything you do up until you get a person on the phone discussing a specific opportunity
2) Sales: Direct contact with a potential employer where, building on your marketing, you sell yourself as the perfect candidate for the job. (Unfortunately, in today’s job market beating out the competition is not enough; you need to be the perfect candidate). This is every thing you do from the moment you get a person on the phone discussing a specific opportunity and afterward.
Your Online Job Search “Sales Process” should look something like this:
- Look for Markets - ie. Research where (what roles\position\industries) that there are good opportunities for your skill set and will position you for growth.
- Generate Leads based on your research
- Qualify your Leads
- Market to your Leads – By sending a targeted Cover Letter & Resume
- Get Responses
- Qualify Responses
- Develop\fine tune a targeted sales pitch for each response (These are no longer leads, These are now Opportunities)
- Make first (direct) contact.
- Phone screen(s)
- In Person Interview(s)
- The Offer
The Marketing Phase is used to bring in leads, qualify those leads (eliminating the ones you aren’t interested in) and hopefully converting the few that you are into Opportunities. During the Sales Phase you focus on closing those opportunities. Each step in the above sales process has its own set of techniques and strategies. You need to constantly analyze the techniques and strategies you are using for each step and look for ways to improve upon them. This is particularly true if you change a strategy, you need to know if that change is working for or against you. Lastly if you are not happy with the conversion rate from one particular step to the next, you should be asking your self “What am I doing wrong here and how can I improve on that?”
Here’s what my “Sales Pipe” looked like towards the end of my last Job search. (Conducted between Feb. & June of this year)
So basically, I know that if I sent out 100 resumes to qualified leads, I would get about 20 call backs; I’d interview for about half of those, and wind up with 2-3 offers. I honestly don’t know how good this compares to the average; I simply have no statistics on it. But I will tell you this; my numbers have vastly improved by doing using the strategies and techniques I will describe in the next two parts of this article. (I’m sure the sorry state of the economy didn’t help things.)
Part II of this article will focus on Marketing, specifically: looking for markets, how to qualify a lead, composing a “Flexible” cover letter & resume so it can be easily “customized” and targeted, and qualifying responses.
Part III will focus on Sales, specifically: Developing targeted sales pitches, First contact, dealing with Recruiters & HR, Phone screens, Interviewing, and Negotiating offers.
Parts II and III will be published in the coming weeks, so stay tuned…..
One last thing: this article deals exclusively with conducting an online job search, there is an obvious missing piece here, and that piece is the importance of “Networking”. Unfortunately I don’t consider myself an authoritative subject matter expert on Networking. I am simply not going to give out advice that I feel is unproven, and for that reason I won’t be writing about it. On that note, we are always looking to expand our blogging team, if you would like to write an article on Networking or any other subject matter that is of interest to the Programming Community, please drop us a line in the Programmers Community Blog Chat Room.
When I started writing this article I ran into a serious issue, defining exactly what a RockStar programmer is. The Term has the “God Problem”1, a problem that atheists and physicists who dabble in philosophy face on near daily bases. Lawrence Krauss actually spend the better part of the preface in his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing explaining it. He practically throws his hands up in frustration stating you can’t prove that something can be created from nothing without the existence of God to someone who defines nothing as “That in which God creates from”. Being a somewhat religious individual I have decided to adopt that definition of “Nothing” (now a proper noun) because of its sheer strength in defending the necessity of God’s existence. But (hopefully) to prevent such arguments here, I will define Rock Star for the purpose of this article. Then if one wishes to argue if such a person exists or if it is a good idea to be such a person. It can be argued by means of saying “A Rock Star programmer as defined by Morons…”
So here is how I (Morons) define a Rock Star programmer: An individual who is a top level performer (let’s say more than one standard deviation). This person, when assigned work, regularly and consistently completes that work in a fraction of the time allotted without sacrificing quality, then spends the remaining time helping his teammates (by giving guidance, not by doing their work) complete their tasks on time, singlehandedly improving the performance of the whole team.
(The same definition can be used for Ninja or Jedi or the various other terms used to descried programmers of exceptional talent)
The reason I chose this definition is because I feel it is more in line with that a true exemplary developer is. The most common definition of a Rock Star is a programmer who is an order of magnitude (10x) more productive than the average programmer. I don’t believe such people exist but there are definitely people who are 5x more productive than the average. Even if you hold to this definition, the remainder of this article still applies.
Regardless of the definition, it’s becoming increasingly common in the programming community to say that Rock Star programmers don’t exist. These naysayers are absolutely wrong, these people do exist. But they only exist in an environment that allows them to exist. In such environments the average programmer is easily 2-4x more productive than in environments that are not conducive to productivity. If you don’t believe me, I ask you this: how much more productive are you working at home on your pet projects than when you are in the office doing salaried work? There are entire books written on the subject of making environments conducive to productivity.
Employers love Rock Stars; they give their employer a tremendous value and have a positive effect on everyone around them. But that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you. What’s worse than being a Rock Star is striving to be one. Before you read the next sentence, if you haven’t already, you need to read my last blog article, if you don’t, the next sentence won’t make any sense… I’ll wait….Back? Good. The reason being a Rock Star is bad is because it is a lousy position to be in. The reason striving to be one is worse is because that means your entire career goals are wrong and you are striving to put yourself in a lousy position. Once you are in that position, your employer will do everything to keep you happy in that position, throwing money at you if necessary. But the day will come when you will want to move on, and that day will be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
As previously discussed the key to professional growth is learning new skills, putting them to use on the job, asking for more responsibilities and then for a promotion. The Rock Star doesn’t do this, the Rock Star spends years finely tuning his relatively small set of skills to the point of absolute perfection. This makes him less marketable, he can only sell himself on a very small skill set, and effectively selling himself as the absolute best to a potential employer is very hard ( if not impossible).
The Rock Star is highly valued by his employer and his job will be very secure, he will also (assuming he has some level of negotiating skills) be paid at a rate significantly higher than the industry average for his position. These two things actually work against him. Once in this position, there is no opportunity for professional or serious financial growth.
Consider the following:
- The Rock Star can learn new skills, but can’t put them to use. His current employer doesn’t want him using his newbie skills; he wants him using his Rock Star Skills! That’s what he is being paid such a high rate for! But here is the kicker; the Rock Star is only being paid well relative to the market value for his skill set, but not relative to someone with a more valued skill set. Learned skills that have not been used on the job have very little market value. The Rock Star is stalled in terms of professional growth. The Rock star has been typecast and can’t change roles. If the Rock Star threatens to quit, his employer will let him go. If the Rock Star is not doing his Rock Star stuff, he is a regular expendable employee (who happens to be overpaid).
- If the Rock Star asks for a raise, his boss says “You are paid 25% more than any other dev on the team, your salary is on par with mine!, Sorry, no can do, maybe next year” The Rock Star has no negotiating position with his current employer; His current employer thinks to himself “Where is he going to go? No one is going to pay him as well as I do.” And his employer is right. The Rock Star is stalled in terms of financial growth.
(See : http://blog.hirelite.com/what-developers-think-when-you-say-rock-star )
- If the Rock Star decides to look for a new Job, he will quickly realize his boss is right. There is no way to prove oneself is a Rock Star to a potential employer. There is no Rock Star Test. Nor is there a Rock Star market. He will be forced to accept a position as a mere Sr. Dev (a step down professionally) at less salary (a step down financially), hopefully this new position will offer him the opportunity to put some of his other skills to work and attain some professional growth which will then lead to financial growth.
- Even if he could attain another Rock Star role, at Rock Star pay, being a Rock Star is so dependent on the working environment of his new employer, there is a high chance of failure (to live up to expectation).
- If the Rock Start chooses to start his own business or go into consulting, he can, but he didn’t need to be a Rock Star to do this.
- How many years did it take to attain that Rock Star Skill level? Those years could have been put to better use learning new skills and moving up the corporate ladder.
- All of the above could be summed up with the following: The Rock Star is underemployed, but well paid for the job he is doing. The high pay mentally locks him into this underemployed status. His employer treats him well, is nice to him, gives him creative freedom, and a pleasant work environment. All of those things reduce his motivation to better himself, so he remains in that Rock Star position long term with little professional or financial growth. The longer he stays on this path the worse off he is.
Yes, I am actually saying it’s better to be underpaid than over, because you should have never gotten to the point where you are overpaid. You should have been promoted and taken the salary increase that comes with that promotion (so that your position is in line with your salary.) If you are overpaid you did something wrong, you should correct that mistake, in the interim take the money.
Lastly, I know that to many what I described above sounds like a dream job (an employer pays him well, treats him well, gives him creative freedom and a pleasant work environment). It is nice, but the fact of the matter is that those conditions weren’t created for the Rock Star, but are the only ones in which a Rock Star can exist. Those conditions where there when the Rock Star joined, and would likely still be there had he never become a Rock Star.
If you feel you are that skilled and want to reach your full potential with that skill, I urge you to reconsider. People who are that skilled should be running industries, not working in them.
Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Second Edition)
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
One of the things I like most about working in software development is the fact the for the most part you get to work with fairly intelligent people. I’ve always wondered why so many smart people manage their career so poorly. If I had to guess, I would estimate that close to 35% of people in this industry don’t manage their career at all. Now I have a theory about why this is1, but the fact of the matter is that explaining to that 35% the importance of managing one’s career is an utter waste of time. Today I want to focus on helping those who do manage their career, do so more effectively.
The key to understanding how to properly manage your career is to understand the importance of positioning, not where you are currently, but positioning yourself for growth (ie. You want to put yourself in a position of high growth potential).
The IT world changes so rapidly I nearly burst out in uncontrollable laughter the last time and interviewer asked me “What is your 5 year plan?”. Though its true things change so fast in IT that it’s difficult to plan long term, you should plan none the less. But your plan should be in terms of actions that will position you to take advantage of opportunities for growth; ideally those actions will also immediately contribute to your growth.
The two basic types of career growth are Professional Growth and Financial Growth.
Professional growth is generally thought of in terms of skill sets, you want to continue to improve on you current skills while acquiring new complimentary skills. Once you learn the basics of those skills you should put them to use on the job by asking for more responsibilities then a promotion.
Choose Skills that compliment your current skill set:
Because learning takes time and time is limited you need to ensure your time is well spent by learning skills that will best position you for growth. This is why it is so important to choose skills that compliment your current skill set. (If you already know C# WinForms learning ASP.Net will contribute more to you professional growth than learning Java.)
Having a large well complimented skill set does not make you a generalist; it makes you a well-rounded expert. Calling yourself a generalist implies that you can do many things at a mediocre level. Do not accept that label. Conventional HR wisdom is that you can only be an expert in one or two things. Don’t be afraid to challenge that, say directly and proudly, “I can do a lot of things, and I can do them well!”
Transferable soft skills should not be neglected; you should put as much effort into them as you do into learning hard skills. As you advance in your career you will find that Soft skills are of much higher value than Hard. Plus they don’t depreciate in value with time as tends to be the case with technical hard skills. Transferable skills are great because they complement so many other skills.
|Sql Server Administration||Hard||No|
Choose Skills that are Marketable
This is key, if you developed all the skills in the world but can’t put them to use, you accomplished nothing. As I stated above, once you learn the basics of those skills you should put them to use on the job by asking for more responsibilities then a promotion. If no such opportunity exists with your current firm you need to look for a new job that will put you in a position to take advantage of such opportunities. This means you must choose skills that are marketable. By their very nature marketable skills have market value, which leads us to the second half of this article…
Positioning yourself for financial growth
Financial growth usually follows Professional Growth assuming you are in a position to take advantage of your Professional Growth to earn more money. If you have positioned yourself with a solid set of marketable hard and soft skills that complement each other well, you are off to great start. But you need one more thing: Negotiating Position.
To have a strong Negotiating Position you need to:
1) Market yourself Internally (to your current Employer) and Externally to the Job Market
2) Have Options and Know your next best Alternative should negotiations Fail and Know your Market Value
Marketing yourself internally
Even if you are happily employed you need to market yourself to your current employer. But because your job performance is under constant scrutiny at work, you need to be what you are selling. If you are marketing yourself as that employee who should be trusted with additional responsibility (as required for Professional growth) you need to be that someone who can be trusted with additional responsibility. You simply can’t fake this for long. You need to consistently do good work and act (and dress) professionally manner and ensure you are getting proper recognition for you work. I can’t stress this enough, you need to ask for additional responsibilities and then, when the time is right a promotion. If you get shot down, you should have a positive attitude and negotiate. “What do I need to do to ensure I get that promotion next January?” Then Follow up in December.. (But you better have lived up to your half of the bargain). If you are not happy with the results of these conversations or your employer is not living up to his end, you need to look for opportunities else ware.
You should act as if you care about the company and your job performance but like you don’t need the job. You want your employer thinking “If I don’t work with him/her, he/she may just up and quit on me.” You need to have a demeanor the projects a strong personality as someone who is not going to be taken advantage of (in a professional and respectful manner). Your demeanor should suggest loyalty but with limits.
One last point on this: You should market yourself internally even if you are sure you won’t be with the firm long term. When looking for a new job you really want to spend your time and find that job that will give you the growth you are looking for, and in today’s job market that could take well over a year. If you are that guy with a positive can do attitude, constantly improving yourself and taking on additional responsibility, no employer in his right mind would let you go. When layoffs are coming, these people are literally pulled aside and told “Don’t worry”.
Marketing yourself externally
Marketing yourself externally to the job market is a bit different than internal marketing. With external marketing you can literally outright lie about everything you ever did, and be met with some success. Doing so may get you a job, but once on the job you will never be given additional responsibly or a promotion, you will be first on the list come layoffs time, and quite frankly it’s dishonest.
Conducting a job search is simple (and outside the scope of this article): You need to have a plan, you need to put you plan into action and you need to reassess and refine you plan over time and iterations.
If you are offered a new job or are negotiating a promotion with your current employer, you need to know your options if you are to effectively negotiate. That means you need to:
1) Know your plan of action should negotiations fail.
- a) If you are currently employed you always have the option of staying where you are while you continue to look. Don’t make the mistake of saying “
well this is better than what I have now”
b) If your plan is “Negotiations can’t fail” your plan is sh*t.
2) Know how long it will take you to find another Job and at what salary.
- a) If you are currently employed, the answer is “I have a job!”
3) Know how long it will take you to find the job you want.
4) Know what accepting this opportunity will mean in terms of long term growth.
5) Know what accepting this opportunity will affect your external marketing strategy for your next job search. (In terms of skill set and position)
6) Know your market value.
- a) Think in terms of your whole skill set, you should be compensated for as much of your skills as possible. This is why complimentary skills are so important.
7) Know how long you can go without income & how much you have in your emergency Fund.
8) Know the Value of you current and proposed benefits package.
9) Know your ability to do good work and market yourself internally once you accept the opportunity.
Knowing all of the above will enable you to negotiate stronger and with more confidence. Don’t be afraid to negotiate everything and anything. You will come off as more confident, more capable and a more appealing Candidate. Not only that but you will be more confidant you made the right choice.
In Summary: Continually improve your skill set (hard and soft), Market yourself internal & externally, Have a plan, Negotiate.
1So why do smart people do stupid things-A Moronic view of Free will
There’s an old saying: “God helps those who help themselves”. But this is not quite true; it’s more of a half-truth. The full truth is “the ability to help ones self is the help God gives”. Unfortunately god doesn’t give everyone the ability to help themselves, for those incapable, God has no choice but to help then directly as they are helpless. So I ask you, who is more likely to make a good decision? A) The smart helping themselves or B) The Stupid with God’s help? Stupid people make quick decisions without thinking, smart people think things through, than choose wrong or choose inaction (analysis paralysis). Simply stated smart people have the free will to f*up, as God trusts them to act in a prudent manner. “ … Key feature of stupidity is that its power lies in its abundance. One stupid person is helpless, a herd of stupid persons can be invincible….”