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Disclaimer: It is hoped that the information provided on these web pages will be helpful to readers. We assume that readers understand that any advice must be weighed against an individual's situation. Some of the information on these pages may be inappropriate for your circumstances. So use your head! Neither John Barry nor Jim Thomas nor Linda Tuerk can be held responsible for an individual's particular use of these suggestions.

Employment Trends for Candidate Consideration We all know that cradle-to-grave employment has ended. Corporate streamlining is here to stay. And corporate direction changes faster than ever. Therefore, there are far less stable opportunities for permanent employee status. First, we need to get some perspective: self-employment was the norm until the 1940's, and it looks like it may be the norm in the near future. At the very least, most will average at minimum five employers in high-tech. This means, whether you are a consultant or on the payroll, you must balance your self-interests with your employer's. You need to show some loyalty, some care for the company's success; those that only consider their own interests are visible. And yet, you can't be blind either. The savvy professional is always looking for opportunities to increase his/her marketability for the next time he/she might be laid off. This attitude may appear cold, disloyal, and cynical; however, it is a realistic criterion one can use when evaluating career options today. We can no longer attempt to predict career advancement potential or company stability. Even highly successful and profitable companies have reductions in force. (The good news is that since 2001, the stock market does not reward layoffs as they did 1988-2000.) We need to use different criteria today in evaluating opportunities. Don't discount a lateral move, or even a small step back if you can trade that for enhancing your marketability.

It may not seem fair, but a candidate is still responsible for his appearance as a "job hopper"; so even in this frenzy, you will be held accountable for your career decisions. Some people seem to be repeatedly victimized in this job market, and they need to take more responsibility for their decisions. It is my experience that hiring authorities rarely lie blatantly; misunderstandings arise from omission of key considerations. Candidates need to be responsible for asking tough questions in interviews and paying attention to red flags. You still want to show at least two years at each company, but some must be longer, at least four years.

The definition of a "good" company has changed, and it is more subjective than ever. Conventional assumptions in 1986 are not appropriate today. It is not always correct, for example, to asssume that because your current company just laid off 10%, you might be safer jumping ship. In fact, the opposite may be true: as a new employee at the new company, you are often at more risk than the tenured employee who has survived a recent layoff.

Silicon Valley continues to be biased against the "one company man," and you will want to consider that upon reaching a tenure over five years. This prejudice does not seem to occur anywhere else in the country, and it is ridiculous. Nevertheless, it is quite prevalent. If most of your career has been at one company, emphasize changes the company went through and your adaptability to those different environments. Also keep track of references that have moved on to well respected firms; their endorsement will count.

Corporations seem to mandate college degrees less than they did in the 1980's; still it is critical that the non-degreed manager present himself in a polished business manner to show he is comfortable with engineers and executives. The MBA is not as highly valued as it used to be. If your heart is set on an advanced degree, it pays to attend one of the better schools (Santa Clara, Stanford, Haas, Carnegie-Mellon); an MBA from a second rate institution has little value in Silicon Valley.

Successful candidates today compete for positions by illustrating their contribution to the bottom line. And the lack of job security requires everyone be prepared to prove their value on a contract basis if necessary. Be competitive. Ask customers/users what your projects are saving them in hours or dollars. Keep track of customer satisfaction, system performance improvements, and project completion performance. Use percentages to easily translate the effects of your work to another company that may not have the same revenues, product cycles, headcounts, etc

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Self Assessment

In the spirit of the adage —"You don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been," it pays off to exert considerable effort in this area. These are some questions we ask of candidates we are considering for our clients. The answers may change over time, but it is wise to reflect and stay current with yourself on the following topics:

  1. What do you specifically like about your job? What gives you a sense of accomplishment? What can you be enthusiastic about? Studies have proven repeatedly that it is very difficult to be good at something you dislike or are bored by. What would your ideal job look like on a pie chart?
  2. How would you rank yourself against your peers (top 5%, 10%? 20%?) and why? You do not have to be the star to be valuable; if your greatest strength is steadiness and dependability, then look for an employer who will appreciate you for those qualities. Managers and executives appreciate employees that give them peace of mind.
  3. How have you contributed to the bottom line? Have you generated income, reduced costs, streamlined workflow? Use percentages here; dollar figures are too arbitrary.
  4. Be specific about your strengths; too many people answer "I'm good with people." Conduct a customer satisfaction poll (a must for managers) and be able to recite facts and a statistic such as: "85% of my corporate customers rated me as excellent to very good, and no one rated me as below average or poor." Managers: what is your staff turnover rate? What percentage of your projects were delivered on time and under budget? Under what conditions? Describe scope and difficulty, problems and solutions.
  5. Your weaknesses? Again, be specific. An example might be "I'm lousy at giving formal presentations to a large group." It's better that you not get a job where this is expected of you than viewed as a mediocre player. If the weakness is in an area you sincerely want to improve upon, discuss that in the interview.

Next, verify your answers to these questions. Call your references. You should have at least six references that you keep track of and they should be a combination of superiors (minimum of two), peers, users/customers, and subordinates. Take your references out to lunch, and ask for their candid opinions. Do the people who have worked with you share your evaluation of yourself and your accomplishments? Or do they disagree with your self-assessment? Is there some consistency in their reactions? Make sure you include superiors, subordinates, and peers in your "poll." Is there a consensus opinion of what would make you more marketable? While no one can be certain of technology trends, this kind of specific feedback can help you manage your career successfully.

There is no shame in being a bit lost in this self-assessment portion. It may take some time to sort things out. Consider career counseling if you get stuck.

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Defining A "Good Company:"

The definition of "good company" is arbitrary today. A good performer in the stock market may well be a sweatshop. High growth can mean complete chaos as a contributing employee. Each individual has to specifically define what they are looking for in a an employer. You first question should: "Where Have I Been Successful?" Look for the identifying features. The second question might be: "What can I learn, and will that be marketable?" Position yourself defensively for the next unexpected layoff by keeping abreast of new technologies.

Questions to consider in your evaluation:

  • What obstacles/challenges are acceptable, or even fun for you to tackle?
  • What amount of bureaucracy are you willing to deal with? What size company feels right to you? What are you willing to sacrifice for your career? What are you not willing to sacrifice?
  • What are your preferences for commute and travel?
  • What corporate cultures are you comfortable in (Meeting intensive? Face-to-face or virtual offices? Consensus management? Early starters? Pizza dinners encouraging everyone to work late.
  • How much supervision do you want? What are your definitions of micro management and neglect? These terms are arbitrary; you need to define them for yourself so that you can effectively assess compatibility during the interview cycle.
  • What is your honest level of ambition? We live in a wacky time when 20% annual growth is considered mediocre; but if you are comfortable in that environment don't try to talk yourself into a company growing out of control. Let the adrenaline junkies take those jobs.

Consider all your preferences. You will not find everything you want in one place, but if you persevere in defining good opportunities for yourself, you will have the tools to measure each opportunity, and you will save yourself much heartache in the long run.

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Rule #1: Don't put your e-mail address at your current employer without permission. It's tacky.

Rule#2: Make sure every marketable business subject, skill, or technique is visible on the first page so that either an electronic or human scanner can see it.

Other than that, there are no hard rules, but here are a few guidelines we believe are specific to Silicon Valley. Remember that resumes are used more often to screen you out than to invite you in, and that most readers do not have the ability to read between the lines.

A multi-page resume is fine, but only if the first page stands on its own as a single page resume. The first page must be scannable and should include contact information, a business skills summary, a technical summary, key accomplishments (your best statistics), education and employment history. Complexity of projects/assignments can be described on pages 2, 3 and 4, if you wish.

Don't leave any employers out, no matter how short the stay. This world is too small, and you are suspect for everything if you are dishonest in any one area. Use months and years when recording dates of employment; leaving the months off sometimes looks like you are trying to fudge. Do not attempt to fake a degree or a title.

It is no longer enough to list what you have done; you need to demonstrate how well you have done it. Back up your talents with hard statistics. Examples: "Good with people" translates to "Increased custoner satisfaction from 22% to 78% in 18 months," or "Decreased departmental turnover from 40% to less than 10% in one year." Be specific about the obstacles you overcame:"Implemented system while company grew 23% and upper management turnover exceeded 50%. 85% of modules were implemented on time. Cost overruns did not exceed 6%..." is much more impressive. Use approximations, and get in the habit of keeping statistics about your performance.

The technical summary on your first page needs to list everything that could possibly be scanned for. Include ERP systems, Languages, Operating Systems, Databases, Tools, Platforms, Structured Methodologies, Certifications, SOX, etc.

Use popular jargon, and also spell out what you mean. Do not assume that a human being who can read between the lines will be doing the resume screening. Example: in mentioning ERP also mention financials, manufacturing, materials, requirements planning, etc.

Put it on good quality paper, and get it proofread. Also send it as an attachment o a few friends and make sure it opens correctly.

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Have you ever noticed that some people always seem to get the great jobs, with almost no effort? And others are caught off guard in a layoff? While the difference might be one of luck, it often is not. The winners in today's employment market make the necessary time and effort commitments that put them repeatedly in the right place at the right time.

The image of networking that so often comes to mind is of receptions/conferences/cocktail parties where everyone has their best smile on, shaking hands, and passing out business cards hoping that these strangers might be useful. There are other techniques you may be more attracted to. For example, the simple art of staying in touch with former colleagues. It is amazing how many people have lost track of their former managers and peers, to the point that they have difficulty locating references when they need them.

It is too late to start networking upon receiving your pink slip. The point is to be in the habit of networking (not interviewing) all the time. Networking has a momentum all its own. The more you do it, the easier it gets. The following are some specific avenues that work:

  • Friends and Former Colleagues: Often there is a cash incentive from their employers to find you, but your friends may be reluctant to go out on a limb and call you. You will need to reassure them that you won't hold them responsible for any negative experience you may have. Don't overlook contractors you have met along the way; they know everything, get around, and can be discreet.
  • Former Managers, Directors, Executives: They may be shy too, in spite of their role; often they don't want to be seen as aggressively "raiding" their former employer. You will probably need to make the first move if you want to follow your boss somewhere.
  • Professional Associations and Conventions/Conferences (optional): Sometimes you will not meet the executive you need to know, but you can get valuable corporate information, upcoming challenges, and referrals.
  • Social Networking on the web: LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc. Make sure you use these judiciously. Watch for too much personal information, watch for who you're keeping in your circle, etc. You might want to keep one for business only, others for recreational use.

Responding to Job Boards and Ads

Be careful with this if you value discretion. Beware of blind ads especially. You may end up responding to your own employer. Many listings are duplicates and/or internet "kitchen" recruiters fishing.

Check your contacts to see if you know the probable hiring executive. Attempt to arrange an informal, brief introduction. Arrange to drop your resume off in person. You may choose to adopt this as your personal policy. It is a reasonable stance. Tell the manager or executive that you are committed to remaining discreet. (A note on discretion: be very careful conducting job search activities on your current employers' equipment. It is more discreet and ethical that you take care of these communications at home.)

If you are working with a recruiter, never respond to a job board, listing or ad until you have coordinated your response with him. After all, if he can arrange an interview for you, you have achieved your goal. Do not work with recruiters that email resumes en masse to companies unless you do not care about your exposure.

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Save yourself a lot of pain by determining exactly what type of recruiter you are working with:

  • Internal recruiters work inside the company but may or may not have the ear of the hiring exec. If discretion is key, you might want to explore the influence of the recruiter before sending something in.
  • Internet recruiters, aka "kitchen recruiters" frequently work from home or a bullpen. Some communicate by phone occasionally, most communicate electronically only. Some will ask permission to forward your resume to their client (or perhaps just a prospect), many will not. A few will conduct a decent interview by phone and want to speak to a reference, the vast majority will not.
  • Real recruiters, headhunters and search firms will take the time to know you, have taken the time to know their client companies, and will try to meet you in person where feasible. more »

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Remember: paperwork as a follow-up to a phone conversation makes a stronger impression than a phone call as follow-up to a sent resume.

I am a little concerned about the experts I watch giving career advice online; their advice seems highly theoretical and is not always appropriate for the very small world of Silicon Valley (your reputation follows you around here more).

Job Fairs: (Dice, etc.) Often ineffective if handled traditionally because you are so lost amongst the masses. These can be good sources for corporate information, however. Beware of running into people you know there.

Outplacement Firms: The search business in the 1950's was an applicant paid fee business. By the 1970's, the employment agency was replaced in many markets by the contingency and retained search (employer paid fees) firms. The Private (or Personal) Outplacement service is targeted toward the individual needing assistance with resume packaging, interview coaching, and corporate introductions. They no longer charge you a fee contingent on placement (% of salary) as agencies did thirty years ago. Most offer expensive service packages and claim an effective network. If you are looking for a whole package of counseling, packaging, and marketing, you might go this route. Individual cost runs in the $2000-$10,000 range. But buyer beware! We have heard many unhappy stories!

Corporate Outplacement firms contract with your ex-employer, and in case of a layoff you may have access to their services. These organizations have a mixed reputation but cost you nothing. They will usually concentrate on resume writing and interview coaching, and many are quite good. But use your own judgement; some advice is too rigid. The better firms will allow for personal flexibility and will support you, not redesign you. They do not arrange interviews for you usually.

Career Counselors: Counseling is traditionally helpful in the self-assessment portion of the process (testing, personality profiles, skills inventory, personal relationship to work, etc.) but you can probably benefit from counselors for some other areas you desire help with. Cost is usually by the hour; sometimes there are packages.

Disclaimer:These are personal observations and suggestions. It is hoped that the information provided on these web pages will be helpful to readers. We assume that readers understand that any advice must be weighed against an individual's situation. Some of the information on these pages may be inappropriate for your circumstances. So use your head! Neither John Barry, Jim Thomas, nor Linda Tuerk can be held responsible for an individual's particular use of these suggestions.

Headhunters: If you haven't written a resume in six years, you may want a session with a specialist in your field to get current with the latest buzzwords. Many headhunters are experts at preparing candidates for interviewing, and you may need coaching to discover the best way to handle a skeleton-in-the-closet, for example. If you cannot bring yourself to do some of the self-marketing required today, you might consider hiring a search consultant by the hour or per introduction. (The most ethical of recruiters who offer this service will refund any personal fees you paid them if they receive a fee from an employer for your placement.) Negotiations might be uncomfortable for you; a specialist can probably offer some concrete suggestions customized to your situation. See New Services for the Job Seeker.

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Interviewing and Using Your Checklist:

The following suggestions address several facets of interviewing. Yes, candidates should concern themselves with putting their best foot forward, but they should also be methodically interviewing the company to identify potential impediments to their own success. It is hard to believe how many people accept job offers without project definition, without meeting more than one person they will work with, without knowing what site they will work at.

Most hiring authorities do not lie about situations at their companies when asked directly about them, but some can neglect to paint the whole picture unless prompted. Candidates need to determine what their key considerations are and then investigate those issues thoroughly during the interviewing process. Be at least as critical of the company as they are being of you. If you are diligent, you will avoid a lot of disappointment in the long run.

Your checklist should include the items most important to you in the definition of a"good" company. Here are some additional suggestions you might add to your personal checklist as well as some suggestions for making a good impression:

  1. Make sure your clothes are clean, pressed, and of good quality. A suit is rarely necessary in the Valley (banks and defense firms), but a jacket for both men and women is recommended.
  2. Watch for visible wear on belts and shoes. Women: no spiked heels or open-toed shoes.
  3. Don't wear tinted eyeglasses indoors that make it difficult for people to make eye contact with you.
  4. Keep a copy of your self-assessment in the glove compartment of your car. Arrive at the company parking lot a few minutes early, take some deep breaths, and remind yourself of how good you are.
  5. If you smoke, be prepared for it to be held against you. At the very least, try to keep yourself and your clothes from smelling like cigarettes; don't smoke in the car with the windows up, for example. Do not drink alcohol before an interview.
  6. Watch out for too much makeup, jewelry, and dragon nails. Hair needs to be clean and neat.
  7. Everyone of all levels should meet with Human Resources to avoid any misrepresentation of benefits. Do not accept a recruiter's word on insurance coverage or assume the book you have been given is the most recent. Be suspicious if you are not being allowed to meet with HR.
  8. Don't keep secrets of your own past the second round of interviews. At an appropriate time, after mutual interest has been established, be candid about the three-week vacation you have planned in three months. Or that you might not be able to start for eight weeks. Or an old criminal record is going to show up on a security check. Don't wait until the offer to spring this on them; the manipulation is obvious. It has been my experience that problems (including former substance abuse problems) can be overcome with great success if they are dealt with early and directly.
  9. Do some preliminary research on the company, and arrive at the interview with several intelligent business questions. Make a note of top execs "dumping" stock, you will want to inquire.
  10. Relate your experiences to the company's challenges as they are presented to you. Discuss your part in the solution. Communicate the skills you have; do not assume that the resume has already spoken for you.
  11. Confirm everything your headhunter told you about the company, opportunity, manager, benefits, and perquisites. EVERYTHING. Also, pay attention to the perspective of corporate customers/partners, management, and the technical people you are meeting. Are they consistent?
  12. Remember that before accepting an offer, you have a right to interview with at least one level of management above your position, a representative of the group you would work closely with, and one or two members of your peer group. If you are not meeting enough people to make an intelligent decision, walk away. Management candidates should meet with at least two Vice Presidents, two peers, and at least two subordinates from the department/team they will inherit (critical). Go through the recommended checklist before offer acceptance.
  13. Ask yourself at each step in the process if you would like to continue. Don't waste their time if you are definitely not interested.
  14. Be prepared to supply as many as six references within a day.
  15. Drug tests: if the company requires one and you choose to use, remove yourself from consideration; don't try to beat the test.
  16. Be prepared to accept an offer when it is given; your relationship will get off to a better start than if you reply, "Let me think about it." Your questions should be answered by then, and you should have been able to tell them at what dollar figure you would accept their offer. Don't haggle like a used car salesman; if your salary demands are reasonable they should make it happen. If they don't, consider it a red flag. If some concerns have not been addressed, it is up to you to initiate a meeting to clarify any questions remaining.

NOTE: Overkill from all these questions is possible, but very rare. At some point, recognize that moving is always a risk, and go ahead with your decision based on the information you have.

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Resignations, Counteroffers, and your Reputation

It is best for your reputation that you stick with your decisions, but don't be surprised by feelings of homesickness as you near your last day. I call this "Summer Camp Syndrome": children sign up to go to summer camp in the Spring, but in June they don't want to get on the bus. They hate it and write home constantly the first week; then they have transitioned, they are having a ball and never want to come home! Leaving a company can look just like this.

Industrial psychologists know you are vulnerable during your last two weeks.They often coach managers to give counteroffers the day of your staff lunch when sentiment is high. Don't be flattered: your resignation is very inconvenient for your boss, and expensive for the company.

Disclaimer: It is hoped that the information provided on these web pages will be helpful to readers. We assume that readers understand that any advice must be weighed against an individual's situation. Some of the information on these pages may be inappropriate for your circumstances. So use your head! Neither John Barry nor Jim Thomas nor Linda Tuerk can be held responsible for an individual's particular use of these suggestions.

Studies show repeatedly that nearly all accepted counteroffers result in that person's termination or resignation within six months. Another downside of accepting a counteroffer: you have just made a new enemy at the company who took you at your word, and this is a very small world. A reputation for random "tire kicking" and counteroffer manipulation will do you harm. There is a big difference between staying abreast of the market quietly and entering serious negotiations indiscriminately. If you have made a mature decision that the new opportunity is a good one for you, stick with your decision.

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