Monday, June 8, 2015

Build the Soft Skills

I have tended to assume that most of the people reading this blog are older, established in a career and trying to improve. However there are probably younger readers. There are also probably the stereotype "geek" readers.

I was reminded of that when I read this post from Mike Rowe. It's worth the read, but the part that caught my eye was this quote:

...the biggest under reported challenge in finding good help, (aside from the inability to “piss clean,”) is an overwhelming lack of “soft skills.” That’s a polite way of saying that many applicants don’t tuck their shirts in, or pull their pants up, or look you in the eye, or say things like “please” and “thank you.”

I don't want to debate the rest of the post, or the drug reference above, but I certainly do believe that there are issues with the soft skills that many employers see in candidates. The inability to meet someone's eye, display some confidence, explain yourself clearly, or dress appropriately are signs that you don't treat the opportunity seriously.

I haven't seen a lot of this in my technology travels, but I have seen some. I have interviewed people that looked down or stared to the side most of the time I talked to them. I've met people that dressed poorly for an interview.

Take this seriously. My middle child was looking for his first job recently and when he was called for an interview, I stressed that he needed to be confident, dress well, look people in the eye, and speak clearly. He remembered and texted me before his interview as I was out of town. I reminded him to wear a plain, clean shirt, be sure he showered and projected some confidence.

He got the job. Probably on his own merits, but the thing to keep in mind is that the soft skills are more likely to remove you from consideration than anything else. If someone calls you, they want to hire you. They like your resume. They think you're qualified.

Don't give them reasons to exclude you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Building Leadership Skills

You don't have to be a manager or an executive to showcase and use leadership skills. In fact, you don't have to be in charge of anything. Leadership is about influence, and that's a valuable skill for any employee.

How can you show leadership? Create some respect wherever you are. I ran across a short piece from Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat Software. It has some good pointers that you could use no matter what your position is in a company.

Show passion - That's an easy one, and it's infectious. Plus it makes the job more enjoyable. If you don't have passion, perhaps you're in the wrong position.
Demonstrate confidence - Showcase what you know and be decisive. However don't be reckless, and admit when you're wrong.
Engage - Easy to do. You can't lead if you don't ever engage.

As you do these things, pay attention to the places you influence people. Can you get people to work your way, come around to your way of thinking, adopt the habits/skills/etc. you show? You might be surprised how well this works if you're watching.

Collect these stories. Talk about them in interviews and reviews. They might be the difference between you and the next person.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Get Started Promoting Yourself

Start a new blog, write about your career and what you're doing. It's a great way to showcase your knowledge. You never know when someone will read it and want to hire you.

There was a challenge in April for SQL Server professionals. Not as many people participated as I'd have liked, but there were some. Quite a few experienced bloggers wrote posts as well to try and inspire people.

I'd urge you to give this a try and write a bit about what you do. Don't worry about hits, visits, etc. The purpose of this blog is to help you stand out at some point when you need a job. Secondarily, it teaches you to communicate better.

Get started today.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Negotiating for Pay

I learned a long time ago, at a relatively early age, that it was important to negotiate for pay when interviewing for a job. If you don't ask, you don't get, and more importantly, you need to ask for what is important to you. I'd also say that it's important to get paid for the job, and not based on what you used to make, but that's another battle.

Women have typically been paid less in the past than men. Some of this certainly has to do with their willingness to ask for more pay. Now, some companies have decided to eliminate negotiation.

I can see the positive and negative of this. Certainly the high performers can't negotiate a higher salary than others, but I think that can be handled easily. Get a different position if you're truly worth more than others.

In my business, let's say that a company publishes a salary of $80,000/yr. for a DBA. I like the job and company, but I want $100,000 and think I'm worth it. I can ask what they pay for a senior DBA, which might be closer to $100,000. If they don't have the position, they can create it if they want me.

The same thing goes for someone that's not quite up to snuff. They can be paid as a junior DBA, say around $40,000. Or they can set a scale of rates and levels. I used to work for a company that had DBA I, DBA II, DBAIII, with ranges of salary, but we certainly could have set specific amounts. I ever read about a company that set, and published, ranges.

To me, negative side of this is the company can pay under market rates, but if salaries were publicly set and known, there would be some level of competition between employees. We know government and military salaries, we know CEO salaries, what's wrong with publishing other ones?

This is less advice than reminiscing (or ranting), but it's something for you to think about as you move in your career. The important part was in the first sentence. Ask for what you think you deserve, and have reasons for your demand. You never know when someone will be happy to meet your condition of employment.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Networking Tips

I ran across a post with 5 Tips for more Powerful Professional Networking. It's got some good advice, but perhaps it's a bit more structured than I'd like. I think networking is important, but if you work too hard at it, if it becomes a job, then I think it's not as much networking as it is cheesy salesmanship.

Here are a few takes on those tips:

Mastering contacts

I don't do this a lot. I do think it's important to segregate out some contacts that you might want to ping separately. For example, I have a tight group of contacts I know I can count on. That's a small group, my "A" group. However I decided that maintaining a "B" group and a "C" group wasn't worth it for me. If I'm reaching widely for help, like a job, then I'm not sure I would differentiate groups. It's only the "A" group that I'd really want to contact separately.

If you might try to contact some people separately, for example, a set of people in an industry, then separate them out. However otherwise, I think for most of us that aren't salespeople, we don't need to worry about this.

I might be wrong, but that's how I see it.

Schmoozing

I do think it helps to be able to make small talk with people, to connect with them a bit in order to build a better bond and relationship. This improves your network.

However this doesn't need to be outside of your industry. I certainly "talk shop" with plenty of contacts, and those are just as interesting conversations as the ones I have about sports.

Refresh Your Memory

It's always good to know something about someone, even friends, when you see them. If you can't remember anything about someone, it's awkward if they remember you.

I do try to remind myself who someone is when I meet them again, if I know I am. I don't do this at large events, but I certainly look up notes, emails, or even a Google search on some people that are in meetings, but that I am not sure how I know them. It's a nice way to do a little prep.

However, if I don't have time, I don't worry about it. However, I certainly have googled at an event when I've met them, but I can't recall details.

Ditch Cards

I do this now, and you should as well. Far, far too easy to lose cards. If for no other reason, take a picture of cards with your phone as soon as you can. If you can get those into LinkedIn or somewhere else, that's fine as well.

If you need to make a note about someone, write it on the card and then take a picture.

Use LinkedIn Smarter

No comment. I'm sure I could do something better here. I haven't had time, or the need, to dig into LinkedIn more.

Monday, April 6, 2015

On Hiring - Getting past the first cut.

I read this post on a company that had to choose who to interview. First, this is a company that is hiring people to interact with others. That's important in how they conduct the interview, but in general, I think many of the tips apply. I've got a few comments on what the post says compared with my experiences.

Reviewing the resume- 150 to 30

This is the part of the hiring process I write about. How do you get noticed? How do you get past the first review? How do you stand out in the 150.
First, no one wants to look at 150. My guess is that many managers do what I do. They look through resumes and the ones they like go in a pile. When they get 10 (me) or 30 (this guy) they stop.
I agree with the list for the most part. I can live with a typo or two, but somewhere around 3 or 4 I know this hasn't been proofed or the individual doesn't understand grammar and spelling. You're filed in the trash.
Don't be vague; be specific. Tell me what you did and give it the detail that's important for this job.
As I've mentioned in my talk, don't be funny. It's hard to do, and you (probably) aren't. If you're not, then you come off poorly. If you are one of the few that is truly funny, besides hitting the local comedy club on Tuesday night, save this for the interview.
I do like the part about numbers. Give concrete metrics that show you get things done. For people in technology, show me that you can monitor a server, or write code quickly, or something else. Here is where I'd link to posts with more details, but provide a good, solid, concrete fact in the resume.
I'd be careful about stalking someone or trying too hard. It worked in Wall Street, it might work here, but for many people, it's a nuisance. More than a few calls turn me off. It's a sign you'll bother me later when you want something and I need to work.
The last thing I think I can show here is that the cover letter matters here. It's being read, and it should be professional and relevant. Take some time with it, have someone else read it (and proof it), and good luck.
I'll tackle the interview thoughts next.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Don't Be Funny

I talk about this in my presentation, and it's time to write about it.

I've seen people try to be funny with sarcasm, irony, or jokes on their resumes. I've seen them try it in blog posts, and even in interviews. Surprisingly, the live attempts work the best because I usually have some context, some inflection and body language.

Trying to write humorously is hard. Very hard. Even when it works, it's often because the reader is being led down a certain path that provides them with a framework for the joke.

Most of you aren't funny at all. On your resume, when I'm in a frame of mind to evaluate your talents, it really doesn't work. You might get a smile or chuckle, but most likely I'll view you as not serious, and a bit of a crackpot. Most likely I'll just chuck your resume.

The one guy that tried to be funny, ended up really strange, and got an interview? We interviewed him only because we were wondering who would put that on a resume. We never had any intention of hiring him. I know, that was wrong and mean, but it happens.

Don't be funny. If you think you are, go to the local comedy club on Tuesday or Wednesday night for an open mike.

Be professional when you want a job.