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Monday, June 4, 2012

A Cola is a Cola is a Cola

Please Hire Me

You are a seasoned IT Professional. You've done around five years of software development using a number of tools and technologies. What makes you more marketable than the next candidate?
You are a seasoned IT Project Manager. You've been managing projects for almost five years. Some projects deployed IT Infrastructure, and other projects implemented software. Your teams ranged from five to fifteen members, and the project budgets from $50,000 to $500,000. What makes you more marketable than the next candidate?
The question to be answered is: What do you have on offer as Professional that differentiates you from the rest?
This is an important question. So far in this Blog, we have looked at IT Professionals from a number of perspectives: Their capability, experience, talents and role competence. 
Employers each have their own magical formula they use to choose one Professional over another. At the same time, the market is getting more and more fluid. IT Professionals are changing jobs at least every eighteen or less months. 
More and more candidates are working internationally, remotely, and a lot of Professionals are entering the market from India, China and other developing countries.
All this contributes to pressure for each IT Professional on how to become more marketable. How do you ensure you remain gainfully employed, build a career and enjoy your job. Every Professional has to work out for him or herself, what makes you unique and more acceptable to an employer, than the next candidate.
In this Blog entry we are going to examine some considerations that may help you decide how you will approach this requirement - finding your next dream job. We also look at some of the good and less impressive practices that employers use, to make their I.T. Professional hiring decisions.
The IT Professional
When employers consider an IT Professional candidate, a few matters are covered:
Firstly, is the Professional qualified to do the job? 
Now this can take a number of forms: Employers consider your qualifications, certifications, industry associations and experience. Your education always counts. It demonstrates to the employer two critical facts: That you can think for yourself, and that you can persevere. 
Yes, College or University educations still rate higher than a less formal education for these very reasons. It takes effort to get an education. However, this is only the ticket to get considered, and a number of other factors play their part. 
The more experience you can demonstrate, the less of a factor a College education become. However, research has confirmed over and over that formally educated employees, on average earn more than those that have not gone to College or University, and they appear to come to senior roles sooner than their non College educated colleagues.
Yes, there is value in getting certified. A while ago, almost every man and his dog could get a Microsoft Certification, and this has degraded the value of the qualification. However, some of the more rigorous certifications like the PMI's PMP and that of the Java, Oracle and IBM technologies communicate to the employer that you are a professional serious about your career and about doing things right. And, if you end up working for a vendor, then your certifications makes you more marketable to their clients, so they will seek you out from other candidates.
Your industry knowledge counts. According to a recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, 41% of CIOs said they are placing greater emphasis today than five years ago, on job candidates’ knowledge of business fundamentals, when considering them for jobs. 
You will find in our employer Podcasts on this site that this is confirmed by every IT Manager that we've interviewed. Software are becoming easier to implement, and the Professional that knows how to make a business difference will be in more demand. How do you get this knowledge? Spend time with your users. Take some customer calls, do some order entries, and use what you build. This way you will soon realize how your solutions impact the business lives of your customers and employers, and you will be able to include that elusive business knowledge into your resume.
The more mature employers differentiate education and experience from job competence and ability. There is one factor that is not covered by tool knowledge and experience. This is: “Knowing the IT Job”. 
This industry is getting more and more structured around operation frameworks like ITIL, RUP and others, and you as professional need to firstly know your role within these frameworks, and secondly how to operate within these standard processes. This means that if you are an Analyst, you need to demonstrate that you know the Analyst job, you know what is expected from the Analyst, and how you contribute into the IT Organization. Lastly, you need to demonstrate how you are innovating the job to be better at it for the benefit of the organization as a whole. The same applies to Designer Implementers, Managers and Operations and Support staff. 
Some organizations realize that IT Candidates may know Java, .Net or PHP, but they do not know how to work within a project implementation, and this is a cause for conflict, inefficiency, low productivity and increased cost. Know not only the tools of the job, but show that you know the job too.
Secondly, does the Professional have a track record for doing it well?
Employers are tired of reading IT Resumes. These poorly written “standard” documents does a better job at describing your past employer's projects and business, than it does explaining your personal role, contribution and value to their organizations. Guard against bad prose. Rather highlight your achievements, and clearly demonstrate the value you added to your employers. Remember, a prospective employer is interested in you, and not in your previous employer's business.
Thirdly, do we like the Professional, and will he fit into the team or organization?
I cannot help but be amazed at how important this factor is in hiring decisions. People are always on the lookout for people like themselves - someone that can make them feel better about themselves. Finding a candidate from a similar background or similar viewpoint counts heavily in favor of being hired. The more immature the hiring manager, the more you will find similar people in their team. 
Needless to say, this is not an optimal configuration, but is definitely a key factor in hiring decisions. Be sure that you are liked. This improves your chances of being hired. 
I found a consistent common factor amongst low performing I.T. Teams with delivery problems: “Everyone appeared to like each other (and was very similar and comfortable with each other) and couldn't understand what is wrong with the rest of the people they work with.” This, while everyone around them can see clearly the problem is with the team! 
I have found less problems in diverse groups. Diverse teams complement individual team members' deficiencies and so improve the overall health and ability of the team. Teams with similar strengths amplify each others short comings.
Remember that how you dress, how you talk, your walk, how you look, what you say, your grooming, your gender, your ethnicity, your beliefs are all factors that will determine if you are considered fit to be included into a group or not. 
Like it or not – people do discriminate and no amount of legislation or social pressure will eradicate this phenomenon from the hiring manager's mind. You will find that mature hiring managers and advance organizations actually seek out diversity, and less mature companies do not.
Fourthly, can we afford the ITProfessional?
The first few years in your career probably saw you almost doubling your income with every move you've made. Don't expect that to continue. Remain competitive in your income expectations, and remember that your employer in many cases still need to make margin on top of your remuneration. 
I've seen a few professionals (that are really the best at what they do) price themselves out of the market when suddenly younger, similarly qualified (immigrant) candidates are willing to do the same work for less pay. Price is an issue. Be careful about your standard of living, and remain competitive. 
Java may be the flavor today and you may be able to get $100,000 to $120,000, but tomorrow when there are hundreds of Indian candidates willing to do the same job for $65,000 to $75,000 you will suddenly find yourself out of favor with IT Employers that needs some diversity in their teams, and a lower operating budget. 

What can you do to differentiate yourself and not get caught and labeled a commodity? 
Show how you add value to your employer's business. Some of this we already covered above. In short, be sure that you have the qualifications. Certify yourself with every opportunity that you get. 
Gain experience any way you can, including business experience – even if it is to build a solution purely to demonstrate your ability to prospective employers. I have often seen graduates reporting for duty at almost no pay to be able to get much needed experience. They are at an advantage to those that has the certifications or qualifications but no experience. Even your experience working in the local book store or deli can contribute to you understanding, and being able to craft I.T. solutions that solve business problems for real customers in those industries. As long as you can walk the walk and talk the talk you will have a shot at that next job.
Be like-able. How can you make and leave an impression on a prospective employer that he will remember favorably. The case has been made before, that Professionals like you need to brand yourself. 
In the world of soft drinks a cola is a cola is a cola. But there is only one Coca Cola, and one Pepsi. I guarantee that you have associations with each of these brands. These associations probably has nothing to do with soft drinks, but everything with the images and emotions these companies want you to associate with their product. You too can do this for your career. When you are asked what it is you do, and you reply Java Development, then you are considered just another cola on the shelf - another commodity. Or, you can leave the person with an impression that they associate favorably with your personal I.T. Professional brand. 
If you position yourself as a business software engineer specializing in improving retail transaction processing efficiency, then you have something to talk about! You don’t need buzzwords. Another approach may be positioning yourself as: “Software Wizard” or ‘Code Guru”. As long as it leaves your prospective employer with a fresh image that stands out from the commodity I.T. candidate crowd, then you have a better chance of success at your job application. It will be even better if you can link this to a relevant business problem that your prospective employer needs solved. The job will be yours!
A lot is said about networking. This is: Knowing people that know people that need you and your skill. I have cynically learned  in life that people help people for two main reasons: They get paid for it, or they benefit in another way through the association or their action. 
So, the more people you have that owe you something, the better chance you have of a network paying off in the job and other markets, else all you have is associations. 
Associations don’t have a compelling reason to do anything for you. They will weigh their own needs first and leave you with no action. Your strategy should be to be as helpful as can be. The more people can benefit from knowing you, the better your network will work for you. This way you ensure long standing relationships of emotional indebtedness and better career prospects overall.
In the end, your prospective employer need to know, and it is your task to ensure they are aware:
  • You are qualified, experienced and can do the job.
  • You are available when they need you, at the right price.
  • You are like-able, helpful and come with added value, be it in being cross skilled in many toolsets, your business knowledge, your helpfulness or purely the pleasurable and security they have with you around.
All of this contributes to you differentiating yourself, and landing that next valuable opportunity.
Please Don’t
Please don’t expect any success from posting a standard CV with a standard cover letter, to a standard job advertisement on the Internet. 
Frankly your chances of landing an interview and your dream job in this way is virtually zip! 
Let me know what worked for you. I am sure other IT Professionals using this site will be most grateful for any advice they can get from their fellow Professionals in the IT Job market. I look forward to hear from you.
Hendrik van Wyk

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