Posts Tagged‘interview’

Job Ad Shopping Lists (or Recruiters: Your Nets Are Cast Too Wide).

I’ve been told for almost all of my full-time working life that I’ve been lucky since I knew what I wanted to do from the day I first set foot in the door. Ignoring the fact that I went from help desk monkey to programmer to system admin to project manager and back to system administrator (showing that no, I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do) much of the “luck” I’ve been graced with was mostly for applying for jobs that I wasn’t exactly qualified for and happening to get the job. When I was hunting around for permanent jobs on my own, before I got recruitment agencies to do the legwork for me, I never really understood how I managed to get these jobs or how the people I was working with managed to get into their positions as well.n It all dawned on me when I sat down with my very first pimp (people who find me jobs) who gave me the behind the scenes look at the IT jobs market, but I’d hazard a guess that these principles hold true no matter what the market is.

Take for instance the list of job requirements listed below. This job pays similar to my current position and the work is in the same area, however the list below has people like me thinking twice about sending our resume their way:

  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a complex MS Windows active directory based environment
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting desktop systems in a MS Windows environment including local and remote deployments
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting MS Exchange based messaging systems and Blackberry Enterprise Services
  • Experience in Video Conference and IP Telephony administration desirable

Just to make my point a little more clear take another position where the work would arguably be the same, but the required skill set varies wildly:

  • Proven analytical and problem solving capabilities
  • Consulting experience
  • Excellent working knowledge of Windows based Infrastructure Environments (Windows 2003 OS, Exchange, DNS )
  • Having obtained or working towards an industry accreditation such as MCSE
  • Experience with Active Directory, Citrix, VM Ware
  • A good understanding of communications equipment and distributed networks

Whilst the former isn’t too bad the latter example shows what most recruiters call their shopping list of skills they look for in a candidate. In most situations you’re not going to be expected to match the criteria perfectly, in fact they’re usually counting on it. Once you get passed a certain level of skill it gets pretty hard to be an expert on more than a few technologies, especially if they don’t go hand in hand with each other (like CITRIX and VMware for example). Typically any IT shop that requires people with in depth skills of any nature will usually have a team of several of such people, just because they can’t expect one guy to know everything and if you could find such a genius you wouldn’t want to hire just one of them anyway. You’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle if they ever get sick or, heaven forbid, find a better job elsewhere.

The tactic I use to combat this brick wall of requirements is what I call shotgun job applications. Knowing full well that the shopping list of skills is probably no where near what they actually need I’ll send out applications to any job that I think I’m even mildly qualified for, basically spraying the job market with resumes. The responses that I get back from the recruiters then shows which ones are looking for someone like me and not the ones who are just putting up wish lists and hoping for that coveted genius tech to come along.

Wide reaching skill sets can also be an indication of how big of an operation a place might be. For example a job ad that lists basically every technology under the sun is more than likely to be a one man administrator shop, and I’d be surprised if the pay matched the skill set required. Jobs with narrower skill sets are more likely to be much bigger operations with multiple levels of support handled by varying pay grades. Depending on what you’re looking for these can be good or bad things, as you’re likely to have a lot more freedom in smaller operations but also a lot more responsibility. Whereas in larger operations you’re probably going to be quite restricted in what you do but the pay off is that you’re not responsible for everything under the IT umbrella.

It’s not just places with jobs doing this either, there’s also a healthy amount of recruiters posting up fake jobs with astronomical or wide reaching skill requirements just so they can fish for applicants to keep on their books. In my last shotgun job application spree I managed to net about 2 of such recruiters who advertised jobs in Canberra but strangely had no presence in our nation’s capital. This raised red flags instantly and after being lead up the garden path several times (and the “jobs” they had advertised being linked to an unnamed company who just landed a “big government contract” they couldn’t talk about) I knew I’d been reeled in. It did help me land a contract extension though as their multiple phone calls towards the end of my contract made bargaining with my current employer rather easy.

On the other hand though I really can’t blame the recruiters or organisations who are doing this. After recently losing 2 members of my current team to greener pastures management has been in recruitment mode to get them in. Unfortunately for them they’re one of the honest ones and this attracted candidates who, whilst looked quite good on paper, floundered in the interview. The result was so devastating that for the next round of interviews they gave every candidate a writtern test to complete before the interview would start, something I hadn’t seen since my days as a programmer (and that was for entry level, this is for a specialist position). When you’re looking for a decent candidate you have to do something to filter out the cruft, and scaring them away with a list of skills as long as your arm is probably the most popular option.

I guess my point to all this is that if you’re even the slightest bit good at your job chances are that you could be doing a lot better for yourself. You may look at the job market and wonder where all these people with amazing skills come from but the fact is that most of them are people like you who just gave it a shot one day and found themselves so much better for it. If you’re in a permanent job you really have nothing to lose by sending your resume out to see if anyone bites, and if they do it could be your ticket into a wonderful new world of opportunities.

Of course there’s always the chance it will go the other way, but that’s what taking a risk is all about :)

Interviewing: You’re Already Halfway There.

It’s no secret that I’ve been around a fair bit in the Canberran job market. In fact for the past 6 years I’ve had a new job at least every year, and right after graduating I managed to get 2. That’s not to say I wouldn’t stay in one position if I felt it was right for me as I worked at Dick Smith Electronics for 6 years prior to starting my current trend of job hopping like a mad frog. Because of this I’ve become pretty adept at polishing a resume, trolling for jobs and of course interviewing for them. I’d never really thought of myself as much of a coach but with a few people coming to me for advice over the past couple weeks (and subsequently getting the jobs) I thought I’d share my insights into the recruitment process that apply to almost any job you might go for, the interview.

You won’t find many people who like the idea of an interview and with good reason, it’s a very intimidating process. You’ll be invited out to a location you probably haven’t been to before, to be locked in a room with several people you’ve never met to be asked questions about a job you’ve never done. All this can easily weigh on your mind and throw your usual calm thought processes out the window. After so many interviews there was one thing that I learned to help calm those nerves: by the time you’re sitting in that dreaded room the people talking to you are already thinking one thing, on paper you’re good enough for them to take you on.

Once you’ve walked into the interview room the hard part is already over, you’ve got a potential employer interested in you. This part of the recruitment process is about two things: verifying that you’re the real deal (I.E. you didn’t fake your resume) and selling yourself. Now most people are smart enough to know not to pad their resumes out with ficticious cruft, but you’d be well advised to not embellish anything. The interviewers will easily pick up on this with their questions and you’ve destroyed any advantage you might of have over the other candidates.  The second part is based around playing up those attributes that made your potential employer pick up on you in the first place, and this is where the trick comes in.

Us humans are a very communicative species and your body gives away clues to your inner thought processes whether you’re aware of it or not. Questions in an interview are usually designed to make you think on your feet or demonstrate your thought processes and the interviewers have a general idea of what kind of answer they want. Taking this into consideration if you’re saying something that’s completely off the mark there will be a shift in their body language. I’m not a professional at this so I can’t tell you what clues to look for but most people seem to be able to catch on when they’re saying something they think is right but everyone around them disagrees. If you pick up on this quickly you can change your answer mid-flight and hopefully hit the right point. The last 2 interviews I’ve been in this has worked quite well, save for them both having one person in it I couldn’t read at all (and both times they were the person asking technical questions, so I had to rely on actually knowing the stuff. Oh the horror!).

One of the worst things you can do in an interview is to have nothing to say at the end of the interview. Most commonly this takes the form of the question “Do you have any questions for us?” and while you might not have anything you want to know not asking something makes you seem disinterested. When they ask this its usually a good sign that they believe they’ve got the right person and they’re willing to divulge information that you might not have been privvy to before. I now have 2 favourites I like to use when this comes up: “How long have you worked here?” and “What’s the best thing about working here?” and the reasoning behind these questions are more anecdotal that scientific.

In essence a workplace is just another social gathering except you’re all there to work towards a common goal. One of the most common social interactions that I see take place anywhere is that of sharing various stories about life’s various challenges and experiences. Whilst you’re in an interview you’re basically a stranger in a circle of friends and the quickest way to dig yourself out of it is to share a story with them. The two questions I mentioned are simple yet invoke a varied response from everyone, drawing you into a conversation that is usually only held amongst current employees. The order to is important as whilst asking someone how long they’ve worked somewhere is a great way to get them talking it can be a sore point for some people. Thus the last question of what the best thing about working there is gets people talking fondly of their experiences, and leaving on that note ensures that when they look back on the interview they associate your name with those good memories.

Don’t think that the interview finishes when you leave the room either. On most occasions you’ll be brought through the normal work area to the conference room they’ve re-purposed for interviewing people. Since you’re not going to be let loose in the corporate environment you’ll usually be escorted by one of the interviewers both in and out of the building. Whilst I haven’t seen many places employ this technique it is very much akin to the post-interview used in polygraphs to gain more information than what was discovered during the interview. It’s also a good chance to guage how well the interview went as if you did well they will usually divulge even more information to you. All of this is moot for security cleared positions however, but they’re another beast altogether.

So the next time you walk into that daunting office space to be questioned on end by a group of strangers remember this: they’re already interested in you. As long as you’re honest and confident in your abilities you can walk in there thinking you’ve already got the job and more than likely you’ll walk out of there with it.

I would say practice makes perfect, but I wouldn’t want everyone quitting their jobs just to practice their interviewing skills ;)

Interview with 2CC’s Mike Jeffreys.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by 2CC’s Mike Jeffreys this morning. We discussed some of the points of the proposed internet filter and what it will mean for the public at large.

Whilst I’m all for protecting children on the Internet there are far better ways to do it than what Senator Conroy is proposing. I’m glad that Mike was on-board with what I was talking about and he brought up some really good examples of how the government has pulled these kinds of stunts in the past. Whilst I don’t want to go too far into tin foil hat mode, the whole internet filter smacks of government control of information. I’d happily support an opt-in filter for concerned parents (even opt-out at a real stretch) but only as long as it didn’t impact on people who didn’t want it.

My main point on all this is that many people don’t know enough about the Internet and the way it functions to make informed decisions on ideas like this. In many cases your average Joe will hear the words “Protecting our children” and instantly rubber stamp their approval. It’s a slippery slope once we give the government this kind of power, and I’d rather block this proposal in its entirety rather than have to circumvent it later on.

If you’re reading this and you’re concerned about your children and the dangers of the internet there are a couple pointers I’d like to give you:

  • Put the PCs in a main room like the living or family room. Children are far less likely to go looking for questionable content if you’re there with them
  • Get yourself online. If your kids know you’re on Facebook/MySpace/etc they’ll behave themselves. Many kids will keep doing something until they think they might get caught
  • Use online technologies like email, instant messaging and so on to get a feel for what they are experiencing online
  • Promote education instead of prohibition. Forbidden fruit is always more tantalizing then well trodden paths

I’ve attached an MP3 of the interview for you all to listen to, enjoy!!

David Klemke 2CC Internet Filter Interview