Month: March 2014

The Other Side Of The Fence

What Unemployment ProblemRecently I was told that it was amazing that someone with my work experience was unable to find a job. This came from someone who wanted to see me for an interview. I was initially taken aback at the fact this person was not aware of how tough the economy is right now, but after some reflection I came to the conclusion that a person’s perception of the state of the economy can vary for many reasons.

For example, let’s consider the following links about February 2014’s unemployment report.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/7-000-jobs-lost-in-february-unemployment-stays-at-7-1.2563573
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/07/unemployment-rate-canada_n_4918416.html
http://www.bnn.ca/News/2014/3/7/Canada-adds-XX-jobs-in-February.aspx

While it is all about the same story, the reporting slant was different. Anyone who read only one (but not all) of the articles would have been given a different interpretation of the economy’s performance (the worst interpretation being the Huffington Post article).  For the BNN link, I found the attached video interesting because the chief economist at Manulife was actually inferring the horrible winter weather was to blame for the unemployment figures.

It works the same way with the individual. For those people working in a recession-proof job, their response is a collective shrug and a comment of , “Recession? When did that happen?”. For job seekers like myself, we’ve all too keenly aware how bad the job market is without reading the news.

The issue of perspective is extremely important for those who have the power to do something about it yet will do nothing to act, like the government. Ever hear of a politician in danger of being laid off or fired? Of course not. They are voted in by the people on a platform full of promises that sound great in a news-byte or photo-op but lack solutions to the economic problems we face.

It just goes to show that while perspective is subjective, it’s the facts that don’t lie and what truly matters in the end.

Thanks for reading!

David

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Not I

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My profile portrait on Zynga, where I enjoy some of the games offered there. Does the fact I play Flash-animated games make me more likely to goof off on the job if hired?

Take a moment to read the following two paragraphs:

“I have worked in the information technology field for 20 years. I have written programs using various programming languages. I participated in six high-level projects, working with consultants from SAP, IBM Canada, and TCS/TATA. As a system administrator, I enforced security controls in strict compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley policies. I was the backup for the EDI administrator and the network administrator when they were on vacation. I created a printer device description for the company’s Canon 5570 Imagerunner printer using PCL5. I automated many processes once done by human beings.”

“I play EVE Online and Farmville 2. I like reading and sometimes writing poetry. I think the series ‘Big Bang Theory’ is hilarious. I enjoy stand-up comedy. I love reading and watching science fiction. I am an avid news junkie, reading the newspapers and watching the television broadcasts as much as possible. I can’t get enough of Tim Horton’s coffee. I take long walks in the green belts to get back in touch with nature as much as possible. While I listen to classic rock and blues music regularly, I am willing to listen to other musical styles on a whim. I’m a fierce proponent of transit, and feel we have too many cars on the roads. I think our politicians have gone soft in the head and some parents are not doing a good job at raising their children. I feel using violence to solve problems is wrong.”

If you read these paragraphs anywhere other than on my job search blog, you would be forgiven for assuming they describe two different people. In truth, they both describe myself. I am a veteran computer programmer, but also a gamer. I am responsible enough to hold a career in information technology, but also have a great sense of humour. I’m a team player, but also one spontaneous enough to try new things.

Who am I? Which of these things are the real me? Well, both are. As Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. We all wear masks and not just one. We have a professional mask when working, and something less than that when the work day ends. We put on a different face for those very close to us as compared to a conversation with a perfect stranger at the bus stop.

Career coaches and job assistance centre staff tell job seekers like myself to police our personal brand, like we are something to be sold like a product or service at a store. While I chafe at the idea of being considered a piece of meat at the market, there is some merit to their advice. Employers now use Google and other tools to learn as much as they can about employees, both current and potential. What does it say about you when there are YouTube videos of you face down and passed out on a barroom floor? What message are you conveying when you post pictures on your Facebook page posing with guns or knives, or nearly naked? While you might argue it’s your personal time and right to freedom of expression to be who you want off the clock, it’s a fair point to stress your conduct could negatively impact the reputation of the company you work for.

There is of course another side to this. What happens if the employer doing the online searches has deep personal beliefs that could impact his or her ability to make a professional and impartial evaluation of a potential hire? For example, what if a potential employer who thinks games are a waste of time learns I like EVE Online or Farmville 2? Is he or she going to think, “oh, this one is lazy and will play games on the job instead of fixing our ABAP/4 programs” (while not realizing firewalls can be configured to block sites like Facebook). Maybe the person doing the on-line look-up of my background would assume I’m just a straight nine-to-fiver unwilling to work overtime because I like to walk around in the greenbelt, not realizing I’ve done six projects worth of unpaid overtime in my I.T. career. Perhaps it’s that one change of my Facebook cover, done completely in jest this past St. Patrick’s Day, that killed any chance of landing that last job I applied to.

I understand that we need to present a responsible presence on the Internet, because the ‘Net never forgets. This is particularly true when our working lives could be impacted. What I fear will happen, in the mad dash to get the scant jobs available, is that we reinvent and portray ourselves as something we are not. I’m a big believer in compartmentalization of professional and personal life: one really should not have any bearing on the other (aside from the examples I mentioned earlier). We can be one and the other without conflict.

Trying to change our online profiles to market something the employer wants that we might not be is not only dishonest, it’s a personal disservice to ourselves. The Internet may be a powerful resource for doing business, but it is also a canvas for artistic and creative endeavours. That’s what social media is all about.

So express yourselves fearlessly…but responsibly at the same time.

Thanks for reading!

David

Such A Creep!

A link to Workopolis' article on credential creep, of which this post discusses. Image and article is owned by the author and Workopolis
A link to Workopolis’ article on credential creep, of which this post discusses. Image and article is owned by the author and Workopolis

While I’m not fussy on the type of jobs I’m applying for, I always read the qualifications of the position. For example, there’s no point in applying for a job that requires me to lift up to 60 kilograms because I can’t lift 60 kilograms. If a job requires a valid driver’s license, then forget it, because I can’t drive and a transit pass simply won’t do. In both of these examples, the qualifications listed are fair requirements for the position offered.

On the other side of the coin are those qualifications that make me exclaim, “I need to know this as a job requirement?! Are you @?#!&*$ kidding me????”. Here’s my all time favourite example that to this day makes me shake my head in bewilderment.

Yes, you read that right:  the successful applicant must be able to play at least one instrument in order to work as a shipper/receiver at this company. Trust me, if someone was able to play at least one instrument, they would not be working as a shipper. They would be playing in a band. I’m tempted, so sorely tempted in fact, to search for the  antithesis of this ad where an open bassist position requires the applicant to “work with standard shipping documents and online shipping systems”. The only thing stopping me is the fear of accidentally discovering a wormhole connecting our universe to DC Comic’s Bizarro World, and I’ll get sucked in, never to be seen again. Oh well, at least if that happened, my unemployment situation would no longer be a pressing issue.

All kidding aside, this is proof that credential creep (the trend where requirements for a position are rising) exists and is a serious challenge for job-seekers, particular those new to Canada and today’s young people trying to break that work experience Catch-22.

Why is this happening? In one case, it could be the result of downsizing. For example, the head librarian and a system administrator used to be separate positions in a library. Now, it’s not unusual for these positions to be merged since libraries are going online, and the Dewey Decimal System is merely the offline cousin of a relational database, which in turn have given way to SQL and XML hierarchies.  Another example is the nurse-practitioner, which was created not only to make government funding dollars work harder, it also streamlines the wait time for patients to see a general practitioner. In both cases, the increase in the applicant requirements was done for the sake of efficiency. Nothing too unreasonable there.

Or is it? Some examples of increasing the requirements come out of not understanding the job description, of which my musical instrument example would certainly qualify under. It could also be the issue of the time to train: one blog post I made involved me not getting a cashier’s job because the manager had no time to train me. While some positions open do require a high degree of knowledge and expertise that would take too much time to learn from on the job training, a cashier’;s job is not rocket science. With the right training, anyone can be proficient to run a POS terminal within a few hours, a couple of days, or at the most a week (for the very slow learner).

Employers might think this approach ensures the proper fit for the job, but what it does instead is leave them wondering why they cannot find someone to fill an opening, complaining about a labour shortage that they created themselves.

Thanks for reading!

David.

It’s Nothing Personal

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Being asked why I want to work for so-and-so. Is replying, “I need to pay my rent” or “I need to buy new glasses” too honest?

What’s the hardest questions you had to answer during an interview?

Many of you have your own list based on your past job-search experiences. I have a few of my own, one being “if you were a tree, what type would you be?” (my answer was “Willow, because I’m flexible”). In fairness, that particular question was hard to answer because it’s meant to try to rattle you.

Another on my list was hard to answer for a different reason:  Why do you want to work for [insert company name here]?

At first read, it looks easy to answer, but it’s a question you actually need to think about before answering.

In this jobless recovery, the unemployed are discovering that it’s tough to find work, so they are being less choosy in where they apply  (especially if feeding their children is an issue).  People are willing to do any sort of work, even work outside their chosen career path. One need only ask a taxi driver what his or her previous employment was before taking up the glamorous life of a cabbie — from my own inquiries, I’ve come across a doctor, programmer, and an accountant. They didn’t become a cabbie because they liked being one, or because they liked the cab company. They did it because they had no choice and needed money.

Yes, there was a time people chose their profession based on what they liked to do. I was one of those people: I loved computers so much I wanted to enter the career of information technology. Mind you, that was back then when there was hope for the future, jobs were more abundant and the terms “down-sizing” and “austerity” were not as commonly used.

Thanks to the new economy everyone is trying to make sense of, I now look for work because I was raised not to be lazy (my half-Irish half-Scottish work ethic), I want to feel like I’m doing something for society, and yes, dag-nabbit, I do need the money. Contrary to the interviewer’s viewpoint, that is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s honest and admirable. It certainly speaks better of a job-seeker’s work ethic and character than not trying to find a job and mooching off welfare. I want to earn my keep in life and so do most people who are out of work, yet want to work.

But that’s not what you are supposed to say at the interview. There are games to be played in order to earn that coveted seat at the interviewer’s desk, so an honest compromise must be found. In other words, find another reason that is a selling point yet truthful. For example, maybe it was a pleasant shopping experience at one of the company’s stores, or perhaps the corporate ethics are fairly congruent with your own personal beliefs.

As I stated before, that’s not as easy as it sounds. If you are applying for a job where you are verbally (perhaps even physically) abused by customers and must clean vomit off a staircase (for minimum wage, no less!), saying you applied because you find customer service exciting or you are a “people person” is one heck of a sales pitch.  It’s likely going to set off every B.S. alarm not just in the interviewer’s office but throughout the company. No one likes a brown-noser.

Let’s not mince words. We know job security is as mythical now as unicorns and fairies. The days where we would be rewarded for sacrificing our personal lives in favour of our professional work life are long gone. Today’s generation have seen how their parents were treated in past recessions and thus learned the lessons very well. Millennials think about work-life balance, not work-as-life devotion, when considering their career choices.

Based on the above, why is the question of wanting to work for a company even valid? Employees come to work with skills needed by the company to get things done. It’s not a party. It’s not to make friends.

Succinctly put, it’s just business.  Nothing personal.

Thanks for reading!

David