Career Advice

Are Certifications Really Necessary?

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Relations

If you’re an IT professional, chances are you either have a certification or have thought about obtaining a certification at some point in your career.  These days you can find a certification for almost any skill, methodology or job title in the IT industry.  Are certifications really necessary to succeed as a technical professional?

I’ve been in the IT staffing business for more than 18 years.  I’ve placed more than a thousand technical professionals – some with certifications and some without.  I’ve talked with hiring managers about certifications, asking them why a certification is required, or even a degree for that matter, when a candidate obviously has a ton of real life experience and a successful track record.  Often times, certifications don’t help that much.  However, there are two instances when certifications make a real difference: (1) when you don’t have much experience and you’re trying to prove yourself; and (2) when it’s market driven.

If you’re a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional wanting to change your area of expertise, certifications may help you land that first or next job.  Certifications will show that you’re serious about your career choice – after all they are typically expensive and time consuming.  In addition, it provides some external, objective measure of your abilities.  You’ll still have to successfully make it past the interview stage, but you may not have even made it that far without the certification.  Finally, it provides agency recruiters with a reason to present you to a position when they otherwise may have rejected you outright.  Most recruiters are not technical.  They rely on your honesty and such things as certifications when deciding whether or not to present you to their client.  A certification may just tip the scales in your favor.

Even if you’re not a recent college graduate or changing your career trajectory, certifications can become necessary as a result of market conditions.  In this context, I’m referring to market conditions in two ways – the overall employment market for IT professionals and what the market requires of a particular type of professional.  With regard to the employment market, currently it’s a candidate driven market – experienced candidates with good interpersonal skills can write their own ticket in many instances.  In this type of market, certifications are not as important.  If, however, the market were to change for the worse, as happened in 2001 and then again in 2008, HR and hiring managers would be inundated with candidates and need some way to differentiate them.  One easy, although imperfect, way to differentiate candidates is based on education, which includes certifications.

With regard to the market for particular professionals, there are skill sets / job titles that appear to demand certifications.  Examples of this include the PMP certification for project managers and the CISSP certification for IT security engineers.  Certifications, like hair styles, seem to come and go.  A few years back it seemed like every project management position required a PMP certification.  Today, less than a majority of them do.  Now the big fad is ScrumMaster certification.  The point is that if hiring managers have bought into the certification and you want a job with them, you may need to bite the bullet and get the certification.

From my experience, certifications are typically not necessary.  They can be helpful when you need to prove your abilities or when the market requires it, but nothing can take the place of good old-fashion experience and the school of hard-knocks.

Building Strong Relationships

By: John Hutchins, VP of Client Services

When training new sales people or recruiters, I often harp on the importance of building relationships with both client managers and candidates.  It recently occurred to me that “building relationships” may not mean the same thing to everyone.  Some people don’t actually build what I would consider to be a relationship.  They end up building something less than that – something more like a “solid acquaintance.”  Three main elements to relationship building include: (1) direct contact; (2) altruism; and (3) time.

 

  • I don’t believe you can develop a true relationship with someone unless you have direct contact with them on a regular basis. In-person contact is the best and quickest way to begin developing a relationship, but in today’s email /social media / text driven world, I’m willing to acquiesce that in-person contact is not the only means to developing a relationship.  I do think in-person contact helps build that sense of trust that is critical to any relationship.  There is something about meeting someone in-person, eyeball to eyeball, that helps initiate and solidify the relationship.

 

  • Altruism is the second element to building relationships. This is really the difference between building a true relationship with someone or, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, building a solid acquaintance.  Building a true relationship means approaching the other person with a sense of selflessness.  This means being truly interested in them and what is going on in their life.  It also means helping them when there won’t be anything in it for you.  Believe it or not, the best sales people have altruistic relationships with their best clients.  If it is truly a solid relationship, each person is approaching the other person in an altruistic way.  The sales person is feeling that they really want to do what is best for the client manager.  The client manager is feeling that they really want the sales person to succeed and prosper.  Sales shouldn’t be an adversarial relationship like it so often becomes, where each person is trying to get the most out of the other person, while providing the least.  In the best business relationships, each party is honestly looking out for the best interests of the other party.  Rare – yes, impossible to achieve – no.

 

  • Finally, as I’ve learned firsthand over many years, time is an essential element to many things in life, including relationship building. Time is necessary for building trust and a major aspect of trust is stability.  You can’t have a solid relationship with someone who isn’t willing to have direct contact with you on a regular basis or who is altruistic one moment and selfish the next.  Stability over time builds trust and trust is one key to building solid relationships.

 

I would love to provide short cuts and silver bullets to my new sales people and recruiters when it comes to relationship building, but unfortunately short cuts and silver bullets are in the same category as unicorns and dragons, they don’t exist.  Success requires purposeful and consistent hard work.  With regard to relationship building, that means direct contact, altruism and time.

Tips for a first time contractor

By: Jill Reynolds, President and CEO

For those of you who have never worked as a consultant or contractor, it may seem risky and unstable….but there are some great advantages.  Contracting can provide opportunities for experiencing diverse employment environments and to learn new or different technologies, perhaps, there might be a little extra cash in your pocket.  Contracts usually pay more than an FTE role for a variety of reasons that we’ll cover in the points below.  If you haven’t contracted before, where do you start?  What questions should you ask?  What about compensation?  You may have no idea what your hourly rate should be.  And, what about benefits like health insurance, 401K, PTO, etc.?  At Quantix, we regularly work with candidates who have never contracted before and provide a comprehensive over view of “Contracting 101”.   We all like surprises, but not when it involves jobs or paychecks. 

Here are a few basics for the first time contractor: 

Duration: Contracts can vary in length from weeks to years.  Some contracts have a very defined duration, some can be open-ended.  Some contract roles can last longer than some “perm” hires, making those jobs not so “perm” after all.  The agency offering the contract role should be able to tell you the duration of the contract, if it is likely to renew or extend and if this client usually honors the duration of the contracts.  Of course, there can be unexpected terminations due to performance, budget cuts, leadership changes, etc.

Compensation:  If you have always had salaried positions, you might be unsure how to calculate an hourly rate.  A good rule of thumb is to take your annual salary, divide it in half, drop the last 3 digits and that will give you a good starting point for your hourly rate.  For instance, if your salary is $70,000; divide by two= $35,000; drop the last 3 digits, you come up with $35/hr., W-2.  In this scenario, if you work 2,000 hours ( this is a full year minus 2 week’s vacation/holidays) you would gross $70,000.  This is a starting point because the rate should be slightly hire to offset the “risk” of a contract and you should add enough to compensate for other benefits you may have lost (PTO or sick time) or are now paying for out of your pocket (health insurance).    Be reasonable about your rate, some candidates think contracting is like riding the Gravy Train.  Of course, some contracts can be more lucrative than others, but if you are a first time contractor, it’s not likely you will have earned a first class seat on the Gravy Train.  Seek guidance from your recruiter they should be able to discuss an appropriate rate range for the position.

Benefits:  Every agency provides different levels of benefits and employer contributions vary greatly.  By law, every employer is obligated to offer health insurance to their full time (29+ hours a week) employees after 90 days.  The employer paid contribution to the benefits can range from zero to 100%.  Dental and ancillary insurance, PTO, 401K (matching or non-matching) may also be available.  For example, Quantix offers group medical insurance with an employer paid contribution for the employee, dental and ancillary insurances, 401K and PTO.  If you already have coverage and do not need benefits, a higher pay rate might be offered because of the lower benefits costs for the employer.

On-boarding:  You may go through 2 on-boarding processes, one with your employer, one with their client where your work will be performed.  From the employer, you will be provided an employment contract that is specific to the contract engagement.  This will detail employer and employee rights, obligations and commitments, rate, client’s name, duration of the contract and benefits options.  Drug testing and background checks are customary.  As a side note, if there is something “questionable” on your drug screen or background check, the best thing to do is to discuss this with your recruiter beforehand.  These conversations are confidential and best handled early on.  Like the surprises we talked about at the beginning, these aren’t the good kind and you don’t want to be perceived as sneaky or dishonest.  As far as the client, each one will have their own on-boarding processes, paperwork and orientations for their contractors and they run the gambit.  Some are casual, even non-existent, others are very structured and extensive.

Conversion:  Some contracts are deemed “contract-to-hire”, this means there is a predetermined contract period, a try-before-you-buy so to speak.  After that period of time, if mutually agreed upon, the contractor will convert to a permanent employee of the client for a pre-negotiated position and salary.  Even if the position is not officially a contract-to-hire role, it is not unusual for the client to want to hire the contractor as a permanent employee.  Depending on the contractual agreement between you and your employer and between the vendor (your employer) and the client, this may or may not be acceptable or simple.  In most cases, however, these situations are worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.  If you are approached by the client for full-time employment, the appropriate response is to let your employer know so that everyone is in the loop and the proper procedures and protocols are followed.

These are a few basics for a first-timer.  The most important factor is to work with a recruiter you have good rapport with and can trust, they are your advocate.  They should be able to guide you through your initial contract engagement with as few bumps as possible.  Don’t be timid, ask questions and get good answers.

Hiring Managers: LinkedIn Profiles are Not Resumes!

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager

I want to briefly address an issue I have seen from a variety of companies; this comes from direct observation and from feedback from candidates.

Here’s the issue: A candidate submits a resume to an employer.  Employer sees resumes, looks at the candidate’s LinkedIn profile, and for some reason decides the information on LinkedIn is more accurate or relevant than the information on the resume.  Employer rejects candidate based on assumptions gleaned from LinkedIn profile (not enough experience in X, etc), or because the LinkedIn profile doesn’t match the resume.

So, to any hiring manager who might do this, please keep in mind:  LinkedIn profiles are not resumes!!  People cannot put EVERYTHING they have ever done on their profile.  What people do is put out a general idea of what they have done, and the projects they have covered.  Many people do a terrible job of updating their profile when they switch jobs.  They might not have end dates.  They might not have their most recent title change.  But that doesn’t mean they’re being dishonest.  They put their most recent info in their resume, where it belongs.  They probably tailored the resume to fit the job for which they were applying, which might not be exactly the same as LinkedIn.  That doesn’t mean they’re lying; it actually shows more attention to detail and interest in your job and company!  They took the time to highlight specific skills and duties in the resume they sent to you!  Wouldn’t you think that’s a good thing, instead of something to punish?

In fact, even if there are employers missing on LinkedIn that are present on the resume, or the dates don’t match, I wouldn’t use that to reject the candidate.  Why not bring it up in the interview?  See what the candidate says, and then determine how you feel.  Again, a resume is designed to tell you about the candidate and their skills, and LinkedIn is for networking.

The Power of Networking

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services.

 

If you know me, you know that I love to network and I encourage everyone else to network – whether you are selling, recruiting, looking for a job, or whatever – networking is never a bad thing!  You never know where it will lead or what it will turn into.

The other day I was training a junior sales person.  She was shadowing me on a sales call with a client manager I had never met before.  She asked the question, “How did you connect with this person?”  As I thought about my answer, I began to laugh.  The seeds for the meeting in April 2016 were planted back in 2001.

One night in 2001, my wife and I invited some new neighbors (Cheryl and Dan) over for a friendly game of cards and a few beers.  I learned that Cheryl was an administrative assistant at a small insurance company.  She agreed to introduce me to the CIO of her company (Tim).  I met with Tim a couple of times and he introduced me to his manager of software development (James).  Shortly thereafter Tim was laid off, but luckily I had developed a good relationship with James.

James ended up hiring a bunch of contractors from me over the next two years.  I was meeting one of those contractors (Martha) for lunch and asked her what her husband did for a living.  Lucky me!  Her husband (Karl) was an IT manager for a government contractor.  She agreed to introduce me.  I met with Karl who introduced me to their manager of software development (Bob).  Shortly thereafter Karl left the company, but luckily I had developed a good relationship with Bob.

Bob and his team ended up hiring more than three dozen contractors from me over the next few years.  After a while, Bob and I got to be friends.  The other day I was having lunch with Bob and he asked if I would be willing to network with his wife’s, sister’s husband (Brent).  Being the networking addict that I am, I readily agreed.

Brent and I met for coffee a couple of times.  He had been laid off from his job as a CTO and was looking for a new gig.  I was able to introduce him to a few people, but unfortunately wasn’t able to directly help him find a job.  Looking for a new job, especially when you’re unemployed, can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I experienced it many years ago when I was changing careers and swore to myself that I would always be open to helping others.

Brent ended up landing a job.  We met for coffee after he got situated and he offered to introduce me to the software development manager at his new company (Susan).  You guessed it, Susan is the manager, the junior sales person and I were scheduled to meet in April 2016.  The meeting went really well, by the way.  I’m looking forward to how it turns out and who I’ll meet as a result.

What a crazy, wonderful world full of possible networking opportunities we live in!

Yes, There are Stupid Questions

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager at Quantix

You know that old saying, “There are no stupid questions?”  The one teachers and parents always told us?  Well, they were wrong.  There are some stupid questions, especially when it comes to interviewing.  And in this case, I’m not talking about questions coming from the interviewer.  I’m talking about the questions the candidate asks when the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?”

First, have some questions prepared.  I think that topic has been beaten into the ground.  Everyone should always have something to ask.  I’m sure you could Google multiple lists of good questions to ask.  Email me – I can give you a bunch.

However, there are definitely questions you shouldn’t ask.  Generally, I think these come out of a lack of preparation; where the interviewer did a great job of covering most everything, and the three questions you had prepared were covered.  Now what?  You know you HAVE to ask a question. 

Don’t do this:

1) Ask what happens if you break obvious rules.  For example, “what is your attendance policy?”  Don’t ask questions about rules, as it makes you look like you’re already planning on breaking them before you even get the job.

2) Ask about dress code.  Does it really matter if you get casual Fridays?  Is that going to keep you from taking the job?  I guess if it matters that much, ask away.  But if not, don’t ask.  It makes you look like you’re going to be a pain to deal with.

3) Ask about a bunch of perks and ancillary benefits.  Of course you should ask about medical coverage, PTO, bonuses, and the like.  That’s expected.  But don’t ask if you get an eco-pass, or if you get free soda in the break room.  Again, does it matter?  Are you going to turn the job down if you don’t get free soda?  Why ask? 

I guess the overriding concept here is this:  Don’t ask questions that have no bearing on whether you will take the job or not.  Do a smidge more preparation and have enough questions ready that you don’t have to fall back on asking off-the-cuff questions that might leave a bad impression.

And yes, I have had candidates ask these questions, and yes, they were rejected by the client.  Perhaps I have had other candidates ask them and get hired, and I never knew because it didn’t come up.  However, when the client manager specifically mentions these “abnormal” questions when giving feedback, you know it made an impression, and not a good one in at least a few cases.

If you need help in preparing some good questions, let me know.  I’m happy to help!

Have you seen my feedback?

By: Jill Reynolds, President and CEO of Quantix, Inc.

This week, Quantix hosted a group of C-level candidates, yes, candidates.  These executives are members of a highly effective networking group exclusively for IT executive job seekers.  These are highly accomplished individuals and strategic thinkers.  They find themselves as job seeker for various reasons, but many have “success-ed” themselves into the job seeker role.   They may have completed a turnaround or have accomplished all they can in their current role and need to find their next challenge.  This dynamic group is now sitting on the other side of the desk in an interview.

 

There was plenty of discussion about the entire networking and interviewing process but the recurring theme was feedback, or rather the lack thereof.   They certainly see the value of feedback from a different perspective now.  They were surprised and frustrated by the sparse communication after an interview, even when they were well advanced in the process.  Whether an executive or mid-level candidate, this is frustrating and baffling for the candidate and one of a recruiter’s biggest challenges when all goes dark.  Timely feedback, whether positive, negative or only a “maybe”, sets the appropriate expectation with the candidate and the recruiter.  And, let’s face it, it’s just good manners. When this happens, it leaves me scratching my head.  If there was enough interest in the candidate to make time for an interview wouldn’t you think communicating the outcome or next steps would be a given?  Detailed feedback is a gem, but even a short email is better lets us know you’re still there.

 

From a candidate’s perspective, the lack of feedback tells them the employer is not interested.  Unfortunately, it also infers a lack of respect for the candidate and their time.  We’ve seen situations when after a long period of silence, the employer will finally express interest or extend an offer, but the candidate has become so irritated with the process they aren’t interested in moving forward. 

 

For the recruiter, silence from a client is wearisome. The majority of clients are responsive, but with the prevalence of VMS’s, getting feedback to the candidates can be even more challenging.   You’ve asked us to help you find a candidate, but help us help you.  If clients don’t move promptly through the interview process, a quality candidate is long gone and not easily replaced.  We understand there might be a stall in the process, but a simple “good, bad or I’m on the fence” provides a little something to pass along to the candidate. 

 

Below is a recent exchange between one of our recruiters and the candidate:

 

From: Quantix Recruiter
Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2016 9:48 AM
To: Candidate
Subject: FW: Manager of Technical Services at Company XYZ

 

XXX,

I wanted to reach out and let you know we haven’t heard anything from Company XYZ regarding the Manager position.  Last we heard the hiring manager was reviewing resumes and nothing since.

 

If anything changes and we do hear something I will reach out and see if you are still interested.

 

Sent: Thursday, May 05, 2016 11:30 AM

To: Quantix Recruiter

Subject: RE: Manager of Technical Services at Company XYZ

 

Thanks, XXX. I appreciate the follow up. Most folks don’t bother—what a wonderful surprise. J

 

Hmmmm, very interesting the candidate found it a “wonderful surprise” to get any response at all, even when the response was to tell them there was no response.  Candidates, if you want a responsive recruiter, think Quantix.  We can’t always deliver an informed message, but we’re here.   Clients, we’re here to make the hiring process as efficient as possible, it’s a partnership and we’re here to help.