Employment

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.

Never Memorize What You Can Look Up

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager

Never memorize what you can look up…one of my best consultants said that to me one day.  We were discussing interviews, and the questions that come up in many of them.  His basic point, as I took it, was that as a software developer, one cannot truly memorize everything one would ever utilize.  There are going to be things to look up, and the important part of development is in problem solving, and basically using one’s brain power on tackling difficult issues, not rote memorization of something that could be looked up in three seconds.  And that software development has as much artistry to it as it does rigid rules, which means there is often more than one right way to solve a coding problem.

It also took me back to my teaching days, when, on one of my first days, my chemistry students asked if I was going to make them memorize the periodic table, as teachers in the past had done.  I turned around and looked at the gigantic periodic table hanging behind me, then turned back around to the class.  “Why would you have to memorize it?  It’s right here!”  I then made the point – someone doing actual chemistry is not going to rely on their memory of the periodic table for the atomic weight of an element for a calculation; they’re going to look it up to make sure they have it correct.  They will, however, know why the periodic table is organized the way it is, and how to use it in doing chemistry.

So, to get the point…why would one ask “book” questions, things that can be easily looked up, in a job interview?    Is memorizing something like that truly indicative of one’s overall skill as a developer?  I would argue that it isn’t.  I suspect it has more to do with having an “objective” interview process, but I can tell you, you’re missing out on great candidates if you rely on these types of questions.

Here’s another quick, real-life example for you.  I had a consultant several years ago, a COBOL developer, about whom our client raved.  They said they would assign him tasks that took other developers two weeks, and he would finish them in three days.  He had a couple of other clients who loved him as well, and would basically go back and forth between these employers on contract because of the outstanding work he did.  Well, we submitted him to a different client as he had some downtime.  This client gave him a technical test, and let us know that he failed.  He got back to us and said “I could have aced that test right after I graduated, but it mostly covered things out of a book that I never use in actually coding.”  I’ve never forgotten that example, as that client likely missed out on a consultant who could have helped them greatly.

I want to be clear; I’m not advocating not asking technical questions in an interview.  I am, however, advocating making it more of a discussion than a “right or wrong” proposition.  And don’t base your entire decision about a candidate on a technical test.  Perhaps some of the factors mentioned above are in play, or maybe the person is a terrible test taker, but a crack developer.  That’s certainly something I’ve seen as well, and again, you don’t want to miss out on someone who could be a great asset to your team.

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.

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.

Do You Have An On-Boarding Program For Your New Employees?

By: Jill Reynolds, Quantix President and CEO

On-boarding a new employee is critical to the overall success of the organization. At any given time, 25% of the workforce is in transition, whether it is a new job with a new company, a promotion or transfer. This means one quarter of all employees are in need of on-boarding activities. On-boarding is often associated with orientation. However, they are similar but different; on-boarding is more comprehensive and should involve activities throughout the first six months to a year of employment. The highest turnover rate is with employees in their first 18 months of employment, and half of senior-level employees hired from outside the company will quit (or be fired) within 18 months. Changing your thinking to a more long-term approach to on-boarding practices can help to reduce your company’s employee turnover during their initial tenure.

Orientation vs. On-Boarding

Orientation should be a baseline introduction to company policies, the physical office, workstations and personnel that is important for the function of their role. It should also contain basic training in order to get the employee to a minimum level of functionality as soon as possible. On-boarding is different, it is a slower process your new employee experiences while getting adjusted to the collaborative and performance aspects of their job and discovering attitudes, knowledge, skill and behaviors to function effectively in your organization.

On-boarding is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process. Can you really expect a new employee to learn everything they need to know about your company and how to function productively in their job in only a few weeks? The SHRM Foundation recently published an article by Talya Baue, in this article she identified the four distinct levels of on-boarding, called The Four C’s.

  1. Compliance is the lowest level and includes teaching employees basic legal and policy-related rules and regulations.
  2. Clarification refers to ensuring that employees understand their new jobs and all related expectations.
  3. Culture is a broad category that includes providing employees with a sense of organizational norms— both formal and informal.
  4. Connection refers to the vital interpersonal relationships and information networks that new employees must establish.
Image Credit: InjuryFree, Inc.

Image Credit: InjuryFree, Inc.

Employees need to be fully integrated, not just slotted for their new roles. Facilitating introductions to new colleagues can start collaborative learning that reinforces formalized trainings. Keep things simple. New employees are typically overloaded with information in their first week on the job and bombarded with trainings that aren’t relevant for the initial tasks they perform. For example, if you are training an employee on your company’s CRM, start with the basics. Teach them how to navigate the system and input and extract data they will be using in their few weeks on the job. Teaching them system functionality they won’t be using for several weeks or months can’t possibly be retained. Break the training into segments appropriate for the progression of their activities so they can have a hands-on learning experience. 

Setting goals, milestones and holding new hires accountable is a key component to on-boarding success. Milestones, such as 30, 60, 90 and 120 days on the job set the proper expectations for everyone. New employees may not be fluent in your company’s unique language and jargon, so be clear and specific about activities milestones. Also, don’t allow your new hire to unintentionally participate in behaviors that other employees would be reprimanded for. Letting these things slide because “they don’t know better” merely postpones future corrective actions. 

While a standardized process is important, be sure to allow for individualized on-boarding for each new hire. Even if you are on-boarding more than one new employee at a time, not everyone learns at the same speed and in the same way. Provide opportunities for one-on-one training and interaction tailored to the employee’s learning pace and style. Chad Halverson, with When I Work said, “Your employees don’t work in a vacuum after they’ve been trained, so make the experience a social one. Not only will this help the actual on-the-job training, it will allow employees to build social bonds, connect to the company and begin to adjust their own long-term goals with their new positions in mind.”

Orientation is a procedure, on-boarding is an investment of time and talent. Improving your on-boarding program yields a recognizable ROI which is talent retention.  Your on-boarding program is the first, and in many ways, the only opportunity you have to get your new employees on the right track.

Never, Ever Pay Someone To Write Your Resume

By: Elias Cobb, Quantix Recruiting Manager

In my opinion as an IT recruiter with almost 15 years of experience, you should never pay anyone to write your resume (Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations at Google agrees, in a recent blog). I suppose there could be some reason where it would make sense….but the vast majority of the time, don’t do it! You’d probably be better off buying lottery tickets. The Powerball jackpot is pretty high right now, I believe.

There are a few reasons why. Most people (in my experience) who pay someone to write their resume are unemployed and have been unemployed long enough to be getting desperate. Generally speaking, those folks probably have less disposable income than others and really shouldn’t spend it on a service they can easily get for free.

I’ve helped probably thousands of people with resumes in my career, and almost without fail, the ones that are the worst came from resume writing services. It’s not necessarily that the resume itself was THAT bad. It’s that the resumes from services are generally far out of touch with what hiring managers want to see.

What’s so wrong with these resumes, you may ask?

First, virtually all resumes from resume services tend to be in “functional” format. This is the format where all the candidate’s experiences are grouped under sub-headings at the top of the resume and their job history is listed out in one line entries below, with no mention of actual job duties at each position. IT hiring managers (at least the ones I’ve worked with) hate those kinds of resumes and I suspect many others in other industries do as well. Inevitably if we submit a functional resume, the manager asks us for a chronological version, one in which the candidate’s duties and experiences are listed (bullet points are best) under each job where they were performed. Managers want to see what you did at each job so they know when you last used a skill. A functional resume leads managers to believe that you may be trying to mask that you haven’t recently worked with the relevant skills for their position.

Image Credit: MyOptimalCareer

Image Credit: MyOptimalCareer

Second, and slightly related to the first point, the functional resumes often leave out the technical skills, accomplishments and quantifiable information that managers like to see. Hiring managers like numbers. They want to see the size of environment you worked in, how many people you managed, how large of a budget you managed, etc.

Third, I still see resumes from services where someone with 10+ years of experience has everything crammed onto one page. The days of one page resumes are dead and gone. They were dead and gone when Y2K came and went. Stop trying to get 15 years of experience onto one page. You’ll leave way too much out.

Fourth, and finally, as we’re all aware, many companies use online application systems where you have to manually enter your skills and jobs into the system (see my blog lamenting the loss of the human touch in hiring). I’ve yet to see one that is set up “functionally.” That is, one that would allow you to free-form enter all your skills at the top and then enter a bunch of one line entries for your employment history. More often, at least in the ones I’ve seen, they ask for your employer, title, date of employment and then have a text section when you enter what you did for that employer. If your resume is in functional format, you will have to basically reinvent your chronological resume when filling out that sort of application system.

So, for all of you who need help with your resume; what do you do? You need a good, solid chronological resume that can be easily manipulated for each job for which you apply. You want your core skills, main experiences and greatest accomplishments on there. Then, you want to be able to quickly add in relevant skills (no one can put everything they’ve ever done in a resume) each time you apply for a different job. Customize your skills summaries and emphasize the things that are most prominently mentioned in the job. Still struggling with it, or want some feedback? Find a few recruiters who specialize in your specific area (IT, finance & accounting, legal, etc.), form a relationship with some you trust and ask them for help. A good recruiter will help you craft a solid resume. If they blow you off, they’re not a good recruiter. They may not reply instantly that day, but good recruiters understand the value of making connections, and even if they can’t place you, recruiters with the long view will have no problem helping you out.

And it’ll be free.

Yes, you can email me, and I will help you with your resume. It’s what I do. 🙂

Response To “What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career As A Software Developer” By Michael O. Church

By John Hutchins, Quantix Vice President, Client Services

Disclaimer: This blog is in response to the article “What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career As A Software Developer” by Michael O. Church 

First, let me provide my disclaimer – I’m not a software developer. I’m a sales person who has moved into the ranks of management in the IT staffing world. Although I couldn’t code myself out of a paper bag, I have participated in the careers of thousands of software developers and IT professionals during the last 17 years of my career. I’ve watched some people thrive, some people limp along and some people fail miserably to the point of leaving the industry all together.

I agree with Mr. Church’s emphasis on learning and taking responsibility for your own success to include keeping yourself healthy with exercise. There are other points he makes with which I don’t agree, but to keep it positive, here is some additional advice based on what I’ve seen:

Chase the opportunity, not the money. I’ve seen software developers who appear solely motivated by money. They’re always looking around the corner for the next position that pays more. They appear to have a minimal amount of loyalty to their employer or anyone else for that matter. From my experience, they often burn bridges and end up both unsatisfied and unhappy. Then I see other software developers who focus on being the best they can be within their area of expertise. They are selfish in choosing positions based on the opportunity – will the position help them to grow? Money is important, but it is not their sole focus and they would be willing to take a pay cut for the right opportunity – an opportunity that helps them refine a skill or add a new skill. They build alliances, make a positive name for themselves and generally appear to be happy. And by the way, they don’t need to chase the money, it chases them.

Be an altruistic team member. I’ve seen software developers who are all about themselves. They avoid the grunt work whenever possible, passing it off to other team members. When they review someone else’s code, they butcher it. When they participate in interviews, they are more focused on proving their technical prowess than on truly qualifying the candidate. From my experience, the people around them may respect their technical abilities, but they are not well liked and don’t end up in fulfilling roles. Then I see other software developers who volunteer for the more mundane assignments, help their teammates whenever they can and focus on the success of the project. They may get taken advantage of once in a while, but their teammates and supervisors like them. As a result, they develop a solid network that enables them to move between teams and companies without difficulty. Opportunity and good money almost always follow.

Avoid becoming political. I’ve seen software developers who jump in and play the politics found in many companies. They sabotage coworkers, are constantly looking over their shoulder and trying to position themselves for greatness. They spend more time on politics than on doing a quality job and eventually pay for it with their job. Then I see other software developers who give credit where credit is due, who help their coworkers succeed and who work hard for the benefit of everyone. They don’t necessarily ignore or avoid the politics, but they rise above the politics and do a quality job. These are the developers that end up with more career options than they know what to do with. These are the software developers others want to work with and are willing to pay for.

Image Credit: Modafinil

Image Credit: Modafinil

Be logical, not emotional. I’ve seen software developers who fly off the handle when asked to do something they view as beneath them, when required to interview in-person or asked to wear a suit to an interview. For these software developers, drama pervades their daily lives. They equate passion in general with being a good software developer, losing sight of the fact that they are developing not for the sake of developing, but to solve a business problem. Their coworkers become tired of the drama and let them get their way to avoid confrontation, but they don’t enjoy working with them. As a result, their options slowly become more and more limited, maybe without them even knowing it. Then I see software developers who understand that some short term pain can lead to long-term payoffs. They understand that sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do, not because it is the correct or better approach, but because it is the approach the business has decided upon. These software developers present their opinion in a reasoned manner and then move on. Their coworkers respect them for both having a logical opinion and for being reasonable when that opinion isn’t accepted. They grow in their careers and do well.

Enjoy yourself. I’ve seen people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who really don’t like what they’re doing. They may make a ton of money, but they’re miserable. They are toxic to the people around them and toxic to themselves. Then I see people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who enjoy their work, regardless of the fact that they don’t receive the highest pay or are required to work longer hours. They’re happy and people like to be around them. These are the people with whom I want to associate; the people who lift up those around them and, by doing so, lift up themselves.

Again, there are parts of Mr. Church’s article with which I agree, but there are other parts that seem to encourage a self-centered, it’s-all-about-me attitude. From the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met, I just don’t see that type of attitude fostering a successful career in any industry, let alone software development.