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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.

Quitting with Style

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services

Quitting a job, especially a long term position, can be packed with emotion.  You may feel guilty, elated, rebellious, scared and excited all at the same time.  Those emotions are normal, but don’t allow them to control your behavior when you quit your job.  To the best of your ability, remove all emotion from the interactions with your employer.  Focus on being professional, accommodating and gracious.

Being professional includes:

  • Providing two weeks of notice. Two weeks of notice to your employer is the unwritten rule and the two weeks should actually be two full weeks – it should not include you taking vacation time or calling in sick.  It is, however, the employer’s choice whether to keep you the full two weeks or let you go sooner.  Don’t take offense if they let you go early.  In some positions, it just doesn’t make sense to keep the employee around once they’ve given notice.
  • Communicating appropriately. The first person who should know you’re quitting is your direct supervisor.  Your notice, if at all possible, should be communicated in-person and should be documented with a resignation letter.  Keep it short, sweet and professional.  Don’t let your emotions take control.  Telling your coworkers, even the friends with whom you work, should be controlled by your employer.  They may or may not want you to talk to your coworkers about it – that is the employer’s choice, not yours.

Being accommodating includes:

  • Completing assigned tasks. Upon giving your notice, your employer may ask you to document your responsibilities, transition tasks to coworkers or even perform other work you wouldn’t normally be asked to do.  Within reason, of course, you should do your best to complete all tasks assigned during the last two weeks.  Your leaving will likely create a hole in the organization.  Your goal should be to make that hole as small as possible before you leave.

Being gracious includes:

  • Focusing on the positive. Every job has its positives and negatives.  For some odd reason, many people think that after they give their notice, they have a free pass to let it all hang out and tell their boss and coworkers what they really think of them.  This is a huge mistake.  Instead, think of the good things that happened (there has to be something) and thank your boss for the opportunity.  Keep it positive and leave your employer feeling as good as possible about your time at the company.

Quitting a job is typically not an easy decision or a comfortable situation.  Employers don’t always handle it as well as they should, but you should do your best to leave on good terms.  Remember, you can’t control how others react to you, but you can control how you react to others.  When you leave an employer, do it in a way that would make your mother proud.

Advice to Computer Science Grads – Class of 2016

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services

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 18 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.

For what it’s worth, here are my recommendations to all the new college graduates entering the software developer ranks in 2016:

  • 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.

  • 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.

Congratulations to those graduating from college this year!  May you all prosper and be happy!

HOW TO OVERCOME COMPUTER SCREENING AND GET THE JOB!

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services

Computer screening of candidates is here to stay, whether we like it or not.  Convincing large corporations do away with the perceived efficiencies and cost savings is as daunting as trying to “put toothpaste back in the tube,” as mentioned by my colleague.  Or to use yet another analogy, it’s like trying to swallow an elephant whole.  I, however, am here to tell you there is hope!

You can put the toothpaste back in that tube – all it takes is time and creativity.  You can eat a whole elephant – it takes time and you’ll need to cut it into bite sized pieces – but you can do it!  Likewise, it may take extra time and creativity, but there are things you can do in your job search to help you overcome the disadvantages inadvertently created by the overuse of computer screening.

  • Don’t rely on job boards. Relying on the job boards almost guarantees you’ll go into the black hole of computer screening.  Job boards are a great place to do research on what types of positions are available at a particular company, but are a terrible place to actually get a job.  Identify companies you’re interested in, research them on the job boards and then network.
  • If you don’t have a network, now would be a great time to start creating one.  Networking is the best way to get a job.  LinkedIn is a great networking tool for both staying in contact with people and for finding connections into that company you identified.  Ask them out for coffee and pick their brain about your target companies.  They may know someone.
  • Pick up the phone. Email is overused and easy to ignore or delete.  When reaching out to people in your network or hiring managers, don’t over-rely on email.  Pick up the phone and call the person.  You’ll likely get voicemail, but that gives you the opportunity to both leave a message and then send an email.  Be persistent – if they don’t respond after three days, try them again.  Persistence is required and usually rewarded.
  • Treat your resume like a proposal. When submitting your resume, tailor it to the position for which you are applying.  Use their terminology and highlight those skills and experiences that apply to the job.  This means taking some extra time and rewriting portions of your resume each time you apply for a position.  It will go a long way to helping you stand out from the crowd and may help you successfully navigate the computer screening problem.
  • Go old school – send hand-written thank you cards. After meeting or interviewing with someone, send them an old fashioned hand-written thank you card.  Again, email is overused and easy to ignore or delete.  A hand-written thank you card will get you noticed.
  • Celebrate small victories. Finding a job can be exhausting and frustrating.  Whether you like it or not, you have become a sales person and you are selling yourself.  Successful sales people celebrate the small victories to help keep motivated.  Break down the job hunting process into small steps and celebrate along the way.

The impersonal nature of computer screening is annoying, but think of it as an opportunity to set yourself apart.  While all those other candidates are unwittingly wasting their time submitting resumes through job boards, you’re meeting people and making progress towards finding that perfect job.  It may feel like you’re trying to put toothpaste back in the tube, or swallow an elephant whole, but you can do it!

WHY EVEN WORK WITH A RECRUITER?

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager

Hello 2016!  It seems like it will be a busy year for IT hiring, with positions going unfilled, and an overall lack of IT talent on the market.  That means many companies will be using recruiters to help them fill positions, both permanent and contract in nature.  I’ve read a lot of articles on recruiters, most of them unflattering.  However, recruiters DO place literally thousands of people every year in positions.  Here are my best ideas on why you should work with recruiters (good ones, anyway).

First, and most obviously, they have access to positions you don’t.  Period.  And even if the position the agency recruiter brings to you is actually out there on the internet somewhere, would you really have found it?  And to take it another step, even if you had found the position and applied, your online resume would have been run through an internal filter, be it an ATS (applicant tracking system) or human screening.  Most agencies work directly with the hiring manager, so your resume gets to the right place.

Secondly, a recruiter can help you make the most out of your experience on your resume.  Chances are you don’t have everything you ever did, professionally, on your resume.  (If you do, you are either entry-level or your resume is waaaaaaay too long.)  Recruiters should know what the key skills are that the manager wants, and can help you make sure you highlight how your experience fits.  Most corporate job descriptions don’t really tell you what the manager wants, so when you apply online, you aren’t necessarily attacking the right points.

And finally, let’s deal with compensation.  I’ve seen and heard many times that candidates should never tell a recruiter what they’re currently making, and sometimes not even what their salary requirements are.  That’s ridiculous.  First and foremost, for permanent positions, recruiters are paid based on your starting salary.  So they are motivated to get you MORE money, not less.  And they should have an idea of what the hiring manager’s range is, and can help you come it at a number that works for you and the client, and again, maximize your chances of getting a job.  For contracts, well, you might feel as though the recruiter is squeezing money out of you.  But truthfully?  A few dollars on your rate doesn’t mean a ton to the recruiter in terms of commissions.  It means a lot more to get you placed, so if you have an honest conversation, you should be able to come to an agreement that works for both of you. 

I also want to address something I’ve heard a lot over the years:  This idea that since a recruiter is marking up your rate, they’re taking money that YOU should rightfully be earning.  Let’s be honest.  You likely never ever would have found that contract without the recruiter bringing it to you.  A lot of the time, you haven’t even heard of the company who is hiring!  So you’re telling me you would have found that contract at that obscure small company and applied?  And finally, many, many companies don’t contract directly to individuals.  They only work through agencies.  So you had no chance at getting that contract by yourself anyway.  Make sense?

I am in no way insinuating that there aren’t crappy recruiters out there.  There are.  Just like there are crappy technical candidates too.  And crappy pilots, and bartenders, and chefs and every other profession.  Just because you have one bad experience doesn’t mean you should write off all recruiters.  When you get a bad meal at a restaurant, you don’t stop going out to eat altogether, do you?  So find a few recruiters who you trust, and with whom you have a good rapport, and you can work together and help each other.

As always, please drop me a line anytime at ecobb@quantixinc.com.  Thanks!