John Hutchins

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.

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!

Consultant Checklist – Holding Recruiters to a Higher Standard

By: John Hutchins, VP of Client Relations 

Does this sound familiar?  You’re driving your kids somewhere and get an unexpected call from a recruiter:

“Hello.”

Recruiter: “Hi, this is Beth from XYZ Consulting Group.  I found your resume on Dice and thought you might be interested in a software development opportunity that just opened up.”

“Sure, tell me about it.”

Recruiter: “Well, I don’t have much detail.  It’s with a company in Denver and they need someone with three skills – Java, J2EE and Agile.  Does that fit your skill set?”

“Yes, it does.”

Recruiter: “Great!  I’ll submit you immediately. Does $75 per hour sound fair?”

“Yeah, that works.”

Recruiter: “Great! Talk to you later. Bye.”

You’re busy, you possess a skill set that is in high demand and recruiters are calling you all of the time with opportunities that rarely come to fruition.  I get it that many recruiters don’t do a good job and, as a result, you don’t want to spend much time talking with them, but a lack of curiosity on the part of consultants only contributes to the problem and may very well come back to bite you!  Here’s a checklist of the minimum information you should require of a recruiter before giving them permission to represent you:

  • Client Name: It is amazing to me how many consultants give permission to be represented by a recruiter without knowing the name of the end client.  If you don’t know the name of the client, how do you keep track of where you’re being submitted?  Many clients are unwilling to consider you if they receive your resume from multiple recruiters.  If a recruiter is unwilling to divulge the name of the client, something is wrong.  Maybe the recruiter doesn’t have permission to recruit for that client.  Plain and simple – don’t give permission to be submitted without knowing where you’re being submitted.
  • Project Details: The recruiter may not be able to answer all of your questions or know intimate details, but they should be able to provide the basics regarding the opportunity.  What does the client do?  What will I be working on?  How big is the team?  Why are they filling this position?  These are basic questions the recruiter should be able to answer.  If they can’t answer these questions or are unable / unwilling to get the answers, I recommend thinking twice before letting them represent you.  They obviously either don’t have a good relationship with the client or don’t know what they’re doing.
  • You would think this is so basic that it goes without mentioning, but there are candidates out there who agree to be submitted to a client without fully understanding where they will be working or whether they’ll be reimbursed for relocation and travel expenses.  It’s a waste of time for everyone if you go through the process and get an offer, only to find out that the lodging expense is far higher than you imagined.  Be sure to work out the location details in advance and do your homework so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.
  • Employment Status: Recruiters are sometimes able to work with you in a variety of ways, such as a W2 employee or 1099 subcontractor or 1099 corp to corp.  If you’re planning to be their employee, they may have options with regard to the benefits they offer.  Before letting a recruiter submit you to a client, be sure to understand what your employment status will be and the benefits or perks to which you’ll be entitled.  It’s better to nail this down up front when you have some negotiating power, rather than waiting until after you’ve gone through the interview process and the offer is on the table.
  • I’ve never actually run across a consultant who has agreed to be submitted without discussing rate in some fashion.  I, however, have talked with consultants who weren’t provided a specific rate, but a rate range.  Don’t settle for a “rate range.”  The recruiter will likely be thinking the low end of the range and you’ll likely be thinking the top end of the range.  Allowing the recruiter to submit you to their client based on a rate range will only create the potential for chaos at the end of the process.  Agreeing to a specific rate up front will make the offer and acceptance stage more enjoyable and less stressful.

The moral to this story is to take responsibility for yourself, demand quality information from the recruiters with whom you work and be organized in your approach to consulting.  Once you start requiring recruiters to act like the professionals they claim to be, the good recruiters will rise to the challenge and you’ll find they can add value by helping you find quality consulting gigs.

Six critical questions candidates should ask during an interview

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Relations

I interview candidates for a living – candidates for our clients’ technical positions, as well as candidates for our internal sales, recruiting and resource management positions.  Rarely do candidates ask good questions.  I typically get the standard questions about how many candidates are interviewing for the position, how soon we’ll be making a decision and what are the next steps.  Don’t get me wrong, these are ok questions, but they aren’t giving you much worthwhile information.  Here are six questions every candidate should ask during an interview, the earlier in the interview process, the better:

  1. What did you see in my resume that prompted you to contact me for this position? The information you gather from this question will help you with the current position and potentially with tailoring your resume for future positions.  With regard to the current position, the answer gives you additional insight into what is important.  Asking this question early in the interview process enables you to tailor your answers to what they deem is important.   With regard to future positions, the answer helps you understand how recruiters review resumes and what caught their eye.  You may be able to use this to your advantage when applying for future positions.
  2. What is the profile of the ideal candidate for this position? This is an obvious question to ask, but is rarely asked by candidates during the interview process.  Again, asking this early in the interview process will give you an edge.  With this answer in hand, you’ll be able to focus your answers and ensure you cover the interviewer’s actual hot buttons, rather than perceived hot buttons.
  3. In what areas do I match that profile? A seasoned sales professional once told me that convincing someone to buy rarely works.  Instead, you need to help them convince themselves that they want to buy.  This question follows the same logic.  Your goal here is to help the interviewer solidify in their mind why you’re a good fit for the position.  It also helps you to validate whether or not you’re effectively communicating your strengths.  If they fail to mention experience that you obviously possess and that is obviously necessary for the job, you may want to rethink how you’re communicating that experience.
  4. In what areas are you unsure whether I match the profile? Notice that this is a softball question by design.  Using the word, “unsure,” helps to soften the question.  It implies that they are unsure, not that you are lacking in some skill.  The interviewer is more likely to give you quality feedback just based on how you ask the question.  In contrast, asking the interviewer what they perceive to be your weaknesses puts the interviewer in a difficult spot.  No one wants to tell someone else about their “weaknesses” or how they “don’t fit.”  If you ask the question with such finality, you’ll likely receive a fluff answer, such as, “Nothing comes to mind” or “I think you’re a great fit.”  As a result, you’ll never have the opportunity to help them be sure.
  5. What else can I provide to help you make the correct decision – more detail, references, personality test, etc.? As with question #4, phrasing is everything.  It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.  With this question, it’s implied that the “correct decision” could go either way.  You’re not being cocking by assuming you are the “correct decision.”  Instead, you’re a consultant of sorts, trying to help them determine the best course of action.  Just by asking this question, you’re exuding qualities that most employers are looking for – selflessness, team work and honesty.  In addition, if they do have unanswered questions, it may provide you with the opportunity to provide information that sways them in your direction.
  6. With regard to other people who have been in this role, what have they done well and what were their biggest challenges? This is one of the best questions you can ask.  It typically results in cornucopia of valuable information.  This question often times helps you get under the hood, so to speak, to see what really is happening, and more importantly, the baggage you’ll be inheriting.  Regardless of your decision, it is always good to enter a new situation with reasonable expectations and your eyes wide open.

Asking these six questions will help you refine your interview performance, provide insight into what recruiters / managers are truly seeking in candidates, and help you determine whether or not this is a good fit for you.  Don’t ask questions for the sake of asking questions.  Instead, ask questions to obtain valuable information that will help you succeed – whatever that means for you.

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!