2014 & Beyond Economic Outlook

Last week I attended a technical staffing conference and one of the more interesting keynotes was from economist Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics. If you’ve heard an economist speak you know they like to use charts & graphs and usually leave you wondering if you should prepare your doomsday castle. The good news Alan had for us was technology is going to continue to be an industry with high growth and high demand for the foreseeable future. He pointed to several factors to remain optimistic about our economy overall:

  • Leading indicators are pointing up.
  • The government & Fed continues their stimulative monetary policy.
  • Employment is rising (companies right‐sized).
  • Banks are lending.
  • Retail Sales are rising.
  • Construction is improving.
  • Deficit spending continues.

While you can argue continued deficit spending is just kicking the can down the road, it does provide reasons for short-term optimism. Other positive indicators in the marketplace included dropping delinquency on consumer debt, rising manufacturing, and an abundance of natural resources (especially natural gas) within our borders. However, as all economists tend to do, he gave us the good news first. He feels there is cause for concern in 2014 because of • Stagnant wage growth and ongoing high unemployment.

  • Food, fuel and rent inflation.
  • Higher payroll and Affordable Care Act taxes.
  • An unclear deficit reduction plan.
  • A looming bond and stock bubble.

The ACA is a hot button with a lot of people, and there’s no doubt it’s going to result in higher taxes, but when you look at the increase vs. the GDP there’s been many other pieces of legislation with greater impact including the “Read my Lips, No New Taxes” Bush increase in 1990 and the Clinton increase in 1993. Even Reagan’s increase in 1982 was a higher percentage of GDP than ACA.

The take-away was that 2014 is going to be a year where we’ll see little growth, with the possibility that there will be a small set-back as people and companies adjust to the new healthcare law. Overall he was optimistic about things over the next 15 years. Which is good news for everyone.

National Career Summit Nov 4th – 15th

There’s a two week online job seeker program chock-full of great speakers and topics. Rather than put these events in the calendar I am going to put them in this blog post and keep it active through the 15th.

Full Details can be found at THIS LINK.  Daily topics include:

Monday, Nov 4th
Resume Writing
Personal Branding
Negotiating: Get More Money in Your Next Job in Any Economy (Or a Raise in Your Current Job)

Tues, Nov 5th
Tapping into the Hidden Job Market
Choosing a Professional Resume Writer
Setting Career Goals and Planning Your Career Path

Wed, Nov 6th
The #1 Formula to Win in a Difficult Job Market
Developing a Professional Network
Staying Motivated and Avoiding Depression During Times of Unemployment

Thurs, Nov 7th
What’s New Hot and Hidden on LinkedIn
Interviewing Skills 101
What NOT to Wear on a Job Interview.

Friday, Nov 8th
New Trends in Resume Writing
Getting Yourself in Front of the Right People with LinkedIn
Climbing the Corporate Ladder (Growing in your Current Organization)

Sun, Nov 10th (Bonus Day)
Break all the Rules and Get that Dream Job!

Mon, Nov 11th
How to Navigate Applicant Tracking Systems
The Importance of Securing a Professional Internship
Earn What You’re Really Worth

Tues, Nov 12th
Build Your Online Reputation: How to Create the Right Digital Dirt
Discovering and Removing Obstacles in Your Job Search
How to Find a Career that Excites You

Wed, Nov 13th
Preparing Veterans and Others for Federal Employment
How to Communicate for Success in your Job Search
Entrepreneurship: Creating a Business Plan

Thurs, Nov 14th
Great Jobs for Everyone 50+
Networking (On and Off line)
Twitter and Facebook For Job Seekers

Fri, Nov 15th
How to do Research to Find the Job You Want
The Art of Self Promotion
Why Cover Letters Are Dead

What an outstanding opportunity to learn from experts across the country.

Wearing a Mask?

Halloween is a great holiday. The kids get to dress up as their favorite super hero, or a princess and run around the neighborhood to collect candy. It’s also a chance for adults to pretend to be someone else, and escape from who they are for a night. Unfortunately there are people who wear a mask on days other than Halloween.

As a recruiter I have seen my share of “masked” resumes. From blatant dishonesty & stretching the truth to simply fudged dates, some people feel they need to hide or gloss over something. Others feel the need to put on a mask in an interview so they stand out as the best person for the job, even if the job is not a good fit or they’re not interested. We’ve all worked with someone who said one thing, and did another – arguably the worst kind of mask has two faces.

Wearing a mask only adds to the anxiety of going through the search process. If you go into an interview trying to be the person you think they want, rather than the person you are, your mask is going to get in the way of finding a great fit. Let them see who you are – warts and all. We all have weaknesses – don’t mask them by saying your weakness is you have a hard time finding work/life balance or you care too much.

It doesn’t matter how much you want to pretend – eventually the real you is going to be doing the work. Take off the mask and let that you shine.

Permanent Positions

Few things in our lives upset the apple cart as much as an unexpected job change. I’ve had the experience of going into work in the morning and walking out with my things in a box before lunch. It’s not fun. If you’re currently on furlough from the government you know the bills don’t stop. Most people don’t like change so we all seek stability in our lives. Which from a career perspective means a permanent position to many people.

But what is a permanent position? Most people would define it as a job where an employer hires you directly to their payroll. In my business that’s called a “direct hire” which is far from a permanent position. My father got his MBA from the University of Iowa and started working for the state of Iowa in 1962. He retired in 1997 and still spends several hours a week consulting to the state writing grants. That’s a permanent job. Unfortunately in today’s marketplace its unheard of that someone works at the same company for 40+ years, even if it’s the government.

We all know someone that took a job directly with an employer and was looking again within months – some within days or weeks. Conversely, I know people who have been with their employer for over a decade after getting their start as a temporary resource (aka contractor). Whether it’s direct to the employer payroll through internal or agency recruiters, or working as a contractor, the mechanism employers use to fill positions in their organization is not always related to the long-term viability of the position.

Permanent positions are a myth in today’s market. In the 1960’s when our parents went to work, career stability came from their employer and it’s pension program. Today career stability comes from your ability to port your talents, ability, and background from one employer to the next. In that sense a consulting career is a great training ground to go in, get the job done, and move on.

I’m not saying ditch all direct to employer opportunities and become a contractor. If you haven’t already, start developing relationships with several recruiters that work in your “space” and listen to what they have to offer from time to time. Not considering contract / contract to hire work means you miss out on pportunities that can build your abilities and increase your future marketability.

The question you ask yourself when a recruiter calls should not be “is this a permanent position?” The question you need to ask is “will this help me grow and position me to get where I want to go?” The best way to answer that question is through the discovery process with the recruiter and their client.

Career Search CPR

Last week I attended a Lees Summit Fire and Rescue “Call and Pump” training program. It was a 2 hour class designed to teach you how to handle a person who has collapsed. The first thing they taught us was to make an assessment of the person which requires asking yourself three questions and making an observation after each question.

Are they moving?
Are they breathing?
Do they have a pulse?

If the answer is no to the first question you move on to the second and third questions. A yes answer at any point means call 911 and continue to observe the person. A no answer to the third question means you need to start CPR.

The hope is by the time the paramedics get there you’ve kept the blood and residual oxygen flowing through the patient’s brain and they have a chance at survival. It was a great session and I feel confident if someone collapsed I would be able to handle the situation until the paramedics arrived.

At this point you might be asking “are you saying my career heartbeat is gone and I now have a 25% chance of survival?” Not at all. There’s lesson is in the training. If you’re struggling with your search you need to ask yourself some questions.

What am I doing?
Why am I doing it?
Is it working?
What else should I be doing?

Unlike the CPR classes, these are not “yes/no” questions. These are questions that require some critical thought. Much like CPR, they work best when you have other people around to help. Once you go through the three CPR questions you don’t just stop observing the person. You’re always looking for signs of life. Same with your search – you need to constantly monitor the situation and ask these questions.

One final lesson. If someone has collapsed and their heart has stopped if you do nothing they are going to die. If you apply these techniques you might crack their ribs or cause some other damage, but any damage you cause can be fixed. You can’t fix dead. Finding the right job can be frustrating. Some people don’t have the patience and fortitude to see it through. When you give up it’s over. You need to keep pumping. Break a few ribs – that stuff can be fixed.

CPR is an important skill. Career CPR may not save a life, but it certainly will make life more meaningful.

Ch-ch-ch-Changes

David Bowie wrote in his famous song “every time I think I got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.”

I talk to many people who don’t like their job. Some are under utilized, others work in a negative environment.  Many are under appreciated, underpaid, and frustrated. Is this what you expected when you signed your employment agreement? I doubt it. Nearly everyone is excited about the first day on a job.

So what changed? Either something changed at the company or something changed with you. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Maybe the company started to struggle and puts more pressure on you to perform. You got “re-organized” into a new role. You got a new boss. Your life circumstances change. The office moved 30 miles further away from your home. Family circumstances changed putting more pressure on you. The list goes on.

When these changes take place you need to make a decision. Either you accept the new situation and continue to give your best or it’s time to go. If you decide to stay, you can’t harbor ill feelings about “the good old days.” If you decide to go you can’t check out. You need to continue to work with integrity, giving your best effort when on the clock.

More importantly, you need to maintain a positive attitude. Sour grapes will only make your current situation worse. It also can hurt you as you move forward. When talking to a potential new employer you don’t need to dwell on the reason you’re leaving. Quite to the contrary, a short and simple explanation about the change is a great precursor to talk about why you’re excited about the new job.

Most people don’t like change but change in inevitable. The people employers want to hire are the ones that can “turn and face the strange” with hope and enthusiasm.

Weaknesses

What good is a “Strengths” post without a “Weaknesses” post?  There’s plenty of people who dread this question.  God forbid we share some of our imperfections with a potential employer.  Much like strengths, when I ask this question there’s a slate of standard responses that don’t mean a thing.

“I’m a work-a-holic”

“I care too much.”

“I can be a perfectionist”

“I take on too much responsibility”

Those answers (or variations on the theme) can be considered weaknesses, but without telling me how it hurts you I just think you’re hiding your true weaknesses and giving me pat answers that can be construed as a strength.  Don’t try to turn your weakness into a strength.  We all have soft-spots in our make-up.  Much like strengths, this question requires more than just a short catch phrase.

Common weaknesses (beyond those mentioned above) include lack of patience, distractions, fear of public speaking, time management, and organization.  All excellent points to jump in to talk about your shortcomings.  With that said, there’s weaknesses that should be pretty obvious to leave out of the discussion.  Those “caustic” weaknesses include narcissism, lack of integrity, laziness… you get the idea.  We all know people with these traits, employers don’t want them on the payroll.

How to Handle the Weaknesses Question

I would not consider myself a hot-head, but I am pretty high strung and sometimes my emotions can get the better of me.  I’ve had some arguments with people in the past, but its not something that happens every week.

BUZZ!  Wrong Answer Dave!!  Do Not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect Your New Job.

You need a ‘narrative’ of some sort that follows the same formula as the strength formula.  Start by describing a situation or set of circumstances in general terms.  If the interviewer wants you to give examples be ready to go into specific details.

I’ve had situations where I felt strongly about something and argued with a co-worker.  I know losing your cool is not something that should be tolerated in a professional environment and as I’ve matured I’ve learned to be more sympathetic to the other person and, if it’s necessary, to take a little time before responding to an idea or point of view contrary to mine. I certainly have let my emotions get the better of me, but I have learned to recognize when things are heating up and have taken steps to maintain composure.

Do you think the interviewer has had a run in with a co-worker in the past?  I’m not describing anything that they probably haven’t personally experienced.  I’ve admitted the behavior is not acceptable, and have offered my solution to dealing with the weakness.

It’s a simple formula.  Know the areas you need to improve and be able to articulate what those areas are and what you’re doing to make it better.  A thoughtful answer is an honest assessment of your flaws.  Everyone makes mistakes, the thing I’m interesting in hearing is can you admit them and how you’ve worked to correct them.

Remembering 9/11

Today is the 12th anniversary of the horrific attacks on our country.   “Never Forget” is the rally cry of this day.  But there have been many similar acts of war long, long forgotten.  Wars fought by ancestors we never knew.  Thousands gave their lives in the 18th century to lay the foundation of our great nation.  Hundreds of thousands when our country was torn apart in the middle of the 19th century.   Even Pearl Harbor and the horrors of WWII have faded from our collective memory.

12 years ago we were attacked by cowards who used our own citizens and airplanes as weapons.  What’s most inspiring from that day is once our citizens realized what was going on, they fought back – and won.   Flight 93 never reached its intended target.

12 years ago today we went to war.  A war unlike any other we’ve ever fought.  A war that is not over.  A war that will likely never be over.  We are at war with an idealism that has been around for millenia.  We cannot forget 9/11 because the minute we do our enemies will be embolden to try again.

I don’t think 9/11 will be forgotten.  The images of that day are too powerful.  Those of us who experienced that day remember it well.  Those of us who didn’t experience that day see it played out again and again in the media every year.

Today I pray for those who lost their lives 12 years ago.  I pray for the families that only have memories and pictures to cherish.  For the children who will never know their mother or father.  I pray for our nation’s leaders.  May they have the wisdom to keep us safe.  I also pray for our enemy.  I pray their hard hearts will fade from the generations and the children being indoctrinated with hate will turn to love.

May we never forget.

Strengths

At some point in any interview there will be a line of questioning that is designed to elicit your strengths.  The question will come in many forms, but it all boils down to a discussion about your capabilities.

The “question” I use most often to uncover strengths is “Tell me what you bring to the table”.   I’ve asked the question hundreds (if not thousands) of times.  99% of the time I get short answers with absolute no substance.  It’s gotten to a point that it’s so predictable it’s comical.

“I love to interact with / am good with people.”

“I’m very organized / detail oriented.”

“I’m driven / will go above and beyond.”

“I’m a problem solver.”

“I’m a good listener / have great communication skills.”

“I’m a good team player.”

Those answers tell me nothing about your strengths.  Using a generic answer that nearly 100% of the population would reach for when asked the same question is not going to impress anyone. As a matter of fact, if your answer consists of nothing but a recitation of a combination of the above statements you’re not going to make many short lists.

Employers definitely need you to be good with people.  That means you need to be thoughtful when dealing with their employees and customers, including the interviewer.   Perhaps you should give them a thoughtful answer.  Here’s an example of how I could answer a question about my strengths.

My entire career has been spent convincing people to take action.  I’ve built enough trust in the first exchange with people to persuade them to purchase products that cost tens of thousands of dollars.  I am sincere about working with others to uncover what they’re seeking and help them find it.  I can sympathize with people who might be agitated and will do my best to work with them to resolve the issue.  Throughout my career I’ve been given leadership opportunities and have built and developed successful teams of salespeople and recruiters.  Frankly, one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my career has been working with people, and I’m very good at it.

A thoughtful answer defines characteristics an employer seeks and demonstrates those attributes.  Make sure you understand how your talent aligns with what the employer needs and articulate that alignment in the interview when asked about your strengths.

You may note the above answer doesn’t follow the “Situation / Action / Result” formula.  The reason I would not go too deep into a specific “story” is if you take much more than 30-45 seconds to answer the question you’re going to start losing them.  In my example they may want to dig deeper so I certainly would be ready to talk about specific situations where I closed a five figure deal in one-call or built and managed a team.

Starting your answer with the generic “I’m good with people” is what everyone else is doing.  Take a half a minute or so to unpack the reasoning and finish with the strength.  The likely follow up question will be to speak to other strengths so be ready to follow the formula again.

What is going to give the employer a better understanding of your capabilities?  Taking 15 seconds to say “I’m detail oriented, good with people, uh… organized, and a hard worker” or 20 minute discussion on what you bring to the table?

With all this being said, there will be times where you get interviewers asking you what I consider to be “lazy” interview questions.  Hopefully you won’t be asked to “Describe Yourself in Four Words”, but that’s a strength question so have four words ready to unpack.

PS.  If I was a tree I would be the tree in my backyard so I could be close to my family.

My Thoughts on the Future of the KC Tech Market

If your background has anything to do with the software development life cycle I’ve got some good news for you. Over the past 18 – 24 months it seems everyone I know is experiencing exponential growth in activity.  Existing clients are hiring across the board and new & emerging client activity has increased dramatically.   All indicators point to the conclusion that things won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Demand for the “bread and butter” resources in dev, QA, analysis and support continues to grow.   In addition, I am seeing more opportunities in high level strategic roles in architecture, management & leadership that are generally filled through internal promotions.

Technology related start-up activity in Kansas City is at an all-time high.  Sprint has been given an infusion of capital through the Softbank merger and gained crucial LTE spectrum through the acquisition of Clearwire.  Cerner expects to hire 15,000 more local technology professionals in the next 5-7 years.  YRC even seems to be digging out of their hole.

It seems everyone is hiring technology professionals these days.

All the activity we’re experiencing at RiverPoint, coupled with everything I’m reading in the local and national business publications leads down the same road – the Department of Labor wasn’t kidding in 2009 when they predicted a 30%+ growth in demand in our sector through 2016.

Great news for technology professionals in Kansas City.