The Holiday Break

Many people take time between Christmas and New Year’s to de-stress and spend time with family.

This is also a good time to do some reading and planning for your career. New Year’s resolutions are coming, too. Identify some career goals for the next year and use the time to map out a plan. Or polish your resume. Then, if and when you need it, It’ll be there.

It’s also a good time to discuss your career with your spouse/partner or friends. Allow them to help you sort through your plans and options.

Happy Holidays

The Career Ladder

Career ladders do not always need to be vertical.

As you think about managing your IT career, mixing it up may be more important than stepping it up. Not everyone is cut out for team leadership or management. It’s good to know and understand that about yourself. No one wants to be the embodiment of Peter’s Principle.

Like a good garden, turning the soil and rotating crops makes for a better growing seasons over time. As you look at your career, think about positions and roles that will give your new vitality and a chance to grow your skills. This is particularly important in IT work. Technologies have ever-shortening life spans. The ability to gain more skills as a versatilist may well provide more job security–and satisfaction–over time.

You can also descend the ladder. This is sometimes a strategy for those who have life changes or find that they are bettered suited to a position with less responsibility.

The Interview

Last week I wrote about Resumes that say something.  Once you get invited for an interview, now you really need to say something. You’re no longer on paper, you’re in person.

You don’t need to be a stage performer or attempt to be someone you are not. In fact, interviewers are looking to see a genuine you. Yet there are interview fundamentals that are relatively easy.

  1. Manage the first impression: Dress for the part, look people in the eye and know how to shake hands. Simple things, but you’d be surprised how few people do this. Even if it’s an IT position in your own organization, lose the IT casual look. This is a job interview. Show them you are serious by looking sharp. Depending on the job, this does not always mean a suit, but look to the role and what is expected. Look everyone in the eyes and smile when introduced. Shake hands like a professional. Not too hard, not the limp fish. Just a firm handshake that conveys that you are happy to be there.
  2. Know the organization and their needs: Do your homework. Research the organization and its overall mission. Find out as much as you can about the unit or department in which you would work. You can often find information on the internet, but it’s best to talk with people. If the position is in your current organization, take a few people to coffee and ask them them about the role and what they think is needed. If elsewhere, find a few people and email them a polite request for a few minutes of their time…you’d like to learn more about the position and what is needed. Important: this is not a time to ask a question and then toot your horn. This is a listening exercise. You learn by listening more and talking less. If that is difficult for you, try extra hard.
  3. Be prepared for questions they will ask of you: Here is where preparation can really pay off. There are a wealth of resources on the web by googling ‘job interview questions.’ Start with some of these. Why are you attracted to the position? What are your greatest accomplishments? How do you work in teams? Why would you leave your current role? Describe your relationship with your past supervisor? What have you read in the last year? Who are your heroes/heroines? If you were to be hired for the job and after one year, what would you hope to be your greatest accomplishments? And better yet, why should we hire you over any of the other candidates? Many interviews may ask for a prepared statement from you. They may give you ten minutes to answer a question. Even if they don’t, prepare for one. Get some 3×5 cards and write down the ten most important things they need to know about you and why you would be successful in the role. If you are asked, you’ll be prepared. If not, you’ll look impressive. (Like Letterman.) Final tip, don’t talk too much. Be prepared with shorter answers and let them know you can always expand if they would like more. Watch their faces. If they looked glassy-eyed or bored, time to stop talking.
  4. Be prepared to ask questions of them: From step 2 above, you should be able to have 3-5 questions about the job and the organization. Avoid the mundane and strive for some bell-ringers. Ask about how they would define the success of someone in the role after one year. Or, what is the history of the organization and in particular, this role? How does the organization foster a sense of teamwork and commitment? How are decisions made within the organization? What is the perception of others of this particular unit or organization? You get the drift. You may only get time for one or two, and some may be answered during the course of their questions. But when they ask you about questions you have for them, you will be prepared.

Three other suggestions. Practice. If you have an interview coming, ask a confidant or mentor to conduct a practice interview. Treat it as real and ask for feedback. A colleague recently did this with me. She dressed, came prepared, went through the trial run and then absorbed the feedback I gave her. She prepared more and nailed the interview two days later.

Second, put your line in the water and start responding to job ads. If you can get interviews, you have the opportunity to hone your skills. You get to practice, you learn more about yourself and other organizations, and you have a degree of control. Interviewing is a skill that, like others, needs to be honed over time. Your goal is to land an offer. What you do with it is decision point that comes later.

And third, take a few minutes after the interview to send a quick thank you.

There is a wealth of information out there. There is no excuse for not being prepared and knowing the fundamentals. Do your homework. This is a good inclusive site here. Lots of great interview questions to help you prepare.