Wednesday, January 17, 2007

RR about career opportunities

I recently finished search for a new job and wanted to share some random reflections (RR). It may help someone or myself after a few years. If you have additional insights, do share.

No particular order or organization for these jottings. Just random but hopefully relevant. More will follow for next few days.

1) I find it is fascinating that an interviewer with a very reputed software company said this to me. Very very nice of him. In his own words – “discount at least 25% of everything what you see in every person to reach an estimate of how they will perform if offered the job.” The explanation was meaningful. Not everyone is able to bring the same level of energy, ambition, enthusiasm, upbeatness (add other positive attributes) on daily basis to work. It is good to expect that things change, problems in life occur, job becomes boring and what not and the person’s level of fire does swing and it is best to assume that you can at the best expect 75% of his best. This is based on the assumption that most of the people are at their best during interviews if they are serious about having a best shot in getting the job. What an insight?! Makes perfect sense to me. Lesson learnt – raise the level of your over all energy by several notches during the interview. That way, even after discounting, you stand a good chance. Of course, it goes without saying that, if you experience serious swings in things that matter to your employer down the line, it may affect your career adversely. That’s a different thing altogether. This insight is going to help me more when I have to interview people to hire  than getting hired myself.

2) Job Market, as of early 2007, is excellent. People with right skills can find the job in no time. People with good knowledge but average skills can also find jobs. Knowledge is what you know. Skills is what you can do. If you have ace skills in the areas employer is looking, you can probably land your dream job in less than 2 weeks provided you have done your homework and you truly are such a skillful person. But, what eventually matters is to have a good balance of skills and knowledge and leverage all opportunities to transform your knowledge into skills. Knowledge is part of the preparation to seize opportunity to develop skills. Example – even as a developer you can take a course in project management and when the opportunity presents, you can seize it to gain real-life project management skills. Same with getting education in related fields so that you can offer yourself to take on additional responsibilities in the areas where you do not have direct skills. I can not emphasize how much employers value a person who can do this. It makes every sense to let someone who they already know and can do a decent job given time and opportunity than to bring someone from outside. This is how people who start off as programmers become CEOs. There is no magic in it. So, when you have time to learn, learn. Opportunities are plenty, it is our lack of preparedness to seize them is the problem.

3) Interviews are as much an opportunity for you to gauge the employers as it is for them to gauge you. Do follow your gut feelings. If not comfortable with the people or company, please do pass the opportunity. It is miserable to get into a place where your gut says you are going to flunk.

4) Resume - Always keep your resume current. You do not know when you gonna need one. At least update once in every quarter. Still better once every month. This is where keeping a journal helps. You are not going to miss accomplishments or things you have done if you maintain a journal on daily basis. Keeping a journal on daily basis is not an easy thing to do. Another way but not as effective is to write a summary of your professional life every week end. Takes additional time but works well. Just spend 1-2 hours referring to your calendar of the week that has just gone by. Remember all the meetings you attended, people you met, phone calls you made and e-mails received and sent. Outlook offers a nice way to group the e-mails by conversation. Use that to get to the summary of a bunch of e-mails on the same subject. Using these and any other, write up a nice summary for the week. Include accomplishments, lessons learnt, what could have been done better. Also capture all relevant experience. If you are generalist and going to work in general management or project management, many questions in the interviews are going to be behavioral or situational. Analyzing our experiences and summarizing them only helps us get better us answering such questions better. More about that in the next point.

5) For general management and project management positions, behavioral questions or situational questions are what going to decide if you are going to get the job offer or not. Questions which ask you to describe a difficult situation, how you handled it, what you learnt from it form the core of such questions. You can not manufacture such scenarios if you have not kept track of real life experiences. What matters more is to have had a experience or something close than if you managed to come out of it successfully. It's much better have had a difficult experience, failed at it, learnt some good lessons and be able to talk about it than to say to the interviewer that you can not recall any such experience. Questions such as - tell me the most difficult conflict you resolved, how do you deal with difficult people etc. etc. need solid preparation drawn from real life. Do not attempt to manufacture questions and answers, good interviewers can easily spot them. Experience when not real and genuine does not fly.

6) Give up cynicism about interviewers. I met some incredibly nice people during last few months. It always helps to know their feedback especially in the cases where you thought you had an excellent interview but did not get the job. If you work your way well, by the end of the interview process, you would have had spoken to hiring manager at least twice. Use those to develop rapport by being direct, honest and genuinely seeking their feedback. People want to help more than we care to give them that chance. I as a matter of fact try to end my final interview with the hiring manager on something on the lines such as - "if I do not get your favorable consideration, I at least hope to get 10 minutes of your time sometime later to understand what swayed your decision other way." There was one opportunity which I thought I almost had it. But, did not. The hiring manager was wonderful. She called me back after I left her a voicemail after hearing negative decision from HR. We spoke for 10 mins and she gave me solid feedback on where I excelled and where the candidate they had chosen excelled. She also gave me some other good suggestion. Overall it felt much better regardless of the outcome. In fact, she even got back to after 2-3 weeks with few other leads and one of them did land a telephonic interview. So, do not think interviewers are just that. If you ask for serious feedback and are reasonable with your requests, they will help. This feedback is going to help you prepare better for other interviews.

7) Two good books to read to help you prepare well for the entire job search process - "What color is your parachute?" and "Guerilla marketing for job hunters". Excellent books. Buy them if you can.

8) If you are looking for jobs in general management, product/project management, use LinkedIn. Excellent postings. Many times you can use your network to have someone introduce you the job poster. What can be better? The job opportunity that I accepted ended up being one of the opportunities that a VP, Engineering had posted. Even for pure technical jobs, is a good source among other career sources.

9) Resume - always have a summary section listing your high level credentials and important experiences. If you have a solid summary section in your resume right at the top, rest of the format, length etc. is not going to matter much. If people like your summary, they are going to skim thru rest of it, if not they would have never bothered to skim thru it anyway.

10) Telephonic interviews are becoming almost the de facto first step in the interviews. At least 2 to 4 telephonic interviews will happen before someone is willing to spend their valuable time in meeting you in person. So, take the telephonic interview very seriously starting with the first one with HR coordinator to one with the hiring manager and others in the team. Some things that can help with telephonic interviews -1) always schedule a time. That way you can be prepared 2) Organize on logistics. Where,when and how are you going to do telephonic interviews. 3) Stand up while you give telephonic interviews. It helps to develop depth to your voice. 4) Always start off making sure that you and the other party can hear well 5) When the telephonic interviews are scheduled, always remember to get the phone number of the person who is going to call you. If you do not get their call in 7-10 minutes of the appointed hour, call them. It servers two purposes - first saves your time. second, people are sometimes stuck in situation  and they truly appreciate your taking time to call them to remind. It may help you win their confidence. Sometimes I think it may be trick question sort of a thing to see how much you are interested in the position, your initiative level and many other such soft skills. So, when in doubt, CALL.

11) First step during the face to face meeting is to ask for the business card. Make it a first step because it is easy to forget to ask for person's business card later. It also gives them an opportunity to go and get one if they are not carrying one. If they do not have a business card, ask them if they can write their e-mail address for you. One or the other way, always get every person's e-mail id.

12) Be very prompt with thank you notes after the interview. Best done in first 24 hours. Just drop a simple e-mail thanking the interviewer for their time and interest in talking to you. Anything that you learned about that position that specially interests you, reiterate your skills and reaffirm your interest, end with asking them to get in touch if they need any additional info. Thank you note should make sure that it enthusiastically conveys your interest in the  position and your gratefulness for the opportunity they provided you to explore the career with their company.  It's only natural that you may forget to get e-mail id once or twice. If that happens, write up the thank you note to all missing people in a separate document and attach it to the e-mail of the interviewer that you felt most comfortable with a request to forward to them. Not the best way but better than not sending a thank you note at all.

13) Are thank you notes requited after the telephonic interview? Not sure. First is the time it takes to get the e-mail on the phone especially if it is a complicated e-mail id. Second it is error prone. It is certainly a good idea to send a thank you note after the phone interview also but if you can not it's ok. One thing I did was to always thank the recruiter who arranged the telephonic interview and ask them to pass on thanks to the interviewers. Or you can also guess the person's e-mail id based on other e-mails that you have. But, to be safe, always include a line in the e-mail that you chose to guess their e-mail id only to send them a thank you note. Although many won't mind receiving an e-mail to an e-mail id that they did not explicitly provide, it is better to be safe than sorry. By explicitly mentioning, you come clean and clear. If a person minds it beyond that, always be ready to apologize for having used their e-mail id without getting it from them. I have never had any such experience.

More later on effective job search.


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