Career Search Lessons Learned

Many people have been helpful in my job search. It is a new experience for those of us who have been at a company a long time. Even if you are practiced at interviewing others, being interviewed can still be a new experience. While I have not mastered the process, I did want to share the lessons I have learned so that others can stand on my shoulders and I can pay it forward. This is a work in progress and will be modified as I receive feedback on it. This is biased due to my experience as an IT professional. Many things cross over to other careers and there are some specifics directed at IT people. Looking for a new job can be broken into 5 stages.

  1. “TAKE FIVE / SWAN DIVE” – Decide to find another job
  2. “TEST DRIVE” – Your Job Search
  3. “ARCHIVE” – Resigning your current job
  4. “ARRIVE” – Starting your new job
  5. “THRIVE” – Prospering in your life

“TAKE FIVE / SWAN DIVE” – Decide to find another job

Whether you decide to leave on your own or you are asked to leave, the process is a big undertaking.

Should you look for a new job?

Forbes has a good article on some reasons to start looking and some advice on what to do when you start. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/09/04/14-signs-its-time-to-leave-your-job

There can also be other reasons to consider a new job that are not covered in the article. Career advancement, new career entirely, company changes in stability or culture, need for retirement planning (401k, 403b), poor company health or poor company strategy.

How long have you been at your current position?

An old rule of thumb is to stay a minimum of 3 years at each job with allowance for 1 mulligan. The mulligan is where you leave before 1 year. If you have one of these it is them, if you have multiples it is implied that it is you. This study from 2016 (https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/tenure.pdf) states the median tenure is 4.2 in January 2016 as opposed to 4.6 in January 2014. Tenure for younger people is typically shorter than for older people.

What is your canned response to “why are you looking to leave?”?

Contemplating this question seriously provides you with multiple benefits. Once you have the real reasons at multiple levels understood, you can craft your message. Regardless of the circumstances, it is important to have an explanation that is true, positive, short and sweet.

How long will it take to find a new position?

The timing can be different depending on the economy. My rough rule of thumb is 1 month for every $30k of salary. There are exceptions to this rule and it works for general planning. My experience has been that larger companies appear to take longer to hire than smaller companies. Government and certain industries with red tape can take longer as well.

My friend Mike asked me if I had a source for my rough rule. It has been too long and I don’t. After some investigating, the answers from various sources can be summarized as:

  • Be patient and persistent
  • The more money you desire, the longer the search takes
  • The longer you are unemployed the longer it will take to find employment

The advice is pretty diverse. I’ve ordered the links by date of publication where possible.

https://talent.works/blog/2017/09/22/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-a-job-60-days-if-youre-in-hr-or-sales/

Excellent graph from sample sizes of 100+ people by job category provides more fine-grained information than other articles.

https://careerpivot.com/2018/long-will-job-search-take/

In 2018, for employees older than 50, use your network and it will take between 3 – 6 months to 2 years.

https://www.thebalance.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-find-a-job-2064245

In 2017, Rough rule of thumb is 1 month for every $10k.

http://time.com/money/4053899/how-long-it-takes-to-get-hired/

In 2014 it took on average 43 days to find a job, with executive jobs taking 76 days to find a position.

http://work.chron.com/average-length-job-hunt-6513.html

According to AARP, workers over the age of 55 tend to be out of work longer than those under 55. In June 2012, the average length of time it took seniors to find a job was about 55 weeks. Those under age 55 averaged 35 weeks.

https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-a-job-0117

Approx. 12 weeks.

“TEST DRIVE” – Your Job Search

While the perfectionist in me would want to develop my assets to the highest level before proceeding, I don’t recommend this. Get real world feedback to your profile and refine it. This is applying Lean Startup methodologies to the job search process.

Consider Asset Development

*  Resume(s)

* Cover Letter(s) – some websites will store the cover letters you use. Basics like spelling and language are crucial

* LinkedIn Profile

o  Resume conversion

o  Acquire Recommendations

o  Populate skills

o  Create Blog posts

*   Media assets

o  GitHub Account – technical people should have samples of their work posted

o  Blogs – WordPress or LinkedIn – your personality and interests can come through ahead of time. Most people will not read them, so you know those that do are especially interested.

o  Videos – Youtube videos can communicate your personality more clearly than the written word.

*   Headshot – Please post a professional picture. This is fundamental.

Resume(s)

*   Use versioning in the filename so that you know the resume age and style.

*   Tailor the resume per job to highlight the aspects of your prior employment that are a fit for the new opportunity.

*   Be Honest. I shouldn’t have to say this, but lying will harm you. Don’t risk it.

*   TopResume.com and other sites provide resume analysis so that your resume is consumable by automated processes.

Cover Letter(s)

You need to research the prospective employer website, job description and tie your explanation of interest and how you can contribute in a language that fits the style of the organization. Are they aggressive and bleeding edge or they highly regulated and professional? Tailor your words to their interest.

LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile should be maintained over time. If you don’t have one, you need one. While it feels like the only people on LinkedIn regularly are people selling something, it is the most powerful tool to maintain professional relationships and to present yourself / services.

*    Profile – job descriptions, referrals, articles

*     Networking – ask contacts to introduce you to their contacts

*    LinkedIn Best Practices – LinkedIn Best Practices – Mike Shelah Consulting offers seminars on how to maximize LinkedIn.

Communications

Since omni channel is a successful strategy that maximizes your odds, reach out to organizations via networking, websites and recruiters.

Networking

Make a list of everyone you know who has ties to your career.

*   Former Colleagues

*   User Group friends

*    College Friends

*    Parents from your children’s groups

*    Mentors

*    Mentees

*   Rolodex / business card collections

Create a rough order of influence/interest/assistance they can be for you. Group them into weekly groups to contact. Contact people but keep it short and to the point. Don’t waste their time. Keep track of who responds and the rough status of the interaction.

Example:

Subject: My New Job Search

Hello,

I have begun my new job search. I’m interested in the following areas, roles, industries, etc. Do you have any advice or contacts that can help me? I am attaching my resume in case it is needed.

Thanks,

Jeff Morey

<email address>

<phone number>

Websites

There are a ton of websites out there. Whether they will be around in 10 years is an interesting study. These are useful in April 2018. These websites will require you create a username and password and an uploaded resume. Various ones offer advice on your resume, communications, interview questions. Some allow search push notifications that you can automate. Some offer consultation services from either the main company or 3rd party services.

*        Indeed.com

*        Linkedin.com/jobs

*        Monster.com

*        Theladders.com

*        iHire.com

*        techcareers.com

*        glassdoor.com

*        careeronestop.org

*        careerbuilder.com

*        computerjobs.com/us/en/IT-Jobs

*        computerwork.com/us/en/IT-Jobs

*        dice.com

*        kforce.com

*        linkup.com

Recruiters

There are several pluses working with recruiters. You get to practice your communication skills. They can provide objective review of your market value. They may have ties to companies you are interested in working for prior to jobs getting posted. They reduce the effort the company must put into locating you, which gives the hiring manager more time. While almost all “eat what they hunt” their strategies for hunting can be diverse. Some convert your resume to a standard format, others take the resume you create. Some want a list of all the prior places you have applied. Some will require contact with current company technical references prior to submitting your information to their clients. Others will seek you out. I recommend only working with recruiters that check with you prior to submitting your information. When you contact recruiters, it is important to manage the process on your side. The following procedures will minimize discord.

  1. Track what potential employers have your information and what resumes have been sent.
  2. Share with each recruiter that you are working with other recruiters.
  3. Reach out to them on a scheduled basis so you are not forgotten.
  4. Record Recruiter name, company name, and your resume version.
  5. As the process progresses, share with all recruiters / potential employers your status so they understand timing.

Placement Firms /Recruiters

  1. Denzel Group
  2. Srchgrp.com
  3. Randstadusa.com
  4. C2 Search Group
  5. cioresources.com
  6. Sudina search
  7. TEK Systems
  8. Strategic Resource Group
  9. Knak Digital
  10. Allsearch
  11. Kingfish Technologies

Interview Preparation

Company Research

* Website – what is their mission, services, clients.

*  Employee Contact Interviews / Conversations.

*  Glassdoor.com company reviews – write a review and you get access to others’ opinions. Use common sense and read the reviews so you can filter out the potential bitter person or marketing or HR prose.

*  Indeed.com company reviews – no username required.

*  Content Preparation – search for most common questions in your role to see how you do. Bring a copy of your resume, notes, pen, identification. Come prepared with a list of questions that can help you choose what is appropriate or most relevant to ask.

Interview

Dress – professional presentation – dress for the job you want. Remember it is better to over dress than under dress.

Manners – treat everyone you meet well – every day.

Who is interviewing you? Did you meet your boss, your peers, your direct reports (if applicable)? How in depth were their questions? Were you challenged? Is there the opportunity to learn? Can you contribute?

Two Way Interviews – Company, Department, Role – Remember you are looking for the right fit at all 3 levels. While nothing is perfect, this isn’t about winning the interview at any cost. That old-style approach is short sighted as you may miss an opportunity for a “right” fit because of the “right now” fit.

Company questions – how do they make their money? How do they measure success? In terms of philosophy what is the typical order of priority between timeliness, scope, costs, value, quality? What is the corporate philosophy regarding employees? Are they considered old school line workers to be “managed”, knowledge workers that need to be “led”, whole people that are to be supported in evolving into their best selves? You should make up your mind what you hope to get from your employment and see if they match. How are employees evaluated? Does the company expect complete feedback such as 360-degree surveys for instance? What structural changes have occurred with employee changes in the last 6 to 12 months?

Department questions – How is the department structured? How many employees in what roles? What is the tenure in the department? How does the department handle outsourcing and offshoring? Why do employees work there? What keeps them at the company? What is the backlog? How many projects are active? What is the duration of the typical projects? How often do people work weekends and evenings? What is the department most proud of? Who was involved? Can they describe their typical SDLC process? How up to date is their technology? What is their computer replacement philosophy? How do they share information?

Role questions – How is your role involved with income generation? Does the boss understand the job you are interviewing for? What are their people skills? Are their employees a high priority to them? How do your teammates bring up ideas and concerns to their boss? Why is this role being offered? Is it a replacement, a reorganization or an expansion?

Job Selection / Offer Evaluation

7 C’s

Company – What industry is the company involved with? How big is that industry in your region / nationally?

Content – What is the role you will play? Can you execute and meet or exceed expectations?

Career – How does this fit w/ traditional 5-year goals?

Culture – Restrictions? Are side jobs discouraged? Do people go to lunch together? When people say the best part of the company is the people that work here, ask them for specific examples of people or interactions that make this company so great.

Coach – Who will be your boss? What do your instincts say about the individual? Do they understand the job you are going to do and can offer coaching? How do other employees respond to them?

Compensation – healthcare, paid time off, 401k match, education subsidy, salary.

Commute / Work Life Balance – Commutes over an hour are a common reason people leave jobs. Does this job offer work from home after a year or once you have proven yourself competent and trust worthy?

4 W’s

While the 4 W’s are contained in the 7 C’s, I list them here because they are worth more to me and helped me make my decisions.

Who you work for

Who you work with

What you do

What you earn

Head and Heart

While both models are quantifiable ways to make your decisions, they don’t give you the complete picture. Your heart / instincts will provide you feedback that should never be ignored. What do your instincts say when you are in the work area? Are the offices / cubicles decorated? When you have multiple offers it is hard to decide because you may want to work at all the opportunities. Ask yourself “What if I couldn’t work here?”. How bad does that feel? If you are a 7 habits person, which position is closer to your life mission statement?

“ARCHIVE” – Resigning your current job

The joke I’ve had for years is the first week the short timer mourns the loss of your company and the second week they focus on success with their new employer. You always want to finish strong regardless of the circumstances. Your legacy will be remembered for years after you are gone. Don’t let a bad ending tarnish that reputation if possible. Don’t resign until you have a written offer.

Protect This House

Hopefully you still care about your ex-coworkers. Do your best to ensure your leaving doesn’t harm anyone. Even if no one remembers how you left, you will remember how you left the organization. Leave strong so that you can reflect on your behavior and feel pride in making the right decisions. As we get older our legacy becomes more important. Live up to who you want to be.

*     Resignation – Give your boss 2+ weeks’ notice in the US. I have been told security and sales people have special considerations and can find themselves released immediately without pay. I still recommend you act professionally and reduce stress on your employer, if not for them, for your dignity and pride. If the company is the kind that would release you instantly and not cover the 2 weeks of employment typically expected, you should have a sense of that while employed. If you take the high road you can look back on that for the rest of your life. That sense of pride is worth 2 weeks salary. Provide the resignation in writing. Search the internet for examples of resignation letters so you have all the appropriate information they will need.

*      Responsibilities – If you have the opportunity, identify what you do, who can perform these tasks, measure confidence of success (yours first and theirs when your resignation is public), risk assess by looking at lowest overall confidence in task success and document those first before you depart.

*     Make sure your work documents are checked in the appropriate systems (Content management systems, intranets, code repositories, etc.). People should not have to go to your magic file and your workstation. Purge any information that is redundant or deprecated. If you keep documents under your account, move them to a standard place so that your specific authorization is not needed.

Protect Yourself

*     Personal Info purge – Don’t use your professional email or contact information for personal use. If you do, start segregating them when you start looking for employment. Make sure to check your contacts, calendar, emails and separate them. Get in the habit of keeping anything personal or private under a separate folder structure so that the separation is clean.

*       Security – identify any accounts not controlled by main security and ask they be turned off in writing.

*      Company Credit Cards -cancel them yourself, cut them up and turn them in to HR when you leave.

*      Turn in Badge(s), Key(s), Parking passes.

*       Group Password(s) – if you know any group them together and turn them over to appropriate authorities. You are not only protecting them but yourself as well. Hopefully the organization follows security best practices and changes them.

*       401K transfer – either your next job or your financial advisors.

*       Paystubs, W2 – Get copies before you leave.

*      COBRA – find out how much it will cost you if you or your family have medical issues. Now, I’ve been told you don’t have to buy Cobra up front but can enact it if an emergency occurs.

*       Calculate your PTO so you know if you are owed anything.

*       Submit your expenses promptly.

*       HSA – this should be yours after you leave the organization. Confirm if there are any fees.

“ARRIVE” – Starting your new job

What can you do to prepare for the job before you arrive? Are there industry websites, associations, specific toolsets, LinkedIn reviews of your team that you can do?

Once you show up for the first day it is time to Listen, Listen, Listen – practice active listening. To confirm your understanding, paraphrase what you hear from people. Write down what you are learning and review it weekly so it becomes second nature. Keep your counsel to yourself until you know the reasons why processes and procedures exist, especially if you haven’t learned what is dependent on unusual items. Hopefully the organization has a punch list of activities and procedures to get your started. If not, make one up.

Here are a couple of ways to structure information:

  1. Environment – floor plans, software, workstations, servers, permissions (roles & responsibilities), workflow systems.
  2. Technology & technical skills.
  3. Business Rules / Vertical market – Who, what, when, where, why.
  4. Policy & Procedures – how things are done.

Another way to structure the information is COTA (clients, outputs, team, admin). Read this blog post for more information – https://www.LinkedIn.com/pulse/work-habits-hamster-revolution-jeff-morey/.

For more suggestions for Work Habits, check out this post https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/work-habits-getting-things-done-jeff-morey/.

“THRIVE” – Prospering in your life

You want to go through this process with as much sanity and kindness (to yourself, your family, friends, co-workers). To do that, you need to “put your oxygen mask on first”. You need to support your body, mind and spirit.

Body

*  Sleep – do whatever you can to get the right amount of sleep. Fitbit can be used to measure your success.

*  Nutrition – protein is your friend. We wish carbs were, but they aren’t. You need to fit in your interview clothes.

*  Exercise – cardio helps your brain; weight training improves your immune system.

Mind

*  Motivation – youtube – ex: Matseuz M https://www.youtube.com/user/TheMiro0r, Get fired up in the mornings.

*  7 Habits – see this link for more. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-habits-stephen-covey-jeff-morey/

*  Work Specific Skills – MOOC – low cost and free education is available. In this world, we need to remain competitive.

Spirit

*  Meditation – 10 minutes a day – headspace phone app is highly recommended.

*  Gratitude – list 3 things each day you are grateful. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Review it when you need a boost.

*  Pay it Forward – Keep track of those who help you in small and large ways. Make sure to thank them. Make sure to make the world a little better when you can.

Thanks for taking the time to read this over. Please share your thoughts and strategies on your job search.

Data Science & Big Data – A Primer

Data Overload

We hear it all the time, the total amount of data is doubling every two years! Every minute Youtube has 72 hours of video uploaded (6/22/2012) to today where YouTube gets 300 hours of video every minute!  The internet of things will cause even more data to be captured!!

Business chart, diagram, bar, graphic on a white background
Business chart, diagram, bar, graphic on a white background

The marketing hype makes it sound like this is a good thing. I don’t want massive amounts of data unless it can lead to better analysis up the chain. We don’t want data saturation just like we don’t want task saturation.

What is true is we are in a time in history like no other.  The rate of change and the number of vectors of change are like none seen in our lifetime.  It is only a good thing if your organization has a plan to address this massive data landslide. If you do not then it is likely a competitor with a successful plan will outpace you.

Metaprocess / Paradigms

There are two data paradigms that can help you make sense of these revolutionary changes. The 4 states of Data:

Data -> Information -> Knowledge -> Wisdom

Data – raw information that looks & feels like the green screens of the matrix.
Information – it makes sense and fits with your existing paradigm.
Knowledge – it supports action or explains action.
Wisdom – it allows you to influence the future or interact with it proactively or highly reactively.

Another way to look at this is through the following statements:
I know what I know – ex: addition, subtraction
I know what I don’t know – ex: differential equations
I don’t know what I don’t know – ex: What even comes after differential equations? What is the highest level of math? Is there a highest level of math?

Data Science

Data Science has three major parts -technology, business acumen/subject matter expertise, and statistics/mathematical skill. The Data Engineer portion – they know the technology and can build it to provide the data scientist (statistician) the tools they need. Many books recommend you do not have the same person perform both jobs. The key to the data scientist being successful is domain knowledge. You have to understand both the mathematical techniques and the area you are analyzing to be effective. You can be excellent in math, but if you don’t have a common sense understanding of the area you are analyzing you will not find actionable insights.

Big Data

The compensating control to the proliferation of data is Big Data Analytics.
They use a Map Reduce paradigm.  It sounds fancy, but what it really is is having a map to grab statistics on a set of data and then transmit that set of analysis.  The statistics applied can be counts, averages, minimums, maximums over a map.  The map is the things you want to measure.  Now you can throw away the actual data if need be.

A focus of Big Data is to answer the last question – I don’t know what I don’t know.  It can be used for other activities, which is good, because for most people with a transaction like mentality just exploring data looking for patterns feels like play.

Examples of technologies engaged in big data are: Hadoop, Tableau, SAS & Business Objects.

Examples of companies engaged in Big Data are: IBM, Google, Facebook & Microsoft

BI – Business Intelligence

We have had another paradigm for years called Extract, transform, load (ETL).
ETL is used for data cubes. With Microsoft SQL Server, we use SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) and the MDX language to pull back information quickly.  If you are thinking at the conceptual level they are similar, you are correct.  The devil is in the details.  In some ways, BI looks inward and Big Data looks outward for most of us. There are a ton of tools in the BI world as well. Examples of BI tools are from:  IBM, Oracle, Microsoft.

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics is about predicting the future. While this feels like magic, it is actually based on a few principles.
1 – the most recent past is the best predictor of the future.
2 – a large number of small estimates are way more accurate then a few large estimates.
The 2 factors in play are causality and correlation.
Correlation – when one factor goes up it typically means that indirectly the other factor will also move consistently.
Causality – one factor controls the other factor. If you can change the one you have mastery of the other! Now you not only can predict the future, you can control it!

Predictive analytics can be used for human resource planning, work assignments, client retention amongst a whole host of other avenues. An example I heard was ice cream sales and drowning frequency increase together.  So, of course, we should ban ice cream to save lives!!?! No? No. This is correlation.  Summer temperatures rise and that causes an increase in ice cream and swimming.

Conclusion

Corporate America needs more data science people. Fortune magazine in 2013 said:

As with oil, companies know data is out there in large quantities and that it’s not enough to simply know where it is — it has to be extracted, refined, and delivered in a usable format to be valuable. And like the energy economy before it, the data economy needs dedicated people — 4.4 million of them by 2015 in the IT field alone, according to an oft-cited Gartner Research analysis.

The need remains for people to develop these skills in their industry so they can make smarter decisions than their competitors and provide better value.

I hope these explanations allow you to make better sense of these awesome changes and opportunities that are upon us.

Dick Winters Thoughts on Leadership

Major Dick Winters served in World War 2 with the 101st airborne. His group had a special bond that inspired the book by Stephen Ambrose, which in turn was made into the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers.

BandofBrothersBooks v2

What resonated with me was Dick Winter’s sense of duty and responsibility to the lives of his men. I’ve included the Wikipedia link to his biography for your convenience. It states he enlisted in August 1941 and rose to Major by March 1945. He earned 4 medals (Distinguished Service Cross, 2 Bronze Stars, Purple Heart) among other interesting details.

It doesn’t highlight his extra ordinary discipline prior to seeing combat. He intensely studied everything he could non-stop to prepare. He became proficient in the tactics by spending countless hours honing his craft due to his sense of duty and commitment. While others were partying or trying to distract themselves from their impending situation, Winters had a laser focus to do the right thing.  He had no intention of becoming a career officer. He did this extra work because he had to do everything within his power to ensure that he would prevent as many deaths of his men as possible. It would be a mistake to think he did not sacrifice to achieve this level of skill. I was fascinated with his consistent commitment and self discipline in preparation before D Day. As I’ve read more I found my first hero.

After WW2, Dick eventually settled in Hershey, PA where he ran his own business and was successful in achieving the quiet life he desired during the war. He did not escape unscathed mentally or physically from the war and would not dwell on the cost he paid. He remained grateful to the men who did not come home.

His thoughts on leadership are a role model for everyone regardless of their profession.

Here are the Principles from “Beyond Band of Brothers“, by Dick Winters, with Cole C. Kingseed, Berkley Trade:

  1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.

  2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.

  3. Stay in top physical shape–physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.

  4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.

  5. Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.

  6. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.

  7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.

  8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.

  9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect–not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.

  10. Hang Tough!–Never, ever, give up.

Thanks for letting me share this with you.

Hiring and Firing – The 2 Most Important Things

OpenDoorCloseDoor2

Introduction

The two most effective things a manager does is hire and fire. Nothing they do as an individual will impact the business as significantly as a strong team. Creating that strong team is the manager’s responsibility.  You can only do this with the right individuals. The manager supports the team and guides it through the storming, norming, performing process.

Hiring

Some organizations stress how long a position has been open as the single most important measurement of whether the search is going well or poorly. If you are in this situation, work closely with HR so they see you are taking it seriously. Sometimes it is good to remind everyone of the goals – which is not only to fill a position, but to fill a position with a strong employee. Recruiting can be an expensive endeavor if you want a superior team. The more the position is an independent position, the greater the need for the right fit both technically, culturally and psychologically. Knowledge workers need both skill and motivation to be successful. Finding the right balance is critical to the team’s success.

My best advice about multiple hires and high performing teams is create an environment where the new employees act as a team and support each other to get better results.  Peer support is incredibly powerful as it is most likely to arrive just in time when needed. Having to wait for a superior can be frustrating and should be avoided whenever possible.

Hiring Mechanics

Candidates should interview with more than one employee at a time. One employee monitors the head (skill, acumen) while the other monitors the heart (candidness, attitude). Whenever possible get feedback from multiple dimensions on the candidate. Expose the candidate to:

  • Direct manager
  • Teammates (same role)
  • Teammates (different role)
  • clients (internal and external when possible)

Remember to ask the people who spent their time talking to your candidate what they thought. Every company has a culture (the collective personality of the employees) and both the manager and candidate should be aware this is a meeting of the minds as well as a competition between candidates.

Be consistent and comprehensive when you are reviewing multiple candidates. Create appropriate categories (Technical skill (SDLC, design patterns), customer service, problem solving, etc.) and measure each candidate immediately after the interview while your impressions are fresh. I use a scale from 1 to 10 but it doesn’t matter, just be consistent between interviews.

Agile talks about self organizing teams that regulate performance. It stresses peer pressure as a motivating force for traction. Getting performance from your group results both from process like agile and environment like:

  • bringing people in groups or classes
  • creating open communication
  • Support teammates being experts in areas that they expose others to.

Search social media for the candidate’s external persona.  Is it non existent, well groomed or chaotic? Take what you find with a grain of salt. Remember pictures are best as they ensure accuracy. This is primarily a business hygiene step for most positions.

Keep prior interviews in mind and look for qualities that were discovered with existing strong employees. This can create a profile to match people against when making the final selection.

This is an important decision. Yes, you can overthink it and always treat it with the same respect you would firing someone.

Negative Role Model – Please do the opposite

A long time ago two people interviewed with a boss. The candidates looked the same, their evaluations were the same, in fact they even wore the same color suit! The manager at the time made a show of flipping a coin in the middle of the common area to decide which person would be hired. While it had panache and some excitement, it also sent a message of how important existing employees were to this manager.  While all of us are replaceable, Just don’t.

An alternative tactic would be to bring the two candidates back for a second interview focusing on more in-depth information or having peers interview both of them.

A few more tactical tips:

  • Explain the benefits of the position and company
  • Cover your expectations for the position. For junior positions you should reinforce those expectations the first day. You may need to reference those expectations later in coaching situations.
  • Don’t offer the candidate a position in the meeting. Tell them when you will get back to them.
  • Be wary of any candidate that is willing to leave their current company in less than 2 weeks. A good employee finishes strong at the current company. Remember the waitress measurement – how they treat their current employer is also how they are likely to treat you. Also, as a candidate be wary of any company that pressures you to start right away if you are currently employed.
  • Trust your instincts about personality and fit. If your gut tells you the person is trouble, ask open ended questions in that area.
  • After they have accept the position, send the new employee documentation on the company, position and near term expectations when possible. Realize the information may only get read the weekend before their first day.
  • Have an onboarding punch list for the immediate manager and for the employee. Remember they are a person first, so do your best to create a welcoming environment.

Firing

Most articles I have read about firing focus on the legal aspects. Let me be clear, protecting the organization from risk is the manager’s responsibility. Keep in mind that hiring is your first line of defense, coaching your teammates is your second line of defense and firing in a way that is legally defensible is your last line of defense.

Disclaimer – I am not an HR professional, so consult with your company’s HR staff when you find yourself needing to perform this task.

The large majority of poor performers know they are not performing to expectations. The manager has failed if someone being released is surprised there are issues.  If that happens, the manager needs to learn from it so they can do better by the remaining teammates.

Remember firing affects the people in the organization in the following order:

  1.  The employee being released
  2. The person performing the dismissal
  3. Their (former) team
  4. The rest of the organization

Remember to work “in to out” during this process.

Attempt to Pull out of the Dive

Coach up prior to coaching out. Few management experiences are as fulfilling as turning around a poor performer. Even though the odds are against it, when it happens you will remember that success for a very long time. The manager needs to provide tight feedback loops when dealing with poor performers. Teammates knowing quickly the value they produce is great, adequate or inadequate will adjust their future performance.

This  win / win strategy also ensures the work the individual is responsible for becomes documented so that the person replacing them will have guidance. Document not only the poor or successful performance but also the procedures, asset locations, etc.

Consider the whole person as an employee and as a human. What is the cause of their inadequacy? Is it skills-based, attitude based, compliance based and or background. Could they serve the company in another position and do it well? You should not dump your problems on another manager. At the same time tailoring jobs to fit people’s strengths is common sense for maximizing performance.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Ensure you follow company policy in regards to verbal & written warnings. If you work for a company which does not have these, make your own ahead of time and separate from the individual in question.

Replacement Costs – A financial perspective

The cost for replacement by role is pretty varied across the internet. The lowest I have seen is :

Across establishments, they average about $4,000 overall, about $2,000 for blue collar and manual labor workers, and as high as $7,000 for professional and managerial employees

 The highest was stated here:

For entry-level employees, it costs between 30% and 50% of their annual salary to replace them.

For mid-level employees, it costs upwards of 150% of their annual salary to replace them.

For high-level or highly specialized employees, you’re looking at 400% of their annual salary.

 Evaluate the true cost of their performance versus when their job will be open, how long the job will be open if you look for a replacement and will the next replacement perform better? Some schools of thought state it costs more to replace a c performer than to keep them. I find that hard to swallow, but understand the logic in it.

It’s Time

Let us remember the human aspects of firing. It is hard to believe firing someone can be a win / win, I was first exposed to this possibility in college. I was talking with my fraternity academic advisor and he asked me how my semester was going. I told him I was struggling with math.  I explained in depth the math teacher had poor teaching skills . My advisor was an employee of the University so I was shocked when he suggested I report the poor performer. I said I didn’t want to get the guy fired. He responded with “Everyone needs to find a job they are good at. If he isn’t good at this one he needs to find one he is good at.”. Work is a massive part of our lives. Everyone of us should have a feeling of satisfaction at what we do for our livelihoods.

The company may be able to provide various benefits to the employee leaving depending on whether they resigned, were laid off or were dismissed for poor performance. Some benefits to discuss with the company are:

  • earned PTO
  • unpaid expenses
  • COBRA
  • severance
  • job placement
  • unemployment

Do everything you can across these areas and you should be able to look yourself in the mirror and sleep well that evening.

A few more tactical tips:

  • Never fire someone in haste – see the above section.
  • Ensure that more than one employee of the company is with the person at all times.
  • Release the person earlier in the week rather than later – this gives them the opportunity to go home and contact headhunters and other various opportunities rather than sit at home over the weekend and stew.
  • Avoid an escorted walk if possible. Meet with them away from prying eyes and close to the entrance/exit.
  • Disable their accounts.
  • Never argue with them.
  • Say less. Words won’t help.

Conclusion

While there is still a lot more to discuss about these areas, I hope that you find this information a good primer. I look forward to your thoughts about this challenging topic. Thanks for reading.

SWOT & PASSMADE – Two great tools that go great together!

SWOT_en2

In software design we gather the requirements from clients or client proxies. Once we understand their needs we create a solution. In the past we approached this from a waterfall perspective. Today we approach it in an agile or iterative fashion. A major difference today is using a very fine grain approach to analysis and design to increase learning for the team and the client or client proxy.

Regardless of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) in use, someone must create a solution. For instance, in agile we decompose epic stories into user stories that are consumable by the development team within a sprint. These situations may be an opportunity to apply consistency across your architecture.

Another good fit for this process is architectural spikes as they are higher risk situations that should be treated with the respect they deserve.

In both of these cases, running with the first solution that you can think of isn’t the best choice in most instances. It is worth the investment of thinking through a few solutions and then evaluate them with a methodology. If you are stuck between choices, and you aren’t certain which solution to select, there are tools to make better decisions.

These are the tools that can be used together we are discussing.

  1.  SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
  2. PASSMADE – Non-functional analysis – performance, accessibility, security, scalability, maintainability, availability, deploy-ability, extensibility

First look at the internals of your choices.  What are their STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES?

PASSMADE can be applied in this phase to ensure you are looking holistically at the solution candidates.

The PASSMADE acronym guides you in comparing solutions.

  • Performance – how fast something runs one time for one person. This is different than scalability.
  • Accessibility – does the solution need to support special needs? EX: Visual, auditory, ambulatory, etc.
  • Security – is one solution more secure than another when security is relevant? OWASP is a good place to start to learn about security.
  • Scalability – I look at this in two ways – the traditional high transactional way as well as large data sets.
  • Maintainability – how easy is the solution to fix it when it breaks. Does the code follow standards to ensure not just 1 developer is needed to fix it during normal operations?
  • Availability – does the design support the needed level of access/uptime? Ex: 24/7 or 99.99% uptime
  • Deploy-ability – how easy is it to release or patch? The current trend today is rapid release. As this non-functional requirement grows in speed, can we ensure quality? Can we avoid data corruption or repair data if it happens?
  • Extensibility – how easy is it to enhance or extend the solution?

There are times when one or more of the eight PASSMADE abilities will not apply. This is not failure as the acronym ensures that you explicitly discount an ability rather than miss something that matters.

Then look at how the solution interacts with the environment, the external OPPORTUNITIES and THREATS that could be engaged if the candidate choice were selected.

SolutionAnalysis v3

Once you have been thru the process of mapping out the choices, hopefully the best one will present itself. If not, then you can use the risk management quantifying technique in my other post to quantify the choices.

Project Management – Risk Management Techniques

Introduction

The two core responsibilities of a project manager (PM) are:

  1. Communication
  2. Risk management

A PM should ensure good communication to all stakeholders (both direct and indirect) and teammates at the appropriate level of need and desire.

Risk management is fundamental to completing a project within the Iron Triangle constraints (Time, Cost, Scope) as well as the Agile Triangle constraints (Iron Triangle plus Value and Quality).

Today I would like to share with you two techniques for analyzing risk on your projects.

Top 3 Risks

While very simple, it is often forgotten amongst the pace of work to ask your teammates and stakeholders what are their top risks and why are they concerned about them.  I recommend asking people individually as part of other meetings and touch base activities rather than in a group setting. Done well, this takes less than 5 minutes per person as it should flow easily at the end of conversations or meetings. Remember, this is not an interrogation. The PM should stay open to the concerns expressed and not attempt to argue. They should inform that person of information they may be unaware of.  This is a very consistent interview technique. Over time the people who interact with the PM will come to expect this question and will think about it on their own.  If they don’t have anything, ask them to share the first thing that pops in their head.  This inquiry of the sponsor (when appropriate), direct stakeholders and teammates provides multiple practical and psychological benefits.

  • Education – The PM learns about the risks as perceived by various roles.
  • Patterns – By interviewing people individually patterns across roles can be identified. Multiple people mentioning the same or similar concerns highlights importance.
  • Respect – A PM is in a role of authority. Teammates like that their opinions are asked.
  • Engagement – consistent use of this trains people to think in this manner.

Project Top Risk Identification and Mitigation

RiskManagement2

A group exercise that should be used for high profile, high risk and larger projects is the Impact multiplication exercise. It can be used to quantify what is essentially qualitative information. The sprint triathlon image for this article was created to show the end result when the exercise is completed. The two most important things to avoid for a sprint triathlon are losing a tire or tires and dehydration.

Implementation

The PM can preload the risk items from top 3 risk discussions defined above.   Here are the steps:

  • List all of the risks that the group can create.
  • For each risk item, guess collectively at the probability or frequency that the item will have on the business. 100 is almost guaranteed to happen while 0 means never. NOTE: Some people believe there are both positive and negative impacts that can be monitored. I have found that 95% of the value in this exercise is to prevent or respond to negative factors.
  • What is the damage/impact on the project or goal if the risk item were to occur?  100 is the largest and most impactful and 0 is the smallest.
  • Multiply the 2 factors together and sort the product from largest to smallest.
  • The Team collectively works from top to bottom to either eliminate the risk from occurring or respond in a highly reactive fashion if elimination is not possible. Don’t expect to get through the entire list in one meeting. If you prevent or eliminate the top ones you are doing well.

The PM can not prevent all negative events in the project. They can reduce the impact of the largest ones. This exercise can be done easily in a spreadsheet and reviewed by the group every few weeks.

Benefits

Similar to the technique above, this exercise provides benefits in multiple dimensions. You can never get back lost time. Many of the best plans need more time than weaker ones. By thinking ahead you are better informed about the activity durations you will need to create compensating controls. Developing a plan to prevent issues or address issues if they occur improves team morale. For a highly invested or anxious team it can calm them as they feel that someone is working on preventing problems. The exercise gives a team which is disenfranchised the opportunity to engage and be consultative.

Conclusion

The key ingredient to successful projects is engaged teammates. These techniques not only provide real information for action to the project manager but also remind the team that everyone is responsible for success. How do you provide risk management to your projects?

Thank you to everyone who has read and liked my articles over the last 5 posts. I’ll keep writing them if you keep liking and reading them. See you next week.

OneNote and Evernote – a Comparison

Introduction

Microsoft OneNote, Evernote and Google Keep are note taking applications. They store tasks, text notes, images, video, audio, etc. I’m using OneNote for my job and Evernote at home. I’ve been using OneNote for over a year and Evernote for about a month.

Applications vs. Spiral Notebooks

Printed notebooks are excellent for brainstorming and better for memorizing for kinesthetic learners. These applications allow you to collect various forms of media and to organize them after the initial capture. Traditional notebooks cannot compete for anything you want to keep for an extended duration. They also cannot keep everything in one place.

Note Application – major structures

OneNote has Notebooks, Sections, Pages and then additional items like To Do’s.
Evernote has Notebooks, Pages and Tags. While in OneNote a Notebook is your singular focus in the user interface, Evernote primarily treats a notebook like a folder.

Microsoft OneNote

Pro’s

This is a list of highly useful things about OneNote.

  • It is free!
  • it supports multiple operating systems and devices successfully Windows, Android(4.1/5.0), Apple (4.5/5.0). All applications share the same data and keep in synch automatically or manually if need be.
  • Fast action item management. One windows the keystroke Ctrl 1 will do one of the following actions based on context. Create an action item checkbox, Check the current checkbox, Remove the action item checkbox – VERY handy!
  • You can search all your pages within OneNote to find a cumulative list of next actions.
  • You can store your information on the cloud in OneDrive or on a local or network drive.
  • A notebook can be shared amongst multiple users.
  • OneNote is integrated into the other office applications

The biggest difference between the applications is the additional functionality in the windows application. Moving pages between sections in a notebook is done as a drag and drop activity on windows.

Having the application on my desktop at work, my phone and my tablet means that I always have access to my information at all times not just at my desk.
I find this invaluable for looking for reference information or capturing tasks that I think of.

Con’s

The two complaints I have around OneNote are:

  • Any complex text formatting appears different and needs to be corrected when pasting text into other applications (even other Microsoft applications).
  • Slowness for large pages.

NOTE: Microsoft just released a new download for the desktop that changes the User interface.

I use OneNote with the COTA principle I talked about in my last blog post.
It works very well for me and I recommend it highly.

OneNote Deficiencies – I can live with them

The impetus for wanting to move was due to OneNote’s incredibly poor performance when an individual note becomes very large (> 9,300 words). The application’s response becomes significantly delayed when typing in this situation. The delay between the appearance of each character can be several seconds. I eventually decided to break the OneNote pages up rather than leave the application. This challenge exists for both the windows application and the Android app. This problem does not exist with the web version of OneNote.

OneNote to Evernote conversion

I imported my OneNote materials into EverNote. Ultimately I decided against migrating. Evernote fails to handle formatting of large notes and it drops the OneNote tasks during the conversion. In the case of large notes, Evernote will take an image of the OneNote page rather than convert to text. You need to check all of your pages to find the ones that are images. Evernote does not tell you which ones were converted to image as their last resort.  OneNote action checkboxes (which are wonderful) are completely lost as part of the conversion.

Evernote to OneNote conversion

The irony is not lost on me that Microsoft does a better job importing Evernote Notes than the other way around.
Microsoft will convert the evernote action items to images.

Evernote Corporation’s Evernote

Pro’s

  • Evernote also offers a Fremium tiering if you need advanced features.
  • Evernote runs on all major platforms (even Blackberry).
  • Notebooks can be containers of other notebooks.
  • The tag interface is more advanced and a primary focus of the application.
  • It is easier to see the total # of notes in Evernote than in OneNote.

Evernote has more vocal proponents than OneNote.
Many people in silicon valley sing it’s praises.

Con’s

  • The android interface requires clicking on the pencil to edit even though the notes text is displayed on the screen. This irritates me in a significant way.
  • The free version has a limit of 60MB upload per month.
  • User interface is more cluttered than Microsoft’s. This tells you how far Microsoft has come in this area from what we expect.

Recommendation

Regardless of which one you choose, choose one. If you don’t use one of these applications you are missing out on improved effectiveness and efficiency.

If you are integrated with Microsoft Office I recommend OneNote.

If you are not using MS Office, then Evernote provides the same functionality without the windows dependencies on office as well as a more diverse ecosystem.

Do you know of a major difference between the two applications that you can’t live without?
Please share in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading.

SQL Server 2014 (sp1) Express Installation

 
#1
SQL Server 2014 Express is free to download and use. Other versions of SQL Server cost money. The enterprise version is high end and very expensive.
This link will let you compare the versions’ features.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/products/sql-server-editions/sql-server-express.aspx

#2

This link will provide resources and additional information.

Before using the database on windows 10 you need to install SQL Server 2014 Sp 1

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=46697

I recommend selecting SQL Server Express with Advanced Services.

The download is about 1.4 GB. It has everything I have needed so far.

Note: Downloading Microsoft SQL Server 2014 to be installed on Windows 10 w/o the service pack is a mistake as of Sept. 2015. There are a couple of reasons. The most important is that I could not get SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) to run. It would crash. The second reason is an irritant. It required me to sign in to Live and caused problems.

Work Habits – Hamster Revolution

Mike Song’s book The Hamster Revolution – stop info-glut – reclaim your life is about handling large volumes of email. Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen also talks about email when he covers In to Empty and trash, tickler, reference. I have found In to Empty to be harder to apply 100% as opposed to the other tools. What Hamster has in common with GTD is the importance of organizing your inputs.

They key concept in the book is COTA. COTA stands for Client, Output, Team, Admin. Each of these root folders are created in the in-box. As you finish with an email, you move it to the appropriate subfolder under one of these four folders.

Clients can be internal or external clients – the people you do your job for regardless of whether they are paying customers or not.  Output is what you or your team produces – software for example. Team is the group you belong to. Admin is the rest of the stuff. The order matters as some topics will fit more than one category, so always file email under the first category it fits.

I have adopted a variant of this for my personal life.

Work Habits 3 Home Outlook

This folder structure is applicable to both OneNote and also EverNote. This example is from Microsoft OneNote where sections are used instead of folders.

Work Habits 3 OneNote

SharePoint is another application that would work well with this concept.

Check out the book if you are interested in more information about the concepts and how to apply them in different departments (IT, Sales, Operations, etc.).

How do you manage your email at work? Do you get tons of emails a day? Please share any useful tips that work for you.

As always, thanks for reading!

Work Habits – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

My copy of Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people is copyrighted 1989 and I am still trying to integrate all 7 habits into my life.

He researched self help for the last 100 years. His conclusion was that in the 1800s it was about improving your character, and as time went by it shifted to personality tips and tricks. He wanted to go back to the roots and refine and describe them.
Twenty five years later it still has significant value.  I believe the book’s concepts deserve to be discussed.

The book starts with this quote:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle.

He explains the maturity continuum from dependence to independence to interdependence.
He mentions working in to out and when you improve yourself, you can then improve your relationships with others.

Here are the 7 habits.
1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. Put first things first
4. Think win/win
5. Seek first to understand..then be understood
6. Synergize
7. Sharpen the saw, this is the P/PC balance.

P = Production – what you produce
PC = production capability – how you improve or maintain the abilities to produce. An PC example is maintaining your health and relationships.

Circle Of Influence / Circle of Concern is another powerful concept introduced in the book.

This is about being proactive as opposed to reactive.
Taking responsibility improves our ability to respond.
We become practiced at looking for actions to take instead of worrying about the thing that we have no control over.
The theory is that between stimulus and response there is a space where we can choose how to react.

The opposite of this is what is called “problem admiration”.

You talk about the problem, but no plans that can change it are generated and you focus on what others can do to fix it. Of course, none of those people are part of the discussion at the time. 😉

There are more effective uses of your time.

An example of proactivity is once the current situation is resolved, it is good to:
•Ask strategically how can we avoid this in the future?
•Can we respond more efficiently next time?
•Are there other areas of the business that may also have this bad pattern that we should look to resolve before they become more impactful?

When you focus on what you can do and take responsibility, your sphere of influence grows and so does your sense of control.
The book has a whole bunch more, but here are two things.

“There are some people who interpret “proactive” to mean pushy, aggressive, or insensitive; but that isn’t the case at all. Proactive people aren’t pushy. They’re smart, they’re value driven, they read reality, and they know what’s needed.”

“We can decide to be dishonest in our business dealings. While the social consequences of that decision may vary depending on whether we or not we are found out, the natural consequences to our basic character are a fixed result.”

This stuff is way easier to understand than practice.
It is not if you fall off the horse that matters but how fast you get back on that determines your long term outcome.

The Funeral Exercise in 7 habits is quite powerful.
You imagine your own funeral and what you would like people to say.
This is part of the process of creating your life’s mission statement.
That is not any easy task! I have found it beneficial when making big decisions to go back to it and ask which of my choices will move me towards where I would like to be in the future.

How does this fit with this WORK HABITS series?

I see this as a strategic approach where Getting Things Done by David Allen is more tactical.  They complement each other well. GTD takes care of the daily and 7 Habits takes care of the yearly goals while also reminding me how to prioritize in the big picture. Using them together makes both better.

The principles are nuanced. I don’t know if they are mastered as much as practiced. Maybe practice provides for mastery? Hey! We are what we repeatedly do. 🙂

Thanks for reading.