When the chickens come home to roost

May 24, 2007

I’ve blogged about the “Low Cost Country” (LCC) phenomenon previously, so if you’ve read that post you — like me — will probably not be surprised by this latest problem reported on the BBC News website: US checks toothpaste for toxins

Now, I’m OK with businesses being in business to make a profit — hey, I have investments for my retirement and I’d appreciate it if the businesses that my mutual funds have shares in would oblige by returning a reasonable return to ensure a reasonably comfortable retirement.

At the same time, I believe that companies owe a certain duty of social responsibility to, well, society.  That is, decisions to cut costs need to be thoroughly examined to ensure that the public’s safety and security is not sacrificed on the altar of shareholder value.

More and more these days, it seems that the chickens are starting to come home to roost.


Headlines that make you smile (1st in a series)

May 23, 2007

Genes shed light on fish fingers

That’s the headline for a science article on the BBC’s news website.

Which made me smile, thinking of a couple of guys named Gene coming up with an explanation for a type of pseudo-food….


LinkedOut Redux

May 16, 2007

I’m adding another blog to the Thoughtful Grotto, one that I read from time to time. It’s called Walt Now and is written by Walt Jaschek, who’s a Cleo® award winning advertising copywriter; I’ve mentioned his blog previously when I referred to it in a post about The Great Baked Tostitos® Bite-sized Triangle Mystery.

I enjoy reading his blog, he’s clearly the kind of person you would enjoy conversing with at a cocktail party; intelligent, well read, witty — just like me, except with a moustache ;)

Enjoy…


Woof.

May 15, 2007

As in the sound of me letting out a biiiig breath.

Busy day: full on interview with the company that I wrote about previously, the one that held the job fair. I felt that the interview went well; there was the young woman from HR who had given me the preliminary interview at the job fair, the hiring manager for the position and one of his colleagues — a standard panel interview situation, and there seemed to be reasonably good chemistry so I am hopeful that this may end up proceeding further. I remain impressed with the company and would be very happy to work there, and this manager is actually looking to fill three of these positions (two permanent; one contract) in his department Real Soon Now, so that increases the possibility of being selected (hey, a bronze medal would be OK, right?).

And then later in the day, I went to my second ever job fair. This event turned out to be a little different than the first one; it was again being put on by a single company (it’s their second annual one) and was actually billed as a “Technology & Careers Showcase”. This is a relatively new Canadian company; they were started in 1999 and have grown rapidly.

There was a presentation by the founder, talking about the company, its products, customers and the corporate philosophy — they are very customer oriented (he said something to the effect of “we’re a little unusual; we put the interests of the customers ahead of the shareholders.” — yet they still manage to be profitable, and have grown organically mainly by customer word-of-mouth with very little sales and marketing effort) and work in collaborative fashion with many of their customers.

As well as being customer oriented, they strive to be good corporate citizens — and not just as window dressing; talking with the employees after the founder’s presentation, you can see that this is a company that walks the talk. While the objective is to be profitable (hey, it’s a business after all), they are driven by a vision of their product making a difference in the world — and unlike many modern, technology based consumer products which are often just playthings or fads, their product (not a consumer product) does provide some value to society; it’s used in the field of education.

They are also trying to encourage eco-friendly behaviours in employees (they pay up to a certain amount to employees who use a bus pass to get to work; one of the “advantages of working here” listed was “located on a bus route”), as well as providing support for health and fitness: partial subsidy of fitness club membership and free healthy snacks in the cafeteria.

And the level of passion demonstrated by the employees was pretty impressive — talking to them I got a sense that this would be another great place to work. Challenging to be sure, as they are growing rapidly, but definitely the kind of job that you could feel good about at the end of the day; where you felt you had made a positive contribution not only to the company’s bottom line (which, in the scheme of things is still important) but also to improving the quality and reach of education in the world (quite literally; although the largest part of their customer base is North American, they have customers in all sizes of countries throughout the world and are expecting to grow these markets rapidly too).

Once the founder finished his presentation, he answered questions from the audience and then a draw was held for some prizes — mainly items with the company logo, but also a $200 gift certificate to a local dining establishment (the latter prize was drawn only from the names of people — like myself — who had RSVPed that they would attend the event via the company’s website, as indicated in the newspaper ad; a fair number of attendees just showed up — the HR person in charge of organizing the event that I spoke to told this was what they had expected based on the previous year’s experience — and evidently a number of people who had RSVPed were no-shows since they had to draw several names before awarding the prize).

They also provided coffee, tea, bottled water, juice and hors d’oeuvres (a pretty nice assortment of wrap-style mini-sandwiches, veggies & dip, fresh fruit and some dessert squares) — neither the food nor the draw prizes were something they needed to offer to get people to attend; just the mere mention of “career opportunities” in the ad would have guaranteed a good turnout.

As it was, I was actually quite surprised that there weren’t a lot more attendees; in fact I had arrived fairly early myself in anticipation of this (and based on my earlier job fair experience) in order to be near the head of the line.

Except. There was no line this time. I went in to the conference centre (this one was held off-site, unlike the other one I attended) and was greeted by the young woman from HR who was organizing the event — I think I was the first attendee to arrive. We chatted a bit, and she told me to help myself to some of the bottled water that was out on a table or if I wanted coffee it would be coming soon.

So in the end there were perhaps a hundred, maybe even 150 or a bit more — I wasn’t counting, people in all who showed up. A stark contrast to the other job fair where there were probably 10 times as many. This may have been due to two factors: the first job fair I attended was with a company in a city which has seen a fair number of manufacturing and skilled trade jobs lost in the past few years and they were recruiting for a number of positions in the production side of the business; the one I attended today was with a technology (um, call it software development) company in a significantly less economically challenged city.

This is a company that has grown rapidly since it was formed and it looks set to continue growing, which is why they are looking to recruit — and recruit experienced people, particularly, as one of the hiring managers I spoke to said. While they have their share of young, recent grads, they are in need of experienced hands to help manage the growth.

There certainly seem to be some opportunities there which would be a good fit for my skills and experience; I had a very good conversation with one manager in particular who was looking to fill some positions that are of interest to me. He told me to submit my résumé with a cover letter to him, mentioning our conversation, when applying for the positions he needed to fill.

Once again, putting the “human” back in Human Resources seems to Be A Good Thing when it comes to connecting the hiring managers to candidates — you get the opportunity to put a face to a name, and have a dialogue rather than getting a two-dimensional view from just reading their résumé.

So, this is another company that has impressed me with its qualities and that I would be pleased to work for; their corporate culture is one that I wish were more prevalent, wanting to be a source of positive change in society as well as being profitable.

Now, time to wind down and have a rest… beyond these two opportunities, it’s looking like I may soon be getting interviewed by another company. Good things come in threes, don’t they say? ;)


Women are from Venus; Men are from Duh.

May 13, 2007

Oops. Mea gobble, mea gobble, mea maxima gobble (to paraphrase from the Latin “mea culpa).

We went to the weekly Saturday morning farmers’ market in town and picked up a bunch of the first “local” asparagus — it was from a farm in South Western Ontario somewhere down near Lake Erie, which isn’t strictly local to where we live, but does fall within (or at least within a country mile or so… :) ) the 100 mile (~160 km) criteria (as in “The Hundred Mile Diet) we’ve been trying to stick to as often as possible when shopping these days.

We also bought some organic shiitake mushrooms from Greenfields Farm, which has a stall at the farmers’ market. For dinner, K combined them into this:

Sauté of local asparagus with organic shiitake mushrooms.

A lovely sauté of the local asparagus, first of the season, with the organic shiitake mushrooms. It was delicious…

Now to the oops part (yes, I know it’s hard for you to believe that I’m not perfect… ;) ) — I was cleaning up in the kitchen (which is my usual role in the process of doing dinner, well, apart from eating it that is) afterwards and eventually got to the pot that K had blanched (or parboiled or something like that…) the asparagus in prior to adding it to the sauté. The water that the asparagus had been cooked in was still in the pot; nothing unusual about that, I thought.

So I emptied the pot down the drain before loading it into the dishwasher.

And a little while later, when K comes into the kitchen after I’m pretty much done cleaning up, she looks at the pot-less stove top and cries out “Where’s my asparagus broth?!?!?“.

She explained that she had planned on using the broth as an ingredient for other dinners later in the week. But she had forgotten to mention this to me, and I didn’t even think about asking whether she wanted to keep the cooking water before I pitched it out.

Well, I really felt bad about it — I’m sure that the broth would have been put to good use in livening up the taste of another dish.

You can be sure, though, that from now on, I’ll be asking before I dispose of just about anything when I’m cleaning up in the kitchen.

And that’s why I’ve concluded that women are from Venus and men are from Duh… :)


The Good, The Bad and The Miscellaneous

May 10, 2007

The Good

Yesterday evening, we (me and my wife, K, that is) were in The Big Smoke for a book launch party that K had been invited to. She’s known Amy, the book’s author (she’s also Editor/Publisher of the on-line knitting magazine knitty.com), for some time so to show support we schlepped into town to help her celebrate.

Book Launch party for “No Sheep For You”

The book’s title, No Sheep For You, alludes to Amy’s allergy to wool and fabrics made from it — as a knitter, this has a somewhat limiting effect… The book is filled with information about substituting alternative fibres in hand knit garments — the characteristics of each type of fibre and the yarns made from them mean that it’s not always a straightforward substitution as adjustments need to be made to accommodate the differences in order to make a satisfactory finished garment.

The book has actually been out for a while now, but Amy wanted to have the launch party outside of Lettuce Knit, a local yarn shop that she frequents and which holds weekly “stitch ‘n bitch” knitting get-togethers. Weather was therefore a determining factor, and it’s finally becoming seasonable enough in these parts that she was able to schedule the party with reasonable confidence that there wouldn’t be snow…

It was a great party, and Amy deserves lots of congratulations (and success) for all her hard work in putting together the book and knitty.com — here’s a picture of the get-together, with arrows to point out K and Amy:

K and Amy at the book launch party

During the party, I did wander off while everyone knitted and chatted, exploring old familiar stomping grounds: Kensington Market, Spadina Ave (including walking by the El Mo, where I had seen George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers perform an amazing set many moons ago), up through the campus of the ol’ Alma Mater and on into Yorkville.

Which leads to…

The Bad

Walking back to Amy’s book launch party from Yorkville, I passed along Cumberland St, where there are a number of chi-chi re$taurant$ and boutique$. Now Cumberland is a no parking zone, but I came across a Mercedes-Benz AMG SL55 AMG folding-roof convertible (I can tell you exactly what kind of car it was because it had the “V8 Kompressor” logo on the side of the front fender — I am an admitted, life-long gear-head, and didn’t need to look at the trunk lid for the model badge to identify it) parked at the curb in front of one of those aforementioned restos. It had a handicapped-parking permit on the dashboard.

Now, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that the owner/driver, or perhaps their passenger, were legitimately entitled to be issued the permit by the authorities — but it certainly made me go “hmmm…” and wonder if there had been some monetary influence involved in getting the necessary medical certificate required to obtain said permit.

Then, a short distance down the street: another fancy-schmancy car parked in the no parking zone, also with a handicapped permit. If memory serves me correctly, this one was a Bimmer, a 6-series if I’m not mistaken — I wasn’t paying as much attention at this point (being distracted by my thinking about the possibility that fraudulently obtained permits were being used to abuse a privilege that should be reserved for those who truly need it), so I can’t say with authority whether it was the vanilla version or the M6 überwagen with the V10, or even whether it was a coupé or cabriolet.

So, while it’s possible that both of these were legitimate applications of the handicapped parking privilege, the circumstances — two very expen$ive cars parked in front of expen$ive restos on an up-scale street in a trendy neighbourhood…. well, let’s say that I’m leaning heavily towards believing that everything was not exactly on the up-and-up.

The Miscellaneous

There were a couple of other items from yesterday’s foray into T.O. that were interesting (well, at least to me — Your Mileage May Vary) that I will mention here:

While driving in to the city, we came across a pixelboard displaying the following news item:

Toronto the good?  Guess it depends on what you like…

Which was immediately followed by:

What to do while in town…

An unfortuitous (or perhaps intentional ;) ) — but amusing — juxtaposition…

The other miscellany: while walking along Yorkville Ave, I noted on the hoarding in front of a construction project a sign reading something like “Funding provided by BNP Paribas (Canada)“.

Why did this seemingly mundane sign catch my eye? Well, BNP Paribas is a French bank that I am familiar with from my time living/working in France — but I had no idea that they had a presence in Canada.

Certainly not an earth-shattering observation, just one of those connectedness things that strikes you at odd occasions and in odd places.


Bien élevé

May 8, 2007

For those of you who don’t speak French, this post’s title literally means “well raised” — that you’ve been brought up properly and know how to behave in the company of others; you have social graces and good manners and so on. It’s not a phrase you’re likely to run across in a guide-book, but it gets used all the time in France — as well as the pejorative negative form, “pas bien élevé“. You really don’t want to hear the latter being said in reference to you…

And what does that have to do with what’s on my mind today? Well, if you’ve read one of my responses in the comments, a couple of posts back, where I described my experience with going to a job fair, you’ll have seen me mention that I was contacted by a recruiter about a position she was trying to fill for a client after she had found my résumé on one of the on-line job search sites.

As it turned out, I had already been interviewed for the position (but didn’t get the job), so the effort on her part ended up being in vain. With most recruiters I have been in contact with, things would have ended there — time is money, as they say, and the recruiting business tends to be particularly cut-throat and competitive.

So, with most recruiters, unless they feel you’re an exact fit with a position they are trying to fill they don’t want to bother presenting you to a client — they’re looking for a quick, low-effort slam-dunk placement so they can get on to the next one.

What impressed me about this woman was that she told me to e-mail her a copy of my résumé to have on file in case she came across another suitable position. Well, that’s not the part that impressed me, as I’ve had other recruiters ask me to e-mail a copy of my résumé — and then there’s been absolute radio-silence from them…

For example, another recruiter that I spoke to on the phone told me to e-mail it to her and asked me to follow up by calling her back the next day, which I did. When I called back several times over a few days, she was always either in a meeting or out of the office. I left voicemail, but never heard anything back.  Zip, zilch, nada, bugger all, not a sausage…

What did impress me about this latest recruiter was that I actually got an e-mail back from her — several in fact as we conversed about the circumstances that had transpired when I had been interviewed for the position she was trying to fill. I had explained that after the second face-to-face interview I had not heard anything back from either the company (possibly because they had not been provided with my contact information — this is a fairly common practice with recruiters to prevent them from being cut out of the deal and losing their contingency fee) or the recruiter who had presented me to them.

In response she said that too many agencies seem to “have lost the basic principles of courtesy and mutual respect” and she added that “I hope I never fall prey to this negative trend”. She also said she would be happy to keep me in mind for any suitable position that comes her way and asked me to let her know if I land a position on my own.

That’s when the phrase “bien élevé” popped into my head, and when I wrote back to her I told her that based on our phone conversation I thought it unlikely that she would lose the basics of courtesy and respect; that some things are bred in the bone, and I felt she was “bien élevé“.  I also noted it seems that this is becoming all too common behaviour in just about every facet of life, not just the recruiting business.  Sigh.

Once more, she took time to respond, and thanked me for my kind words, asking me again to keep in touch. I certainly will, as I don’t want to be “pas bien élevé;) .

Now, if you’re either an employer looking to fill a position or a jobseeker and are looking for a recruiter with a difference, if you’re in The GTA you should check out the website of the agency she’s with: Career View Inc.

Their website has contact info (general e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, snail-mail address) for the company, but if you’d like to deal with her specifically let me know by leaving your request in the comments (you’ll be able to provide your e-mail in the comment form, but it won’t be displayed in the blog) and I’ll pass it on to her (as I’m not about to put her e-mail address in this post, opening her up to spammers and other assorted internet trolls and vermin).

Hey, do you think someone “bien élevé” would just give out another person’s e-mail address on-line?


A cautionary tale: Mismanagement, Bad Customer Service and a Revelation

May 6, 2007

Why “a cautionary tale”? Because the business behaviour I will describe, and the ultimate result, should serve as an illustrative lesson on how not to succeed in growing your business…

The story begins some years ago, while my wife and I were living in France during my assignment as Project Manager on a global EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) implementation, using Documentum. Now, France is blessed with a very good road system; it does, however, have some peculiarities (at least to those with non-French sensibilities) when it comes to road signage.

One of these is the liberal use of signs that read “Toutes Directions“, which indicate the road so marked leads to all directions (or more literally, all destinations); these frequently occur at junctions and turnings, exits from autoroutes (highways, freeways or motorways, depending on where you’re from) and the omnipresent ronds-points (roundabouts or traffic circles). And in that paradoxically logical French way, there will often be another sign pointing to a different turning or exit in the same junction or roundabout that reads “Autres Directions” — literally, other directions or destinations.

OK, so you go one way to get to anywhere… and the other way to go everywhere else. In truth, once you get the hang of the peculiar logic, and keep your wits about you while reading the complementary signs indicating the actual destinations and the type of road that you’ll end up on, it’s actually quite an effective system. Mostly. And when it all goes wrong, one can still get lost (horribly so…), even following the most scrupulously researched maps and route planning information — it’s no wonder that the country turns out some spectacular rally drivers; navigating special stages are probably a piece of cake compared to daily driving in some areas.

“So, what exactly” you say, “does this have to do with the cautionary tale.?” It spawned a domain name, that’s what. Actually, a photo in one of the French automotive magazines I used to read had a lot to do with it too: a reader had sent them a photo of a pair of Toutes Directions signs, one above the other — with arrows pointing in opposite directions. At that point in your travels, you may as well just pull over and stop in at the nearest café or bistro for a leisurely drink while you sort out how to get where ever you’re going from where ever you are.

We became enamoured of the concept of Toutes Directions — the idea that you can get to anywhere from where you are, and in particular, how suited it was to be used as the domain name for our personal web page, which we intended to be a starting point to get to all of the widely varying things we are interested in. As a result, we registered the domain toutes-directions.com to use for our very own internet rond-point. You can still see some of those pages using the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive.

Which is where we start to get to the meat of the cautionary tale. I did a bit of searching to find a registrar for the domain, and the one I selected was Domain Direct. Interestingly enough, this is a subsidiary of Tucows — the shareware download site. What was also interesting, at least for us, was the discovery that Tucows, and thus also Domain Direct, is a Canadian company; that wasn’t the deciding factor in choosing them, but it did add a warm, fuzzy feeling to be dealing with One Of Our Own.

My memory on the exact reasons I chose them are lost in the haze of time, but I think they offered — at the time — the best combination of features for the money of all the registrars I researched. So we registered toutes-directions.com with them, and it has remained registered through Domain Direct ever since.

We did eventually use another domain registration company (000domains.com) for parking some other domains, as they offered a better price:feature combination for a parked domain than DD (which is how Domain Direct is often abbreviated) — time had passed and the domain registration marketplace had become quite competitive.

These parked domains were complementary (the .net and .org versions) of a another domain name (modknit.com) we registered with DD; this one was for a web site dedicated to “Modular Knitting” (this is a particular knitting design technique which builds garments, such as scarves or sweaters, up from modular elements; frequently these knitted elements are in the form of “mitred squares” — this is probably waaay more than you want to know, right? If you’re really interested, check out K’s site on modular knitting; it hasn’t been updated for some time, but it’s a good place to start and Google should turn up plenty of other resources).

Again, we stuck with DD for the .com registration as they still seemed to offer a competitive set of features and pricing; there was also a certain amount of “comfort factor” in dealing with them, and we had never experienced any problems with them.

Until… The Great Spam Upgrade Debacle.

This is where we get to the nub of the story. Spam essentially didn’t exist when we first registered a domain; it has, of course, grown exponentially since then to become the pestilential plague we all fight against every day now. In response to the increasing spam traffic, DD implemented spam filtering on the e-mail accounts we had that were hosted with them as part of our full-service domain registrations; they also filtered spam on the e-mail forwarding accounts that went with the parked domains we had since registered with them (their offering for parked domains had become much more competitive, with the features we needed at a price comparable to the other domain registration company where we have other domains parked).

The spam filtering was OK but not perfect (which is about as good as it gets when it comes to spam filtering, although some services work better than others), and the interface to the quarantine was a little clunky but functional. The increasing volume of spam was taking its toll, however, and their e-mail performance (both accessing the quarantine and basic mail sending and retrieving) was suffering.

DD decided that they needed to upgrade the spam filtering system to better serve their customers — “Wait,” you say, “this is supposed to be a cautionary tale about mismanagement and bad customer service… but it sounds like they were managing the problem pro-actively to give good customer service?”

That would certainly seem to have been their intention… but then “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

In fact, what did happen is probably best described as a charlie-foxtrot of the first magnitude. To cut to the chase: the upgrade turned into a sidegrade, then a downgrade and ultimately DD gave up trying to fix it and pulled the plug on the whole spam filtering system.

The most egregious thing was the e-mail DD sent announcing that the spam quarantine would no longer be accessible from a domain’s control panel — it arrived well after they had shut it down on Friday morning. I had been able to access the quarantine first thing in the morning, then later on I couldn’t — at that point, given the woes DD users including us had been experiencing due to the “upgrade” (you can read all about it in various posts on DD’s info blog), I assumed it was just Yet Another Patch Gone Wrong. At least that’s what I thought until the e-mail announcing that this would be done arrived after it had already been done. Thanks a lot, that really helped us to prepare for it.

As it is, I’ve now turned off spam filtering completely (since there is now no way to check the quarantine for false-positives) for the e-mail accounts that go through DD and redirected the messages to our non-DD e-mail addresses that had, over time, become our primary addresses (fortunately, we have addresses provided by our ISP — who, by the way, is a model of good management and customer service; if you’re in their service area I can very highly recommend you check out Execulink Telecom). Execulink uses Postini for spam filtering and it works pretty well — it’s not perfect either, but at least it’s working and I can check the quarantine easily for false-positives.

Now, on to the moral of the story — I’ll explain how this is a cautionary tale for companies who mismanage and provide bad customer service.

You see, the modknit.com domain which was registered through DD was coming up for renewal on the 8th of May and we needed to decide whether to let it lapse, renew it with DD or transfer it to another registration company. And given the nightmare of the Spam Upgrade From Hell, we certainly weren’t inclined to just renew with DD as we had previously.

What to do? Well, this is where the lesson for management starts, so take notes… We have been listening to the Adam Curry (a.k.a. The Podfather) podcast The Daily Source Code on PodShow.com where he is sponsored, in part, by the domain registration company GoDaddy.com

I had some vague awareness of GoDaddy.com prior to hearing Adam Curry shill for them, but since he has both some tech savvy and business smarts I figured he wouldn’t be risking his reputation and business ventures by registering domains (a whois shows that he in fact uses GoDaddy) with a fly-by-night organization. That was enough to make it worth taking a look at them, particularly as they advertise having very low fees (which is of interest at any time, but particularly so when you’re still searching for a job). I did also look at the other domain registration company we had used for parking domains, just to see if they were competitive.

In the end, transferring the modknit.com domain to GoDaddy turned out to be an easy decision. They offer to transfer a .com domain, give you the time remaining on your current registration (not much in this case, as it was about a week before it was to expire) and extend it for a year, all for US$6.95 (plus the US$0.22 ICANN fee) — that was way cheaper than sticking with DD (albeit with a plan that had somewhat more features, but GoDaddy provided everything we actually needed) and at least half of what it would have cost through 000domains.com; a no-brainer, in other words.

I initiated the transfer using GoDaddy’s on-line system (once I had disabled the transfer lock on the domain at DD). It’s a well designed, easy to use system that steps you through the whole process in no time. The control panel you access once the transfer request has been submitted does a great job of telling you what the status of the transfer is, and best of all, it tells you what you need to do next — a very good feature (and is something a lot of designers overlook, since they know the process intimately, they often forget that this may be the first time a user is going through it and needs guidance).

And the next step was to authorize the transfer at DD. Which required them to send an e-mail requesting that we authorize the transfer. Which took some time in arriving. In fact, because of the impending expiry I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t send the authorization request soon enough, so I submitted a support request via the DD website — with great trepidation, as there were a lot of comments on the DD info blog from people who were not getting timely responses to support requests. I also tried calling their support line a couple of times. After waiting on hold for some time on the first call, I left a message when given the opportunity and gave the details of the transfer request.

Still nothing. The next day, I called again and this time just kept waiting on hold (hey, it was their dime — I called the toll-free number) hoping to get through to a real person. This was about 4pm EDT and I took the cordless phone outside with me, put it on speakerphone and listened to the recorded messages alternating with a radio broadcast, while I washed the car. I finished washing and drying the car, went inside and finally gave up after being on hold for an hour.

I was preparing to fax the request to DD, in the hope that it might actually get a response, when lo and behold we finally received the transfer authorization message. I logged in to the website with the authorization codes provided and authorized the transfer. At least this part went smoothly (although this was actually handled through the OpenSRS system, not DD itself) and shortly afterwards when I checked the control panel in GoDaddy, the transfer was no longer pending, it was done — success!

Now, even though the transfer is complete DD still keeps sending us reminder notices that the domain is about to expire and that we need to renew the registration with them. As if.

Once the domain was transferred, setting things up on GoDaddy was easy — URL redirect, e-mail and so on. I am very happy with how it went. And then, to top it all off, on Friday afternoon we got a call from a support person at GoDaddy – they called us! The rep said that they call all new customers to make sure they got everything set up OK once their domain was registered — he confirmed that he could see that I had set everything up already and asked if there was anything else he could help me with. I said there wasn’t anything and thanked him very much for the call before ringing off.

You could have scraped me off the floor with a dustpan… what a difference in customer service, from being on hold for an hour and never getting through to DD, then having GoDaddy call us to make sure everything was taken care of. And at a price that’s just sweet.

So, guess which company is first in line to get any future domain registration business from us… including transferring existing domain registrations, particularly now that I know how easy GoDaddy makes it. The well managed company that knows how to provide good customer service wins, the mismanaged company that gives bad customer service loses.

And my impression from reading the comments in DD’s info blog is that there are others who will be moving their domains too; this then is the lesson to be learned by businesses from my cautionary tale — even loyal customers have their limits, and this level of mismanagement and bad customer service can quickly destroy years of good relationship.


Are you going to the fair?

May 3, 2007

Job fair, that is.

That’s what I did last Saturday. The first one I’ve ever been to. More about how it turned out below, but first some general observations and thoughts about job fairs and how they fit into the job search landscape.

I think that there are probably three broad categories:

  1. Job fairs targeted at soon-to-be or recent post-secondary graduates;
  2. Industry specific job fairs; and
  3. Single-company job fairs.

The first type can be single-company or multi-company, and are often run on-campus in cooperation with the school’s administration. The second type is a strictly multi-company affair — since I’ve classed single-company job fairs as a separate case.

Now, since I haven’t attended any of the first two types, I can’t speak with authority about them — so take anything I may say about them with an appropriately sized grain of salt.

In any case, I’m far enough past graduation that the first type isn’t applicable to my current job search. I’m sure there were some on campus back when I graduated, but I didn’t attend any — my degree was in aerospace engineering, and I was fortunate in joining The deHavilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd (yes, I know it looks a bit odd, but I assure you that was the company’s name, including the initial “The”; originally a subsidiary of a British aircraft manufacturer, the company was eventually bought from the Canadian government by Boeing and then sold a couple of years later to Bombardier Aerospace) straight out of school as they were recruiting new engineers in the aerodynamics department for the development of the Dash 8 commuter airliner. I still have many good memories of my time there and feel a sense of pride at my contributions to the design every time I see one flying overhead.

As for the second type, my impression is that they are probably useful for bringing together employers seeking very specific skills — typically either in highly technical fields or in skilled trades — and those who have those skills to offer. I suspect that they are more likely to be organized when there is a shortage of the required skills; when there’s a glut, there would be little incentive for a bunch of competing companies to get together to woo prospective employees.

Which leads to the third type, and which was the kind I attended last Saturday. It would seem that a company conducting a job fair to fill a bunch of their job requirements flies in the face of the current conventional wisdom of recruiting, which seems to be: do as much as possible to take the “human” out of “human resources”.

It’s true that the organizing and execution of the job fair took a lot of effort — and cost, I expect — on the company’s part and particularly on the part of the employees who participated (more about which later). Using the internet to recruit candidates, then screening them with software designed to match keywords found in a candidate’s résumé with keywords provided by the hiring manager, would seem to require much less effort — I can’t comment on the cost aspect, since there is obviously some cost associated with the systems and software required to do this and I don’t know how it compares with the cost of running a job fair (although I’m sure the software vendor’s marketing team has a well-cooked set of figures to prove how much money it will save…)

But maybe the reason it requires more effort is that it actually produces better results. Now, I’ve had some feedback from a number of sources that suggest to me this is true. Specifically, I’ll use RIM (Research In Motion, maker of the now ubiquitous BlackBerry) as a sort of “case study” for this — I’ve applied to RIM for a number of positions through their internet recruiting system.

And apparently, I have impressive qualifications, at least according to the canned rejection e-mails I keep getting back. Now don’t take that as sour grapes on my part, there’s more to the story. I do have some inside contacts at RIM: my brother-in-law works there, and so does a friend from university — they have both told me that the recruiting system seems to work against the hiring managers seeing the best candidates.

I’ve had this corroborated by the outplacement consultant I was provided with, who has spoken to a number of RIM’s managers and has heard the same thing from them. There are also lots of stories about people who’ve submitted applications and heard nothing back at all from RIM… until they get a call months, even years, afterwards asking them to come for an interview.

Perhaps RIM is a bit of an anomaly — they’re considered such a desirable place to work that they get a huge volume of applications and perhaps this significantly exacerbates the inherent limitations in the system. And having been a software developer, I can assure you that even an expertly developed system will not be able to identify suitable candidates as well as an experienced human resources professional.

But even so, I think it still serves as a pretty good indicator of the downside of taking the human out of human resources. It’s hard enough getting a hiring manager’s requirements stated clearly enough for a skilled and experienced human being to put them into a coherent job description (having had to write requirements as a hiring manager myself, I can say this with some confidence), but identifying good candidates that fit the requirement is tougher still and requires a level of judgement that only comes with experience — something much better dealt with in wetware, not software.

So, on to the actual job fair. I spotted an ad in the local paper for the job fair, which was being held at the company’s site in Cambridge, not far from here. I knew of the company, but the positions I had seen advertised previously were for skills outside my area of competence — they build communications components and systems for satellites, and the jobs I had seen before were mainly for electronics, RF and microwave engineers or for production workers and skilled trades (e.g. machinists).

But for the job fair, they were recruiting for a variety of positions, including some that matched my profile — a job that requires project management experience coupled with strong inter-personal/relationship building skills, for example. I decided that it was worth investing the time to prepare for and attend their job fair.

As noted, it was run on Saturday — presumably to allow people who are employed to attend, in addition to those who are (like myself) between jobs. There were a lot of their employees involved: from directing people in the parking lot and the lineup (and it was quite a lineup), to registering candidates as they entered (due to security and confidentiality restrictions that the facility operates under, everyone had to be signed in and out, and all cell-phones and cameras had to be left at the registration table — neatly tucked into a zippy-bag and labelled with your name for retrieval on exit), then directing people inside to various interviewing areas; not to mention the considerable effort spent in actually interviewing candidates.

While I’m sure that the employees would be compensated in some fashion for working on Saturday, with time-off in lieu perhaps, it was still impressive to observe the dedication and energy being shown by everyone — my impression was that they were putting in a lot of effort not because they were forced to, but because it was the best way to make the organization be successful.

I gathered from one of the staff that the company had put on a job fair the year before (perhaps they do it annually; I’m not sure about that, but they definitely had one last year as she talked about how hot it had been and having to take water out to the people standing in line. Not a problem this year; it was cold and there was plenty of water available in the form of rain) — I take this as an encouraging sign that their business continues to grow.

Once through the registration process, where things like name and address were noted, and the position you were interested in was marked on the top of your résumé, people were seated in the lobby until being called into one of the interviewing areas — which one depended on the type of job and skills required. After a short wait, I was ushered into a conference room with probably close to a dozen people — all HR personnel, I believe — performing preliminary interviews; a sort of triage to determine whether or not to send a candidate on for more in-depth interviewing with a manager.

I had a nice conversation with a young woman from HR, and found out that she had only been with the company for 6 weeks — I commented that they had really thrown her into the deep end right away. She asked a few questions and concluded that I should see one of the managers — she consulted her list of people conducting interviews and put the names of three of them on the top of my résumé, indicating that any of those three would be in a position to evaluate my suitability for the position; I would see whichever of them was available first.

When she was done with the interview, she gave me her business card and asked me to follow up with her after my interview with one of the managers, to let her know how it went.  One of the benefits, I think, of putting the human back into human resources — with most companies, when you submit an application through their faceless internet portal, it’s generally just “radio-silence” (other than, perhaps, an automated e-mail cheerfully informing you that your application had been received) unless you get contacted for an interview.

After another brief wait while they assembled a group, we were taken in to the cafeteria where the secondary interviews were taking place.  I waited there a bit longer this time, sitting through a presentation about the company, its history, products, business philosophy, corporate culture, employee benefits and so on…  actually, I saw the presentation quite a few times while waiting, and noted a small grammatical error on slide 15 (in describing the function of the recreation club they used “who’s mandate is…” instead of “whose mandate is…” — I pointed this out to my interviewer so that it could be corrected, and he noted that I certainly demonstrated good attention to detail).

The interview took about 15-20 minutes, I think.  The interviewer was a manager from the production engineering department, and was not the hiring manager for the position I was interested in — nonetheless, he was familiar with the main requirements of the position, so I expect that as part of the preparation for the job fair the managers who participated were briefed on all the positions being recruited for so that they could at least decide if a candidate was suitable enough to be passed on to the hiring manager later for an in-depth interview.

The discussion was very thorough, and I think we quickly established a good rapport.  At the conclusion of the interview, he said he would forward my résumé to the director of the department that was recruiting the position, and he expected I would be contacted soon to set up a formal interview.

Based on the experience with the job fair and the people I met, my impression of the company was that it is a very strong, dynamic organization; that the people who work there are dedicated, committed and truly enjoy being part of a successful team.  I tend to be somewhat cynical about “mission statements” and “corporate values”, but the ones stated in the presentation were: a) very much in evidence; and b) actually very much in line with my own beliefs about what makes a business strong, sustainable and a good corporate citizen.

So, my first experience with a job fair was exceptionally positive; however, I don’t expect that this would be the case with all companies running a job fair, so take that into account as well.

Also, I’ve gone from knowing almost nothing about the company, other than its name and where its products are used, to knowing a fair bit about them and being very impressed with the organization:  according to the information presented, their market share for some of their products is greater than the combined total of all the other suppliers in the marketplace (granted, satellite communications components are not exactly a high-volume business…  but it’s still a worthy accomplishment).  Beyond the commercial success, I can see that it would be a very good environment to work in.

Oh, and did I mention the lineup?  The job fair was scheduled to run from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm; I wasn’t able to arrive until right at 9 am (K was going to Toronto that morning to help her friend Karen, who’s opened a knitting store in New Hamburg called Shall We Knit?, with a booth at the DKC Knitter’s Frolic knitting show and I had to get her to the meeting point for Karen to pick her up before I went to the job fair) and the lineup was already half the length of the building.

The lineup moved slowly, and the time that was marked on my résumé at the registration desk was 10:42 am.  Fortunately I was able to strike up a conversation with the woman behind me in the line, as it turned out she is also from the city where I live so we had something in common; the conversation helped pass the time and distract from the miserable weather that day.

By the time I left, it was about 12:20 pm, and I think that the lineup was even longer than when I had arrived at 9 am.  When I later spoke to the woman from HR who had asked me to follow up, she said that they had been a bit surprised at the number of people who had showed up for the job fair; there were a lot more than they had expected.  A sign of the economic times, I suspect.

She told me she was forwarding my résumé to the hiring manager for the position, but that they were travelling on business this week, so it would probably be the end of the week or more likely next week before I would hear from them.

Based on my very positive impressions of the company from the effort that they put into their job fair, and also the obvious quality and dedication of the people I met during my time there, I have to say I would be very pleased to become a part of their organization; one that has the Unconventional Wisdom to put the human back in human resources — they evidently see enough value in return for the significant effort it takes.


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