Working Outside The Box

January 3, 2010

As part of my current job search, I have been thinking about what potential employers think of my careers.  That’s not a typo, I really meant careers in the plural.  Just look at my CV and I’m sure you’ll agree that my working life has spanned more than a single area of experience, which is what I think is the principal element defining “a career”.

So I started out with a career in the aerospace industry, having graduated from the Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (a.k.a. Engineering), having majored in Aerospace Engineering.  I had a good career, starting right out of school working in the aerodynamic design department at de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, where I worked on the development of the DHC-8 “DASH8” commuter airliner.  I still feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I see one flying overhead.  From there I went to MBB Helicopter Canada (now Eurocopter Canada) where I worked on the aerodynamic design and performance analysis of light-utility helicopters.  That, however, was an inauspicious time to be working in the helicopter manufacturing business, as the economy went through a downturn and helicopter sales, if you’ll pardon the expression, took a nose-dive.

As a result, I ended up – like a lot of people in the business – out of work.  Now during my career in the aircraft industry, I had gained a lot of experience with computers and programming – I had always been strong in that area from high school on through my university education, but to that natural aptitude I had added much practical experience.  So, looking at the state of the aircraft industry and foreseeing a long recovery period ahead, I decided to make a career change and sought out a position in software development.

I was fortunate, and found a position at Hostess Frito-Lay Canada (the company is now just called Frito-Lay Canada) as a Programmer/Analyst which used the skills with Cognos 4GL tools that I had acquired in developing custom Budget vs Actual reports for the Program Management Office at Eurocopter.

Following that, I moved to the pharmaceutical sector, but still in the IT field as a Senior Analyst in the IT department of what was then Pasteur Mérieux Connaught (it has since been through a number of changes, from Aventis Pasteur to the current Sanofi Pasteur).  I continued gaining experience in business systems analysis there while working on an SAP implementation.  After that successfully launched, I was elevated to the position of Project Manager and subsequently was selected to manage a global Documentum EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) implementation project, based at the company’s headquarters in France.

During the four years I worked on the project, I lived in France, so in addition to gaining experience in Project Management, I also learned about bridging cultures – both corporate and national – because the implementation team was spread over three countries: France, the USA and Canada.  Each site had its own corporate and local business and regulatory requirements to satisfy, and each nationality had its own culturally influenced point of view and way of communicating.  I suspect part of the reason I was selected over candidates from the French and US IT departments was the reputation Canadians have for being good intermediaries between diverse cultures – and I believe that I lived up to that stereotype.

After returning to Canada once the EDMS was in production, a reorganization of the IT departments in the North American sites left me looking for a new job.  And that ended up with me moving on to my third career, as the Manager of Customer Care and eBusiness at an engineered products manufacturing company, ASCO Valve Canada (a subsidiary of the US based ASCO Valve).  There, I was responsible for managing a group of Customer Service Representatives and Inside Sales Technicians.

That role also had me in frequent direct contact with the distributors the company sold to, as well as with colleagues at the parent company and other subsidiaries around the world where we sourced components and finished goods.  I think all my previous experience made me well suited to the role: strong analytical problem solving skills which I used in dealing with supply-chain problems to expedite order shipments; people skills developed working with individuals and teams having diverse levels of technical and business knowledge, as well as cultural and language differences; and experience with arranging the resources needed to achieve an objective.

A management-level reorganization resulted in my departure from the company, and I subsequently returned to a role in my second career of IT Project Management.  I joined a software company that had developed an enterprise-class Learning Management System (LMS), in the role of a Client Project Manager in the company’s Professional Services Organization.  That job again had me in frequent direct contact with clients, managing our internal resources and working with their Project Manager to schedule the implementation steps and the client resources that were needed to support it.

After being in that role for some time, I was asked if I would be interested in an internal transfer to fill an opening in the Product Development division – a Program Manager was required for one of the Product Teams.  That role was partly Project Management and partly personnel management – I had a team of Product Designers, Software Developers and Quality Assurance Analysts reporting to me.  I still had some direct client contact, which was not the case for the other Program Managers in Product Development – the team I was in charge of had done some custom work for one specific client, and I took on the role of managing the ongoing work being done for them.

That job ended recently, and I am now looking for a new one.  If you are looking to fill a position that my skills, strengths and experience would suit, let me know via the comments and I’ll get in contact so we can have a conversation about it.

But enough about my careers, at this point, I’d like to ask you about yours: whether you have had one linear career or multiple careers – closely related or wildly diverse – what has your experience been like?  Have you had opportunities to grow (both personally and professionally) and stay interested within one career, or did you find it necessary to change careers to continue growing personally/professionally and maintain a strong interest in what you were doing?  What upsides/downsides did your particular career path result in?

For me, I have been fortunate that whether the change in career was a deliberate choice (switching from aerodynamics engineering to IT) or serendipitous (having the right combination of skills and experience to manage a Customer Care group) I have had lots of opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally, and plenty of things to keep me interested. There have been downsides as well, in that starting fresh has sometimes meant coming into a role at a salary lower than what I might have been at by staying on a single career path.

Please tell me about your own experience in the comments to this post, I’d love to hear what you have to share with me.

Oh, and the reason for the post’s title – well, much has been said about “thinking outside the box” as a way to break out of past models of behaviour in order to make progress.  Since there has also been a lot of talk about multiple careers being the new norm, replacing the old one linear career model it seemed appropriate to paraphrase and say that many of us are now “working outside the box”.


Starting fresh

January 1, 2010

I recently had an e-mail conversation with Kneale Mann about my top 5 goals for 2010 – more about #1 in a bit, but the second on my list was to blog more regularly.  And in order to do that, I said I would need to work on achieving a better balance in my writing.

What I meant by that was, well, here’s what I said to Kneale in my e-mail:

I write well, but it takes me too long – I am by nature a perfectionist, and when combined with my great respect for language, it means I end up spending a lot of time reviewing, editing and rewriting until I feel every word in what I’ve written deserves to be there.

So the first step is writing this post today; the second will be to heed Voltaire’s aphorism Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (“The best is the enemy of the good“) and not sweat each post so much.

What else did I have in my list of goals? Let’s see:

  • #3: Help the CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farm program at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph become even more successful.  K and I have been members of the CSA for a couple of seasons now and have really benefitted from the organic produce we received in our weekly share of the harvest.  In the Fall of 2009 we volunteered to be part of the CSA’s “Core Group” and I have also joined their BAC (Business Advisory Committee) to help with the financial side of the CSA.
  • #4: Expand my circle of on-line connections – I’ve benefitted enormously in the past 3-4 years from making connections on-line (many of which have led to face-to-face relationships).  That said, I will continue to be discriminating about who I connect with – I don’t need to “friend” everyone, just the right people: intelligent, socially committed and willing to act in order to make the world better.
  • #5: Write the next killer non-fiction book, using everything I’ve observed about people, corporations, governments, crowds and their behaviour to explain how we’ve managed to screw the world up so badly. And if I’m lucky, come up with some useful suggestions to alter that course before it all ends very, very badly for humanity.

As I said in my e-mail:

#5 is what they call a “stretch goal” (and it’s a BIG stretch, but hey, as they say “Go big or go home”).  The other 4 are emminently do-able, I think.  Not necessarily easy, but do-able.

So, #2 is underway (you’re reading this post, aren’t you?), #3 has been started and will continue (next BAC meeting is in several weeks) and #4 is happening all the time – if you’re not already one of my connections, you can start by leaving a comment here or by finding me elsewhere on the interwebs: I’m on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to name a few places we can connect.

Oh, and #1 goal for 2010? Well, this one wasn’t quite what Kneale had in mind when he asked for my goals, since he was looking for ones that were things that others could aspire to and this one is a very self-centred goal (although I’m sure that there are many out there with the same one right now):

  • #1: Find employment – whether this is a full-time position with a company, contract work or consulting. Gotta pay the bills.

If you want to connect about helping me achieve that one, I’d certainly be interested in hearing about opportunities that would suit my particular skills, strengths and experience.  If you want to know more about what I’ve done, you can see my Curriculum Vitae page (there’s a downloadable PDF version of my résumé availble there too).

There, done. And without sweating the details… too much, anyway.


Good News!

June 1, 2007

I know, I know… it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything substantial… er, well, a while since I’ve posted anything, I suppose.

But there’s a good reason — I’ve actually started several draft posts, but haven’t been able to finish them just yet.

Because I’ve been quite busy on the job search front.

And it’s finally borne fruit –  the second job fair I attended recently (about which I posted in Woof.) lead to an interview with one of the hiring managers at the company a little over a week ago.  The interview went very well, and I got a call a few days after from the HR person who was also at the interview; she wanted to ask a few more questions over the phone so that I didn’t have to come back in for a second interview and at the end of the conversation she asked me to send her a list of references that they could check.

I sent her the references at the beginning of this week, and I heard from one of my references the same day that she had been contacted; the next day I got an e-mail inviting me to meet with the hiring manager and the HR manager to go through an offer later in the week.

Cut to the chase: the position looks like it will be a good fit for my skills and experience, the company has corporate values that I agree with, and from the time I’ve spent speaking with various people there (at the job fair as well as in the subsequent interview and meeting) they seem to be a very dedicated and committed group with lots of very good, positive energy.  I believe this will be an excellent opportunity for me, and after taking a brief time to consider the details of the offer (they let me take the offer home, so I could discuss it with my wife) I decided to accept the offer.  I faxed them back the signed offer, and I will start working for the company in a couple of weeks.

And with a bit of time freed up from the job search, maybe I can get those other posts completed and published…  Real Soon Now!


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? ;)


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?


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.


LinkedIn: (Non)Social Networking for Grownups

April 10, 2007

You may be aware of LinkedIn, or perhaps not.  It’s an on-line networking site, but not of the MySpace or YouTube “social networking” variety.  It’s for professional networking, and you need to receive an invitation to join from someone who’s already registered with LinkedIn (thinks: so, just who did they seed the network with in the first place?).

I’m on LinkedIn, having received an invitation to join from my brother-in-law (thanks, Larry!) to help me network for my job search.

Now, I’m still debating how useful or effective LinkedIn is; some days I’m not sure that networking is as effective as the outplacement consultants say it is.  But that’s a piece of conventional wisdom to be dealt with another day, I think…

Perhaps one of the biggest problems I find with LinkedIn in particular is that it is not, for me at least, at all obvious what to do once you get past the initial registration setup in order to become 100% networked:

LinkedIn network progress bar

Now, I’ve been told by enough different people over the years what a clever lad I am for it to not be just good manners on their part, so I really ought to be able to suss out how one is supposed to set things up and what to do in order to complete my network.  But I find working with LinkedIn’s user interface to be less than intuitive — oh, the overall design is fine, visually, and things pretty much function, as in when you fill in a field and click a button it goes away and it updates things properly.

What I find missing is some kind of “executive summary” of the whole process.  I expect that the people who came up with the idea and designed the site probably understand it all very clearly.

But as I’ve often encountered in my career, knowing a subject extremely well often does not correlate to being able to make others understand it — the ability to do so is a gift, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some gifted teachers along the way.

On the flip side, I’ve also spent plenty of time in “brilliant person who can’t understand why everyone else just doesn’t get it the way they do” purgatory…  I’m sure some of my classmates (who, if I’m to believe LinkedIn, are just waiting for me to connect with them) from engineering school will recognize a professor or two in this description.

So, where’s this all going?  Ah, well, I have managed to finally figure LinkedIn out a bit; they have some FAQs and so on that have been of some help (though I still can’t seem to find a nice, tight summary of The Grand Scheme of Things LinkedIn), but mainly I’ve just started inviting a bunch of people who may have enough connections of their own to fill out my network.

Despite my occasional doubts about the power of networking in job searching, I’m also not going to ignore the possibility that it might just give me the one connection that clicks.

To that end, I’ve included a link to my Public Profile on LinkedIn over in the blog’s sidebar.  Note that to see more than the basics of my profile, you’ll need to sign-in to LinkedIn — you are already registered with them, aren’t you?


The Multiple Careers Paradigm

April 3, 2007

If I recall correctly, in the 1990s there was a so-called “paradigm shift” which produced a new bit of conventional wisdom that said people could no longer expect to have a slow, steady progression in one career with a single employer from graduation to retirement; that instead the norm would be for people to change employers and even careers every few years, with mobility, versatility and adaptability being key to long term success.

Except. What I’m seeing in my recent job search efforts is that a large number of companies seem to want to hire someone into a position who has been doing exactly that job. So if we’re supposed to be changing what we do every few years, how do you manage to break into another field when you don’t even get a look in because you don’t already have a long track record?

Now I already have had some success with career changes: I graduated with an engineering degree and had a successful career in the aerospace field, at least until economic conditions made the industry downsize (I was one of those downsized in the process).

Having developed my computer skills during that phase of my professional life, I was fortunately able to transition to the IT world and had another successful career, starting with Programmer/Analyst responsibilities and working up to Project Management. During that time, I was posted to France for 4 years to the company’s head office to work as the project manager on an implementation of a global system. After returning to Canada, there was some restructuring in the company’s North American IT operations, and my position was eliminated.

The next of my careers ended up being in management, in the field of Customer Care. Huh? From engineering to IT, that doesn’t seem such a leap perhaps. But customer service?

Well, it’s not such a leap really. Throughout my careers, I had excelled at serving internal customers; in particular I had a strong philosophy that ultimately what I did to help them was in support of what they did to serve the company’s external customers and they are the ones who buy the products that paid my salary.

I was fortunate; the company that hired me as a Manager of Customer Care saw that I possessed the characteristics they needed to supervise a customer service group and look after the needs of demanding customers. My technical background was also useful as they manufacture an engineered product that is sold primarily through industrial distribution channels and to OEMs. My computer background was another key for this position, as it involved managing and developing strategic enhancements to the company’s customer-only extranet.

This job ended when a re-organization of the management group occurred due to a change in the company’s strategic objectives.

So, with a track record of adapting successfully to new career challenges, you’d think I would be perfectly placed with regard to the “career mobility paradigm”. But it seems like this is not the case, and perhaps it’s because of another recent paradigm or two: “Shareholder Value” and “Sarbanes-Oxley/Good Corporate Governance”.

Companies are afraid, it would seem (at least from my perspective), that hiring someone into a position that isn’t an exact clone of the job description is too risky. And risk is, these days, unacceptable from a shareholder value point of view; I’m less certain of the corporate governance effects but I suspect that increased attention to “internal controls” makes everyone a little more nervous when it comes to making a decision that could end up being questioned.

So, there we are. Is the career mobility paradigm dead, killed off by the power of risk-averse investors? I’d be interested to find out what other people’s recent experience is telling them about this subject.


Curriculum Vitae – Professional vs Personal Experience

March 29, 2007

I’ve been wondering how best to present the divergence (that may not be the right term, but I’m not sure how else to express it — suggestions welcomed, once you’ve read the post and see what I mean) between my personal and professional experience in my CV.

What I’m referring to is the fairly extensive personal experience I have with a lot of internet related technologies:

  • Web development, HTML and so on: right from hand-coding my wife’s first blog — back in the “dark ages” when blogging first climbed out of the primordial internet soup, before the appearance of the manifold blogging tools & hosted services — through to fine-tuning the look and feel of her current TypePad-hosted blogs using CSS.
  • Website management: uploading web pages, images and so on; managing files on hosted blogs.
  • Computer Graphics: bitmap/photo editing, vector drawings and so on in the production of logos, buttons and whatnots for the aforementioned blogs and web pages.  This is in addition to my professional experience with typical business graphics tools: MS Powerpoint, Visio, etc in the “Office” world, plus CAD drawing tools (CATIA 3D, AutoCad, etc) in the engineering world.
  • Podcasting: setting up a PC-based home recording system, which required researching & selecting appropriate hardware and software, purchasing and configuring everything, figuring out how to get good quality recordings and then teaching Katherine how to use it all to produce her podcasts.  I’ve developed some decent skills at editing the recorded audio and have become pretty knowledgeable about things like RSS feeds, XML and iTunes in the process.  You can check out the results at Katherine’s podcast and blog pages; links to them are in the sidebar under the “Wabi Sabi Universe” heading.  I can’t take credit for the writing, soothing voice or eclectic choice of music that seem to attract her listeners (that’s all to her credit), but the technical aspects of the sound quality, consistency in using the ID3 tags, and managing all the files and feeds — that’s me.
  • Blogging: hmm, come to think of it, there’s this blog.  And now I have some experience with WordPress, in addition to being very familiar with TypePad.  Perhaps it helps demonstrate my communications skills…

Of course, there are plenty of other areas of my personal experience that might be useful in some position — but how do you catalogue it all, without overloading the CV?

So, any thoughts or comments on your own experience with presenting personal experience in a professional CV will be welcomed.


CV posted

March 27, 2007

As part of my job hunting strategy, I’ve posted my CV as a page on the blog — there, you’ll find a text version of it as well as a link to download it in PDF format.

If you know of a suitable position (for example as a Manager of Customer Service in a manufacturing company that’s located in the Greater Toronto Area or south-western Ontario), please contact me by leaving a comment — I’ll be notified by e-mail that a comment has been posted.

Also, if you think someone you know might be aware of a suitable position, you can forward them a copy of the CV or direct them to it on the web.

Thanks,

Rob


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