August – a Great Time To Network

As summer winds down and we start planning out the rest of the year it is a great time to add a networking event or two to your calendar.  Many times we find August events can be a lot of fun with great weather and audiences in a great mood (likely a direct correlation!).  If you don’t have one in mind take a look at this list from BostInno.  A couple of them jumped out at us:

Take a look – there are a lot to choose from!

Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

You managed to get an interview with a company you have had your eye on for some time.  The hour is wrapping up on your initial interview with the hiring manager.  Things have gone well and you are hoping to be invited back – and then it comes.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

This can be a very specific and calculated question or it can be a sign that the interviewer is merely looking for a way to wrap things up.  Either way it provides you with an opportunity to end the meeting with momentum on your side.  And if the interview has not gone well to that point it can be your chance to turn things around as well.

Because you did such a good job preparing for your interview – you should already have a strong understanding of what the company does and the challenges they face.  Having a great question or two in mind heading into the interview will help you highlight your skills and experience again – and hopefully separate you from the field of candidates.

Questions like “What are the future goals of the company/department?” “How would you describe the company culture?” “What is the typical work week for someone in this role?” and “What is the most important thing I could accomplish in my first 90 days in this job?” are popular.  I suspect the answers to many of them will come up in the course of your interview though.

A good, general question in the area of your skillset is a better way and keeps the focus on your qualifications.  Presuming you are a project manager you might ask “What kind of process do you have in place for project governance?”  Or you may ask how highly they value the PMP and why or why not.

Avoid general questions about what the company does – show them you did research by asking about a project or product they have delivered recently.  What challenges did they have in your area of expertise with the delivery?  You can expand on your experience and how it may help them avoid these issues in the future.

It should probably go without saying – but this is typically not the time to discuss or ask questions about comp, vacation, etc.  Your goal is to get them interested enough to move forward in the process.  The compensation discussion will come.  You are selling yourself at this point.

But what if you want more?  What if you want to be a bit different?

  • “Do you have any concerns or questions about my ability to perform this role?”  This is  straightforward – and a particularly good question if you think the interview did not go well.  If the interviewer opens up about their concerns this is your chance to change their mind.  If they don’t then you have a choice.  Do you attack the things you felt did not go well in an effort to repair – or do you let it go and hope you were being overly critical of your performance.
  • A variant of the previous question is “Have any of my answers today been off target with what you hope to hear from the perfect candidate?” Again, the goal is to get you a chance to address any concerns and keep you in the process.

No matter what approach you choose, ask a question that can ultimately give you a chance to highlight your skills and experience again.  Take an element of what you have learned about the role in the interview and frame a question about a project or challenge they have.  Before the interview even starts have an idea of the key points you want to cover in summary in mind.

After you have asked your question you should have one more ready to go.  Let your interviewer know you are very interested in the role based on the discussion and ask what the next steps in the process are.  Ask what the timeline for hiring will look like and with whom and when you should follow up.  This will clearly establish expectations on both sides – and might be the most important question you can ask!

How We Provide Project Management Value

As the project management practice grows at TSP we are often asked what it is and what makes it different versus a PM posting at a typical staffing agency.  These questions come from both the candidate and client perspective.  We have found that these themes make our offering unique in the project management space.

We are not a contract shop first.  Over 80% of our project management placements are permanent.  Of the remaining 20% the majority are contract or consultative roles with a client who needs a specific project or program handled by an experienced professional.  These are not typically stop gap or short term positions but are tied to the scope and schedule of the client initiative.  Within the project management practice those engagements last an average of over a year.

We work with PMs who are looking to accomplish specific objectives in their career.

  • Continue growth as a PM or PgM
  • PMs are often looking to increase scope of responsibility with projects and programs
  • Trying to make a move into new technologies or verticals
  • Ability to work remotely, closer to home or to get off the road.

Whatever the career goal we appreciate the needs of each PM individually.  That doesn’t mean we won’t share a variety of options but it does mean we know an option we present may not be “perfect” when we make the call to someone for a discussion.

It has taken years for this practice to grow – and that growth has come largely organically.  We don’t spend all day every day reaching out to PMs to add them to our database.  We started by offering project managers a partner they could leverage who understands their skillset and uses that knowledge to develop stronger client relationships.  While we still actively recruit project managers as necessary we meet more via referral than we do via recruiting.

Experienced and flexible candidates.  We also work with a group of highly experienced professionals who can truly call themselves consultants.  They often have several clients of their own and are looking for smaller engagements to fill their available capacity.  We are able to provide a potential pipeline of work to these senior level professionals and they provide us with a level of expertise that helps us better service our clients as well.

We are a long term partner.  A great illustration of this is when we do recruit a candidate for a specific opening.  If it turns out not to be “the job for you” our intent is to form a partnership with each PM keeping an eye toward future opportunities.  We check in regularly depending on each PMs circumstances to strengthen our relationship, to understand any changes to their experience and skills and to have an understanding of what might be of interest to them in a new engagement.  We also are happy to leverage our network to help candidates make connections in the region.  One way or another we believe we can be of assistance to everyone at some point in their career.

To be clear – if we say we are not a contract shop it does not mean we don’t work with contract project managers.  It means we don’t tend to plug short term gaps with PMs.  We find full time staff PMs and  work with clients looking to staff specific projects or statements of work.

Most In Demand (Tech) Jobs in Boston

A recent article by David L. Harris for the Boston Business Journal highlighted the top 25 open jobs based on research conducted by The Conference Board of August job postings in the area.  While the buckets are broad it is no surprise that their information matches up with what we see here.  While the various management categories more than likely contain some IT managers and executives – these “buckets” reflect the top IT roles open during the month of August.

#22 on the list – Network Systems Analysts – 1,492 openings – These roles remain in consistently high demand around the region.  Many companies are finding that it is not as easy as it once was to find mid to senior folks as that group has moved into other areas of technology (O365, Security, AWS, etc.) where there is more runway for career and compensation growth.  As a result there are more opportunities for junior to mid-level folks to move ahead with the more traditional Network technologies.

#17 on the list – Computer Systems Analysts – 1,744 openings – These roles differ from the Network roles in that they tend to work in support of various applications and remain in steady demand.  Strong expertise on a particular software platform is usually required (think the ever present Salesforce) and companies do not often have the luxury of being able to train their key technology on the job.  You may hit 90% of the skills for these roles – but if you don’t have THE skill you won’t get a call.

#16 on the list – Computer User Support – 1,752 openings – Finding quality IT support professionals is a constant in the market.  These roles provide great opportunities for both experienced professionals and for junior and entry level people looking to grow their technology skills and experience.

#5 on the list – Computer All Other – 2,957 openings – This is not the most helpful title for a group of people but is strangely reflective of technology roles.  Given that a job title at one company may do perform a wildly different role than someone with the same title at another there are many IT roles that don’t fit into a single category.  Hence – “Computer All Other”.

#2 on the list – Software Application Developers – 3,560 – I would argue that this title is not much better than “Computer All Other” in that the 3,560 openings may reflect 3,560 unique types of developers.  While that may be a bit of a stretch most would agree that a developer here is not a developer there.  Full Stack with the ability to code at an advanced level in Javascript seems to be leading the charge here in our office.  While the challenge of finding developers for every role is significant the competition for those folks has reached the top of the list!

According to the research – there are more open jobs than unemployed people in the marketplace.  That said – and this is particularly true in IT – if you don’t have the right skills it is still hard to land these jobs.  With so many openings it can be overwhelming to do your research as well.  You may have looked at 1,000 developer roles which means you haven’t looked at 2,560 open developer roles.  What does that mean to you?  If you are actively looking we offer the same advice to everyone.  Communicate within your network directly and consistently.  Your contacts will have detailed insight into what is going on within their space and will be able to help influence your hunt directly.  And work with a good agency.  At a minimum we can help you analyze what you see in the market as well as provide you opportunities you may not have found on your own!

NH Unemployment and Median Income Numbers – What do they mean?

New Hampshire appears to have many things going for it at the moment with regard to work.  The unemployment rate remains low and according to the US Census bureau it boasts the highest median income in the country.

While these are both great things to hear – what do they mean to folks looking for technology jobs in NH – or for those looking to fill technology jobs in NH?

For companies looking to fill roles it means competition is approaching extreme.  The pool of available employees is very small – a fraction of the 2.7% unemployed are IT professionals.  Of those people another – much smaller – fraction may have the required skills for a position.  To make a successful hire they must entice a fully employed candidate to leave their current role which requires significant effort.  Gone are the days where an ad on LinkedIN or Indeed draw enough traffic to fill a position over time.

Candidates on the other hand have a slight upper hand. With the number of calls and emails from recruiters likely on the rise this can be a good time to make a move into a new technology or market.  Unlike five years ago – companies may be willing to trade certain required skills or experience for the rest of a candidate’s skillset.  New Hampshire has also become much more fertile ground for start ups and investment money which provide a wide variety of options for technology professionals.  If you haven’t looked around while you were surviving the economy of the past several years this is a really good time to assess the hiring landscape.

It can also be a good time to transition into consulting – particularly project based or short term consulting.  We have seen a growing number of candidates plot a path to retirement that leverages this approach.  It allows them some flexibility in  terms of schedule so that they can start their own businesses, turn hobbies into second careers, go back to school and do all of those things we read about in lifestyle blogs!

Experts say the concern is that job growth will be slowed due to lack of available workforce.  With the high median income and quality of life that NH offers you would think candidates would be moving into the state but that has not been the case to date.  With upcoming competition in Boston coming from GE and Amazon it will be very interesting to monitor technology job growth in NH over the coming years.  One thing is for sure – NH has a great foundation to build from as we do!

Quick Cybersecurity Highlight Heading Into the Holiday Weekend

While we work with many organizations to find in-house security professionals we are also lucky to work with several clients who have brought innovative products in this space to market.  According to Cybersecurity Ventures there will be 3.5 million job openings in this space by the year 2021.  A steadily increasing number of engineers and architects we work with are asking for advice as they consider making it their focus moving forward.

We recently came across this article on the future of the space which includes thoughts on where companies will look to fill openings, the creeping scope of cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, personal privacy and more.

And for any of you looking for a new role in cybersecurity – take a look at this role we are working to fill here at TSP!

TSP hits Boston TechJam 2017

Some networking events stand out compared to others and Boston TechJam 2017 at City Hall Plaza on June 15,2017 was one of those.  Great attendance & attitudes, perfect weather, and something for everyone.

at Boston TechJam

at Boston TechJam

Eric adjusting to a short putter.

Eric adjusting to a short putter.

Three Ways to Increase Your Hiring Success

Over the past several years the economy has created two common themes that prevent companies from finding appropriate candidates.

  1. Companies create job specifications that are too narrowly focused. This is due to a perception that many people are unemployed and the company should have the pick of the litter. These specifications are virtually impossible to fill.
  2. Companies are not understanding how their opportunity is perceived to the market and therefore misjudging the type of candidates that respond.

Every client wants and deserves to hire the best possible candidate. They should never compromise. However, companies need to attract the right candidate for them and not some engineered “perfect” candidate. When it comes time to hire it is important for a company to conduct a realistic self assessment on their culture, the opportunity they have to offer, and the technical requirements needed to fill the job. Sounds obvious, right? Well not really. What ends up happening is several people sit around a table throwing out “nice to have” skills, the perfect industry background, and specific years of experience to create the perfect candidate. Much like Gary and Wyatt did when they created Lisa in Weird Science. (Yes I grew up the 80’s)

Before you know it they have tasked their recruiting department to search for the perfect candidate not realizing that even if this candidate exists, they may not be interested or appropriate for the job! This creates a disconnect between who the company wants to hire and which candidates are actually interested in the job.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Understand your true opportunity and be flexible: Consider if you will, a small widget manufacturer that needs someone to build internal applications on a somewhat dated technology stack that will have to last a few more years. The candidate coming out of a software company using the latest cutting edge technology may be easy to get excited about, but the candidate may not be attracted to that type of position or company. The misconception of how the market views their opportunity can make this role go unfilled longer than it should. Sound familiar? Please don’t misunderstand me; there is always a candidate out there that will add value for years to come. You just need to do a little homework and conduct an honest self assessment.

The best talent for your specific company and job could come in many forms – so be open to that. If longevity is a real concern, a candidate that is a bit “light” for the role could be the answer. Someone at this point in their career may be more concerned with an employer where they can learn and grow. If you provide them an opportunity to learn, grow, and even lead a project a sense of loyalty will kick in and the likelihood they stay grows exponentially. You may be a flat organization and a self assessment might lead you to conclude that although you provide a great work environment with interesting projects, there is limited upward mobility. This could be an example where a highly experienced candidate may be a good fit. It is common for companies to shy away from someone with too much experience but be flexible. This candidate may be willing to take a bit less in pay or responsibility for an improved commute or a more stable environment. Because of these concessions they can provide overall bench strength at a price tag that might be more affordable than you think.

Good people will learn fast: I see job descriptions written so specific (i.e. 7-9 years experience) that you are virtually recruiting 0.5% of the population in your area. Yet again and again we hear: “she only has 3 years not 4” or “he has only worked with SQL 2008 not 2010”. I remind my clients of this all the time – you hire people – not resumes. A company will pass up on a quality individual that hits 75% of the requirements (including cultural fit) because they are using SQL 2008 not SQL 2010. Think of it this way: Is it easier to teach someone how to fit in your corporate culture or the new features of SQL 2010? The extra 2 months that you take to search for the “perfect” candidate could have been used for the candidate with the right cultural fit to get up to speed on the technology. Furthermore, there is the probability that 2 months doesn’t net you a better candidate.

Remember when you were a candidate? : Clients eventually become candidates and candidates become clients; it’s the natural order of life. Many times I have told a client turned candidate that I was not able to secure them an interview because, for example, “you have Oracle and not SAP.” Inevitably I hear some version of the following: “I managed large ERP’s my whole career, if you can manage one the principles are the same. I bring all the other intangibles they are looking for.”

My response is: “YOU’RE RIGHT! BUT YOU DID THE SAME THING WHEN YOU WERE HIRING!” If you feel this way and truly believe this, then apply the same logic when you are hiring again.

What can’t you live without? We all agree that some skills are not negotiable and are needed to do the job effectively. However, instead of creating job specs from a predefined wish list, ask yourself this question: “What are the 3 or 4 things I can’t live without.” I have seen the following happen consistently over 20 years when you do this:

  1. One of these things you think of will not be listed in your original formal job spec.
  2. At least one of these will be cultural in nature.

What does this mean?  Up until this moment of clarity, the Hiring Manager couldn’t understand why they weren’t seeing the right candidates or why candidates weren’t interested in the role. Once the free themselves of recruiting to an impossible list of skills the process gets more fluid.

In short we all understand that candidates need to have certain core skills to get the job done. The real key to managing adequate candidate flow and hiring the right person is a simultaneous juggling act. Avoid the age old ritual of preparing a long list of arbitrary skills. Create simple expectations around what it takes to perform the job and marry that to the known skills in your market. A strong local recruiter can lend guidance on the market place even if you don’t retain their services.

How’s Your Hiring Process?

You’re down to the two final candidates for your open position but still not sure you’ve found the right person.  You feel like you have looked at 100 candidates, phone screened dozens and met so many of the wrong candidates that your frustration level is high.  You aren’t sure you should make an offer at this point but you aren’t sure what to do next if you don’t.

We hear and see this combination of concerns on a regular basis.  Often times a client or potential client observes that there just aren’t any candidates out there or that the quality of candidates in the market is much lower than they expected.  They can’t believe that after looking at so many applicants that there isn’t one person who fits their job closely enough to hire and why the quality of candidates is so poor.

If this sounds familiar I’d like to share something with you.  The problem is not the candidates.  More likely than not the problem is the process.

For starters – what does your hiring process look like?  Do you even have a documented process?  If not this you have found your starting place.  A good assessment should include taking a look at several key elements.

Job Description

What does your job specification look like?  If the laundry list of acronyms in your spec is rivaled only by the list in the resumes you are seeing you have a problem right out of the gate.  Often I see jobs described with a very long list of technologies, tools and experiences.  So much so that multiple jobs are realistically being described rather than a single position.

While you may have a wish-list of technologies when it comes to your new hire it is very important to sit down and determine the must-haves.  When I am working with a client I encourage them to keep it to three items.  Ask yourself what are the three skills or experiences this person must have in order to be successful in this job.  The answers to that question will form the cornerstone of your search.

woman-resumeThese three items become the “Required” elements of your job specification.  You should also expand upon them a bit in your general job description.  When you meet with HR or other members of your hiring team these are the items that you should build on when you discuss the ideal candidate.

You can continue by prioritizing the items that did not make the top three – but again I encourage clients to stick to the top three as the gateway for an interview.  Given that resumes are not a 100% accurate reflection of a candidate’s experience you can consider this a two way street.  A candidate may have experience with some of your nice to haves and has left them off their resume for a variety of reasons.  The best way to find out is to speak with anyone who hits your top three requirements.

Interview Process

Along the same lines – what does your interview process look like?  Is it consistent for each candidate?  We have seen clients use entirely different coworkers to interview candidates for the same role.  At the end of the day you will not find the feedback consistent and meaningful enough to make a good decision if you don’t have a defined team.

I suggest you identify the people who must interview your candidates early and stick to that group through the process (as much as schedules allow).  Resist the temptation to have the entire staff interview a potential new hire.  Your HR rep, a subject matter expert who can evaluate their skills and a representative from a team you regularly work with are a good core group in addition to the hiring manager.

Next, establish what type of interviews and what number of times you need to interact with a candidate in order to complete the process.  Keep in mind that this process will reflect on your company in the marketplace.  Processes on both ends of the spectrum (quick and easy or long and cumbersome) have positive and negative elements.  You can count on candidates talking about your process.

A pretty solid approach includes a review of candidates between HR and the hiring manager.  This is followed by a phone screen – preferably with the hiring manager.  Many companies start with an HR screen but I am a fan of having a substantive call out of the gate to rule people in or out.  If the phone screen goes well the candidate should come on-site to meet with HR and the whole hiring team.  As the hiring manager you should also meet with the candidate in person when they come onsite.  A “final” interview comes next where the hiring manager gets to ask any questions based on feedback from the earlier rounds and the candidate meets any senior managers who have input to the department.

This gives an effective minimum guideline.  I know many companies like to add technical tests, personality profiles, team meetings/mixers and other activities to their hiring processes as part of their company brand or what makes them unique.  Those are all great things if they work for your company.  Chances are if you have those in place then you likely breezed past this section of today’s entry anyway!

By the way – how long are you taking to get back to people after they apply?  After the phone screen?  More importantly – after they were onsite to interview in person?  If the answer to any of those is more than a few days then you may have a problem.  The best candidates do not last long on the market.  Even those that were passively looking when they decided to apply for your role are likely to become more active once they break the ice.  Even if the update is that you don’t have an update yet – over communicate with your candidates.  And don’t forget to let people know that they will not be moving forward if you have decided to pass.  A top complaint from job applicants is that they never hear from companies after they interview.  Don’t be that company.

Compensation/Benefits

How does your compensation and benefits package compare to similar roles?  Even better – are you able to confidently answer that question?  If your best answer is “the guy who left was making that” then you need to do some real research.  If you don’t know what market is for a role you can save yourself some headaches in this process by consulting with a professional.  It may cost a bit of money – or you may be able to speak with an agency recruiter – but knowing what the market is paying a role will put you in a position to attract and hire the right candidate.

Benefits are a topic that can get touchy for some companies.  Particularly those who are very proud of their corporate culture and what they offer to employees who work there.  Benefits are more often a reason for someone to stay with a company than they are to attract someone.  Think about it – what benefits (not salary or bonus) could a potential employer offer you that would make you leave your current role?  Onsite gym?  Stock?  401k match?  Dental?  Ping pong tables and beer on tap?

In my experience some of the top answers to that question may not even include something you can offer to every candidate.  One is the ability to work remotely.  Another, closely related benefit, is having a job closer to home.  People want to have more of their time actually be their time – not time in the car/bus/train getting to and from work.  In the IT world where work weeks can regularly be 60 hours being able to maintain balance is very important.

Whatever your benefits are – be able to articulate them very clearly.  For someone moving from one job to another the ability to compare health insurance and other benefits to their current role will be important.  Beyond that it generally comes down to compensation and the growth opportunity the new role offers.

Flexibility

What are your expectations in terms of what your new hire will “look” like?  Even the candidate who hits every box on your requirements (and wish list) will require time to get up to speed with your operations.  Wouldn’t the same be true about a candidate you really like who may be missing a technology or experience?  It kills me to see a client pass on a candidate who could really be a great long term investment because they have never worked with a technology they would be happy to learn.

Being focused on the immediate needs around a hire sometimes keep people from looking beyond this year or this program.  In the effort to ensure certain required skillsets are in place sometimes a hire is made to fit the current workload rather than the company.  In those cases I almost always fall back and recommend we find a good contract or consulting type resource to handle the project with the goal of evaluating their perm needs over the coming months.

It may be that you are looking at using a service provider or a consultant to deliver what you need for the current project – which is something we see happening more and more frequently as well.  This can free you up to make a more strategic hire, possibly someone who can grow with you and the company versus someone who may be a short term solution.

Summary

Overall you really need to look at how much technology hiring experience you or your company have.  Does your HR department regularly hire IT professionals?  If your company is not an IT company it is likely your recruiter, if you even have one, does not work on IT roles very often.  That lack of expertise and connections can slow down the review process.  And before you think this is HR specific this likely applies to you as a hiring manager as well.  In a small company you may be on your own to make a hire.  If you only do it once a year or once every few years you will need help.  That may be use of a recruiter – but it may be a hand setting yourself up for success.  A short consulting engagement with a hiring specialist can help you develop a great job specification, double check salary, ensure you have a solid interview process, and put  you in a position to be successful in your next search.  And that is something I would be happy to do if this sounds like you.

Should We Ask Compensation of Potential Hires? (Hint – yes)

You may have seen recent coverage of a new law in Massachusetts that makes it illegal to ask for a candidate’s current compensation.  By barring companies from asking prospective employees how much they earned at their last jobs, Massachusetts is trying to ensure that lower wages and salaries do not follow these candidates  (women and minorities chief among them) for their entire careers.

As the founder of a boutique staffing firm I have mixed feelings about this law. I have spent the better part of 20 years advocating fair and equitable pay for every candidate. We encourage our clients to make offers that are competitive to the market.   We negotiate compensation for our candidates to the best of our ability with no thought given to race, gender, or age. If a candidate has been “low balled” over the years, we do our level best to get them recalibrated to current market conditions.

Based on experience – there is significant potential for this to be a problem.  Here’s why.

Most companies don’t have nefarious motives for asking about current compensation.  As part of a hiring process there are legitimate reasons to find out this information.  If companies are not allowed to obtain this information it may backfire on the very candidates the law is trying to protect.

Assume a company is hiring for a newly created position.  Since the company has no previous experience hiring for this set of skills, asking for current compensation helps them calibrate the role.  Current compensation numbers can confirm their salary range or provide them the intelligence used to adjust compensation to be more competitive if necessary.

The law states that a company needs to reveal what the role will pay upfront based on what an applicant’s worth is to the company and not what he or she has made in a previous position.

Well that sounds great in theory. How does a company know what a candidate’s worth is just based on a resume or job application? The fact is each candidate’s worth is different to any given company. Furthermore, each candidate’s acceptable comp package is very different based on a variety of factors.

A company may decide after interviewing someone that they would go above their range in order to get that candidate. On the other hand, many candidates would trade off salary for a shorter commute, more time off, working remotely, or better benefits. The above doesn’t reveal itself upfront or in a job posting. Negotiations of this nature don’t come up until the interview process is well underway and the company starts to develop real interest.  If a candidate decided not to apply because a salary number didn’t meet their expectations they may decline the interview.

Current salary is a jumping off point. While the law is there to protect candidates from being underpaid, I hope it doesn’t create an obstacle to the real first step in the hiring process – the interview!   After all you can’t turn down the offer you never get.