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by Dan Stolts
Skills Upgrades Are a Must
Let me go out on a limb here and say, “we all should be spending a massive amount of time each week keeping up with technology.” If you are not spending time, you are falling behind. I know in the IT space especially there are way more projects to be done than there is time to do them. I spoke to one CIO just this week. He had his team put together a list of projects and how much time it would take to complete them. He has a team of 12 people. The list they came up with would need 98 full time employees to complete. We know not all of it is going to get done. We know we are asked to do far more than can be done. Lack of resources or planning on the part of your company does not need to equate to full time stress and lack of growth for you. It is super important that we “RESERVE” time for learning.
I have found that often, you can get this time by simply taking it! What I mean, is most of us are in charge of our own calendars. Sure, you may have projects and deadlines to consider but really, are you not allowed to put other “important” stuff on your calendar? If not, you are being micro managed and you need to skill up more than anyone because you really do need to find a better job. You may get some push back from your manager. However, you MUST stay strong to your conviction that learning time is vital in the IT industry. Some employers expect that you will spend your own time learning and not do it on the job. Well to that I say, I partially agree! You absolutely should be spending some of your own time keeping up with technology. However, your company should invest in you to keep you happy. Start with a few hours a week. Call it a daily lunch-n-learn where every day you have your lunch while you are learning. I know most people do not take a full hour for lunch. Well, you need to start, especially if your boss has a negative outlook on investing in your future. It may also be ok to occasionally spend more than your hour for lunch. If there is a 75min video that you need to watch it, do the whole thing. That is part of your career that your employer should be investing.
Outside the normal work schedule, we should also be investing in our career. Think about your career when you first started. Did you have an attitude that I am only going to learn on the job? I already know the answer. For everyone in IT the answer is NO. If you did have that attitude you would not likely still be in IT. If you did and still do have a job in IT, well, you got lucky and don’t expect that luck to last forever. At least once a month spend a day (6 hours or more on a Saturday as an example) doing something to advance your career. Perhaps it is standing up some services in a trial account on the Azure Cloud. Perhaps it is going through some of the training you will be learning about in this newsletter. Perhaps it is an event that is taking place near you. You should be doing all of these. I have been in the industry for several decades and I will tell you there have been very few times when I did not work at least one weekend a month. This work was done in a myriad of different ways. It was working on client projects, rebuilding servers, fixing crashes, weekend deployments of applications, answering on call questions, the list goes on and on. Today, we still have some of these things to contend with but we also need to add keeping up with technology to the list. Frankly keeping up with technology should be top on the list. There are a massive number of user groups and other free events that happen all over the country and around the world. There is an infinite amount of free online content just waiting for us to consume. Once upon a time, it was really hard to find sources of knowledge. Today, it is really easy. With that ease, some think that the value is diminished. Nothing could be further from the truth. However, if you are someone that needs to pay big bucks to see value, then you should engage with a learning partner like New Horizons or others to take official classes. No matter how we/you do it, we must keep upgrading our skills. The top challenge of CIO’s for 4 years running is the talent gap. The top wage earners in IT are in Cloud disciplines. What more incentive do you need? The longer you wait, the further behind you will fall and the harder it will be to catch up. Read below at your options on how you can ramp your skills, put it on the calendar every day, every week, every month and make it a priority. You and your family will benefit from the results. Speaking of family, I know it is hard especially if you have kids. If you spend most of your time playing with them (instead of watching TV or other) they will understand on those occasions when you have to “work late” or “work the weekend” on your career. Take your time seriously, make the most of it, and they will be ok with your decisions.
Cloud Skills Upgrade Made Easy
Hey Microsoft, it’s about time! No Really, thanks so much for the excellent Microsoft IT Pro Cloud Essentials Program and the IT Pro Career Center! Microsoft hired a consulting company to do some exhaustive research on the IT Pro space and in particular career advancement. They took that information and made what I think is one of the best deliveries of comprehensive career advice for IT Pro’s ever assembled. It is not perfect, and in some cases could certainly be prettier, but it is AWESOME!
Here is the information on the programs.
IT Pro Cloud Essentials https://www.itprocloudessentials.com
With IT Pro Cloud Essentials, you receive free access to cloud services, training, and expert-level support:
IT Pro Career Center
Looking to evolve your career in cloud technologies? Make sure your skills are relevant and marketable with the Microsoft IT Pro Career Center—an online resource to help you map your career and follow a learning curriculum at your own pace.
Basically, you login and tell Microsoft about your current role. Then, you will be given the details on how to map your skills to a Cloud Professional career. You can also discover extended information like what the job is all about and how much money others are making in that role. But, the best part of all, is the free online training available to help you get to that destination role.
Microsoft did not go out and create all the education content. Instead they researched and leveraged existing content from other great sources like Microsoft Virtual Academy, as well as Channel 9, Various Jump Starts, Ignite, and others. This means the content is not always going to “look” the same. There are different backgrounds, viewer features, interaction capabilities, etc. However, the content is really good and can help you, at your own pace, prepare for what’s next in your career. If after going through the Career Center you are still not sure what you want to do, let me make a recommendation. Prepare for the 70-534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions and work toward the certification.
What are you advertising on your resume?
What is the purpose of a resume? Most will say it is to get an interview. What is the purpose of an interview? Most would say it is to get a job. I do not disagree with either of those. Well, not completely anyway. However, what if I ask “What should be on your resume?” Most would say all the great things you have done. Let me tell you this is where I stray from the norm. What should be on your resume is information if read would land you the interview and likely the job. I have to confess; I do not have an enormous amount of experience putting together a resume. I do have an enormous amount of experience reading them. I have also talked to many people, from all levels of an organization, so I can say with confidence, they do not care about what you have done. Really, prospective employers don’t care what you have done for someone else, what they really care about is what you can do for them. They want to know the probability you will achieve what they want you to achieve for their organization.
If you read between the lines, you will see there is a clear disconnect between employers and prospective employees. On the one hand, prospective employees want to get a good job and they think the way to do that is show evidence of what they have done in the past. Employers care about what you can do for them. Employers are saddled with the huge burden of figuring out for themselves how your history will map to their needs. I can tell you with confidence that employers SUCK at this mapping. They can look at someone that would be a rock star for them and not recognize it. On the other hand, they can look at someone that is going to be a problem child and not recognize that either. The problem is they know how to do their job, and do the best that they can at the other stuff that they have to do, because there is nobody else that can do it any better.
A new approach. What if there was a sure fire way for you to land the interview and a high probability that after your interview, you would get hired, but you would have to spend a couple weeks preparing. Would you do it? What if I added the bold prediction that you could probably earn more than others that may be applying for the same job? This may seem like smoke and mirrors but the reality is that it is possible. What I am proposing is that you take the incredibly difficult burden of mapping your skills to their business and putting it on your shoulders. The reality is they would only spend a few minutes or a couple hours at most doing this analysis. But, if you do it, you could spend more time and do it right. In doing so, you could then on your resume not tell them directly what you have done but instead “tell them what you will do once you are hired.” Sure you can still tell them what you have done but it would be in the context of showing proof that your experiences give you the skills to make their desired reality come to life.
This thought process brings up a few challenges. You have to:
How do you know what they need? This is by far the hardest part. This is also where having a strong network comes in handy. If you can establish a relationship (LinkedIn is great, you can purchase a subscription to be able to search the database too) with someone that works at the company and will give you some time that will gain you a wealth of knowledge. You can also talk with others in the same industry. If the prospective job is in IT in the finance industry, try to get a connection with others that are doing the exact same job at another competitive firm. Even other firms outside the industry can give you a wealth of knowledge. Read the job description carefully. Look at other jobs that are open at the same company. Look at those descriptions. Are there any challenges that come to mind? Try to establish contacts with others that work at the company. Future subordinates even. People that work in other departments that likely interface with the department you would be interviewing for. As an example, reach out to someone in facilities, ask them how they perceive services from IT. To establish these contacts, leverage existing contacts to help you make the contact. Let’s say I work for Dell and I am the hiring manager (or you think I am likely the hiring manager). You have a contact that has another contact at Dell. It is ok to ask them to make a connection for you. In doing so, ask for a favor, it is harder to say no if they are doing you a favor. That might look like the following:
Hey Bill, I need to ask you a favor, I see you are connected on LinkedIn to Jennifer Xyz at Dell. I am considering going to work for Dell but want to learn a bit about the working environment at the company. Could you please introduce me and Jennifer?
An example of a direct outreach might look like the following:
In this scenario, Jennifer and the hiring manager are peers (or at least that is my thinking)
Hi Jennifer, I am sure you are super busy so I am sorry to have to ask you this, but I need a favor. I am considering going to work for Dell but want to learn a bit about the working environment at the company. Do you think you could spend a few minutes chatting with me on the phone?
Note, this approach would work with anyone in any department. It is referred to as social engineering and it can really get some incredible information. Jennifer’s likely response is to be either positive or no response at all. If you do not get a response, try again. You could do this via email or via a quick phone message if you can get her phone number. If you do not land the informational meeting with Jennifer, try others at the same company. Let’s drill down into this a bit. Even if Jennifer does go back to the hiring manager and tells him that you reached out to her, how would the hiring manager perceive that? Would it be positive or negative? It shows: initiative, collaboration, organization, drive, and eagerness to do it right. All positive. On the flip side, what if Jennifer talks to the hiring manager in advance and he asks her to prescreen you? What if she is in fact one of the people that will ultimately be doing the interviews? There is possible downside here if you let the conversation go into the weeds. You just have to keep it on point. You do not want to be coy but you requested the meeting so it is ok to keep it structured to your benefit. If she asks a question you would rather not answer at the moment, do your best to give broad and safe answers. If all else fails, you could reply that I am really not prepared at this point to go that deep into the interview process, I am just in discovery mode at the moment. Remember, this meeting is about you understanding the needs of the business.
Prior to the meeting I would have a short and succinct agenda. If might look something like this…
If you get even some of these answered you are much better prepared to hit a home run with your resume. The lines that are highlighted are the most important and insightful. Notice in one question we ask who else we should reach out to? This is a really powerful question because it could lead to an introduction to others in the organization that can give you even more insight. You can reach out to others in the organization. There is no reason you should limit your search to one person. Also, don’t waste the person’s time with stupid questions like what skills are needed. Who cares, that is already on the job description. Besides you should care about what they want you to do not what skills you need. If there are skills that you do not have that the job description highlights, you should go out and spend at least a few hours upgrading your skills so you understand the context of any discussion that might come up.
Now that you have done your homework, answer these questions on your resume.
Talk about individual results on projects, talk about upskilling technical staff, talk about other challenges that the company is (or is likely) facing. Then at the bottom or sprinkled in the resume, you can show evidence that you know how to do these things. Only if it is relevant and you know that it is important.
The Resume: Do you have any insight into the skills of the people that would be working for me? who do you send your resume to? Most people would say, to the HR person on the job posting. Sure, you can do that but it is far more effective if you also have someone tell the hiring manager about you and ask them to hand off your resume. You definitely do not want to skip sending it to HR, you just also want to get it to the hiring manager with a ‘referral’ if possible. Again leverage your contacts (LinkedIn). Do you have a 2nd contact for the hiring manager? A 3rd? try to leverage those contacts to get an introduction. BTW, after you talk with someone at the company, you can ask them to be your champion and forward your resume to the hiring manager. The objective of the resume is to get beyond the pre-screening and get to the interview.
The Interview: The interview should focus on the same thing as the resume. What you can do for them. If you have a phone pre-interview, this is your time to confirm the answers you got from your other sources. I am a fan of asking for a a prescreen phone interview but only after you have been confirmed for the physical interview. The first thing you want to do in the interview is either confirm your understanding (or correct the understanding) of the hiring manager’s needs. That’s it, then let them know what you will do for them. Back to the 30/60/90/360 discussion.
I have also found that in an interview most managers want to see how you respond to scenarios. Some of these may be off the wall questions. If you do not have a great answer, it is often ok to respond with I would need to give that some thought to come up with a response. After you do this once, the questions will change to scenarios where you are face to face with a customer and there is not time to research. You can still respond to the customer that you will have to get back to them. If you do not know the best answer, give it some thought. When you are asked questions, it is best to make sure you understand the background of the scenario. In other words, make sure you understand the business need relative to the technology solution you think they are asking about. Perhaps more in a future newsletter edition on how to do this and understanding the importance. For now, just recognize that the business challenge is far more important than the technology solution. See the Talent Gap in the Feb Newsletter for a sneak peek at the problem.
Good luck on your career advancement journey.
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