“Now, as you look through this document you’ll see that I’ve underlined all the major decisions I ever made to make them stand out. They’re all indexed and cross-referenced. See? All I can suggest is that if you take decisions that are exactly opposite to the sort of decisions that I’ve taken, then maybe you won’t finish up at the end of your life . . .’ she paused, and filled her lungs for a good shout ‘. . . in a smelly old cave like this!’”
In this is spooky season of Halloween, my mind turned to the past horrors of my career, and like the smelly old women in the cave, decided to share what I’ve learned on the solar-powered photocopier that is the Packet Pushers blog. It’s been a while since I started in IT, so I’m unsure of the relevance of my advice, but for FWIW..
Starting a Career (scary woo!)
After leaving high school, I did two years computer studies at college. The content was irrelevant to the world of IT then, and now. Only the Maths and Business modules have had any lingering relevance. Discovering precisely how out of touch the course was, I switched colleges in my 2nd year. I was hopelessly behind; I eventually scrapped a pass before being turned out into the world of work.
Realising that I was ill-prepared, I tried to gain whatever experience I could. Fixing any computer I could find, building them for friends; anything that I could stick on my CV other than Cobol programming. Through a friend I discovered a company was looking for first line support. Of all the college-fresh chumps they interviewed, only I could actually fix a broken PC.
Lesson No.1: Being smart isn’t enough. Experience counts. Have the right skills now.
Keeping a Job (parasites and symbionts)
Most organisations go through peaks and troughs, and the latter sometimes means redundancies. I’ve survived more layoff rounds than I care to count. When trimming a team or a department, once the obvious dead-wood is removed the specialists are next. Fixing a switch is as important as fixing a database; someone who can do both is the most valuable. If career security is important, then being a jack of all trades, master of some is key.
There is a dark side to this. Having never been pushed, I have stayed in a job much longer than was good for me (by at least 10 years). In the UK the employment laws favours the employee; it becomes easy to stay put. Staying too long has held me back in terms of career opportunities, salary, and experience. In 2014, there is little or no stigma in having a job for “only” 18 months. I’ve worked with people who move on after only a year. Changing jobs is the fastest way to push yourself forward and move up the ladder.
Lesson No. 2: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change” – Not Charles Darwin, but applies equally.
Getting the next one (blood sucking vampires)
I could fill an entire cave with advice on this topic, but I shall try to be succinct.
Even if you are not looking, having an up to date CV is important; like a fire alarm battery, you don’t know when it will be needed. Hastily updating your CV is going to result in missed skills, typos, waffle, and more typos.
LinkedIn is a fast way to be found by recruiters. I know people with excellent careers who are not on LinkedIn. For the rest of us it’s an important tool. Second only to (real) estate agents, recruiters are much maligned. They are necessary if you want to move upwards, there are things worth considering:
- To (most) recruiters; you are not a rare and special flower; you are one of many, many, candidates they need to fill relatively few jobs.
- First CV wins. Employers often engage multiple recruiters. In turn, recruiters cast a wide net and contact many people, but only put the first few half-way competent candidates get put through. As a result, luck pays a bigger part than you’d hope.
- Getting you the best deal is not in their interest. They are (mostly) paid on a percentage of your basic salary. Trying to haggle for another £5000/$5000 will translate to them as pennies in the pound; getting *any* candidate placed gets them paid, not getting you the best deal.
- Recruitment is a small but cutthroat industry; people move between agencies a lot. Its easy to obtain and difficult to lose a reputation of being difficult that could (unknowingly) be following you around. Always treat everyone, especially recruiters, with the professional courtesy you’d expect to receive. It costs you nothing (except maybe your patience), and you can’t predict which agency your dream employer will call next.
Lesson No. 3: Don’t be a dick.
Disguising and Distinguishing yourself (Changelings)
It goes without saying, don’t be a dick on the internet. Potential employers (especially in technology) will Google you. When they do, make sure they find something positive. Employers don’t want to take on lawsuits in waiting. Join a community and contribute under your own name. Facebook is another obvious first look. I’d untag yourself from those photos of you in that “hilarious” (i.e. incredibly offensive) fancy dress outfit. Delete those epic rants about your current employer.
Lesson No.4. Assume you are being watched. Also see Lesson No. 3.
So, there is my to-be-avoided-at-all costs career advice. What advice would you give yourself now, if you had a time machine?
I now work for an awesome company doing awesome things that I can’t talk about for very good reasons. Also; Halloween. Woo etc.
Creative Commons Source Image, Courtesy of “Shelly”