View over Christchurch to the Southern Alps from the Summit Road, Port Hills photo by Sunstone

View over Christchurch to the Southern Alps from the Summit Road, Port Hills photo by Sunstone

Preparing for the IT job hunt & common myths dispelled

1) The Photo

Yes even I toyed with the idea when I was first job hunting after Uni but I thought better of it. Unless you’re a super model ditch the photo, a job is about skills & experience you can offer; and you don’t want to pull in any unwanted bias. It’s a nice surprise when the person turns up and they’re well presented with a friendly smile, so let your experience do the talking firstly and your personality shine when you meet face-to-face or on skype.

2) The Cover Letter

Yes we expect a cover letter but not what you’d expect. A cover letter is an opportunity to let us IT recruiters or hiring managers know one thing:

WHY YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON FOR THIS JOB

....what specific skills & experience you can bring to the role, you can also add in your current employment situation / availability, visa status etc.

Keep it short, sweet & concise. It can even come in the shape of a brief email direct to my inbox - a couple of short paragraphs and a hot tip for you is to use the recruiters or line managers name - it’s easy to spot spammed approaches.  Think of it as your elevator pitch. Your 30 second summary of what you do :-)  Remember the hiring manager & the applicant have one major thing in common...

THEY BOTH WANT YOU TO GET THE JOB :-)

Yes I do want to know that your brother or sister lives in Christchurch & you visited here on holiday or honeymoon!

3) The Technical Test

YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW EVERYTHING

This is not a chance for the employer to ‘catch you out’, this is a chance for you to show how you can keep your cool under pressure, work on some hard problems that you don’t know by asking questions, working through logically to create a solution or come to a conclusion. Dev or IT managers want you to admit you don’t know something, to be genuine & honest but want to know how you could go about finding the answer to a problem in a positive & proactive way.

NO ONE KNOWS EVERYTHING AND THAT'S OK

Working in a time pressured IT or development environment is about solving lots of little problems all the time and how you can get from A ——> B quickest.

So don’t go down the rabbit hole ask questions!

4) The 1 Page CV

Again a total myth - all I want is a nice document, spaced with bullet points that is easily digestible, easy on the eye and if you can get into one page well done you!

Ideal is a 2-3 page concise document that the audience will actually read.

It can be 3-5 pages if it’s relevant content. ideally you should be able to get into 2-3 pages but don’t sweat it, I just don’t want to read 12 pages+. Oh but I’m an IT contractor you ask? Yes so you can have a short & a long version. Some contractors in the IT industry only present their past 4 years experience as relevant with technologies moving on so quickly, I’m happy to see that past experience included only if it’s relevant to the role.

Tweak your CV to each opportunity to ensure it’s RELEVANT and remember...

The whole point of your CV & cover letter is to get an interview

Use a professional business font like arial 11, NO comic sans unless you’re applying as an entertainer for a kids party. Short, sharp, relevant and yes I want to see your interests but one or two lines will do :-)

Another good tip is to have your CV in both PDF & Word form. PDF ideally to be consumed by all devices as I’ve noticed some fonts being skewed when read on iPad / tablets or phones. ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) that larger companies often use sometimes need a word document to be consumed by the system so have both ready to go :-)

Remember to put your work history in reverse chronological order - most recent experience first which is standard practice globally!

If you’d like any help or constructive critique on your CV or have me send you a CV or Cover Letter template feel free to send me an email paul@sunstonetalent.com

 Sumner beach. Christchurch photo by Sunstone

Sumner beach. Christchurch photo by Sunstone

How to Ace your IT Job Interview

One thing I’ve learnt after a long time in this business is that the interviewer and the interviewee have something in common – both want you to succeed in getting the job. These are some tips to enable you to show your best side.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Not only research the company’s products (their website/social media) and who’s going to interview you (LinkedIn) but also do a drive-by to know where you’re physically going.

There’s nothing worse than trying to duck out of your current job undetected, to then spin into a panic, adding extra stress of not knowing where exactly the company location is and where you’re going to park….

FIND OUT IF YOU SHARE ANY COMMON CONTACTS

Let’s face it - if you have a mutual friend or business contact the company is more likely to HIRE YOU as there’s significant LESS RISK taking on a 'known quantity’! This could be anyone - a neighbour, old work colleague, family friend and name-dropping never hurts if you know them to be well respected in the organisation….

RESEARCH THE ROLE

Find out as much as possible about the role and how it fits into the company, current trends in the market / recent news / media attention with the company or the specific technology / domain - you want to come across as CURRENT and ON-THE-BALL - someone who’s a ‘Knowledge worker'!

NEVER BE LATE

You’ve got ONE SHOT to get it right! Or too EARLY for that matter….turn up into reception 10 minutes before your meeting (if you’re earlier then sit in your car or go for a walk around the block to calm the nerves) and be positive and friendly to reception…when interviewing consultants I often asked reception / our secretary what their first impressions of the candidate was? Check out any awards or accolades in reception that might act as a nice icebreaker conversation…it shows awareness and interest. My first recruitment boss would make candidates wait in the interview room for 5 minutes and see if they noticed the one (and only) framed press release about our company….

DOUBLE CHECK THE TIME & DATE

You won’t be the first or the last to turn up 10 minutes before the appointed time on the wrong day or week!

COMMUNICATION

Have a simple email address i.e. your name so you can be found easily in the Recruiter, HR or Line Manager’s inbox. Ask for their business card and drop a polite thank you email after the interview thanking them for their time & why you're keen on the job – it will put you above the rest instantly.

PRESENTATION

Find out if they're 'suity' or smart casual….there’s nothing worse than being under-dressed….so play it smart and be on the safe side…NO ONE DIDN’T GET THE JOB FOR BEING TOO WELL DRESSED…but pull up in your stubbies & jandals and you better be able to pull code out of where the sun don’t shine…now go buy a new shirt or shoes! You’ll feel great and pumped for the interview!

SMILE

People HIRE people they like and we tend to get on better with friendly, positive people…it costs you nothing and let’s face it - it’s a far better way to approach life…In saying that ‘MIRRORING’ is an important technique when interviewing. You should match your Interviewer’s body language and pace of speech / type of language to align to them….Remember you’ll be working with them so they need to like you...

PRESSURE/NERVES

Everyone gets nervous, it’s just how you handle it. When I'm presenting I like to do as much research / preparation as I can and then I feel ‘I’ve done as much as I can and thus I’m well prepared’. Often you find interviewers are just regular, friendly people who will put you at ease as THEY WANT YOU TO GET THE JOB so they can finish their search….so give them every reason to say YES!

PREPARE 8-12 QUESTIONS TO ASK AT THE END

You can ask 2-3 killer questions that are different in content to the info you’ve already discussed so you can FINISH STRONGLY. In psychology we have the primacy & recency effect -  like your Mother taught you - first impressions and last impressions are important, so remember a firm handshake to start & great questions to finish which will show you’re interested in the position, company & working for them.

My favourite question….’What do you enjoy about working here’? or ‘What attracted you to the company’? Often that will get the interviewer talking about themselves…you might find out about some commonalities - similar companies you’ve previously worked at, cities or technologies, and as humans this is very gratifying and will leave a lasting impression of you as a great candidate and someone they might want on their team.

CLOSING

If you’re feeling confident you might want to ask ‘What concerns do you have in my ability to perform the role? This gives you an opportunity to cover off any objections they have. If you can cover off these objections you may then want to ask what are the next steps? Or it could even be 'When do I start? If you’re feeling especially confident. Although in some cultures / roles this is expected & generally more appropriate for IT sales jobs or contract roles. In my first IT recruitment role I failed to ‘ask for the job’ and it meant I had to do a further interview and presentation to secure the role. But that's experience for you!

And remember always explore ALL options. Some of the least interesting roles on paper have turned out to be the most rewarding jobs I've accepted!

May the force be with you!

 Autumn leaves at one of Christchurch’s many parks photo by Sunstone

Autumn leaves at one of Christchurch’s many parks photo by Sunstone

How does the IT recruitment process work?

You might be a Computer Science graduate or have just never used an IT recruitment agency before as a candidate so how does it all work? You might be a company looking for IT staff & have exhausted your networks & need to reach out to an agency to find specialist IT skills.

How does it work?

IT Recruitment Process

Once you decide to look for a new role, either as a permanent staff member or as a contractor, it's time to start the hunt!  We advertise all our roles on our website, and most of them are also on either Trade Me or Seek.

>>> Once you apply to an advert or direct to the IT recruitment agency you are interviewed by an IT recruiter so they can get to know you, your skills & experience.
>>> The IT Recruiter gives you advice which might be about your CV, what the IT job market is looking for at the moment and information about any roles that might be a good match for you and they'll let you know about salary expectations.
>>> They'll also find out information about your technical skills and qualifications, what your notice period is and any requirements you have about your location.
If you're suitable for an IT role you are submitted to the Client by the IT recruiter sending your CV.
>>> If the Client would like to see you, the IT Recruiter arranges an interview time and date, and sends you through a detailed interview confirmation confirming who you're meeting with, when and where, and some background on the roles, projects & company.
>>> If there are subsequent interviews, they liaise between you and the company.  Some companies interview 2 or 3 times before appointing the right person for a permanent role, normally just 1 interview for contract.
>>> After your interview CALL the IT recruiter when you finish up to give your immediate impressions, the IT Recruiter will talk with the Client and provides you with feedback.
>>> If the Client would like to offer you a role we'll help you through the offer process and organise your references and any other requirements the client might have.
>>> We'll then help to arrange a start date, ensure your contract has been sent through by the Client and help to explain anything you're unsure of in the paperwork.
>>> Then it's up to you to hand in your notice.  Your IT recruiter can also advise on any questions you have before you start your new role and in your first few weeks.

Advantages of using an IT recruiter from the candidate side:

***Meeting an IT recruiter is an excellent way to understand your local IT job market & make sure you are doing the right things to enhance your career & understand the next realistic steps to achieve your career goals
***You'll receive Insight into what the client is looking for
***Get Interview tips & coaching
***Sound career advice
***Gain market knowledge of other clients that are looking for your skill set
  ***IT Recruiters can proactively & speculatively put your details to clients who look for your skill set to open doors for you
***They can refer you to other connected people
***Give advice on networking / user groups within your industry domain

Advantages of using an IT recruiter from the client side:

***Meeting an IT recruiter is an excellent way to understand your local IT job market, ensure you're paying market rates & staying up-to-date with market trends & job hunters' expectations
***IT recruiters can handle applications & manage the hiring process professionally for you
***Can manage technical testing or run psychometric testing process for you
***Give professional feedback to candidates - good & bad
***Provide interim / IT contract solutions if the permanent IT role is a specialist skill set that could take a long time to hire
***Give advice to organisational structure / team / approach / scarcity of skills & level of experience etc
***You will only pay a fee when you get an outcome / result (called the contingency recruitment model)

I hope this is a good snapshot & insight into how it all works.....

 Boulder Bay walk, Taylor’s Mistake beach, Christchurch photo by Sunstone

Boulder Bay walk, Taylor’s Mistake beach, Christchurch photo by Sunstone

What are the good things & bad things about IT Contracting

A natural step for many experienced or qualified IT professionals is to take the next step into the contracting world…. But what are the pluses & minuses of becoming an IT Contractor? What about Tax? When will I get paid? How do I manage financially between contracts?

Some of the key questions to ask yourself first are:

1. Do I have the people contacts?
2. Are there some of my ex-employers I could ring up now and know they’d potentially have me back on contract?
3. Can I financially go between a contract for 2-3 months?
4. Would my partner want me hanging around home in the downtime?
5. Do I have software or personal projects I can work on when I'm 'out of contract'?
6. Am I prepared to get out & network / partner with agencies to secure my next contract?
7. Am I prepared to be flexible to work on-site & from home or both?
8. Am I prepared to travel to Wellington or Auckland when I can't find a contract in Christchurch?
9. Am I quick to learn a new environment - both technical & company?

So what are the Pros?

***Variety of projects
***Neutral point of view / detached from the in-house politics
***Hourly or daily pay rate
***Become a Specialist
***Become a Generalist
***Gain a lot of different domain experience in a short time
***Work on cutting edge projects that demand specialist technical skills
***Claim back work / travel / tools / entertainment / expenses

What are the Cons?

***Having to stay current with latest technologies (Not really a negative for techies ;-)
***Have to learn a new environment very quickly
***Paying your own tax / engaging an accountant
***Setting up as Sole Trader or Limited Company = Only about $160NZD
***Gaps between contracts…
***Delay in payment from time of invoice
***Having to do the jobs that others don’t want to do!
***Time pressure to deliver projects can mean some demanding hours if needed
***Flexible to travel to client sites

It’s not for everyone……But the rewards are great!

If you'd like to learn more about the IT Contract recruitment market in Christchurch & types of assignments on offer, hourly rates etc having been a contractor myself for a number of years & owner of Sunstone Group Limited I'm happy to help.

 Harry Ell walkway, Port Hills, Christchurch photo by Sunstone

Harry Ell walkway, Port Hills, Christchurch photo by Sunstone

Interviewing tips for IT Hiring Managers / Employers

I thought I’d write a handy article from the other side as you’re often thrust into the interviewing situation when you're promoted, with little or no formal training on 'How to Interview' as a hiring manager.

So what are the best questions to ask? What is the optimum way to get the most out of that initial first 45 minutes with your potential new team member? How many interviews should you conduct? Potential candidates are likely being courted by 5 or more competing tech companies....So make it count!

Introduction

It’s always nice to offer a coffee, tea or even water. It can get darn thirsty answering all those questions and it helps to break the ice before you kick things off. This is also a chance to show off that champion espresso machine the boss was so proud of when they bought it for the team last Christmas…..

Making the candidate wait

A pet peeve of mine is being made to wait typically a candidate will arrive 10 minutes early so you can kick-off on time. The serial position effect tells us that the first and last impressions you make are the ones that make the most impact, so make them wait for 20/30 minutes and you’re giving the impression that you’re not interested and disorganised. Let’s face it, we all hate being made to wait. So print out their CV or have it ready to go on your iPad the day before, and give your colleagues a wee reminder to avoid the last minute rush.

The Icebreaker

To get the best out of your candidate, start with some context or clarification about how the meeting came about, and set the scene.  Something as simple as "Thanks for coming in and I understand you know so & so". Give a brief overview of the process i.e.  we'll give you a quick intro about the company, how the role fits in, then there'll be some technical questions and a chance for you to ask us some questions towards the end. Explain who the people are around the table "I look after X and this is the ‘Line Manager of Digital’ etc…. Speaking of "around the table" do try to sit around the table, as opposed to everyone on one side which feels a bit like an inquisition...this is a two way meeting - welcome to the new school!

Types of questions

The most important questions you can ask are open, role specific questions. When you're asking a question, make sure the answer you're expecting to receive is something you can learn something from rather than an "interesting but ultimately irrelevant" answer. You're trying to find the person who can do this job for you - and the best way to do that is to put them in a position where they can answer to the best of their abilities.
If the role is highly pressured, sure, ask them high pressure questions, and if it's creative, ask them creative questions. Remember this is a 2 way street, candidates will want to be able to show you what they can do, rather than walking out with regrets that they forgot to mention something.
My favourite questions to ensure we elicit the forgotten information are - "Is there anything else you wish we had asked you?" and "Is there anything else we need to know?"

We put this out to Facebook & LinkedIn and here are some favourite questions we received back:

"How many petrol stations are there in the UK?" - Ollie (Recruiter - Google UK)
"Is there anything I didn't ask you that you wish I had?" Steve (UI/UX Manager/Consultant)
"What do you think the role will be like?" - Jason (Retail Manager)
"What extras do you bring to the workplace?" - Donna (Deputy Principal)
"What makes you want to work for us?" - Andy (Head Ski Instructor)
Best question I once got asked was, "How do you make a cream egg?" - Andrew (Head of IT Services)
"If it looked like you were going to miss an important (client) deadline on something, how would you handle this? And when would you do it?" - Steve (Web Architect/Managing Director)
"Describe yourself on a good day at work"... then ask "and what about a bad day?" - Duanne (Manager - Architecture)
"What would you achieve in your first three months in the job?" Jane - (Fundraising Manager)
"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" - Jess (HR Manager)
"What is the biggest challenge in your life so far that you have had to overcome?" - Colleen (Recruiter/HR Manager)
"How do you think you did in this interview?" - Amy (Psychologist)
"What are your passions?" - Mikala (Consulting Manager)

And don’t forget to ask at the end - "Is there anything else I should be aware of with regards your application?" I've been surprised on more than one occasion at what that can elicit...

Include your team

It’s always great if you can include one of your technical member of staff, not only to ‘suss out the candidate’ but to be able to sell to them the technology stack & exciting projects the team is working on.

To TEST or NOT to test in the first interview?

if it's a highly technical role it's great to test the candidate first - why waste an hour on a first meeting, then test them in a second to find they're not up to speed. You just need to make the candidate aware of the process - if it's online or in-house, what the expectations are and the instructions, and include a brief introduction to make them at ease & comfortable.

Office Tour

While you have them in the office, show them around and introduce them to some of the team.  It gives the candidate a better feel for your culture, it also gives you a chance to again show off your great team, what you do and some of the neat people in it, the nice new hardware you’re using, some of the quirkier stuff in your office - the office dog or goldfish, the cafe, or the fact you have a shower or a ping pong table. We forget that some of these small things really catch the attention of a candidate and allows them to start to visualise themselves working in your company & often will set a strong memory when they’re comparing job offers later.
 
Half or Full day Work with the team session

I did a lot of internal hiring for one of the consultancies I worked for in the UK and when we snagged a good potential candidate we’d get them back for a 2nd full day in our office to show them warts & all, what the job really entailed.
We were also really proud of our great culture, everyone knew the drill and would go up to them and introduce themselves, ask them where they worked, if they wanted to know anything about the company and what it was like.
It was very powerful to build on the great culture we already had.  You don't need to do a full day but maybe consider a half-day, take them for lunch, have them work through some problems that are similar to the job they’ll be performing. Yes it's sometimes hard to make the time available but taking some time up front to get the right new team member on board will cause a lot fewer headaches later on. This is also a career move for the candidate and will test their commitment - if they aren't interested in making the time to come in and spend some quality time with your team they're probably not the right fit for you.

You have to sell your company

I think one thing that has changed is the culture of job interviews. Back in the 80’s/90's it was the employer with all the power, you had to impress them to ‘win the job’. Now it goes both ways with skills shortages for great talent, especially within IT.  It really is up to you to ‘sell the job’ because there’s 5 other companies doing just that, competing for that talent in the market. Counter offers and competing offers are typical for good people these days. Don't forget to run through your full list of benefits!

So go on, include lots of your team, have a bit of fun with it, spend a little more time at the front-end and you'll have your next star joining you soon…..

 Spring in Christchurch brings a multitude of colour to the city photo by Sunstone

Spring in Christchurch brings a multitude of colour to the city photo by Sunstone

Why do companies use IT contractors?

In this resource I’ll give you some reasons why companies use them, some pitfalls to watch out for and some tips on how to manage IT Contractors…

Why should I use an IT Contractor?

***When your team needs more resource but not enough to justify a full-time hire
***They are a specialist that can solve a specific problem / provide a specific solution for you
***Provide Expertise in a knowledge domain / hard-to-find skill set
***Great when you have a project budget & you can use skilled experts to resource this
***Flexible Resourcing - time of engagement from hours, weeks, months or years if needed
***Short notice periods i.e. 1-2 weeks is standard for 3-6 month contracts
***You only pay for work performed
***They can bring new ideas / different ways of working
***Up-skill other team members
***Look at overall methodologies / processes to improve
***Can provide coaching on new ways of working i.e. Agile / Scrum or TDD/BDD/DDD etc
***Can focus on a specific piece of work the team has been struggling with / are fed up with
***Can be paid for in Capex budget rather than Opex
***Fill a key gap that may become vacant due to maternity cover, long-term sick or someone on secondment / long-term leave etc that is critical to your business
***Try before you buy - not quite sure? Take someone on contract and see how they perform
***Having a very high-end resource can be very valuable to an organisation delivering value, improvements, efficiencies and innovations - you may want to move them onto the next project and / or take them on permanently (if they are open to this)

What are the Negatives or things that I should watch out for with IT Contractors?

***Cost is a premium - but you pay for what you get (keep an eye on your budget)
***IP can walk out the door - you need to manage your contractors closely
***They can become 'part of the furniture' & never leave - again you need to be aware of how your head count is made up ie FTE & Contractors
***Make sure you work out the market contract rate & pay accordingly
  ***A professional IT Contractor will always want to finish an assignment so pay a market rate to ensure this isn’t a reason for them leaving

What are some of the key tips I should know to managing IT Contractors?

***Ensure your IT contractor doesn’t become ‘indispensable’ or ‘irreplaceable’ by not sharing information or not documenting key information —> Have senior team members collaborate / work together with the IT Contractor
***Set expectations up front before engaging the IT Contractor or on the start of the assignment-> When expectations are clearly communicated issues are less likely to arise
***Draw specialist knowledge from the IT Contractor —> Have the IT Contractor pass on skills / technical knowledge and even 'Upskill’ other team members in a particular domain or language
***Have the contractor sign an NDA - Non-disclosure Agreement to protect your IP (Intellectual Property)
***Give feedback to the IT Contractor or IT Recruiter on how they’re getting on
***If an IT Contractor does stay long-term ensure you write in specific project briefs in the contract to avoid risk of it being deemed an employee relationship by the IRD

IT Contractors are an excellent way to get flexible resource into your business if used & managed well.
If you have any questions or want to know more on how an IT Contractor could help your team or business please feel free to contact Paul on 021 532 008 or email: paul@sunstonetalent.com