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The Myth of Big Company Job Security October 11, 2012

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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“Small companies are too unstable.  I want to work at a big company because that provides better job security.”

I hear that all the time.  Ironically, I tend to here it from people who are already at large companies who are worried about their program ending soon.  I just don’t buy the “small companies are unstable” argument.

The federal marketplace will always have things beyond a person’s control, and beyond the control of their employer.  Contracts end; programs get downsized; funding cuts happen; contract awards get delayed and protested.  There’s simply nothing you can do about this.  You can be doing all the right things, adding immense value to your customer and helping your company build a great reputation, and then suddenly you are “on the bench” or “between projects” or “on overhead” – whatever you want to call it, you have suddenly moved from a profit-generator to a cost center. That’s a dangerous place to be.

If you roll off a project in a large company, you’ll probably work with the internal HR / staffing team to try to find a fit on other projects.  There always tend to be many open positions at large companies, but there’s no guarantee those are a good fit for your skills.  Even if the roles do fit, at many companies you would need to compete for jobs against new applicants.  You would apply for each opening and then interview for it, just like a non-employee applicant would.  You may have a bit of preference because you are a known quantity, but I’ve seen many instances in which people fall victim to a layoff because the position they wanted got filled by a new hire instead.

Let’s contrast this to what would happen if you rolled off a project at a small company.  In this situation, the small company’s leadership would likely make a much more concerted effort to find ways of keeping you on board.  Losing one good person doesn’t have much of an impact on a 10,000 person company, but it has a huge impact on a 50-person company.  At one small company I know, if they learn that a budget cut may be coming the CEO and other senior management members have a meeting specifically focused on “what can we do to get PersonX on another project in a role that he or she would like?”.  The outcome of that type of meeting is generally personal calls being made to end customers and teaming partners about the person.  I just don’t see this level of “caring” being possible at a large company that may routinely have hundreds of people rolling off various different projects.

I worked as an engineer in one large company and several small ones during my career.  In the large company, neither the Chairman, nor the CEO, nor the President, nor the SVP, nor the VP even knew who I was, let alone what value I was bringing to the customer or what my skills were.  I was a line item on a spreadsheet.  That wasn’t anyone’s fault – I HAD to be just a line item – there is no way that senior leadership of a large firm can know more than a small percentage of the employees.  At the small companies, I knew the founder/CEO/President personally.  He (she in one case) knew who I was, what my skills were, what the customer thought of me, and how I fit longterm into the overall growth plan.  It was quite comforting knowing that if a bad situation happened, the top officer of the company would be personally working to avoid having to let me go.

I’ll end with one other point.  Whether big or small, the best way to have job security is to make sure that you have impact for your customer and that you keep your skills current and relevant.  That way, even if you do suffer a layoff, you will be in demand in the market and able to quickly find another opportunity.

Ron

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Avoiding that New Year’s Urge to Post – A Shameless Promotion of our Services December 29, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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It’s “New Year’s Resolution” time again – that time of year when many people have the “gee, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to this year / I need to make some changes” conversion in their heads.  Introspection and reflection are very good things, but they often lead to reactionary approaches that don’t yield the desired results.

As the owners of a search firm, we know what is coming in January – lots and lots of people posting their resumes on job boards, going to career fairs, and applying for jobs, hoping to find “something better”.  It must be something about hanging out with their extended family that makes people want to change jobs!  The goal is good, but the job board / career fair process doesn’t work very well (as evidenced by the huge number of people who THOUGHT they were in a great job a year ago, but who are now posting their resumes everywhere).

If you are a highly cleared professional with strong technical skills, we’d like you to know three things:

Your skills are in very high demand – There are many more jobs than there are people who do what you do and who have the clearance level you have.

Many companies will do and say whatever they can to hire you – We hear countless horror stories of people who took jobs expecting one thing, only to find something else.  The work wasn’t as challenging as they thought it would be, or the role was completely different than they were told, or the company forgot to mention their contract was up for re-compete, or the “team-based approach” that was highlighted during the interview process was really just a hodge-podge staff supplementation program.  There is a war for talent, and the company that gets you to say “yes” gets another billable slot on a project – they make more money, and their competitors don’t.  It can get very cutthroat, and your career desires can get lost in the fight.

It is incredibly difficult to determine which company will make you happy – All the websites look the same, all the jobs sound great on paper, and the interview process is often more focused on getting you to say “yes” than doing a deep mutual qualification (see our blog from a few months ago if you don’t believe this!).  You may be an excellent analytical problem-solver, but you aren’t a professional at digging deeply into companies, understanding what type of people thrive there and why, and separating company marketing messages from reality.  You also don’t have the time to do this level of analysis about each company.

If you post your resume on a job board, go to career fairs, or start applying to lots of jobs, you will likely find yourself overwhelmed with companies that want to interview and hire you.  You won’t have “insider information” about many of them, and you’ll do what every other human being does – you’ll be attracted to the best marketing messages you hear.

We offer a better approach to investigating new opportunities.  We spend huge amounts of time researching companies and turning only the best ones into our clients. We interview their executives, their hiring managers, their technologists, and their former employees.  We cut through the marketing messages and get to the reality of what each company is.  When a company wants us to recruit for them, we say “no thank you” more often than we say “yes”.  We simply won’t work with an average company or one that plays the “we’re a sub on 168 contracts and need Java Developers with FS polys” game.  We won’t work with a company whose former employees tell us that the marketing message didn’t match reality.

If you care about your career and making the RIGHT choice, contact us.  We’ll spend 1-2 hours talking with you about where you are in your career, what you’d like to improve or change, and what your passions are – in other words, we’ll try to understand you as a human being and not a “billable resource”. Then we’ll evaluate what you have told us against the select group of compelling companies we’ve made our clients over the last 7 years.  We’ll tell you about ones that we feel match your career desires.  If you are interested in one of our clients, only then will we talk about specific positions at that company.

If you want to get invited to a dozen interviews, make a guess about which offer to take, and just try a new job to see if it works, post your resume on January 1.

If you’re ready partner with an expertise search firm that will help you find the right long-term fit at a company that makes you happy, call us – we can help

Happy New Year from all of us at Stanley Reid & Company!

Mary Reid Stanley
Ron Stanley

Undifferentiated Firm Seeks Carbon-Based Lifeform with Polygraph August 30, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
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When I read a recent Washington Post article about a security clearance job fair, I cringed – a lot. I don’t want to use this blog as a place to vent, but I feel I need to on this point.

People referred to as a “valuable prize”?

A “feeding frenzy” analogy used to describe the the incredibly important process of carefully choosing where to work, which company to be at to build your career, and the place you spend 40+ hours a week?

I actually had a company once tell me that their hiring need was “anyone with an active full-scope poly who can fog a mirror”.

This transactional approach to “recruiting” is dehumanizing.

Why would anyone want to work for a company with that attitude?  What happened to the concept of making a good cultural match between a person and a potential employer?  What about career growth opportunity?  What about the relationship between a person and their boss/career mentor?  What about the QUALITY of a person’s skills and their INTERESTS instead of just whether they’ve passed a polygraph?

This obsession over “getting the person with the polygraph so I can get them billing and fill my slot” is also a waste of taxpayer dollars.  No one should be hired just because they have a polygraph and happen to have a resume that matches up nicely to the specifics of a labor category and a slot on a task order.  Have you ever sat next to someone and shook your head and wondered why they ever got hired? Thank the “feeding frenzy” mindset.

Finally, and most importantly, a rush to hire because of a polygraph lessens the effectiveness of work being done.  This isn’t just about taxpayer dollars.  The programs these highly-cleared people work on directly affect national security and the lives of both our military men and women and civilians.  We need spectacular teams of people who are in the right roles, and who are happy and successful because they are in the right companies for them.  Those high-performing teams cannot be hired in this transactional manner.

My job as a search consultant is to make good matches.  I learn about where people want to take their careers and what they are truly passionate about, and then I find the companies that can provide them an environment that fosters their growth and lets them chase those passions. Yes, almost everyone has a polygraph who I work with, and yes, they all make a lot of money because the supply and demand curve is skewed – but it is my job to get people to the place where they are SUPPOSED TO BE.

If this makes sense to you, stay home the next time the career fair is in town and give me a call instead so I can treat you like an individual human being with a specific desire for your future, instead of warm body with a clearance.  Thanks for listening.

(To read the article that caused this rant, go to http://bit.ly/bsn8M0)

– Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area and a former software engineer and technical project manager.

7 Ways to Make a Mess of Things When Job Searching July 20, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
5 comments

As a search consultant (or recruiter, or headhunter – call me what you will), my job is to help people figure out where they should be professionally, and then help them get there.  Sometimes that means someone should stay put, and sometimes it means he/she should move on and join another organization.  When I introduce someone to a client and broker the first set of conversations, I never know where things will lead, but I’ve learned one thing for sure – there are many opportunities to royally screw things up!

No one wants to burn the proverbial “bridge”, but often people don’t realize the consequences their action or inaction may have on others.  Exploring new job opportunities and potentially making a career transition is delicate.  It involves relationships, expectations, promises, and commitments.   Some people instinctively know how to keep everyone happy, and others unintentionally make a mess of things.  Since I’m not a cynic, I have trouble believing anyone would intentionally burn a bridge. Many times it is just a lack of awareness of how our actions are perceived by others. Here are 7 surefire ways to make a mess of your job search and career transition.

#1 – Go Dark
I’ve worked with some job-seekers over the years who were very professional in their dealing with me and with our clients, and then suddenly, they just disappear.   Sometimes it takes weeks to reach them, and I am usually told, “oh, I got another job” or something similar.  This makes a person look very unprofessional, and most of my clients have a policy of not considering a person in the future if they “go dark” during an interview process.  It’s fine to stop an interview process if you’re no longer interested – just have the courtesy to tell everyone involved.

#2 – Play Companies Against each other to Get More Money
There’s nothing wrong with trying to make as much money as your skills are worth in the market, but there are rights ways and wrong ways of doing this.  It might be flattering to have multiple companies get into a bidding war over you, but when you make this happen, you’re telling everyone that money is your main motivator.  The companies that lose the bidding war will have a bad taste in their mouth, and the one that wins will always wonder if they can trust you because you might leave if someone else comes along and waves more money under your nose.

#3 – Leave Abruptly
No matter what the circumstances, give two weeks notice or more, and do what you can to earn those last few weeks of your paychecks.  When I ran a software engineering consulting group before becoming a recruiter, one of our engineers didn’t show up at the client site one day.  We were all worried, and it took us three days to reach him.  When I finally got him on the phone, I asked him what had happened.  He told me quite matter-of-factly that he decided he didn’t like the project anymore, so he got another job.  He didn’t seem to care about the mess he’d caused.  Don’t be like this guy was – show respect for your employer when you leave a job, even if they haven’t shown it to you.

#4 – Try to Use an Interview to Launch Your Own Business

This is an odd one, but it happens more than you can imagine.  This is where a “job seeker” says he or she is looking for a salaried position, but then during the interview, the person tells the hiring manager they want to be a subcontractor and launch their own business.  I’ve never seen this work – clients eliminate people that do this because they don’t want to hire (or subcontract to) some one who has used deception.

#5 – Be Arrogant
Some types of people are in huge demand and in short supply, like strong software engineers with high clearance.  If you are fortunate enough to be this type of person, you know you can get many interviews and multiple offers.  Don’t let it go to your head.  Prepare for each interview, learn about the company in advance, ask good questions, and be genuinely interested.  If you want to work for the best companies, your attitude and professionalism are as important as your technical skills.

#6 – Become the Evil Short-Timer
I am embarrassed to say that I did this once very early in my career.  The circumstances were rough.  We were working 14-hour days and also working weekends on a death march software development project.  My manager, the person who grossly under-scoped the fixed-price project, publicly questioned my commitment to the project in front of the VP because I wanted to occasionally have dinner with my wife instead of attending mandatory 6:30 PM team dinner meetings. I decided to leave, and I quickly found a new job.  I gave 2 weeks notice, but instead of keeping my head down and leaving gracefully, I was quite an annoyance on my way out the door.  I told everyone I worked with exactly why I was leaving, and I told the other software engineers that they were crazy for putting up with things and staying.  I was very blunt in my exit interview with HR, and I threw my manager under the bus with her superiors as I left.  All of this felt really good at the time, but looking back on it, I embarrassed myself, and I didn’t do anyone any good by my behavior.  Hopefully you can learn from my mistake. Revenge may seem sweet, but leaving gracefully will pay dividends in the future.

#7 – Accept a Counteroffer
This is always a bad idea – you burn a bridge with both your potential new employer, AND with your current company that made you the counteroffer.  I’ve got a lot to say on this topic – see our article on this for more details.  <http://bit.ly/cW8nSH>

If you avoid the above “worst practices”, you are well on your way to smoothly transitioning to a new career opportunity without destroying any relationships along the way.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, an Intelligence Community search firm.  He has burned only a few bridges in his life and continues to try to keep that number small.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Making a Career Change Decision That is Right for You June 14, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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(This is the first installment in our “Career Transitions” series)

Before I owned my own business, I generally started disliking my jobs around the two-three year mark. The novelty had worn off by that time; all the little annoyances were amplified and my motivation to get up in the morning was gone.  I started being unhappy not only at work but in every aspect of my life. For me, it was always painfully obvious when it was time to go. But for a lot of people, the signs that it is time to move on can be right in front of them and yet they fail to see them.   I’m not talking about the obvious things here – being underpaid or passed over for promotions, spending more time commuting than sleeping, a company that is being bought or downsizing – those things are huge red flags that you need to start a serious job search. I want to focus on some of the less obvious things that can indicate you need to change.

  1. You have lost the sense of purpose you got from your work: Think back to when you took your current job – what attracted you to it? Was the work you would be doing important to something beyond the bottom line? Were you helping people or your country or a cause you felt strongly about? Did you get up in the morning happy that the thing that was paying your bills was also giving you a sense of contributing to something bigger than yourself?  If you are not getting that feeling anymore, it’s time to start thinking about a change. Sit down and really analyze what you want out of your next position beyond a specific salary or benefits package. Surprisingly, most people don’t think deeply about this before taking a new job and end up back on the market sooner than they would like.
  2. Your relationship with your boss/co-workers isn’t working any more Everyone has a “co-worker/boss from hell” story, and it is inevitable that we will be confronted with someone in the workplace that we just don’t see eye-to-eye with. But when those relationships are damaged beyond repair, and when differences of opinion don’t lead to productive discussions or changes but rather hurt feelings and on-going tension and disruptions, then it may be time to formulate an exit strategy.
  3. Your physical or mental health is suffering:  Is your job literally making you sick? Are you finding yourself in a perpetual bad mood? Are your relationships with family and friends suffering because of your work?  Occasional stress headaches and pre-deadline mood swings are normal, but perpetual stress takes both a mental and physical toll.  Make a list of the things at your job that stress you out, and then think about how these are affecting you. No job is worth sacrificing your health or your relationships. Conduct your search for a new job in a way to will allow you to continue working until you have your next position lined up.
  4. Your values/ethics are being challenged: You wouldn’t knowingly take a position with a company that engages in behavior that is contrary to your moral or ethical values.  But companies are not in the habit of promoting their bad behavior so until you’re there, you don’t know what the real story is.  Acquisitions, changes in leadership, and economic issues can also lead to changes in an organization’s values – sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.  Stay vigilant and make sure your employer’s actions match your values

Deciding whether to stay or go can be tough decision that you may not want to think about. But the overwhelming negative effects of staying in a job that isn’t a fit anymore should be impetus for you to start your job search today.

In our next article, we will discuss exit strategies and why you shouldn’t burn that bridge just yet.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area. She has been happily employed at SRC for 6 years and is still very motivated to get up and go to work every morning!

Dealing With a Contingent Offer April 7, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Interviews and Offers.
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Anyone who has ever had a house to sell knows the elation you feel when you get that call from your agent that a contract has come in.  And the feeling of deflation when you hear there is a home sale contingency. Your future happiness and financial wellbeing is now tied to a potentially endless stream of other people’s decisions. Your buyer gets a buyer but that buyer also needs a buyer, etc, etc. At the end of the day, you really haven’t sold your house and now you have to make the decision to effectively take it off the market by marking it “Sale Pending- Contingent”.  The same thing can happen in your job search – you love the company, they love you but for whatever reason, they can’t seal the deal and you get a contingent offer. What should you?

First of all, NEVER tender your resignation if you have a contingent offer. A contingent offer is NOT a REAL offer until all contingencies are fully removed and you have signed the non-contingent offer letter. This seems like common sense but some candidates we have worked with have been so eager to resign, they have almost made this mistake. Our practice is to counsel all our candidates with contingent offers to treat it like there is no offer at all when it comes to resigning.

Second, you need to decide if you are continuing your job search or marking yourself as “sale pending” and taking yourself off the market. This will depend on a lot of factors around the actual offer and your personal tolerance level for ambiguity and uncertainly. Here are some things to think about when faced with this situation:

  1. What are the contingencies? If the contingency is something like verifying your clearance or checking your references and you are confident that there are no issues, then it probably makes sense to stop marketing yourself if you really want this job. If the contingency is something less clear like client approval, winning the actual contract or the dreaded “waiting for a slot to open up” you would be foolish not to continue your job search.  If you think about it, what kind of job security is this company offering you long term? What happens if funding for “your” slot goes away in three months? Will you be put on the bench until another project comes along or laid off?  My guess is laid off – if they could hire to the bench, your offer wouldn’t be contingent.
  2. How has the entire interview process been with this company? Can you look back on the experience and say it was positive?  Was the process organized and straightforward?  When you called with questions, did someone get back to you quickly with the answer? Did someone fully explain what the contingencies were and how quickly they would be lifted? If you have had an overall positive interview process, then chances are the company will work to get the contingencies lifted as quickly as they can.  If it has been a disorganized or extremely long interview process, this should send up a red flag. Chances are, you are going to be waiting a long time for those contingencies to be lifted, if they ever can be.
  3. If you didn’t get this job, how would you feel? Even if this is your dream job and if you didn’t get it you would be crushed, a contingent offer doesn’t guarantee you anything and taking yourself off the market can be ill advised. In some cases, going back to the original company and telling them you have a non-contingent offer can suddenly make the contingencies be lifted a lot faster. It could also lead to the offer being rescinded so be sure you are OK with that outcome before announcing you have another offer.

Contingent offers, no matter how you look at them, are not ideal situations. You are relinquishing control of your future employment, salary, and job satisfaction to someone else. They leave you up in the air and not much further along than you were before you had the offer. They can cause stress and frustration and may cause you to pass up another offer that might have been better. Before getting too far along in any interview process, it may be in your best interest to find out if the staffing of this role is contingent on funding or client acceptance or the next election. Then you can make an informed decision early on whether to continue or find something more certain to pursue.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.

The Myth of Job Security and How to Create CAREER Security March 18, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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When I work with someone who wants to explore new career opportunities, I ask them a lot of questions about what they want in a position and in an employer.  About 92% of the people I speak with mention “job security” or “stability”.  It’s a very reasonable thing to want.  While I’m a big proponent of embracing change and taking risks, unexpectedly losing a paycheck and being out of work isn’t the type of change and risk anyone likes.

There is no such thing as job security.  I learned this first hand when I was very young. I grew up in a “steel town” in the 1970s.  The steel mill, where 80% of the people in my town worked, looked like the most secure employer that you would ever find – strong profits, consistent growth, and tops in the industry.  People got into the mill when they were young, and they never left until they retired and enjoyed a lifelong pension.  Then the recession of the late 1970s came…

Within two years, 75% of the employees were out of work.  My Dad was one of the 25% who didn’t lose their jobs.  In fact, he got promotions and pay raises during this time of massive layoffs, and I’ll bet he could have gone to any other similar business in the country and gotten a strong offer.  How did he manage to do this?  He never bought into the concept that a company could provide “job security”.  He took charge of his own career and made sure he did three things: he got results for his customers, he found ways of improving the financial bottom line of his company, and he always kept his skills up to date.  He made his own CAREER security.

The same concepts apply to people working for technology firms in the Intelligence and Defense community.  It doesn’t matter if you work at a tiny start-up or one of the giant integrators.  If your project ends, you don’t have job security.  If an agency has a funding cut, you don’t have job security.  If your company gets acquired, you don’t have job security.  If you don’t do a good job, you don’t have job security.

So what do you do?  You can apply the same approach my Dad used to your work.  Here are three questions that I recommend you ask yourself at the end of each week:

“Did I make my customer successful this week?”

“Did I make my employer successful this week?”

“Did I upgrade my skills this week?”

You probably won’t answer “yes” to each of these questions every week, but you should be able to answer “yes” to each of them on a fairly regular basis.  If you can’t, then you don’t have security in your career.

An exceptional Engineer I tried to recruit years ago called this the “drive home test”.  Every Friday, after he left his work site, he took account of his career by asking himself those three questions as he sat in traffic.  He used this little bit of regular introspection to make sure he was taking care of his career.

If you are making your customer, your employer, and yourself successful, you’ll be one of the imminently employable people – the folks that survive the layoffs, get to sit on the bench between projects, and have the luxury of multiple job offers to choose from if they decide to make a change.  The great thing about this is that security is completely within your control.  When you leave work this Friday, take the “drive home test” and see how you’re doing.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area and a former software engineer and technical project manager.

Does Resume Quality Matter in the Highly Cleared Market? March 2, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
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I hate to say this (because it makes me feel old) but when I started looking for my first real job out of grad school, the concept of submitting a resume “on-line” didn’t exist. The closet thing was faxing a copy of your resume to a potential employer with the expectation that you would send a “clean” copy on really nice paper via the US mail the same day.  Today, the thought of actually buying special resume paper and mailing a resume seems quaint and quite frankly, useless. Job applicants, recruiters and employers (especially in the cleared space) move at a pace that doesn’t support formality and etiquette. But does that mean that you can slap anything out there, call it a resume, and expect to get contacted by the people with the best jobs?  If you are a full-scope poly software engineer, the answer is probably yes – people with high clearances and high-demand skills can get away with a less than outstanding resume. But, I would argue, you are selling yourself short and maybe missing the best job for you.

So why take the time to create a stellar resume if you are highly cleared and in demand?

  1. Consider it preparation for your interview cycle: There is no doubt that having a clearance and in-demand skill set will get you lots of interviews but after that, it is up to you to sell yourself to potential employers.  Taking the time to craft a resume that tells your story is an excellent way to think about your career goals, what you have achieved in your current and past positions, and what you want in your next one.  Giving examples of how your efforts led to follow-on worked, saved a doomed project, or landed a new client will leave a much better impression on a hiring manager than “I’ve coded in Java for 10 years”.  And having a vision of where you want your career to go can show a hiring manager how you potentially fit in their company.
  2. The best companies with the most interesting work aren’t looking to hire a body with a clearance:  If you are simply looking for your next gig and don’t care about the type of work you are doing or the project you are on, then a standard resume will get probably get you what you want. But, if you are looking for your next career move, a role you can stay in for years at a company you admire and who hires the best, having an above average resume is a must. Believe it or not, one of our highly-cleared software engineering candidates told us a company refused to interview him because there was a small typo on his resume.  The internal recruiter who reviewed it felt if the candidate didn’t have enough attention to detail to catch this, he wouldn’t live up to his standards for the job.  Granted, this is an extreme example, but it does show that resumes are the first impression an employer has of you.
  3. Your resume is probably going to be first reviewed by a non-technical person who makes the initial up/down decision on you: Most internal and agency recruiters are not technologists.  Have a clean, easy to read resume that clearly states your clearance level, the technologies you use, and your job titles will help you get past the initial hurdle and on to the people who really need to see your resume. As an agency recruiter, I act as an intermediary for my candidates with HR reps at my clients. I can help push along a resume that might not be as attention grabbing or advocate for someone who has switched jobs recently and is unhappy. But, if you are working on your own, you won’t have an advocate to speak on your behalf other than your resume. Make sure it is saying the right things about you.

A few final thoughts on resumes. There is no magic way to craft your resume that will make is the best one ever. You can find thousands of “how to write the best resume” entries on Google, each one telling you something different. There are even people who will write your resume for you for a fee. I look at hundreds of resumes of technologists every week week. Here are my thoughts on how you can improve what you have:

  • Use the “Objectives” section to tell the reader what you want, not what you think they want to hear – “I am seeking a senior software engineering role using Java and Groovy that requires a full-scope poly clearance, has technical management duties, and is located within 25 miles of Columbia, MD”. This gives you reader much more clarity than “Seeking a challenging position as a senior software engineer with a top-notch company”.
  • Keep it short, focused and clear. Tell me up front what your clearance is or tell me you aren’t comfortable putting it on your resume and to call you for the details. Tell me the technologies you are proficient with and don’t include the programming language you used 15 years ago in your Programming 301 course at State U.
  • Bullet point the key highlights of your positions and what you contributed. Don’t write long or multiple paragraphs about each task did on the job. Don’t recount the entire history of the program at your current employer or paste the informational statement from your employers website about what the company does. No one cares!!
  • Run spell check and grammar check and have someone else read it for clarity and typos (preferably a non-technical person).

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.

Counter Offers… Accept Them or Reject Them? February 16, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Interviews and Offers.
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You’ve decided to look around for a new position.  You’ve interviewed with multiple companies and gotten an offer you want to accept.  Hoping to avoid too much conflict, you tell your boss you need to talk.  You stumble through your resignation, and then suddenly your boss asks, “What can we do to get you to stay?”

Congratulations! You are about to receive a counteroffer, and your next few days are going to be confusing and stressful!

Your old company suddenly treats you like you are the most important person in the world. Your manager and your manager’s manager meet with you. You have the discussions you’ve been wanting to have for a long time – about your career, the things that have been bothering you, the future of the company, and the key role you can play.  You’re offered a raise, perhaps a retention bonus as well, and maybe even a promotion.  You walk away from these discussions feeling wonderful – finally, the management team understands you and is going to make the changes you need and fix the problems.   They value you, they are listening to you, and you’re seriously considering calling your new company and telling them you’ve changed you mind.

Don’t. Accepting a counter offer is always a bad idea.  Always.  Here’s why…

You just threatened to leave your employer, and they are offering you a bribe to stay.  Trust has been broken, and nothing else has changed.

It really is that simple.  If your old company lets you leave, they lose the revenue and profit you’re generating, and they have to scramble to find a replacement.  In the short-term, it makes sense to bribe you to get you to stay.  In the long-term, you no longer have any good career options at the company.  They know that you decided to leave them – you interviewed, you accepted another offer, and you blindsided them when you resigned.  They see you as not having the company’s best interests in mind – they see you as only being concerned about yourself.  Trust has been broken.

That sounds harsh, but it is true.  Google “accept counter offers” and see the scary statistics…

You might read all this and still think that your situation is the exception, and that the company will trust you and take care of you in the future.  Even if that is true, it’s still a terrible idea to accept the counter offer.  Consider the following question:

Why didn’t the company fix the problems BEFORE you decided to look for a new job?

Companies are like people.  They are very slow to change.  You interviewed for a reason – you weren’t getting what you needed at your old company.  Maybe they’re offering you more money and painting a rosy picture of the future, but do you really think you suddenly created a massive change in the culture of the company by threatening to leave? It’s still the same company, with the same decision-makers, and the same problems that motivated you to consider a new job in the first place.

The employer-employee relationship is analogous to dating.  Let’s assume John and Susan have been dating for a while, and Susan has become unhappy enough with John that she’s found a new boyfriend.  Here’s Susan’s “resignation” and John’s “counteroffer”.

Susan: “John, it’s over.  This isn’t working, and I’ve found someone else.”

John: “Wait a minute, Susan.  If you’ll dump the other guy, I’ll buy you a big diamond, and I promise I’ll pay more attention to you in the future.”

Susan: “Gee John, that’s swell!  I’ll dump the other guy!”

Do you think Susan and John are going to live happily ever after?  Don’t accept a counteroffer.  It’s a bad idea.

Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, an Intelligence Community search firm.  Ron unfortunately accepted a counter offer early in his career…

Engaging a Search Consultant – A Case Study for Highly Cleared Professionals February 2, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
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Here is a true story about a candidate we worked with last fall.

“Jim” is a polygraph cleared software engineer.  He loves to code and wanted a new project at a new place to help him move on after some changes in his life.  Jim did what many people do when they want a new job – he posted his resume on several online job boards.

Our research team came across Jim, and while we don’t normally work with “active” candidates, I do like to talk with people, learn what kinds of things they are looking for in their career, and potentially work with them down the road.  By the time we talked with Jim (about 8 hours after he posted), he had already been contacted by at least a dozen recruiters. As the day wore on, that number increased rapidly. By days end Jim had received over 50 messages – each recruiter promising him that they had the perfect job in the perfect location at the perfect salary, all without ever having talked to him about what he wanted in a new position.

As the week wore on, we couldn’t reach Jim. We had given up when out of the blue we received an email from him. He had been screening all his calls due to the number of recruiters contacting him and had changed his email address as well. He let us know that he did want to talk to us since we weren’t pushing a specific job, and he gave us some times he would be near his phone and the “secret code” to get him to answer.  While we didn’t end up placing Jim at one of our clients, we did help him figure out what he was really looking for in a new job and which players in the market could help him get where he wanted to be at this point in his life. We also told him the next time he wanted to make a job switch to contact us or another search consultant he liked to conduct a private and confidential search on his behalf.  Jim learned a hard lesson about posting on job boards, especially if you have a clearance.

So what are your options if you are highly cleared and want to explore new job opportunities? Well, hopefully you won’t post your resume on a job board, unless you want to change your telephone number, your email address, and move!   You could spend all your free time surfing job boards, designing a search string and then reading through hundreds of postings, applying to the ones that interest you, following up, fielding phone calls from recruiters, coordinating interviews, following up after interviews, reviewing offers and negotiating better offers all while working your current job, spending time with your family, and attending to all the other things in your life. Oh, and most of this has to be done during lunch, in the evening, and on the weekends because you are in a secure facility all day.

The other option is to engage a search consultant to conduct a confidential search on your behalf.  A good search consultant will spend several hours getting to know you in depth – beyond the standard “how much money do you want” or “what is a tolerable commute” interview that a lot of high volume recruiters conduct. Search consultants really dig into what motivates you and your wish list for professional growth. They then take this information and evaluate it against a large portfolio of clients and identify any that they believe can provide you with an appropriate opportunity.  Once you decide which companies you want to be presented to, the search consultant then coordinates all aspects of the process, from initial interview through offer negotiation. You have one point of contact during the process and an advocate for your career growth.  There is no charge for this service – the company that hires you pays the search consultant a fee.

I encourage all highly cleared professionals to find a good search consultant before you want to make a move. Establish the relationship early and be prepared for when you want to make a move. And who knows, you might find that your next great position is already waiting for you.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.