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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.