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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

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

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

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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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!

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.