Stories by Don Smith

Staffing strategies for a tight employment market

THE IT&T employment market swings like a pendulum between periods of extreme shortage at one end of the arc to periods of extreme oversupply of professional staff. New Zealand has recently experienced a prolonged period of skill shortage where the pendulum swung strongly in favour of the employee. Jobs were plentiful, wages were on the rise and contract rates were extreme in some specialist areas. Employers find it difficult in these circumstances, as it is hard to keep staff and attract replacements. In addition, some employees and job candidates demonstrate a degree of arrogance and aggression that is not easily forgotten.
The market works best when it is at or near to the point of balance, and the mid-point of its arc. In these circumstances neither group has too much leverage, and market forces keep costs and behaviours in balance.

Written by Don Smith19 Nov. 02 22:00

Graduate programmes: secrets to success

Every manager within the IT industry has faced and will continue to face the ongoing issue concerning the availability and retention of skilled IT professionals. Typically, whilst trying to resolve the resourcing issue, many organisations consider hiring graduate IT students. Not surprisingly, many managers have strong opinions on the success, or otherwise, of such programmes. Only recently, one company bitterly complained that of an intake of more than 12 IT graduates, only one remained six months later.
Conversely, another company known to me conducts a very successful graduate programme and has placed more than 50 graduates in the past five years. Since the programme started, all but two still remain with the company and many have since taken up senior positions internally.

Written by Don Smith31 Aug. 02 22:00

The job search project

The IT job “bubble” created by Y2K has long since dissipated, and the combination of a depressed economy, failed dot-com ventures and recent worldwide events has forced a more natural balance between IT job vacancies and available candidates. Because of this, however, many extremely capable and experienced professionals are now finding the search for a new job to be extremely competitive and frustrating. If you are seeking a new job, here is a checklist and some suggestions for your job search project.
Revisit your professional profile
It will help you to initially prepare a working document consisting of the following information:
* Relevant tertiary qualifications.
* Current in-demand technical skills (Java J2EE, Oracle Forms).
* Industry/application knowledge.
* Key job competencies and relevant work experience (systems analysis, project management, business analysis).
* Your strengths: the things you are good at.
* Your interests and enthusiasms: the things you enjoy.
* Your most rewarding and substantial work experiences; your best and most successful projects; and your role in the project teams.
From this you will be able to construct a realistic personal profile. This is your best guide to the style and seniority of your next job and will help you to focus your job search activity. There are two important aspects to keep in mind whilst doing this:
* Approach the analysis from a fresh perspective. Don’t be locked in to your most recent job, title or to preconceived ideas about your future direction. You may have had successful and motivating experiences early in your career, for instance, where you gained credible professional skills and knowledge that could now take you in several directions.
* Be realistic and aware of the constraints imposed by the current employment market. It is unlikely that you will secure a significant promotion, salary increase or be offered a dream job this time round.
Complete a personal needs analysis
The following points constitute reasonable filters as you start to assess job opportunities. Sorting them out early will save time and angst during your job search process.
* What are your realistic financial requirements? (You should come up with two numbers: what you need to survive and the income that would provide you with a comfortable lifestyle). It is important to do this analysis from the bottom up. If you have not done it lately, complete a detailed household budget. This can be reassuring for those people who do not often think about these things in a detailed way.
* Do you have travel restrictions? What are your physical limits in terms of prospective employment locations? Are you able to work in other cities or countries for a period of time?
* Do you have family constraints, child-minding responsibilities, that must be considered?
* Do you have ethical or philosophical constraints? Some people would not consider working for a cigarette company, or a wood-chipper, for instance.
* Do you have any “essential” personal requirements? (For example, must be hands-on technical work, must have people contact.)
Make sure you are accessible
The following items are mandatory when conducting a job search:
* Answering service or message bank for your home telephone.
* A mobile phone. Keep it switched on and attended at all times.
* Internet access and a personal email address.
* Access to a PC for preparation of job applications, résumés, storage of contact details.
Develop a database of personal contacts
Make a list of people you have worked with and studied with, including their contact details. Include customers, competitors, consultants, people who sold to you, your past managers and internal clients. Make positive contact with all these people, explaining your situation. Ask directly for their assistance, remembering to be positive and up-front. Ask for referrals to others that may be able to assist.
After each contact, take the time to email a short note of thanks. This will serve the purpose of getting your email address into email files.
Make a list of potential employers/ professional contacts
Depending on your background, there may be some obvious targets:
* Past employers who have shown a willingness to re-employ.
* Competitors or customers associated with past employers.
* IT sites with similar distinct technical environments or industry application requirements.
Some potential employers may stand out:
* Companies that are close to home, and to which access would be convenient. Employers also see this as a plus factor as employees who work close to home are less likely to leave their job.
* Companies that employ people you know or have had dealings with the staff in the past.
* Companies that are prominent in your areas of specialisation or interest.
Update this database as information comes to hand. You should read newspaper business pages every day as this will give you new ideas based upon business developments and opportunities reported.
Confine your initial job search to areas in which you are strongly qualified
There is a tendency for job seekers to progressively broaden their job search criteria as time passes, applying for a wider and wider spread of positions. This might include jobs for which they are clearly over-qualified, or jobs for which they lack relevant prior experience. It is not usually helpful to do this.
When candidates are readily available, employers generally tighten their selection criteria. They hold out for people who have a directly relevant track record. Thus, employers are often raising the crossbar at the same time as job applicants are attempting to lower it. This leads to frustration and wasted time on both sides. Initially, restrict your job applications to positions very close to your most recent role.
Candidates often ask why they are not considered for roles down the food chain perhaps at a lower level, or for a lower salary. Employers are looking for both competence and stability in every prospective employee. They are often reluctant to employ the over-qualified because they fear that these people may be vulnerable to more attractive offers in the short term. Applying for jobs below your level of competence is destructive to the soul. Better to leave it out.
Approach prospective employers directly: but be smart
This aspect of the job search project depends on a strong first impression. Research to optimise your approach and demonstrate commitment. Look at the company’s website and speak to any present employees you can access (don’t forget the telephone operator). For a successful direct approach, you must have an understanding of the company and its current situation.
Approach the operational manager most likely to be responsible for hiring people at your level. Do not approach the HR department in the first instance and do not rely on it for help. Don’t use a recruitment agency to make the approach. Be positive and upbeat, and use the opportunity to gather further information.
A direct approach as advocated is often successful, but you may not make progress on the first attempt. You may secure a referral to another area in the company or another hiring manager, for instance. Once you have been recommended internally, you have differentiated yourself from other job seekers.
Tailor every application to the company or specific job
Apply for every position offline. Do not use the auto-forward facilities on the job sites. An offline application is cleaner and you have control over the format and content of the first page. It is in your interest to look different from others applying.
Write a concise covering letter (maximum two-thirds of an A4 page) relating your past work experiences to the requirements of the position. Express interest and list your contact details in the letter. Review your standard résumé and make sure that the points raised in your letter are clearly covered in the professional experience section. In detailing your past responsibilities, give prominence to the most relevant aspects of each job. Of course, do not overstate your experience or knowledge.
In particular, remember that the résumé is only a tool to secure an interview. It should contain all relevant history, but does not need to comprehensively cover aspects of your experience not relevant to the job in question. The writer may be a cynic, but I never read any part of any résumé other than the professional experience section.
Monitor job sites, agency sites, corporate websites and newspapers
In my opinion, the best IT job sites are Seek and nzjobs. You should check them every 24 hours for new jobs listed. Make sure that you experiment with the search engines to ensure access to a broad spread of available positions. This software has an element of randomness, and can pull you down a narrow range of available jobs if you use the wrong format or the wrong key words.
Agency websites provide a different perspective for job seekers. It is easier on most of these sites to browse all of the jobs on offer, as you will get a broader view of the positions available. There is a chance that an advertisement will prompt a different idea or train of thought that might help you. You are also less likely to miss a suitable job because of some eccentricity in the keyword search mechanisms.
Don’t forget to check the corporate websites of your target prospective employers. Many sites have an employment section, and some employers favour candidates who approach them directly.
Newspaper advertising for IT&T employment is not what it was. Nevertheless, some organisations use newspaper employment advertisements due to the “spin-off” corporate promotion impact and good jobs do appear in the paper from time to time. In any case, you should read the business pages daily, searching for leads and ideas for your direct approach activity.
Working through employment agencies
Be positive and constructive in your interaction with recruitment agencies. There is a tendency among some people to regard the recruiter as an impediment to the job search process. The vast majority of recruiters follow a rational and reliable method in screening candidates, and if you are in the frame, you can be sure that they will do their best to get you in front of their client.
Because recruiters work from the job vacancy perspective, there is little advantage in maintaining general contact, but it doesn’t hurt to follow up each contact with an email.
Additional notes for the currently unemployed/under-employed
The stress of unemployment adds a significant dimension to your job search and should be managed. The following items may seem trivial and/or irrelevant, however they will help you to maintain a positive and active attitude. Confidence and self-esteem are key assets in your job search.
Manage your time carefully and constructively
Follow a daily schedule and make the search project into a job. Allocate time slots each day for research, networking and background activity. Where possible, take on additional responsibilities around the house (it is far better to be too busy than at a loose end). Take vigorous physical exercise every day.
Consider every opportunity for short-term work
Don’t forget to contact your previous employer, who may have short-term needs. Be conscious of networking opportunities. Many short-term assignments turn into a permanent job down the track.
If you can, take on a practical physical project round the home
Paint the house, build a stone retaining wall, build a brick barbecue. Put in a decent effort for several hours each day (you will feel like you have achieved something).
Take on constructive background activities
Look at short-term educational/training opportunities, and work on your professional development. Work on your physical fitness every day, either a walking programme or gym membership. If you are not in shape, get in shape: this is directly relevant to your job search. Take over the child minding, housekeeping or cooking (give your partner a break). Volunteer in the local community. Write the great New Zealand novel.
Arrange networking meetings away from home
Have coffee or lunch in the city. Remember to treat such meetings as important and wear business dress. Be positive, seek information, ask for assistance and seek referrals. Look in on conferences and seminars. Stay in touch.
After the event, take the time to say thank you
A bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way in business. When you get your job, make sure you remember to thank those who have helped along the way.
Don Smith is managing director of Woodbine Associates, specialists in IT recruitment. Smith can be contacted on ph: 0-9-363 3324, or email: For further information, visit

Written by Don Smith31 Aug. 02 22:00

Managing professionalism in the workforce

All employers are conscious of the potential for fraud in the workforce, and employ the kinds of checks and balances that will protect them. In contrast, managers are often not sure how to react when inappropriate anti-social or marginally dishonest employee behaviour comes to light within their team.
Such situations are always difficult to address, especially where the staff member may be long-serving, or the behaviour is “borderline” or hard to quantify.

Written by Don Smith31 Aug. 02 22:00