Archive for the ‘contracting’ Category

Slapped in a Dark Tunnel at an Interview

The interview cycle is in full swing. I came across a post on Contractor UK about tricky questions posed by interviewers, which I think are just jaw-dropping. Someone needs to have a reality check and stop taking themselves so seriously. I have nothing against difficult, even impossible, questions in an interview situations. Most of the time they are great indicators of the way someone approaches a problem, and they provide a good starting point into a conversation about technologies, techniques, associated issues etc. But the examples here are pretty silly.

“You’re in a dark tunnel and someone slaps you in the face. What do you do?”

Should you have a bit of Krav Maga under the belt which emphasizes protection through offense, your reaction might be to cover your head, flail the elbows in the “drunken monkey” maneuver and lunge in the attacker’s direction, turning their attack into a fumble before removing them as a threat. However, apparently not what an interviewer wants to hear! A perfectly sensible self-defense strategy dismissed off the cuff. Why?

“This insinuates that the person is prone to react in a stressful scenario aggressively and without hesitation. These hypothetically aggressive questions can also increase a person’s tension there and then, which could mean that they are susceptible to stress and prone to make dramatic responses and reactions.”

Umm… yeah. It could also suggest that you have previously thought about such a scenario and are prepared for it in the event of it happening. That’s kind of what self defence is supposed to teach you. You’re probably not going to deck your manager in a meeting, though. Unless the meeting’s in a dark tunnel. And he slaps you.

Hiding is also not a good idea. “This generally indicates that the person cannot adequately deal with sudden events, resulting in an alarmed state of mind, freezing in a stressed scenario.” Seems to me like it might also be a sensible reaction. Someone hits you, you avoid getting hit again then worry about how to get out of the situation.

The preferred solution?

“I would first try to figure out from which direction I was hit and then find the fastest way possible out of the tunnel. Analysing the immediate situation first, and then consider the options that would solve the event. This answer indicates that the person will take a calm and calculated approach to a possible problem situation. That all the possible scenarios should be considered before any direct action is taken.”

It doesn’t take too much analysis to work out to run away from where it hurts. While you’re standing around analyzing, you get a follow through to the groin. Hmm… great solution.

Other gems include expecting candidates to be calm and collected after making them wait for 45 minutes (while their kids are waiting to be picked up from school), and hoping that people calmly ask police officers whether it’s them they’re yelling at to get their hands up. Right.

If you’re asking behavioral stuff with right or wrong answer, you should probably drop it. Questions of the “what-if” nature are useful only if they lead to an insight into patterns of working, problem solving or similar and lead to a wider discussion. A candidates reaction to getting slapped has as much place in the process as an interviewer in a dark tunnel.

A great example of how to do it right is described in Joel Spolsky’s The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing.

Finding IT contracts in London

Over the last couple of years, I developed quite a strong professional network in Dublin, which was working quite well in getting contract IT work. With the recent move to London, I have found that I may now have to fall back onto more traditional forms of hunting for contracts, i.e. through agents and job boards, even though I intend to keep pushing on other fronts.

It has quickly become apparent that the City is quite a different environment due to its scale, and that the traditional job board search methods are simply not up to the task. Consider the following job stats:

  • London has a population of 18 million, Dublin just over 1
  • Contract stats from listings on CWJobs/Jobserve in the last 2 days using the following search terms:
    • Java 44/110
    • .Net 57/120
    • Spring 30/27
    • Agile 24/33

Lots of contracts, contractors, agents and potential clients. Work out what you will about the environment from the numbers. Separating the wheat from the chaff takes time, and anything that makes the process too difficult for any of the parties involved is going to get skipped over.

First thing job boards.

With such a huge turnover of work, you need to keep track of stuff that you have seen before as roles get listed on an ongoing basis. You also need to make sure that any search automatically drops out stuff that’s not relevant. You probably don’t care about release management jobs or C++ if you are looking for Java work, and a lot of emphasis is placed here on industry experience within a particular niche (a simple filtering mechanism for clients).

RSS feeds are the way of the future here. I set up a couple of complex boolean searches on Jobserve and set up feeds to fire off to my Google Reader. This way I don’t have to keep a big spreadsheet of stuff that I have applied for, and don’t have to sift through things that I have already seen in search results. Hours of dead time freed up for more productive activities. Before I set these up, it was a battle just finding relevant work to apply for.

I don’t really like this form of contract hunting as it is inefficient at this scale, and certainly prefer the networking model, but any strategies that make this easier are worth working out.

Adage have a great article that I found my way onto from the LinkedIn blog, about how you can use social networking sites to supercharge the process. I think it’s probably a much better way to operate. Updates coming soon.

If you are in London and looking for someone smart who gets things done, knows how to communicate, has the ability to get people exited about stuff, with a Java background to technical architect level, feel free to contact me through LinkedIn.

Why my resume will no longer be in Word format

Another contract cycle approaches and the question of the CV/resume has once again reared it’s head. The job boards are full of agency ads with instructions that resumes be submitted in MS Word format only.

Often when I have turned up to an interview, I have encountered printouts of my resume with my contact details removed and a huge logo of the recruitment agency slapped on the front. The logic being that the agency does not want the employer to contact me later on without them involved. While I appreciate the logic behind the practice, and have no problem with submitting a resume without contact details, I take objection to it being done by someone else.

A CV is a copyrighted work. This means that I as the author regulate how it is used. While I grant the right of distribution for the purposes of selling my services, I do not grant the right for it to be edited.

Changing the content of a resume often tragically messes up the formatting. The purpose of the document is as a sales vehicle for my services, and lot of time, money and effort has gone into its production. I object to the document being updated by someone who does not have the same intrinsic interest as myself in that work. I take pride in my work, and my resume is representative of this. I do not want for it to look like a dog’s breakfast when I am talking to someone at an interview.

Pasting an agency logo onto my CV without my permission is at the very least undesirable. I do not work through any given recruitment agency before a contract is signed, and do not wish to be represented as such. I am quite happy to put a footer into the document saying that it is prepared for their use, for future reference by their client, but do not wish their brand to be otherwise advertised through it. This practice is dubiously ethical as it makes use of the device of Social Proof, discussed by Robert Cialdini in his book “The Psychology of Persuasion”. The practice effects the perception of the agency through associating it with the skills of the contractor.

As a rarer but nonetheless important reason, I have encountered cases where agencies have changed key terms within the applicants’ resumes in order to make them more sell-able. Often, this is transparent and embarrasses all parties involved. Furthermore, misrepresentation of this type constitutes fraud, is illegal, and can be used as a reason to terminate the contract in the future if the applicant is successful. This is not a risk that I wish to be exposed to.

I understand that there are certain requirements for job applications through agencies. A resume must be able to be read, searchable for future reference, and should not have the applicant’s contact details. In accordance, I will now distribute it in Adobe PDF format only. PDF is a de-facto standard for document distribution, is searchable and protects my rights as the copyright author.

What is your experience? Have you encountered any of these problems, or any resistance to such a stance?

Web Developer rates up 26% in UK

Driven by new interest in Web 2.0 technologies, acquisitions by the New
Conglomerates (Google, Microsoft et al.)