Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

The Omega Careerist: Surviving a Post-Layoff Wasteland

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It started quietly. Rumors of ominous portent spread through the office, spoken in solemn whispers. But you paid no heed. You just kept on working.

The first to go was one of the IT staff. Then another went missing. An executive left with nary a word. One accountant bolted for the door, desperately muttering something about “Grad School.” All that was left were a few dusty outlines on their desks, and some stale, half-eaten cake.

Suddenly, scores of people disappeared. All around you, one after another, coworkers were summoned away from their desks and were gone. A few emerged only for moments, visibly despondent as they tearfully clung to one another, and then never to be seen again.

Now you’re alone. Much of your department has vanished. And, worst of all, you’re saddled with their workload…

The years since 2008’s economic meltdown have been taxing and, at times, bleak for professionals. For those who kept their jobs, the realities of the “Great Recession” meant watching others lose their jobs, taking up overwhelming responsibilities, and facing a discouraging possibility that there may be no end in sight. It can seem like you’ve survived an atomic blast.

But, if you’ve studied thoroughly in preparation for these apocalyptic times, then you know there are ways to survive, even get by comfortably. Here are a few “End of the World” strategies you can apply at work.

Where the living envy the dead

The greatest blow has been to morale. After all, we lost our friends, our neighbors, our collaborators, our happy hour companions. And while the value of your work may have spared you from layoffs, you were perhaps left questioning if your career was still worth it.

Experts call it “Layoff Survivor’s Guilt.” For companies that suffered heavy cuts, human resources departments reported declining company loyalty and esteem. Job stress has since been on the rise, and so too has a sense of inability and remorse.

It’s up to employers to preserve unity amongst remaining staff. Following layoff rounds, employees should demand open communication from leadership about the state of the company and the road ahead. Group activities are also vital to rebuilding camaraderie; for instance, managers can organize outings to roam the desolate streets and scavenge for dry Post-Its and trophies in the abandoned offices of felled competitors. (Remember to wear your radiation suits!)

And for those who regret having survived while others got the ax: Fallen friends are still friends. Stay in touch via Facebook and LinkedIn, maintain contact, and remember them when news of an opening crosses your desk. You can benefit as well—the unemployed are always the first to know about free cupcakes and discounted manicures.

(As a point of etiquette, avoid griping to them about work—you risk prompting bitter retorts of “At least you have a job …” Or perhaps they’ll have gone cannibal, and hunt you for your delicious, employable flesh.)

“I had so much time…”

On the other hand, some less sociable professionals might welcome the solitude and peace of mind. Like an idyllic beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, just before the ironic twist. Now that all the chit-chat is over, you can go about your work undisturbed.

But not so fast. Without the others, management expects to “do more with less.” The “less” being you, laboring a whole lot more.

Should the increased workload prove too much, take a stand. Make it known that doing the work of two—even three or four!—people should mean being compensated accordingly. Were this truly a post-apocalyptic hellscape, it might entail increased food and gas rations; in reality, it’s worth perhaps a 6 to 8 percent salary hike.

If that can’t be done, or if the promise of greater pay won’t ease the burden, then remember that companies are still hiring. Even with a ratio of 4.6 workers competing for every one job, you have an advantage (albeit an unfair one): You’re a survivor. Employers give greater value to applicants who kept their heads above water throughout the last years’ tumult; some outright shun unemployed candidates like infected mutant hordes.

Of course, these are just a couple of the scenarios to be explored. In the spirit of Halloween, we encourage Vault readers to join in. In the comments below, tell us some of the “apocalyptic” circumstances you’ve encountered since the recession. We’ll mention the best ones on our Facebook page!
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Unveiling the Top-25 Most Prestigious IT Consulting Firms

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As explained last week, our primary IT consulting ranking this year is a composite score that takes into account both quality of life rankings (as determined by a firm’s own consultants’ votes) and prestige rankings (or, outsiders’ rankings of consulting firms other than their own). Both sides of the equation are critical to choosing an ideal employer. But when selecting an employer, a good first impression of the company is to gauge how outsiders view its reputation in the industry. This is why the Vault prestige ranking is such an integral tool for job seekers.

Respondents to this year’s Vault IT Consulting Survey were asked to rate each consulting firm in the survey on a scale from 1 to 10 based on prestige, with 10 being the most prestigious. Consultants were unable to rate their own firm, and they were asked to rate only those firms with which they were familiar. Vault collected the survey results and averaged the score for each firm. The firms were then ranked, with the highest score being No. 1, down to No. 25. Remember that Vault’s top-25 most prestigious IT consulting firms are chosen by practicing consultants at top consulting firms. Vault does not choose or influence these rankings. The rankings measure perceived prestige (as determined by consulting professionals) and not revenue, size or lifestyle.

All in all, our prestige list provides a comprehensive roadmap of who’s who in the IT consulting industry—ranging from big tech consulting shops to smaller, niche firms, and spanning a vast swath of expertise. Without further ado, check out this year’s top-25 most prestigious IT consulting firms!

Oh, and stay tuned next Tuesday for our release of specific practice area rankings!

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 20, 2010 at 10:25 am

Admit Nothing: Debunking the Infallible Leader

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There is a phenomenon in leadership, known as the “Reality Distortion Field.” The term describes a level of charismatic self-assurance so overwhelming and nigh delusional that no criticism can penetrate it, and those in its path are powerless to withstand the hype.

In this sphere, any ambition is attainable, every idea a masterpiece and any setback a negligible distraction. Such overconfidence might seem absurd on paper, but in practice it is embraced as an exceptional quality. But not everyone can get ahead simply by putting perception in a chokehold.

The term’s origin should come as no surprise: Apple drones coined it in the early 1980s to illustrate the belligerent influence of Steve Jobs. “In his presence,” as one minion put it, “reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything.” If complex tasks were scheduled in an unrealistic time frame, Jobs deemed it eminently doable; should evidence show Steve was wrong, he bent the facts to prove himself right.

Over time, claims of “Reality Distortion” have been applied to other Silicon Valley honchos. Apple’s chief rival, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, is most notable for displays of boundless, sweaty confidence that somehow captivate industry audiences. So too is Larry Ellison, who has recently taken to harshly doling out unsolicited criticism of peers in the press (who willingly take his word as gospel).

Given their collective achievements, one might think that there’s something to the obstinate approach. In truth, they serve as outliers. Without true knowledge and ability, a cocksure leader is a liability.

Recall LifeLock CEO Todd Davis: So sure was he of his company’s identity theft protection system, Davis freely listed his social security number in television and print ads. Certainly some employees must have expressed misgivings about such a bold claim, yet Davis laid down the gauntlet. As a result, his identity was stolen thirteen times, embarrassing the company and leaving a shameful trail of fraudulent debt in his wake.

Davis assumed his confidence would carry the product. But while leaders should inspire faith, the “Reality Distortion” mindset goes a step further—even an inkling of doubt signifies weakness. This is seen in the political arena, where candidates attract slurs like “flip-flopper” over slight shifts in policy. Some contenders will stick to a line in the hope they can alter voter perceptions, no matter the risk of being caught, or the cost to their credibility.

New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino is one such stubborn figure, campaigning on a “kitchen sink strategy” of persistent accusations against his opponent, Andrew Cuomo. When Paladino claimed to know of marital infidelities by Cuomo, the press asked for proof. He belligerently demurred, until eventually admitting that his allegation was hypothetical and had no substance—only to resume the lie in subsequent television appearances. For his arrogant zeal, Paladino’s prospects are on the decline. Recent polls show him trailing Cuomo, with the gap ever widening as Election Day approaches.

Leading through sheer force of overbearing will also carries a particularly undesirable side-effect: Volatility. Intimidation and abuse rank high as motivation for staff to fall in step with one’s ineffable vision, and screaming tantrums are not unheard of in these environments. Steve Jobs is himself given to rages that drive some to the verge of tears, and drive down the happiness index in Cupertino.

In his 2007 book The No Asshole Rule, author Robert Sutton deems Jobs’ effectiveness as an exception to the eponymous rule, yet acknowledges the Apple leader’s reputation for humiliating staff. Sutton otherwise promotes a prevailing wisdom that puts employee satisfaction first: Happy workers are productive and creative workers, while abuse drives up employee turnover (and potential lawsuits).

As much as budding leaders may wish to become a Jobs or Ellison, it’s not their hubris that should be emulated. Whether you attribute it to a unique confluence of factors or simply uncanny mutant powers, success didn’t come from their willfulness alone. Ultimately, they possessed intelligence and skill. Blustering may get you through the door, but ability is what builds great computers, great products and great companies.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 20, 2010 at 8:13 am

What Job Seekers Can Do To Impress Recruiters

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A lot of job seekers lament that reading the feedback from HR is like staring into a black box. It is tough to know what recruiters are thinking because, as a former recruiter myself, I know that recruiters don’t like to share very detailed feedback.

But it’s helpful to know what the successful candidates do, so you can learn from them and use these tactics for yourself. Here are some strategies from current active recruiters when I asked them, “What is an example of something a strong candidate did very well or that impressed you?”

Emphasize what’s best for the long run, even it may not benefit you immediately

Jean Allen is a veteran recruiter in the financial services industry. She is currently at Exchange Place Partners:

Someone who was in the running for a job they really wanted once told me that her boss would actually be a better fit and that she thought he might be interested if I approached him. I did approach him and he was hired. (Good news: He then hired her.)

Follow up over time and let genuine relationships grow

Toni Thompson is the Diversity and Inclusion Manager for McCann Erickson NY:

A candidate I interviewed over a year ago continues to send me bi-monthly emails with interesting articles about technology and diversity, two interests I mentioned in our initial meeting, and updates me on his current job responsibilities. There are very few people who know how to build a meaningful relationship with recruiters. This guy did it well.

Be confident, but not too much

Lindsay Browning is a Recruiting Specialist based in Dublin, Ireland, who specializes in recruiting language-based clients for online sales and marketing roles:

Confidence without being arrogant but belief that they are the right person for the role and the company. You cannot beat a candidate with a positive attitude!

You don’t have to close at the interview – what you do after sometimes matters more

Henry Lescaille is a Vice President of Human Resources at Time Inc:

I interviewed a woman several months ago, who, in my opinion lacked one critical piece of experience. She listened to my feedback, thanked me for my candor and said she wanted to “reflect” on our discussion. Her follow-up included concrete examples of how she did have that experience base and how she would be an asset to the organization. She was respectful, thoughtful and strategic – and now happily employed at Time Inc.

–Caroline Ceniza-Levine, SixFigureStart

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 19, 2010 at 10:26 am

Where the Women Aren’t: The Banking C-Suite

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October is Carl Paladino National Diversity Month, so we decided to go back to the data we collected in our most recent Banking Survey and see if we couldn’t find a few fitting pieces to offer up in honor of these holy 31 days.

First, what we found, unsurprisingly, is a marked lack of women in the banking workplace. Somewhat surprising, though, was that this lack of women increases as you go up the banking org chart. That is, as you’ll see in the graphic below, of those bankers surveyed, 26 percent identified themselves as women. But of those surveyed who hold executive positions, only 11 percent identified themselves as women. The takeaway here is that females are still underrepresented at the top financial firms, and are severely underrepresented in the higher ranks at the top financial firms.

Vault.com 2010 banking diversity gender

Second we found (again unsurprisingly) that the ethnic group that accounts for most (almost three quarters) of the entire banking industry is none other than the white male. However, interestingly, we found that the white male is far better represented in the banking industry than it is in the general population—almost 10 percent greater as you can see in the graphic below. In addition, Asians, the second largest ethnic group in banking, are also far better represented in the industry than they are in the wider U.S. population—about three times greater, in fact. On the other side of this diversity story, Hispanic individuals and African-Americans are severely underrepresented in the banking industry versus their representation in the wider population.

 

Vault.com ethnic diversity of finance industry 2010

Third, we found a large lack of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals in banking. Given that banking is perhaps one of, if not the most politically conservative industries in the United States, this might not come as that much of a surprise, but still, you would think that the lack might not be as significant as the pie chart below indicates: just 1 percent of the more than 2,200 bankers surveyed had identified themselves as an openly GLBT individual. Which begs the question: are GLBT individuals not welcome into the banking industry, not interested in the industry, or both?

Vault.com 2010 banking diversity GLBT

–Posted by Derek Loosvelt, In The Black

Collaboration: The Third Habit of Effective Intrapreneurs

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This is the fourth in a series of articles that describe the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.

Productivity is the foundational attribute of an intrapreneur. Initiative is a required next step. Neither of these attributes necessarily results in new ideas, and new ideas are of course an essential part of innovation.

Breakthrough ideas are often generated during the third step, which is depicted below as collaboration.

Intrapreneurs are, by necessity, highly collaborative. The reason they practice Habit #2 (initiative) is because they fully recognize their need for new knowledge. They don’t know all of the problems their current (or future) customers are experiencing, and they lack comprehensive knowledge of an adjacent sphere of technology that just might light an innovative spark of how to solve a problem differently.

To overcome these limitations, intrapreneurs collaborate. Perhaps the best way to illustrate intrapreneurial collaboration is with an actual story.

The e-book Innovate With Influence describes a collaborative effort to produce an idea that translated into multiple billions of dollars of product revenue. The idea was instrumental in giving rise to the adoption of disk array technology by mid-range corporations (one notch below enterprise customers in terms of size).

The idea was originally motivated by the need to solve the most important customer requirement of an information storage system: data integrity. In the 1980s, a new technology known as RAID had arisen. RAID used mathematical techniques to re-create information from failed disk drives. If the math was wrong, the customer would receive corrupt data. Customers wanted RAID because it was faster than any disk technology previously available.

Thousands of lines of new software had to be written to implement RAID. Dozens of failure permutations could impact RAID systems.

How could this software be tested to prove that the math never failed? The intrapreneur in this case was highly productive and an expert in RAID. He had taken the initiative to understand the customer sphere. The diagram below highlights the need for an intrapreneur to find an adjacent technology and collaborate.

In this case, the adjacent technology was a very robust testing framework. This framework already verified data integrity, but it did not have a specific solution for verifying RAID disk arrays. Employees in the two technology spheres collaborated on new functionality that inserted tortuous fault events at every mathematical calculation point. This tool became internally known as the disk array qualifier (DAQ). The resulting disk array, known as CLARiiON®, achieved superior levels of quality that led to well over $12 billion of revenue generation in a 20-year period. The figure below depicts a Venn diagram of the DAQ solution.

These three circles represent the three basic habits of highly effective intrapreneurs. A highly productive employee becomes proficient in a particular expertise (in this case, RAID). The intrapreneur then takes the initiative to identify problems from the customer sphere (data integrity). Initiative spurs the search to find an applicable adjacent sphere (the test framework) and collaborate.

Collaboration between the two technologists yielded an innovative solution: the DAQ.

The next question becomes: how do you deliver upon these new ideas? The answer to this question will become apparent as we continue to work through the steps. Please consider subscribing to this blog for future updates.

Steve
http://stevetodd.typepad.com
Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Written by A.A. Somebody

October 18, 2010 at 2:26 pm

10 Frightening Realities of the Post-Recession Economy

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The recession ended in June 2009. Did you notice? Chances are you probably didn’t—especially if you’ve been looking for a job. The bad news: things aren’t likely to get much better any time soon; current economic growth rates mean the unemployment rate will do well to drop by much more than a single percentage point by the end of 2011.

All of that is likely to continue reshaping the employment market, and will affect everything from your ability to conduct a salary negotiation to the pace at which you can expect to climb the ladder—or even get on it in the first place.

So what’s a job seeker to do? Vault’s industry and career experts put their heads together and identified a number of key trends that will affect careerists over both the short and medium term.

1. Doing more with less

In season five of the brilliant HBO series “The Wire,” the tight-belted, high-waisted head of the fictionalized Baltimore Sun declares, upon announcing a paper-wide job cut, that “we will simply have to do more with less.” It’s a quote that could serve as a template of companies both large and small in the post-recession era. After sacking thousands of employees in order to cuts costs, pummeling employee morale in the process, managers focusing on the bottom line will be hesitant to hire more bodies in order to explore more avenues of business, even when profits begin to pick up. Instead, they’ll simply turn to their existing employees, put a cool hand on their shoulders, smile, and ask them to take on increased duties.

2. Held back by housing

The recession may have ended in June 2009, but a little over a year later, The National Association of Realtors reported sales of previously occupied homes plummeted 27 percent in July 2010, the worst showing in 15 years. So, despite the good news, unemployed job seekers struggling to pay their mortgage still have fewer options for their job search. For them, it’s either find a job where they live or accept a job elsewhere, relocate and add on the extra expense of paying rent while they wait for their home to sell.

3. Choose your education carefully

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that applications to school surge during a recession. There are no jobs, so why not get more training and make yourself a better candidate when there are jobs? Makes sense, right? In the past two years, prospective students applied to graduate schools in droves; particularly to law, business and health services degrees. While health care is one of the fastest growing industries and will likely be able to handle the influx of new graduates, the law, finance and consulting industries will not. It’s unlikely, however, that this will deter prospective students from applying this fall—and next.

4. Age diversity

An aging workforce is going to continue to be a big challenge for employers, who increasingly prefer to cut costs on training for new positions. Compounding this is the fact that people are delaying retirement because of the recession. While gender and racial discrimination will remain critical concerns, age diversity presents a new challenge for the corporate world.

5. The finance industry

Don’t let the National Bureau of Economic Research fool you. Although GDP might have hit bottom more than a year ago, and we’re technically in an expanding economy, the US still looks very recession-like to the record numbers of men and women out of work, as well as to those still employed. And nowhere does the immediate outlook worse than in finance.

Hedge funds are currently experiencing their worse year on record, collectively growing assets by a mere 1.7 percent thus far in 2010; and Merrill Lynch recently estimated that as many as 20 percent of hedge funds could shutter by the first quarter 2011. Meanwhile, following deep job cuts in 2008, investment banks started to hire again in 2009. But now with markets ice cold—and predicted to stay that way at least until 2011—firms might be significantly cutting back again. Bank of America, for one, is in the midst of 1a large job cut, reportedly sacking 5 percent of its capital markets staff, and some analysts believe that other banks, afraid of the cooling markets, if not a double dip, might not be too far behind.

6. The legal sector

In the legal sector, 2009 saw a dramatic drop in hiring—a trend that has continued into 2010, with entry-level hiring not likely to return to pre-recession levels any time soon. Law firms have adopted a variety of solutions to maintain a smaller, more efficient workforce. Many of these solutions will likely survive beyond the recession, and affect law firm infrastructure, professional development, compensation and recruitment.

In addition to cost-cutting moves like the consolidation and relocation of back-office functions, other measures include a shift from traditional lock-step salary structures toward performance-based compensation systems. Many firms now offer alternative, non-partnership career tracks or have established apprenticeships for new lawyers. On the recruiting side, behavioral interviewing techniques are gaining popularity as a means of identifying candidates who will, in the words of one law firm hiring partner, “be able to deliver client service on day one.”

7. More short term jobs

The recession might be over, but unemployment figures have remained the same. This has forced Americans to look at jobs differently, with many accepting temporary and part-time positions rather than holding out for full-time permanent work. That’s helped the underemployment rate to remain sky-high—it’s currently over 18 percent—and there are no signs of it changing anytime soon: retailers are expected to hire up to 650,000 temporary workers this holiday season.

Toys R Us is an example of a company that is going even further: it plans to open 350 temporary “Holiday Express” stores by early October, creating 1,000 temporary retail positions. Other temporary positions are expected to become available during the holiday season. But when those temporary positions end, the unemployment rate will go right back to where it was before they were created.

8. The IT consolidation trend

The initials “IT” and “M&A” already go together like cereal and milk. And with spending on hardware, software and IT services expected to hit $3.5 trillion next year, the major players in the field have lots of incentives to keep adding to their range of offerings. One way they’re doing that is by snapping up smaller firms. Recent examples include HP’s acquisition of 3Par, Intel’s purchase of McAfee and IBM’s takeover of Netezza. But while the rapid pace of consolidation might be a good thing for consumers, waves of tech professionals will likely be squeezed out of Silicon Valley just as quickly.

9. The importance of internships

Because of the shortage of jobs, landing an internship is going to be more important than ever. Despite increased competition, if you’re a college student or looking to break into a new field, they’re an integral part of your next career move.

Starting in high school, students need to cultivate paid or unpaid work experiences that build skills, character, work ethic and resume. Employers use internships to prescreen and hire talent. Your career currency comes down to the following equation: internship experience + skills. Even if only on a volunteer basis for a few hours per week—this is how you get your foot in the door and demonstrate your passion for your field of interest.

10. Negotiate a package, not a salary

While the recession has affected the number of jobs and the kind of compensation on offer, it hasn’t changed how you should approach salary negotiations. However, what you negotiate for might change. While salary increases, stock options and signing bonuses might be in shorter supply, there might be opportunities to for other types of compensation such as at-risk pay based on milestones achieved, paid time-off and a flexible work schedule.

You should value the entire package and quantify everything. How you do that is up to you. Your compensation number should factor in what is essential to you and what is non-essential. You could even give weights to the essential and the non-essential in determining the value of your offer. As an example signing bonus, relocation, 401k match, day care and base salary could get an 80 percent weight while the other 20 percent would fall under extra vacation, nicer title etc. At the end of the day, each person will be different on what they value and what they consider essential.
— The Staff of Vault.com