After my video game business closed, I looked around for what to do next. I thought the ‘Information Technology’ industry looked interesting. So I enrolled in a course, studied as hard as I could, and landed my first job a year later.
Okay. That all sounds very easy. The reality was much more difficult.
The course I chose was the easiest one available – hardware maintenance. (Basically I trained to become a PC repair technician.) It also seemed like the closest thing to my previous work in the video game business. I reasoned that if I could fix a pinball machine, I could fix a PC.
The first job offer I got was a glorified courier position. It involved driving around town picking up dead monitors and returning them to base for repair. “Do that for six to twelve months,” the interviewer told me, “and you could move up to a PC technician role.”
The salary offered was incredibly low so I declined.
Unfortunately, it took another two months to receive my next job offer for a help desk position. I gladly accepted the role, one because it was closer to what I wanted to be doing, but two, because I was in a pretty dire financial position at that point.
Not only was I in debt from the training course, I’d also moved from my home town up to the city to improve my job prospects. On the first day of work I had to borrow bus money just to get there. My lunch was a small tin of tuna, and nothing else. I begged the payroll department to do a partial pay run for me for that first week so I didn’t need to wait a full two weeks to see my first pay. When the check came via internal mail I sprinted to the bank down the street to deposit it just before they closed. I paid back the borrowed bus fare, and was able to have some bread with my can of tuna the next day.
In hindsight, I could have chosen a more difficult course and become a programmer. The demand for programmers was sky high at the time thanks to the Y2K bug. Programmers were graduating from the same training institute where I studied hardware maintenance and were landing jobs immediately. Maybe if I’d become a developer in 1999 I’d be living in Silicon Valley today making megabucks at Google or Facebook?
But the reality was, I was flat broke at the time and going into debt to fund my training. The shorter and cheaper hardware maintenance course was all I felt comfortable with.
BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY
If you’re trying to break into the industry today, here are some lessons you can take from my experience.
1. Know your market
I can list off a bunch of technologies here that you should learn today. But, that isn’t going to be useful if nobody in your area is hiring people with those skills. Before you commit to a learning path, do your research to see what job opportunities exist where you live. Look at the advertised positions to see what they list as required and desired skills. Use those as a guide to determine where you should focus your education.
I chose hardware maintenance without doing any real research. Near the end of my training I attended an industry breakfast and sat next to two recruiters, neither of whom were hiring people with my skills.
They wanted programmers. The breakfast yielded me no job interviews. Live and learn!
2. Get out and meet people
Go to meetups in your area and introduce yourself to people who already work in the industry. Ask them what they look for when they hire for entry level roles. Meeting people in person is best, but online contacts are also useful. I didn’t have the convenience of Facebook, LinkedIn or any of the other online technical communities that exist today, and I lived in a relatively small town away from where the jobs were. I couldn’t afford the petrol to drive my car up to the city for any industry meetups or events, so I just had to keep applying for jobs cold.
3. Get online and become known
These days it’s easier than ever to create an online presence and earn a good reputation that makes people want to hire you. You don’t need to be employed to share your knowledge. Help your fellow beginners with their problems. Be open and public, and keep your reputation clean (don’t get into fights online, nobody wins). You don’t need to be famous around the world. All it takes is a few people in your community who recognize your abilities and know you’re looking for a career.
4. Be open to accepting less than ideal jobs
When you’re employed, it’s easier to find your next job than it was to find your first job. You’ll be getting paid and growing your network, and you’ll be under less pressure to take just any job you’re offered. That very first job I turned down, even though it was low paying, it would have at least helped me move to the city and kept me from sinking further into debt. In turning it down, I also turned down the opportunity to travel to lots of customer sites and meet people who I could strike up a conversation with, and ask for advice. I’m fortunate it worked out okay in the end, but it was an opportunity I should have taken.
If you’re going to be applying for jobs, you’re going to need a resume. Before putting one together, it’s important to remember this: the sole purpose of your resume is to get you an interview. Your resume pitches your suitability for the job. It’s a sales pitch, and it should be the simplest one you’ve ever made, because the buyer (the company advertising the job) is telling you exactly what they want to buy.
If you have one resume that you send to every potential employer, you’re doing it wrong. Generic resumes almost always miss the target by a wide margin. Prospective employers are only tangentially interested in the full range of your skills and experience. What they really want to know, and quickly, is how well you match up with their specific requirements.
If you’re dealing with a recruiter, they will ask for a general resume to keep on file and match you with opportunities. But they should also be asking you for tailored resumes for specific roles. If not, ask them if there’s a way you can provide them with tailored resumes. If you leave it up to them they’ll make edits to your resume themselves, which can lead to some awkward moments during interviews if the recruiter has added something to your resume that isn’t true.
A good resume says everything it needs to say in as few words as possible. For most IT professionals a resume only needs to be one to two pages long, with all of the most important information contained on the first page. Recruiters and employers make a decision about your resume in 10-30 seconds at most. If you don’t grab their attention in that time, you can easily be overlooked.
So how do you ensure you grab their attention? You write your resume to match the requirements of the job. If the job ad is for a server administrator with VMware, Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server skills, you must clearly show your experience in those areas right up front on the first page of your resume. Don’t oversell or undersell your experience. Everything on your resume must be defensible if you make it to a job interview.
A few lines stating your suitability for the role could say:
Server administrator with over 5 years’ experience in VMware infrastructure management, Windows Server (2008 to 2016) administration, and Microsoft SQL Server support.
That statement makes no claim to have designed VMware infrastructure, and in an interview is easily defensible by explaining that you were administering an existing environment that was already deployed. If the employer is looking for some design or deployment experience, you can sell your experience as having taught you the merits of a particular design model, any flaws you noticed, how you would avoid them in future, and what else you’ve learned through additional training and certification (if that is true). This shows employers you are able to learn from other people’s work, can gain an understanding of environments you didn’t personally deploy, and are not tied to a single way of doing things.
Next, list your current and previous roles in reverse chronological order. For each role, briefly describe the industry or business they were in, the size of the environment, your responsibilities, and any projects that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Only list projects you were personally involved in. (Don’t list projects that happened to occur while you were there, but didn’t involve you in any way.) Again, you need to highlight the specific skills the job is asking for.
As you get further back in your employment history, you can start to reduce the amount of detail in each role, particularly as the roles become less relevant to the job you’re applying for. After 20 years in the industry, my first five years, all of which were at the same company, are summarized as ‘various roles’ and don’t include any projects. If my more recent experience isn’t enough to get me the job, there’s no chance the work I did in the ’90s will make a difference.
Don’t take job ads too literally though. Many job ads ask for more skills and experience than they’ll actually be able to get. If a company wants a Senior Systems Engineer with Exchange, SQL, XenDesktop, NetScaler, Barracuda, Azure, and Docker experience, that’s a lot to expect. Outside of a total economic disaster like the global financial crisis of 2007-2009, employers are usually desperate for good quality employees. While they might get lucky and find someone with all the skills they want, it’s much more likely they’ll accept someone with fewer of those skills, so long as that person can show other desirable qualities.
Good examples of ‘other desirable qualities’ are soft skills and side projects. Technical skills can be taught and trained. Soft skills are developed over time, and are more valuable.
Communication is one notable soft skill that can overcome a deficiency in technical skills. The quality of your resume alone will indicate whether you are a good communicator. Spelling and grammar errors in a resume will send it straight to the reject pile, so make sure you’ve thoroughly proofread it. If you have any online content such as a blog or YouTube channel, that will also demonstrate your communication skills.
Side projects demonstrate soft skills such as persistence, time management, project management, attention to detail, and commitment to quality. They can also demonstrate to a prospective employer that you write clean code, handle feedback and bug reports well, and make logical decisions about how to build and share your project with others.
Educational qualifications should also be included. How much emphasis you place on your education depends on the role. A graduate or junior role might require a heavy emphasis on your grades and the school you went to. After a few years, however, it is only relevant that you graduated. Whether you got an A or a B in high school English is not as important. Later in your career as you get into more senior roles, education can swing back into the spotlight as employers look for things like masters' degrees or specialist qualifications. Let the job ad guide you as to the level of detail they’re looking for.
The same applies to technical certifications. If they ask for it, you should list it. If you have others that are closely relevant, list those as well. But don’t oversell the 20+ hardware and networking certifications you’ve done that have no relevance to the job. By all means list them in an ‘additional qualifications’ section of your resume, but don’t waste prime front page real estate on them. Relevance is more important than quantity.
Many employers treat education as a box-ticking exercise for job applicants, rather than an integral part of the job itself. In Chapter 3 we’ll discuss upskilling and staying employable, and the role that certifications play in that process. Certifications and other education are important, but later in your career it is good experience that wins over paper qualifications.
Don’t be shy about including a few personal interests at the end of your resume. Employers do like to see that you are human and have a life outside of work, and that you will have things in common with other employees. Personal interests are also good conversation items in interviews and can help you to establish rapport with the interviewers.
Your resume should also include referees who can vouch for your skills and experience. When you’re applying for new jobs it can be awkward to get referees from your current job, especially if you feel you need to get a reference from someone you report to directly. Asking your manager if they can be included as a reference is obviously a signal that you’re looking elsewhere, and may trigger a conversation you’re not ready to have.
You can also ask others in your team to be referees. For example, if you are a junior developer, you can ask a senior developer you’ve worked closely with to be a referee. After all, they can often provide a better view of your abilities than a manager who is less involved in your day-to-day work. You can also ask other people that you’ve worked with, such as project managers. It’s also always worth maintaining some good contacts at previous jobs you’ve left on good terms who can be a referee for you in future.
If someone agrees to be your referee, it’s important that you let them know you will be providing their details to potential employers. Obviously you want them to be prepared to answer a phone call or email and discuss your suitability for a role. Planting that seed early helps them turn their mind to what they might say about you. To be considerate of your referees’ privacy, you can submit resumes to prospective employers with the names of your referees and where you worked with them, and then add ‘contact details available on request.’ If you make it to the interview stage you can provide another copy of your resume that has the full details, and then let your referees know you made it to the interview stage and that they might receive a call from the company you applied to.
Remembering the sole purpose of a resume is to get you a job interview, here are some tips for crafting a great resume:
- Always tailor your resume to the requirements of the job you’re applying for.
- Use a professional email address, such as Gmail, Outlook.com, or your own domain name if you have one. [email protected] is okay, especially if you also have a blog or portfolio site on that domain. [email protected] might give the wrong impression.
- List technical skills that are relevant to the role, but don’t waste space on excessive detail. Writing ‘Windows Server 2008 and later’ is enough information. You don't need to list every individual version of Windows you’ve ever touched.
- Describe what you did in your employment history, not what your team did. If you were a member of the ‘server management team,’ explain your personal responsibilities in that team and the projects you participated in.
- Don’t list skills you can’t defend in an interview. You are not skilled in ‘PowerShell scripting’ if you’ve only copied code from someone else’s GitHub or blog post and run it.
- Proofread your resume more than once. Read it to yourself out loud. If you’re not confident in your writing abilities, ask a friend to read it for you.
- Don’t hold back from applying for jobs just because you think you don’t tick every box on the job ad. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
If you’re in the market for a new job, you’re eventually going to deal with a recruiter. Employers like to use recruiters because it shields them from the messy part of the hiring process. Recruiters handle time- consuming activities like sifting through hundreds of applicants and doing basic personality checks. They can also provide payroll and contract services.
As a job seeker, it’s important to remember that no matter what a recruiter says to you, ultimately they work for the employer. Filling the employer’s vacancy is their objective. To that end, recruiters are looking for a skilled, competent professional with good personal skills who is available in as short a time period as possible.
Submitting your resume to a recruiter
When dealing with a recruiter, your resume fulfills a different function compared to when you’re applying for a job vacancy.
- For a job vacancy, the goal of your resume is to get you an interview.
- When you are going through a recruiter, the goal of your resume is to get you through whatever filters they have set up to match candidates to vacancies.
Fortunately, the same resume you tailor for a specific job ad should also tick the boxes the recruiter is looking for in their candidate matches. The main difference is that instead of getting you an interview with the employer, the resume gets you a screening interview with the recruiter.
Interviewing with a recruiter
During a screening interview the recruiter is trying to answer two questions:
- Is this candidate suitable for this role?
- Will this candidate embarrass me if I send them for an interview?
I’ve seen job seekers treat the recruiter interview as an annoying obstacle to their goal of landing a job. The problem there is, if you put anything but your best foot forward with the recruiter, you’re not going to get any further with that job opportunity. You need to present yourself the way you would to an employer. Even if the recruiter invites you to coffee, treat it like your one shot at getting the job:
- dress nicely
- listen intently
- show interest in what they’re saying
- be confident in your answers
- be honest about your skills and experience and
- ask good questions about the job opportunity.
What about those recruiter interviews that happen on short notice? I received one such invitation for coffee and had to show up without my normal interview attire of suit and tie. The first time it happened I didn’t say anything about it and the interview ended on an awkward note when the recruiter asked me if I owned a suit to wear to the interview with the employer. The next time it happened I simply mentioned up front that I had no issues dressing more nicely for an interview, but that I was dressed more comfortably that day for some equipment moves we were doing.
How recruiters make their money
Recruiters are compensated for successfully placing candidates in roles. They either earn a one-time commission for filling a permanent role, or they earn a commission on top of a contractor’s hourly or daily rate. Many recruitment agencies also provide contractor services. If you’ve never worked as a contractor before, you may not realize that in order to get paid by your employer, you will need a company structure and some form of insurance to protect you from professional and public liability. You can either go to the trouble of setting up your own company for this purpose, or you can use your recruitment company’s contractor services.
These generally include payroll services and professional insurance cover. The fees for these services would be deducted from your hourly or daily rate. Let’s say your recruitment company negotiates an hourly rate of $70 per hour with your employer. $60 per hour will go to you and $10 per hour will go to the recruitment company to cover payroll services and insurance.
That might seem like an outrageous overhead. Why should the recruitment company get so much money for processing your timesheet and payroll? This way of thinking misses the most important point in negotiating your compensation: it doesn’t really matter what the recruitment company is making from the deal, as long as you get what you want. Are you happy with $60 per hour? If not, negotiate for more. Most recruiters will have some wiggle room, and the worst that can happen is they say no. If you’re not getting the rate you want from this contract, seek better rates on your next one. Over a few years of contracting it’s not unheard of to boost your rate by a few dollars per hour each time you land a new role. (I’ll discuss salary negotiations in more detail later in this chapter.)
The final word on recruiters
The important thing to remember here is that if you work primarily as a contractor, understanding how the recruitment industry works and building relationships with recruiters is crucial. They keep detailed databases of candidates’ skills and experience, as well as personalities. If they already know you’re a good candidate from previous interactions, they’re more likely to call you first when new opportunities come up. The more money they’re making from placing you in roles, the happier they are. For that reason I’ve always been happy to take a few minutes and speak to recruiters when they call. Even when I’m not actively job seeking I hear them out because you never know what golden opportunities might come your way if you keep an open mind. Most of the time we have a pleasant chat, they update their database with my current status, and I say it’s fine if they want to check back with me again in a few months.
Dealing With Recruiters
Since recruiters are an unavoidable fact of life when it comes to job seeking, here are some tips for maximizing your relationship with them:
- Remember the recruiter’s job is finding the right candidate for the employer’s needs, not finding you your dream job.
- Tailor your resume for applications to recruiters just as you would any other advertised job.
- Treat recruiter screening interviews as you would any other job interview. They are judging if you’re suitable to be sent to an employer.
- Practice stating your career and skills summary, especially your current role, so that you can reel it off quickly and easily if a recruiter calls.
- Always take recruiters’ calls. If they’re updating their database, give them any new information that will help them match you to current or future roles.
Some people are perfectly comfortable in job interviews, and some people are terrified of them. There’s no shame in being nervous about an interview. Sitting in front of strangers and answering questions is difficult, especially if you’re not used to doing it.
The first thing to know about job interviews is that you’ll get better at them the more times you do them. When I was first trying to get into the IT industry I sat through dozens of job interviews. The first few were a little shaky, but I got through them okay. After that it became quite easy. Practice makes perfect, right?
So here’s tip number one for you if you are actively seeking a new job: go to as many job interviews as you can. There’s no rule that says you have to accept a job after you’ve been interviewed. I’m not suggesting you waste an employer’s time by sitting a bunch of practice interviews you have no intention of following through on, but if an opportunity shows even a hint of promise, and you get to the stage where you’re invited to interview, by all means go and do the interview.
When you’re invited to an interview there are a few pieces of crucial information that you need. Often these will be provided to you, but if anything is missing you should ask. Make sure you get all these written down or provided in an email so you don’t make a mistake and show up on the wrong day or to the wrong location.
- What is the time and date of the interview? You’d be surprised how many people screw this one up.
- What is the exact location of the interview? Ask where you need to report to, e.g. building security, or reception on a specific floor. If you’re unfamiliar with the location ask about parking options, or the best public transport to use.
- Who will you be interviewing with? I like to at least know their job titles, but the names are also useful as it gives you the opportunity to try and memorize the names beforehand.
- Who should you call if there are any problems? Life happens, and if you’re sick or stuck in traffic you need to be able to let the interviewer know.
- What should you wear? This question is best asked of a recruiter, but if you have to ask the prospective employer directly, try and find a good way to spin the question. The weather is hot most of the year where I live, so I would say something like, “It’s been pretty warm this week so if you don’t mind me asking does your interview panel expect full suit and tie for candidates or is just a jacket okay?”
The general rule for what to wear is that you should dress one level above what the company will expect you to wear on the job. If they’re a casual ‘jeans and t-shirts’ place, then nice pants with a collared shirt and coat or business jacket should be fine. If they wear business shirts and trousers, upgrade your look to a full suit and tie. If you’re unsure, just ask them (or ask your recruiter). Or if you’re afraid to ask, go scope out the place beforehand and see what employees wear as they arrive at work.
You should also take into account the ‘prestige’ of the place. Top-tier employers might allow a casual dress code for their staff, but expect something much more from interview candidates. If in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. If there’s a comfort issue, the interviewer will probably let you downgrade a little anyway. I once sat down in full suit and tie in a room that was pretty warm, and everyone else was just wearing business shirts with sleeves rolled up. When I realized I was going to start sweating I simply asked them if they’d mind if I took off my jacket to be more comfortable.
Whatever you wear, make it presentable. Wrinkled and stained won’t get you the job. If you’re expecting to interview to a lot of places, invest in a nice set of ‘interview clothes’ that you know will look nice every time you wear them. They don’t need to be expensive. You might be surprised by how much of a difference clean clothes that fit properly can make in your appearance.
When I finished my IT training back in 1998 I started interviewing during spring and into summer. It’s hot most of the year where I live, but that summer was particularly hot. I owned a beat up old car with barely-working air-conditioning, and I was applying for jobs in a city that was an hour from home. After showing up to my first interview in a sweaty and wrinkled business shirt I had to change my strategy. I wore a t-shirt for the drive and left home early enough to find the interview location. (Keep in mind this was back in the days of no GPS navigation systems. I didn’t have Google Maps guiding me to my destination and choosing the optimal route through traffic. I had to find my way using an old school street map and just hope for the best.)
Once I found the place I was interviewing at, I would scope out the parking situation, then drive a short distance away and find somewhere free to park so I could get out of my car and cool down. At the right moment I would change into my business shirt and tie, drive or walk the short distance to the interview, and arrive fresh and presentable.
Later in my career I used a similar strategy if I were ducking out for an interview during the work day. I’d find a nearby location to chill out and cool down, then head to the interview looking calm and professional. If the building you’re interviewing in has a public lobby just head there, or to the lobby of a neighboring building.
If you’re interviewing somewhere more suburban just look for a McDonald's or a coffee shop where you can stop and chill out. If your staging location has restrooms that’s also ideal, allowing you to wash your hands and face, fix your hair, straighten your tie, and use the restroom before you go to your interview.
Staging yourself nearby for a few minutes also helps you to arrive at the optimal time for your interview. No employer wants candidates to arrive too early. It creates an awkward situation where they have to deliberately leave you waiting for a long time before the scheduled interview takes place. Nor should you arrive right on the time of your appointment. If the employer is running back to back interviews they will be trying to stick to a schedule, and you arriving right on time will eat into your actual interview time. It’s best to arrive five to ten minutes before your interview. If you’re asked to report to security on the ground floor, allow a few extra minutes for someone to come down in the elevators to get you. If you’re reporting directly to a reception area on their floor, five to ten minutes is enough.
If you’re running late, call ahead to let them know. Ideally you’d have a good reason for this: traffic problems, parking problems, or just caught up in a work situation that you couldn’t get away from. I have run late for interviews myself and still got the job. Most employers will understand, and if they don’t then it might be a sign they’re a bit inflexible with how life sometimes gets in the way of work.
If you need to use a restroom before your interview, find one before you report to reception. Or if you’re not sure where they are, let the receptionist know that you’re here for an interview but ask if you can use their restrooms before they notify the person you’re supposed to meet. It’s a bit awkward if the first interaction with your interviewer is to ask them where the restrooms are, or if you have to exit the restrooms and come face to face with them waiting for you (I hope you washed your hands!).
For some employers the interview begins the second you show up at the location. Some employers will scrutinize every single thing you do after you arrive. Were you polite to the reception staff? Did you sit or stand in the waiting area? Did you read a magazine, and if so, which one? Personally, I like to just stand in the waiting area. If they have a nice view out the window, as many companies do, I just look out the window and compose my thoughts. No fidgeting, whistling or playing with my phone.
You’ll be collected from the waiting area by someone who is escorting you to the interview room, or by one of the interviewers. Either way, try to learn their name. When it’s just the person escorting candidates it still gives a good impression when you’re able to thank them by name after they show you into the interview room.
Most interviews will be conducted by more than one person, giving you two or three names to learn quickly. I’m terrible with names. It’s just one of my weaknesses. If you introduced me to a room of people I’d be lucky to remember a single name. So I try to use those little tricks that we’re taught, like looking them directly in the eye and repeating the person’s name back to them immediately, “Nice to meet you, Jane.”
Once the interview has started just get comfortable and breathe while they begin their questions. Some nervousness or excitement is normal for the first few minutes of an interview. Just focus on your breathing and concentrate on what the interviewers are saying. Don’t reach for the glass of water in front of you, your hands will probably shake. Save it for when you are feeling more comfortable and confident in the interview.
How to answer common interview questions
Good interviewers will give you a brief rundown of the company and the position they are hiring for. But some like to go straight for the tricky questions. You should prepare for the most common questions interviewers open with:
Tell us about yourself …
This is the question so many people fear, but should be the easiest to answer. After all, you are the world’s expert on yourself. Nobody knows more about you than you do. This is your chance to tell your story in a concise and interesting way. Here’s the type of answer I usually give.
Well, most recently I’ve been working as a JOB TITLE at COMPANY. My team is responsible for OUR GENERAL AREA and within the team I am the lead on MY SPECIALTIES. Before that I worked for a variety of companies as a consultant or internal IT ops member, mostly working on SOMETHING RELEVANT TO THE JOB I’M INTERVIEWING FOR. I’ve been working here in Brisbane for almost 20 years now after I moved here from the Gold Coast to get into the industry. Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my family and A FEW HOBBIES OF MINE. We’ve been planning our holiday for the end of the year so we’re all pretty excited about that at the moment.
Keep it short and to the point. Don’t waffle on about yourself. Treat it like an elevator pitch. You want to convey a few relevant facts about yourself that get them interested in learning more about you, and also show that you can confidently speak about yourself.
What do you know about our company?
They want to know that you’ve done at least a little research about the company. Try not to just rattle off basic information from their web page. If they’ve recently been in the news, or are well known for a major product or project, talk about that and why it interests you. If you’ve heard of them through friends in the industry, talk about what you’ve heard and why that makes you interested in working for them.
What made you want to apply for this job?
Even if your reason is ‘for the money,’ come prepared with another reason. Telling them that you’re underpaid now will hurt your salary negotiations later. Good answers include things like looking for new challenges, opportunity to work more with a technology that the new role focuses on, opportunity to change industries, relocation for personal reasons, and so on.
Tell us about a time that you …
These types of questions are easier to answer if you remember that everyone loves a good story. Having some anecdotes about your past work helps to demonstrate the depth of experience you have with different products. Keep them short and to the point, and don’t try too hard to make them funny. Employers are really interested in the experience you’ve gained, not whether you’ve been in a bunch of hilarious situations over the years.
What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?
This is kind of a trick question. A candidate I was interviewing once answered that his biggest weakness was that he couldn’t handle stressful situations, and his mind just seemed to shut down when under pressure. While I appreciated his honesty, that was definitely not the right answer. But it’s also not a good look to sit there and brag about how you’re 100% strengths and 0% weaknesses. Nobody is perfect and you’ll just come across as arrogant. By all means talk up your strengths. This is the time to do it. But you must demonstrate some self-awareness by talking about weaknesses as well.
My approach to the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question is to talk about something I’ve struggled with in the past, and the techniques I’ve developed to overcome it. For example, I would mention that early in my career I was guilty of spending too long working on a problem that was beyond my skills before I would seek help from others. That’s an obvious weakness because it delays resolution for the problem and makes me seem like someone who doesn’t work well in a team. But I would then explain how I was able to overcome that weakness by setting a time limit for myself before I had to ask a colleague for help. I’d also share that before I go to my colleague, I spend a few minutes preparing my explanation of the problem. That serves two purposes. The first is that in preparing the explanation in my mind, or on paper, I often stumble across the answer myself anyway. The second purpose is that it ensures I have all the relevant information about the problem ready, so I don’t waste my colleague’s time.
By explaining how I’ve overcome weaknesses in the past I demonstrate self-awareness and an ability to find workarounds and solutions to my personal flaws.
Interviews for technical roles will include technical questions. There should be no surprises here. The interviewers are going to ask you technical questions about the products they listed on the job ad. They’re also going to ask you technical questions about the skills you claim to have on your resume. You should go into the interview prepared to answer these. That might mean you need to brush up on some terminology you haven’t dealt with recently. You should also check to see if anything has changed between the version of a product you’re already familiar with, and the version the job position requires. Even if you haven’t used V2 of a product, being able to demonstrate you’re aware of what’s changed since V1 is a good thing.
As your interview moves from the common opening questions I’ve detailed in the section above, to technical questions, you need to keep your wits about you. Many candidates I’ve interviewed have done themselves a disservice by jumping into the answer as soon as the question is asked. I’ve often had people start answering in a way that is completely off from where the question was actually intended to take the conversation. In their rush to show how smart they are, candidates have ended up giving some shockingly wrong answers.
Learn from their mistakes. Instead of launching straight into your answer, take a moment to consider what you’ve just been asked. You can pause for a few breaths before you start answering. It’s perfectly okay to do this, and shows that you take a calm approach to problems.
If you’re not sure what they want to hear, try to ask a clarifying question before you answer. If you were asked about how you would handle a particular scenario, ask a few questions to establish some assumptions about the situation before you proceed with the answer. That can make the original question clearer and will ensure that your answer is closely aligned to what the interviewers want to hear about.
Avoid one word answers, even if the question can be answered with a simple yes or no. If you’re asked “Have you ever worked with Product X?” don’t answer “Yes.” Instead answer “Yes, I was responsible for managing Product X at the last company I worked at. It was used to achieve X, Y and Z for the business.”
If you flat out don’t know the answer to a question, or don’t understand it, say so. Don’t try to guess or lie your way through the situation. In one of my earliest interviews I was asked if I was comfortable working with relational databases. I didn’t have the slightest clue at the time what a relational database was but said “Yes,” anyway. I’m 100% sure the interviewer knew I was lying. And I didn’t get that job.
Much later in my career I was asked during an interview how I would approach a particular problem with a Citrix environment. I answered that I had no hands- on experience with Citrix environments (which was true), and didn’t understand the scenario they were describing other than it sounded bad for the users. Instead I offered to explain how I would approach a problem with a product I was completely unfamiliar with. The interview panel was fine with that, and we spent a few minutes on that topic before moving on. They later offered me the job, so it obviously wasn’t a problem.
Reading the interviewer’s body language is key to a good interview. Interviewers will often make notes as they go through their list of questions. Their note taking will give away a lot of clues about whether you’re on the right track with your answers. If you see them writing notes or ticking boxes next to the criteria they are evaluating you on, you’re probably on the right track. On one occasion, after I started to answer a question, I noticed not one of the interview panelists were taking any notes. I spoke for a few moments, then stopped and said it looked like I wasn’t answering their question correctly. It turns out I was right. After a quick clarification I was able to head down the right path.
Along similar lines, you can usually stop answering once you’ve seen the interviewers stop writing notes. Most interviewers won’t interrupt you, so you’ve got to read their body language to avoid rambling on forever. If it looks like they’re already satisfied that you know what you’re talking about, take a moment to let them know that you have more to say about the topic if they want to hear it. For example, you could say:
I’m happy to explain how we used that product in other projects if you want to hear more about my experience with it.
If they’re already confident you’ve answered the question well, they will usually take the opportunity to move on to the next topic.
Reading the interviewer’s intentions when they pursue a question in more detail is a little trickier. Interviewers will ask follow up questions about a topic for one of two reasons:
- You might have given a really bad answer and they’re trying to work out whether you just misspoke. If you feel like the interviewer is staying on one point for too long, that’s a clue you’ve probably given them an answer that raised some red flags about your knowledge. You can try to salvage the situation by being open about it, and ask if they could reframe the question so you can try again. Or you can just keep trying and if you don’t get that job then do some additional research afterwards to find out what the correct answer should be.
- To probe how deep your knowledge of the topic goes. If you feel like they are really diving into the inner workings and obscure knowledge of a topic, that’s probably what is happening. This is a good sign, but it can also be a trap. At some stage the interviewer will either give up on that line of questioning, satisfied that you know more than enough about the topic. Or, they’ll eventually get to a level of detail or a scenario you’re unfamiliar with. In the latter situation you must be honest and tell them when you’ve exceeded your understanding. Finding the limit of your knowledge is the goal of their questions, so there’s nothing wrong with letting them know when the limit has been reached.
Questions about your hobbies and interests
Interviewers also like to ask about your hobbies and interests outside of work. Generally, what they want to see here is that you have interests that let you take your mind off work, de-stress, get outdoors, be around people, and so on. The only wrong answer here is a boring answer. Whatever your hobbies are, you need to put a positive spin on them. Don’t just say “I play video games,” tell them:
Well I’m saving for an overseas trip. Not sure where exactly yet, maybe Europe. So I stick to pretty cheap hobbies at the moment. Most nights I’ll just play some video games or read a book. On weekends I try to get out for a walk or visit friends.
Most interviewers can identify with that. If your hobby is less common, like painting model trains in your basement, don’t just say “I paint my model trains.” Take the opportunity to show a side of yourself that may not have come across in the interview:
I like quiet hobbies that take my mind off work. For the last few years I’ve been collecting and painting model trains after someone gave me one for a birthday gift. It’s quite relaxing, and one day the collection might be worth something and I can pass it along to my kids or sell some of it to pay for their college. I get together with other collectors every month, and we often take our sets to local fairs and raise money for charity by accepting donations to let people drive the trains around our tracks.
Whatever your story is, it needs to be the truth. If you don’t have a good story because you don’t have any hobbies or interests, I really encourage you to do something to change that. Remember, if they’re hiring you, they’ll be spending 40 hours a week with you. They probably have people in the team already who are into hiking, fixing up vintage cars, playing video games, or photography. If your hobby intersects with those who are already on the team, that’s something that can work in your favor. Otherwise, they want to at least see that you’re a regular human being who can interact with other human beings. If the choice comes down between two candidates of equal technical skill, the one who seems to have the more interesting personality will get the job.
The end of the interview
As the interview draws to a close you will often be asked if you have any questions of your own. The absolute wrong answer here is “no.” You should always have questions. If you had questions that have already been answered throughout the interview, say so.
I was going to ask about your on-call arrangements for the team, but we’ve already discussed that.
Take the opportunity to probe for opportunities to improve your chances of landing the job. Some of my favorite questions to ask at the end of interviews are:
- What has been the biggest success for your team in the last six months?
- What will you be expecting from me in the first 30 days in this role?
- What’s the first piece of advice you give to people when they join this company?
- What do you personally enjoy about working here?
Remember, you are interviewing them too. As the interview wraps up, I like to make a final statement along these lines:
Thank you for your time today, I appreciate you inviting me here to discuss the role. I feel like I have a good understanding of what you’re looking for, and that I can fit into your team well and add value with my skills and experience. What’s the next step from here? Do you know when you’ll be making a decision?
Always make sure you know what the next step is. If you leave the interview without knowing what they will be doing next, and when you can expect to hear back from them, it makes it difficult to know when to follow up with them.
Interview feedback and responses
As an employer, I firmly believe that every job applicant deserves a response. There are job management tools available to recruiters and advertisers that make it simple to communicate with applicants. For unsuccessful applicants, my view is that applicants who were interviewed should be notified by phone. At the end of an exhausting round of interviews it’s hard to get on the phone to deliver bad news, but it can help keep the door open with that candidate for future opportunities.
All other applicants can be notified by email. If the applicant was good enough to be short-listed I like to let them know that, and advise that we will keep their resume on file for future opportunities. If we suddenly have the need to hire again a few weeks or months after the last round of interviews, it’s cheaper and easier to go to an existing pool of resumes than to go out to the public again.
Not all companies share my view though. Some companies will ‘ghost’ job applicants by never taking their calls, returning their emails, or providing any further communication after the interview. It’s frustrating and unfair, but it happens. This is one reason why it’s so important to leave the interview with a clear expectation of what the timeframe is for the next step in the hiring process. If they told you a decision would be made in two weeks, and it’s now been four weeks with no response to your follow-up calls and emails, just move on with your life. They are probably just busy and don’t want to take the time to notify unsuccessful candidates. There’s a slim chance they’re still deciding who to hire. Or perhaps they’re in negotiations with their preferred candidate and haven’t yet hired someone. But for your own mental well-being it’s best to just accept the situation and keep looking for your next opportunity.
If you do hear back from a company letting you know that you were unsuccessful, you should ask for feedback. Many companies are reluctant to give specific feedback for fear of repercussions. One trick I used was to self-identify my weaknesses based on the job requirements. If the job asked for three years of VMware experience and I only had one year of experience at the time, I would ask if more VMware experience would have made me a stronger candidate. If there’s no specific weakness you are aware of, you can ask them a safe question like “What could I work on to make me a stronger candidate if I were able to interview with you again in the future?”
9 Quick Tips for Interview Success
If you get to the interview stage for a job, it’s a good sign, so you don’t want to blow it by making simple mistakes. These nine tips will ensure you’re setting yourself up for success:
- Interview for any interesting sounding roles that come your way. Practice makes perfect.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes early for the interview, but no more.
- Make eye contact, give firm handshakes, and address the interviewers by their names.
- Practice your ‘tell us about yourself’ answer so that it sounds natural and confident.
- Be prepared to prove the technical skills and experience you claim on your resume.
- Tell stories about your experience. Don’t just recite the facts of the projects you worked on and the duties you performed.
- Ask questions of the interviewers, especially near the end of the interview.
- Always ask what the next step in the process will be, and when you can expect to hear back from them.
- Keep applying for other jobs and attending other interviews. Nothing is guaranteed until you’ve got the job. And the more potential opportunities you can open up, the better your negotiating position.
Some jobs are advertised with a fixed salary or hourly rate. Others have a range of numbers they are willing to offer for the role. When salary discussions come up during the interview itself, the golden rule is that the first person to say a number will lose the negotiation.
Negotiations are about leverage and compromise. Know what you want, what you’re willing to compromise on, and what your limits are. The longer you’ve been in the industry the more leverage you will have. Unfortunately many IT professionals think they have no leverage. That may be true at the very beginning of your career when you’re trying to get your first entry level job. But after that, you gain more and more leverage as your skills and experience grow.
Even in a slow job market you have some leverage if you’re the best candidate that was interviewed. The gap between first and second place is usually quite large. Interviewers have already invested a lot of time going through a large pile of resumes and interviewing candidates. If you’re good enough to get an offer, they’re unlikely to let you walk away over a few thousand dollars in pay. And if they do, walk away happy knowing a company running on such razor thin profits that they can’t afford to offer you a little more money is not a company worth working for.
Never tell the prospective employer or a recruiter what you’re currently paid. The main reason for this is because it will limit the upper ranges of your offers. It doesn’t matter what you’re getting paid right now. It only matters whether you have the skills and experience to do the job they’re hiring you for. If an employer learns that you currently earn $50,000, and they were prepared to pay up to $80,000 for the advertised role, they are very likely to try and get a bargain out of you by offering you $65,000 instead. After all, a 30% increase on your previously salary sounds very generous. But when you find yourself delivering $80,000 in value for $65,000 in compensation, you’ll quickly become dissatisfied.
This is especially true if you’re already aware of the salary range that the position pays. The recruiter may have provided this information to you during the recruiting process, or it may have come up in the interview. If your offer is not at the top end of that range then you should definitely negotiate for a higher offer. You’re already the candidate they want to hire, and they’ve budgeted to pay that much. So why shouldn’t you be paid that amount?
If you are asked about your current pay, redirect the question:
I’m paid appropriately for my position, but my skills have outgrown that role which is why I’m looking for new opportunities. I’m interested to hear what you are offering for the advertised role.
If they ask you what you’re expecting to earn in your next role:
I’m most interested in finding a job with a great team and technologies that I enjoy working with. I’m sure a company like yours will have an idea of the market rates for the role and will make an offer that is competitive.
If they push some more, asking why you won’t tell them a figure:
I’m sure you have an idea of what this role is worth. Hearing the compensation offer from you will help me to understand the value that this role provides to your business, and that’s important for me to know.
Those are uncomfortable things to say. In a salary negotiation, the person who is most uncomfortable will try to escape by giving a number. Hold out and make them put forward an offer for you. If it gets to the point where they insist that you propose a figure, perhaps threatening to withdraw you from consideration entirely, ask for an amount 20% more than you are willing to accept. Frankly once an employer puts that kind of ultimatum on me it tells me that they don’t value me at all. Wasting everybody’s time by running me through a gauntlet of salary negotiations doesn’t bode well for later conversations about things that also cost money, such as training or replacement equipment. If I’m going to work for someone who doesn’t value me then it better be for a lot of money. I add the 20% premium for that reason.
When you receive an offer, don’t accept it immediately. The negotiation has just begun. Even if you’re super happy with the offer you should take an evening or a few days to consider it. Make some notes about the details of the offer and what you want to negotiate. I’ve seen too many people gleefully accept an offer that is more than they currently make, only to realize later that they are actually underpaid for the role, or that the benefits and working conditions aren’t great.
You should also work out the absolute minimum you’re willing to accept, if you haven’t already. That isn’t the starting point for your negotiation. But you must go into the discussion knowing where the line is, below which you will decline the offer. Everything comes into play here. If you’re going to lower your salary expectations, try to make up for it with better working conditions or a written promise of training. If the role has uncompensated overtime expectations (which they never should, in my opinion), make sure you’re taking that into account when deciding the absolute minimum salary you would accept.
If you’re reading this and thinking you’re not in any position to negotiate, it’s quite possible you’re wrong. Many of us feel that way when we’re applying for jobs. It’s normal to feel like the company is doing us a favor by offering to hire us, and we should gratefully accept whatever they offer us. But in most cases you have more negotiation power than you think. You were selected from a pool of applicants, performed well in your interview, and the company has decided that you’re the best candidate for the job. You won’t get anything more if you don’t ask.
Earlier in this chapter I wrote that you should keep applying for jobs and attending interviews, even when you have received an offer. Nothing is guaranteed until the job is officially yours, so keep pursuing opportunities. This will also help you in your negotiations in two ways. First, you can attend other interviews and let them know that you’ve already received an offer from another company. This can create a sense of urgency and might lead to a second offer coming to you quickly. Secondly, you can go back to the first company and continue the discussion by saying something like:
I like your company and the role seems like a good fit for me. I’ve also interviewed at another company and the salary/training/benefits/technology used there looks very promising. I’m expecting an offer from them this week and I wanted to know if I have your best offer for this role so that I can make an informed decision.
This makes it clear that you’re actively looking to get the best opportunity, and that other companies consider you a strong candidate. The prospective employer will react in one of a few ways.
One reaction might be to threaten to withdraw the offer, or put a deadline on it. I don’t like to play that game, especially when there are multiple good opportunities available to me. In that situation I will stand my ground on needing more time, or decline the role. Getting pressured into making a decision often results in making a poor decision. You’ll end up accepting an offer you’re not entirely happy with, which leads to resentment and dissatisfaction in the role. Worse, if you then receive a better offer from elsewhere you’ve now put yourself in a situation where you need to withdraw acceptance of an offer, possibly before you’ve even started that job. It’s a messy situation that can burn bridges with some companies.
Another reaction prospective employers can have is to ask you what you would change about the offer so that you’ll accept it. This is another situation where you should avoid giving specific numbers. If you want the salary portion of the offer increased, ask them if they can do some more with the salary. If they won’t budge on salary, ask if they can improve the training benefits, or write in some remote work days to the offer. This is all based on your earlier notes on what you actually want to receive, and what you’re willing to accept as a minimum.
You can go back and forth on these details without ever stating a specific number. But if you feel that negotiations are stalled and the opportunity is at risk, now is the time to state what you want. This should be the top end of your desired compensation, because at best case they will accept it on the spot and you’ll have gotten what you want. Maybe they would have offered more if you’d asked, but in my view if you get what you want then that is a reason to be happy. At worse they will counter with a lower offer. They may even tell you that it’s the absolute best offer they can provide. In that case, as long as it’s above my minimum acceptable compensation, I’m usually happy with the outcome.
Accepting an offer lower than your minimum acceptable compensation puts you in a bad position. Some employers will try to entice you with the prospect of pay raises once you’re in the company and proving your worth. Unless the pay raises are written into your employment contract, and are based on achievable performance metrics, they’re unlikely to materialize. I do not recommend accepting lower pay until you ‘prove yourself’ or for a probationary period. If you’re doing the job from day one you deserve the full compensation. If it takes you months to ramp up to full productivity, then that is the fault of the company and the team that hired you for not having good onboarding processes for new employees. That cost should be on them, not you.
Before you accept an offer, all of the details of that offer should be provided to you in writing. Here in Australia it’s often the case that a formal letter of offer is presented with the main points such as salary, work hours, and benefits. Acceptance of the offer is then conditional on reviewing the full contract that goes into full detail about the employment conditions. The letter of offer is a contract in the sense that you are agreeing to specific terms, but we can still withdraw acceptance if there’s something in the full contract we don’t like.
Do not quit your job until you have the new offer locked up. Here in Australia that generally means you’ve accepted an offer letter, and signed a full employment contract (yes, even for permanent full-time positions). In some other countries where employment contracts aren’t used it’s enough to just accept the offer letter. Until you have that clear agreement with the employer you should not resign from your current job. Too often I see people quit as soon as they have a verbal offer, then find themselves in a bad situation when the new employer moves the start date to the future. Or worse, withdraws the offer entirely.
Almost every contract I’ve signed has contained a non-compete clause that is unreasonable and unenforceable in this jurisdiction. After a few jobs I started objecting to the clauses by either crossing them out and initialing them, or by asking that they be modified before signing. I don’t see the point in signing a contract that both parties know is unenforceable. Even if I could win a legal dispute over it, I could still go broke trying. So I prefer to have it fixed before it becomes a signed contract.
As a final note, let’s just add a dose of reality and cover the unfortunate scenario in which you’re desperate for a job. Maybe you’re living in an economically depressed area. Maybe you’ve been out of the workforce for a few years and are lacking in recent experience. Maybe you have only one job offer in front of you, and it’s a ‘take it or leave it’ offer with no room for negotiation. Perhaps you’re relocating across the country and you don’t have enough good contacts in the new city to open up better job opportunities for you. In any case, if you feel you have no choice but to accept what is being offered to you then you should go ahead and accept it. Survival trumps all other concerns at this point. It’s not the end of your career, you’ll have other opportunities in the future. Do what you have to do, and then regroup and try to improve your situation from there.
Getting Paid What You’re Worth
This is the only time you get to seriously negotiate your compensation. Once you’ve accepted the job there is less incentive for the employer to offer you more. So don’t miss this opportunity:
- Don’t be the first one to say a number.
- Get everything in writing. Verbal promises such as a salary review after six months or the possibility of training courses mean nothing. Ask them for written confirmation of all the details so you can consider the offer in full.
- Look at the total compensation package. Salary (or hourly rate), flexible hours, remote work, mobile phone reimbursement, training budget, these are all things that are negotiable to make your compensation offer better.
- Don’t accept an offer you’re not happy with, hoping to get a pay raise or other benefits later on. Resolve to get what you want now, not later.
- If you accept a job that doesn’t pay as much as you’d hoped, don’t hold on to any resentment. Take the job for what it is, and keep looking for that better opportunity elsewhere.
STARTING A NEW JOB
If you’ve accepted a new job offer, congratulations! The hardest part is over. Before you begin the new job consider taking a short break for a few days or a week. If you can afford to do this it really helps to decompress and rest before you start with your new employer. This is especially important if you were burned out at your last job. Rolling straight into a new job without the opportunity to repair some of the physical and mental damage of your last job can get you off to a rough start.
But even if you were not burned out, starting a new job takes up a lot of energy as you will be exposed to a lot of new information all at once and will have to meet a lot of new people. Going into those first few days well rested is helpful.
Before you start in your new job find out exactly when and where you should report to on the first day. Ask for tips on public transport or parking. Some companies prefer you to come in a little later on the first day so they can get their morning routines out of the way before they deal with onboarding you.
You definitely don’t want to be late on your first day. Do your research on how you’re going to get there on time. If necessary, show up a little early and go grab a coffee nearby to kill some time. You can also ask what time you’ll be expected to stay until. That’s not to give the impression you’re a clock watcher who heads out the door at exactly the time your work hours end. Instead, just let them know you need to plan your transport home, let your partner know what time to expect you, and so on.
Ask about dress codes if it hasn’t already been explained to you. What you wore to the interview could be overdressed once you’ve actually got the job. If in doubt, wear what you wore to the interview and be ready to dress it down a bit by removing a tie or jacket.
Find out exactly who you’ll be reporting to, and get their contact details to save in your phone. Get a backup contact as well, just in case your primary contact is unexpectedly absent. I’ve known many people who find themselves stuck in limbo when nobody at reception knows who they are, and the person they’ve been asked to report to is not answering their phone. Sitting around a reception area wondering if you’re actually employed is not a nice feeling.
Most new jobs involve some terribly boring induction and onboarding procedures that you’ll need to go through. This can range from a simple form to fill out and sign, all the way up to several days of mandatory training. I’ve fallen asleep in some of mine, and found it helps to get some extra sleep the night before, as well as keeping energy snacks such as trail mix on hand to get through the most boring parts of the day. It sucks, but that’s life. Just go in prepared to do whatever is necessary to tick the boxes that people need ticked before they’ll let you start doing your job.
Your access to the company’s systems could also take some time to set up. It’s quite common for new employee onboarding to be delayed by simple things like accounts not being ready, or a new computer that hasn’t arrived.
Some IT organizations are excellent at bringing new hires up to speed quickly. They have good quality processes for all their tasks, pages of documentation neatly laid out in a Wiki, and great communication among themselves and with other teams. Sadly, those IT organizations are in the minority. The reality is often that you’ll be given access to a ticketing system and a repository of half-written, out of date documentation, and told to just get involved.
The first work you’ll receive will usually be the simplest and most boring tasks. These are the jobs that everyone else is sick of doing, so they get delegated to the new person to take responsibility for. A few lingering technical debt problems will likely also be lumped on you, things like finding a way to decommission some old legacy system that nobody else wants to touch. These tasks are good opportunities for you to become familiar with some of the grunt work that keeps the place moving, so approach it with an optimistic view. Set your ego aside, and don’t look at it as work that’s beneath you. It won’t last forever. If you can complete the tasks, or automate them to be less time-consuming, you will get to move on to newer, more interesting work. And one day there’ll be another new hire that has to go through the same process. You’ll get to enjoy the freedom of delegating your least favorite work to them.
Take a paper notebook and keep notes for the first few weeks. A lot of new information will be coming at you and it will be impossible to remember it all: the names of servers, applications, teams, and key contacts, not to mention verbal instructions and other conversation snippets that are hard to recall in the overload of information that occurs early in a new job. Notebooks might seem old fashioned today, but they’re still the best at what they do. Plus, it’s more socially acceptable to make notes on paper during a conversation than to be tapping notes into an app on your phone.
You’re also going to meet a lot of new people. For me this is the most exhausting part of starting a new job, trying to remember who people are and what they do. It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at remembering names. I decided long ago to not be embarrassed by this and I just openly tell people I’ve forgotten their name when I interact with them the first few times.
Similarly if I’m brought into a conversation with people I haven’t met yet, I will pause briefly to introduce myself and ask their name before we continue. It feels awkward at first, but trust me, it’s far less awkward to just do it up front than to have to ask weeks later when you’ve already had a bunch of interactions with the person.
Try not to sit idle for long periods of time. When everyone around you is busy it’s easy for you to get forgotten. Everyone gets wrapped up in their own work and doesn’t think about the new person who has nothing to do. If you find yourself idle, go ask your team leader if there’s anything they have for you. Or ask if there’s someone you can shadow for a while to get some exposure to what others are working on. You can also ask to attend meetings to listen in and get up to speed on some of the projects that are going on.
Above all else, be prepared to feel dumb for a while. After you get comfortable with your new physical surroundings and the initial boring work you’re given, you will start to realize there is a lot about the new company that you just don’t know. Even if you understand the technical platforms that are being used, there’ll be a lot of history and context that you aren’t aware of. It’s normal in the early stages of a new job to feel a slump in confidence and energy. Be patient. It can take one to three months to really feel useful and productive in a new job. Once you hit the three month mark there’ll be enough keeping you busy that you’ll start to feel confident again. After about six months you’ll see opportunities to take ownership of some issues and your productivity should be hitting a high level.
New jobs are great networking opportunities. You should accept as many invitations as possible for coffee, lunch, after work social activities, and so on. If those situations make you uncomfortable, do a little research on small talk strategies. Remember, most people enjoy talking about themselves. So asking simple questions such as, “What is your team working on at the moment?” can get things moving easily.
DEALING WITH THE ‘NEW JOB SLUMP’
Amateur marathon runners often suffer from post-race bluesan emotional crash in the weeks following a race. Even elite athletes can suffer from this. Professional sports men and women who retire suddenly find themselves lost without another race or season to prepare for. It’s so common that in 2016, The Atlantic published an article about ‘post-Olympic depression.’ Not even winning a gold medal is a guarantee of avoiding the effects of total physical and emotional depletion, as life returns to an ‘ordinary’ state. In an interview with ESPN, retiring American basketball star Dwyane Wade, who has won multiple championships and achieved many other accolades during his career, said he plans to get therapy to help him make the adjustment to normal life.
Goals are funny things. We can, and should, set goals for ourselves. But it often happens that after we’ve achieved a short term goal it feels like we suddenly have nothing to look forward to. Which often leads us to quickly set a new one.
Don’t forget, in achieving your goal, you likely had to sacrifice something to achieve it. Perhaps you spent less time with friends and family, or less time exercising. Your eating habits may have slipped as you valued speed and convenience over health.
Whatever you sacrificed, now is the time to make up for it. Have your fun for a while. And then set some new goals. It’s important to note that those goals don’t need to be work-related. Some of my goals over the last decade have included:
- Writing a book
- Running an ultramarathon
- Learning to play guitar again
- Building timber furniture from scratch
- Landscaping our gardens
- Watching every Star Wars movie in chronological order
It’s also important to remember that some goals take more time than others to achieve. Building a wooden table took me a few days, whereas training to run an ultramarathon took six months. The sense of satisfaction I got from each one was different as well. The table was for my kids’ play room, and I still feel a sense of pride when I walk past it and see their Lego spread all over it. The ultramarathon training made me focus on good eating habits, changing my bad sleeping habits, and improving my time management so that I wasn’t sacrificing other important things to get my training done. Plus the exercise was good for my body and soul.
If you find yourself in a slump after landing a job, take some time to reflect on what your next goal should be. It can be anything you want it to be. When you realize you have that freedom, that’s when you know that you’ve achieved a life of happiness.
STAY OR GO
Your career in IT is going to face a lot of different challenges. When you find yourself in difficult and challenging situations you need to make hard decisions. The advice in this book will often boil down to two options:
- Stay where you are and try to improve your situation
- Go somewhere else and try to improve your situation
Not every bad situation needs you to leave your job to make things better. In fact, many problems can be solved by staying where you are and making a few changes. Let’s face it, none of us are perfect. Changes we can make include:
- Updating our skills to make us better suited to our career
- Adjusting our expectations
- Adjusting our long term vision
You’d be surprised at the positive effect even a small shift in your thinking can have on how much you enjoy your job.
Changes can also be made with regard to how other people behave or perform. But it’s much easier to change your own behavior and performance than it is to change that of other people. And pouring all your energy into trying to change others is often a fruitless exercise. Some problems just can’t be solved no matter how hard you try. In situations like that, it’s usually better to cut your losses, leave the company and go find a better job somewhere else.
As long as you’re doing this:
- with your eyes open
- with awareness of what you’re moving away from and what you want to move towards,
it’s usually a good decision.
Knowing when to stay and when to go is the most important long term survival technique to master for a happy and successful IT career.
HOW TO QUIT A JOB
Over the first 16 years of my career I worked for nine different companies. In all but two situations (one company was acquired, and the new company went bankrupt; another company had me on a rolling contract, which eventually ended when they outsourced the role) I resigned from my job.
You could say I was pretty good at resigning from jobs. At the very least, it became an easy process for me. So much so, I sometimes forget that others don’t really know how to resign from a job. Especially those who are resigning from the first job they got out of school.
Resigning is difficult from an emotional and psychological point of view. It’s easy to second guess yourself:
- Are you leaving for the right reasons?
- Is there something else you should do to try and make the job work out?
- If you’ve accepted a new job, what if that job turns out to be worse than the one you’re leaving?
- Are you letting people down by leaving?
- Should you consider counter-offers to stay?
From a process perspective, it can also seem quite confusing.
- Who do you resign to?
- Do you do it in person, or in writing?
- Is it too soon to leave this job?
- Should you find another job first?
- How much notice should you give?
Let’s cover the emotional and psychological parts first. These present the biggest hurdle to successfully quitting a job, because they’re the most likely to undermine you and cause you to change your mind.
First, you should never quit out of anger or frustration. If you’re upset, go home and think about the situation. Talk it over with your partner, a mentor, or a trusted friend. Ideally this person will ask you the right questions to challenge your desire to quit. They aren’t there to nod their head and agree with you no matter what, and they aren’t there to talk you out of it. What you want is another perspective, and an objective view of the situation. Sleep on it. If you still feel strongly about quitting in the morning, it’s likely you’ve made the right decision.
If you’re worried you’re going to let someone down – your manager, your teammates, your customers – I’m here to tell you that you won’t. Sure, some of them will be disappointed. Losing a good team member always hurts. Hiring new people is expensive and frustrating at times. But those who care about you will be genuinely happy for you, knowing that you’re making the right move for yourself.
And remember, this is a business. You’re in the business of you. Your job is to make the best decision for yourself. If you leaving means your former teammates need to work a bit harder while they hire your replacement, it’s not going to kill them. If they want to hold a grudge because you left and they got stuck doing your old work, perhaps their real problem is they don’t want to work there either and they resent you for having the guts to leave.
All of us are replaceable. Don’t take that the wrong way. It’s not intended to be an insult. Everyone is replaceable. Life will go on without you.
You can quit a job at any time. There’s no minimum period of employment where it becomes acceptable to quit. If a job isn’t working out in the first few weeks, you can quit as long as you have a valid reason. Being given a boring task in your first week is normal. Being yelled at for making a mistake the first time you try to follow a new process is not normal. I’ve seen friends hired into teams that turned out to be toxic messes of narcissism and ego, who then stuck it out for months hoping things would improve. Things never did.
If you quit a job you’ve only been in for a short while, it’s likely when you’re interviewed for the next job that they’ll ask why you’re looking for a new job so quickly. The answer is simple:
The position was significantly different to that described in the interview. They aren’t going to change it back to what it was described as, so I’ve decided to look for new opportunities.
Many situations are covered by that simple statement. You can then turn the conversation to the new role you’re interviewing for:
I’m more interested in working with [insert attractive technology here], and this job offers that opportunity, so I submitted my application.
My shortest stint with a single company was three months. I took the job in good faith, intending to stay there for quite some time as they had a genuinely good corporate culture and work-life balance. In the first two weeks they announced a break up of the company into two smaller companies. Faced with the proposition of my job shrinking from managing 500 PCs to less than 100, I decided to look elsewhere. I spread the word amongst my friends, was referred for an interview for an internal vacancy, and accepted the new job. By the time my four weeks’ notice was finished, it was exactly three months. I was later asked about that short stint during interviews, and was able to explain very simply that the company was shrinking to a size that would not challenge me and help me grow my career in the direction I wanted. It was never a problem in future interviews.
In Chapter 3 we’re going to talk about personal finances. One of the tips is to save up an emergency fund to get you through a period of unemployment. The primary use case for your emergency fund is unplanned unemployment, such as being fired, or your employer going bankrupt. We’ll discuss that shortly.
A secondary use case is so you can quit a job without first finding your next job. I have to note, this is not something I recommend. There’s a risk you’ll have trouble finding another job. This will create a gap in your employment history you’ll need to explain in future job interviews. It will also put you under pressure to accept the first job you’re offered. One which might not be any better than the job you just quit. So unless you urgently need to quit a highly toxic workplace, I recommend you find your next job first before quitting.
The process of quitting is simple. If your company has an HR department you can just ask them if there’s a formal procedure you need to follow. Usually there isn’t, and a simple email to your immediate superior is enough to start the process.
To whom it may concern, I hereby resign from my position as JOB TITLE for COMPANY. Per the terms of my employment agreement, I’m providing four weeks’ notice, with my final day of employment to be [insert date here].
I don’t typically add reasons or feelings to my resignation letters. The letter is only intended to trigger the exit process, not explain the reasons behind the decision. I do recommend you keep it short and simple. If you want to make a positive statement about your time with the company, you could write:
I have enjoyed my time at COMPANY and greatly appreciate the opportunities that have been provided to me.
That’s it. No need to elaborate on the details, air your grievances, or mention where you’re going next. That’s frankly none of their business. You don’t need to write a long email about salary, working conditions, teammates, your boss, or any other factor that came into your final decision.
The four weeks of notice in my example above is typical for Australia. A notice period is written into most employment contracts. The actual notice period could be shorter or longer. Some people quit a job and give notice, but due to company policies (or emotional reasons by your former boss) are removed from the premises that day. The notice period becomes a paid vacation instead.
In senior roles it’s sometimes necessary to provide a longer notice period. This should already be in your employment agreement. But if it isn’t, and you feel like you’re a critical person in an important role or project, you should consider discussing it with your boss first. That’s assuming you are leaving on good terms, and you have a new job that is willing to wait for you.
Your employer might make a counter-offer to try and get you to stay. They might offer you more money, a new job title, or offer to fix whatever problems have led you to resign in the first place. I have two problems with counter-offers.
- More money doesn’t solve whatever problems led to your decision to resign. In fact, the company probably won’t do anything else to solve those problems, and will just hope you stick with them for a while longer if they pay you more money.
- Since you’ve already accepted a new job somewhere else before you resigned, you would need to renege on the contract you signed with the new employer. This is a bad move that could harm your chances of working with that company in the future. Furthermore, if a friend referred you for the new job opportunity, your decision to pull out after signing a contract will make them look bad as well.
Don’t treat a resignation as leverage in a negotiation. You should not threaten to resign if you don’t get what you want. If you’ve come to the point where you’re willing to resign, negotiations are already over. It’s time to walk away entirely.
In many companies it is standard procedure for the HR department to perform an exit interview with departing staff members. Exit interviews usually consist of a series of softball questions designed to extract certain answers from you and check for potential legal issues. The HR department is not the least bit interested in your gripes with your former manager or teammates. This is not an opportunity to fire a few shots to try and damage someone else’s career as you head out the door. Seriously, they don’t care. And anything you say can be dismissed as the rantings of a ‘troublemaker’ who ‘wasn’t a good fit’ anyway.
When they ask you, “Why are you leaving?”, they don’t want to hear “My manager is incompetent, and has no idea how to run a technical team.” Save it for the bar later with your mates.
So what should you say instead? Here are a few examples.
Q: Why are you leaving your current position?
As tempting as it is to blast your former manager, or your annoying teammates, focus on the benefits of your new position:
I was offered the opportunity to work with some new technologies that aren’t on the roadmap here at COMPANY. It’s a direction I want to move in with my career, so I decided to take up the offer.
You should go in to the exit interview prepared to give a few examples of things you did like about working for the company. I assume at some stage you were happy there, even if that only lasted a few weeks.
Q: What did you like most about your job?
You can give a simple answer about something that you achieved, no matter how big or small it was. Remember, you’re leaving the company, not applying for a job there. You’re under no pressure to impress them with your accomplishments as you walk out the door.
I’m proud of the work I did on the BIG PROJECT to upgrade the IMPORTANT SYSTEM.
Any questions about things you didn’t like should be approached with caution.
Q: What did you dislike most about your job?
Your instincts here will tell you to complain about the pay, or the hours, or the ten-year-old IT equipment that is barely staying alive. Even if the HR person believes what you say, they’re not likely to be in a position to do anything about it. Again, use something good about your new role to highlight any issues you had.
The long hours were putting a strain on my family life. My new role has a fixed on-call roster so I will only be doing after hours work one week per month.
Sometimes they will ask an open question to draw out any other issues.
Q: Is there anything else we could have done to keep you from leaving?
If you want to tell them a pay raise or better working conditions would have made you happy, by all means do so. But deliver the message in a way that shows you made good faith attempts to attain those things.
I spoke to my manager about increasing my salary to a more competitive rate for this market, which would have helped me with the increase in our cost of living over the last few years. He said there was no budget for pay raises, so that’s when I began looking for other opportunities.
When I resigned from one of my former employers, I ended up in an exit interview with a particularly aggressive HR officer. They seemed intent on getting a specific answer out of me, and kept pressing me on the question of why I was leaving. Eventually I had to say:
There’s really no single reason for me leaving. Sometimes we just need a change in life. This is one of those times.
When you quit a job, you’re going to get asked questions by your colleagues.
- Why did you quit?
- Where are you going?
- Can I come with you?
It can be uncomfortable if you don’t want to share too much information, particularly if you’re joining a competitor. This is a private matter for you, and you should feel free to answer with as much or little information as you want. Even if you’re discussing it with people you consider to be your friends, workplace gossip spreads fast. I treat these questions a lot like the HR exit interview.
Q: Why are you leaving?
I got an offer to work with TECHNOLOGY X, which I’ve been interested in for a while. It’s a bit closer to home and they offered a bit more money so I decided to go for it.
Q: Where are you going?
I’d rather not say right now, but if you check my LinkedIn profile in a couple of weeks you’ll see it.
Don’t get me wrong. If you want to proudly announce you’ve been hired by Google, or Microsoft, or Facebook, by all means do so. Just don’t feel pressured to reveal more than you want.
As you approach your last day there are usually some other tasks to close off your employment. I recommend you pack up your personal belongings and take them home with you a few days before your last day. If you think your resignation is going to have you marched out the door immediately, start taking your personal belongings home a few days beforehand so all that’s left are a few essentials to pack up. After you’ve resigned, have another team member observe you while you pack up so there can be no accusations of theft.
Don’t delete work emails or files. Those are company property and should be left for your former employer to do whatever they need to do for compliance purposes. If you have any work in progress, drafts, notes, or anything else that will be useful to your teammates, hand those over. You should also write out a list of any ongoing projects that someone else will need to take responsibility for, and hand those over as well.
On your last day, hand in any remaining company property, and then you’re all finished.
Once you’ve left the company, you owe them nothing. Harsh as that sounds, your full attention should now be given to your new job and to maintaining the quality of your life. In some circumstances, a former employer will contact you to ask you for information or assistance. Maybe they’ve forgotten why a system was implemented the way it was, or something has broken and they can’t get it working.
Some IT pros will tell you that this is an opportunity to make a little side income by billing your former employer for your time. In many cases, this is true. For me, it’s not worth the time or the paperwork, not to mention the possible insurance problems it creates. I value my free time more than any amount of money a former employer would be willing to pay me.
If it’s a good friend calling, then of course I’ll help them. But I’m not personally in the habit of helping out every former employer, paid or free. You will need to make a judgment call for yourself.
HOW TO HANDLE LOSING A JOB
Losing your job sucks, big time. Even if it’s a job you don’t like, it sucks to have it taken away from you at a time that isn’t of your choosing.
Sadly, it’s a situation we all need to be ready for. Whether you get fired, lose a job to redundancy or bankruptcy, or are forced to resign for reasons outside your control, the result is the same. An unplanned loss of income which can put immense pressure on your personal life.
It must be noted that losing a job due to layoffs and being fired are two separate scenarios.
Losing a job due to layoffs
Layoffs tend to be an impersonal decision, perhaps an outcome of downsizing or outsourcing. Layoffs can happen in multiple rounds. So even if you survive a round of layoffs, keep your eyes and ears open for signs of another one coming. Managers don’t like to give advance warning of layoffs. (They want to try and maintain morale and productivity, and prevent people from jumping ship too soon.)
Often your immediate manager will not even know about layoffs until the day they happen. Your manager will be told to cut the team by 20%, and have a matter of hours to decide who will stay and who will go. No matter how good a friend they are, there’s no advance warning they can give you.
Poor financial performance is an obvious sign of impending layoffs. If your company is making sudden announcements about hiring freezes or halting all non-essential travel, it often means they’re in panic mode and are trying to stop the bleeding while they work out what to do next. One company I worked for decided to stop buying biscuits for the tea room, and cut the milk order in half as well. For a few hundred dollars in savings it did immeasurable harm to morale in the team.
Bringing in outside consultants to look for ‘cost savings’ or ‘efficiencies’ is another red flag. If your company inserts a new manager into the upper levels of the organization who has no direct reports, go and take a look at their LinkedIn profile. A recent work history of short, three to six month engagements as a consultant to various companies is a sign that they specialize in the type of consulting that leads to layoffs.
A sudden interest in the finer details of your day-to-day activities is also a warning sign. External IT providers work on a billable basis and are used to tracking their time. Internal IT staff usually do not have to track their time other than total hours worked in the day. When layoffs are imminent, particularly when outsourcing is being planned, the company will ask IT staff to start tracking how much time is spent on each job ticket. The intention is to get some visibility into the activities that IT is performing such as reactive support, proactive maintenance, projects, and reporting, to begin discussing pricing with outsourcing providers. In my entire career I’ve never seen or heard of a case where internal IT staff were required to start tracking time without it eventually leading to layoffs and outsourcing.
As a general rule, whenever I hear of layoffs happening in my team or anywhere else in the company, I quietly update my resume and get in touch with a few recruiters and contacts in the industry. Remember, there’s no harm in having a conversation with a recruiter and even attending a few interviews to see what better opportunities might be out there. And if your friends know your job is at risk they can also keep an eye out for opportunities for you. More than once I have had friends tell me to give them a call if I get caught up in layoffs. It’s not a guarantee of a job, but it’s nice to know that people are ready to help you when you need it.
Being fired is quite different. They say most people who are fired will see it coming long before it happens. Some people probably miss the signs though. And some other people probably stress about what they think is their impending termination, even when it’s not actually about to happen.
There are a few situations that can get you fired. It should go without saying that if you commit a criminal act you’re going to get fired. Similarly, if you breach a crucial industry regulation you can also expect to lose your job over it. Breaching internal company policy can also get you fired. The best way to avoid these situations is to be aware of the regulations and policies under which you operate.
Reading company policy manuals is boring, but necessary. It’s tempting to gloss over them and treat them as a box-ticking exercise when you start working for a company. I do recommend you take the time to read them properly. You can’t plead ignorance if you get caught doing something you were told was against policy.
Mistakes can and do happen without job loss, but gross negligence will usually lead to termination of employment. Especially if your negligence has a direct cost or exposes the company to liability.
While there are some companies who will treat your $100,000 mistake as a $100,000 investment in your training, (there’s a good chance you won’t make that mistake again!), most will sack you on the spot.
The best way to avoid being negligent is to have a healthy respect for the value of risk assessment and procedures. Too often I see IT professionals making changes under pressure without properly understanding the risks. If you can’t perform the risk assessment yourself, enlist the aid of your teammates or your manager. There’s no need for anyone to make a high risk decision on their own.
Similarly, there is no need for you to take personal responsibility for someone else’s insistence on a high- risk change being made. Having a documented group consensus, or an order from a superior to do something despite the risks you’ve communicated, is one of the best insurance policies you can have. People talk about ‘covering your ass’ for a reason. It matters.
Ongoing poor performance is one of the main causes of job loss. This is a tricky area because of what’s commonly known as ‘imposter syndrome.’ A lot of people constantly feel like they’re in over their head, under-qualified for their job, and always at risk of being exposed as an ‘imposter’ and fired. This is mostly a mental problem. When you’re surrounded by people who are already intimately familiar with an environment and seem confident and comfortable in everything they are doing, any gaps in your own skills and knowledge seem huge to yourself.
It’s important you don’t allow imposter syndrome to have a real impact on your performance. Understand that appearances are often deceiving. Everyone struggles with self-doubt. But you can overcome it with simple productivity habits, time management, and communicating well with others. Those topics are discussed in later chapters of this book.
Genuinely poor performance will be brought to your attention. The regular feedback you get from your peers and leaders will include criticism. But not all critiques mean you are performing poorly. A good team will use peer review and critiques as a way to boost performance from good to great. Just because your peers were able to identify an improvement doesn’t mean your work was bad, just that it could be better. We should always strive to improve, and criticism is part of that process.
Feedback about actual poor performance should be specific and actionable. If your manager is telling you they expect you to be able to process a certain number of tickets, or meet a certain service level agreement (SLA), that is a target you can work towards. If the feedback is vague, and you’re just being asked to ‘do better’ and meet a non-specific benchmark of acceptable performance, that’s a tough situation to be in. If you can help it, don’t walk away from any such meetings without a clear understanding of what is expected of you.
Many companies have systems known as PIP, or performance improvement plan. These are formalized performance management processes that usually involve the HR department and your immediate manager. Your company will tell you a PIP is intended to address performance issues and turn an employee back into a productive member of the team. This is partially true in the sense that replacing employees is an expensive process. Keeping the staff you already have is preferable to firing them and hiring someone new who needs to go through all the onboarding and familiarization phases of employment before they become productive.
But a PIP is also an expensive process and uses up a lot of time. Companies don’t enter into them lightly, and often do it as a last resort to begin the process of firing someone without the risk of unfair dismissal claims. If you find yourself in the PIP process with performance targets that seem unreasonable or impossible to achieve, that’s a sign that the company is planning to terminate you. If you can leave on your own terms beforehand it may be a better outcome for you.
There are three things you must do to prepare for the possibility of losing your job:
- Save up an emergency fund
- Maintain your employability
- Know your legal rights and entitlements
The first two points are discussed further in the next chapter of this book. The third point I will cover here with the following caveat: I’m not a lawyer of any kind, let alone an employment lawyer. I only know what I’ve learned from reading, understanding, and negotiating my own employment contracts.
Legally our situations will all be different, because of different employment laws around the world. If you have any questions about your specific situation you should speak to a lawyer in your area. A short consultation is usually a few hundred dollars, unless you can find someone offering free consultations or a community legal service. Spending that much money will be difficult for some people, and I know more than a few who have simply walked away from a situation even though they were probably entitled to some compensation such as a severance payment. They just couldn’t afford the money and the stress of a legal dispute.
Here in Queensland, where I live, we have different workplace laws to other parts of Australia. And Australia on the whole has different workplace laws than the USA and other countries.
Every employment contract that I’ve signed has contained these main points:
- Salary and entitlements (e.g. paid vacation days, sick days, mobile phone and other allowances)
- Probationary period (usually three months)
- Termination conditions (e.g. one week’s notice required by either party during probation, or four weeks’ notice required by either party after probation)
With those details in my contract I always knew where I stood, and my employer knew where they stood. The company couldn’t sack me on the spot without paying me out the four-week notice period plus my unused vacation time. Losing your job is less scary when you know you’re owed four to eight weeks of salary to help you survive while you find your next job. Similarly, I couldn’t walk out the door without giving four weeks’ notice, or risk forfeiting my unused vacation time and any remaining salary.
Those employment conditions were also backed by employment laws protecting me from things like forced redundancy and unfair dismissal. If a company chose to make my role redundant, I would be entitled to my normal severance payments plus an additional payment based on the number of years I have worked for that company. Similarly, the company could not fire me for no good reason. If they did, I would have grounds to pursue an unfair dismissal claim which could result in compensation or the reinstatement of my job.
None of these are ideal situations, but knowing what your rights are, and what you’ve agreed to during your employment contract negotiations, helps you prepare for unplanned loss of employment.
Of course, contracts and employment laws can’t save you in every case. Back in the mid-2000’s when the global financial crisis hit, the company I was working for was in a precarious financial situation. The economic downturn was enough to tip us into bankruptcy. There’s a lot to the story, but how it affected me and my teammates was that one day we just didn’t get paid our salaries. It actually took us a few days to notice, because most of us just assumed we got paid and rarely checked to make sure the money had arrived. It was my wife who first noticed that my pay was missing, and everyone else in the team quickly confirmed theirs was missing as well.
For me, not getting paid was a concern, but not a crisis. My wife and I had a young child and a mortgage to think about. But my wife still had the income from her business, and we had enough money saved to survive for a while.
For some of my colleagues who lived week to week, however, the situation was more severe. They needed the money badly and were faced with a difficult choice. If they quit, they would lose access to unemployment benefits and other government funds that had been created to protect employees from corporate bankruptcies. If they simply walked away, they could also be accused of job abandonment, losing access to their entitlements if the company somehow managed to recover from its financial problems. If they stayed, they didn’t know when their next pay check would arrive.
Ultimately the decision was made for us. After three agonizing weeks, the company formally announced insolvency, and our employment was terminated.
Now things got even trickier. Another company bought the failed business, and offered some of my colleagues a job. Those colleagues were put in another tough position. If they turned down the job, they would not be entitled to unemployment benefits or other compensation payments, other than the salary and entitlements they were owed by the bankrupt company. And as one of many creditors of a failed business, there was not much hope of seeing a single dollar. When your only other choice is to take a job with a company that you don’t want to work for, there is really no right answer.
Some of my colleagues took the offered jobs just for the steady pay check. Some turned them down and tried their luck in a depressed job market, knowing they were forfeiting all government assistance. The rest of us started our job searches, and also made our applications to the government for compensation, a process which took nearly two years for me. That’s a long time to wait for what you’re entitled to.
TIP: Dealing With Job Loss
The safest approach to job security is to assume that you have none, and that you can lose your job at any time for any reason. This puts you in a mindset of preparation and readiness, instead of fear and panic.
- Check your employment contract and legal entitlements so that if you lose your job you know what you are entitled to receive in terms of notice period and payouts.
- Save up an emergency fund that will cover your living expenses for three to six months. If possible, get insurance coverage for income protection in the event of unexpected illness or injury that prevents you from working.
- Never lash out, bad mouth, or seek to damage the reputation of a former employer. The worst thing I have ever said about a former employer is that they were not a good fit for me and I probably wouldn’t apply for roles there in future. If you want to privately make comments about a former employer or manager, just keep in mind that anything you say or write about them will be repeated to someone else eventually.
- Keep your resume and LinkedIn profiles updated, even when you’re not looking for jobs. I give mine a review every three to six months to add notes for any interesting new skills or projects that I’ve acquired in that time.
- Write a list of the first five people you would call if you lost your job. In Chapter 3 we’ll discuss why your personal network is important.
Chapter 2 Recap
Before trying to break into the IT industry, it’s helpful to research both the industry and the geographic area you intend to work in to see what skills are in high demand.
- Always have an up-to-date resume on hand, along with a willingness to tailor your resume for every specific job application.
- Understand how the recruitment industry works (what motivates recruiters) and maintain a good relationship with recruiters at all times. You never know when you’re going to need them, and sometimes they will present you with opportunities you never imagined.
- The easiest way to become more proficient at job interviews is to do as many job interviews as you can.
- In interviews, ensure you are prepared with good answers to common interview questions.
- Remember the golden rule of salary negotiations: the first person to say a number loses.
- When starting a new job, prepare to be given grunt work and maybe even feel bored and flat.
- Never quit a job out of anger and frustration. Always give yourself the chance to sleep on it.
- When resigning from a job, keep communications simple and free of emotion.
- Be prepared to answer common exit interview questions with grace.
- Be aware of the impending signs of layoffs and prepare accordingly.
- Be aware of situations that could lead to you being fired and adjust your performance accordingly.
- Always have an emergency fund on hand to deal with unexpected unemployment.
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