Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Career Building

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to career building as an independent contractor in IT.

If You’re Going to Complain, Do It Right

There’s always going to be something to complain about in your life. But the question is, how do you do complain effectively to get the outcome you want? One of the main rules to follow is to keep calm and make a plan.

Nowadays it’s even easier to complain with social media platforms or online review sites like Yelp. With those complaints being more public, there’s a chance for a response. Take a look at this infographic from NetCredit to see a step by step guide on how to take your complaining game to the next level.

Courtesy of: NetCredit

6 Ways Independent Contractors Can Use Microsoft Excel (and some better alternatives)

6 Ways Independent Contractors Can Use Microsoft Excel (and some better alternatives)Microsoft Excel is an extremely powerful tool and we’ve shared a few posts about Excel to help open your mind to its potential. The reason we love this versatile program is because it’s readily available to everyone at no additional cost. Almost all new computer set-ups include the basic version of Microsoft Office, including its spreadsheet software, meaning there’s no need to pay for additional tools.

Here’s a look at some ways your IT contracting business can be managed with a simple spreadsheet. Of course, as we’ll note throughout the list, there are situations in your business when an extra investment is worth it.

  1. Planning and Budgeting. Creating templates with calculations to play out different scenarios makes decision-making a breeze. Taking it a step further, why not plan and manage your entire budget in Excel? Check out this infographic from Quid Corner for step-by-step tips in creating a customised budget.
  2. Accounting. From basic bookkeeping to complete accounting, it’s not uncommon for small businesses to manage their finances all through an Excel workbook. A quick Google Search will reveal countless templates that will suit your business and help you get set-up.
    Alternatively: Managing your books is a crucial function in your independent contracting business and we believe that investing in the right software is a smart move. As always, we strongly recommend consulting with your accountant on your best options.
  3. Calculate Time Across Multiple Clients. In the same way you should budget your finances, knowing how you spend your time is also important. When you work for a single client, you usually use their time entry tools, but when juggling multiple clients, it’s a good idea to keep what you’ve done for each in a single spot. This gives quick insight into where you spend most of your time in a given period.
  4. Managing Your Job Search. As this article from Glassdoor points out, when you’re actively searching for new work, you can find yourself bombarded with resumes, responses and interviews and remaining oraganized is crucial. The article features seven different tips for staying organized, including these tips for managing your job search through a spreadsheet.
  5. Managing Contacts. An extension to just managing your job search, you can use Excel to manage all of your contacts. When you return from a networking conference, enter all of the business cards you received. Every time you answer an email, add their information and notes into Excel. The more columns and information you include, the more helpful it will be to sort your database in the future.
    Alternatively: There are a number of other contact management tools available and many are free. For example, your email tool (Gmail or Outlook) also includes a contact management tool.
  6. Project Management. Some Project Managers may be cringing at this thought, but in a number of cases, Microsoft Excel is helpful in managing complete projects. From creating Gantt charts to status reports to issue tracking, there are project management templates for Excel across the internet.
    Alternatively: Excel has its Project Management limits; for example, it’s difficult to collaborate and managing multiple projects can be a hassle. There are elaborate project management tools available and always worth investigating.

What absolutely did not make the list? Password management. Regardless of your ability to password protect your spreadsheet, managing passwords this way is no longer considered an option by security experts. Given a hack can destroy your finances and identity, we strongly recommend investing in a password management tool.

Microsoft Excel has been around for years and people have used it creatively to take on many tasks. Microsoft even provides templates to get you started. How are you using spreadsheets to manage your business?

Should You Hire a Personal Assistant

Do you ever feel like you have too much to do in a day, like the tasks are never-ending? Maybe it’s time you considered finding someone to help. According to Polo and Tweed, personal assistants can help you manage the little things, so you can be more productive. Their infographic reveals how a PA can help with your workload and make you a better independent contractor in the long-run.

Should You Hire a Personal Assistant

Always Finish Strong

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

“Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic!” – Robin Sharma

Business People at Finish LineHow many times have you seen people who fail to finish strong either because they know they are almost done with a project, job, or even a work-out, typically because they become fatigued, bored or otherwise disinclined to continue to put the required effort needed to stand out.

Starting new projects or initiatives is always a time of excitement and for some contractors, that adrenaline rush of experiencing new challenges and meeting and influencing new people or environments is exactly what keeps them going in the contracting world.

But one of the most common problems I’ve witnessed and one that absolutely changes the client’s perception of the contractor’s overall performance is what happens in the final stages of the project when most of the work is complete and things are wrapping up. Feedback up until that point was extremely positive, everything along the way was good news (or no news). And just when extending the contract or finding the individual a new contract seems to be a no brainer, the wheels fall off.

It’s at this critical time, just as a contract is about to be completed, that a contractor can cement their reputation as being an absolute pro or conversely, and unfortunately, a dud! Here are a number of things to avoid if you would prefer to be the former, and not the latter:

1. Do More Than is Required

“What is the distance between someone who achieves their goals consistently and those who spend their lives and careers merely following? The extra mile.”

And do more than is required right up until the last day and hour of the project that you were contracted to deliver. If you keep that mindset as an independent contractor, you will build a reputation in the marketplace as a professional who consistently brings value to the project right up until its conclusion.

2. Don’t Let the Hunt for Your New Gig Get in the Way

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You are either in or you’re out. There is no such thing as life in between”

It’s true that as a contractor, you are responsible for “self-marketing” to ensure that you have your next contract in hand while wrapping up the contract you are currently on. But too often, contractors start fixating on their next contract. And so the work on their current project suffers. Attendance becomes spotty and deliverables suffer. Sacrificing the hard work and solid reputation you’ve earned at the very last stages of your contract is not wise. Not only will you risk angering a client who might still be considering you for other projects or an extension, but that disappointment could lead to an even earlier termination, making the issue of your next contract even more serious.

3. Don’t Rob Peter to Pay Paul

In other words, don’t let the fear of a “gap” in projects prompt you to accept a new contract prior to the end of your current one. This is typically mishandled for a number of reasons.

The contractor is embarrassed or afraid to quit so they invent a reason why they have to leave the contract early. The lie is usually uncovered at some point and there goes your hard-earned reputation.

They begin the search months before the contract is scheduled to end under the assumption that it is never too early to start looking. Well in fact, it is. Now you have an excited recruiter and client who believe that you are ready to start a new contract on their timeline. Either way, you’re guaranteed to make someone unhappy whether you accept the new contract and quit the old early, or stay with the current and turn down the new contract.

In the rare event that both parties accept the overlap, you end up promising both parties that you can deliver and then fail miserably at one, the other, or both.

4. Work with your Recruiters(s)

Plan a schedule of communication with your current recruiter so that you can help each other plan any transition. Share information and project knowledge to determine if there is an extension coming your way or if there are new opportunities on the horizon that correspond with your contract end. If you attend an interview prior to your contract finishing, let the interviewers know when you are expected to finish your current contract. Set the expectation with them that you will complete your current contract, that it is a part of your service delivery approach. If anything, it should impress upon them that you are a professional with integrity. And if things don’t line up perfectly, you can always offer to do project prep work while finishing up your current gig. This can always be done at home, on the bus or during weekends.

Starting new projects is always fun but it can be a challenge to finish strong. Commit to staying connected to your end goal which should be providing service and value right up to the last day of the project you are on. Don’t let yourself get waylaid by impatience or worrying about your next job. Trust that your training, experience and reputation will play a big part in the successful transition to a new contract. And work with professional recruiters to augment your search.

If You Can’t Treat People with Respect — Get Out!

Brianne Risley By Brianne Risley,
Delivery Manager at Eagle

Eagle received the great honor of being recognized as one of 2018’s Best Workplaces for Inclusion by Great Places to Work.  I am proud to work in an environment where Diversity is celebrated, but creating that culture isn’t easy. Addressing attitudes, unintentional comments, or outright intolerance takes courage and persistence.

How do you address issues of intolerance in the workplace?  How can you tell a co-worker or acquaintance that they’ve crossed the line?  What does it mean to be an inclusive environment?

After discovering racial slurs at the US Airforce Academy’s Preparatory school, Lt General Jay Silveria took what I view as one of the best, clear, inspiring stands on the “power of diversity”.  This is a masterclass on setting a clear path to encourage Diversity in a workplace.  The message is simple, clear, and inspiring. I hope you watch it.

If you can’t treat people with respect – Get Out.

Breaking Down Complex Ideas So Anyone Can Understand Them

As you get more senior in your IT contracting profession, you naturally become more specialized and knowledgeable in your field. While you learn more and more, you begin to realize how much others don’t understand terminology and situations. Because of your extensive experience, it all comes naturally to you, but in reality, it’s remains complex for the Average Joe. This gets especially frustrating when trying to explain to a client why they should take a certain route in a project or, vice-versa, why they should not implement the solution they want to.

We’ve provided some advice in this area before on the Talent Development Centre, including How to Deal with Recruiters Who Have No Clue What They’re Talking About and how to handle Those Non-Technical People Who Work on a Tech Project. Recently, The Muse also shared some ideas for breaking down complex ideas so anyone can understand them. Here’s what they suggest:

  1. Get to Know Your Audience: Find out their background, what motivates them, and how they prefer to communicate. This way you can use their common knowledge to decide how to best explain your idea.
  2. Choose the “One Thing” They Should Understand: If people have to tackle too much new information at once, they’ll get confused or forget it. Instead, focus on the critical details that they must understand and remember.
  3. Give Context and Use Examples: Put everything into context by painting a verbal picture and showing exactly how the situation relates to the audience’s life. This makes the problem more tangible and the solution more appealing.
  4. Watch Your Language: Use simple, every day language, rather than long terms that may seem impressive. If you must use acronyms, jargon or highly-niche phrases, take the time to explain what they mean and how they relate.

How do you explain complex situations and terminology to your teams or recruiters? Please share your tips and tricks for other IT professionals in the comments below.

What IT Contractors Can Learn (or not learn) from George Costanza

Busting Some Myths Seinfeld Taught Us About Job Searching

One of the hottest sitcoms of all time was Seinfeld, the 9-season TV show about “nothing” created by comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. It showcased the misadventures of four extremely selfish and quirky individuals living in New York City who, although sometimes faced consequences, got away with some devious schemes (at least until the final episode when they were sentenced to jail under a Good Samaritan law).

Perhaps the most dishonest character on the show was George Costanza, who was known for his many failed careers and plans to get away with doing as little as possible. While he often succeeded, he also often failed. Have you ever watched Seinfeld and considered implementing some of George’s outrageous plans? Just in case, we decided to review some of Costanza’s greatest career failures to create a list of (what should be obvious) job search and career tips:

Making Up References Does Not Work

In Season 3, Episode 17 (The Boyfriend Part 1) George lies to the unemployment office, telling them that he has a job interview lined up as a latex salesmen with Vandelay Industries. To cover the lie, he gives them Jerry’s phone number and asks him to start answering the phone “Vandelay Industries”. In the end, Kramer ruins everything when he answers the phone and knows nothing about the scheme.

There is rarely a scenario where lying to a recruiter about references, or anything for that matter, will turn out well. Even if your friends are all up-to-speed and willing to help you, there are technologies and other industry techniques that are sure to hold you back. The lesson here is to always be honest.

Sign a Contract and Know the Details of a Job

In Season 5, Episode 8 (The Barber) George ends a job interview unsure if he actually got the job and, if he did, what he would be doing. He decides to show up while the hiring manager is on vacation and spends a week “working” on the Penske File. A series of events follows, including some successes on George’s part, but in the end, he’s back to being unemployed.

This is an extreme example and independent contractors know to always have a contract with your client or agency. But are you always reading it thoroughly, along with the job description or statement of work, to understand the terms of agreement and what’s expected of you?

What You Say and Do without Thinking Could Burn Bridges (or lead to worse)

In Season 2, Episode 7 (The Revenge), George quits his job during a confrontation, clearly a decision made on emotion. He decided to return to work on Monday, pretending nothing happened, but the damage had already been done. He gets made fun of by his boss, seeks revenge for it and ends up fired anyway.

It’s not uncommon for us to see IT professionals burn bridges by speaking rudely to recruiters or clients, or even quitting out of anger, without thinking it through completely. The result not only ends the current contract but can have negative consequences on future work.

Bargaining is Good, but Don’t Get Greedy

Throughout Season 4, Jerry and George work together on their “show about nothing” and pitch it to NBC. With the many ups and downs throughout the process, one of George’s biggest regrets might be his negotiation. He decided to get tough and turn down an initial offer of $13,000 for a pilot, but ended up settling for $8,000.

Bargaining and contract negotiation is a natural part of the job search process when working with recruitment agencies or even directly with a client. Both parties want to leave with an agreement that is beneficial to everyone. There’s an important lesson to be learned from George about expecting too much or being too pushy. It could lead to a lost opportunity all together and having to settle for something less later down the road.

Bonus: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone (it actually worked!)

Season 5, Episode 21 (The Opposite) is an example of one of George’s obscure plans that actually proved beneficial. George decides to live the opposite of how he regularly would. From ordering at a restaurant to dating, he takes a complete reverse approach to everything in life. The result: George lands himself a new job!

You may not want to go as extreme as Costanza does in changing your life, but there is something to be said for stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new ideas. When something isn’t working for you, a change is often the best solution.

The Truth About Annoying Coworkers

Regardless of the client, industry, project or location, if you have to work with people, you’re guaranteed to have some annoying coworkers. We scoured the world for tips on how to ensure these people never cross your path again, but all we learned is that annoying people are inevitable.

Given we can’t avoid annoying coworkers, the only next rational step is to accept they’ll be around and possibly try to understand them. This fun infographic from Olivet Nazarene University provides some insight into annoying co-workers in various industries, including what makes them annoying, how people have dealt with them, and where they’re most likely to be found. If you can’t change an annoying person, at least you can find solace in the fact that you’re not alone.

Accidents Happen — Here’s How to Redeem Yourself After a Mistake

Accidents Happen -- Here's How to Redeem Yourself After a MistakeIt happens to the best of us. We’re working on a big project and lose focus for a quick second. Suddenly, one little slip turns into a big problem. Accidents happen every day — just ask the Amazon employee who brought down some of the world’s largest websites with a typo! The real challenge is how you respond after making a mistake.

If you’ve just made a disastrous error while working on a client’s project, you may not be able to reverse time but you can absolutely control the future. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • It’s alright to feel bad, but not for too long. If you just did something to seriously hurt your client’s project, you don’t have the luxury of self-pity. Get worried, feel bad, apologize profusely, and then get over it. Frankly, nobody cares. If you want to survive this thing, you need to get to work at finding a solution.
  • Don’t let your mind prevent you from fixing things. It’s easy to say “move on” but sometimes our minds don’t let us. There may be a lot of emotion, including fear of the worst-case scenario coming true, that prevents you from doing too much. Get around it by putting everything into perspective. Did the world blow up or did people lose their livelihood because of your mistake? Is your client really going to fire you over this? If you did lose the contract, is that the end of the world for you? Probably not.
  • Identify the issue right away. When you sweep a mistake under the rug, you may think you got away with it, but you didn’t. You rarely will. If it’s not today or tomorrow, at some point, it will blow up in your face. If it doesn’t, it means it wasn’t that big of a deal (so why’d you try to hide it?) or somebody else had to deal with it.
  • Accept blame when it belongs to you. Speaking of leaving others to deal with your problems, just don’t do that. If it’s your fault, own it. Others will see right through your cover-ups and excuses, and your references will quickly fade away. A terrible mistake may prevent a client from vouching for you to potential clients, but team members may sympathize. If you throw them under the bus, kiss that sympathy good-bye.
  • Find Solutions. If you’ve made it this far, then don’t just walk away from a problem you helped create. Work with your client, team members, other departments, recruiters, whoever, to find the right solution. This may mean working extra hours (including some you won’t bill) and having a bit of humility, but if you can quickly bring your client back, they will remember that.

Mistakes are a natural part of life and a crucial step in learning. Unfortunately we make them at inconvenient times and the more high profile they are, the worse it can feel. Sometimes we make mistakes that can’t be fixed easily and that call from a recruiter telling you your contract has been cut short is inevitable. Other times, it’s serious enough that legal action has to be taken (have you read our posts about Contractor Insurance?). Regardless, keep in mind that there will always be new clients, new recruiters and new opportunities. It’s all about your attitude and how you choose to proceed.

7 Workplace Myths Disproven by Research

Are you responsible for leading a team or helping a client hire new employees or contractors? If so, then you already know the importance of reading people, being able to tell which applicants will succeed, and knowing how to properly motivate others. What you may also know are a few “facts” that in reality are workplace myths.

It’s common to make assumptions about how people act in the office and what makes them (or yourself) high achievers. This infographic from O.C. Tanner sets out to debunk some of those myths. For example, they refuse to believe that people are only productive for 8 hours, that resumes dictate the best hires, that money is motivation and more. Check them all out below. Would you agree with O.C. Tanner or from your experience, are some of these completely factual?

7 Workplace Myths Disproven by Research #InfographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan