Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contracting

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to independent contracting.

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Of Genies, Bottles, and Working from Home

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Ea
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How long does it take to form a new habit? I’ve read articles claiming a new habit is formed in as little as 21 days, some say 66 days, while others suggest it could take as much as 250 days for complex habits to form (for some people). Regardless, by the time COVID-19 accommodations fully become a thing of the past, a year or more will have gone by — far longer than even the most pessimistic estimates for habit forming. If you consider the changes you’ve made (and stuck to) in response to COVID, you will recognize some new habits you’ve formed. And, if these continue, by February/March they will feel pretty comfortable and you might be keeping the changes even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

One such change is remote work. Prior to COVID, the technology was there to support virtual teams, but few companies bought into this in any big way; often describing “culture” or process (Agile Scrums?) or fairness to office staff, or lack of control, or… or… or… as reasons not to go all-in on a remote work strategy. Over the past 7 months or so, most “knowledge-workers” have been forced to embrace working from home… and, guess what? Work still got done! Sure, in some cases, there was a transition period where people felt that the accommodations were going to be temporary or short term. But in general, work continued. Companies scrambled to ensure collaboration tools were available for their staff… HR kicked into overdrive to ensure people felt connected and supported. Fun stuff – remote happy-hour – team recipe sharing – virtual mentoring/teaching began popping up to bridge the person-to-person gaps. Introverts (including everyone in my own family) finally have their day in the sun! People began doing what people for millennia have done… they began coping, they made changes that enabled them to carry on and be productive.

And now, we’ve had a taste of remote work… and many really like it!  The majority of the people I’ve personally spoken with over the past weeks and months have been positive about the changes. No more fighting traffic in the mornings, more time for work AND for home chores – work-life balance became work-life “fusion” and they’ve felt more productive overall. If the desire for remote work is pervasive, companies will recognize this and begin offering this option to acquire and retain employees. Competition for top resources is fierce and when the companies who offer remote-work begin snapping up more than their fair share of top talent, other companies will be forced to do so also.

Talent acquisition may be the single biggest driver for companies to embrace remote workers. Areas where high-tech is well entrenched – Toronto, Vancouver, Silicon Valley – are expensive to live and often force people into long commutes for reasons of affordability. The tech-companies that call these places their homes are growing quickly and hiring frequently. By embracing a remote worker strategy, they will have access to talent that either can’t afford or aren’t interested in living in these centers. Local talent pools open up to become a global talent ocean. This was a trend that we began seeing prior to COVID, but now that knowledge workers have remote working experience, we expect this trend to accelerate. Another big driver for business is the savings that can be achieved by reducing the size of their physical corporate footprint. Office space is a big cost item on companies’ income statements. They may be able to reduce their office costs by half or more by leveraging more remote work. This is a big enticement for adopting the strategy.

As consultants and contractors, to best take advantage of this shift, it is recommended that you give some thought to your own experiences working remotely. What were some of the challenges that you were able to overcome… what were some of your notable successes? Consider what it is that you’ve done to be a better “virtual team member” or how you’ve successfully managed your remote team or how you build value for the companies for which you’ve worked as a remote member of a team. Find ways to add these successes/best practices into your resume, and be prepared to speak to this should you be interviewed for a role with a remote work component.

The genie is out of the bottle… remote work is now “a thing” and, I believe, that it will be much more prevalent than it had been before COVID!

Bonus: Here’s a link to a great article that lists 20 work-from-home tips! (There’s many, many such article online!)

Quick Poll Results: How tight do you keep your LinkedIn connections?

Keeping an active LinkedIn profile and connecting with the right people in your industry is one of the best ways to find IT contracts. Not only is LinkedIn one of the most-used tools by IT recruiters, but it’s also the best way to build out your network and get referrals for future gigs. If you’re not leveraging LinkedIn, you’re missing out.

Once you have a profile, the next question to ask yourself is what kind of network you want to build. Every IT professional has their own strategy. Some like to keep things very exclusive, and only allow people into their circle if they know them personally and think highly of them. On the other extreme, some professionals are happy to connect with anyone who has a pulse.

There’s no right or wrong way to do LinkedIn, but we were curious to learn how our readers approach it, so we made it into this Summer’s contractor quick poll. It turns out, IT contractors like to keep their networks somewhat closed. Approximately 80% of respondents said that they only connect with people who they know and like, or with people who have mutual connections or interests.

Quick Poll Results: How tight do you keep your LinkedIn connections?

Backing Out of a Contract Without Ruining Your Reputation

Backing Out of a Contract Without Ruining Your Reputation

Arek Godlewski By Arek Godlewski,
Recruitment Specialist at Eagle

September 2020 marks 20 years of me being a technical recruiter.  There are a lot of stories and situations that will stay with me forever — most very positive, some befuddling, and then, in the minority, negative. Believe it or not, the scenario of consultants backing out of a contract they have accepted falls into all three.

As a recruiter I dread the call that starts with “Arek, we need to talk…”; however, it’s something that happens. It’s part of this business we call contracting. An important factor is how you approach the reneging. By nature, breaking a contract will almost definitely harm your professional relationship to some degree, not only with the recruiter/agency you work with, but also the client. So, if you are going to do it, at least do it right.

The most important point that I would like to make is that as a contractor, your reputation is your main selling point, so make your decision carefully and think about what will happen in 1 or 2 or 10 years from now. Sure a few dollars more will benefit you in the short term, however; will breaking a potentially long-lasting professional relationship worth it?

If there are no other options and you will need to break your agreement with the client, my top advice is to tell the truth and talk about it. More specifically:

  1. Be honest — Getting caught in a lie will only hurt your reputation further.
  2. Make it a phone call or in-person conversation — This will help you set the tone and explain your reasoning.
  3. Demonstrate that you’ve tried everything possible not to have to break the contract.

Full disclosure: I will always, always ask if there is anything that I can do, or facilitate with the client, to change your mind. Having said that, the person walking away from the contract will always have me championing their decision. I totally get that certain situations and life in general can get in the way. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with the reason (#1 is getting an offer that pays few dollars more — but that’s an article in itself), I will make sure that I will have your back with my management and the client.

Naturally, there are a couple definite don’ts that I would like to highlight. These are in poor form, leave a lasting impression of the worst kind and, unfortunately, are way too common:

  1. Don’t ghost us. Don’t send an email after hours and then not pick up the phone (there’s no need to be afraid of the person on the other side).
  2. Don’t use a false family emergency as a reason. I am loathe in including this example, but it’s the most used line to back out of the contract. In my experience, albeit anecdotal, those individuals update their LinkedIn with a new job the next week (yeah, we check).

In closing, stuff happens and sometimes one has to make difficult decision, but before you do, think about how it will affect you in the long run and always be honest, it’s the best way to live.

What to Think About Before Transitioning from a Functional to Technical Role (or vice-versa)

What to Think About Before Transitioning from a Functional to Technical Role (or vice-versa)

Hassan Nasrallah By Hassan Nasrallah,
Recruitment Specialist at Eagle

In our ever-expanding and constantly changing IT world, you might have realized you are meant for a career or transition that is more rewarding, whether that be more money, personally fulfilling/satisfying or provides better flexibility with your work/life balance. Your IM/IT experience may be more transferable than you think and here’s what you should know

Career transitions are always a hot topic and now more than ever, people are finding themselves needing to either make a change due to economic pressures or a needing to expand their horizons through bigger challenges and bigger rewards.

OR

Even more specifically, you have been recognized within your client company as a top contractor whether that be for your technical skills or commitment to the industry, and are now being considered for a role that is outside your comfort zone!

From functional to technical or vice versa, I want to delve into some of the challenges that one may encounter when transitioning into an unfamiliar role and a few tips to help make that transition.

Determine Your Career path

First and foremost, determine the path you want to take. One thing is absolutely certain, you are changing your current role to something else entirely. Aside from the obvious immediate change, what other factors do you need to adjust, add or remove in order to be considered “effective” and ultimately, is this the correct path for you?

While salary might off-set some concerning discrepancies in what you’re doing now to what you actually enjoy doing, make no mistake, there is a point of diminishing returns. This will hit you doubly so when you are making a move between a functional and technical position because the skills in tech are usually constantly being updated so you will need to learn fast if taking an interim break is not an option for you. On the flip side, soft skills are called soft not because they are easier to attain but because they are not readily quantifiable. Communication skills, character or personality traits, attitudes, career attributes are all decades long skills that are practiced everyday naturally from our childhoods; however, if an individual is lacking in a critical soft skill in a non-technical role, it would be incredibly difficult to ramp up on them. It’s not like you can just read the release notes of being “emotionally intelligent”.

As an IT recruiter, I am able to peer into the tasks and responsibilities of high-level architects, solution managers and deeply technical software engineers and while they all share commonalities, there are hurdles and bounds that make each role distinct, especially within the software development lifecycle. For example, architects are extremely broad in their knowledge of implementations and understanding of software development while often having excellent communication/articulation skills. In contrast, engineers are excellent problem solvers and have to be quite meticulous when it comes to programming according to customer requirements. (additionally, on average, developers/programmers don’t need the communication aptitude of an experienced architect)

Although there are different ways to approach a change like this, I found that I can work it best through 3 main parts.

  • The mindset or perspective of the target role in which you would like to apply to
  • The working culture surrounding the role
  • The key abilities that make that role become effective within the industry you are working in

Mindset

If you’re coming from a technical role and are transitioning into a managerial setting, you would need to adopt a different way of solving problems than if you were fixing errors in lines of code. People are more fluid and resistant to solutions that you think might work. You need to become accustomed to unsolicited feedback, unprecedented and often illogical challenges.

It can prove detrimental to stick to just a familiar (and obviously previously successful) way of thinking and problem solving. While this may have proven useful in your past roles, mindsets in either technical or functional areas are more often mutually exclusive.

A mindset change is essential to grow within your new role and eventually, your deliverables will be measured and judged on quality, efficiency and innovation.

My best advice when trying to think differently about certain approaches that one might take is to appeal to an authority. Find a trusted advisor or expert that can answer your questions and provide you some perspective on how to implement different solutions that were resistant to your initial efforts. This will give you a foundation to grow from and hopefully start a pattern of successful learning experiences

Culture

Another huge area when considering a potential switch is the work culture. What is your new role’s culture like and do you see yourself fitting into it?

I place a lot of importance on this because humans are creatures of habit. We fall into environments that complement our social mannerisms and when removed, it tends to affect us in adverse ways. You may be more familiar to a team environment when your new role requires you to be alone most of the time. You may like to dive head-first into your projects and take a very hands-on approach when your new role requires that you go through compliance/guidelines/approvals/etc.

A personal example is a candidate of mine that was an innovative thinker that really wanted to change some work processes to ensure success and “productivity” when really, the role called for him to “toe the line” (referring to him ignoring any inefficiencies). He eventually quit the position and the hiring manager was not saddened to see him go.

Your work culture is essential to your success and some people might turn up their nose at this citing that it’s less important in the IT contracting world. I would argue that it’s more important due to the finite amount of time to understand the tasks given to you and how you can achieve them operating through an unfamiliar culture

Take the time to properly understand how things are done at your client company, how it might revolve around your new role and what you can do to effectively integrate yourself within that environment

Ability

Lastly, I’ll touch upon ability

I don’t mean to question your own ability to perform well in this new career path but to recognize and utilize your already well-earned abilities to your advantage. Make use of your own KSAs (knowledge, abilities and skills) and actively try to meld them into your new environment. If you’re more used to design and are now working in development. Try to bring your design knowledge into your workstream and incorporate in any way that you think might coincide effectively with your new tasks and responsibilities.

It will differentiate you from others when meeting project deadlines and increase your value to your client when they get more than they bargained for!

All in all

Making a switch into a completely different avenue of work can be very challenging and in a lot of ways, a brave and respectable endeavour. You will gain an entire scope of knowledge that you may have not known even existed. I hope to have brought some helpful advice to individuals who are considering a transition into a new field and I wish you good luck in your future success!

 

What to Do When You Change Your Email Address

What to Do When You Change Your Email Address

Email is the preferred method of communication for most IT contractors during their job search. Because of their busy schedules, it’s challenging to answer a phone call in the middle of the day, so they usually ask recruiters to send them the details of a job and they’ll look at it later. Some urgent jobs require a phone call to get an immediate response, but for the most part, recruiters are happy to send notifications primarily by email… but they need to know the right email address!

There’s nothing worse than finding an opportunity that is perfect for somebody but when we try to reach out, that email address is not in service or we get a response much later on because they barely monitor that inbox. And these are addresses that had activity within the last few months!

There are many reasons you might get a new email address, for example, you might decide to create an address using your own custom domain or you might change ISPs. Regardless of the why, when you do change contact info, here are a few tips to make sure recruiters, clients and everyone else can still find you:

  • Are You Sure? Prevent yourself from going through this process again by making sure your new email address can pass the test of time and that it’s extremely unlikely you’ll need to get a new one. Keep it generic and use a provider like Gmail or Outlook that you know isn’t going anywhere. Using your ISP like Bell or Telus is a risk because you may change providers in the future, forcing you to be on the lookout for yet another email address.
  • Keep the Old Address. For as long as possible, hold onto that old address to prevent anyone from receiving hard bounce-backs when they use it. Keeping access also means you can set-up email forwarding to your new address and a custom bounce-back message to senders, letting them know your new contact info.
  • Export/Import When Possible. They all have a different process, but most email systems will allow you to export all of your contacts and even your emails. Use these tools to bring information and set-up your new email for a flawless transition.
  • Let Your Favourite Contacts Know. Not everybody who you’ve ever sent an email to cares that you’ve changed, but it is a good idea to notify all of the contacts who really need to know. Some people keep strict SPAM filters and will need to add your new address to the safe list.
  • Update Your Online Profiles. If you use a password manager, or keep a list of passwords anywhere, this is a good place to start at to find all of those profiles you have created that need updating. And yes, whenever possible, update your profile as opposed to creating a new one with your new email address.
  • Don’t Look Back. Now that you’ve switched, it’s time to commit to that address and stick to it. Unless you have obvious, black and white rules as to which address is used when, you will confuse all of your contacts if you use different addresses at random times. We’ve seen IT contractors actively use multiple addresses and not only is it difficult to manage, but it raises red flags that they might be trying to do something sneaky.

While it would be great if we could always use that same tried and true email address, extenuating circumstances cause everyone to get a new one now and again. How you manage that change will affect your job search and business relationships. But, like any change, the transition will be smoother if you plan out the process and communicate well.

Asking a Favour From Your Boss: A Contractor’s guide.

Asking a Favour From Your Boss: A Contractor's guide.

Brianne Risley By Brianne Risley,
Director, Delivery Strategy & Development at Eagle

A question I am often asked is “What is the best way to approach my boss to ask for something important?”

As an independent contractor, it can be daunting asking your leader for something you need. This is particularly true today when most workers do not want to ‘upset the applecart’ during a precarious time for companies in the market.

You may be looking to address one of the following big topics affecting your work-life:

  • Work hour concessions during the pandemic
  • Accommodations for a return-to-the-office work plan
  • A recommendation/reference for a new project
  • New project work, or a transfer to another department

In this article, I will give you an easy way to frame a conversation where you have an important ‘ask’ in a way that it will work for any audience – your client, family, friends, anyone.

The Format:

The message is best delivered in person (voice-to-voice) first, with a follow-up via email in a work setting. The verbal delivery helps the listener understand the tone of your message and helps convey the sincerity and importance of the ‘ask’. The written follow-up is like any business proposal – it helps to ensure follow-up.

The Opener:

This will be a gracious expression of a heartfelt thank-you, and appreciation for the current state of affairs. Your focus is to establish a sense of gratitude, and convey your positive energy – both as a team player, and a core contributor to your organization. You will also take the time to list out your personal key, results-based achievements. When listing your achievements, try to include as much detail as possible including facts, figures, earnings, time-saved, users helped, recommendations, etc.

The past few months with a reduced staff have been hard work, but have been motivating for me. Thank-you for retaining and supporting our team members. We’ve worked well together to deliver significant achievements on the project, and on a personal level I’ve really been able to excel in the following areas: 

  • 15 integrations completed resulting in a 20% reduction of admin time
  • Completed 3 remote workshops, and trained team members on how to achieve good meeting facilitation results via Zoom Meetings.
  • A business user had this to say about my customer service ________.

The Ask:

A common mistake people make when asking for something is not stating how it benefits the employer on a business level, and themselves on a personal level. In my view, you can’t ask for more of something while still offering the same work results or benefits.

State what you want, and then explain how that change will save you time/money/piece of mind that you will reinvest in other areas to get a return. Make sure there is a carrot to motivate the decision maker to side with you.

Next month, I will continue the complex integration work on this project to make both us and the project stakeholders happy. That said, there is an important impediment that I need your help and support with. I would like to shift my work hours from 9am – 5:30pm to 7:30am – 3pm in the month of September to help balance my remote work schedule with my children’s re-entry into the classroom.

  • The early-morning hours will allow me to clear off after-hours work orders before my colleagues start, thereby promoting faster ticket response times. (employer benefit)
  • On a personal level, this would give me piece of mind that I am able to handle any school-related issues well outside of my core working hours and avoid unnecessary distractions. (Personal benefit + employer benefit)

The Closer:

Finish with a quick recap of the ‘ask’, and invite the chance to answer questions.

  • I like being a top contributor to this team, and I enjoy doing it for an organization that values customer satisfaction and work-life balance.
  • I welcome the chance to discuss this with you further. What questions can I answer?
  • Thank you for the continued support, and I look forward to discussing how we can be even more successful moving forward.

As the ‘hired gun’ on a project team, consultants are paid to be self-sufficient and low-maintenance. If you find yourself needing something big from your leader, let this framework give you the tools you need to get it.

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

Helping Your Co-Workers Deal with Stress

We all come across these colleagues occasionally. People who are completely stressed-out, to the point that they’re snapping at others, putting off decisions, and are just scattered. Some of these folks seem to live their lives in this state (and enjoy it?) and for others, it’s an unusual occurrence when things just pile up too much. We’ve all been there, but working with an over-stressed person presents different challenges than being said person.

At first, you might avoid them and keep your head down, hoping they’ll sort it out. But when a co-worker is stressed and unable to find a way out, it starts affecting their work, your work and the overall morale of the team. In these cases, you can take a leadership approach and help them get that stress back under control and focus properly on the tasks-at-hand.

Approaching a strained person can make matters much worse if done insensitively. There is truth to that witty social media meme that says “Never in the history of calm down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.” Here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Start by checking yourself that you’re not being judgmental. Everybody reacts differently and manages different emotions. Keep that all in mind before moving too much further.
  2. Acknowledge the person’s stress and ask if you can help. If they say no, respect that.
  3. Start by listening carefully. Sometimes people just need to vent and put the situation into perspective.
  4. Continue listening and asking questions to help uncover the root of the stress, as well as consequences the person may be worrying about, again, to put things into perspective.
  5. Help the person solve those root problems with practical solutions. Offer to step-in where it makes sense.
  6. Encourage your colleague to take some time to relax with a walk or meditation, giving them time to reconnect with the present moment.
  7. Don’t get too involved yourself. Stress is contagious and your own mental health needs to stay intact. It’s great to help, but don’t let it bring you down.
  8. Most importantly, remain positive and keep calm yourself. If the person refused your help back in Step 2, maintaining that approachable and friendly demeanor is what will bring them to you for assistance when they’re ready.

Stressed out team members, colleagues, clients, recruiters, or family can all affect your life and career, as they bring down both attitude and productivity. You can’t keep avoiding them so the next best step is to help where you can. But while that’s all nice, remember, you’re not a trained psychiatrist and it’s certainly not your job to deal with other people’s stress-levels. It’s great to help, but everything must be balanced. How do you deal with the people in your life who are showing signs of excessive stress?

How to Pay Yourself as an Incorporated IT Contractor

Once you start earning a certain level of income as an IT contractor, your accountant may recommend that it is time to incorporate your business. It brings a number of benefits, including some relief on taxes you pay to the government. When you take this step, it also opens up options on how you will pay yourself from the business — as a salaried employee or through dividends as a business owner.

Your decision ultimately depends on your individual circumstances, and your accountant can guide you on the right decision. This video from Simplify Accounting will help you understand the differences and give you a base for that conversation you’ll have with your accountant.

The Dreaded Question: “Are you busy?”

“Are you busy?”

Don’t you hate it when people ask you that while you’re clearly in the middle of doing something else? How do you even answer that? There’s a chance their next question is probably going to be a favour or more work, and what if you don’t want to do that work?

This humourous video from Julie Nolke dramatizes the thought processes going on when you hear that dreaded question. Can you relate? How do you answer when interrupted by somebody asking “Are you busy?”

4 Job Search Tips to Help You Keep Getting Through 2020

4 Job Search Tips to Help You Keep Getting Through 2020

Graeme Bakker By Graeme Bakker,
Director, Delivery Strategy & Development at Eagle

We’re now way past the half-way mark of 2020 and I think it’s safe to say, it’s been an unpredictable rollercoaster. We’ve all experienced a few unpleasant surprises and new challenges to stress us out. The good news with difficulties, though, is that we can always learn something from them.

Having been working with hundreds of IT contractors over the past few months to help them keep their careers moving, I’ve seen tons of job search advice — some good and some meh. These are the top four job search tips I’ve been passing along to my network as we start to get used to our “new world”:

1.  Communication is Key

Communication skills and the ability to explain your role and your skill set are more important than ever.  Clients are looking for individuals that can communicate in an effective manner to make sure that all issues and problems are addressed right away and correctly in remote work places.  They are looking for confident orators and individuals that have good writing skills.  Make sure to communicate strongly and effectively during your interviews and read over your resume for any grammatical and spelling errors.

2.  Relationship Building with Your Recruiter

Now is the time to make that relationship with your recruiter more than a couple quick phone calls every couple of months, and more a business relationship.  Make sure that your recruiter knows what you are willing to do and where you want your career to take you in these uncertain times.  Let them know what your rate range is, what your strengths are and what separates you from the rest of the pack.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and this is a perfect time to be the one contacting your recruiter regularly to make sure you are not missing out on any opportunities.

3.  Full-Time Opportunities

Many companies are sending out more full-time opportunities.  If you are a contract worker, maybe it is the time to ask some questions and see what some of the full-time opportunities look like in your area of expertise?  You don’t need to switch from contract work, but it is a good thing to know what is out there and what full-time opportunities can afford you as well.

4.  Try Something New — Remote work

A lot of the opportunities in the market are for remote work only.  This is a great time to look at companies that you normally would not have the chance of applying for due to geographic issues. With more companies forced into using remote workers this will open up the job market to people who are struggling to find the right projects when they live in areas that might not offer that type of work.  This is an opportunity to apply to projects outside of your city and see what kind of opportunities can come from working at home.  Worst case scenario, your name and resume get sent to a hiring manager!

How else have you adjusted your job search in the past few months so you can take advantage of a changing job market? Have any of these four tips in particular worked (or not worked) for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!