Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Client Relations

Advice for Canadian independent contractors in IT for working with clients and building long-term, valuable relationships.

5 Signs You’re a Difficult Person and Don’t Even Know It (and what to do about it)

5 Signs You're a Difficult Person and Don't Even Know It (and what to do about it)

We’ve all encountered difficult or toxic people throughout our professional lives. Whether it’s the difficult contractor you have to work with on a software project, the short-tempered client you have to meet with every day, or the arrogant recruiter standing between you and an IT contract. Difficult people suck… but have you considered that you might be that person in someone else’s story?

Eagle’s has no shortage of stories where extremely skilled IT professionals, while talented, have been difficult to work with or have caused extra trouble for the client. Although these contractors did exceptional work, we received feedback that the person had trouble getting along with others or caused too much conflict within the team. In other cases, the client was thrilled but the recruiter spent hours fielding complaints about previously agreed-upon rates and contract terms.

We all have our bad days, and certainly you need to stand up for yourself and engage in some debate throughout your career. But there are a few signs to watch for that might signify people see you as a chronically difficult person:

  1. You make few, if any, personal connections at work and only speak with colleagues about work-related items
  2. Every time there’s conflict, you tend to blame others without considering if you might be part of the problem
  3. You find yourself complaining to your manager more often than saying anything positive
  4. You’re often engaged in debate and fighting to be right
  5. You aren’t happy with the project and disengaged from the team, relaying a perception that you’re being difficult

If you’re reading this and immediately dismissing all five items, believing that is never you, you’re either really awesome or you’d probably better keep reading. We all have some difficultness within us and there is always room to improve. Here are a few tips for solving the problem:

  • Improve Your Self-Awareness: Ask yourself difficult questions, as well as gather feedback from others to learn more about your behaviour and how you can improve.
  • Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Perfectionism and attention to detail are traits that can help you stand out as a quality contractor, but they can also hinder you. Pick your battles and decide what’s actually worth nitpicking.
  • Find the Things That Make You Happy: In case you’re falling into the trap of being too negative, force yourself to see the positive actions your colleagues are taking and the great results that are happening on your project.
  • Watch Your Body Language: It might not be the things you say, but that way you look in-person or on video calls. Look interested and smile, showing that you do care about what others are saying and that you are considering their opinions.
  • Work on How You Criticize: Delivering criticism is a natural part of working on a team or being a in a leadership position. The way you deliver it can make the difference between being perceived as a difficult complainer or a person who gives constructive feedback. Don’t forget to include some praise!
  • Find a New Job: We’re not advocating breaking a contract, but if you’re not happy in your current gig, you won’t be able to hide those feelings for long. That will reflect negatively in your behaviour and harm your reputation for future jobs. Discuss issues with your recruiter to see if you can find a solution together. At the very least, don’t accept a contract extension.

Being a difficult person is a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape. Others start to dislike you and treat you coldly, causing you to get more negative. The good news is, it’s never too late to improve yourself! If these points have raised a few flags, we strongly encourage you to look into this deeper and see where you can improve. Fixing issues now will prevent you from closing doors later.

Sick of People Pronouncing Your Name Wrong? LinkedIn Built a Solution!

Sick of People Pronouncing Your Name Wrong? LinkedIn Built a Solution!

Do you have one of those names? When you were a kid, while the teacher took attendance, there was a slight pause before reading your name, followed by a complete mess of what you thought should be an obvious pronunciation. And then it continued through the years. MCs, announcers, even your own friends completely mutilate your name, and they always find new, unique ways to do it.

Your professional life isn’t immune to these awkward situations either. When a recruiter calls for the first time, they slowly try pronouncing it three different ways until you finally interrupt and correct them. In an interview, your client-to-be confidently calls you something completely wrong… how and when are you going to correct this? Do you accept that this is your name for the duration of the contract?

A hard-to-pronounce name will never rule you out of jobs or hurt your chances of getting an interview. It does come with some frustrating moments in your career, though, so what can you do about it? The first-place recruiters, clients or employers learn about you is typically your resume, so why not start there? Resume experts have recommended a number of tactics:

  • Including an easier to pronounce “nickname” (this only works for a first name)
  • Writing out your name fuh-nEt-i-klee underneath the actual spelling
  • Including relatable tips on how to say your name (ex. sounds like _____________ )

You can also just include the address of your LinkedIn profile because the professional social network has stepped in to save the day!

LinkedIn’s Name Pronunciation Tool

Back in July, LinkedIn released a new tool that they say helps employers create a good first impression and build an inclusive workplace. As a bonus, it helps you minimize the many variations you hear of your name! The tool is extremely easy to use and quick to set-up, but you will need the LinkedIn mobile app to get started.

From the app, simply go to your profile and select to edit it. You’ll see an option by your name that says “Name Pronunciation”. From there, you can record yourself saying your name, slowly and clearly, as long as it fits within a 10 second timeframe. Now when anybody views your profile, whether in an app or a browser, a speaker icon will appear beside your name. When clicked, the user will hear exactly how your name should be said.

If you haven’t already, set-up your LinkedIn name pronunciation today. If you have one of those names, leave a comment in your resume or highlight in your LinkedIn profile, letting visitors know how easy it is to say your name properly.

LinkedIn's Name Pronunciation Tool

Contractor Quick Poll: How do you prefer to meet remotely?

Great productive meetings depend on many factors. You need to be organized with a clear agenda, take great notes, stay on topic, and ensure the right people are in attendance (and no more). Newer to the list over the past few years, and especially the past few months, is using the right online meeting platform.

There are dozens of video conferencing options available, with a few that have really stood out as of late. Selecting the right one for your call is an important step in being both productive and professional. It really depends on your needs. Some excel better than others at collaboration, training, scheduling or administration. Others are simple and less costly, which might be all that’s necessary!

Especially since the COVID-19 pandemic started, we’ve all sampled a number of platforms. So, in this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re asking IT contractors which one you’d rather use.

Navigating the IT Contract Extension Process

Navigating the IT Contract Extension Process

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

Extensions are a major part of IT contract work and, at times, are as important as getting a new position. Not every contract is guaranteed to be extended but as a contractor, you should know how to go about getting that information and what to do with it.

When your contract is coming to an end, it is important to make sure that you are communicating with both your manager at your current client and the recruiter who you worked with to get you that position. The recruiter will always be working on their end to help and push extension discussions; however, depending on client processes, they may not have as easy access to those answers as you do.

Asking your manager and your recruiter at the same time about your extension will prompt both sides to begin the conversation sooner. Within the last month or two of your contract, start following up to see if there are any chances for an extension. Depending on the response, you can start to plan your next steps based on your preferences.

When There Will Be an Extension…

If this is a role that you want to continue in, make sure to let both your manager and recruiter know. It is especially important that you share that information with your recruiter so that they can work for you to get that extension done. Extensions and the process to approve them can sometimes take time and this is something that you don’t want to leave to the last minute. You want to make sure that both sides have all the information and that communication can be as clear as possible.

When You are Ready to Move On…

If you are coming to the end of your current contract and you are not interested in being extended, tell your recruiter by the last month of your contract. You want to give the recruiter the opportunity to let the client know that you will not be accepting any pending extensions so that you leave the position in the best standing. When possible, provide as much knowledge transfer and even referrals so your work can be transitioned as smoothly as possible. Communication about this is as important as the communication to get an extension.

When There Won’t Be an Extension…

Coming to the end of a contract without an extension can be daunting but there are things that you can do to make the transition of finding that new position easier. Keep irons in the fire! Know what is out there, even if you are still on the current contract, and report that to your favourite recruiters. Let them know what kind of roles you are hearing about in your network and what roles you will be looking for going forward.

What else is out there? Call your recruiter and ask them what roles they are working on and give them details on your current end date and what specifically you were doing on your current project. Clients want contractors that are ‘working,’ and if you are finishing up a current contract and getting your resume in front of hiring managers, it can be a benefit to them to know you are just finishing up and are ready to jump to the next opportunity.

No matter if you are being extended or not, the key is to be proactive. Your recruiter will help you find that next position or work hard on your extension process, but making sure they have ample time to do so will only benefit you in the long run.

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
gle

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.

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!)

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.

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?

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?”

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

3 Boundaries You Need to Set as an Independent Contractor

IT contracting and running your own business has a number of perks, including the fact that, generally, you get to set your own rules. It’s your business and as long as you deliver on your contract, the rest of the decisions are yours. All too often though, independent contractors fall into a trap of trying to please everybody and deliver the best service to earn that reference. You do more than you need to, which is fantastic for your client, but not doing yourself any services.

As an IT contractor, it’s important to set boundaries with a number of people — your client, colleagues, recruiters, friends, family and even yourself. Few people in your life are out to take advantage of you maliciously, but the more you give them, the more they’ll take. Eventually, you’ll find yourself doing things that don’t align with your goals. Here are three types of boundaries you should be setting as an IT contractor:

Time Boundaries

Probably the most common boundary we think of, and also the one most of us can improve. Your time is valuable, and even if a client is willing to pay you for the extra time worked, it doesn’t mean you need to work more hours than agreed to in your contract. Set office hours so clients know when your day begins and ends. Let them know which hours they should not expect to receive an email response.

Your office hours should not only be communicated with your client. First, setting these boundaries with yourself allows you to optimize your personal time outside of office hours. Next, other people in your life need to be aware of the hours you choose to work. Independent contractors enjoy flexibility with their hours, but friends and family sometimes think that means you’re available to help or chat at the drop of a dime. They too need to know that although you can take an hour off to run to the store, you’ve already scheduled that time for your client’s work.

Finally, time boundaries can be set at a more micro level as well. For example, when scheduling meetings, decide on the topic and set the exact length of time you intend to be on that call. Do not let the topic shift or the timeframe to change.

Ethical Boundaries

Your integrity must be a top priority if you want to continue hearing from recruiters about new opportunities and getting called back by clients. Similar to how your time can creep away because you keep giving a little more, there are countless stories of people who kept pushing their ethical boundaries slightly over the line until eventually they found themselves in an unimaginable dilemma.

One example of a little white lie that can get out of control is lying on a resume. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for recruiters to see this happen. Perhaps you expand the length of a project to fit the job description criteria or claim you have plenty of experience with a technology even though you only touched it briefly on a project. Regardless, if this continues to happen with every job application, these little stretches can turn into big lies. If recruiters don’t recognize them by comparing different resumes and your LinkedIn profile, it will surely stand out when you finally land a contract and can’t deliver. You’ll end up being blacklisted by that staffing agency and the client.

There are many other ethical boundaries that can be pushed and lead down a slippery slope. Billing for an extra hour or two when you weren’t actually working, discussing confidential client information with close friends (they won’t tell anyone, right?), and lying about other opportunities to negotiate a better rate — these all seem minor but can quickly come back to bite you.

Client Relationship Boundaries

Finally, it is critical to set boundaries with your client to prevent yourself from being deemed as an employee. This is important for both you and your client. Should the CRA do an audit and decide that you were, in fact, an employee, you will both be on the hook for some serious, unexpected payments.

Many of these boundaries are simple and just require you not to get sucked into the client’s every day activities. For example, those office hour boundaries we discussed above are a good example to show that you operate under your own business’s policies, as opposed to the client’s. Furthermore, you want to refrain from attending company events typically reserved for employee appreciation or using too many office supplies and equipment paid for by the client. Your accountant or lawyer can help you better understand what other boundaries you should be setting to help separate yourself from your client’s employees.

Setting boundaries is a wise idea to maintain your work-life balance while building a strong relationship with your client… but it’s easier said than done. Take time early-on to know understand your boundaries, so you’re not setting them on-the-fly. Then, be upfront, honest and clear about your boundaries with clients, recruiters and anybody else who needs to know them.

What other boundaries do you set as an independent contractor? How do you ensure they’re respected by clients, colleagues, recruiters and others in your life?