Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Client Relations

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

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?

The Video Meeting Gone Wrong That We’d All Love to Join

In the last few months, leaders have been forced to manage their teams completely online. Team meetings, performance reviews, project updates — they’re all being done by video call. On top of the natural communication challenges from this new set-up, some team members are absolute nightmares during these virtual calls. They don’t focus, can’t figure out the technology and seem to have no etiquette at all.

This quick video by mrandrewcotter shows a perfect example of a company meeting that would make a manager want to rip their hair out. Fortunately for the subordinates, their puppy dog eyes will always get them out of trouble and are guaranteed to make you smile!

Stop Playing the “Blame Game” and Start Finding a Solution

Stop Playing the "Blame Game" and Start Finding a Solution

The “Blame Game” is a habit that humans pick-up at a young age. Kids are quick to learn how to pin their mistakes on their siblings, cousins or any other sucker who can get them out of trouble. As they get older, students push responsibility for their failures and shortcomings onto teachers, coaches and peers. You would think that as we mature this behaviour stops, but many adults are guilty of it… some more than others. We’ve all had those colleagues who are adept at dodging accountability and shifting responsibility — they’re experts at professional dodgeball!

There’s no single reason people point blame at others, whether it’s intentional or subconscious. It can be a natural form of survival as people try to hide their mistakes to keep their job and avoid consequences. Serial blaming may stem from insecurities, jealousy, office politics or simple dislike for others. It’s mostly irrational yet still all too common.

Blame culture, in the workplace or any other aspect your life, is harmful. The aggressive and attacking behaviour hurts feelings, damages relationships, and destroys reputations. It’s also contagious, meaning when one person starts laying blame, it begins a vicious circle where others get angry and point blame back. In the end, everybody’s now sidestepped accountability and, even worse, absolutely no progress is made on the project at-hand.

Putting an End to the Blame Game

The first step to ending this toxic behaviour is to take a look at your own habits. Things go wrong and mistakes happen, it’s a natural part of life. For IT contractors, a bad interview, not getting the interview at all, a project going off the rails — these are all cases where it’s easy to cast blame on the recruiter, manager or team member. While it may be true, there are some important steps to take in order to remain professional:

  • Point to Facts, Not People. Maintain the big picture of why things went wrong, including the process and environment. Avoid pointing to an individual unless it is absolutely something that was their responsibility.
  • Admit When You’re at Fault. Understand that nothing was 100% outside your control. Take an objective look at what failed and figure out what you could have done differently to prevent that situation and take ownership.
  • Know Your Responsibilities from the Start. Great communication prevents so many needless problems. When responsibilities are clarified at the beginning of a project, it’s less likely there will be mistakes and, if there are, accountability is clear. A tense argument over fault won’t be necessary.

While you should refrain from needlessly pointing blame, the same is true on the other side of the scenario — don’t be the person who always accepts responsibility for somebody else’s errors. IT contractors are in a position where you get blamed for more than necessary. It’s easy for clients and their employees to push responsibility for failures onto you. Even lousy recruiters will tell their boss that you flubbed the interview when, in reality, they didn’t prepare you properly. Sure, they all should have been more prepared and communicated better, but why damage their internal relationships when there’s a perfectly good contractor to use as a scapegoat? This is where preparation and documentation are key. Double-check responsibilities, ask many detailed questions, and confirm agreements by email, ensuring that if things go wrong, you can back up all of your work.

Whether working on a project or searching for a job, things are going to go wrong. Finding and solving the root of a problem is a difficult process that often includes accepting responsibility and addressing other people’s shortfalls… all without hurting relationships. That is not easy. What tricky situations have you found yourself in? Do you think you could have handled them better?

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

Working Remotely? Secure your devices with these 5 easy security tips

This guest post was written and submitted by TechWarn

These are very strange times we are living in. Many governments have implemented a stay-at-home order meaning more and more people are working remotely. Studies show that in mid-March 2020, more than twice the number of North Americans were working at home compared to the same period in 2019.

Companies spend thousands of dollars a year on security measures to protect their systems from cyberattacks. But with employees turning their kitchen table into a home office and working on a home network, how can they follow company protocols and protect sensitive information?

Encrypt Data

One of the best security tips for staying safe when working remotely is to secure devices with a VPN. A virtual private network creates a secure connection and encrypts data, making it unreadable to prying eyes. VPNs can be installed on individual computers and smart devices, which also helps protect and shield online activity when using public wifi.

The Internet of Things (IoT) now means that many devices are connected to a home network. Think gaming consoles, security cameras, baby monitors, and AI-powered virtual assistants. It can be difficult to install a VPN directly on these devices, so protect everything connected to the home wifi with a VPN router.

Antivirus

Your home computer is now being used to store and amend work documents that, without installing the proper security, are easier for hackers to steal or destroy. The antivirus software available for home installation may not be as powerful as those used by businesses but it can prevent malware from attacking devices. Even free antiviruses significantly reduce the risk of attack and should stop you from getting in trouble with the boss.

Update Programs and Operating Systems

The security risks to operating systems, programs, and applications continually change as cybercriminals look for new ways to overcome protocols. Unfortunately, this is often easy as users are too lazy to update software.

In 2016, a ransomware attack known as WannaCry affected 200,000 computers running an out of date version of Microsoft Windows. Ensuring devices and software, especially those used for work purposes, are up-to-date with the latest security patches, should help prevent these kinds of cyberattacks from happening in the future.

Use Strong Router Passwords

Default passwords for routers are often very weak and a quick search on the internet is all it takes to find them. Hackers use these defaults by writing them into the code of malicious software. If a router becomes infected, it becomes a bot, allowing criminals to read all data sent over the network. Always change the default password to a minimum of 12 characters with a mixture of numbers, letters, and symbols.

Always Use Corporate IT Services

Many companies have IT services set up for employees to use while working from home. Corporate email systems, internal messaging platforms, and video conferencing tools have all been vetted and secured by IT departments and provide colleagues the tools to communicate.

It can be tempting to use instant messaging and video meeting platforms outside of the corporate setup. Zoom has become a popular platform for holding virtual meetings but a breach in its security lead to Zoom bombing, with uninvited guests accessing meetings and posting pornographic images. Always use the systems that are already in place to avoid unauthorized assess to company and personal data.

Working remotely may be the new norm and no one knows when employees will return to the workplace. In the meantime, stay home, stay safe, and be sure to work as securely as possible.

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

5 Challenges of Starting a New Contract from Home (and some ideas to overcome them)

Over the past months, businesses across Canada have adapted to having entire teams working remotely. It’s presenting new obstacles, but it isn’t stopping projects from moving forward nor is it preventing IT contracts from starting. Consequently, we’ve had a number of consultants express challenges of their own as they start new gigs with new clients while working remotely, specifically because they’re getting a completely different first-day experience.

There are always difficulties that can arise on the first day of your contract, but the current situation has brought some brand-new ones. Here are 5 challenges some of Eagle’s new contractors have experienced, as well as some suggestions on how you can approach them:

Getting to Know the Team

Who’s who? Who does what and how do they fit into this project? The first few days of a new contract usually include a lot of time meeting the team and understanding each individual’s role — a task that’s generally easier to do in-person. Now, you’re confined to web conferencing and collaboration tools, which makes it difficult, but not impossible. You’ll need to go above and beyond to get to know people since you won’t have those watercooler or lunchtime conversations. Use your webcam when possible to make a more personal connection and so you can put faces to names. Also, follow them on LinkedIn and reach out to people individually, asking questions and learning about who they are, what they do, and what makes them tick.

Setting-Up on the Client’s Systems

Be prepared to have certain software already installed on your computer (which conferencing tool do they use?) and you’ll probably also need the ability to log into their system. Don’t wait until the last minute to get set-up or you can lose an entire day of productivity. Reach out to your client before the start date to understand all of the requirements and try to get your credentials early. Then spend some time a few days before to set up your workspace. Make sure you have the right equipment and applications downloaded and test them to make sure that they’re working. It’s also wise to be up a little earlier on your first day so you can get connected and get off on the right foot.

The Client May Not Be Prepared

Some clients aren’t ready for you on the best of days. Now that they’ve been thrown into managing their teams remotely, you can bet they are also dealing with more challenges. We shared a similar post on this topic a couple months ago and much of the advice still applies. Be prepared to take matters into your own hands and ask for some reading material to familiarize yourself with the organization and the project. It’s also a great opportunity to quickly reach out to a few people to get to know them.

Proving Yourself is More Challenging

Not just the first day, but throughout the contract, showing the client that you are working and providing value is going to require more effort because they will not physically see you being productive. On that first day, ask questions to understand and define your goals and targets. Then you can prepare detailed reports throughout the contract that match-up. You’re still going to need timesheet approval to get paid, so this will help minimize disputes with a client who is reviewing all spending with a little more scrutiny.

Building Your Work-from-Home Routine

Forget it being the first day or that this is might be unchartered territory for both you and your client, people working remotely have been trying to balance their routines for years. You need to consciously develop a plan that prevents you from either not being productive due to all of the distractions around your home, or the other extreme, working too much because it’s always right there. Build yourself a distraction-free workspace where you know you can focus on work and, if possible, close it off to yourself outside of working hours. You can also set specific work times, including breaks, that will ensure you get the right balance of work and personal life at home.

Have you discovered any new challenges as organizations adapt to a new way of doing business during the COVID-19 pandemic? We’d love to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them. Please share in the comments below.

Change the Negative Attitude That’s Destroying Your Career

Change the Negative Attitude That's Destroying Your Career

When we look back at all the reasons contractors have created a bad reputation for themselves, one common theme sticks out across the stories — a negative attitude. We all have bad days but there are some IT professionals we meet who are plagued with a negative attitude that hinders their relationships with not just recruiters, but clients too. In fact, there are situations when clients have asked us never to present an individual to them again because their demeanour was too sour.

Examples of negative contractors stand out through the entire job search and contracting process. Some destroy their first impressions with rude interactions when a recruiter first reaches out. Rude behaviour like immediately demanding “What’s the rate?”, swearing or hanging up mid-conversation are all behaviours that almost guarantee you will not be hearing from that recruiter again, no matter how much of a fit you are for the next role. You might argue that intrusive phone calls from random recruiters in the middle of the day warrants a harsh response, but there are certainly more polite ways to handle the human being on the other end of the phone.

Then there are the times a negative attitude suddenly appears from the qualified IT contractor who we’re working with to submit to a client. These individuals were amazing in the initial screening but transition into a monster. They refuse advice, telling us their resume is “good enough” and when they get in front of the client for an interview, they immediately start bashing previous clients and sometimes even the potential client! Then, when the inevitable decline comes in, they throw the blame back on the recruiter, claiming they were badly prepared or misinformed about the opportunity.

And finally, the most common example of negative attitudes that hinder a contractor’s career come when they’re at the client site. It’s usually something that doesn’t come out immediately, but then the client informs us that the individual is intolerable. The negative person takes a hostile approach to dealing with confrontation or has a “my way or the highway” frame of mind. In other words, customer service on the contractor’s part is clearly lacking.

Do any of these examples sound like you? Have you noticed that people are calling you less and less for opportunities? It might be time to take control and bring a more positive approach to your work. Here are a few tips on how to do that:

  • Recognize the negative attitudes you have and when they’re most prevalent. This is the most difficult part of the process and requires some uncomfortable self-awareness.
  • Identify the cause. Are you unhappy in other parts of your life? Are you under pressure or frustrated and reacting with too much emotion?
  • Understand how negativity is affecting your career. Recognizing the bridges you’ve burned will give you motivation and goals to create a change.
  • Evaluate how you speak. You may think you’re a positive person, but if you think back to conversations you’ve had throughout the day, your wording may have been perceived as miserable.
  • Force yourself to use positive speech and positive self-talk. Consciously adding more positive words and eliminating the negative words from your vocabulary will shift your way of thinking and your natural conversations.
  • Put yourself in positive situations. Indulge in more comedy, read more uplifting stories and, most importantly, surround yourself with positive people. You’ll naturally pick up a different approach.
  • Take on a “Change” mentality instead of being a victim. Rather than get angry at a situation, ask questions to see how you can make it better.

All of us slip up here and there. Sometimes you’re having a bad day and, frankly, sometimes you have to deal with ridiculous people who need to be put in their place. What will differentiate you as a negative or positive contractor is how you deal with each situation. Carefully thinking about your wording, recognizing when you mess up and apologizing, as well as understanding other people’s bad days will all move you into a more favourable spot with both recruiters and clients.