Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: IT Contracting

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

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting Business

Get the Best References and Testimonials for Your Independent Contracting BusinessA stunning testimonial can grab a recruiter or new client’s attention and get you considered for an interview before they begin to look at your qualifications. The right reference will seal the deal on a new contract and might even help negotiate a better offer. Above all, a well through-out approach to securing and displaying these assets is invaluable to your IT contracting business.

Testimonials and references are a marketing tool used by all businesses, from international corporations with thousands of employees and selling hundreds of products to independent contractors going from gig to gig. Regardless of the business size, it’s a struggle to get detailed references and not everyone uses them to their highest potential.

Having a list of great references is a mandatory requirement for any job seeker. It’s often advised to have a number of recent ones up your sleeve, guaranteeing you have a back-up if one is suddenly unavailable, a new client or recruiter requests something else, or you learn that a reference you thought liked you is actually giving some unpleasant feedback.

And what about testimonials? A great description from a client explaining your invaluable contributions to a project or from a recruiter vouching for your work ethic and dependability can go a long way if you use it correctly. For example, adding more chunks of text to your resume is bound to be ignored by a busy recruiter or hiring manager; however, glowing reviews fit perfectly on a LinkedIn profile or personal website and immediately add credibility to your story.

Given the benefits, what strategies can an independent contractor or technology professional use to source the best testimonials and references?

  • Develop a formal process. Work out the exact plan and approach of how and when you’ll ask for references for every single project you work on. It will get easier every time and you’ll end up with consistent information saved in one file, plus a variety to choose from to match on relevant project applications.
  • Keep notes. Make a note every time you receive a compliment or great feedback during a project. Remind your client of that when asking for their support. You’ll also have specific examples for your client to reference.
  • Do the legwork. It is certain that whoever you are asking is busy, so make their life as easy as possible. Prepare all of the details, contact information and a draft testimonial of what you think they would say. The only work left for them will be minor edits and a signature.
  • Understand what they can say. Recruiters and staffing agencies can rarely give a reference about your work because they were not there and their feedback is only second-hand. They may, however, confirm you worked on that project for a period of time, as well as speak to your ethics and work habits. Asking “Can you give me a reference” may not be successful, but phrasing it as “Would you be willing to speak to my work ethic and ease of working together” can have a positive impact on your relationship with future recruiters.
  • Use LinkedIn testimonials. Ask for testimonials on LinkedIn. Once you have them, display them proudly on the social network and ask the person for permission to use their words elsewhere in the future.
  • Timing is key. Asking for a reference or testimonial is generally not a good idea while simultaneously seeking payment or when you know the project went terribly wrong. Wait until you’ve added value and they’re already giving you positive feedback before you ask “Would it be alright if I shared your words on my marketing material?”
  • Endorse them. Your clients and recruiters are also running a business so testimonials are just as important for them as they are for you. Before or after you receive a reference, look them up on review sites like Google, Glassdoor, Indeed, Yelp or LinkedIn to tell other independent contractors how happy you were working with them.

For every reference or testimonial you receive, always remember to show appreciation. It doesn’t have to be complicated and showing gratitude for a favour is necessary to build relationships. Like so many situations, a hand-written thank you card goes such a long way, it’s incredible.

How do you solicit client and recruiter feedback?

Ensure You’re Working on a Secure Device… But Don’t Spend Time Securing It

The following guest post was provided by NPC

IT and professional contractors are the definitive mobile professional.  Moving between jobs that can be anywhere from a few days to a few years, mobility, adaptability and professionalism are essential to their success. They’ve been mastering the “gig economy” long before it was topical. Many contractors make exceptional money, better sometimes than their permanent-staff counterparts. The difference between the winners and losers may not be the luck of the draw on the positions they land, but how they organize and present themselves. Running an efficient and secure one-person office is critical to being able to focus on the work opportunity, and to maximize revenue generating hours.

But as solo entrepreneurs, how a contractor spends their time doing just that is important.  Like it is for any professional, time is money. It’s reasonably certain that someone who owns a car dealership no longer changes their own oil. Smart producers look carefully at their operational responsibilities and how they spend their time. They watch for opportunities to offload a task to someone that can do it faster-better-cheaper. Even though it may be a task they know how to do themselves, once the value of their skills overtakes the value of the task, they offload it.

As-a-Service models are related to and fast becoming as ubiquitous as Cloud Computing. They are great opportunities for professionals of all types to offload some of the time-consuming and low value work that is not only a bit of pain to keep up with, but takes away from either their revenue producing work, or, more importantly, precious personal and family time.

An example of this is NPC DataGuard’s secure managed computer offering. For a single monthly fee NPC will provide a professional with a top-of-line laptop, desktop or hybrid tablet, that is already sourced, configured, and secured with industry leading backup and security tools.  Giving the responsibility to someone else to provide a computer that is built, managed and monitored, always in warranty, with single-point-of-contact 24/7 support, can be a big time saver for the Contractor.

For those jobs that require the contractor to “BYOD”, being secure and protecting their business interests, and that of their clients, is essential. The level of security that can be achieved in these types of specialized models is exceptional. Fully encrypted and biometric access devices will impress those clients that require you to work on a secure device. As well, as an example, NPC DataGuard’s Pro product comes with $5M in privacy breach remediation insurance if an NPC ever failed to protect critical personal information you may work on for your client.

The impact on a contractor from a lost, stolen or compromised device while in a contract can be devastating.  What is your plan today for such an event? What’s your personal Business Continuity Plan?  A secure managed computer includes a full back-up completed each day into a secure data centre.  A lost, stolen or damaged device can be replaced with data restored, saving you countless hours doing it yourself and getting you back to work.

“As-a-Service” models offer products and services to ensure the contractor does not waste time on tasks that pay him or her less than what they can make, as well as levels of  technology performance that even an IT professional might find hard to achieve on their own.

Spending a lot of time buying, configuring and securing your own computer can now be a thing of the past. Key to driving top revenue is showing up professionally with military-grade security on a slick new computer and being able to focus on the opportunity at hand.

This guest post was submitted by our friends at NPC. Visit this page to learn more and to get a special offer for all of our readers.

Be the Hero Through a Technology Crisis

Sometimes, things go horribly, horribly wrong. We’re not talking “running out of Nutella” wrong or “my keyboard only types É instead of ?” kind of wrong. This post is about the type of crisis where a bug or error causes so much panic within the organization that productivity freezes, clients can’t be served and people start describing it the worse disaster in the company’s history.

When crisis strikes, you can either freeze and contribute nothing or work with the team to bring everything back on track as quickly as possible. Depending on your position, it may be up to you to lead that team through the crisis. Are you up for the task? If not, have a look at this quick video with some tips for getting through the turmoil (we recommend looking now, rather than waiting until disaster strikes). Take these ideas and understand your own strengths and weaknesses, then develop a plan to ensure you’re ready to step up and be the hero.

Contractor Quick Poll: How do independent contractors cover their medical expenses

Towards the end of last year, we shared a post about health insurance options for independent contractors in Canada. It described two specific routes if you’re looking for coverage – standard insurance plans similar to those typically offered by employers, and Private Health Services Plans (PHSPs) which allow your contracting business to provide a non-taxable reimbursement for health expenses. Of course, there is also the option to forego any health insurance, possibly because you’re already fully covered through a spouse or you’d rather risk that any medical expenses will be less than insurance expenses. This month’s contractor quick poll seeks to find the most common practice among Canadian IT contractors.

Help Your Clients Run Better Meetings with This Infographic

How many of the meetings you recently attended were 100% productive and 0% waste of time? If you answered all of them, you’re either a dirty liar or the most fortunate IT contractor in the world.

Meetings are a necessary evil when working on technology projects. Afterall, teams must get together to collaborate, exchange ideas and update on progress. Surely you can make those meetings more productive, though. According to this infographic created by CBTS, ineffective meetings cost the U.S. economy up to $283 billion each year, with ineffective communication being one of the major culprits. The infographic goes on to describe technologies that hurt communication in meetings and suggests tech that will help make the most of your meetings.

If you’re looking to bring suggestions to your client so they can be more respectful of everyone’s time and increase efficiency, this infographic is a great start.

Learn to master meetings with the right technology

How to Deal with Difficult People on Software Projects

It takes all kinds of people to make the world work. Teams filled with different personalities, approaches and ways of thinking are the reasons for the incredible innovations that humans have created over time. If you’ve ever been on one of these teams, you know that there is also a downside — difficult people. For all the strengths and benefits that diversity brings to a team, it’s impossible to avoid clashing personalities.

Difficult people are especially easy to find throughout a software project. Product Managers, Designers, Project Managers, Development Managers, Developers and QAs come in all sorts of forms. Regardless of your role in the team, you need to know how to work with each one in order to achieve that common goal you all share.

Earlier this year, a team member received a newsletter from Recruiting Brainfood that contained a link to this fun, interactive page by Neil on Software. It’s embedded below so you can play around, or visit the page directly to get the complete experience. If you’ve been walking on egg shells because of an angry co-worker or pulling your hair out trying to get a teammate to do their part, this tool is your answer.

How to Organize Your Business Accounting

Everybody organizes themselves differently based on how their mind works, their own routines and what will ensure their productivity is maximized. For IT contractors, those skills come in handy in a number of places — project work, job applications, past projects and reference information, and the dreadful accounting.

Many people we speak with admit that organizing accounting is not a strength compared to their other skills that make them in high-demand with clients. Very often, that’s only because they are not sure where to start. If that sounds like the situation you find yourself in, and especially if you’re a visual kind of person, then we strongly recommend watching this video by Alicia Butler Pierre. She is a small business owner who has perfected her own organization of accounting records. While you may not be able to copy her exactly, you are sure to get a few great tips from her.

What to Do When Your Contract is Suddenly Terminated

Nearly every IT contractor experiences it at least once in their career. You’re working hard on a contract for your client and suddenly you get the phone call from your recruitment agency — your contract is being terminated. You may have expected it, but other times, it comes out of the blue and knocks you down. Shocked as you are and with all of the emotions flooding, how you react speaks volumes about your character and will impact your future contract opportunities.

Right Away

What to Do When Your Contract is Suddenly Terminated

A sudden contract end can be a slap in the face. When you’re caught off guard, a mix of questions and emotions run through you and it’s okay to be angry. Still, as an independent contractor, you also need to remain professional and keep that solid reputation you’ve been building all of these years.

Fighting the news rarely helps, so instead, work with the client and recruiter to pass off knowledge and complete the necessary steps so you can all move on. During the process, ask questions to understand the situation and circumstances of the early contract end. Are there business factors beyond the control of your immediate manager and recruiter? Was the entire project cancelled? Or were there issues with the client team? These answers will help you learn for future situations and they will also help you explain the abrupt end to future recruiters and clients.

As things settle down, take a bit of time to reflect. This is a great time to evaluate your goals and skills to decide what kind of contract you’d like to work on next. Do you need to brush up on any skills? Is there an industry or project you should go after? Are you still happy with your recruiter? Is contracting still for you or is it time to switch back into a permanent position?

While it’s not necessary to jump right back into the search for a new contract immediately, laying the groundwork recommended. Update your status on LinkedIn and, if it’s not already done, switch your job search preferences on LinkedIn to “Open to new opportunities.” Update your resume as quickly as possible while your project is still fresh in your mind (eliminate any emotions) and upload it to your favourite job boards. These steps will have recruiters looking for you before you even know of the contracts available. Finally, get in touch with a manager or fellow contractor with whom you are still on good terms to ask if they will act as a reference.

Starting the Contract Search

Before starting the in-depth search for your next contract, be prepared to talk about the sudden contract end. If a recruiter or client asks about the shorter contract or how it ended, have a professional, objective response prepared. That means having the humility to own up to any short comings and having the professionalism to refrain from any negativity. A bad attitude can burn bridges and make you appear to be a risky contractor.

Everything else is business as usual! Start networking, applying to opportunities, meeting with recruiters and doing what you do best to find that next gig!

Be Prepared

If you were caught off guard this time, don’t let it happen again. The pure nature of independent contracting means that sometimes mandates end without notice. Always be networking with industry professionals and recruiters to know what’s happening in the market. Take interviews, learn about opportunities and be aware of competitive rates, even if you’re on what you think will be a long-term contract. It’s also prudent to plan financially and ensure there is a reserve of cash available if you suddenly find yourself without income.

Why Software Projects Fail (and what you can do about it)

Why Software Projects Fail (and what you can do about it)IT professionals, project managers and software developers accept that failure is a natural part of innovation. In fact, a survey published a couple years ago by Geneca found that 75% of software projects will fail. That’s a high number!

While accepting failure is a natural part of a successful IT organization’s culture, leaders also have to be aware that some failure is preventable and comes with high costs. This is one reason they hire IT contractors — experts in their field that should minimize the risk on a project. As great as that is for your ability to hike your rate a bit, it also puts more pressure on you.

Thomas Smale, founder of FE International, recently published an article for Entrepreneur that discusses 6 common reasons a software project fails. Have a look to see if there are any ideas you can bring back to your client next time you’re called in to help make a project successful:

  1. Insufficient time to complete the project
    This is usually caused by companies having unrealistic and arbitrary deadlines because they’re in a rush to get the project completed. It is suggested to do enough planning upfront that will give developers all of the scope and parameters to work most efficiently.
  2. Inadequate planning
    Speaking of planning, that’s the second overall reason projects fail according to Smale. Lack of time, staff, resources and budget all can cause things to go wrong. He recommends senior management stay involved from start to finish so if inevitable change happens during the project, sign-off is quick, informed, and easy.
  3. Unclear project requirements
    Again, planning becomes a keyword, but this time, enough upfront conversation among all users so developers have a clear understanding about what they need to do.
  4. Too many people assigned to the project
    Logically, more help should speed things up, but Smale cautions that it can result in failure. On top of higher costs, there are more opportunities for misunderstandings, unclear communications, or inconsistent code.
  5. Lack of testing
    As time starts to slip (usually due to lack of planning), testing can be the first casualty, resulting in broken features, crashes or security breaches. It is instead suggested to test each component as it is completed throughout the entire development lifecycle.
  6. Failure to find a good project manager
    If you’re Project Manager, you have probably have experience entering into a broken project. This may be due to an incompetent consultant or because the company assigned the task to an internal person without the experience. It’s important to recognize the early signs of poor project management so it can be rectified before the project goes completely sideways.

As you read through the 6 points above, it should come as no surprise to you that failure to plan is a root cause of many software project disasters. Therefore, understanding a client’s plan (or if they have one at all) is always encouraged before a project begins and a quality question to ask your recruiter. What kind of software project failures have you seen?

The Connections Between Gaming and IT Contracting

Since the original Atari hit living rooms more than 40 years ago, gaming has been a way-of-life for millions of people around the world. While at one-point video games were known as time-wasters for youth and burn-outs, modern games have transformed far beyond the 8-world adventure that was Super Mario Bros. Today, people of all ages from all backgrounds game and there are proven benefits for young people as they develop and adults as they build careers.

The Critical Skills Youth Can Build from Video Games

The Connections Between Gaming and IT ContractingA recent Globe & Mail article highlights a study by a University of British Columbia economist, Nicole Fortin, that found a correlation between video games and higher math scores among teenagers. Fortin saw that video games are not only a strong predictor of future careers in finance, computer science or STEM (areas forecast to dominate the job market), but they also benefit students with attention deficit issues. In a separate Psychology Today article, Peter Gray, ph.D, agreed there are career and personal benefits to young people playing video games — cognitively, creatively, motivationally, emotionally and socially.

The rising popularity in video games has also given way for the eSports trend. In the same way that schools and recreational groups have competitive sports teams, many implemented eSports teams for kids to compete in video games, and it’s a huge thing! According to Teched Up Teacher, nearly 500 colleges in the United States support eSports at the club level and, even in Montreal, a high school launched a specialized eSports program streamed specifically for aspiring pro-gamers.

Students benefit from eSports for all the same reasons they gain a brighter future participating in sports and other extracurricular activities. The game skills themselves are just a small piece, as they also build team, social, emotional, and time management skills. Even those not playing the game participate by managing social media, casting games, and overseeing the team’s Twitch account.

How Video Games Can Help Your IT Career Today

The benefits of gaming extend beyond building skills of our future leaders. In fact, plenty of research and experiences point to IT professionals’ careers advancing as a result of this hobby. Dev.to published an article this past January with compelling arguments for a number of skills that can be improved through gaming. The nature of the most popular games requires one to communicate with people around the world, work together, and solve problems as a team, all while under pressure. This results in improved soft skills like communication, leadership, alertness, decision-making, stress management, and strategy.

So, bragging about your gaming hobby might just be something that progressive recruiters will find attractive. A study at Missouri University of Science and Technology looked specifically at World of Warcraft gamers and discovered they share improved traits of extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Furthermore, gamers are more likely to have computer-mediated communication skills and technology-readiness skills. Essentially, the study found that the more achievements you have unlocked in a game, the more technology savvy you are in real life.

There continues to be different views on whether or not gaming truly does improve the skills of an IT professional or if being a gamer is a sign of a skilled worker. Just read through this extensive Quora discussion, which is filled with mixed opinions. Some IT hiring managers say they specifically look for gaming in an applicant’s profile, where other very skilled developers believe it to be a complete waste of time.

Are you a gamer? If so, do you believe it helps in your career and builds the skills needed to serve your clients? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave them in the comments below.