Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Professional Development

Professional development advice for Canadian IT contractors and independent consultants working in technology.

Networking During a Pandemic

Networking During a Pandemic

Crystal Nicol By Crystal Nicol,
Director of Delivery, Strategy and Development at Eagle

A couple years ago, I shared a post here about the benefits of networking events and why it’s a good idea to attend them. Today, with physical distancing measures due to the pandemic, face-to-face networking events are non-existent, but nurturing relationships remains prevelant. Everything we do now in our networks has become more important than ever, including sending emails, making calls, texting, sending a social message, etc. How we make people feel during this is going to remain longer during these unstable times.

Remember, face to face networking may be on pause but our relationship building isn’t. The contacts you make have to be more personal so think of communications you can send out that YOU would be happy to receive. There are a number of simple gestures that give a personal touch and will do more to build and strengthen your relationships, rather than sending out impersonalized mass communications. For example:

  • Wishing someone a happy birthday
  • Reposting their LinkedIn share
  • Sending them a text just to say hello and to check in
  • Sending an article that may be of interest to them
  • Sharing helpful market information

There are also a number of virtual conferences happening that you can still take advantage of as they offer the opportunity to “virtually” network. For example, email speakers after the event to ask questions or offer feedback. Or, if there is a particular area you are interested in, ask them if they’d be willing to brainstorm or have a brief discussion with you about it. It may be different and uncomfortable for you, but do your best to bring value to the virtual conference in any creative way you can.

The main goal here is to take the risk and put yourself out there. Today, creating and maintaining virtual relationships is the key to your business success and building a strong network.

Are You Keeping Up Compared to Other Developers Around the World?

Are You Keeping Up Compared to Other Developers Around the World?

The Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey was released this Spring and, as usual, delivered tons of statistics about developers, what they’re working on, how they’re thinking and where their future is going. One chart they published is of particular interest to any developer looking to remain competitive in the job market.

Stack Overflow asked developers how frequently they learned a new language or framework and the results were a testament to how fast innovations are happening in tech. Around three-quarters of all respondents — professional developers and hobbyists — learn something new at least once a year, and around half of those people said it’s closer to every few months.

Stack Overflow Survey Results: How Frequently do developers learn a new language or framework?
Stack Overflow Survey Results: How Frequently do developers learn a new language or framework?

What is Learning?

Learning can be as extensive or as simple as you’d like, depending on your goals and time available. As long as you’re expanding your mind and putting something into your brain, you’re making yourself more valuable to future clients. For example:

  • In the case of this Stack Overflow survey, respondents are saying they learn a new language or framework. We’ve shared loads of resources with suggestions on where you can pick-up these new skills.
  • You can also force yourself into learning as you go by taking on new challenges that require you to do some research and solve different problems. The Stack Overflow survey also summarized where developers turn to when they need to solve such problems.
  • There are tons of skills you already have, but might have gotten rusty. If you maintain a certification, you’re forced to keep up on skills, but how many others did you learn a few years ago and haven’t used since. It’s great to go back and refresh those every once in a while.
  • At the other extreme, some professionals look to get into a brand-new field of work which often requires more formal training. That comes with more financial and time investment, but pays off.

The Next Step is Getting There

Regardless of what you want to learn, nothing is going to happen unless you create a plan that will put you where you want to be. A high-level roadmap might be:

  1. Decide exactly what you want to do. Maybe it’s based on in-demand skills or just something you’ve been interested in picking up. Pinpoint exactly what it is you want to learn and where you want to be.
  2. Find Out What You Need to Get There. If you’re looking to expand on a language you’re already familiar with, a few websites and weekend exercises may suffice. As noted above, if you have a more ambitious goal that requires extensive learning, you’ll need to investigate formal training.
  3. Build Your Timeline (with milestones). Knowing what to do is one thing, but doing it is a whole other challenge. Create a schedule of when you’ll learn what, including milestones to keep it from being overwhelming. Now you know when to set time aside to learn and ensure you’re on track to accomplish your goal.

Learning is such a valuable and necessary task for an IT professional who wants to keep up in a fast-pace, innovative world. As the chart above shows, the majority of your competitors are developing their skills so if you’re not, then you’re quickly falling behind.

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?

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

You Need to Have a Routine When You Work from Home

When the COVID-19 pandemic really became a reality for Canada in March, millions of Canadians were forced to work from home on a full-time basis, and many were setting up home offices for the first time. It was a big change, and understandably, productivity was expected to slip as we adjusted to a new way of doing this.

Eagle’s COVID-19 resources have had no shortage of work-from-home advice to help you get set-up and the Internet in general is overflowing with information to help you out. So, it shouldn’t come as a shock that three months later, clients and employers expect that you should now be working at full capacity. If you’re not there yet, then it’s time to build a routine to get yourself moving. And you need to do it now.

Routine will bring a sense of normality back to your day. It helps you build a regular schedule and to-do lists which are going to prevent procrastination and help you avoid bad habits overall. You’ll also begin to develop some great habits and your productivity will return to a level you can be proud of.

Having a routine in place is also critical to your own health. Indumathi Bendi, M.D., a physician at Piedmont Healthcare recently told Apartment Therapy “Carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

If you seek out expert advice on “the best morning routines” or “#1 work from home routines to make you a star” you’re going to be overwhelmed with different opinions and theories. The truth is, your routine is going to be different from anyone else’s. It will depend on your personal life (do you have kids hanging around the house?), your personal productive periods (everybody is more productive in different parts of the day), and hundreds of other variables unique to you.

Your best routine is going to mirror the regular work day you used to have — from waking up to commuting to working hours — as much as possible. Here are some elements to consider when creating your work-from-home routine:

  • Your Workspace: Your bed or the couch is not going to cut it. Even if you live in a small apartment without a private office, you still need a small area with a desk/table to keep organized.
  • Start/End Times: Setting specific “office hours” for yourself helps you build work/life balance and clients will know exactly when you’re available.
  • Breaks: Plan a regular lunch break and coffee breaks throughout your day, just as you’d have at the office.
  • Exercise: If you used to go to the gym in the morning or after work, continue to build those workouts into your routine at home. Don’t forget that walk you used to take from your car to the office. Even that void can be filled with a quick walk around the block.
  • Sleep: It’s easy to get into the habit of sleeping in a bit longer when you no longer have to worry about a commute or spending so much time getting ready. But that will creep up on you and, when the time comes, returning to regular office hours is going to be extremely difficult. Continue to wake up at the same time you used to and use that new-found time for yourself. Exercising, meditating or connecting with people are all amazing things we didn’t used to have time for but now the opportunity is there!

Your daily routine doesn’t need to be written down in stone and followed aggressively, but some sort of structure and predictability will do wonders for your productivity and mental health combined. What does your daily work-from-home routine look like?

How Many of These 79 MS Word Shortcuts Do You Already Know?

Microsoft Word is filled with handy keyboard shortcuts that can help you get through writing long documents much quicker. Everybody knows a few but how many of us take advantage of everything that’s available?

GoSkills put together this cheat sheet of 79 Word shortcuts for both PCs and Macs. Some are basic and obvious but others will blow your mind. There might even be a few that you’ve hit accidentally and then sat in a state of confusion as to why Word did what it did. Regardless, this infographic will be helpful next time you’re writing a resume, putting together a technical document or submitting a report. Enjoy!

How Many of These 79 MS Word Shortcuts Do You Already Know?

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.

Handling a Recruiter’s Unexpected Cold Call While Maintaining a Positive Relationship

 

Handling a Recruiter's Unexpected Cold Call While Maintaining a Positive Relationship

IT contractors who have been in the community for long enough know that cold calls from tech recruiters are inevitable. Sometimes you welcome them, other times you find them a nuisance, but one thing you’ve learned is that they’re not going away.

Naturally, we prefer that you embrace these calls. Recruiters dream of calling a contractor who answers the phone on the first ring, drops everything to listen intently about the opportunity, provides all the information required and gratefully thanks them before hanging up and emailing an updated resume right away. Ha! We also understand the reality that you’re a busy professional receiving calls from other agencies too and you simply don’t have time to humour us all.

Great recruiters understand that they need to build respectful relationships with IT contractors if they want to do business with them in the future. Similarly, smart contractors are aware that it’s wise to build relationships with recruiters today if you want to increase your chances of getting a gig tomorrow.

Why Are Recruiters Cold Calling You?

When a recruiter contacts you out of the blue, they might have a specific job opportunity and are wondering if you’re interested or they may have some intelligence that a company or several companies will soon be looking for contractors with your unique skillset. In any case, they are not calling to offer you a job on the spot, but rather want to understand your current status and if you’re open to opportunities.

The Best Way to Handle a Recruiter’s Cold Call

If you pick up the phone and find a recruiter on the other end, the first thing is to remain polite, even if you’d rather not hear from them. Remember, it’s always important to build that relationship… plus they’re human and deserve respect. If you don’t have time but are interested, ask to reschedule at a better time. If you’re not interested at all, let them know that quickly as well, to save everyone some time.

When you have a few minutes and know you’ll be looking for a contract in the coming months, we recommend taking the time to listen to what the recruiter is asking about. A respectful recruiter will keep it brief and transparent. A few questions you should be prepared to answer include:

  • When are you available to start your next contract?
  • What industries and/or disciplines do you prefer?
  • What’s your current rate range?
  • What area(s) of the city do you prefer to work in?

If You Choose to Ignore That Call

Every recruiter would love it if you answered the phone but we understand if you don’t. Especially In today’s world, an unfamiliar number is usually somebody trying to sell you something or a computer notifying you that you’re under arrest. That said, the recruiter is almost definitely going to leave a voicemail and/or follow-up with an email. Do your best to respond promptly. Like you would on the call, briefly let them know your interests and availability for your next contract. Sending an updated resume is always a nice touch. Or, if you’re happy where you are with no intentions to leave, be open about that as well.

Every relationship has micro-opportunities that allow you influence it in a positive or negative way. A simple 3-minute phone call can make a huge difference in whether or not you hear from a recruiter down the road.

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

Build a Stellar Client Relationship by Managing Realistic Expectations

A reality IT recruiters face is that some gigs are going to go wrong. The contractor and client get off to a good start, and then a few months in, we get a call that things aren’t working out. There are a number of reasons IT contracts crash and burn — personalities, lack of skills, poor leadership — but many times, we learn that the situation could have been avoided if more clear expectations had been set up front. Obviously, the contract between all parties defines the project and deliverables, but a good working relationship has to be built on more than is typically written in a contract.

Failing to define realistic expectations with your client, your team, or anybody involved with an IT contract can lead to damaged relationships and unnecessary conflict. As the project progresses, all parties may make assumptions that drift further and further apart. Suddenly, when one person thinks everything is running smoothly, another is disappointed and angry at the status.

A standard contract will define the final deliverables, expected hours to be worked, location, duration and rate. But there are always other smaller expectations to be discussed upfront with your client. For example, you might ask your client for more details about the final deliverables, their own goals for the project, and milestones they would like to see met. It’s also the time to be upfront about your own limitations to avoid and scope creep. For example, which days you are unable to work and which skills you do not have (and never claimed to have).

Expectations are not limited to complete projects and should be set on a micro level as well. One example is meetings. These are frequently referred to as a waste of time because proper expectations were not set. If everybody attending is aware of the goals, desired outcome, expected duration and who will be in attendance, it not only helps them prepare, but you know if the meeting was successful at the end. When it’s a waste of time, everybody will understand why and can work to improve it.

How Can You Set Realistic Expectations with Your Client?

The earlier you can set expectations to ensure everyone is working towards the same, common goal, the more efficient the project will be. Here are a few tips to get you on your way:

  • Don’t assume anything. Put everything on the table and ensure you both clearly understand each other’s expectations, desired outcomes and definitions of success. Understand what’s a must-have and what’s nice-to-have.
  • Eliminate the fluff. We’ve posted many times about realistic SMART goals and expectations should follow the same guidelines.
  • Build your communication skills. It is impossible to understand expectations if you cannot communicate your own. You also have no control over other people’s communication abilities, so yours need to make up for their shortfalls.
  • Confirm it all in writing. Not everything has to be in a formal contract, but a follow-up email summarizing the agreed expectations can be invaluable.
  • Provide updates. Things are going to go wrong and off-track, and that’s ok. But if expectations were never adjusted, there is going to be disappointment when reality is revealed.

What expectations do you set with your clients before beginning a project? What about with your recruiter? Are there any discussions you like to have upfront before moving forward on an application? Please share your opinion in the comments below.

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Spring is Sprung, the Grass is Riz… I Wonder Where the Magic Is? Coping with COVID-19 Accommodations

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

In Canada, winters are tough and as soon as we get past March, we begin looking forward to Spring… more light, warmer temperatures, a sense of waking optimism! That’s the magic of this season. Or, it has been in years past. This season feels a little (a lot??) different. Social distancing, doubt about careers, and worry for loved ones all contribute to a significant headwind against the optimism that Spring typically brings.

Some people take this all in stride — a grand adventure! “It’s not the situation, it is how you choose to react to it!” That’s fine and good for the folks who have the wherewithal to adopt this mental state and if you are one of these, consider yourself lucky. Mental Health has been given increasing levels of press these past years, thanks to the advent of Mental Health Week/Month and advancing education on this important subject. Eagle supports this by running a “Not Myself Today” campaign each year and, during these COVID-19 accommodations we are extending this. We’re working hard to ensure none of our staff are “left behind” struggling to cope with isolation, loneliness, anxiety, or stress. Sometimes the solution isn’t just adopting a tough mental attitude, people need more assistance.

As contractors, you are both “regular employees” and “business owners” With this, the stressors can be double. Uncertainty as a contractor isn’t a new thing, but this COVID-19 world that we live in elevates uncertainty to levels that can be hard to cope with. If you are struggling with this, you need to recognize that you are not alone in feeling this way. But with the necessary accommodations required to stem COVID-19, isolation is a bigger threat. Know that there is a lot of help out there for you. Any number of agencies, government or private, exist to give you the boost you might need to work through your challenges. You need not wait until you are overwhelmed by things to seek help; in fact, the earlier you begin the easier it will be to work yourself into the right mindset. Two terrific sources of support are MindBeacon and the Canadian Centre for Mental Health. MindBeacon is typically offered as a “for-fee” service, but during the pandemic, they have opened up their services free-of-charge to all Canadians that need their assistance and the CCMHS is always available for those Canadians requiring their services. And, certainly, there are other sources of help as well. A quick online search will find many such organizations.

If you don’t need immediate help, but the stress of these times are beginning to wear on you, I thought I’d share a YouTube video that I found to be helpful. It’s theme is pragmatism above pessimism (and even optimism!) I found that it helped to put things into perspective. These next months will be hard but we’ll make it through and it will be better on the other side. Spring magic may just have to wait this year.

I wish you all good health, safety and the perspective needed to persevere!

Contractor Quick Poll Results: How Many Languages Do You Speak?

Canada has two official languages: French and English. Unofficially, there are more than 200 languages spoken nation-wide and the 2016 Canadian Census found that 17.5% of the population spoke at least two languages at home. That’s a lot of diversity!

Speaking multiple languages can help you in your job search as it simplifies communication and building relationships with more people. In last month’s contractor quick poll, we decided to get a grasp on our readership and understand how many languages you can speak. The results have been fascinating with roughly 75% of respondents being able to speak more than one language and a few who can even speak 5 of more!

Quick Poll Results - How many languages do you speak?