Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: communication

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian IT Contractors relating to communication.

So Now You’re a Manager

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice President, East Region & Government Services at Eagle

So Now You're a ManagerFor many of us, after toiling in the trenches for years, aspiring to move up and into Management is a natural progression; in fact, we all probably know of the coworker who would say “what took you guys so long to promote me?” That, however, is a topic for another day.

Technology contractors generally benefit from being independent, but they are more often than not working as part of a bigger team. At some point or another, you may find yourself at the head of that team and managing a group of contractors or your client’s full-time employees. While such responsibilities tend to come with higher rates and valuable experience for a resume, it isn’t always sunshine and roses.

No matter the field, most professionals are thrilled with their first opportunity to manage people, but may be painfully unaware how their new job will change so drastically. When one goes from doing whatever it is you have become so adept at — programming, sales, accounting — to assuring others or a team of your peers accomplish what you may have seemingly mastered, well… now the “fun” begins.

Many organizations make the assumption and sometimes serious mistake that the star developer is the next Team Lead or Project Manager, but often that path is not natural. The business world needs look no further than the sports community. In sports, it is widely accepted that the star or legendary athletes very often do not make good coaches. Wayne Gretzky holds every NHL record there is and many that will likely never be broken, but suffered a post-playing career to a very unimpressive sub 500 record while coaching.

There are likely many reasons why the “star athletes”, who often have an extraordinary skill set at doing what they do alone (ex. sales, healthcare, programming), are abject failures in driving others to excel and accomplish the way they did. We can reasonably ask why those who are so accomplished inherently fail in the ability to coach, motivate, develop and truly lead others on a Team. Is it that different from managing oneself? The short answer is yes.

Star performers have an intense focus and ability to perform and accomplish at the highest level. They control their single most important resource — themselves. A Manager or Coach, on the other hand, must prioritize, multi task, coordinate and motivate a multitude of others, often like a Symphony Conductor and his orchestra with the hope the end result is sweet music. First time Managers will often struggle with this lack of “control” and will mistakenly try to do the job themselves, reverting back to their “me” instincts or micro-manage their way to success. Their new job, though, is a “we” job that requires an entirely different skill set to manage a team of people. An ability to delegate and empower others is not natural to the recently promoted “star”.

While we know the micro-manage scenario is a morale killer that often diminishes productivity on teams, it is a leap for many new managers to understand how important communication is to a Team. They may know what to do inherently but are poor at communicating that skill or ability. New managers or Team Leads will need time to acquire these skills and in the interim will likely need a ton of resiliency and perhaps a thicker skin as they take on the added responsibilities of other people’s actions.

Making the Most of That One Big Chance to Make a Lasting First Impression

This guest post was provided by the good folks at Effortless English

Making the Most of That One Big Chance to Make a Lasting First ImpressionThere is a good chance that you have had at least one job interview, and probably more than that, where you review your performance and feel frustrated that you could have given some better answers to the questions put to you.

Trying to anticipate the sort of questions you are going to be asked will help you to prepare for the process and stop you from freezing in the headlights when you get thrown a curve ball question.

Rise above the crowd

Of course, it is not just about rehearsing some carefully crafted stock answers to certain questions, as your interviewer will probably have come across these responses many times before. To get the job or even be considered for the job, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and make it easy for your interviewer to remember you and mark you down as a potential candidate for filling the role.

As this resource demonstrates, the mindset that you need to adopt is that you are not applying for a job as such, but selling yourself in the style of sales presentation. Your pitch might well amount to the same thing as submitting your application for a position, but the mindset and approach are different.

If you are trying to perfect your English and want to come across as grammatically correct as possible, the fundamental point being put across by the Effortless English service in the link above, is that to present yourself in the best possible light, it is not a case of sitting down and laboriously going through a set of rigid grammar rules, it is much more a case of learning to think English grammar.

There is a difference between the two learning methods, and that can definitely come across in a much more personable way when you are sat across the table from an interviewer, and trying to sell yourself as the best candidate they have seen.

Good listening skills are essential

The art of listening is also often grossly underestimated when it comes to coming across as a strong candidate.

Some consider listening to be one of the most important communication skills that you can possess, and it could be argued that one of the most powerful ways to make a meaningful connection with another person, is to listen.

This is an attribute that can serve you well in an interview process. Yes, you are expected to do a lot of speaking and provide convincing answers when being interviewed for a job, but just as important is knowing when to stop and listen to what is being said to you and what is specifically being asked.

Listening doesn’t just mean interpreting the words being spoken. It also means non-verbal as well as verbal communication skills.

Your ability to listen successfully hinges greatly on the extent to which you are able to accurately perceive and understand the verbal and nonverbal messages being portrayed to you in the interview process.

Many companies put a lot of emphasis on good communication skills, and if you are able to demonstrate this ability in abundance during your interview, by the way you speak, listen and present yourself, you will be increasing the odds of getting the call to say the job is yours.

2016 in Review: The Softer Skills of Work

2016 in Review: The Softer Skills of WorkYesterday we shared some of 2016’s top articles and tools about training and development so you can start setting your technical skills development goals this year. While these skills make it so you can successfully complete a project, recruiters and clients alike are looking for more than your abilities. They want to know how personable you are and how advanced your “soft skills” are.

How important is it to keep these skills refreshed? Every member of Eagle’s Executive Team touched on it in 2016:

These skills include everything from basic workplace etiquette…

…to proper communication in various situations.

Finally, and possibly most importantly for a busy IT contractor, is time management. Everybody can always improve in this area, so we encourage you to check out at least one of these posts:

Deciphering 3 Common Recruiter Calls and Emails

By Brendhan Malone (Vice-President, Central Canada at Eagle) and Graeme Bakker (Recruitment Team Lead at Eagle)

Deciphering 3 Common Recruiter Calls and EmailsRecruiters know that contractors get tons of calls and emails throughout the day.  Recruiters also know that time is valuable and we want to make the process of finding your next contract as stress free and smooth as possible.

Once you’ve decided on your staffing agency with the best candidate experience, it’s important to know exactly what your recruiter is looking for when you receive these common phone calls or emails:

Scheduling a Phone Interview:

When a recruiter calls or sends an email about scheduling a phone interview they just want to make sure these three things are a go:

  • You’re available to do the phone interview at the time the client has provided.
  • You will be in a location with no distractions or phone issues.
  • Let the recruiter know if you want to touch base to discuss anything prior to the phone interview. Reply with a couple times that you are available to prep and the recruiter will appreciate being able to work around your schedule.

Interview Feedback:

When a recruiter calls or emails you for interview feedback, this is why they’re doing it:

  • They want to know if it was positive for you and if you’re still interested in continuing with the process. If you are positive about the interview and more excited about the opportunity, your recruiter wants to relay that information to the client.
  • If you have negative feedback or any questions/concerns about the interview, your recruiter wants to know about it. This way they can answer any questions you might have or smooth over any concerns you have going forward with the process.
  • Eliminate any surprises. The recruiter wants to confirm the possibility of any other offer or opportunities on the table.  Are you more in favour of this role that you interviewed for than another?  Would you accept this opportunity should they come back to us with an offer?  The recruiter wants to make sure that you don’t miss out on any opportunities.

Resume Review:

You’ve received a call and/or email from a recruiter about a role.  You’re interested in the role and are qualified for it.  You just sent the recruiter your updated resume, so why does the recruiter need to chat with me?

In this competitive MSP driven job market, what is in your head NEEDS to be on the resume.  The person first seeing your resume and determining if it should go on is very rarely the technical manager responsible for hiring.  Recruiters know we can leave nothing to chance in this environment.

  • Recruiters know that if you are a front-end developer, you have experience with HTML and CSS. We might not be that technical but we know that!  If you have 10 years of development experience and 8 years of HTML and CSS experience it needs to be in the resume!
  • We know it can be frustrating to answer basic questions about your skills and then add it to your resume, but recruiters are doing it for your benefit. They know that if they don’t correctly put where you have had this experience send your resume won’t get past the gatekeepers and over to the hiring manager.
  • If you get back to the recruiter with a couple minutes to chat and answer those questions you will have the benefit of knowing you are hitting all the marks described in the job description. As an added bonus, your staffing agency will l have an updated resume on file that is correctly updated.

Understanding what’s inside a recruiter’s head may not always seem simple, but it’s easier then you may think. In the end, we all share the same goal of getting you placed into the right contract. This insight into these three common conversations recruiters have with you will let you stop trying to read between the lines and focus on your business.

Getting Better at This Will Improve Your Relationships with Clients and Recruitment Agencies

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President, Western Canada at Eagle

Getting Better at This Will Improve Your Relationships with Clients and Recruitment AgenciesPeople crave feedback.  Most of us would prefer positive feedback but we know that the negative feedback is important too.  It may not be what you want to hear, but what you needed to hear.  For example, properly taken, feedback can give an IT professional the opportunity to make adjustments before a project gets too far off the tracks.  For this to work the best, one should solicit feedback early and often.

For independent contractors, feedback can be much more than just gathering ideas for improvement.  At its best, it is also about relationship building and requires you to be great at both receiving and giving.  When you are engaged in a discussion regarding feedback with your client or recruitment agency, you are saying that you care about the deliverable, that you care about the project, and that your good reputation and your relationship with the other entity is important as well.  It is hard to over-communicate in this respect.

As a staffing agency, Eagle cherishes our independent contractor partners that reach out to let us know how things are going — what’s going well and what could be better.  It keeps us in the loop and minimizes surprises.  We encourage our client contacts to do the same.   When we hear dissonance between the two sources, then we know we have an issue that needs to be worked out.  There’s often opportunity to “fix” an issue before it becomes a real problem.

Employment agencies do their best to connect at least once per month with the contractors that they have on assignment. If your recruiter reaches out to you to follow up, take that opportunity to really share how your assignment is shaping up.  It could be the best 20 minute investment of time that you make that day.

Seek First to Understand…Then to Be Understood: A Habit of Highly Effective Independent Contractors

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

Seek First to Understand…Then to Be Understood: A Habit of Highly Effective Independent ContractorsSo says Habit 5 of Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I am struck by just how much this simple rule might change the world for the better would we all decide to practice it just some of the time. And of course it applies to all phases of our lives, be it personal or professional. The beauty of it lies in its simplicity and seemingly utter complexity in putting it into play. So how does it impact you as an IT Consultant trying to make a living in the complex world of independent contracting and dealing with staffing agents and their myriad esoteric processes and procedures?

  1. Start in Neutral – How we respond to others is so often conditioned on our preconceptions of what we think is about to occur. I know that when I answer the telephone around dinnertime, and there is a significant delay before the other party speaks, that I’m likely about to engage with a telemarketer, and that brings about a whole set of responses, including how I’m going to disengage. But how many times have I been surprised to learn that when I just stopped and really listened, there was something valuable to be gained. When a recruiter calls, listen carefully to what they are telling you, about their client, about their requirement, about their practice. Instead of thinking that you know the game and this call will be the same as others you have received, it might pay dividends to start the call in neutral and determine next steps after you’ve had a chance to hear what is being said.
  2. Stop Planning Your Response – The single most common listening error is planning your reply while the other party is speaking. The aforementioned Telemarketers, especially the smart ones, often know exactly what you are planning to say and have a ready response to attempt to overcome your objections. It pays to be prepared for certain types of discussions but don’t hijack a discussion because you are too busy planning your comeback. You may be risking an unnecessary misunderstanding because you couldn’t stop your mind long enough to listen. Successful contractors learn to listen to what the client is saying, what is important to them and what they are trying to achieve…and your part in the process. Careful listening prevents risking prescription before diagnosis!
  3. Practice Reflective Listening – Repeating or affirming what you think you heard is the surest way of ensuring you understand completely what is being said by the other party. This is a skill so often talked about but so rarely used effectively. Part of it has to do with numbers 1 and 2 above… we have already planned the conversation out in our minds that we believe we know the outcome. Take a step back, listen carefully to what you are being told and then simply repeat it. Not only will it help you to gather the information you need, but it will act to slow down the process, something we could all use in our busy and hectic work days.
  4. It’s a Two-Way Street – If you listen to someone, and are fully engaged and respectful, it should be that the other person owes you the same. Did you ever notice how off putting it was when a person you were meeting with glanced at their watch, or worse yet checked a phone email right when you were speaking. Negotiations go off course all the time simply because neither party really hears what the other person is saying. Mutually respectful discourse and working hard to listen and understand what the other person is saying is integral to any discussion.  You owe it to yourself as a professional to practice your listening skills.

How IT Professionals Can Improve This Essential Customer Service Skill (Video)

Helping non-tech savvy people through an IT task can be an extremely frustrating ordeal for a technology contractor. Sometimes, no matter how you explain it, your client or your client’s employees can’t seem to get anything right or, worse, keep messing things up to make the situation worse.

We shared an infographic last month that helps IT professionals dumb down certain tech terms to explain them more easily, but even with this knowledge, there are certain skills you need to be successful in this situation. At the end of the day, you’re helping a client, which means customer service is a must and a key to great customer service is outstanding communication.

This instructional video from Wisc-Online approaches the subject very well. It talks specifically about how IT professionals — from those in tech support to those leading large projects — can improve communication when delivering customer service.

Tips for Dealing with Permanent Employees Who Hate Independent Contractors

Tips for Dealing with Permanent Employees Who Hate Independent ContractorsWhen you consider moving from being an employee to an independent contractor, you weigh all of the pros and cons, considering new challenges such as accounting, insurance, and the risk of being out of work. One challenge new IT contractors sometimes don’t consider is dealing with the negative feelings and the cold reception they sometimes get from a client’s full-time employees.

Building relationships at a new client site is challenging enough, and when employees already have a negative pre-conceived idea of you, you will find yourself starting from behind. So how can you deal with these permanent employees and their bad attitudes, while also building a productive working relationship?

Start by understanding why they resent you

The employee failed to understand your situation and made assumptions, so don’t intensify the issue by falling into the same behaviour. Although you may not agree, keep their point-of-view in mind and consider these reasons that your client’s FTEs may dislike you and your fellow independent contractors:

  • They find out that their company, who they’ve been loyal to for many years, is paying you a lot more;
  • Employees have to deal with the entire job, including office politics, performance reviews, training sessions and admin tasks, whereas contractors get to do only the core work;
  • Independent contractors come in, do the high-profile “fun” tasks, then leave the IT employees to “clean up the mess” and do the grunt work; and,
  • By nature, independent contractors are experts in their field so tend to be more focused and productive. If management hasn’t communicated the IT contractor’s role properly, this is threatening to employees.

Take the highroad and start building that relationship

Depending on the scope of work in your technology contract, odds are you will need that good report with employees if you’re going to be successful, so start building it immediately. It’s up to you to be the grown-up, positive person, so try some of these tactics:

  • Communicate well, especially when explaining your role and that you’re not there to take their job;
  • Be generous of your time by offering training and mentoring;
  • Avoid coming off as a jerk, patronising, or acting above the employees. This can happen unintentionally when trying to pass on your knowledge, so be selective of your words;
  • Stay out of office politics or exposing lazy employees. Simply do your job and help the employees look good; and,
  • Refrain from talking about money or answering their questions as to how much you make. Where figures do get exposed, take the time to explain all of your extra costs. If you do make significantly more than employees, avoid flashing your success in front of them.

Some people won’t change. They’re bitter, disgruntled employees who are going to despise you no matter what you do or how hard you try. Like every other person you come into contact with who is like this, don’t put energy into them. Your options are to put up with it for the duration of your contract, work from a different location (home office?) or, if it’s really bad and you’ve explored all possible avenues with no end in sight, start looking for a new contract.

Do you have experience dealing with permanent employees who didn’t want you in their office? Is there any advice you would offer to a new contractor? We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tips for Women in IT to Appear More Confident (Video)

There is no argument that female independent contractors working in technology face more challenges than their male counterparts. From the loneliness of being a minority to the proven pay gaps, IT is not an easy industry for women. There are many theories as to why this could be, none of which we’ll discuss in today’s post. Instead, we’re going to help minimize one challenge by sharing some advice to help female IT leaders improve their communication.

This helpful video we found from Forbes points out body language mistakes that some women make. Specifically, it provides four tips to help a female IT contractor appear more credible, powerful and confident, either when meeting with a recruiter, discussing business with a client, or leading a team through a project.

Never Say These 6 Words in an Interview (Video)

Independent IT contractors spend a lot of time in interviews — with clients, with recruiters, with end-users — and each of these interviews are often when you’ll set a first impression. Due to the high-pressure nature of them, especially job interviews, we tend to use vocabulary that comes easily and naturally to us. This is when words sneak into our sentences that affect how a listener perceives us.

It takes intensive practice and comfort to avoid all stutters and small miscommunications, but this video from BI Success suggests 6 words to start eliminating in your vocabulary which will make you sound smarter. This is not only great advice for job interviews, but also for your everyday professional life.