Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: planning

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to planning and organizing.

New Grads: Do You Know What You’re Doing with Your Life

Tens of thousands of students are graduating from post-secondary education programs this month. Even though they focused on an area of study for the past few years, the age old question “What am I going to do with my life” still lingers on. Usually we won’t really know the answer, have multiple answers or we just don’t want to dwell on it anymore so we ignore it. But this question can make a real impact on our lives.

This Proactive Thinker video explores why we shouldn’t just do something we’re passionate about, but also something we care about. The goal is to overcome obstacles and work to continuously improve.

Always Finish Strong

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

“Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic!” – Robin Sharma

Business People at Finish LineHow many times have you seen people who fail to finish strong either because they know they are almost done with a project, job, or even a work-out, typically because they become fatigued, bored or otherwise disinclined to continue to put the required effort needed to stand out.

Starting new projects or initiatives is always a time of excitement and for some contractors, that adrenaline rush of experiencing new challenges and meeting and influencing new people or environments is exactly what keeps them going in the contracting world.

But one of the most common problems I’ve witnessed and one that absolutely changes the client’s perception of the contractor’s overall performance is what happens in the final stages of the project when most of the work is complete and things are wrapping up. Feedback up until that point was extremely positive, everything along the way was good news (or no news). And just when extending the contract or finding the individual a new contract seems to be a no brainer, the wheels fall off.

It’s at this critical time, just as a contract is about to be completed, that a contractor can cement their reputation as being an absolute pro or conversely, and unfortunately, a dud! Here are a number of things to avoid if you would prefer to be the former, and not the latter:

1. Do More Than is Required

“What is the distance between someone who achieves their goals consistently and those who spend their lives and careers merely following? The extra mile.”

And do more than is required right up until the last day and hour of the project that you were contracted to deliver. If you keep that mindset as an independent contractor, you will build a reputation in the marketplace as a professional who consistently brings value to the project right up until its conclusion.

2. Don’t Let the Hunt for Your New Gig Get in the Way

“There are only two options regarding commitment. You are either in or you’re out. There is no such thing as life in between”

It’s true that as a contractor, you are responsible for “self-marketing” to ensure that you have your next contract in hand while wrapping up the contract you are currently on. But too often, contractors start fixating on their next contract. And so the work on their current project suffers. Attendance becomes spotty and deliverables suffer. Sacrificing the hard work and solid reputation you’ve earned at the very last stages of your contract is not wise. Not only will you risk angering a client who might still be considering you for other projects or an extension, but that disappointment could lead to an even earlier termination, making the issue of your next contract even more serious.

3. Don’t Rob Peter to Pay Paul

In other words, don’t let the fear of a “gap” in projects prompt you to accept a new contract prior to the end of your current one. This is typically mishandled for a number of reasons.

The contractor is embarrassed or afraid to quit so they invent a reason why they have to leave the contract early. The lie is usually uncovered at some point and there goes your hard-earned reputation.

They begin the search months before the contract is scheduled to end under the assumption that it is never too early to start looking. Well in fact, it is. Now you have an excited recruiter and client who believe that you are ready to start a new contract on their timeline. Either way, you’re guaranteed to make someone unhappy whether you accept the new contract and quit the old early, or stay with the current and turn down the new contract.

In the rare event that both parties accept the overlap, you end up promising both parties that you can deliver and then fail miserably at one, the other, or both.

4. Work with your Recruiters(s)

Plan a schedule of communication with your current recruiter so that you can help each other plan any transition. Share information and project knowledge to determine if there is an extension coming your way or if there are new opportunities on the horizon that correspond with your contract end. If you attend an interview prior to your contract finishing, let the interviewers know when you are expected to finish your current contract. Set the expectation with them that you will complete your current contract, that it is a part of your service delivery approach. If anything, it should impress upon them that you are a professional with integrity. And if things don’t line up perfectly, you can always offer to do project prep work while finishing up your current gig. This can always be done at home, on the bus or during weekends.

Starting new projects is always fun but it can be a challenge to finish strong. Commit to staying connected to your end goal which should be providing service and value right up to the last day of the project you are on. Don’t let yourself get waylaid by impatience or worrying about your next job. Trust that your training, experience and reputation will play a big part in the successful transition to a new contract. And work with professional recruiters to augment your search.

What Makes a Client Hire Quickly… or Take Forever to Decide? (And Why Independent Contractors Should Care)

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

What Makes a Client Hire Quickly or Take Forever to Decide? (And Why Independent Contractors Should Care)Many factors impact just how quickly a company will progress through the hiring process.  Having a sound understanding of the speed of hiring can help a contractor immensely.  For example, if you are on contract and your assignment will be wrapping up, knowing how long the hiring process will take ensures you begin earnestly looking for your next “gig” at the correct time – not so soon that a new offer comes in before you’ve fully completed your assignment; and not so late as to have an uncomfortable gap in your work and income.

Having multiple offers in hand is a great scenario for a contractor but having multiple interviews on the go and one mediocre offer in hand is a little more difficult to manage.  Do you turn down the offer in the hope that one of the better interviews results in some business?  After all, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.  Having a solid understanding of the timelines involved may help you to determine whether you can wait to provide your acceptance of the present offer or whether you need to jump at what you’ve got for certain.

The following is a list of factors that lengthen or shorten the hiring cycle and why:

  • Reason for hire: Is the company initiating a brand-new project?  If so, there could be delays in the process.  Or are they replacing a key person within an ongoing project?  This could indicate a need for someone very quickly.
  • Interview Process: How many interviews will be required as part of the client’s hiring process.  It isn’t uncommon for some companies to have one interview and make an offer.  However, some clients like to have multiple interviews before settling on their candidate of choice.
  • Market conditions: When supply of contractors is robust vs. the demand for work, we often see companies taking more time to make a hiring decision.  The opposite is also true… tight labour markets mean that qualified contractors need to be snapped up more quickly or risk losing them to another company.
  • Complexity of the job description: Some customers ask for a “shopping list” of qualifications and experience that is so long that no-one exists with everything that they want. These clients need to scale back their “must-haves” and will begin interviewing the candidates that have portions of what they desire.  These customers are often slow to make a hire, hoping that some unicorn-candidate will magically become available.
  • Number of candidates being considered: If a company interviews 2 or 3 potential candidates, they tend to make quicker decision than companies who interview 7 or 8 or more.
  • Motivation of the hiring manager (or lack thereof): Deadlines, looming vacations, competing priorities all factor into the level of urgency hiring managers will have.
  • Level of bureaucracy: Some companies have an extensive internal hiring process that require levels of approvals and sign-offs that can drag offers out for weeks.
  • Dynamism of the environment: Many corporations have a very fluid environment, where programs and projects are continually in flux.  Timing of hiring is often impacted when this occurs as they attempt to coordinate the entry of the new contractor(s).  Depending on the situation, this could speed up the hiring process or slow it down.
  • Timing of other, similar projects in the local market: Projects may be delayed or fast-tracked based on other projects of a similar nature either starting up or winding down elsewhere in town.  For example, if there are a number of simultaneous SAP projects already in-flight in the local market, a company wishing to start one of their own may delay their hiring to coincide with one of these other projects winding down.  The opposite can also be true… back when everyone had a Windows 7 implementation in their plans, the companies who moved fastest to hire/build their teams were able to acquire the cream of the crop… they were motivated to move quickly.

These are just some of the things that can impact the speed at which an offer is made.  Be sure to ask your recruiter about these the next time they speak with you about a new opportunity and you will understand the issues at play – the better the information that you collect, the better your decision making will be.

The T4 and T5 Deadline is Approaching

The T4 and T5 Deadline is ApproachingWhether you’re an independent contractor who receives a salary from your business or a contractor who receives compensation through dividends, you’ll want to pay attention to this reminder.

The Canadian T4 and T5 filing deadline is the last day of February, which this year is Tuesday, February 28th. Sure there are still a few weeks and February feels like the longest month of the year, but if you’re like many others, procrastinating on accounting comes fairly easily. At the very least, take a minute to create a plan and schedule some time to get this task completed.

While we always encourage and strongly recommend you seek advice from an accountant, here are a few other resources:

Happy filing!

Contractor Quick Poll: When Will You Retire?

Independent contractors enjoy many benefits working for themselves. Unfortunately, there are also some downsides, including a lack of pension or employer RRSP contributions, as enjoyed by some employees of large corporations and public sector organizations. This doesn’t mean that you can no longer retire, or that you must wait longer to retire, but that you need to plan your finances differently to achieve your retirement goals.  In fact, the nature of your work also means that you may enjoy partial retirement much earlier than the average person!

That being said, we’re curious to know when most independent contracts plan to retire. In this month’s contractor quick poll, we’re asking how old you plan to be when you finally fully retire from work and start enjoying a quieter, less hectic life.

IT Contractors: Are You Being an Ant?

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

Hard-working ant representing an IT contractor in good timesAesop’s “The Ant and the Grasshopper” is a timeless tale that makes the link between hard work, saving and the security that comes from doing both. It tells the story of a hard-working ant who spends the summer collecting food, while a more relaxed grass hopper sings the summer days away. Come winter, the grass hopper is stuck begging for food while the ants are prepared for the rough season.

In the present day, we see this story playing out on a macro-scale, right down to the individual level.  I recently attended a speaking engagement featuring Larry Berman (BNN’s “Bermans Call”) and he suggested that the future of the EU is uncertain should the Germans eventually get fed up working to older and older ages to support countries such as Greece where people can take an early retirement pension as early as 45 years old.

Closer to home for me, living in Calgary, current economic conditions are certainly rewarding “the ants”.  Although it is hard to predict when the tough-times are going to hit, they surely come; and when they do, that rainy-day fund (and all the sacrifices made to accumulate it) really does provide some much-needed security.

Along with the many benefits of being an independent contractor, one of the common risks is that these “winters” are more likely to happen, and for any number of reasons extending beyond a challenging economy. For example, sometimes projects being shut down or personality clashes cause gigs to end abruptly. Although you may have relationships with a number of IT recruiters in your region, they may not be able to find you new work immediately. In other situations, you could suddenly get sick or have to take time away from work for a period of time which, again, would leave you in a stage with no revenues.

In any case, the story referenced above can be used as a lesson for independent contractors to always be gathering for the winter. Perhaps that means taking on multiple contracts when they’re available or ensuring you’re always setting some cash aside for times when IT jobs aren’t coming as quickly as you’d hope.

There are many benefits to taking an “ant-like” approach to both your work and your life, as discussed in this article from Success, but should there be a balance? Just because you’re in a “summer” period, does it mean you have to work 24/7 to prepare for a “winter” that may not arrive for a while? What approaches have you taken as an independent contractor to prepare for winter and balance your life?  I encourage you to leave a comment and share your ideas with our readers!

How to Secure Your Data Using the Cloud

Backing up data is one of the most crucial tasks any company can perform.  Without proper security measures, the slightest glitch can temporarily bring down your business and potentially even set you back many years’ worth of work.  There are many options for backing up data, including on a hard drive, but this infographic from Novastor argues that the best way to prevent a computer disaster is by taking advantage of the cloud. Would you agree?

info-back-that-comp-up

Your Basic Emergency Plan

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice-President, Government Services at Eagle

The tragic and senseless death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial in Ottawa last month served as a shock to many Canadians and will have ramifications for years to come in a lot of the things we take for granted, even in the workplace. While many of us are familiar with the urban office building, fire drills, we are far less prepared or even fathom practicing an emergency situation like a lockdown as we experienced in the urban office core of Ottawa the day of the shooting.

It probably goes without saying that US organizations are far more used to these scenarios than their Canadian counterparts and may have better evolved communication plans and practices as a result. Ironically, and sadly perhaps, the next generation of business leaders and workers are also better prepared since their schools are now practicing lockdowns and how to handle similar situations. Many of today’s Canadian organizations and business leaders, however, do not appear to be so prepared.

While Business Continuity Plans for most medium and large organizations are in place, many have not been dusted off or updated, often due to budget cuts and perhaps a sense of complacency. Many will have contemplated a pandemic like H1N1, but not a lockdown in a fluid urban office setting.

As independent contractors, it’s also important to be prepared and have a plan for such Emergency Plan Bookemergencies, especially if you’re at a client site where there is no clear plan.  One very simple way to do this is to know your Basic Emergency Plan for any situation.  For example:

  1. Perform a preliminary assessment.
  2. Evaluate the risks to determine your next steps.
  3. Develop a communication plan.
  4. After the dust has settled, evaluate the situation and determine what you could have done better. Document your ideas and develop a preventative plan.

In the above, when an emergency strikes, steps 1 to 3 will happen almost immediately. One of the most evident and clear observations I had first-hand in Ottawa last month, however, was the absence of reliable information that was needed to go through these steps.

Ironically, in today’s age of ubiquitous and lightning fast information at our finger tips, the flip side of that phenomenon was also true. All information — right or wrong — gets out.  The day became a track meet of what we soon found out was misinformation courtesy of Twitter, Facebook and even other more traditional mediums available on desktops. “Two shooters”, “three shooters “, “another shooting at a nearby mall”, “shooter(s) on roof tops,” and “stay away from windows” were just some of the scenarios that gained speed throughout the day.  People would have had to sift through all of this and determine for themselves if it was safe to leave a building, if they should close their blinds or if their children should leave school.

This only seems to be getting more challenging in today’s technology-driven world and filtering through information isn’t going to get any easier.  What you can do is research your local media outlets and determine which one you trust the most and stick to just that (Tip: this probably shouldn’t be Facebook).  Also, ask yourself a few important questions now:

  • Do you know your client’s emergency plans?
  • What about your agency’s?
  • Will you follow all of their procedures, or follow your own when you feel it’s safer?
  • What’s your family’s emergency communication plan?

As most urban buildings already do with the basic fire drill, organizations and independent contractors alike also need to ensure they have a plan for all emergency situations and lockdowns.  It’s nearly impossible to predict every scenario, but the more basic preparation you take, the easier it will be to take on the unexpected emergencies.  Do you have a Basic Emergency Plan? How much have you prepared?  Share your strategies with our readers in the comments below.

Do You Have an Emergency Plan?

Independent Contractors Should Always Be Prepared for the Unexpected

Independent contractors have many advantages; however, they also accept risks. One of the risks they face is downtime, for whatever reason, because they are not paid.  At one point or another, most companies’ management teams sit down and strategically build an emergency plan based on different scenarios – whether it’s a fire, health pandemic, natural disaster or some other terrible event that causes a shutdown.  We believe that all businesses should go through this exercise, especially one-person businesses or independent contractors.

FACTS

  1. These situations have happened in the past, are currently happening in other countries and will happen again, and while some we can predict, others come out of nowhere. Just look at the Calgary Flood in the summer of 2013 or the H1N1 pandemic back in 2009 and of course, the Ebola breakout happening today in many African countries.
  2. When these unexpected, uncontrollable events occur, workplaces are closed, and there can be widespread disruption to the economy.

As important as it is, being prepared for this type of situation doesn’t have to be extensive.Crisis To get started, ask yourself a few of these questions:

  1. Can I afford to not be paid for a month? Two months?
  2. Can I plan, with my current client, to be able to complete some work from home if the office environment is closed?
  3. Does your client have any sort of plan?
  4. Is there a way risks can be minimized?  For example, for health scares, does your client have education programs, flu shots, hand washing policies, etc.?

If you are concerned about your potential financial situation, NOW is the time to do something.

  1. Change your lifestyle to allow you to put away some money for a rainy day. Reduce costs, put in more hours now, force yourself to save.
  2. Work with your bank to establish a line of credit.
  3. Create a budget that will allow you to “weather the storm” of a forced layoff.

We all hope that we’ll never be affected by a disaster or pandemic, but the probability is that it will happen at some point, and we all need to be prepared.  Do you have a plan? What are some back-ups you’ve prepared?  Share your advice in the comments below.

How to Remain Successful When Your Plan Fails

It’s easy to talk to people and find articles offering advice and stressing the importance of creating a plan. You need to plan your career. What’s your plan for your next contract? You obviously have a project plan. Do you have a life plan? The Talent Development Centre definitely is a great place to look for these articles.

A topic commonly avoided with this advice, though, is the fact that sometimes plans don’t work out! What if the world changes on you? Your client goes bankrupt? Your project is cancelled? Your priorities change? What if you are just not achieving the targets that you set for yourself?

So, what if your plan fails? The answer: Make another plan!

  • Learn the lessons from the first plan.
  • Make sure that you understand why the plan failed and address those issues.Making a Plan
  • Don’t keep doing the same things.
  • Don’t use it as an excuse to accept failure, rather use it as a motivator to do better!
  • Ask yourself HARD questions, and give yourself honest answers.
  • Did you believe in the first plan? If you don’t believe a plan is possible then don’t bother! You will NEVER succeed at a plan if you don’t believe it is doable.
  • Did you do everything in your power to meet the plan? Did you work hard, avoid deviating from the path, focus on the task, get advice and help as needed?
  • Were there circumstances beyond your control?
  • What could you have done differently? Better?
  • What should you have NOT done?
  • Who can help you to meet your plan? Are you engaging them?

At the end of the day, a good plan is the roadmap to reach your goal, whatever that goal is, be it personal or professional. Missing a plan is not the end of the world, BUT it means you need to either plan better or execute better.

Have you had a plan crash and burn before?  How did you handle it? What did you learn?  Share your experiences with our readers below.