Continuing My Search

It has been about a month since my last post and my job search is ongoing.  I have gotten on site interviews and phone screens at a number of places.  Some of the roles have been very exciting, others not so much.  The hunt has become a bit monotonous so I figured I would take a break and recount some observations I’ve made.  Looking for a job is hard.  When it gets me down, these are some of the techniques I leverage to give me a boost.

The wheels of talent acquisition turn slowly

This has been perhaps the single most frustrating piece of the process.  Resumes submitted to a job posting get tossed into a black hole.  People take weeks to get back to you, if they ever reply at all.  As a candidate, this is possibly the first interaction you’ve had with the internal workings of a company and it normally doesn’t leave a good impression.  I have taken to finding folks with “recruiter” or “talent” in their title on LinkedIn.  I’ll write a quick note asking for more information on the role I have applied for.  More often than not, this gets me past the automated resume screening and to a real person.  From there, interviews take days to set up while you’re sitting at home thinking, “Call me right now, I’m ready!”  Remember that they’re working and have other stuff to do.  Understanding this can help relieve the frustration you’re bound to feel.

Keep learning professionally

You can’t surf Indeed and LinkedIn all day every day.  You can’t apply to jobs, tune your resume, and write cover letters from dawn to dusk.  Take a break and keep your skills sharp.  I’ve found Udemy to be a great resource for some cheap training.  I’ve completed a course on Kubernetes and am in the middle of a course on Python.  I’ve also completed a professional certification: Amazon Web Services Cloud Practitioner.  All are associated with my skillset, but only the AWS cert was based on professional experience.  The other two are totally new topics to me and gave my brain something else to focus on while rounding out my knowledge.  Searching for a job is draining and having a distraction for your mind is important.

Keep learning personally

Lounging about is fun and while I certainly do that on occasion, I try to focus on keeping active.  Whatever your passions, devote time to them with intention.  While being unemployed sucks, it is also a time of freedom.  I’ve picked up a new hobby, a vegetable garden, and spent extra time with my chickens and bees.  I also brew beer and work on my 1979 Land Cruiser.  I’ve learned a bunch on small engine repair (my lawnmower busted) and have dropped a few trees that were over shading the backyard.  The last one wasn’t a passion exactly but who doesn’t like using power tools?  You have the time to pursue your passions – do it!

Don’t lose heart

A job hunt can be depressing.  There’s no way getting around it – the majority of places you apply will reject you.  Sometimes you’ll understand why, sometimes you won’t.  It is important to remember that it isn’t personal.  Employers don’t know you well enough and make decisions based on your CV or a LinkedIn profile.  You can’t let it get you down.  I’ve been rejected from ~20 roles at this point, about twice a week.  I wasn’t all that jazzed about all of them but there were certainly some I was excited about.  It is really hard to be told “no” over and over again.  But I know the right role will come along and I’ll be better for it.  As I said in my last post, I can’t settle.

You can review my LinkedIn profile here:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

Do you have some other suggestions for keeping positive during a job search?  Please leave them in the comments below!

Thanks
Chris

On The Job Hunt

I’m about a month into my active job search and it is interesting to say the least.  I was prepared for this task as I left DellEMC voluntarily and had many weeks of hiking to figure out what I wanted to do next (of course, I didn’t).  This wasn’t a surprise for me an yet, I’ve found my job search to be very challenging.  I’m not all that experienced in selling myself to complete strangers.  It isn’t a skill I’ve acquired in my career.  And that makes it intimidating for me.  That said, the last few weeks have taught me a lot about finding a job and while I haven’t landed anywhere yet, I’m confident in my approach.  I’m using this post to share what I’ve learned thus far.

I have never really had to look for a job in the past.  My first position at Genzyme was an intern to perm offer with little in the way of interviews because I had proven my skills doing the job.  For my second role at EMC, a recruiter found me.  Sure I had to interview but I didn’t need to generate interest.  That came without me trying, which was nice!  I’m in new territory and am learning as I go.  The following are a few techniques that I’ve started to employ.  It is too early to say whether or not they are successful but I’m hopeful.  In no particular order…

Leverage Your Network

At one of the resources I have used, workitdaily.com, founder J. T. O’Donnell states, “Your network is your net worth” for a job search.  I believe this is the case and you need to take time to cultivate those relationships.  I am very confident that my next role will come from someone I know personally rather than a random recruiter seeing my profile on LinkedIn.  I’ve reached out to a lot of folks I know in the IT industry and have asked them about their current or past employers.  I’m trying to get a sense of the cultures within these companies before I even start to investigate potential opportunities.  It’s critical to have these conversations for a couple reasons.  First, you get an insider perspective rather than the /whoweare page on the company’s website.  Second, and probably more importantly, informs the second item on my list.

Know What You Want

It is critical to have a good understanding of what your goals are.  These could be excitement and pace, visibility, salary, location, color of the company logo – whatever is important to you.  For me the culture of my new organization is critical.  I have left both of my previous jobs in large part because the culture evolved into something that didn’t align with my values.  Full disclosure, I went through two acquisitions – you can read more about those in this post.  Because of those experiences, I know how critical culture is to my personal job satisfaction.  That puts culture high on the list of things I need to investigate and why the conversations with my network are so important.  But culture isn’t the only thing on the list.  There are other considerations that will be different for each of us.  It’s important to know what you’re looking for before you can find it.

Be Kind To Yourself

A job search can be frustrating.  You’re forced to put yourself out there in hopes that people will like what they see enough to want to talk to you.  And then you’ll have to convince even more people to want to work with you.  This will all take weeks and months longer than it should (be better corporate hiring process) and it will weigh on you.  I’ve found that I need to take time for myself.  I don’t look for a job 8+ hours a day.  Finding a job isn’t my job – I don’t really enjoy it.  So I’ve got a lot of other things I’m doing.  I’ve started a vegetable garden, hang out with my chickens and ducks, tend my bees, and got my old FJ40 (1979 Toyota Land Cruiser) street legal again.  I’m also volunteering, brewing beer, and watching all the crappy action movies I can find on Netflix.  Whatever you do for a hobby or to pass the time, please do it even more as you’re looking for a job.  This hunt is terribly stressful and I need to find joy elsewhere.

Don’t Settle

As my job search lengthens, I know that my instinct will be to take the first offer that comes along.  I have a family to support and as a single income provider, that pressure is all too real.  But I need to resist that temptation because I know that if I get into position where I’m not happy at work, I won’t be happy at home.  So in the short term, the finances will be better but in the long term, I won’t be any happier.  I need to make sure that the next role I take aligns with what I want in many dimensions, not simply the salary.

So those are some of the things I’ve learned on my job search thus far.  I’m sure new insights will come to light as time passes but that’s where I am a month in.  I hope you’ve found it useful.  If you’d like to connect to discuss in more detail, please find me via my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

Chris

Back From My Career Break

One of the hardest things I have ever done in my career is handing in my resignation to DellEMC.  I didn’t leave for another position but rather to hike the Appalachian Trail.  I departed work on April 6, 2018 to pursue an item on my bucket list.  I left behind a team that I adored.  They were vibrant, smart, motivated, and kind – best of all, they put up with me!  Saying goodbye on that team call was very emotional and heartfelt.  But, truly, I would do it all again.

I have been working for nearly 20 years in IT and have held positions with only two different companies.  I suppose it is four if you count being acquired – Genzyme by Sanofi and EMC by Dell.  In my experience, staying for long periods of time within organizations is rare in the technology industry.  Folks seem to move around a lot.  I stay put because I like to cultivate relationships.  The bonds of a team don’t form in a year or two and I believe that as a leader, you need to be in it for the long haul.  These relationships are what made leaving so difficult.  But it was something I needed to do.  I felt burnt out, stressed, and wasn’t able to give my best to the job anymore.  For a lot of reasons, a simple vacation wasn’t the answer.  I had tried that and couldn’t get the fire back.  I owed better to my team.  A change was needed and a drastic one at that.  I needed to take a break from working, a break without worrying about returning to a job.  I tried to get a Leave of Absence / Sabbatical but that didn’t work out.  At that point, I decided to resign.  For why I chose to hike the AT, you can check out this post on midlifehiker.com.  Suffice to say, for the first time in my professional life, I was unemployed.

And now I am back.  I cut my hike short because being away from my family proved to be more painful than the joy hiking brought me.  I hiked the southern half of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to the West Virginia / Maryland border.  I learned a lot about myself in those 1000+ miles.  I believe I have returned a better father, husband, and person.  Being free from the responsibilities of daily life, focusing only on one foot in front of the other, was amazing.  It is easy to get caught up in the frenetic energy that surrounds us – be it work, home, or whatever.  We are generally busy people and slowing down brings that chaos into focus.  It allowed me to put everything aside for 10 weeks and just walk.  All I had to worry about was food, water, and where I was going to pitch my tent that night.  I certainly found a lot of other things to worry about, but the simple essentials were what centered me.  I also learned to be grateful for what I had, for others lending me a hand, and for my family and friends for their support.  I didn’t realize the network of care that surrounded me until I had to rely completely upon it.  I learned to be extremely thankful.  All of this has made me more intentional about the balance in my life.

As I return to the workforce, I would like a role working toward an end that I believe in – helping people, solving problems, making a difference in a true and meaningful way.  A company churning out generic widgets to make a buck isn’t for me.  I need an employer that values a balance between work and home.  My family is hugely important to me and I am a devoted father.  I am also a loyal and passionate team member.  I want to bring my rediscovered energy back into my work.  I will run through walls for my team.  I’m hoping to find a role leading a smart group of people doing exciting work in technology.  I am confident in my abilities and know that I will make a positive impact on any organization that I join.  If you believe I might be a fit for a role you have, I would love to speak with you.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/christopherhendrick/

– Chris

Dell (well Silverlake) Buys EMC

For the second time in my career, the company I work for is in the process of being acquired.  It’s never a good feeling to wake up and see the news that you have to go figure out a new PowerPoint template or get new business cards (or worse, maybe not).  It brings a ton of uncertainty, questions, fear, panic, angst, and anything else that comes with your professional life being a little less certain than it was the day before.  Once the initial shock passes we have a choice on how we want to move forward.  We can work through the uncertainty, striving for answers.  We can live with the uncertainty and focus on the work.  And finally, we can settle on doom and gloom and be depressed.  Assuming that wallowing in self pity isn’t a long term strategy, we’ll put the doom and gloom option to the side and consider the other two.

The first company I worked for that was acquired was Genzyme Corporation.  It was, at the time of acquisition, something like the 5th largest biopharmaceutical company in the world.  At that time, it was believed that Sanofi Aventis was buying Genzyme’s R&D pipeline.  It was a way of cementing their future as their profitable drugs faced generic competition.  More information / commentary on the acquisition can be found in this article.  When the acquisition was announced, Genzyme was already in the midst of trying to save money / cut operating expense.  Within IT, where I resided, outsourcing was being considered.  Outsourcing is never an easy conversation because it affects people’s lives in a very direct way.  Being acquired on top of that only added to my discomfort because my own employment future was seemingly vague.  My approach at the time, for better or for worse, was to advocate strongly for my team.  I strongly criticized the outsourcing effort because I didn’t believe the financial picture being pitched.  This led to a lot of sleepless nights and frustration.  I was trying to control a situation that I could not control.  This lack of control over my team’s future and my own affected my quite deeply and eventually led to my departure for EMC.

Upon reflection, I have realized that while my angst over outsourcing was a concern, my own future also weighed heavily on me.  My future with Sanofi was likely secure.  I was a well performing employee and I likely could have found a good home within such a large company.  From an objective perspective, I should have felt confident.  Instead, what I attempted to do was to formulate a clear picture of the future.  This was an impossible task because no one knew what the combined companies would look like.  Striving for answers wasn’t the right place to put my energy and only led to frustration.  Sure, a certain amount of inquiry is fine, but as answers can’t truly be known, there’s a certain amount of insanity to it.

Fast forward a few years and Dell has just come to terms to acquire EMC.  Everyone is curious as to what will happen but no one can know for certain.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time wandering around the web, reading commentary, discovering what a tracking stock is, watching interviews, and absorbing information as best as I can.  I’ve read what competitors have said (IBM, HP, and PureStorage) and, predictably, they are opportunistic.  I don’t think I know much more about the acquisition after all that than I did when it was first announced.  For myself, I believe the best approach is to focus on the job at hand.  That may seem naive or overly simplistic or like sticking my head in the sand but it resonates for me.  To strive for answers that I won’t be able to find will only end in frustration.  And, to be clear, no one knows yet what the combined company will look like.  The answer to that question is a ways off from being written.  There’s a certain amount of relief in relinquishing any attempt to control a situation one cannot hope to command.  The alternative did not work for me in my last go around so I’m going to try a different tact this time.

Many folks might find this to be naive and given the uptick in recruiting calls, the outside world seems to be betting on EMC employees fleeing the company.  I’m sure many will and it is a sensible course of action – solidify your future rather than waiting for the EMC/Dell deal to work itself out.  For me, however, as unknown as things may seem, there is a plan.  For a dozen banks / investors to make billions of dollars worth of a bet, there has to be a lot of analysis done on the success of the combined entity.  People don’t invest that amount thinking they’ll lose money.  Combine that with a confidence in my own skills / marketability, I’m going to wait and see where the chips fall.  Change usually provides opportunity for those that embrace it.

One man’s opinion for sure, ymmv.

Career Planning – Own It! (part deux)

I planned to take a break from this blog but it turned out to be far longer than I expected.  I didn’t stray for any particular reason except the business that life in general throws at us.  In any event, I am back and will strive to post on a more regular basis!

This entry is the follow up to this post that I wrote back in March about career planning.  That post was on career planning from the individual contributor’s perspective and went into detail around approaching your manager, what to plan, etc.  Take a look for more info!  This post will approach the same conversation from the opposite side of the table.  From the manager’s perspective, what can we do to enable our employees to succeed in their career?

I strongly believe that a manager’s primary purpose should be to develop your people to their fullest potential.  Engaging with employees in career planning is a critical piece of that development.  This planning cannot simply be an annual review.  “What do you want to do over the next year?” is simply not sufficient.  It is important that this be an ongoing conversation because people change, new interests arise, and people can become bored at any point in time.  Staying engaged in a dialogue will help you, as a manager, stay better in tune with your team and show them you are committed to their success.

The first step in participating in employee career planning is creating a safe space for the discussion.  The daily tasks and deadlines we all face often get in the way of planning conversations.  1:1s are consumed by project updates or other tactical topics and rarely focus on the bigger picture.  It is important to convey to the employee that the time to talk about their career is whenever they are comfortable.  Take a couple minutes to talk about his or her goals – open ended questions are fine because the real aim is not the specific answer but to get both of your minds thinking on the topic.  What does the person like or dislike about their current role?  What would he like to do more?  What would she like to jettison?  All of these give you as the manager an idea of what keeps this person coming in every day.  Understanding that is the first step in career planning.

It is important during these conversations to set expectations.  Career planning is something that takes time and requires involvement from both the manager and the employee.  It does not progress overnight and will not move forward in a vacuum.  Organizations have certain goals and if you’d like to be an interior designer, a tech company isn’t the best place to achieve that.  That is an extreme example but if you wanted to sharpen you Linux skills in a Windows driven environment, there’s not much a manager can do – very little to justify training dollars or time for such activity.  That doesn’t mean those ideas should be dismissed.  They should be remembered because there may come a time when a project comes around that does require Linux and now you have a ready and eager participant already lined up.  Setting these expectations is important.  You must be honest with the employee around potential opportunities for growth.  If for example, someone wanted to go into project management but you know he has a tough time managing his own schedule, you might suggest working through personal organization as a first step.  That sort of feedback, while potentially taken negatively is important.  You want your employees to be successful and putting someone in a situation where they are likely to fail isn’t aligned with that goal.

Another important step in the process is to document the discussion and turn the notes into a plan for reference at subsequent conversations.  This is not a rigid timeline but rather a living document that will evolve over time.  It serves as a record for both of you so that opportunities do not slide by without consideration.  If someone shows interest in a certain technology or needs to develop a certain soft skill for advancement, the plan could be referenced explicitly citing a current project as a means for doing that.  It raises the awareness of the employee that her manager sees the effort as a growth opportunity and also shows that the leader is providing the opportunity promised.  The worst thing a manager can do in this space is putting up X as a roadblock to success and then not giving the employee a chance to work on X.  That is disingenuous.  At the same time, if opportunity is given but not taken, the employee must realize that the burden of success lies on them.  The plan serves as an objective reference point.

The key to successful career planning is to have both the employee and manager engaged in the discussion.  When a common understanding of goals and the path forward is reached, the only thing left to do is execute.  As leaders, we should coach along the way but it is the employee who is ultimately responsible for his or her own success.

Career Planning – Own It!

This is the first in a two part post on career planning. I want to explore this topic first from the perspective of owning your own career and then, as a manager, supporting the career planning of others. Career planning is not something that happens to you. It is something that you need to work at. You can’t sit idle and wait for opportunities to come to you. Your manager and others that can influence may notice your hard work and dedication but unless you tell them what you want to be doing and where you want to go, they will praise that success and assume you are content in your role. Promotions don’t come from tenure or because someone else took another role (at least not in a good organization), they come because a good performer asked, “What’s next?”   Interacting with your manager and expressing your goals is the single most important thing you can do with your career.

A disclaimer here for those of you that may be railing against the last sentence: I’ve worked exclusively in larger corporations and that is the perspective I write from.  I understand that in a smaller business or as a consultant, other things may trump. In larger business, maneuvering your way to the next level or onto a desirable project requires working within the management structure.

Expressing your goals to you manager is never an easy thing.  I believe it is best to be direct – even if this is not your normal communication style.  Being subtle about it won’t clearly convey what you desire and leaves room for misinterpretation.  And if there’s one thing you want to be clear about, it’s your career.  The first step is to understand what you want to be doing.  Is it the next level in your current role, a new project, a new team, or something else?  Having a good grasp on what you want is key to telling your manager about it.  Knowing where you want to be can quickly be followed by, “How do I get there?”  Mapping out your career with your manager is essentially those two questions – what? and how?  There may not always be the perfect opportunity so you need to be willing to take one step sideways in order to move forward later.  A new project might be possible if a promotion is not.

It is critical that, once you begin the conversation, it continues on a regular basis.  This doesn’t mean that every 1:1 needs to focus on it.  But it should be a topic of conversation at least once a month or so.  A good manager should give you feedback fairly often and a good contributor will ask for it.  Open ended questions (How am I doing?) are good but, the more specific, the better.  Talk to your boss after important meetings that both of you attend and ask how it went, what could have been better.  Learning what you do well is useful but learning from mistakes is better.  Correcting them is great and you should always mention a change in approach that yields a positive outcome.  It shows your manager that you recognize issues and are working to address them.

You have to be an active participant in your own career planning.  Sitting back and waiting for an annual review or other conversation doesn’t put you in control.  You have to take the reigns.  Good managers will guide you through, highlight their thoughts on your strengths and weaknesses, but you have to act.  As the title of the post says, “Own it!”