Monday, October 8, 2018

The Job that Wasn't There - A Lesson in Applying for Jobs

Hermione (made up name to protect her identity) was a student in my fast-track Web Developer class at SAIT in early 2017.  Like a lot of students I get in that course, she was anxious about obtaining work after receiving her diploma.

One day in between exercises, I showed the class several 'Careers' web pages of good, local web design companies.  One of those companies was Critical Mass, a company I had actually consulted with before.  I often recommend this company to students because they have a world class client list, they do internships, and I have experience with them.  That particular day, they happened to have an opening at the time for a Junior Web Designer, but no posted opportunities for internships.  I encouraged the students to apply for the Junior Web Designer opportunity and Hermione challenged me...

"How can we do that when we don't have all the qualifications in their list of requirements?"

I often get this question, and I had an answer. "You need to understand how a company creates a job description.  Many put it together as a list of qualifications for the perfect candidate.  Others will build the job description based on an existing successful employee in the company. They realize that most of the applicants won't match all of the qualifications - and this is particularly true in the IT industry. "

Hermione digested my answer, and piped up again. "But we're still in school and we have several more weeks before we'd be available to start working!  Does it really make sense to apply now for a position like this?"

"Absolutely!" I replied. "You never know what might come out of an application.  The hiring process for many companies takes several weeks.  There's usually a bunch of interviews for them to schedule and have, and then some planning and logistics around actually bringing the successful applicant aboard.  You never know what will happen out of an application."

She still looked skeptical.  I moved the class onto another exercise and didn't think too much more about it.

Several weeks later, I received the following email from Hermione:

"I took your advice about applying for jobs and I applied at Critical Mass for a
Typing letters back and forth about a job opportunity
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
Junior Web Developer position knowing that I was NOT qualified and that they probably never call me back. Guess what? They called me back! They don't think I am ready for the Junior Web Developer position, but they want me to interview for their internship program. The interview is on <blah>. Which leads me to the crux of this email. Would you consider being a reference for me? And do you have any advice for this interview?"

I responded:

"Lol Excellent!  Good for you, Hermione.

Certainly I can be a reference (as a teacher) for you.
Probably the best advice I have for your interview is if you don't have the right answer, straight up tell them.  But then also tell them you'll have to answer (or know about whatever their asking you) tomorrow.  In other words, when you get home, you'll investigate it and get the answers.  
Bring a notepad to the interview and make notes about anything like that (so you look like you mean business).  Come with a couple of questions as well.  Research in advance anything in the job description you don't know about so you feel prepared.  Research the company a bit - know where their office is, ensure you can make it there on time, who are their current clients, some of the history, etc. 
Smile!  I don't know if you read my blog post about that, but smiling is HUGE.  If you can, try and get an interview somewhere else first to practice and get the jitters out (and maybe get a competing offer) 
Hope that helps!  Good luck!"

She replied:

"Thank you! I appreciate the reference and the advice.
I've been panicking a little, I really thought they would never call. I'm scrambling to get my portfolio site updated for the interview, as well as just get prepared in general. I do have a practicum lined up though, so no pressure...sort of."

In the end, Hermione got the internship.  She was nervous going into the internship because she didn't feel entirely qualified.  I told her not to worry and ask LOTS of questions.  She ended up successfully completed her internship and came out feeling better about it than she expected to.  It was a great lesson for her (and for me and all more students who I tell this story to) of how there are opportunities that you don't see in the job market.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Degree Dead End?

I've been teaching part-time at SAIT since 2005.

Around 2009 I was teaching an Introduction to C# course to a full class of 'fast-track' students. We had just finished an intense exercise and so I thought I could give the students a mental break with some ad-libbing and expound on the importance of good soft-skills and a positive attitude in the IT industry.  One of the students at the back of the class (I'll call him 'Tom') interrupted me mid-sentence and challenged me
The front entrance of Heritage Hall at SAIT
The main entrance to Heritage Hall at SAIT
on attitude:

"How do you think someone like me feels?  I just finished a computer science degree and no one wanted to hire me!  There were no jobs!  I had to come here and pay more tuition to become marketable in the field... And now the economy has downturned!  How can I have a good attitude??"

Everyone had been looking at Tom during his outburst.  He was one of the better students in the class and some of them knew his history.  He had their respect and their empathy.  Now they turned to face me en-mass to see how I'd respond.

I reached for a glass of water, took a sip, and dove in...

"I hear ya, Tom.  I got my start in the IT field in a course just like this one - fast-track, 9 months of training where I went from knowing virtually no code to being ready for an IT coding job.  Listen to my story..."

I proceeded to tell the class the story of my career change into IT and the challenges I had (you can read about it here).   After regaling them with my tale and convincing them that I had as much reason be have a bad attitude as Tom, I encouraged them all to keep their chins up and actively find ways to stay motivated and persistent in their job search.

It was a moment as an instructor that I won't forget.  A challenge from the class,  I tried to sincerely respond, and then...  I have wait and see what happens - if anything.  Often there isn't much feedback in these situations and it seems like my heartfelt words fall into into a void.  I cling to a hope that some of the students take what I say to heart.

~      ~      ~

Fast-forward almost a year.

I was walking in downtown Calgary to catch my bus home after work.  Low and behold, walking up the sidewalk towards me is Tom!  Recognizing me, he accelerated forward to shake my hand.

"Remember me?"  He asked, smiling.          How could I forget?

He proceeded to tell me that after school had finished he took what I said to heart, persevered in his job hunt and landed his dream job coding with an oil company in downtown Calgary.  His demeanour and outlook had totally changed.  He was upbeat, full of energy and brimming with hope.  I was SO encouraged.  He thanked me for sharing my story and thoughts on attitude back in class.  I wished him good luck with his coding career and we parted ways.

Attitude is huge.  Not just your attitude, but how you think and react to circumstances outside your control.  Take ownership of the things you can change.  Determine to make the things you can't change work in your favour, one way or the other.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

What's Next?

These days getting an college education doesn't mean you'll be working in that discipline for the rest of your life.  Careers are much more fluid.  Job skills are more transferable.  Companies are more flexible, open, and I daresay even keenly interested in people work experience from other industries and practices.  Being agile and nimble are crucial in today's work environment.  Learning doesn't stop when school ends - its just beginning.

What's next for me?  Not sure.

A straight and narrow path - can I walk in it?
Trying to follow the straight and narrow
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Given my experience in IT, I regularly get recruiters looking to potentially hire me for an IT contract from all over.  Its ironic that Google and Apple just dropped their requirement for new hires to have a degree - I was just thinking I might have to get mine in order for my next career steps.  In fact, I've just sent out requests for reference letters to that effect because I'll want to leverage my work experience for credit hours in my application for a degree.

In a couple of years our kids will be all done with regular school.  My wife is itching to move then I think.  I'd like to move as well.  Ensuring I have some kind of 'formal recognition' for my learning and work experience certainly wouldn't hurt my situation if I find myself in a new city without my well established network.

God's plan for us may figure prominently into a move as well.  I really don't know what the next step might be, but I want to be sure I'm following Him.  I pray that whatever road I choose to follow, He could say that I was a good and faithful servant and that like David, I served God's purpose in my generation.

I don't know at this point what 'move' means.  Is it a physical move, or something else?  I pray that I'd be totally open and surrendered to God's plan - easier said that done for this 'me' that I know that is fearful and fickle.  More IT?  Writing?  Teaching?  Volunteering?

Several examples I was reminded of this week...

  • Jimmy Carter and his wife - 93 and 91 respectively - still building habitat for humanity houses
  • Mother Theresa and her work helping the 'poorest of the poor'.
  • Henri Nouwen leaving a distinguished career in teaching to work with the community at L'Arche.