Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Myers-Briggs: The Undead

Although the Myers-Briggs and related instruments are fairly heavily used by many of us in employment counselling and career development the way that they model human personality is at least partly historical in nature and this model may be unsuitable to a postmodern world. Here are the dialogue examples that first caught my eye, from Gergen [1], and then a little of what he has to say on this subject, albeit indirectly when it comes to the measurement instruments.

'JAMES: The bottom line is clear: we don't have any choice but to close down the plant.
FRED: I just don't feel we can do that; it's too heartless for all those workers and their families.

'MARGE: Be realistic, Sam. If you don't take more care of the baby, my whole career is going to be ruined.
SAM: What kind of mother are you, anyway? You don't show one ounce of dedication or compassion to your own child—much less to me.

'SUSAN: You really are dumb if you buy that house, Carol. It's in such bad shape and you'll be in debt forever.
CAROL: But, Susan, somehow that doesn't bother me. There's just something deep inside me that comes alive whenever I think about living there.'

Gergen goes on: 'James, Marge, and Susan all rely on common beliefs in people as rational agents who examine the facts and make decisions accordingly. ... For Fred, Sam, and Carol, the ideal human being is not a creature of practical reason, but one who is guided by something deeper--moral feelings, loyalties, nurturing instincts, or a sense of spontaneous joy. ... a romanticist conception ... lays central stress on unseen, even sacred forces that dwell deep within the person, forces that give life and relationships their significance ... a modernist view of personality, in which reason and observation are central ingredients of human functioning ... [but] postmodernism tends to extinguish the validity of both the romantic and modern realities.'

Anyone familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality dimensions will recognise the alignment of Thinking-Feeling with Gergen's romantic-modern. However, Gergen casts some considerable doubt on whether one's identity can be modelled effectively using a system that is being pushed aside in a postmodern world. Since the Myers-Briggs-type instruments are used in career development practice largely to help clients to define, and become better aware of, their own identities—when the purpose for using these instruments is remembered at all—it is worth considering the possibility that the theoretical basis for their use may no longer hold.

[1] Kenneth J. Gergen (1991) The Saturated Self: Dilemnas of Identity in Contemporary Life, Basic Books (pages 18 and 19)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Whoever Called Us Homo Sapiens Was Wrong

Almost nothing to do with people is about thinking. It's all about connecting. So it is with jobs.

Most people assume that connections between job applicants and employers are usually established using résumés. Although this isn't really true let's pretend that it is for the time being. The most important reader of your résumé—assuming it gets past human resources—will be a hiring manager that has never met you. You will need to connect to that person as a human being. What are you going to tell them about yourself? And wouldn't it help if you knew what they wanted to know so that you could present it in the best possible light?

That's what this is about.

Suppose you're a quality control technician with an eye on the jobs that keep popping up on the Service Canada Job Bank at Orlick Industries in Hamilton. You've applied there once or twice and have not had any response; you suspect that this is because you do not meet their stated requirements but do not know this for sure. The Job Bank ad provides no information other than a fax number and an email address in the HR department. Argh!

This is not nearly as bad as it might sound because you do know one attractive employer and you can now obtain quite a bit of information that will help you.

Go to strategis.gc.ca and search for "Orlick Industries" in the "Company Capabilities" section (currently http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/app/ccc/search/cccBasicSearch.do?language=eng&portal=1). Have a look at both the "Complete Profile" and the web site for the company, and bookmark the pages if possible. We are looking particularly for the "Primary Industry(NAICS)" because we can use this to query for companies engaged in enterprises that are similar to that of Orlick Industries.

It is possible that one could track down the hiring manager for the advertised position given the information already obtained in the form of telephone numbers and email addresses. However, I wouldn't advise doing that. That's the target company. Let's gather some general information about what people in this industry look for in job candidates to be able to present well to this ultimate target.

Go back to the strategis search page and, this time, use the detailed search (currently the same web page as above but available under the button labelled "Go to detailed search"). Enter the NAICS number for Orlick Industries (I think it's 331317) to obtain a list of companies. You might choose to select just the companies in your own province at this point (or not). Now compile a list of contact names using the information on company websites and the strategis company profile entries. You want hiring managers, not human resources people, because they understand what they want from you as an employee and why they want it.

What you do now is to make another list of questions about what you don't know or understand about why people are hired for the job that you want. If you find yourself talking to yourself in the bathroom mirror and saying, "Why do they insist on 3-5 years experience?" then that is a question that you should somehow get an answer to from a hiring manager. Book fifteen minutes when you can have a conversation with each hiring manager. Listen carefully and don't argue, just the way your mother told you. Ask follow-up questions. In some cases at least you will enjoy yourself and when you leave your résumé with the hiring manager they will remember you. Indeed sometimes jobs magically materialise this way.

Come to think of it, don't rely on my three or four sentences on the topic of networking above, borrow a book from the public library about it.

The more conversations you have the easier they will become. Once you've gathered sufficient information and familiarity with it make appointments to speak with your most favoured employers.

Remember how I mentioned that people assume the importance of résumés. Well, that's all it is, an assumption. The fact is that, if you start contacting employers systematically and conscientiously you will dig up a job in your area of choice, assuming of course that such jobs exist. You will use the résumé as a formal document that will be stuffed into an HR file simply as a record. Mind you, you will be unable to resist adjusting your résumé to reflect your improved knowledge of the jobs marketplace.

Whoever called us homo sapiens was wrong. Think about it.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

IT résumés: go carefully

Susan Buckingham[1] and I were discussing a résumé written for an IT worker yesterday and here are a couple of the observations that we made. Put briefly, there are some big downsides in mentioning certain specific details of technical competencies or too many educational credentials relating to technical competencies, rather than any results that have flowed from these competencies.

Quite a few highly skilled IT professionals who work with Microsoft Windows seem to think that they must mention specific skills with Microsoft Word, Excel and Publisher. However isn't it likely that employers will assume competence with such fairly standard Windows applications? Mere mention of MS Office should often be enough—unless the worker can claim skills with VBA or some other more technical or administrative aspects of these products, or with the suite.

Related to this, some IT professionals mention competence with languages or products such as Javascript, for example, that would be implied by a knowledge of more advanced or more up-to-date technologies. Be careful! A mention of something like Javascript might make you look like a hacker when you want to be viewed as a skilled professional programmer. If you have written Ajax products, or even some Greasemonkey scripts, then you might choose to omit Javascript from your list.

IT is one technological area—but obviously not the only one—that is subject to rapid change. Most worthwhile employers will expect you to keep up with that change. Although some of these will have the good sense and wherewithall to fund courses for you they will not expect you to attend courses involving the acquisition of tiny increments ("baby steps") of skills and knowledge at the employer's expense. You will be expected to acquire a lot on your own. Therefore, be careful in you résumé about what you expose about how you keep up-to-date.

You will have read this a million times, I know, if you are reading about creating résumés. So: do skip this paragraph if you wish. Better you should indicate your acquisition of skills and knowledge by describing results than by listing courses. But, if you can't prove competence with results then pass a few of the tests that may still be available on the 'net. (As an employer, though, I know what I would prefer. There is a lot more to building software than what is covered in passing tests.)

[1] Niagara West Adult Learning & Resources Centre

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Friendlier Career Resource Rooms for Men

I won't trouble to try to defend my sex against all of those jokes about our unwillingness to ask directions when we're lost in our cars. As Tom Golder puts it in one of his articles about dealing with grief, "When anyone confronts a problem that has no solution he or she will often feel lost. When a woman feels lost, she tends to ask for help. When a man feels lost, he looks for maps." [italics mine]

In a different context Paco Underhill (Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping) seems to be referring to the same basic masculine propensity when he mentions that men are more willing to shop in stores that post comparisons and other information that they can read for themselves. (And he has a lot of interesting things to say to retailers who want to attract female shoppers too.)

Yet most career resource centres that I have seen seem to depend mainly on the spoken word, and on a client's willingness to request help. It's true, they often display posters exhorting job seekers to improve their knowledge of computers or to gain literacy skills. However, in the main, short basic tutorial information about how to use computer systems, how to write marketing documents, when classes will be held and so on is largely missing.

Let's put more written stuff on walls. It will actually save time and effort, and improve efficiencies.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Can We Make Job Listings Better for Job Seekers?


First of all, it should be admitted that some of our clients have difficulty even finding Service Canada's Job Bank, let alone searching it once they've found it. I sense that skills that might suffice for casual recreational surfing create a lot of anxiety when attempts are made to apply them where there is a real need for information.

I have also become aware how easy it is frighten away clients whose occupations do not involve using computers when we rush to suggest to them that we use the Job Bank to identify vacancies. One needs to go carefully, to be sure of offering what a client is ready to accept.

As far as I am concerned though, as a data source, the Job Bank is a thing of beauty! Lots of jobs, one can get one's mitts on lots of records and an attempt is made to provide the NOC code for each job that is advertised. With reference to that last point, from the point of view of pure efficiency one would like to simply suggest that job seekers conduct their searches using these codes alone and let the Job Bank work its magic. However, there are a few problems with this approach in practice; let me mention a few:

  • I am told that sometimes job are advertised with incorrect codes.
  • Some job seekers are uncomfortable using the codes; they prefer to search for words that seem to them to directly relate to jobs and occupations.
  • Some job seekers are willing to consider jobs in a number of NOC categories and they may not know how to construct Boolean expressions.
The obvious problem with conducting searches for jobs using exact words is that it is very easy to miss suitable vacancies. For example, as an career develoment practitioner I might search on the term "career" alone and miss jobs with titles that include the word "employment".

Here's an approach that we have been experimenting with in the agency where I have spent the past few months. We provide a browser-displayable list of jobs available in our geographical area, drawn from the Job Bank, with a word index into the titles of the jobs. The image above shows the way part of the list appears.

By scrolling down through the pane on the left the job seeker can consider words in job titles. Having spotted what might be an interesting one, s/he can click on one of the job titles under the word and the pane to the right will scroll to bring the corresponding job information into view. The jobs in the righthand pane are grouped by NOC code so that, once the job seeker has identifed a single job that is appropriate s/he will find any others than might be available. If a few jobs have been misclassified they are still accessible using the word list in the right pane.

The main benefits to job seekers might be that the system suggests words to them, rather than forcing them volunteer them, and that it groups similar jobs.

I would be very interesting in hearing about other ways of enhancing the searchability of the Job Bank or other similar products.


[Previously posted in another blog; access to that blog via Dashboard lost.]

Career trajectory for younger career developers

Even people who are creative performers are not necessarily creative about finding gigs and negotiating contracts. Hence the need for theatrical agents. In a similar way, lots and lots of people who perform well in their jobs find it challenging to create their own resumes or to speak for themselves to employers. Yet we are told that there will be fewer and fewer jobs in future and, therefore, that there will be more and more need for individuals to market themselves--or be marketed--repeatedly. If this is true then it represents a siginificant opportunity for career developers.

The existing niche for career developers who want to learn to market other people is the occupation know as job developer. At the present time most job developers are funded by government sources. One way to play the trend in the economy just indicated would be to learn the "trade" as a job developer and then to become, in effect, an agent for some class of occupations that has hitherto been unrepresented, in somewhat the way that theatrical agents now represent actors and film directors. Thus a career developer would gain knowledge and experience at public cost then move into a career in the private sector.

[I published this post first on 7 February, on an earlier version of this blog which has since become inaccessible from my dashboard.]

Want a Feed for Contact Point Events?

Contact Point maintains an excellent list of upcoming professional development events. If you are like me and prefer to receive this type of information in the form of an RSS feed then use mine. It's available here (updated daily).

This is for Canadian career and employment people mainly; however, the Contact Point page does list events from much farther afield.


[Originally posted to an earlier version of this blog but access to that blog via Dashboard lost.]