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Retention Part 5 - Finding Your Job

By Steve Jones,

Part five of my series that looks at retention of employees. In this one I'm looking at how the employee views things and the reasons that they might want or not want to be retained. I'm also including a few hints on what can help you stay in a position that you enjoy. The other articles in the series:

  • Why Retain Employees?
  • Employee thoughts - The people that do most of the tangible work, not managers, and how you might retain them.
  • Manager Thoughts - What managers think and how they view employees?
  • Keeping Your Job - Figuring out what you want and keeping it. (This article)
  • Finding Your Job - A look at what might matter in a job search, or in keeping your job and some advice. (this article)
Hopefully this will be a fairly timeless series that you can refer to throughout your career and pass along to your managers and others that are interested. Please be sure that you read the feedback as this is one place where lots of other opinions, not just mine, will be cast and there will be good information as well. You can see what others have posted in the "Your Opinion" tab at the bottom of the article.

If you haven't read the other parts, please do so first, at least part 4 on determining what your dream job is.

Your Dream Job

You should have an idea of what this includes. Not that you have a specific job at a specific place, but you might. More that you know what you like and don't like and can list them somewhere. I'll give you a few things that are important to me and suggest a few more, but you should have your own list.

My Important List

  • Flexible Hours - I don't punch a clock and my life is fluid. I work when it's needed, but when things aren't critical, I expect to have a boss that handles some movement of my hours.
  • Minimal Commute - I might be able to deal with a longer commute, like downtown Denver, if it were only 2-3 days a week and telecommuting the rest of the time.
  • Good Team Chemistry - My goal is to meet everyone that I will work with on a daily basis, but most importantly the entire team of people. And I have to get along and want to be with them. Maybe not everyone, but overall there needs to be a good fit.
  • Salary and benefits - I'm flexible here, but I do have some minimums I need to meet for my family. This is far from the most important, but it does factor in there.

Note that I haven't mentioned what the job is. That's because this is my list for a DBA job, which is primarily what I'd pursue at this point in my life. I enjoy the work, I do well at it, and it's basically the same job everywhere. A few items that have been important in the past and you might find to be important for you.

  • Size of company - I prefer small companies, but I've worked at companies with > 10,000 people as well. I can deal with both areas.
  • Production/Development - I've done both, but I prefer the production environments, working in Operations and keeping things stable and running. They are very different jobs, so be sure you are clear on which one is important to you.
  • Database Size - This used to be something I was concerned with, wanting each new job to have bigger and bigger databases to learn about them and add some bragging points to my resume :)
  • Technology - I'm not terribly concerned if I'm running SQL 6.5 or SQL 2005, but some people are. If you are growing your career and trying to move it to bigger and better things, then .NET, SQL Server 2005, and other cutting edge technologies might be important. Some companies are content to work with a known quantity and some are looking to move to newer technologies.
  • Advancement Opportunities - This could be up in the company, moving into research, or getting to another country. Larger companies tend to have more places you can grow your career, but it can be anywhere. The important thing is that if you are looking to manage DBAs or a team of people that you don't go work for a 20 person company with 2 developers and 1 DBA (you). Think this through.
One last note on important things. You may need to update these as you search for a job over time. A small commute may be important early on, but it becomes less important with each week that I'm out of work.

Looking Around

I've said this to many peers and it always seems to be met with some skepticism. I'm always looking for jobs. I am on the Monster and Dice job lists, but have used others as well. I just like those. I keep an eye out for jobs and when I'm enjoying the Sunday paper, I'll take a glance at the computer jobs because you never know what's in there. Often the government/city jobs will appear there and one might be interesting. I still somewhat kick myself for not applying to run IT for the city of Littleton, CO many years ago.

The point is to be proactive in your career and be knowledgeable. Just like your databases are always gathering new information, you should be aware of the job market. It's relevant if you get laid off, if you are looking to ask for a raise, or you want to justify using other technologies. Not just if you want a new job. Current jobs can clue you in to the state of the DBA world around you.

In line with that, I urge everyone to "touch" their resume every quarter, 4 times a year. I still have a reminder setup in Outlook and I'll take 5 minutes to glance over my resume, see if anything is changed, and check the length. If I add something, then I usually look back at past entries and see if there is anything I can remove. I think these days a 2 page resume is acceptable, especially since most people look at them electronically, but more than 2 pages seems to be a lot. I work to keep mine below two pages.

However, while it's not really a US custom, I do keep a longer CV, or curriculum vitae, that has my complete work history. I typically never remove anything from here, just as I add entries to the resume, they go here as well.

Since I have been called about jobs out of the blue, I want to have a current resume on hand that I can get back to them immediately with. I have also seen friends that were told a job was available and urged to apply and then then spent the next day or so getting a resume together. Having one ready might just land you your dream job, so keep your resume up to date.

Getting Noticed

Assuming you have found a job or two that you are interested in, how do you stand out? Part of standing out is having a good resume that's relevant to the job. I have often created 2-3 different resumes for different jobs, emphasizing different things in each. For example, I have a "manager" resume that highlights positions in which I have managed people. It mentions the things that are specific to managers like budgeting, bonuses, reviews, etc.

Now I have managed people while also having to work as a DBA, so my "DBA" resume highlights the SQL Server work rather than the manager stuff. I'm not lying or misrepresenting what I've done, but since in most of my jobs I've worn a few hats, I emphasize a particular hat for a particular position.

You do want to include some buzzwords, however, because so many people run a search on a resume these days at larger companies that you want to come up in the first pass for the positions you are applying for. So if they use a buzzword in the posting and you have experience in it, put it in your resume where appropriate. Resumes that have paragraphs of buzzwords are likely to be launched by myself and quite a few managers I know.

If you have had relatively few jobs, there isn't much your resume can help with. But make sure it's relevant while being accurate. A cover letter, especially in these days of hundreds of resumes coming for a position, you want to make a personal, relevant cover letter. If you want to be a DBA, but haven't been one, then you should tell why you want this job and that you are realistic. You know you have to learn, you've done some work on your own, and you'll pay your dues.

I should mention that you do want to be somewhat realistic in your search. It's ok to shoot a little beyond your experience for a position, but you have to be somewhat in the range. If you've had less than a year of experience, you aren't ready to be a senior DBA. If you've never managed people, you aren't ready to be a director of managers.

But you can write a real letter, spell and grammar checked, that shows you are interested and have some knowledge about what position and company you are applying for. Fairly short, 2-3 paragraphs, honest, simple letters that are to the point without being full of flowery language and buzzwords do work. Someone will look at this letter and if they can read it in 30 seconds and understand it, you have a chance of moving forward.

Separating Yourself from the Pack

Assuming that you get an interview, how do you ensure you stick in someone's mind and have a shot at the job? These days I see more and more "group" interviews where there are multiple people talking to you. That's usually after a phone interview with an HR person or perhaps a manager, so you usually have at least 2 chances to make a good impression.

So I'll look at both of these interviews and give you a few things I've done as well as things I hear work well from friends that interview people.

One note here: there is no magic formula or trick to guarantee success. This is a subjective area and you should take my advice and modify it to fit yourself and your situation.

Screening on the Phone

Phone interviews are usually spur of the moment and unscheduled. I've had HR people take a few minutes to call me and check the basic facts of my resume and schedule a live interview, and I've had managers call me to see if I was worth the time for a live interview.

If this is scheduled, be sure you are ready and in a place where you can talk. Not in your cube where others will interrupt you, not taking your kids to school, etc. If you have a conflict of some sort, or need to shift things, ask. Small requests like moving the interview 15 minutes later so you can drop kids off at school will not cost you the job.

The same thing goes if you are called out of the blue. If you cannot talk, tell them and reschedule for 30 minutes later, end of the day, tomorrow, etc. Be accommodating, but don't feel like you have no choice and put yourself in a bad place for the interview. However you do it, the first thing is to make sure you have each other's numbers in case of a disconnect. Since many people use cell phones these days, you want to be able to continue if you get disconnected: ask for their number, just to be safe. And if you're on your phone, stop driving or moving. Don't do anything to wreck your reception.

This is a good place to get a basic feel for the job first. I usually ask for a short description of the job to be sure that the position matches what I saw in the ad or was told. You can cut the interview short here of bring up major concerns from your important list (remember that from above?). Commute, salary, etc. are good things to confirm here. If there is a deal breaker, don't waste your time or their time and hope you can work things out.

Just as in a live interview, you want to represent yourself accurately. Listen to the questions and answer them the best you can. "I don't know" is an acceptable answer and please use it rather than trying to fool someone with a BS answer. You really won't know if the person is technical and understands the question or not. Or if they have someone else in the room cueing them!

Be polite and deferential with the person since you can't read body language. A few guidelines that will probably apply in the live interview as well:

  • DO NOT CURSE - This was brought up in another article, but it's not appropriate in an interview and you don't know who you offend. Or if you're being baited.
  • Do not lie about what you know - Answer honestly and if you don't know, say that. You can always say you'd check BOL, call PSS, etc.
  • Have stories ready - what you liked best from each job in the last 2-3 years, what you didn't like, why you left, etc. You'll be asked some of these and you should have practiced some things so you can deliver them.
  • Be friendly, excited, and eager - It shows on the phone. Not so much you stumble over your words, but you want to convey you want this job. If you don't, you shouldn't be on the phone.
  • DO NOT TALK BADLY ABOUT ANYONE - If you had a problem with someone, admit to the conflict, but do not blame anyone. Don't say other departments screwed your amazing wonderful project up. Don't say someone is an idiot, that they don't know what you're talking about, etc. This isn't being dishonest if you feel this way, it's being tactful. You NEVER know who's listening in or might be working at that company. Your worst enemy from down the hall might have accepted a job there last week and is starting tomorrow.
  • Have a plan to shore up your shortcomings - In areas where you are weak, or in case you don't know an answer, be ready to show you have a plan to get better, become more skilled, or prevent mistakes from happening in the future.

Lastly, basic manners. Don't be eating or drinking while you're on the phone. Listen to the interviewer and respond to what they said, not what you want to say.

Live and In Color

OK, you've impressed them and you're invited to a real interview. Same scheduling rules as above, be sure you have time and can talk. Ask how long the interview will be, where it is, etc, and be sure you can accommodate both the company and yourself. If something doesn't work, you can usually delay for a day or two, but don't ask for a week. There's other candidates who won't. Ask how long you should expect and then add a pad to that. Good interviews will probably go long.

Get directions and print them out. Unless you absolutely know where the company is located, be sure you have directions with you. And be on time. Nothing is more annoying than having someone not be there for an interview. You're better off being 10 minutes early and sitting in your car for 7 than being 2 minutes late. Give the receptionist a couple minutes to ask you for paperwork, announce you, finish a phone call, etc.

Dress. This is an interesting one. I usually go to every interview with a collared shirt or polo shirt and jeans, and most of my friends think I'm crazy. I usually ask if it's casual dress in the phone interview or email schedule to be sure, but I'm not a dress up guy. However, you do want to be, in general, perhaps slightly more dressed up than the company. I don't think you have to wear a suit and tie to every interview, but it doesn't hurt. However, even if the team wears obnoxious t-shirts and shorts, wear at least a polo shirt and jeans. It won't hurt.

I shouldn't have to mention this, but since I've seen it, I will. Make sure you're groomed. Showered, shaved, light cologne or perfume, clean clothes, etc. the visual impression will matter. For me, I usually hit the gym at lunch, but I'd skip it if I had an interview later in the day. I'd get myself groomed for the interview in the morning and not take any chances on messing that up.

If you have questions, and you should have some, be sure you know what they are, even if you need to write them down. Use the general list above to be sure you're prepared. You want to be sure you've practiced answers and questions as well. Slow down your speech and eliminate your fidgeting in practice with your wife, husband, friend, etc. The live interview is important to sell yourself and that means a good visual impression. Don't slouch too bad, watch your body language and habits. Don't pick at your clothes, spin your chair, etc. Remember, even the best qualified of us get nervous and all our habits are amplified. Be conscious of your body.

I'm a native English speaker, but I've interviewed and been interviewed by many people who weren't. Some people may have horrible accents or command of the English language. But that didn't necessarily make them a bad candidate. If you don't speak English well, be sure you have paper and pencil in case you cannot make yourself understood. Speak slower than you want because you'll probably be speaking faster than you normally do and be cognizant of what you are saying. You need to emphasize your ability to communicate for most positions, especially if you want to be a DBA.

You want to be comfortable. So be sure you are. If you're chair is not comfortable, tell the interviewer before you start. If you need water because your throat is dry, ask for it. Once things get going, you want them to go smooth. Try to tell yourself to relax and remember that you are trying to connect with your interviewer(s) and develop a rapport as well as wow them with your knowledge. Or your honesty about things you do not know.

I always ask myself these two questions, but I'm somewhat convinced that lots of people unconsciously ask them as well. They are: Would I go have a beer with this person? and Would I drive cross country with this person? They sound similar, but they reveal two different things to me. The first one tells me if I have a rapport with this person socially. I don't mean a beer literally, but would I want to sit and relax and just hang out with this person. That's the important one for a team player to me. The second question reveals if this person is interesting and engaging enough for a longer time period. Not necessarily socially, but could we talk about technology or something else and keep each other interested for a long time. If not, then this person might not be someone that I'd want to work with over time.

When you are asked if you have questions, you should have a few. Hopefully they'll be as a result of what you heard, but you should have thought about the job and developed at least one question. This is the time to be sure that benefits, hours, salary, etc. are as you expect. Any concerns you have should be brought up as well. See if you can resolve something that you think is important here.

I also ask about the future here. What's their timeline for a decision, more interviews, etc. I also ask if there's anyone that I'll be working with a lot that I haven't met and try to arrange time with that person. If I'm not in the running, then no harm no foul, they'll not call me. If I am, however, this is a chance for me to continue my interview, and ensure that I'm getting the dream job that I want.

Your Personal Life

First a fence sitting statement. Your personal life is your own and no one's business in an interview. But being a human being and relating to people helps you sell yourself.

So what can you talk about? First, there are many questions that you are not supposed to be asked. Are you married, pregnant, want/have kids, etc. If you are asked, don't get real offended, but answer politely that it's inappropriate to ask that. Don't get into an argument if the person says they can ask, but decline to answer if you feel it's inappropriate.

In general, you want to keep much of your personal life out of work, at least until you know how much work infringes upon work and vice versa. And you won't know that until you work in the job for a few months. So whether you want to have kids or not, whether you like to hunt, fish, play World of Warcraft, etc. is something you want to minimize. If someone asks you what you do for fun, or outside of work, mention something, but don't dwell on it or describe it in great detail. Give them a sentence or two and move on.

Again, because I've seen it, don't mention anything you do that is time consuming, dangerous, potentially controversial, etc. It can give the wrong impression, right or wrong, so avoid it. I'd include political or religious activities, hobbies, etc. Fundraising, Sunday School, etc. all can be misconstrued or taken the wrong way, so avoid them.

I don't want to offend anyone, but I do want to mention something about the "God Bless You" or similar parting that many people use. It's inappropriate in an interview. And this is the reason.

I'm an atheist. I respect your religion, bow my head when a prayer is said, etc., but I don't want to hear about it at work. If we become good friends, then I can accept it from you or feel comfortable telling you that I'd rather you didn't. But if we're not friends, I don't want to hear it and it makes me uncomfortable, no offended. So it's one more strike against hiring you.

Remember, this is all about selling yourself. So don't move into controversial areas. If you are asked, be honest, but minimize or shorten your answers about anything that could turn off the interviewer.

Blogging

It's a hot phenomenon and it's something that so many people seem to be doing these days. But it's a two edged sword and you need to be aware of that.

A good blog can catch the eye of a potential employer, maybe even without you knowing it. Someone that reads what you write learns something about you, things that you might not be able to get out in an interview. You can showcase your knowledge, your skill with code, or even the software side. Thoughts and notes on how you deal with situations can help to show that you have people skills. I have done well with SQLServerCentral.com and always mention it in interviews. Heck, for me it usually is the interview because my knowledge, philosophy, etc. are all out there for people to read. But before that I mentioned places that I had published in an interview or where I had answered lots of questions on a Q&A site to show something I've put out there publicly.

However a blog can have a downside. Complaining about work, making simple coding mistakes, revealing information that you shouldn't be can affect you in a negative light. People have been fired for writing in their blogs, so if you have your dream job, be careful about what you blog about. I've been careful to let my managers know I'm blogging and asking if I have a question. And if you use events, code, ideas, etc. from work, be sure you have permission.

I have never read a blog by someone I've interviewed, but I haven't hired anyone in the last couple years. However, if I were interviewing someone, I might search to see if they had a blog and how they wrote, what they thought, etc.

This doesn't mean you should contrive a blog. Faking something like that isn't easy and probably not possible over any length of time unless that's going to be your job. Someone will catch on that the things you write aren't really your own thoughts or ideas.

But be sure to mention it in your interview, or any public works you've written or contributed to. But only if it's relevant to the job. Don't mention your family's picture web site.

Conclusion

This is slightly off the topic of retention, but it does tie in. If you get the dream job, then you'll want to be sure you get retained :)

There are really two very important things to remember. First, be honest. I know it's cliche'ed, but I mean be honest both to the interviewers in your answers as well as to yourself as you evaluate the job. And that evaluation should continue up until you decide to accept a job offer. Keep being honest with yourself as to what you really want and what this position really is.

The second part is to do your best while being honest. Make your best impressions, your best answers, your best sales job of yourself. A good product sells itself, but only by itself. When you're faced with lots of competition, you need to be sure you make the best impression.

Steve Jones ©2005 dkranch.net

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