Friday, September 28, 2012

Richard Branson’s going to Mars. Can you manage when he’s gone?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.
Branson’s at it again. Now he wants to colonize Mars. Not content with his spaceport or his fleet of space shuttles, Sir Richard is eyeing the red planet with the intention of creating a Noah’s Ark of earthlings, ready and willing to create a new population.

I don’t concern myself with the eccentricities of Mr. Branson’s twilight years in business. I care nothing for the fact that his life resembles the plot of Moonraker a little more every day. Richard Branson can colonize Mars to his heart’s content as far as I’m concerned. If he raises three generations of clone-a-like men and women with his outlook on life, then Mars will be a very successful colony indeed.

When it comes to this guy, I only want to talk about one thing – management. Not ‘leadership’, that wonderful concept that’s allowed two-a-penny executives like me to stay out of the annoying details of actual work and just tour the world patting people on the back and quoting Sun Tzu; not ‘entrepreneurialism’ which translates to convincing people to take sizable risks and then enjoying the benefits that your luck and their money deliver. No. The key for the success of the 99%, or the 47% or whatever % figure you want to use for ‘normal’ is management. Branson’s always been a great manager; that’s why the Virgin brand is such a powerhouse and it’s why he gets his own planet to play with.

Bad management is everywhere, even where you have great leaders at the top. It’s their job to make sure you all do the right things, not that you do things right.

High level strategic decisions can be blamed for the death of a lot of previously successful businesses. Borders decided to limit choice and reduce investment in local loyalty initiatives.  Blockbuster inexplicably failed to perceive the threat that the digitization of their core market was going to hold. 

Some business suicides are committed in the board room. But most are not; most failing and struggling businesses are doing the right things, they’re just not doing them right.

It was bad management that led to the 2008 financial crisis, as employees in financial institutions made decisions and took risks that should have been seen, understood and stopped by the people responsible for connecting individual behavior to the big picture.

Bad management can be blamed for everything from congested airports to long lines at the coffee shop to celebrity cash crises – because MC Hammer and Mike Tyson never had CEOs or boardrooms. But they both had managers.

From bad communication to lack of trust, disengagement, indecision, laziness and pride to poor delegation, unclear targets, weak organization and low accountability – you are never more than two rooms from a bad manager. It’s time to stop talking about leadership and strategy when it’s not appropriate. It’s time to talk about getting things done, helping other people get things done and keeping things organized, well-planned and clearly reported. It’s time to dismiss the inflated job titles and flat organizational structures that have left us all feeling buddy-buddy with the chairman and looking upward at our next shiny business card. It’s time to stop going to round tables and having lunch with consultants. It’s time to get everything out on the table, understand it and make it work better. I will no longer be ashamed to be, above anything else, a manager. A manager of people and of projects. I will manage my budget, manage my staff and manage our workload.

My name is Richard Spragg and I am a manager.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to talk about what good management is, and between us, we’re going to make me and some of my readers better at it. 

For a fun starting point, I offer these management advice quotes from top names in business and beyond, including Sir Richard. We have a lot to learn from these people, before they all saunter off into outer space.

Post your thoughts, or your favorite pearl of management wisdom in the comments box and share it with the world.

Do you have what it takes? Talascend can provide you with access to more job opportunities than any other provider in the sector.  Search our database of available jobs and register with us so our consultants can find the right potential opportunities for you.

Monday, September 17, 2012

250 years later, seeking a permanent end to bad resumes.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

As early as the eighteenth century, letters of introduction were a part of polite society. The practice spread to American shores from Europe.

David Wilkie's 'A letter of introduction' 1813
They have changed over time. Letters of recommendation became self written, they became more detailed – listing everything about a person’s accomplishments and background. But they remain a written introduction to a complete stranger, vouching for a person’s credentials. That has not changed. These days we call them resumes.

In 250 years we’ve invented electricity. We’ve invented cars, airplanes and computers. Twelve of us have walked on the moon. (Unless you’re one of the 20% of this population that don’t believe that ever happened.)

Yet if one of those astronauts wanted a job forty years later, pursuing whatever field of engineering he first emerged from, he would need to sit down and write a resume.

Overall, I’d say that the recruitment industry and everyone involved in jobs and hiring have been largely unreceptive to alternatives. The only movement we’ve seen is in the idea of profiles – completed for social media sites and job boards – but these ideas only form earlier stages in the process that inevitably lead to the attachment of a resume.

We have simply settled on a level of comfort that has become unshakeable. It’s resume to interview to hire. No account’s been taken of the many possibilities that the online world has delivered, particularly the combination of home shot videos and social media. If you had seen someone answer a number of questions in a self shot video interview, which could be accomplished easily with pretty much any laptop camera or Apple device, would you not be prepared to complete the interview in person? Maybe, but I bet you’d still expect them to bring a resume on the day.

Personal websites have become very normal, but again they are not replacing resumes. Whatever a person’s online community activity, they can still expect it to end up on a piece of US Letter sized paper, printed out, stapled neatly in the corner and left on a desk somewhere.

I got a headhunt call last week. (These are still infrequent enough to merit some attention.) Their client had seen the blog and wanted to know if I was available to discuss their vacancy. “Could you send us your resume?” was their main thrust. And I’m thinking, I’ve produced 40 something blogs. Maybe 20,000 words of detailed views on the marketing of recruiting businesses and the engineering and construction industry. And you want to see a two page resume that says I went to Essex University and I like tennis? I might stay where I am thanks. 

In the final analysis, it may just be that the resume is a cockroach. A great survivor, neither popular nor pretty, but worthy of its place through pure evolution (unless you’re one of the 46% of the population who don’t believe that happened either.)

If we are to continue to use the resume to hire and be hired, surely we can come together to work out what a resume really should look like. There may be every reason to still be using resumes in 2012, but there can’t be any excuse for using bad resumes. And all of us involved in staffing see so many bad resumes on a daily basis.

I’m calling upon serious people in my own industry and others to come together on this. We need to help each other to deliver a better standard of resume, a template – once and for all – that makes life easier for everyone in the hiring chain, from candidates to line managers, to employers and agencies.

Let’s talk about it. What do we want to see in resumes? What do we not want to see? It’s had 250 years to reach the ideal format by itself, maybe it’s time we helped it along.  

You can find more information on how to avoid the pitfalls of bad resumes by downloading our free white paper with resume advice. 

Richard Spragg writes on various subjects including global engineering jobs, staffing and marketing in the technical sector.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The most important 10 seconds of your career - are you ready?

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Global Engineering Jobs blog.

So you've got your resume together and it’s looking good. You've got your past experience laid out clearly, you have an appropriate level of detail about the things you've done. You've got your academic qualifications listed out in the right order and again, the right level of detail. You've got no gaps anywhere. No rambling personal statements. A couple of things you do outside work for conversation starters. It’s good. Well done. You’re not getting a job.

Talk to anyone who works in recruiting for a large employer and they’ll tell you about the stack of resumes they have to go through. A lot of people I know work for corporate recruiting departments; these are hard working and diligent people, but they’ve got 500 resumes to review in a day alongside all their other responsibilities. How long do you think they’re going to spend on each one? The average works out to be about 10 seconds. You have 10 seconds to find your way from the ‘for review’ pile into the ‘of interest’ pile. That’s the stack that gets a second sweep. If you want to get a job, you have to pass the ten second test. There are no exceptions. 

Here’s 5 pieces of advice that will help you survive the first cut.

A lot of people who hit the ‘no interest’ stack do so because the recruiter can’t see what they’re looking for during the ten seconds, not because it isn’t there. Make sure the layout is very clear. Use large bold headings that communicate the information everyone is looking for.

Job titles are the most important thing
Nothing on your resume matters more than the jobs you have done. Job titles should match the job you want. Don’t use internal language specific to the company you worked at. You were a Planning Engineer. So the job title is Planning Engineer. That’s what everyone’s looking for – show them it. Do not have headings like ‘Project Controls Coordinator – Section 4’ just because that’s what they called it at ABC Ltd. Call it what the market calls it. It’s Planning Engineer. In a lot of cases the first sweep of your resume is being undertaken by a pretty junior person. Not everyone at this level is an expert. In some cases, if you use any term other than the job title they are recruiting for, you could end up in the ‘no’ stack simply because the entry-level HR person doesn’t now that a Planning Engineer might be called a Commercial Manager in some roles.

You can’t view an 8 page resume in 10 seconds. Period. No, you don’t want a one page resume. But four is getting to be too long, even if you have a lot of experience. 2-3 pages is good.

Bullets, not paragraphs
It’s time for poetry, not prose. Think modern minimalism, not classic novel.
  •        Get the main point across
  •        Don’t duplicate anything
  •         Don’t use adjectives or floral languag
I see so many resumes that insist on descriptive writing. Frankly, if you can’t write a haiku that fully sums up your job seeking aspirations, then you’re over thinking it. This will also help with the overall length of your resume.

Planning engineer
Worked on oil and gas projects
Seeks job in Houston

No gaps in any information
Ambiguity does not leave the door open for more opportunity in this environment. You need to make sure you’re covering all the elements that people are scanning. Not identifying where you want to work, will not leave all options open. You can’t go in the ‘of interest’ stack if you haven’t made your intentions clear. Available for work anywhere in the continental US is fine. Just don’t leave anyone guessing, they won’t bother to guess, they’ll just dump you and move on to resume 347.

Once you’re in the 'of interest' stack, you’ll get a second review with the attention and care that you deserve. But don’t ever underestimate how important it is to make the first sweep. You may be a Director, you may have graduated college 3 weeks ago – you’ll all be in the first stack together. Nobody gets a pass.

You can find more information on how to avoid the pitfalls of bad resumes by downloading our free white paper with resume advice.