Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Changing Jobs

Believe in yourself and others will believe in you.

I got a new job recently. Well, it wasn’t that recently, it was three months ago now – how time flies! But it feels recent. I’ve made a list below of 11 points which might be of use to anyone in a similar situation. But first, the story.

It came about through an amusing quirk of timing. I had decided after three-and-a-half years at the company that it was time to move on. I spoke to a few agencies and just had an interview lined up when my employer announced they wanted to make half of the staff redundant. This put me in a bit of a quandary: I wanted to go, but had nothing to go to. I’d always said, both to myself and others, that one should never leave a job without having another one lined up. But it was a lot of money, and I also knew that by going I’d be able to save the job of someone else who didn’t want to leave. So (after a bit of discussion with God, my wife, and a few friends) I took the plunge, took the money, and joined the number of the unemployed.

In the event, it took me three weeks to find a job, after which I went on holiday for a week and had a week doing not – very – much. And the three weeks I was searching were a really enjoyable time! My previous experience of unemployment came many years ago, when I’d just graduated. Back then I felt no-one would want to employ me because of my lack of experience, and fell into something of a slump. This time, after 10 years working as a programmer or similar jobs, I was confident that I would have no problem finding people who wanted me. And what a difference that made!

I guess I treated finding a job like a job. I decided quite quickly that it was a job I really enjoyed. I spent maybe two or three hours a day working, then the rest of the time I could do whatever I liked. Every morning I’d look at the job websites – and were the two I found useful. I looked for any new jobs which broadly matched my skills, rang up the agency, sent CVs, etc. I spent most of the time telling people how brilliant I was, and I think that was what I enjoyed most about it!

It took me just three weeks from my last day at the old job to the day I was rung back with an offer – on a job I really wanted, too. Two weeks later (after a nice holiday in Wales) I was in my new job. I know I was lucky and it’s not like that for everyone, but nonetheless I thought I’d share some of my observations for the benefit of anyone else who might be in the same situation.

(1) I was surprised to find that the jobs listed on the two websites I looked at changed every day. I had thought they would stay the same for weeks, but every day new jobs appeared. So I looked at the sites every day. I also got them to mail me jobs as they were posted, and rang up agencies about the jobs as soon as I saw them. More than one person said in a surprised voice, “we only just posted that one.” Being first in the line can only help.

(2) I took a very broad view of my skillset. Rather than deciding that I was mainly a C++ programmer, or wanted to work in Java, or whatever, I looked at any job which I felt I could do 80% of. My CV listed everything I could do (and all in two pages). It read like a long list of stories: in this job I did these amazing things, with a couple of sentences for each. The things were chosen for the impact they had, the different skills they showed off, and for how proud I was of the achievement.

(3) From writing the CV and otherwise, I somehow convinced myself that I was brilliant, albeit in particular ways and not every way, but brilliant in my niche. This I think is hugely important. It’s a lot easier when talking to someone to pick up what they think of themselves than what they’re actually like. If you think you’re brilliant, so will the prospective employer. I have a long list of people I’ve worked for who have told me I’m brilliant. There are also a few who have thought the reverse. I can learn from them, but fundamentally I don’t take the criticism to heart. I am what I’m good at; what I’m bad at is what other people are good at. 1 Corinthians 12: the ear is not useless simply because it cannot see, nor the eye because it cannot hear.

(4) I’m not the most organized person, so I kept a list on the computer of every job I’d rung up about, the agency name, contact, phone number, brief job details, and how far I’d got with it. When I rang up and was told to “ring back on …” or “I’ll get back to you”, I made a note to myself to ring back after a particular date – give them a couple of days if they said they’ll ring, or wait until the time they said, but don’t wait for ever. If nothing else, it shows you’re serious.

(5) I enquired about something like 18 jobs, and spoke to about 15 different agencies. On one or two occasions two agencies were advertising the same job, but it seemed that mostly each company used a different agency. Simply talking to one or two agencies is no longer the way the industry works, and I guess central sites like jobserve and cwjobs have encouraged a proliferation of agencies.

(6) Some of the agencies were brilliant, some were not. Little things like: do they understand the job description, do they get back to you, how much can they tell you about the company. I didn’t let the quality of the agency put me off applying for the job, after all if they got me a job I wouldn’t complain. Fortunately, the one which got me the job was one I was really impressed with throughout.

(7) Most agencies were very friendly and complementary about my CV. One or two suggested changes in emphasis of skills for particular jobs, which lead to one CV turning into two or three, but the changes were only minor. One was really rude about it. Luckily this was after I’d spoken to several others. I sent them a version with a few changes in it, but didn’t go much further with them. They may have had a valid point, at least concerning the job they were advertising. But everyone else had been very positive. Don’t panic, and don’t let bad comments crowd out good ones. State of mind is very important.

(8) Everyone will tell you differently how to write a CV. Mine worked; it got people talking to me, it got me a job which suits me. Listen to all the comments but write your own CV. My comments are in point 2 above. They got me a job – but then some people don’t like stories so it wouldn’t work for them.

(9) Of the group of us who left at the same time, three found jobs relatively quickly. I found an interesting trend here. We all found jobs which used quite different skills from our previous roles. I had many years C++ programming and a few years of Java (and 3 months VB); now I’m using 75% VB and 25% C++. One guy blagged a job which I know he doesn’t have the skills for, which I thought about going for but decided against because I didn’t have the skills, and which was a great job. I think while programmers may define themselves in terms of very narrow, deep, skills – 10 years C++, 5 years Java, whatever – it’s actually more important to be able to learn quickly, adapt to new environments, interact with people, and know enough about a wide range of things to be able to work with them and learn on the job. Transferable skills and soft skills are rarely listed on job adverts, but actually they’re most of what get you the job and what make you a success in the role. So the job says 10 years of C++. There will be many candidates with 10 years C++; what else can you do which makes you better than them?

(10) I plugged a telephone in to the socket in the study, next to the computer – don’t know why I’d never done that before. It meant I could surf for jobs on the internet, ring up agencies, and chat through details, all the while without leaving my PC – where I could make notes, keep a diary of whom I needed to chase up when, work on my CV, play games, etc. I was “live” all the time. My study became my office, my centre of operations. I could make a phone call and have all the information I wanted at my fingertips. Brilliant!

(11) Most of all: Believe in yourself and others will believe in you. If you only take point from this piece, this is the one.


Blogger McSwain said...

Aahh-more good advice for a "career changer."

8:27 am  

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