A Beautiful Day and Career Counseling from the Pointy-Haired Boss

Pam and I made every excuse we could for one more errand out in this sparkling, crisp (sounds like a soft drink) day. All of that rain has result­ed in flow­ers and green every­where, and we could see moun­tain ranges to the North from Broad­way that I don’t think we’d ever seen before, or at least not this well.

We got lots of odds and ends, and in gen­er­al, pre­pared for Pam’s trip that will take her to our old haunts in Boston, her broth­er’s fam­i­ly in West Spring­field, Mass­a­chu­setts, and a final stop in Min­neapo­lis for the STC (Soci­ety for Tech­ni­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion) Con­ven­tion. She’ll be on the road for near­ly 3 weeks. I hope none of her Koi die while under my care.

As for me, I get to con­tin­ue my job search, which has con­tin­ued with help from friends and a new career man­age­ment com­pa­ny that I’ve signed on with. The lat­ter has involved lots of def­i­n­i­tion of career goals, com­pil­ing ‘nar­ra­tives’ of my work accom­plish­ments to date, and meet­ings with my assigned con­tact at their offices. I leave off names and com­pa­nies here for a rea­son: The meet­ings, and my inter­ac­tions with this per­son are not going as well as I would hope. Why? As it turns out, the per­son who is to be my advo­cate, coach and advis­er at this com­pa­ny is decid­ed­ly non-tech­ni­cal. Real­ly non-tech­ni­cal, as in not know­ing much about the Inter­net, Com­put­ers, the Web, or any­thing remote­ly relat­ed to Tech­nol­o­gy. This has proved…challenging to me and is fair­ly trou­bling. After all, how can some­one advise you on your career if they have absolute­ly no under­stand­ing of what you do to begin with? 

Case in Point: At our last meet­ing, they brought up their Sav­ings and Loan’s web page on their screen, turned it to me and asked point-blank: “Is that all you do”? I was a lit­tle tak­en aback. “Yes, I answered, after a moment of silence where I held back the urge to lean across their desk and punch them in the face, “But that’s not all of it. It’s like ask­ing a Fur­ni­ture Design­er if all they design is chairs.”

While it’s a good thing for me to make sure that I can relate to a non-tech­ni­cal per­son (which is not some­thing I usu­al­ly have a prob­lem with; I’m a self-admit­ted geek but I am a result of a Lib­er­al Arts Edu­ca­tion), I have to say that rewrit­ing my resumé so that all of the tech­no­log­i­cal ref­er­ence are either elim­i­nat­ed or sim­pli­fied is not some­thing I would have done on my own, and I won­der if it’s going to serve me well. Will I have a ‘David for Dum­mies’ ver­sion of my resumé that I trot out for some­one who I think will give me a blank look if I men­tion the words ‘User Inter­face’? Then again, how would some­one like that ever be inter­view­ing me for a job in the first place?

On Tues­day, I am to appear for my meet­ing in for­mal job inter­view attire. Accord­ing to their rules, that’s a dark suit and tie. 

Techies in Van­cou­ver: When was the last time you appeared for a meet­ing in suit and dark tie? It’s not that I don’t have one, or haven’t worn one in my life, but it seems to rein­force the idea that these peo­ple have no freak­ing clue what­so­ev­er what tech cul­ture is like.

If this con­tin­ues to irk me and inter­feres with my job search, I may request a dif­fer­ent per­son to work with, which may prove a bit uncom­fort­able for all con­cerned. Nev­er­the­less, I’m going to give that some seri­ous thought. In the mean­time, it’s back to my old resumé, which I’m try­ing to use to cre­ate more ‘nar­ra­tives’: “Once upon a time, there was a need for a click­able HTML pro­to­type…” (*Doh!*)

14 Replies to “A Beautiful Day and Career Counseling from the Pointy-Haired Boss”

  1. Glad you and Pam got to get out­side and enjoy the week­end — It was per­fect, eh?

    Sounds like your career-help agency is pre­sent­ing a few chal­lenges. I sure hope it ends well for you.

    Safe trails to Pam!

  2. Fol­low­ing up on your about page and list­ing e‑mail address­es. Cou­ple of items you could do:

    One, place an image of your e‑mail address in the con­tact sec­tion such as I have done here:


    It was a free image and you can see the site by click­ing on “Pro­tect your email address, make it an image!” below my PS.

    You can also get a plu­g­in called “Obfus­cate E‑mail” by Mike Smullin that takes any source code email and turns it into hex char­ac­ters mak­ing it vir­tu­al­ly unrec­og­niz­able to machines. I’d put in the sec­ond link, but spam com­ment soft­ware will often take the com­ment away. But, e‑mail me if you need the link.

    And, since I hate spam.…I use both!
    The real ques­tion to ask on the resume is who they believe the hir­ing audi­ence is going to be for the resume. I have tech­ni­cal peo­ple, but you have to get past me in order to get to the nit­ty grit­ty tech­ni­cal stuff. I can tell when a tech­nol­o­gist is pulling wool over my eyes, but not all of the specifics. My peo­ple can.

    So, do you need a nar­ra­tive resume that out­lines what you actu­al­ly accom­plished for your com­pa­ny and that’s the pur­pose of this resume? Or, do you have a tech­ni­cal resume that just shows how much you know and how you imple­ment­ed what you know into projects?

    The hir­ing man­ag­er will be inter­est­ed in accom­plish­ments. The tech­ni­cal peo­ple will want to make sure you know your stuff — so they won’t have to car­ry you along… ;>))

    Nice blog…Scot

  3. Bob ‑Pam thanks you for the best wishes.

    Scot — Thanks for the sug­ges­tion. I’ve actu­al­ly had to employ 2 dif­fer­ent meth­ods for each of my blogs in order to keep them from the Spambots. 

    For this one, I’ve used the site ‘Con­tac­t­i­fy’, which pro­vides a free con­tact form (because the Free Web Host­ing I’ve been get­ting from i6 does­n’t appear to let me do a form that sends mail.)

    On my oth­er blog, I’ve been try­ing to get the Con­tact Form plu­g­in from Mike Cher­im to work, but that seems to be hav­ing some ‘type mis­match’ prob­lems (have con­tact­ed him about it, and hope­ful­ly will get some guidance). 

    As for the Obfus­cate Email plu­g­in, I’d like to insert the address in my con­tent (rather than in the tem­plate itself) so that sounds promis­ing. Don’t wor­ry about the address — you’ve prob­a­bly pro­vid­ed enough infor­ma­tion for me to be able to to find it through Google. By the way, I tried to con­tact you, but the link on your page does­n’t appear to work, and I can’t see the email image you are refer­ring to… Argh, what prob­lems these SPAM­bots have caused us all!

    Re. the resume, I think you’ve nailed it. I believe that they are tar­get­ing upper man­age­ment, rather than a tech­ni­cal man­ag­er to see this resumé, although I have to say that even with ‘The Peter Prin­ci­ple’ tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion, they seem to be aim­ing pret­ty low on the know-how scale.

    About the ‘nar­ra­tive’, this is part of their ‘method’. I’ve had resumés which showed what I did for com­pa­nies, but this com­pa­ny’s for­mat is very much based on a struc­ture that is some­thing like: ‘For X’ (which is option­al), ‘did Y’, which result­ed in ‘impres­sive met­ric Z’. I can see the val­ue in that. What I was not so hot on was chang­ing terms like ‘Web Appli­ca­tion’ or ‘Intranet Por­tal’ to ‘Web Site’, which strikes me as both vague and sim­plis­tic. But per­haps I’m being too tech­ni­cal here to see the for­est for the log­ic trees.

    Thanks for read­ing and con­tribut­ing! Nice to know that I’ve got folks out there check­ing it out!

  4. By all means, do the “X: Y lead-to Z” thing, but keep the “web appli­ca­tion”, “intranet por­tal” etc. Those key words are going to make a dif­fer­ence to the hir­ing man­agers and the techies alike.

    “Web site” is about as unspe­cif­ic as “IT thing” these days.

  5. Ouch! I say, next time, go for the lunge!
    And until then, I won­der — is there such a thing as an ‘adden­dum’, a one-pager at the back of the resume that you could title, some­how, to be for the eyes only of the geeks in the dep’t? sort of a light­ly-humourous acknowl­edge­ment that you’re in a spe­cif­ic (read: elite) cadre, but don’t want to bore/confuse the rest of the world?

  6. An update: Got the con­tact plu­g­in to work. It was just a bone-head­ed con­fig­u­ra­tion error on my part. Good thing, too.

    Jan — I agree — Web Site is a no-no and I’ll insist on that.

    Nan­cy — That’s an inter­est­ing idea. Not sure if it’s cov­ered by anoth­er sec­tion of the resumé, which they deem ‘skills’ (where some­one might put ‘SQL Pro­gram­ming’ or ‘UNIX Admin­is­tra­tion’). Iron­i­cal­ly, my ‘skills’ usu­al­ly look too soft to be tech­ni­cal! (‘Con­cep­tu­al Map­ping’, ‘Infor­ma­tion Archi­tec­ture’, ‘Pro­to­typ­ing’, ‘Require­ments Gath­er­ing & Analy­sis’ and ‘Usabil­i­ty Test­ing’ are not terms typ­i­cal­ly used by most IT Staff, even if that’s what I do for them). So I find myself (as often hap­pens) in this strange gap between being unde­ci­pher­able to both tech­ni­cal and non-tech­ni­cal peo­ple. An attached sheet might do the trick, although there’s a chance it could get sep­a­rat­ed and lost.

  7. Hi Dave. I thought long and hard before com­ment­ing, because I don’t have com­plete info, but it does­n’t sound like the agency you’re with knows what to do with you (duh), and they’re try­ing to force a round peg into a very square hole. (And if you strip out all the tech­s­peak from your resume, what does that leave you with?) Unless you real­ly want a career in upper man­age­ment, it does­n’t sound like they’re help­ing you much. Do you have oth­er options? ‑Anne H.

  8. Hi Anne,
    I agree with you, and this issue caused things to come to of a head yes­ter­day. I tried to frame it as ‘Let’s get anoth­er pair of eyes’ to look at this resumé. I said ‘You’re not in the Tech Indus­try, and I’m not exact­ly sure what to put here, but why don’t we go to some­one who is and per­haps they can offer some insight. The strate­gist said ‘Well, it would be some­one like me who would be look­ing at this resumé. I am the one here who looks at tech hires for this com­pa­ny.’ To which I want­ed to say ‘Gee, that would explain a lot, since the com­pa­ny is woe­ful­ly behind in appli­ca­tion of tech­nol­o­gy (IMHO, each client should have their own Wiki/blog with a some added struc­ture so each strate­gist could keep tabs on how their progress is going, the tests that they give could be inter­nal rather than out­sourced — and the results lost, as they were in my case), but I held my tongue. No point in mak­ing a direct insult when things clear­ly weren’t going well.
    Final­ly, after I must have said ‘I’m not com­fort­able with about 3 or 4 times, (includ­ing call­ing a ‘Web por­tal’ an ‘Online appli­ca­tion’ and replac­ing ‘Per­son­al­iza­tion’ with ‘Cus­tomiza­tion’) we had an awk­ward moment and then she just past­ed what we had done so far into a new doc­u­ment and said that she would mail it to some­one else. I knew this was the way we are head­ing, and it’s a shame it has come to this.
    Part of the prob­lem is that I am look­ing for more of a man­age­ment posi­tion. It’s what I was head­ing for when I left my con­tract in Fideli­ty back in Boston (had I stayed there, I’m guess­ing that even­tu­al­ly it would have turned into a per­ma­nent posi­tion, but that was­n’t offered in 2005 so I had no teth­ers to keep me there). But just because I’m going to be doing more man­ag­ing and less designing/architecting does­n’t mean that I can shed those words from the resumé.

    It became clear, yes­ter­day, that I had lost a lot of con­fi­dence in my strate­gist, which is some­thing that I sus­pect hap­pens from time to time. I’m sure I’ll be labeled as a ‘prob­lem case’ by them, which I think is unfair. I had put my con­cerns into my feed­back to them. I felt that this lack of under­stand­ing of what I do could end up mak­ing us miss pos­si­ble tar­get com­pa­nies, could keep my col­lat­er­al mate­ri­als from being up to snuff, and seemed to miss the cul­ture and expec­ta­tions of Tech Indus­try peo­ple. I even men­tioned that the resumé tem­plates that they gave me were embar­rass­ing and even broke some typo­graph­ic rules of thumb (ALL CAPS HEADERS for all sec­tions) and had some crude meth­ods of keep­ing every­thing on a page (one big table for all content).

    At any rate, we’ll have to see how this plays out. Thanks for your com­ment. I’ll let every­one know how this turns out. Cer­tain­ly instruc­tive for any­one in tech who is think­ing of using a career man­age­ment com­pa­ny to help them get a new job.

  9. hey dave

    as a for­mer full-time and still part-time employ­ment coun­sel­lor, i got quite antsy when i heard about the advice you got. 

    first of all, and cor­rect me if i’m wrong, it looks like you have one or two resumes. in my expe­ri­ence, a suc­cess­ful resume is ALWAYS tar­get­ted to a spe­cif­ic job/situation. for an upper man­age­ment job you apply upper man­age­ment speak, for a techie job you plug in some­thing else. if you were to look at one of my research resumes as opposed to one of my man­age­ment resumes, you’d think it’s a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent person. 

    (i once had a client with whom we man­aged to get the tar­get­ting of resumes and cov­er let­ters down to such a fine art that she would get inter­views for almost every one of her applications)

    i com­plete­ly agree with jan. a resume that would use the word “web site” would be embar­rass­ing. same thing with caps. geesh. 

    and the attire? again, what you wear needs to be appro­pri­ate to the indus­try. i’ve seen some employ­ment coun­sel­lors seri­ous­ly sug­gest­ing to con­struc­tion work­ers to show up in a suit and tie for an inter­view. you can image the results! a good rule of thumb is to wear indus­try and job spe­cif­ic attire, with just a touch more neat­ness or for­mal­i­ty. it just so hap­pens that for a lot of jobs that ends up being suit and tie — but not for all.

    ok, i’ll get off my soap­box now.

  10. Hi Isabel­la -

    Thanks for the advice. I think that part of the chal­lenge that we are fac­ing is that my role is some­where between a team leader and an inter­nal con­sul­tant (go-to guy) for User Inter­face. That’s a posi­tion that has some man­age­ment (or at least, project and team man­age­ment) aspects to it as well as some ‘in the trench­es’ design work. The idea of doing 2 com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent resumés here might not work, since I will need to demon­strate if not equal parts tech and peo­ple skills, some degree of each of them.

    Not sure that I can tai­lor the resumé to each job appli­ca­tion, but there have been rel­a­tive­ly few that are a good match for me late­ly, so it might be pos­si­ble if there aren’t many of them.

    I grit­ted my teeth and did the suit test for them. I doubt if I’ll wear the same dark suit for a real inter­view — I’ve always fol­lowed the same rule you described for inter­view dress (same as indus­try but a bit neater and more for­mal, and cer­tain­ly not off the scale in for­mal­i­ty, as it just makes you look sil­ly and the hir­er treat you as such).

    Why do they do still do it? I sus­pect it’s because many of their oth­er clients have been new immi­grants who are not at all famil­iar with the sub­tleties of busi­ness dress (like one who appar­ent­ly showed up for this lit­tle ‘test’ with a dark suit…and white socks.)

  11. sounds like you should trust your gut and get a new advi­sor. how is a tech­no illit­er­ate going to help you get a job at a tech com­pa­ny? most of those hir­ing WILL under­stand technology.

    if you show up at an inter­view for a tech job with a suit and tie( unless it’s sell­ing tech to large cor­po­ra­tions ) you’ll prob­a­bly get laughed at or have your resume tossed in the cir­cu­lar file.

    If you’re look­ing for work and make it hard for poten­tial employ­er to con­tact you like this con­tac­t­i­fy thing does, they’ll be less like­ly to hire you. since you’re essen­tial­ly say­ing my need to pre­vent spam is more impor­tant than my need to make it easy for poten­tial employ­ers to con­tact me. 

    once you have a job then go nuts on the anti­spam stuff but what’s more impor­tant, get­ting a job or reduc­ing the spam? 

    you could do some­thing as sim­ple as putting an email me line and post­ing a gif file of your email so peo­ple can read it and type it in but spam­bots can’t har­vest it. you also don’t have a phone num­ber listed.

  12. Thanks for the feed­back, Pete. I’ve done a lot of what you say. I’ve sent a very strong email to the com­pa­ny demand­ing that I be assigned to a dif­fer­ent strategist.

    As for the con­tact stuff, only this blog needs con­tac­t­i­fy; I’ve added a more stan­dard con­tact form to my busi­ness blog. No recruiter will be vis­it­ing this blog (and I’m fine with that — not ashamed, but this is my per­son­al live, not my busi­ness blog).

    For the most part, I’ll be con­tact­ing employ­ers, not the oth­er way around, so I’m not too wor­ried about the con­tact forms. Now, as for my online port­fo­lio, that’s some­thing alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent. That is going to require a com­plete rework, as a talk I went to tonight at the STC made clear to me.

  13. I just found your post about look­ing for work. If you’re still look­ing for work, we recruit for sci­ence and high tech peo­ple at our agency, but are only able to help peo­ple who’ve col­lect­ed E.I. in the last three years or who are cur­rent­ly col­lect­ing. Have a look at our web­site at http://www.fwt.bc.ca if you’re inter­est­ed, give me a call. As for dress­ing in a suit and tie?? The small and mid-size IT com­pa­nies that I help recruit for expect more busi­ness casu­al — more like khakis and a dress shirt (nice­ly pressed, of course). But the big­ger guys (like ActiveS­tate or Busi­ness Objects) it may be bet­ter to go more formal.

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