In-Depth

Take Control of Your Career

It’s time to try some new tricks that will help you stand out from the crowd.

You already know the basics: Shake hands firmly. Make eye contact. Appear confident. Be a few minutes early. That’s what the books tell you to do when interviewing for a job. Career guides abound, with truckloads of advice on what color suit or dress to wear, and how to prepare answers for the questions you’re most likely to be asked.

Those techniques, while helpful, don’t really help you take control of your career. They’re the things everyone does. But there are others who’ve taken steps outside the mainstream, hiring-consultant-driven advice, grabbed their career by the horns and twisted until it was firmly under their control. Their experiences may not follow the standard formula, but they’ve proven successful.

Remember: This isn’t just advice from a book. These folks have used these methods in the real world to take control of their careers. They just might be worth listening to.

Involvement
Take Brian Tinkler of Brookfield, Wisconsin, for instance. “My trick to beating the odds is involvement and leadership. Those are things everybody says in their interview, but I believe I’ve shown it,” he says.

How? Here are just a few examples: He started and still runs the Wisconsin .NET Users Group (www.wi-ineta.org), which is the 26th largest .NET user group in the world (yes, in Wisconsin); he got heavily involved in volunteer work with the International .NET Association (www.ineta.org), which has more than 123,000 total members worldwide; and he’s involved in other business organizations, including the local chamber of commerce. He said, “I volunteer until they recognize my achievements and ask me to be in a leadership position. This has proven successful time and time again.

“As a combination of all of those things, I was well known enough in the markets they were looking to pursue, that most of their consultants had heard of me or knew me as did their customers and prospective customers,” Tinkler said. “It’s not what you know, or even who you know—but rather who knows you that counts.”

Taking control of his career has paid off for Tinkler. “I’m living the dream,” he said.

Learn New Tricks
Initiative will almost always lead to good things for your career. It’s worked, time and again, for David Reed. Reed, of Everett, Washington, has a gift for almost forcing employers to hire him by making himself indispensable.

“When I was fresh out of school (as an electronic technician), I couldn’t get work because of a lack of experience,” Reed remembered. He wanted to work at a company that had no openings, so Reed volunteered to work for free, in exchange for a reference.

The employer “agreed to this, and so I worked a few hours most afternoons. Sometimes I worked late. I didn’t have any [set] hours, but tended to work until a job was finished. Apparently the boss noticed that kind of dedication to the job, along with my work effort and quality. When, after a few months, I approached him for that letter of recommendation, he asked if I’d like to work there. Absolutely! So he created a job on the spot and hired me to fill it.”

That formula has served Reed well. “Years later, while out of work, I picked up a job simply because of soldering skills. After several weeks working there, I found out the boss was trying to design an electronic circuit for a project he had. I offered to design it for him, on my own time. He provided me some space, tools, and parts, plus a few funds, and in the evening after work I would stay awhile to design what he needed.

“Achieving success a short while later, the boss, having learned I could do more than simply solder, created a new position in the company, and hired me into it.”

Keep Learning
Sharon Lewis also found that expanding her knowledge was a huge benefit. Lewis, an MCSE from Magnolia, Arkansas, said that “every time I would read an ad for a job, it seemed for every five qualifications I had there were always two or three [technologies] I hadn’t worked with before.

“So I started researching information, say, on OpenVMS or some other obscure piece of the particular employer’s puzzle. When the interview rolled around, the board members that interviewed me for the job were impressed by the fact that I had done research on the subject, even though I had never really worked with that particular operating system. I was hired and able to add a new operating system to my list of qualifications. When I asked why they hired me, I was told it was because of my willingness to learn and my people skills.”

People skills were a theme that popped up regularly, including for one enterprising job seeker who decided that the way to a potential employer’s heart was through its stomach.

Now You’re Cookin’
Mark Streich, a software developer from Fremont, California, decided to go after a job with a (then) small startup search engine company named Google. “I had gained a reputation among my tech friends as a decent cheesecake chef, so I thought taking my future Google co-workers a cheesecake would be a delightful way to introduce myself and stand out from the crowd,” Streich said.

“I walked up to their offices, found the break room, and started slicing up the cheesecake. My resumes were set next to the delectable dessert. When someone would come in, I’d introduce myself, offer them a piece of cheesecake, and hand them a resume.”

The gamble paid off, according to Streich. “It did not take long before someone decided I should meet with Human Resources. But not for the reason I thought. A woman came in, and asked what I was doing. I explained my purpose, and she looked warily at the sharp knife I was using to cut the cheesecake. Realizing the thoughts going through her head, I attempted to explain that I was certainly not a crazy person, although in hindsight, I had to admit it was a hard sell.”

His original idea had the desired effect, though, since he was asked back for an interview.

If you’re not a dessert chef, you might want to try moving to areas where IT folks are as rare as snow in Phoenix—even if that area is in another country or continent. It worked for Eric Soulliage, who works in IT in Paris, France.

Take More Control

 Take Control of Your Network
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 Take Control of Your Vendors
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Hit the Road
Soulliage, an MCSA, MCSE and MCDBA, who’s been in IT for 11 years, is Canadian born of French parents. He got his MCSE in February 2001, and felt the effects of the recession in North America, so he decided to head overseas. “I applied for jobs in France, and because of my IT and language skills, I had basically no competition whatsoever,” Soulliage said.

Language barriers play a role in the lack of Microsoft certified folks there, Soulliage explained. There are few fluent English speakers, so they have to wait for Microsoft exams to get translated. “I was a charter MCSE on Win2K, and there were almost none of them in France at the time; plus the fact that I fluently speak English, French and Spanish gives me a very good head start for international-level jobs. Actually, this is the reason I got my present job. We have offices in France, UK, Spain and other European countries and I need to manage local help desk/IT teams.”

Soulliage has seen only one other Microsoft certified professional during his time with his company. He said most people overseas don’t get certified on their own, as is common in the United States. Sometimes companies in Europe pay for an employee’s certification, but there are lots of strings attached. “It happens very rarely and adds real nasty clauses to your contract: You can’t leave the company to go work for someone else, no pay raises” and so on, Soulliage said. He adds that England’s a good place to look for IT work now and lists Spain and Italy as the toughest European countries to find work in presently.

As you can see, it pays to “think outside the box” when it comes to taking control of your career. Remember, though, that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t arrive a few minutes early for an interview. Every little bit helps.

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