Find People Who Fill In Your Professional Gaps

So the old saying goes that no man is an island. I would note that very technically someone standing in water is an isolated body in water, and thus technically an island, but then I’m just being a jerk.

But the truth is we’re not complete. Human beings are naturally inclined to work with each other (even if we’re not doing so by benevolence), which makes sense. There’s a lot we can’t do on our own.

In fact there’s huge blanks in our lives as there are simply thinks we’re not capable of. I can pretty much guarantee that you don’t write your own software, cook your own food, repair your own car, build your own house, and remove your own appendix. Buckaroo Banzai and TOny Stark, those Omnicompetent heroes of fiction are just that – the Renaissance man is an ideal to aspire to at best.

If you’re any kind of professional or a creative with professional aspiration, you want to find people who fill in your blanks.

Awareness By The Book

I’ve always been a pretty independent guy, but for me my work on writing made me painfully aware of jut how much I can’t do on my own. I’m not a great technical editor (at best I’m average), I can’t do cover art, and I can’t create a multibillion dollar distribution company with a self-publishing branch. Hell, even pre-reading gets hard as after awhile I’m tired of my own damn book.

My own career? I’m a Project and Program Manager. I provide things other people can’t do (organization) but in turn I am vastly ignorant about the many areas I touch and have to rely on people. I am spread thinner than a specialist, and so I have to have others around.

Sure I coached others, filling in their gaps.  But really I also have to fill in my own.

You should be too.

The Gaps You Face

You address an issue by being aware of it. So here’s the places I’ve found myself and others may need someone to fill in our blanks career-wise.

Resumes – Look, everyone should know how to make a good resume. Maybe you can, but if you can’t find someone who can.

Economics – Yeah, I always advise people to be aware of the economy. But sometimes being aware is knowing “I should ask Dave what the hell happened.” If you know your grasp of economics isn’t the best, then find someone who can advise you.

Organization – We should all be organized enough to keep our lives in order, but some of us are not long-term planners. Be it a roommate who keeps the budget or admitting your Project Manager should tell you what to do, sometimes you need organizational skills – on the job or off.

Relations – On the job you might not exactly be Mr. or Mrs. sociable. That’s ok – some jobs require intense focus to get done. So if you’re not the most sociable of people, let your boss/co-workers/etc. know so hey can help out. Some teams even work well with a designated “face” – get the gregarious person to get out there and do the work of being likable.

Social Media – Ugh, I’ve seen some people make some sad social media mistakes (most notably, public pictures of them with a beer bong during a job search). If you’re engaged on social media, it might not hurt to ask one of your savvy friends for tips on how that may affect your career.

Investment – I am a strong believer in managing your own investments. In fact my usual take is “Index and/or retirement fund and that’s it). But if you can find someone you trust to advise you, its worth it if you’re not up for that thing. It may take time to find someone reliable (and I’m prone to only trust “investment professionals” after careful evaluation), but its worth it.

Career Steps – We almost all have to “outsource” getting career ideas from people more senior to us as they have the experience. Learn to ask for help, observe those where you want to be, and learn. Trust me, I never expected to be where I am now – but it worked. I probably could have listened earlier.

It’s OK

So look, it’s OK to admit on the job, on the job search, you can’t do everything. I firmly believe you should do as much as you can, but you won’t be able to do it all.

But also be aware – you can fill in someone else’s gaps. There’s things you’ve got. There’s things you’re good at. Maybe you can even set up a trade.

Hell, good co-workers and good friends fill in each others gaps instinctively. you might know more – and need more – than you realize . . .

– Steve

Reflections On Becoming A Consultant

So as many of you know, round about last year I decided to give the consulting thing a go – possibly permanent.  I’d gotten tired of turnovers, layoffs, transformations, reorgs, politics, etc.  I took a 5% pay cut – and a return to 40 hour weeks – and gave it a shot.

The end result is I actually liked it.  Now let me note that I’m not giving up being a permanent employee (or my own business if anything works out).  My take was that if any contract resulted in an offer and I figure it’d work out since I’d been at the place awhile, I’d take it.  And, of course, if I stay a contractor who knows where I’ll be business-wise.

(I’d say of the places I’ve contracted at over the last 20 years, about one out of 4 were “worth making permanent” – they were all good, but some didn’t have the right opportunities).

But, still, for now and the foreseeable future I’m doing the contracting thing.  And there’s a lot to share.

Here’s what I’ve experienced with my shift to going contractor.

Medical Benefits: Not as big a pain in the backside as you’d think – many placement companies provide them, if only medical.  The big issue may be jumping between companies, so you’l need to stay on top of this, occasionally do short-time COBRA, or just go for your own.  It’s not horrible, but it’s a bit of work, and Obamacare makes it easier for many.

Other Benefits: Many contracting companies that focus on professionals offer people on longer-term assignments some pretty nice deals.  You may just have to bounce that 401K around (have your own investment plan)

Pay: Here’s where it gets interesting.  As a contractor I get paid hourly, and tend to work around 40 hours a week.  I also don’t get bonuses or stock usually.  But I found compared to being a regular employee I get an enormous amount of time back -and when that overtime comes in its pretty impressive.  Technically I’m making more per hour as a consultant considering that unpaid overtime of other jobs (stock and bonuses included)

Working With The Companies: If you’re selective, you’ll find most contracting companies you go with are good – and there’s a lost of god ones, especially in IT.  Most people are pretty chill, and if you do it right you can line up multiple assignments in a row – though be careful with time of year.  Speaking of . . .

Timing Is Everything: Openings are cycler, which can be a pain.  I had to switch companies due to work availability as my last contract ended before Thanksgiving.  My new and my old company were both awesome, fortunately.  However you need to know cycles in your industry.  Also have some liquid cash around for having a few weeks off here and there.

Train Yourself: One thing you may not get is training support and reimbursement, so that’s up to little old you to do.  That can be a pretty big chunk of change.  However . . .

Rates Can Be Generous If You’re Smart: Right now I’m making a decent wage for a good job, but you have to be smart and not get lowballed.  If you’re skilled and smart, you can break the average, and there is room for negotiation.  I’ve interviewed for some seriously crazy hourly amounts.

You Have To Have a Pitch: A good consultant has to know how to pitch themselves.  If you’re not going to do that it might not be for you – unless you get a really good representative.

People Treat You As Competent: One thing I’ve noticed over my years of contracting is that people usually give contractors more of a benefit of a doubt than employees.  This isn’t true of everyone, but I find it’s true more often than not.  For some people this can be very refreshing if, say, they had a bad layoff.

It Is a Career: A lot of people in Silicon Valley have a consulting phase of life, and some people will make it their career.  You can do this all/most of your career – if you plan.  People eve respect it.

It Can Help In Retirement: If you’ve been a consultant, then it’s a great retirement plan.  You can work smaller projects, intermittently, etc.  If you get good at it, you’ve got something to use into old age – I meet people consulting in their 70’s (and raking in a nice wad of cash)

It’s A Bit Of A Pain On A Resume: As you may have many short assignments this gets tough.  I keep a history of resumes, and put the most detail on the latest.

That’s my experience.  Hope it gives you some ideas!

  • Steve

Ten Ways To Know You’re In A Senior Role

(If you enjoy this article, check out my other books on careers, including using your hobbies, and more.)

Back when I went in search of the IT Gap I found that there was a Gap in hiring “Senior” IT people. The evidence suggested that the talent pool for such experienced people, one covered up by certain economic trends and practices. I didn’t answer one question in that essay – namely, what the heck do I mean by “Senior” person and a “Senior Role”?

I probably should have worked on answering that.  So I am now.

Why is it important? Well, though you can guess, let’s review:

  • The title affects what job you’re interviewed for.
  • The job and being thought of as Senior affects your pay rate.
  • The Senior positions affect what other positions you’re eligible for.
  • If you’re in IT and other professions (and if you’re reading this you probably are), it affects how valuable recruiters think you are – which plays back to the start of this list.

It’d be really nice to know what it means to be “Senior” in a job. And what is that definition?

That’s the problem – I can’t find anything specific

Senior And A Senior Role: The Phantom Maturity

I’ve never actually found a good checklist of what “being Senior” in a job means – and this is after two decades in IT and even more in the workforce. I’ve held many Senior positions in that time, but what made them Senior wasn’t always the exact same. In one case I got promoted to a Senior position I already had, which says something about the definition in the first place (I also didn’t get a raise, which sort of was a pain).

As I tried to investigate what “being Senior” was, I found people didn’t agree on what it meant either – it seem sot be a bit of a running joke among some professionals and recruiters that no one had a real definition. There’s no checklist, no guarantee, just a lot of maybes and could be’s.

This makes sense when you consider it – a simple title like “Senior” can’t be one size fits all because professions, jobs, and industries are different.  It’s almost laughable that we throw the word around so casually – if a bit sad that it’s hard to find much agreement on the title period.  Sorry, fellow professionals, we’re all in the same leaky boat.

So the first thing you have to realize is that being a “Senior This” or “in a Senior position” is always going to be subjective. There’s no universal standard.

However, I did find ten common traits of “Being Senior” that give you something to aim for.

What Makes Someone Senior Or Defines A Senior Role?

So, heres’ what I found makes someone Senior in their position. Please note that this is obviously biased by my IT career experience, but I think I’ve got it broad enough for most professions:

#1 – YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: A senior person has minimum five years of professional experience in their profession (and possibly industry). That means working as professional, almost certainly paid, on tasks that have a real impact to an organization.

#2 – TAKES INITIATIVE: A Senior person in any position has the experience, responsibility, and personality to take initiative on projects and issues – they may not always lead (see below) but they’re the ones that can, should, or have driven things.  If you decide on what architecture to use for an IT project or chose vendors for your school that fits.

#3 – CAN LEAD WHEN APPROPRIATE: A Senior person can provide leadership when appropriate to their profession. For some this is leading a group, for others providing leadership on technical design or organizing documents – a bit like 32.

#4 – COULD TEACH: Not can, could. A Senior person should have enough knowledge of their profession to be able to teach others about important subjects – if needed. This may not mean they’re good at it, but they could barring other barriers like, say, the actual ability to teach. Note this could be general things or company/industry specific – something.

#5 – KNOWS AN INDUSTRY: A Senior person should have awareness of their industry, follow it, and be able to analyze the impact of changes. In some cases this is “be able to” because sometimes being Senior means you end up down the rabbit hole of your own projects for awhile.

#6 – HAS RESULTS TO THEIR NAME: A Senior person can demonstrate and discuss identifiable results to their work; they didn’t just work on a project, they managed it or oversaw it or made a major contribution to its success that wouldn’t have happened without them. In short, they can not just discuss the work they did but truly can say “something existed or was done because of me.”

#7 – IS CALLED SENIOR: If someone calls you a Senior by definition of your company position, etc. you usually are. Having a position changed to be senior, called senior, or transferring into one has some cachet. It shows someone trusted you – or in the case of poorly defined positions, you stepped up to try and fit whatever random definition was forced on you.

#8 – HAS ADDITIONAL TRAINING AND CERTIFICATIONS: A Senior person has additional training, certification, classwork, or something similar behind them. This may accumulate over time, expand their horizons, or speak to their abilities – whatever the reason, they’re important.  Usually you need these things to be able to take initiative, teach, and get results anyway – other areas of “being Senior”

#9 – HAS SOME PROFESSIONAL INVOLVEMENT: A Senior person has some involvement in their profession beyond just doing it and training for it. They go to professional events, are involved in associations, go to seminars, etc. If you’re senior, you’re involved.

#10 – WORKS TO BE SENIOR: A Senior person also tries to live up to the above traits and figure out just why it means to be senior at their job, in their profession, etc. hey, I can’t give you the exact details – part of being senior is trying to be senior.  This is part of the whole “being called Senior” thing as well.

Sounds simple? Well, OK not simple, but I think I broke things down into a few useful traits that you can use. But there’s one more thing.

The Senior Cycle

One of the challenging issues of “being senior” is that sometimes it leads to . . . not being senior. You may rise high enough in your profession to move to another profession – where, no matter what, you’re sort of starting over again.

It’s probably best to give an example – when I was a Senior Programmer (some eight plus years) I became a Project Manager. Though I was leveraging my skills and experiences as a Senior code jockey, I was far more junior in the area of being a Project Manager. I could not do my management job without my IT experience, with all that perspective and knowledge, but my management skills weren’t at the same level as my coding skills.

Frankly, it took about as long to get my management skills to “Senior” level as my coding skills.

So remember, your senior job may lead you into a job that’s . . . not so senior. it’s a promotion that is kind of a demotion in a way. Remember you’ll be starting over – which means get those certifications, get that five years, etc.

Oh and if you think at some point you may get tired of moving up only to start over as “non_Senior,” you’re not alone. Some people find a point to stop moving up the ladder, and you will too.

Moving Onward

With the above ten points in mind, I hope you’ll have some guidance towards “being Senior” at your job – or even just admitting your Senior and getting that promotion/transfer/new position you wanted.  At a lot more pay and respect.

In the end part of Senior is trying to figure out what the hell it means and going after it.  Good luck.

. . . and if you find any better definitions, please let me know.

  • Steve