Selling yourself is a life-time job

You have a Computer Science degree. Now what?

I was doing my weekly shopping in Home Depot and I was helped by Carl, who is a recent graduate  of Radford University’s College of Information Science and Technology.

He had a degree in Computer Science, but had been unable to find work in his chosen field, so he was working at Home Depot. A few minutes of conversation showed me that he was not only personable, but he knew his field well enough that he would be a useful addition to any company looking for a System Administrator or any number of entry level jobs requiring technical knowledge and a good manner with customers.

Why was this fellow not employed?

He had attended a school which has the stated goal to equip students with the skills, knowledge and abilities needed to build successful careers in a 21st century global information economy.

According to the Radford University website, the College of Information Science and Technology curriculum provides the theoretical foundation necessary for a career in information technology while grounding that theory with hand-on use of current tools. From databases to routers, our students have the opportunity to link theory and application. Their mission statement covers this in greater detail.

I asked Carl if he was networking and he thought I meant building computer networks. He had no concept of the value of personal networking as a source of job referrals. He had submitted his resume to several regional employment lists, but had done no personal selling effort.

I gave him my 60 second elevator pitch about personal referrals accounting for 85% of all job placements and stressed that he had to tell everyone he knew about his job search.

He got it immediately.

I told that my book, Danger Quicksand – Have A Nice Day, has a lot of vital job-finding tactics and was still available as a free download. That brought in a smile and he said he wanted to read my book.

He asked me for the URL and immediately wrote it down. I think he will be out of Home Depot sooner than he expects.

An opportunity for colleges and universities

What intrigued me most was that this new graduate had all of the tools and skills to be a productive member of many different companies, but he did not have the tools he needs to land a job.

If there are many more graduates like Carl, there is a counseling opportunity for people who actually know the ropes of handling interviews and networking for employment opportunities. I consider it to be a waste of valuable resources when new graduates are not trained as competent networkers.

Without this skill, it is almost like a graduate is an unfinished product. They may have all sorts of capabilities but are not able to market themselves effectively.

What do you think?


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0 Responses to Selling yourself is a life-time job

  1. I couldn’t agree more with you David. Many of the people I talk to can’t sell themselves to their friends, much less to prospective employers. I recommend to all my friends looking for a job to pick up any relationship book they can, and read it, and apply it, right away. I think part of the problem is people see a stigma with sales, and think that selling themselves is a bad thing. Personally, I think as long as you’re selling a product you believe in, you should have no problems selling it.

    Hey, maybe that’s the problem. People need more self-confidence, and THEN they can sell themselves better…

  2. frank martin says:

    The single biggest change in the computer technical industry over the past 10 years has been the near complete elimination of any entry level jobs in the domestic US. It effects us at several levels, first those who want to get started – cant, and those who are already working who want to move up or around in companies are trapped at their level for no other reason than a lack of available replacements. Hiring freezes dont just effect people coming in, they effect those in the company as well.

    The offshoring methods employed by many company management teams usually set their teeth into those things known as “entry level jobs” as it seemed like an easy and simple part of the company to attack from a cost savings standpoint, but what few people foresaw was that these jobs were where many of the talented people who would later grow into bigger assets for the company were likely to come from, and now that they are not being fed into the company, the lack of them leave companys extremely weak when it comes to the ability to grow and meet challenges.

    “growth” is not a word that is used in the industry and that is a very bad thing indeed.

    Those of us still in the industry are finding ourselves increasingly trapped in positions with no way to find other positions in the company because there is no way to train a replacement. This was a key function that was once often performed by the “new guy” or the entry level guy moving up a notch, who fresh from school and looking for a chance to start.

    The new guy in our group has been in the industry for 10 years, in any other time in the industry he would be considered a 1st degree greybeard, but in todays world, hes still “the new guy”. Its one thing to be stuck at a higher level, but this guy has been stuck in a low level 24×7 front line operations job for the past 4 years,and there is no sign that he will ever be able to get out of it, unless of course, the job is moved overseas. He went into the job as a temporary hold over while waiting for bigger jobs in the next fiscal year. He expected to be there for 1 year at the most. This job is precisely the type of job that used to go to people fresh out of college with no real world experience.

    I feel sorry for the kids coming out of school today. The world has literally changed under their feet and they didnt even know it was happening.

  3. Frank, that is so depressing!

    I have been out of the industry only four years and it seems like the working environment in high tech industries has gotten markedly worse in that short time.

    When there is little opportunity for bright newcomers to join companies and contribute, the future of American technology companies is on shaky ground.

  4. Ric says:

    David – I suspect it’s more depressing for the “new guy”!
    What Frank talks about is the knock-on effect of outsourcing – the fact that you now have no people moving through the gaining experience. That means when somebody more senior leaves, there’s no-one to move up into their spot, so now that position needs to be outsopurced, and then next year the next senior position, etc. etc. Before you know it somebody else is doing all your thinking for you and finally the business itself is “outsourced” because you’ve got no smart people left!

    I see it as a symptom of using costs/efficiency as a business driver. These things are important, but they should not be first-order variables – things like great products, great customer service, innovation in service/product/process – these are first-order variables. “Messy but effective” is a better predictor of prosperity than “efficient but redundant”! Typewriter, anyone?

  5. Frank Martin says:

    The world is changing. The markets we were trained to work in no longer work the way we were trained to work in them, oddly its because of the very tools we in the tech industry created thats at the core of the issue causing the problem.

    The internet effectively “flattened” the world, and with that “flattening effect” went the markets that we work in.

    I dont think its entirely new because Ive been watching a this sort of change since I started in the industry in 1984. Back then, most companies had their own mainframes and large staffs of people known as “architects” and several levels of “computer programmer”. Companies used to make staggering investments in software and hardware at a level that would never pass muster in todays corporate world.

    As we moved into the late 80’s, companies had fewer architects, more off the shelf software and a higher reliance on “contractors” rather than staff. I remember people critizing me for working for a “canned softare” company as in the culture of the time it was expected that any senior engineer worth their salt could design, build and deploy a payroll system for their company and it was simply lazy to buy one “off the shelf”.

    ahhh,those were the days…

    Then the internet came. At first, many people wondered if anyone would trust their business to such an open interface that was available from literally anywhere with no controls or proprietary protocols. Today, we naturally assume that of course thats exactly what you want but in the early days, it was hard to get any company to allow you to work on their technical problems unless you were literally on site.

    But at the same time as the rise of the “age of the internet” came something else,the Y2k problem. This problem required the application of many contractors and offshore staff to accomplish many complex software problems. While this was interesting from a corporate viewpoint, what was more important was that companies found that they could accomplish really big technical tasks by using staff made up entirely of contractors, many of whom would never set foot on the company grounds, yet would be able to greatly impact the software projects of the very company that was doing the contracting in the first place. “Why have staff?” became the call of many companies management when it came to IT needs. From “architects” and several levels of programmers to this, that was quite a change in 10 years, and that was before the beginning of the “internet crash”.

    The collision between the end of the Y2k gravy train and the end of the internet bubble destroyed most of the countries remaining IT organizations and any sort of IT budget, too many companies had taken a bath on grotesque IT budgets that could never in a million years ever have earned their “buyback”.

    To keep moving, many companies were forced to outsource any function that was even remotely possible to move, and this is where our “entry level” problem raises its ugly head.

    Growth, if there is any left in the IT industry is now limited strictly to the area formerly known as “facilities management” or “Application hosting”. Those business lines, while vital and interesting and in their own quiet revolution right now, are not known for large profit margins, and thus they tend to employ every known method to cut costs and save money to keep ahead of a very competitive cutthroat marketplace.

    So I dont think that what is going on today is new, its just that in our industry, one that many people have always thought of as ‘ever upward’ find hard to accept that the basic rules of economics apply here as well. If you are an “engineer” and you need to make X dollars an hour because the place you live requires it, and there is some other person or service who can provide the same skill for literally a fraction of that, you are simply not going to compete no matter your skills or background. Drive down any neighborhood and most driveways are filled with chevys, not ferarris. Its not that people dont like ferarris that keeping them out of driveways.

    You see dave, in the world of the internet, there is no difference between Cupertino and where you are living today. Thats very hard for people who live in Cupertino to accept, but that is a fact.

    It seems like a paradox but as a result of the very work put out by the people who once lived and worked in the south bay, the south bay itself is not longer competitive in the market they themselves have created. Place, no longer has the premium it once had, and as a result, neither do the salaries.

    The internet and the world it brought is neither heaven or hell, its just life. We will, like every generation before us find our way through the challenges life presents to us. I suspect that there will be as many if not more places for us to work and better places for us to work in the internet world as there ever was in the “corporate campus” world that has clearly just passed.

  6. Ric says:

    Wow, Frank – that was worthy of a blog post all on its own!

    I certainly agree that “place” in a physical sense is now much less important than “place” virtual and mental. “Virginia” is less important to David’s business than “blogosphere”, which means that David can choose where he wants to live (lifestyle) and it doesn’t impact on his business (workstyle).

    But where I work and live doesn’t change whether or not I can contribute to a company’s competitiveness, but the company’s attitude to building its own skills (and we’re not just talking tech here) will.

  7. Carl says:

    Offshoring is one issue that new grads face. H1B hires in the US is another. In my shop I fortunately have been able to demonstrate that the 10.5 hour time zone difference slows down productivity to the point where off shoring provides savings only on very large staffing efforts. As a shop that does mostly small 2-5 developer efforts, we have eschewed the off-shore model (except that every 6 months when finance or the executive office gets an itch I have to defend the decision).

    For hiring locally, when I get resumes from my recruiter, they are 80-90% H1B candidates. Don’t know why, but for QA and Developer talent, those are the numbers.

    When we hire entry level we look for good grades and a sharp mind. That’s it. One of our best hires is a young man who has only an AA degree. He lives to code. In his interview it showed. He was 20 when we hired him and he continues to be one of our best performers. And he is not H1B, never has been. Born and bred in the USA. The entry level market is alive and well in my corner of the universe.

  8. Sean Pecor says:

    Meaning no insult to computer science graduates, most of the best programmers I know either earned a non-computing related engineering degree, have no degree at all, or have a degree wholly unrelated to computers. I have absolutely no idea why that is the case. But I do know, unlike brain surgery, computer programming is just one of those things that you can learn on your own and/or with the help of mentors. A vocational approach seems more logical in this environment given the accessibility of computers and computer programming software.

    I suppose being something of a mad scientist uber geek I’m a bad example. But I learned the BASIC programming language when I was 15 using simple instructional books. Next at 16 I picked up Pascal and Turbo Pascal. Next at 17 I began using x86 assembly for speed critical routines. At 18 I learned C and not long after C++. Since roundabout 2001 I’ve been using strictly PHP and SQL.

    I began performing contract work when I was 16, simple jobs but jobs I was happy to do for cheap and non mission critical stuff that businesses were willing to “outsource” cheaply to a teenager. I do remember being disregarded by a potential employer when I was 17 when applying for a permanent position. He seemed impressed at my expertise but when he learned that I dropped out of high school, he paused and asked me “what is the mathematic result of 10,000 log 5?”. I was perplexed at the question – I didn’t at the time know the answer – and I told him as much. He said go back to school, get a computer science degree and then come back. I wondered to myself, at the time, why he’d shrug me off with a math question, especially with the sort of math theory that was not necessary to perform the job for which I was applying. I didn’t learn the lesson he was attempting impart upon me. Instead, I stopped the job search and began building and distributing software online. They were small, useful utilities that businesses found useful, and it got me plenty of exposure. Soon enough employers were headhunting me.

    But that was 15 years ago. I think Frank hits the nail on the head. I think for the person who was born to code who has some natural self promotion skills, it’s easy enough to find a job. For the average newly graduated programmer who isn’t very good at self promotion, it’s difficult to find those computer programming gigs because they aren’t as plentiful as they once were.


  9. Jane Chin says:

    Frank said, “I feel sorry for the kids coming out of school today. The world has literally changed under their feet and they didnt even know it was happening.”

    I think the kids know the world is changing, but they don’t have the mentors who help them prepare and *at least* map out some sort of a plan. I can only speak for the increasing number of PhD level graduates coming out of biomedical sciences and wondering what they should be doing when they “grow up” after dedicating the past 8-15 years of their lives in school.

    Many of these graduates see the writing on the wall, yet they are mystified by other options available to them. Their own mentors and advisors are in the same fields as they are, and can offer limited assistance, if any (because the mentors or advisors may not be rewarded by the schools to teach students to think out of the box).

    I am not too worried about the younger generations who are growing up and becoming immune to what we consider data fog. These kids are networked and tech savvy and eventually will figure out a way to survive and even thrive. I’m more worried about those who are now coming out of undergrad and grad schools, facing innovation and tech changes without anticipating how these may alter their career or life plans.

  10. Helen says:

    “Without this skill, it is almost like a graduate is an unfinished product.”

    Networking, of course, is an invaluable tool not only in the job market but in so many areas of our personal lives as well. And while your blog is highly dedicated to employment as a whole, I submit that how one handles their personal affairs can and should be transferred to your 9-5 way of life. Failure to do so endangers your ability to see yourself as a whole person. Failure to reach out to others, share your ideas and “market yourself” in all you believe in may lead to an “unfinished product” as you graduate from life. Passion is a must.


  11. so says:

    I’ve been in the telecommunications industry for 25 years. As a hiring manager in a technical area of telecom, I find that schools are not completing students’ practical education in other ways as well. Two specific areas I find lacking in candidates and in new grads I have hired is their inability to think logically and their poor work ethic. Sometimes they can learn these skills via OJT, but sometimes they cannot learn quickly and have to be managed out the door.

  12. This is how I feel most of the time at my current job (taken from the movie Oldboy):
    Woojin, if you want me to be a dog, I will!
    I’m Woojin’s dog
    from now on I’m your puppy!
    Woof! Woof! Woof! Wooof!
    Look, I’m wagging my tail!
    I’m a dog I’ll guard the house!
    I’ll be your slave dog!

    I do have things outside of work but I don’t know how to make money out of them and wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so.
    TITLE: Have you noticed?
    BLOG NAME: Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching
    DATE: 02/23/2006 03:12:32 PM
    Our community is rockin’ and rollin.’ Have you noticed? … how Phil Gerbyshak has turned into such a tagging master? Man oh man is he sharing some great pointers with us. And that’s just part of the way his blog

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