Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Experience Means Nothing...Unless its Quality Experience

I had an interview today with a company...not for a contract, but for a perm position. They how and why behind it aren't necessary for this post, but let's just say its a great opportunity to work with some technology I'm really excited about.

The interview today was just soft-skills. Nothing super technical other than to discuss my prior experience, behavior type questions (what would you do in this situation), etc.

One thing became apparent though as I was asked these questions: considering I was interviewing for a software development type of position, I had alot of examples that were from non-software development projects or were non-complex ones: small web applications, business analysis, teaching, Microsoft Excel applications...all good work that brought in good money...but it wasn't good experience.

As consultants, we're tasked with finding new work and bringing in the money. But sometimes we'll hit a dry spell, where we still need to put food on the table but the opportunities just aren't there. In these cases, we'll look at what's available and take whatever we deem is the best based on type of work and rate.

But I would make a new suggestion, one that takes a bit more gumption: If an opportunity has no lasting benefit beyond providing you a paycheck now, don't take it.

This is the new credo that I'll be basing all my contract opportunities on. I want to be sure that the work I do is something that a potential future employer will look at and identify as good experience.

As an example, let's say you were hiring for a sous-chef position in a restaurant. You have a candidate that claims to have over 10 years of experience. You look through the resume and see that the person does have a long tenure, but the types of restaurants are diners, chain restaurants, or mom-and-pop shops. Sure, he has 10 years of cooking...but does his experience show that he's able to perform in the sous-chef position. Compare that to the person with 4 years experience in high end NYC restaurants, working under well known chefs, and with proven experience cooking with more fine dining style cuisine? The 4 year candidate has more good experience than the 10 year candidate.

The same is for us as consultants. We can definitely eek out a living on the scraps that other companies drop to the ground...the projects they pass up because of a low dollar return or a technology that is below them. Or, we can raise ourselves to a higher that puts us in the major league ranks when it comes to offering up good experience as part of our portfolio.



Gary said...

I agree %100.
Consultant = typically better money
FTE = usually better opportunities

I am currently CTH (contract to hire), my boss told me right out that he gives better opportunities to his FTE's and wants me to migrate.
I can see his point, he believes FTE have a longer life in the organization (while I may not agree %100 since I sign a contract for x months).

Regardless, better opportunities means developing a better skillset.
Great post

igloocoder said...

I disagree with Gary's assessment. FTE != better opportunities. I've employed myself both ways and in both I've ended up with roles that don't provide with any personal skills growth opportunity. When you're FTE, there is an expectation that the company has your growth in their interest. I have yet to see a company that does though. They all talk as if they do, but when it comes time to deliver on the promise of skills enhancement you are met with bureaucratic barriers. The project needs you now, we can't afford that training, that way of learning doesn't meet our corporate standards...all excuses I've heard when FTE.

In the Consulting world, I am the person who has to make the decision on what is appropriate advancement for my skills. One of the biggest ways to do this is to pick the right contracts. I've signed contracts for work that retarded my skill growth significantly. Not all contracts give you the chance to grow.

Regardless of the differences in the two worlds, I think that no person, regardless of industry, can allow their current position to work them into an unmarketable state. You must always stay on top of your game just in case you find yourself looking for work tomorrow. If a job has backed you into a corner of stagnant knowledge transfer, it's probably best to be getting out before your resume gets too stale.