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CareerNews: Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Volume 3, Issue 3: Tuesday, April 10, 2007

ACM CareerNews is intended as an objective career news digest for busy IT professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of ACM. To send comments, please write to

Convergence Drives Job Uplift

So You Want to Be a Digital Detective?

Keys to Retention

Web Anonymity Can Sink Your Job Search

Does Telecommuting Improve Productivity?

Making the Move to General Manager

Creating a High Performance Culture

How to Leave a Mentor Without Burning Bridges

The Language of Success

Internet Recruiters and Old School Recruiters

The Quit-Lag Phenomenon

"Convergence Drives Job Uplift", April 2

IT recruitment in the telecom sector is on the upswing, driven by the popularity of voice over IP solutions and the convergence of voice and data networks. With businesses eager to take advantage of the cost savings offered by voice over IP, it is not surprising that telecom providers are pushing convergence between voice and data networks while simultaneously ramping up their recruitment efforts. For job seekers, the telecom sector could be a source of strength in 2007, with more advertised jobs than ever before hitting the market. The article takes a look at key trends driving employment demand, analyzes which skills are most in demand by employers, and provides a case study to illustrate the various factors at work.

Within the telecom sector, companies are undergoing a transformation, and that is leading to increased demand for new types of workers. For example, one trend has been a blurring of the line between telecom companies and traditional content providers. As the fixed-line and mobile markets have matured, there is less traditional IT work focused on the core engineering of networks, and more focus on the application layer, building applications to deliver content to mobile devices or over broadband. Mergers are also driving a transformation in telecom, as companies acquire other firms that will enable them to offer a package of services to businesses and households. Even with consolidation, new entrants are coming into the market and ramping up their hiring. There are also plenty of positions in smaller companies that offer niche systems to the big suppliers.

For those already working in the telecom sector, the emphasis will be on voice over IP and on application development for mobile devices. In addition, developers will be able to move into telecom from sectors that already have experience in supporting real-time, high-availability or rich media applications. Internet TV is also a promising new field. Of course, integration and project management skills will continue to be in high demand. Telecoms firms are looking for managers at mid and senior levels who have experience in change management, service improvement, cost reduction and culture change.

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"So You Want to Be a Digital Detective?"
Computerworld, April 2

The role of the high-tech forensic investigator is becoming an increasingly attractive career option for IT workers. A combination of forces, including changes in the legal and regulatory climate, an increase in the amount of electronic information that is stored and communicated, and a general increase in corporate litigation, has pushed computer forensics to the forefront. In addition to a significant increase in the use of computer forensics for investigations involving corporate espionage or malfeasance, there has also been a greater emphasis on using computer forensics techniques within routine civil litigation cases. In general, there is an increased need for people who understand corporate IT systems and how to retrieve data quickly and efficiently from these systems.

People with backgrounds in IT, audit, and law enforcement are well positioned for a future career in computer forensics. In addition, companies look for people with strong computer science and computer engineering backgrounds. Usually, investigations are coordinated jointly with the IT department of the client, unless the IT department itself is the target, so being able to coordinate activities with IT employees is also a must. However, technical skills alone are not sufficient. Computer forensic detectives must be able to write clearly and argue their conclusions persuasively and with confidence, often in court, facing hostile attorneys. In addition, they must be able to handle pressure and tight deadlines.

Staying a step ahead of digital criminals requires an understanding of the latest technology. With that in mind, Deloitte recently built an advanced decryption center in Boston that uses a variety of techniques for breaking password protections and unscrambling coded messages and documents. Having a solid IT background, not only in software but also in hardware, is crucial for work in computer forensics. In order to properly preserve evidence, you need a thorough familiarity with large servers, desktops and laptops. You need to be able to remove hard drives, make images of them and properly document everything you do.

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"Keys to Retention", March 16

To increase employee retention, businesses should grant a higher degree of autonomy to their workers and provide them the tools to take on new challenges. According to a global survey from NFI Research, nearly 75% of senior executives and managers highlighted these two factors as the primary reasons why they would stay with an organization. Other key factors include confidence in the leadership qualities of upper management, overall compensation levels and the degree of fit with the organizational culture.

As a result of financial pressures and the changing needs of employees, organizations are re-assessing how they can build corporate loyalty. It is almost impossible for companies to afford to be loyal to their employees given competitive and quarterly performance pressures. Understanding this, they are re-focusing on building corporate cultures based on strong core values and granting employees the ability to grow both personally and professionally. As job loyalty erodes, organizations are emphasizing job satisfaction and promoting managers who are able to create a climate of trust and confidence.

The size of the organization also matters, with more employees showing a preference for smaller organizations where they are given more autonomy and more opportunities for career advancement. Only 14% of executives and managers would rather work for a large organization. In addition, nearly 20% would rather work for themselves. Employees realize that they would be better off being someone in a small organization rather than being a number in a large organization. When the social contract between employee and employer was in place, there was a real preference for larger corporations, where loyalty was recognized and rewarded. With that contract now broken, a small organization is much more attractive.

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"Web Anonymity Can Sink Your Job Search"
Computerworld, March 26

Having a presence on the Web is a critical factor in the job search, especially given the fact that a growing number of recruiters and hiring managers are using search engines when gathering data about potential employees. According to a 2006 survey, 77% of recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In another survey conducted by, 25% of hiring managers said they use Internet search engines to research potential employees, while another 10% said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. All things being equal, most companies would rather hire a candidate who has demonstrated the ability to participate on the Web. With that in mind, the article provides five tips to develop a more visible presence on the Web.

In order to become more visible on the Web, you must understand where people look for new candidates. If you have not done so already, check what people will discover about you through popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Also, take a look at search tools such as Technorati or social networking sites such as MySpace to find out what type of information is readily available to recruiters. You might also think about starting a blog. Some companies sponsor corporate blogs and encourage employee participation, or you can establish your own blog using free software. To solidify the impression that you are part of a wider industry conversation, you can also contribute to a technology-oriented site such as Slashdot.

There are other steps you can take to promote your skills and abilities. For example, you can join the open-source code community, or build a sophisticated Web page. Both of these steps can help display your technical strengths and abilities. You can also create a Web profile on one of the many social and business networking sites. Some allow you to create an online identity or, if you already have several, manage them all in one place. After creating a profile, you can link to any other places where you are mentioned or exist on the Web.

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"Does Telecommuting Improve Productivity?"
Communications of the ACM, April 2007

According to a five-year study of call center employers conducted by three information technology professors at Georgia Southern University, employees who participated in a telecommuting program were more productive than other agents. More importantly, this increase in productivity appears to be sustainable over time. As the professors are careful to point out, there is no evidence that the productivity gains were simply an artifact of the process used to select telecommuters. Moreover, there is little evidence to suggest that telecommuters negatively impact the performance of other employees or lead to higher rates of absenteeism. The bottom line: telecommuting appears to improve productivity without any adverse side effects to the organization.

The Georgia Southern professors examined the effect of telecommuting on productivity by analyzing data over a five-year period for call center representatives at Kentucky American Water Company. Telecommuting productivity was measured based on four factors: amount of work, intensity of work, efficiency of work, and adjustments for additional costs associated with telecommuting. In the final analysis, productivity (calls per hour) was calculated as the ratio of the intensity of work (number of calls per month) to the amount of work (number of hours worked per month). Over time, productivity in the year immediately following implementation was actually lower than productivity after the conclusion of the five-year period, leading the professors to surmise that productivity gains are sustainable in the long run.

Since other researchers have found contradictory evidence about the benefits of telecommuting and have hinted at the existence of a placebo effect, the Georgia Southern professors were careful to control for other effects. When it came to absenteeism, for example, the study actually found that telecommuters worked several more hours per month than non-telecommuters. Regarding the possibility that productivity gains may be an artifact of the selection process, the researchers found that agents selected to become telecommuters were not the most productive in the office prior to project implementation. Interestingly, during the time period in which average productivity of telecommuters increased by 154%, the average productivity of in-office agents fell by 13.3%. The question, of course, is whether this relative decline in productivity can be attributed to the telecommuters in any way.

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"Making the Move to General Manager"
HBS Working Knowledge, April 2

While early career success may result from job specialization and functional expertise, later career advancement often rests on the ability to transition into a general management role. Benjamin Esty, chair of the General Management Program at Harvard Business School, provides some important insights about the transition process for late-career general managers. He also highlights what is expected in this general management role, pointing out the ability to integrate consistency, cohesion, and alignment across many moving parts of the business organization is more important than excellence within one skills category. While the focus is primarily on the Harvard General Management Program, the article gives an excellent overview of what the primary characteristics of any executive education program focused on general management should include.

Any general manager program for example, should be able to help managers see linkages and interconnections across the organization. For a new general manager, the job is much more about people and less about hands-on doing. The challenge is about delegation and being able to build an effective team. In the Harvard general manager program, participants are encouraged to think about general management issues rather than specific functional aspects. They are asked to figure out what the issues are and how they affect all aspects of the organization as well as important stakeholders.

New skills, while important, are only a small part of what new general managers must possess. The broader goal should be to gain new perspectives and ideas about people and organizations, so that they will be able to create connections across functional areas. The focus should always be on integration rather than specific functional skills. It is also important to be able to understand how macro-level changes, such as globalization and technological change, impact the business. Lifelong learning is a requisite for any general manager, as they learn to challenge their views of the world and the assumptions they make about running a business.

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"Creating a High Performance Culture"
Management Issues, April 4

According to a new report by consulting firm Bain, 90% of executives believe that corporate culture is as important as strategy for business success. Yet, at the same time, fewer than 10% of companies report they are successful in building high performance corporate cultures. After briefly considering the attitudes and behaviors that influence corporate culture, the article examines three ways that businesses can develop a high performance culture that creates competitive advantage.

First and most importantly, companies must understand their current corporate culture. Even at companies where a culture appears to be lacking, there is an undercurrent of ideas and approaches that help to define how employees relate in the workplace and how they carry out their daily tasks and projects. Many businesses do not address the topic because it seems too complicated. Once this has been done, it is time to explain the preferred culture of the organization. In the same way that great leaders shape and communicate a vision, they also spell out a picture of the culture they are striving for. This can often be just a set of guiding principles or values, but the best seem to go further by establishing preferred behaviors that support these values.

Finally, the third step is to measure individuals on the basis of their behaviors, as well as their results. For example, companies should reward employees who come up with new, creative ideas if they want to promote an innovative corporate culture. Effective leaders champion their champions. This means encouraging, acknowledging, supporting and rewarding those that promote and act in line with the preferred behaviors. Equally, however, they challenge their challengers. They deal with those individuals who do not. They need to build it into their reward strategy, feedback systems, appraisal processes, promotion criteria, recruitment and selection processes.

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"How to Leave a Mentor Without Burning Bridges"
Career Journal, April 4

As they say, breaking up is hard to do, especially if the relationship involves a long-time mentor. The biggest risk, of course, is that a former mentor will take the split badly and cause difficulties later in your career, especially if he or she the ability to influence a promotion or the outcome of an important project. When you decide you need to move on, a policy of gradual separation often works best. Given this framework, the article provides some advice on how to approach the mentor relationship from the outset, as well as some practical tips on how to prepare the mentor for your eventual departure.

At the outset, both the mentor and the employee should discuss their expectations about the relationship, discussing such topics as how structured the relationship will be and how long the relationship will last. Some mentors prefer to meet in person at a set time, such as once a week, to discuss progress on an established list of goals. Others prefer to answer questions over the phone or via email. Whether the relationship is through a structured mentor program or a casual relationship between two people, it is important that you both know how it is going to work. To be effective, a mentor should have already achieved the goals you set for yourself. The mentor should also have a demonstrated commitment to your progress and be willing to provide constructive criticism.

When you begin to receive indications that the mentor relationship has achieved its goals, you need to initiate a process of slow disengagement. There is an exception to the rule about slow disengagement, however. If the ethical standards of the mentor differ from yours, it is best to get out of the relationship as soon as you realize there is a problem. You may also want to end the relationship if your mentor seems threatened by your progress or tries to impose opinions on you. Going forward, no matter what the circumstances of your breakup, always act in a polite and friendly manner when interacting with your mentor.

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"The Language of Success"
ERE, March 22

There is a common language of business success used by top-level managers in every company. Not surprisingly, then, being able to succeed in your career means that you must be able to master this language and understand the most important business concepts, many of which would be instantly recognizable to a high-ranking executive such as a CEO or CIO. The article provides a closer look at four basic concepts and ideas that help to define success within any business organization, such as knowing how to respond to business priorities and learning how to think like an investor.

You need to be able to respond to the most important business priorities at the appropriate time. Priorities can change quickly and CEOs expect that you understand that and are prepared to react accordingly. You also need to develop an investor mentality, learning to think the way an investor thinks. This usually means a focus on increasing revenues, slashing costs or boosting other metrics important to managers within the organization. You must be able to understand what your CEO is thinking in order to have any chance of influencing him or her. If you are presenting your requests to upper management, for example, show how the system pays for itself over some time period and be able to back up your assertions with data.

Keep in mind, too, that quality counts more than ever. Within your area of functional expertise, think about how a Six Sigma process might look, or what it means to have a defect-free process. Finally, you must know how you fit into the overall strategy. Employees are expected to present what they will do to help the firm achieve its strategic goals and imperatives. You must know how you fit into the overall vision of the firm and you must show how you can contribute to achieving business success. Often, that means showing how what you do will increase the profits of your organization.

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"Internet Recruiters and Old School Recruiters"
The Forest and the Trees, March 26

In order to be effective in finding the right candidates for jobs, recruiters need to mix together knowledge of both Internet-based and conventional recruiting tactics. Many of the new generation of recruiters are really sourcers, relying entirely on Internet job boards and Internet databases for resumes. Conversely, long-time veterans of the recruiting industry may not use job boards at all and may have no idea that social networking sites can be used effectively to discover new candidates. The bottom line: if you rely on job boards only, start looking into other methods of recruiting. If you use conventional recruiting tactics only, it might be time to look into Internet-based recruiting solutions.

As the article points out, the ability to combine the two types of tactics represents the difference between an average recruiter and a well-compensated, top-level recruiter. Be willing to experiment with new products and services that you find online. Conversely, be willing to leave the Internet aside and make cold calls or use other conventional tactics for locating the best candidates.

The Internet is not a crutch for weak recruiters. Instead, it is a powerful tool for locating new contacts and leveraging information assets. Some online tools, for example, allow you to specify the job title and industry and they tell you the person in that job and their contact info. Other online tools combine multiple databases into one package, allowing a recruiter to search thousands of candidates in many different geographic areas at one time. Finally, online social networking tools have now attracted more than 10 million registered users, making them a great repository of names and contacts.

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"The Quit-Lag Phenomenon"
Business Week, March 12

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a lame duck employee who has already announced his or her intentions to leave the organization can actually become an incredibly productive asset. Most importantly, these employers are no longer burdened with an in-box of tasks and projects to complete, freeing them to take care of things now, rather than putting them off for later. Secondly, these employees are freed from political machinations within the workplace. In short, the period waiting to quit can actually be a time of tremendous work and fulfillment. Moreover, the quit-lag phenomenon can teach any manager the value of savoring every moment, of taking care of things now instead of putting them off for later, and of valuing relationships over political wins and losses.

During the final two weeks of employment, an employee can accomplish many tasks that can help the organization during the transition phase. Instead of dealing with piled-up papers, they can create a how-to manual for the person who will succeed them. They can write down procedures and lists of contacts and important events coming up in the future. They can also help to clean house, in the form of throwing out papers and cleaning out files. They can also reorganize employee records and make sure that vendor contracts are current. Finally, they can drop by employees in the office who have pending benefits issues or other matters that need attention.

For over-worked and over-stressed workers, the key is being able to apply these lessons to everyday office life. Concentrate on immediate and pressing issues without being distracted. Listen to employees who have problems. Focus on a very small number of things and see them through to the end. Quite simply, when you stop worrying about work, your work can improve dramatically. By eliminating stress, you can communicate with fellow employees without concerns about office politics getting in the way. Most importantly, you are able to approach stacks and memos and project schedules without feeling overburdened by them and sinking under the realization that you may never get to them.

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