Tom Sweeney

It's a coming of age tale….

Archive for February, 2009

Warning: Application may take up to one year to be processed…

Posted by sweens on February 27, 2009

When you are considering applying for a position with the Federal Government these days, you may get discouraged to see the following note on many of their application pages:

Please note that our recruitment process may take up to a year. We understand that during this time you may have questions or would like to know the status of your application. We ask that you be patient throughout the process and that you keep the contact information you have provided current. “

  While this message may seem discouraging, the truth behind it is even worse.  Having many friends who have been applying to Government jobs as of late, the hiring cycle is growing close to two years.  I know some individuals who have been caught up in this candidate pool for up to 22 months from the time they started the process to the time they finished it. 


Candidates who are applying to Federal Government positions should not be expecting a quick turn around with their application.  The norm is more like little feedback with long waits between each stage of the process.  With the number of the Government employees expected to retire within the next five years, the Government needs to address its current hiring cycle and speed the process up or else it will find itself in a position where the people coming in will not match the number of people going out. 


Please visit the Public Service Commission website to apply for most Federal Government of Canada jobs.

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Tough times continue…

Posted by sweens on February 26, 2009

In recent news today, General Motors (GM) posted close to a $10 Billion dollars fourth-quarter loss and was forced to use $6.2 Billion dollars of cash in the last 3 months of 2008.  In 2008, GM is reporting to have lost $30.9 Billion dollars.  GM is reporting that it will need roughly $30 Billion dollars as a bail out in order to avoid Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States.


Read the full article at:


In other news, Nortel announced today that it would be laying off another 3200 employees bringing the total to 5000.  The company will be dismissing its employees over the next few months as part of the restructuring plan under bankruptcy protection.


Read the full article at:

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New Grads: Struggling to get hired??

Posted by sweens on February 25, 2009

I was sitting here in my office today wondering what I could blog about. I got to thinking and what I ended up focusing on was how ‘new grads’ are likely the largest group within the candidacy pool who will have the greatest struggle finding IT employment in the coming months or years. I personally do not monitor a lot of ‘new grad’ opportunities as it is not an area of focus for my firm, however from a business perspective, I can see this group having a difficult time.

As the candidacy pool grows during the recession – the volume of experienced professionals will clearly rise in correlation. And of this increased candidacy pool you will have two types of candidates:

1. Those who are unwilling to lower their salary expectations to compete in the market
2. Those who are willing to lower their salary expectations to compete in the market

Those who are willing to take a pay cut and are already of the beginner/intermediate experience level will directly challenge new grads for entry level positions.


Honestly I do not really know. I can see both sides of the coin here. First, it would seem beneficial to take the experienced professional over the new grad. The experienced professional will take less time to ‘ramp up’ and will likely make a greater impact on your organization in a shorter time. I would suspect that these candidates who are going to lower their salary expectations during the recession will also be the first people to leave for higher paying jobs when the recession is over.

That is where I see the problem of hiring the experienced professional over the ‘new grad’. Employee retention has to be on the mind of every hiring manager. Opting for the quick impact may not be the best long-term investment to make when a hiring decision is made. Employers also need to be cognisant of this situation and not take advantage of the recession in terms of compensation packages.

While offering a candidate a weak compensation package may help the company out now, it will likely send the employee out looking for a new opportunity once the market comes back around. The labour market certainly has changed in the sense that it is not uncommon for candidates to switch positions 4 or 5 times within their careers, rather then sticking it out with one company for 20 or more years. Employers need to be thinking about how to keep their employees rather satisfying their current needs.

Filling a small leak now with larger then required plug may cause a bigger leak once the plug is removed…

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LinkedIn Groups: Now posting jobs….

Posted by sweens on February 24, 2009

With the recent updates LinkedIn implemented last week, I truly believe that LinkedIn has separated itself from the many social networking tools on the market today. Many of the recent upgrades made to the LinkedIn site seemed inspired by customer requests. It is finally great to see a company listening to the needs of their clients and translating those needs into a quality product.

While a lot of the changes surround appearance and overall layout of the site – the contact and personal information is laid out in a much more user friendly fashion. I was using LinkedIn today and noticed that the changes to the contact pages are still ongoing so I suspect changes are still to come.

LinkedIn also launched the new Talent Direct product as part of its corporate solution suite of business tools. This new product should enable its users to source multiple urgent positions at the same time. This beefed up version of LinkedIn Recruiter is like adding steroids to your normal LinkedIn account.

Finally, the most advantageous change that I have seen for the average user is the new group function which allows you to post jobs. Many of the groups I was previously in were already posting jobs through the group discussions; however each group now has a specific section designed for job postings. Since the basic LinkedIn account is free, joining groups and looking for jobs is a great way for candidates to search industry specific jobs.

Just another way to get a leg up on the competition…

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I’m on the hunt…. For a job

Posted by sweens on February 23, 2009

I find I am chatting more and more these days with candidates who are not only interested in a specific opportunity, but interested in advice on what industries they should be looking into for employment opportunities.  A large portion of these questions come from an increase in candidates within the market who have not been job searching for many years.   I also believe that many candidates do not search via an industry and rather by available opportunities.


In terms of the Ottawa market there are two suggestions I can make however these suggestions will work for any geographical location in Canada or the United States.  The first suggestion I can make is any opportunity with a company who deals with the medical industry.  This is often an industry many Ottawa based candidates do not think about since companies of this nature are few and far between in Ottawa, but there are a few. 


Think about it?


Healthcare is something that is ALWAYS going to be needed, especially in a country where the federal and provincial governments fund the healthcare system.  There is clearly going to be (never say never) funding thrown into the medical field so it is relatively a safe bet in terms of a workable industry.  Companies that specialize in the healthcare or medical industry are likely holding their own or continuing to grow during the recession.  It is a sad fact, but people will continue to get sick and any field that ultimately helps the health of people will continually be needed.


The second suggestion I can offer is not really an industry suggestion but rather a company or product suggestion.  Candidates should look for organizations who sell a product or service that saves their clients money.  What I mean by this is that some companies offer products or services that replace existing technologies and can save an organization money.  These types of organizations will likely continue to thrive during a recession as the selling of their product will save money for their clients who are likely looking to cut costs. 


Candidates should consider researching the companies they are applying to.  You never know what you might find…

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5 Tips to Speed Up Your Job Search

Posted by sweens on February 20, 2009

I came across this great blog post on talking about 5 tips that can help you speed up your job search.  Definitly worth a read.

Check it out at:

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Entering the job market: Am I on top?

Posted by sweens on February 20, 2009

I just had an interesting conversation with my boss regarding some candidates we have been seeing from a local company that is having serious struggles.  Many of the candidates that are coming across my desk have no pressing interest or need to leave this company as anyone left within the company has been employed there for many years.  Many candidates are opting to wait for the company to go under or become profitable again, but are sending out feelers to agencies and applying for jobs incase the right opportunity comes along.


In light of this, I pose the following question:  When you are ‘entering the job market’ are you entering the market on your own terms or because you have to?


This is an important question to consider because there is a big difference between those who enter the job market on their own terms or those that are forced into the market.  This is especially true in today’s employment market, as the supply of people exceeds the demand needed and the supply is increasing week by week. 


If you are searching for a job while you are still employed you have a bit more ‘bargaining power’ then someone who is not employed.  Now there are always circumstances that lead to layoffs and people taking time off, but there is always a small stereotype that exists when reviewing resumes of candidates who are not working (especially those who have not been working for a while). 


When you are unemployed – you are forced into the market.  This situation can lead to you accepting a position that is not your ideal position, but more importantly it allows the company giving you an offer to make you an offer that is less then your desired salary.  While the company will still give you fair market value, it may be on the lower end since they know you are not working.


If the opposite were true, and you entered the market on your own terms, you are less likely to get that lower offer from a company because you already have something to keep you going.  You are likely to get a salary increase or an equivalent offer because the company issuing the offer needs to give you a reason to leave your current employer.  Offering you less money – more times then not – is not the best way to attract someone to your new company. 


This post is written as a realization that candidates should evaluate their current situation with respect to how stable it is.  If it is not the most stable situation, maybe candidates should consider looking within the market on their own terms, rather then being thrown into the market by a corporate layoff. 


Searching for a position because you would entertain a change is a MUCH different search then searching for a position because you NEED a job.

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Job Cuts: Can I avoid them?

Posted by sweens on February 19, 2009

A recently published article in the Canadian Press offers a unique approach to avoiding corporate layoffs.  The article suggested that a Government program, The Federal EI job-sharing plan, exists where employees can cut their work week down from 5 days to 4 days and then collect Employment Insurance on the 5th day.  This plan causes employees to take a minimal pay cut and saves the company operational costs.  This is an option for employers seeking to cut costs while avoiding major layoffs.

The article goes on to claim that unemployment in Canada is expected to rise from its current level – 7.2% – to 9% by the end of the year.  The Canadian market is expected to shed 350,000 jobs during that time.  This federal plan has been used by many organizations since it came to exist in the 1980’s however it has been little publicized since its inception.  When this plan was initiated, unemployment hit 13% after a massive streamlining in the auto; steel and industrial sectors caused by high inflation and the second global oil prices shock.

To read the full article, please visit:

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Air Canada: Next big Canadian company in trouble?

Posted by sweens on February 18, 2009

Yahoo News is reporting that Air Canada, Canada’s biggest airline, may have to file for bankruptcy if it can not secure additional funding.  Reports from earlier in the month indicate that cash collected by Air Canada for operations will be insufficient to meet rising pension funding obligations and over $1 Billion of debt repayment over the next two years. 

To read the full article, please visit:

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Criminal Charges Laid: Bid-Rigging

Posted by sweens on February 17, 2009

The Competition Bureau announced today that 14 individuals from 7 Ottawa based IT consulting firms have been criminally charged with bid-rigging.  The charges were investigated under the premise that several IT consulting practices covertly coordinated their bids in an illegal scheme to defraud the Government by winning and dividing contracts, while blocking out honest competitors. 


The investigation looked at 10 contracts from 2005 to 2007 which valued around $67 million.  One contract was for Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) and one for Transport Canada (TC), while the other 8 contracts came from Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). 


Bid-rigging is something close watched by the Government but difficult to pick-up on.  Bid-rigging is defined by the Government as: Under Canadian law, when bidders collude on prices, they are committing a crime punishable by jail time and fines. The Competition Act makes it is a criminal offence for two or more bidders, in response to a call or request for bids or tenders, to secretly agree that one party will refrain from bidding, or to agree on the bids they will submit, without informing the party issuing the call for bids of these arrangements. Penalties for bid-rigging include a fine at the discretion of the court and/or a prison sentence of up to five years.

No allegations are being made against those who performed the actual work for the client departments, nor are any government employees implicated.



For more information and the complete story, please visit:

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Resume Writing: Raw skills VS Industry experience…

Posted by sweens on February 13, 2009

When you sit down to write your resume, there should be two areas you are trying to reflect within your resume:


1)      Your industry experience

2)      Your raw skills


INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE: What I mean by ‘Industry Experience’ is that you are trying to demonstrate that you have worked within a given field (financial, medical, pharmaceutical, etc) and have gained experience from that industry which in turn makes you more qualified for a position with a new company relative to your previous industry experience.


RAW SKILLS:  What I mean by ‘Raw Skills’ is regardless of what industry you were working in, you are aiming to demonstrate the skills you developed previously.  This could be project management, people management, technical skills, etc.  Your resume is aiming to reflect that your skill set is transferable across different industries and not just specific to one.




Well first of all, this is important to think about because there are currently more people looking for employment then normal.  These people often represent larger organizations to which they have been employed by for many years.  I have also seen a lot of candidates lately from organizations that are declining in terms of both size and industry.  As such, the likelihood of finding employment within that industry is shrinking.



Let us assume that someone is laid off from General Motors or Nortel these days.  Both of those companies are cutting staff but more importantly their respective industries are hurting.  In the case of Nortel and General Motors, if someone is laid off from either company tomorrow, they will unlikely walk down the street and find employment with one of their competitors.  This is simply because these industries are not hiring like they were a year ago.




This is where marketing your raw skills rather then your industry experience comes into play.  Candidates should evaluate what their most recent industry is doing.  Is it growing, holding steady or in decline?  If it is declining (especially rapidly) then you should be aware that there are likely going to be less jobs available within that industry and you are likely going to switch industries to find employment.  This in most cases means that your previous industry work experience is un-related to your next opportunity and you should therefore aim to market your raw skills, rather then your industry experience. 


This means to talk less about the products you worked on and focus more on:

         What you were doing

         How you did it

         How big your team was

         How your brought in structure

         Did you set up processes



The aim for current resume writing should be to maximize your chance of getting the opportunity you are looking for.  Understanding where the market is going and what to present on your resume are vital to reflecting the image you need to be casting on others.  Talking about your industry experience that is totally un-related to the job you are applying for can often saturate your resume with information that the reader is not looking for, and the important information you want to show through, can be lost.

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Resume Writing: What do I do?

Posted by sweens on February 12, 2009


‘What do I do’ is an interesting question you should be asking yourself when you are writing a resume.  Let us begin with the following idea:


 If you do not know, how is a recruiter going to know?


You may find it amusing that I mention this; however it is not uncommon for me (and many others within the industry) to read the resume of a candidate and come out if it wondering what this person actually does.  This person is one who has many skills and tries to convey them all in one shot. 




I can offer two suggestions.  The first being that if you feel the need to put all of your skills (Project Management, Business Analyst, Technical, etc) into one resume then your resume should demonstrate your work experience and what you were doing for each position.  You should then create a separate section within your resume to highlight your skills in each of the areas you wish to showcase.  Adding multiple job titles or varied responsibilities tends to leave the reader wondering what your actual job was.



The second, and the better idea of the two, is to create separate resumes that highlight one specific skill set.  As I have mentioned before, recruiters are looking for past experience relative to the current position they are searching for.  Meaning, we are looking for ten years of project management experience rather then ten years of experience where some of it was project management.  If you create separate resumes for each skill set, this will strengthen your position within that skill set. 


Remember that a recruiter is looking for ‘the’ candidate; so increase your odds of being that candidate and give your resume the best chance of making the impression you need it to.  Marketing yourself as a ‘firefighter’ – someone who goes from problem to problem – is a skill set that is valuable within your company because the company knows you.  It is not valuable for someone looking for a specific level of expertise because it is hard to nail down where your specific skill set is.


In conclusion, if you are interested in a position as a business analyst, make sure your resume says ‘my objective is to be a business analyst and here is where I have done business analyses’.  This is going to be your best bet in separating your resume from the other candidates who all want the same position. 

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All aboard: Next stop, social networks…

Posted by sweens on February 11, 2009


As social networking grows and becomes a more prevalent tool in todays’ work force, people are turning to social networking sites to grow their network and connect with like-minded individuals.  Recruiters are using these networking tools to find more and more people on a daily basis.  These tools do not just apply to the IT world, as professionals from many different fields share multiple networks. 


If you are looking for generic places to network then the larger social networks like LinkedIn or Facebook are your best bet.  This type of a network will allow you to connect with individuals from different professions rather then the same profession.  Facebook does not foster the same networking spirit that LinkedIn does as Facebook allows people to upload personal photos to share with friends.  Individuals can be worried of creating a negative professional image for themselves through what may be found on their Facebook pages.




LinkedIn on the other hand, does not have this functionality (yet) and is geared for social networking.  I have found through my own experiences that individuals are much more open to connecting on LinkedIn then any other platform.  Anyone who is looking to expand their network on LinkedIn should look to join groups such as:


         Open Networking .COM

         Open Networkers!

         Networkers United


         Invites Welcome

         Group Linked

         The Dallas Blue Business Network


These groups are open to join and membership in the group means you are open to networking and will accept any invitation you receive.  One of the most successful ways to grow your network is by visiting and become an official TopLinked member.  This group has their email address imported into members LinkedIn accounts for easy invite lists and a rapid expansion of your network.  You may join this service for free or by paying a small fee for better distribution of your network.


 Lastly I would encourage anyone to join a specialized networking site or group based around your profession or background.  Google has groups for IT professionals.  Most cities have groups that meet once a month to discuss any given profession.  Online networking sites exist for specific industries.  By joining these groups, you simply increase your odds of being connected to like-minded individuals and open the door to more opportunities.


I would argue that networking does not occupy a lot of your time and can pay big dividends.  An understanding that recruiters use these networks to locate passive candidates can be a good motivating factor for anyone to jump on the networking train.

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Compensation Packages: Let’s talk…

Posted by sweens on February 10, 2009

Further to my entry yesterday, candidates should be prepared to discuss with a recruiter what their ideal compensation package would be.  This means, aside from your base salary, what other compensation factors are you looking for:


         Benefits package

         RRSP Matching

         Stock Options

         Vacation Time

         Closed over Christmas


While many of these may seem trivial or miniscule for most people, these elements can make or break a successful offer from employer to employee.  These factors can also be used as a way to offset a bridge that can not be crossed when it comes to agreeing on a base salary.  What I mean by this is that if you get an offer of $5000 dollars less then what you were hoping for and the employer is unable or unwilling to give you that, you may consider asking for another week of vacation to offset that monetary difference. 


The ability to negotiate RRSP matching is likely non-existent – as it is generally a company policy – however the ability to negotiate the start of benefits, or your eligibility to acquire stock options are often based around the level of your position or seniority in the company and can be tweaked on an individual basis.  These small changes may sweeten an offer for you or allow you to accept a position that is going to pay you a lower base salary then you had hoped for. 


Most offers can work out to be beneficial for both sides; it is just a matter of finding the right combination that keeps everyone happy. 

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Salary Negotiations: Does anyone ever win?

Posted by sweens on February 9, 2009

I have said on more then one occasion that candidates have the right to demand fair market value for their skill set.  I do not think that many people would argue with this comment.  However there are times when candidates convey to a recruiter what their salary expectations are and when they reach the offer stage – the offer is not what they expected. 


Firstly, it is the responsibility of the recruiter to convey to their account manger or client what the candidate is expecting in terms of compensation.  I personally feel that the recruiter has a responsibility to indicate the clients’ maximum to a candidate if the candidate is expecting more then the maximum.  If your candidate is looking for more then your client is prepared to pay then they need to be aware of that as any offer they receive is likely to be less then their desired compensation package.


Candidates should also be aware that if a client is willing to pay up to $100,000 for a position, that salary point is likely their maximum salary for someone with EXACTLY the background they are looking for.  If you match up with 90% of their requirements (a very common situation) the client is unlikely to pay you their maximum.  This situation is one a recruiter should prepare you for. 


Candidates should not let their final decision come down to money but both sides should be aware of the expectations – from both the candidate and the client – when moving forward on any given opportunity.    




The onus is not only on the candidate.  Companies should be paying fair market value for any candidate they are interested in acquiring in to their company.  A company should be aware of the perception they give to a possible candidate when they make an offer below the candidates’ desired compensation point.  Candidates who find themselves in such a situation can come out of the offer with a sour taste in their mouth and a doubt about how serious the company is in acquiring their services. 


If this situation happens, candidates should not run away from the opportunity as there can be many circumstances that lead to such a situation.  The company may be on a lower pay scale then the market currently dictates.  The candidate could be demanding more then the hiring manger.  The company may just not have enough money to pay someone higher then a given point.


It is important for both the candidate and recruiter to work together to establish the compensation package moving forward.  Candidates need to be honest in their expectations and not shoot for the moon.  Recruiters need to be up front with candidates on what their clients are willing to pay.  Account Managers also need to set their clients expectations if their salary range is lower then the market value. 


If everyone works together through the whole recruitment process, there is less chance that an offer will be turned down due to money.

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