Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Recruiters should be careful with background checks, both with search engines and with data brokers

Workface Management has an article playing healthful devil’s advocate with the practice of recruiters and employers checking applicants’ social networking sites or other web activity as part of “background information.” The article is by Fay Hansen, the long title is “Discriminatory Twist in Networking Sites Puts Recruiters in Peril: Sourcing applicants from Twitter or LinkedIn or screening candidates through Facebook or MySpace may open employers to discrimination charges. The link is here.

Recruiters or HR departments might find and “use” information that could not be used in a properly designed application or interview. That would include race, religion, political views, and (for many states and for most sense of fair play) sexual orientation and even gender identity.

This is particularly an issue for recruiters looking for people to fill federal contracts. There is an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program (link). Recruiters will need an audit trail of where they got background information on candidates, and the discovery trails need to be more substantial than caches or cookies for search engine results or social networking site profiles.

One interesting point is that these concerns run counter to a practical reality: clients are very likely to lookup individual consultants or sales agents on search engines, and make decisions about doing business with the company, whether "morally right" or not.

Another interesting statistic: Only 5% of LinkedIn users are African-American and only 2% are (non-European) Hispanics.

All of this flies in the face of mainstream media advice that job applicants need to watch their social networking profiles and expect that employers will have at them.

CNN’s Gerri Willis did a story today (on CNN American Morning Tuesday Sept. 29) about background investigations for applicants with data brokers like ChoicePoint. A woman told of a job offer rescinding after ChoicePoint delivered a derogatory report on the wrong person (the person eventually got the job after a Congressman got involved). Also data brokers keep records of arrests that don’t result in convictions or that are adjudicated out of court. Consumers, after job denial, have a right to request a report from ChoicePoint much as they would from credit reporting companies. Senator Patrick Leahy has introduced legislation to make data broker companies more accountable.

Here’s an older column “Advice for Choice Point Victims” from CNN, from 2005 (link).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Exempt v Non-exempt issue and I.T. people

An important issue in the IT workplace can be “exempt” and “non-exempt” classification.

The colloquial explanation for “exempt” is, you don’t sign a timesheet or clock in. But what it really means is that you are paid a flat salary, and you have to work as long as it takes to complete a job, without overtime. For example, if you work all weekend before a major implementation, you are not entitled to extra pay if you are salaried.

Typically, “inhouse” programmers and systems analysts, as well as management, are exempt. Companies will try to retain the best employees with ad hoc bonuses or larger raises, and discretionary, “under the table” comp time.

Contractor are often hired as W-2, and are then paid hourly. That means in practice that they must work efficiently to avoid over-billing. Sometimes they are hired “corp to corp” and are salaried by the staffing company as exempt, although the staffing company can bill the client hourly. Typically consultants who want benefits must accept a “corp to corp” arrangement. In any case, contractors often must pay their temporary corporate housing out of their hourly rate (sometimes IRS rules work to their advantage if they work only 364 days in the year).

The IRS and the governments of many states (especially California), as well as the Department of Labor, have been looking at the exempt status question, partly because sometimes tax revenue is lost when employers don’t have to pay overtime.

Here’s a typical reference on “exempt v non-exempt” at Net Polarity, here.

Here is DOL's reference on the Fair Labor Standards Act (link).

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 would apply to both exempt and non-exempt employees, but it has never been considered very effective for those having to meet "family responsibility".

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why do companies take so long getting their websites up?

I’m thinking of a particular company (a “club”) that took its site down in March and won’t be live until October.

It can’t be the programming. Plenty of people around know Visual Basic (COMM or Visual Studio), java, and many of the web generating packages. Now Expression Web is around.

The content of the particular place, mostly the calendar, can’t have that much.

Maybe it’s that companies have such stake in the results, whereas “amateurs” often believe, incorrectly given “online reputation” concerns, that they do not.

I remember that at my last “major” IT job in 2001, it taking about four weeks to deploy an internal site. But a coworker developed, on his own, with a style similar to javadocs or to Sun’s java site) a reference website for the midtier application (I’d call it an internal “do tell” site) that other analysts used for support problems for over two years, and on his own, he got it put up very quickly.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Retraining programs need to be realistic to work for unemployed

Mike Brunker has a major story on MSNBC, “Retraining roulette: New skills, no new job”, and gives as an example the Ivy Tech Orthopedic and Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Warsaw, IN, near Elkhart. The link is here.

Retraining for more manufacturing jobs does not necessarily result in placement. But a couple years ago, PBS reported on a retraining program in Ohio to teach laid-off steel workers to do jobs in health care and even become nurses. Like it or not, jobs in personal care are becoming more numerous in the mix because of demographics (and such hands-on, people-centered jobs can’t be offshored).

In IT, it seems that the right place to get the jump is in college, because requirements for IT positions seem to be so specific and the expertise that employers (mostly clients) want is so narrow and focused.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Vista restore point and shadow copy disk space problems

The link for the video and transcript is here.

There is a related problem of the Recovery Disk running out of space quickly, when Vista does a scheduled backup. The problem is that the Recovery Disk, letter D, has been set up by the manufacturer (Dell for me) by imaging, and often it is too small. Vista offers the ability to empty the copy of the Recycle Bin, which is empty anyhow.

From the best that I can determine, it seems as though Vista is creating Shadow Copies on both C and D.

The Windows Help document on this seems to be this.

Here’s another helpful user column on the problem (link).

It appears right now that the easiest solution would be to buy and hook up an external hard drive for the automated backup.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Consultants have to behave like entrepreneurs

Tech Republic has a story today “Help Prospective Clients Justify Hiring You”, by Chip Camden (link here) that shows the extent to which I.T. work has become a “mom and pop” entrepreneurial world for some people.

He gives a line of java code, and suggests that as a consultant you could offer to mentor a lesser paid associate to do the routine coding (say of hash tables, or of canned routines like data collectors). He says you can help the client realize it will save money by hiring you, or get a major compliance issue (HIPAA is a good one) off its back. And you may, like a home seller these days, have to negotiate on price (that’s a Donald Trump skill – remember what one pre-Apprentice did for his team in Donald’s “negotiation” assignment).

Somehow this article reminds me of a 1998 motivational speech at a conference in Philadelphia held by a company called Group-1, where the speaker talked about needing to relieve oneself of worry about things one cannot do anything about. I guess you want your client to feel relieved, that there are some things he shouldn’t have to feel responsible for every day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Job requisitions needing heavy PowerBuilder experience seem to increase

I’m seeing occasionally some job requisitions sent to me that really are heavy on PowerBuilder, wanting 8 or 10 years of it (since the late 1990s) and now looking for PowerBuilder 10 or 11. Along with that is a requirement for java and SQL server or some other SQL product. Sometimes Web packages like WebLogic are sought.

In my experience, java has been used in large companies for mid-tier data access (after replication from legacy) and PowerBuilder is used for the GUI for end users, often in customer service centers. But the logical manipulations even within the Graphical User Interface, as well as the database connectivity logic, really gets complicated, as do the test environments and promotion procedures.

No wonder job requisitions have gotten so specialized.

All of these things require a lot of constant hands-on work experience (with multiple test and production platforms) so that one really learns them. My impression is that PowerBuilder is harder to learn well from scratch than java, but C# is easier than both.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recruiters might well favor currently unemployed candidates now

Here’s an interesting article from an I.T. recruiter’s perspective, linked to by Dice, by Ross Clennett, “10 reasons to prioritize immediately available candidates,” which is a nice way of saying reasons to prefer currently unemployed candidates. The link is here.

There are many reasons. One of the most important is that there are no confidentiality problems with reference checking. But the biggest reason is that the candidate can start working for the client immediately; there’s no two-week notice to worry about.

There shouldn’t be much “stigma” to unemployment these days. We’ve always had the issue of mothers returning to work, and maybe the retired returning to work after a long hiatus. The question that clients worry about is then, “can you still do it?”

Another little tip: my own conversations in the past show that Dice is reasonbly priced for recruiting firms with some scale, but maybe not so for very small operations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"COBOL for the 21st Century" is a new book

I noticed today that Dice.com is featuring a book called “COBOL for the 21st Century” by Nancy Stern, Robert A. Stern, and James P. Ley. The link (from Safair Books Online) is this. The publisher (John Wiley & Sons) says that COBOL is still running a large percentage of the world’s business applications and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future.

Back in 2002, some recruiters predicted that eventually employers would recruit COBOL programmers in their 50s and 60s since younger people had lost interest. I don’t know if this is really happening; however, despite the recession, I’ve seen a gradual increase in emails about COBOL contracts very recently.

I noticed that Dice has changed some procedures. It takes HTML out of resumes when displaying them, requires a captcha to update, and requires precise city/state for preferred locations (as on a CODE-1 geographic system). That can be a problem in areas like “northern Virginia.”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Maybe resumes for older IT workers do need to be chronological (in reverse)

The most recent issue (Sept. 7, 2009) of “The Career News” (not to be confused with “Career News” or “Career Digest”) advises “Resume tip: Give employers what they want.” The link is here.

The advice now is to give complete work history (I suppose that this includes grunt jobs or interim jobs), and make it available in a chronological order. A recruiter once told me that she wanted to see all IT work history in reverse chronological order (no other work), and let the “accomplishments” speak for themselves. "Reverse chronology" does mean "Benjamin Button order". In other words, the conventional wisdom of functional resumes for older workers may not be selling in the real world. It is seen as deceptive. Remember, today employers want “risk-free hiring.”

The Career News is also offering a free critique of your resume by a “professional writer”. I’m not sure what the later phrase means here: a member of NWU? It sounds like throwing words together.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Severance: know your rights, and don't take it for granted (watch the "release of all claims")

In these "Strange Days", it’s well to review the subject of severance pay.

Typically, non-union employees are not necessarily entitled to severance pay, but in many states they may be able to claim it if the employer gave them a handbook stating a severance policy. Likewise, in some states, the “employment at will” rule may be waived if the handbook says otherwise.
Kalijarvi, Chuzi & Newman, P.C (link) provides a valuable link at findlw here, “Severance Pay and Benefits Considerations”,

Typically, employees are required to sign some agreements. Sometimes these can include non-competition clauses (which in a few cases have even overwritten retirement pensions, too). Typically, the employee has to sign a “release of all claims” – an agreement not to sue – to get full severance benefits (as if the full benefits were admittedly a kind of informal “out of court settlement”), which may be one to two weeks for every year of service. Some companies give associates over 55 additional weeks.

After a merger, the acquiring corporation typically agrees to the terms of the acquired company for a while if they were more generous, and then may cut them back. There have been problems when the acquired company had promised notice in advance of layoff and the acquiring company doesn’t want to honor it. However, an employee might have to waive this objection with a “release of all claims” to get the full benefits offered.

Often, it is to the associate’s advantage to accept the severance as a payroll check for as long as the severance lasts, so that health, dental and other benefits continue without having to pay COBRA. If the employee is over 55 or 60 or some age and has enough service, the employee in some companies might get retiree health benefits.

Nancy Trejos offered similar advice in her Sunday Sept 6 Washington Post column, “How to Negotiate a Severance Package” link here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Wall Street Journal offers pep talk on job hunting

Here’s a good pep talk on job hunting from the Wall Street Journal, by Alexandra Levit, “How to Make Employers Want You,” link here.

Most industries are hiring, the article says, contradicting conventional wisdom. “Show how you will fit”, and be the top choice for the position. And be “risk-free” is another piece of common advice (not easy for those with heavy family responsibilities, chosen or not).

The other part of this picture is that Internet social networking is becoming more critical than ever. The days of double lives (“private” and “personal”) seem to be gone with the wind. That’s ironic when the whole point of the technological revolution was to liberate individuals, at one time.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

My own "online reputation" hardly supports returning to mainframe, or does it?

I recently got a job requisition, out of town, for a job requiring “only” COBOL, Easytrieve, CICS (presumably command level), JCL, and (particularly) VSAM. Most other requisitions add some kind of twist, ranging from Cold Fusion to Case Tools to some SQL interface (even Oracle) that is specific in nature.

There are certain family and logistical (not necessarily “existential”) issues regarding responding immediately, which are beyond the scope of what I can discuss here. But there is a broader question. I wondered, what about my “online reputation”. It hardly supports the idea of current, “risk-free” mainframe expertise. I haven’t worked in the area since 2001 (when I was “retired” at age 58) and, as anyone can see, I’ve ventured out into the area of journaling problems with Internet and law. I explained my “online brand” in a posting on my main blog Monday Aug. 31.

Of course, falling within the scope of what I journal and write about is the history of I.T. and how it has changed since the heyday of mainframe culture, the 70s to the early 90s (followed by the Y2K blip). So my mainframe “reputation” has become embedded into something much “bigger”.

A few years ago, job counselors were encouraging flexibility and range of skills. Now sometimes that can come across as a sign of a dilettante. Since about 2006 or so, employers have started looking at “online reputation” as something that extends real world reputation, largely because of the way social networking sites evolved and were marketed, to a world that had not quite understood that an earlier revolution in self-publishing was already well under way, aided by super-efficient search engines. Employers, rightfully concerned about what clients (easily finding out about their consultants with search engines) think, have themselves forgotten that a couple decades ago we looked at “work life” and “personal life”, at least in IT, as separate. That may not be as so today.

There’s one other question about the idea of returning to mainframe after an eight-year absence. Mommy trackers can do it. Can retirees? Do employers really need to find grizzled mainframe veterans in their 50s and 60s?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Microsoft automatic update KB973879 for Vista: more on how to uninstall it if it causes BSOD's (Blue screen errors)

To follow up on the problem reported here Aug. 27 with Vista, I’ve found that Microsoft reports a problem with update KB973879, with the explanatory link at this URL. This results in instability for Vista users with what seems like random BSOD Blue Screen errors. Microsoft's most recent writeup seems to be here.

As I noted, the problem seems to occur when detaching a device (like a camera, or perhaps ejecting a CD), when letting Microsoft Office save an unnamed document automatically, or when returning from sleep mode. Or it may occur randomly within ten minutes or so of normal startup, when a restart (by pressing the power button on many machines) will not even work without going through “repair” boots.

But the instructions at this KB article did not work for me. At Best Buy, we went to Control Panel, Updates, update history, and then installed updates, which will let you remove the update. The restart will force you to let the computer follow the reregistration steps for the update without interruption (keep the laptop plugged in).

In fact, I was under the impression that you don’t install or back out updates in safe mode.

The technicians recommended leaving automatic updates off for a day or two until Microsoft provides more definitive solutions to this specific KB item.