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If you have a marketable skill and a decent reputation there’s a good chance a head-hunter will call. You may get a personal phone call from a senior executive in the recruiting company, but it is more likely the approach is from a professional head-hunter.

Being head-hunted is flattering – though not always. I was still young the first time I was head-hunted. Instead of feeling flattered I felt insulted. At the time I worked for the leading magazine in its niche and my employer was launching new titles.

The number three publisher rang with an unsolicited job offer. Sure promotion and more money were on offer but there was still something vaguely offensive about being considered a suitable candidate to work at an also-ran company.

While being head-hunted sounds exciting, it is not always be welcome. You may be happy in your job and unwilling to move.

You may have recently moved jobs and feel that it is too soon to move on. The head-hunting company might be in another city a long way from family and friends.

It might be a company that does business in a way you don’t like.

Listen to the head-hunter

Even if you are certain you do not want to move jobs, you should at least listen to exactly what is on offer. It is unlikely you’ll get this information from the first phone call – generally it involves a short out-of-hours meeting in a bar, coffee shop or hotel lounge.

As a rule the head-hunter won’t want to wait, you’ll be pressed to arrange a meeting within days of the first contact.

If nothing else, it is worth sacrificing an hour and shuffling appointments to get a clearer picture of your worth on the job market.

There are two exceptions:

First, I’d flatly turn down a meeting if I suspected its real purpose was a fishing expedition for a business rival. Some people think you’d be so flattered by a job offer that you’ll spill the beans on your current employer.

To avoid the risk of this you should first check that the person approaching you is a genuine head-hunter. This is rarely easy, if possible ask someone he or she has previously placed for a reference.

If the person is an executive of the hiring company or another go-between, try to check they have a good reputation. You should check a head-hunter or recruiter before divulging any information.

If you are still suspicious, then before agreeing to meet ask them how long the job has been vacant and why it became vacant. Also ask why they selected you. You’ll probably hear some flattering words, but try to see through the smarm and decide whether you are a serious candidate for a real job.

Tread carefully

When you do meet, if they quiz you about your current employer on no account offer any information – even if the company does choose to hire you later on, your disloyalty will be on the record. More to the point, there may have been no intention of employing you.

You need to play things by ear. The recruiter may ask you legitimate questions designed to show whether you could be persuaded to leave your current job.

I’d also be unwilling to meet a head-hunter if I thought the offer was insincere in any other way – it’s not unknown for people in multilevel marketing schemes to try to pass themselves off as head-hunters.

Likewise some headhunting offers are primarily designed to sew discontent or otherwise disrupt operations. I’ve even come across recruitment consultants who claim they are head-hunters when they are just looking to fill a difficult vacancy.

A head-hunter may call asking for your help finding someone to fill a job or for a reference for someone being head-hunted. The first case may be a subtle way of determining your interest in the job. Both types of call can be a form of sounding out – the same recruiter might ring back months or years later with an offer.

Things might not look too hot at the moment, but pretty soon tech skills are going to be in demand again and the employers who showed a dark side during the recession will struggle to fill vacancies.

Despite the recession, New Zealand still has a severe shortage of building industry skills and there are pockets of the IT business where vacancies have remained since the global economic meltdown began.

Australia is already showing signs a severe shortage of tech skills could hamper companies and government departments as early as next year. In Demand for ICT professionals on the rise, bottom is in Stan Beer at iTNews reports; “The bottom in ICT employment has been reached and demand for skilled jobs is once again on the rise, according to the latest market survey from a major technology recruiter. The news adds to a growing list of evidence of a return to health of the ICT jobs scene.”

A week earlier ITNews covered a report from Australia’s largest recruiter Peoplebank saying the demand for contractors was rising. A similar story appeared in CIO magazine in June with Seek Employment noting the overall job market was stabilising with IT consultants in high demand.

Australia’s ITNews reprinted a story from Britain’s Computing newspaper on July 7 saying the antipodean nation is busily recruiting IT specialist in the UK to meet a shortage.

On a related note, The Australian reported on a skills shortage in research organisations in Upgrade ignores skills shortage. And the New Zealand Herald reports there are many shortages in engineering.

The New Zealand edition of CIO magazine carried a report which suggests the majority of employers in the IT sector still face a skills shortage despite the recession. Despite downturn, opportunities remain for APAC IT candidates suggests one in four tech employers expect to increase their headcount this year. The story singles out specific skills in business analysis, datawarehousing, ERP (Oracle/SAP), web development and infrastructure (architecture) as being of particular interest.”

Some shortsightedness is in evidence in IT training budgets slashed at ITNews which suggests employers have slashed skills spending and can expect to see a serious skills vacuum by 2112.

What does this mean?

First, it’s a safe bet the skills shortage will return to Australia in the next year or so and to New Zealand soon after – the two countries are effectively a single market for knowledge workers. If anything it could be worse than before for a couple of reasons. Many skilled workers will have drifted off into other occupations or even early retirement. At the same time employers have cut back on training during the recession. While there are increased numbers of people taking tertiary courses in technology and similar subjects, many won’t enter the workforce in time for the recovery and they’ll have knowledge, but little experience, which means only a handful will hit the ground running.

Employers who behaved cut back staff, skimped on training or held on to skilled workers and pushed them too hard during the recession will all suffer once the skills shortage kicks in again. Knowledge workers will be able to drive better bargains – and recent experience will teach people to look beyond the pay packet.

A month ago I had a conversation with Australian journalist Renai LeMay who talks about Twitter journalism.

He has written a few posts on the subject on his blog and elsewhere. The best jumping off point for new readers is Twitter’s impact on media and journalism.

LeMay is a visionary. He has a great grasp of where news journalism and online media may go.

In my earlier post Can Twitter be journalism? I agreed with him in principle. However, I believe only a fraction of journalists use Twitter as an interactive news media.

Twitter journalism broadcast or engagement?

Most use it as a broadcast medium – like an RSS feed. A number have Twitter accounts, but say little of value. Perhaps 40 percent can be said to be serious Twitter journalists.

I may have been overly optimistic bout this estimate. Yesterday the Online Journalism Blog reported on how British newspapers use Twitter. In Newspapers on Twitter – how the Guardian, FT and Times are winning Malcolm Coles writes;

“newspapers have a total of 1,068,898 followers across their 120 official Twitter accounts – with the Guardian, Times and FT the only three papers in the top 10.”

This sounds encouraging. Buried further down the story is the comment:

“Out of 120 accounts, just 16 do something other than running as a glorified RSS feed. The other 114 do no retweeting, no replying to other tweets etc”

Coles also points out the newspaper sites do little in the way of following.

Cluetrain has barely stopped here

Both these points apply to the bulk of Twittering publications in Australian and New Zealand. My guess is journalists are encouraged by managers to promote their stories using the technology, but are actively discouraged from replying and retweeting.

There’s a precedent for this. After all, hardly any online publications in the region ever link to titles owned by other publishers – which means they are missing the point of online publishing somewhat. Until publishers encourage reporters and editors to engage with their audiences, they are going to miss out on the potential of Twitter.

Of course, the journalists who do this best will become media brands in their own right, which will worry the bean counters. But that’s another story…

There’s a lot of talk and writing online about the New Zealand government’s super city plan for Auckland.

The correct style for super city is two lower case words. The term is not a name, at least not yet. It is a description. Capitals are only used for proper names, so there shouldn’t be any confusion or question over the term.

Nor is it one word. Over the past twenty years or so there’s been something of a fashion to run words together and separate the component words with a capital letter. If a company or organisation wishes to do that with its name, or the name of a product, it has every right to do so. But there’s no grammatical or logical reason to make a single word out of super city. Would you write Auckland is a BigCity? Of course not.

Fairfax’s Stuff.co.nz web site is confused about this. At the time of writing the newspaper company’s site has an Auckland Super City page which offers every permutation: one word, two words, upper case lower case. The New Zealand Herald is just as confused.  Try searching for “supercity” on the site. In fact it adds a previously unseen variation: Supercity, all one word with a single capital.

For clarification and background you may like to read my previous article about capital letters.