Marketing consultant Johnny Moore writes about “a creeping extension of the need for academic qualifications, the ability to write clever essays” in The Tyranny of the Explicit.

He says:

The intention is good, but the practical effect is to engulf people in explicit, complicated systems and reduce their freedom – based on an unconscious assumption that everyone is not to be trusted. We give ascendancy to people who are really great at theory and effectively degrade practice. I think its rooted in the idea that one person or a group of people can effectively oversee a system and control how it works with written instructions.

One aspect of this is the arse-covering qualifications provide. If, say, a marketing manager hires a copywriter with a degree in copy-writing, they feel they are not to blame if the writer fails to deliver.

There’s an incentive in most organisations to engage the best-qualified person for a task, not the most experienced, best skilled or highest performer.

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.

It’s become a cliché to say half of today’s job titles didn’t even exist a generation ago. But there is some truth in the statement. About one-quarter of currently advertised job titles only appeared in the last decade or so.

We’re not just talking about those dumb name changes where say, a cleaner becomes ‘hygiene facilitation operative’. Nor are we talking about BS job titles, (while we’re on the subject can you believe this bloke is serious?)

Thanks to the rise of the knowledge economy, the nature of work is morphing at warp speed to embrace new skills, services and functions as well as new combinations of more established skills. To illustrate this phenomenon I’ve selected ten job titles that came into fashion in the last twenty years but already seem to be disappearing.

Web Master: In the early days of the Internet, the web master was a jack (or Jill) of all trades, keeping the system running, maintaining data communications channels, designing pages, writing text, taking pictures and answering email feedback. Today the nearest equivalent role tends to have a broad range of definitions, but they all involve some degree of responsibility for running and developing web operations. Sometimes the job involves managing content, but more often a new breed of specialist handles this.

Content Producer: It didn’t take web career paths long to bifurcate. While the web master did everything, the content producer concentrated on words and pictures. This mainly involved writing and commissioning editorial, but it also included responsibility for finding pictures and other artwork as well as overseeing page designs. For a while the content producer was to web media what an editor is to a newspaper.

Evangelist: Apple Computer started employing evangelists in the mid-1980s as a way of rallying the faithful and keeping waverers on board during the competitive onslaught from Microsoft and Intel-based products. Their job was to ‘spread the good news’ by communicating with specialist communities such as designers, developers and other interest groups. Today a wide number of companies still use people with this job title but it seems to be on its way out. In some respects evangelism is similar to public relations, but it tends to work more on a one-to-one basis and there’s often an educative element involved. Some companies use Advocates to do similar work.

Web Cam Performer: Ok, this one is a rather small niche, but for a short time before and after the dotcom boom there were people who earn a crust by living their lives in front of a web cam. In many cases it’s just a thinly veiled form of pornography, but some  were genuine artists. You don’t see them around any more though.

Outsourcing Consultant: The rise of virtual corporations brought in its wake a new class of management consultancy which specialised in brokering outsourcing arrangements and getting such deals to work. The job required a mixture of business, legal, financial and technical skills. You needed to be good with people and patient. Today outsourcing is mature (some would argue it is in decline) and there’s less need for specialists to broker deals.

Business Coach: Think of these as being like personal trainers, only instead of making individuals fit, they knock companies into shape. In many cases they are used to bring in skills that a business operator lacks, particularly in a lean, mean new era virtual business where there aren’t too many bodies. Business coaches were extremely visible in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they’re not so common today.

Professional Surfers: Keeping search engines and portal sites up-to-date required a huge investment in time and money. Some of that investment was spent hiring people who working lives involved checking and rechecking information on web sites. It didn’t tend to be a high-paying job, but given that many people spend their whole working day browsing web pages anyway, it was popular for a while.

Chief Knowledge Officer: sitting at the top of the knowledge worker tree was a special breed of key executives who planned and implemented knowledge winning strategies for large corporations. Salaries tended to be upwards of $250k. In some cases the term was synonymous with Chief Information Office (CIO) but more generally there was a difference, while CIOs are often technical and have to worry about technology issues, CKOs tended to have a more philosophical bent and are more worried about ‘why’ and ‘what’ than about ‘how’. I haven’t seen this job title in ages. Does that mean companies no longer need knowledge?

Piracy Specialists: Working on the principal of ‘silver lining in every cloud’ a whole range of jobs briefly emerged to deal with various on-line nasties. Among them were Disaster recovery specialists who cleared up the mess after virus and hacking attacks. Elsewhere piracy specialists are being hired by companies like Microsoft to hunt down and deal with people who illegally sell software. More recently piracy specialists have found work for record companies and film studios worried about illegal on-line distribution. In recent years these roles have all been wrapped into more general security positions.

Girls and young women reject information technology careers. They don’t avoid technology because they fear failing. Nor is it because boys push them aside. They walk away because girls see technology as a lonely, boring dead-end career.

An American Association of University Women study in 2000 reported women are only 20 percent of the high-tech workforce. It says women will continue to choose to work elsewhere so long as:

  • Computer science courses remain tedious and dull. girls and technology, computer science remains a male area of study
  • Girl-oriented computer games and web sites remain passive pink playgrounds. Meanwhile action-packed boy software focuses on kill rates.
  • The stereotypical tech workplace is a sterile cubicle farm peopled by boring men who relate better to machines than humans.

When asked to elaborate on their fears girls say they fear studying technology will stunt their range of intellectual pursuits and interests. They also imagine that computer professionals lead a solitary, sedentary and antisocial life.

Of course cynics might note this proves the educational theories saying women are more intelligent than men.

In 2005 the BBC reported most schoolgirls enjoy technology and only four percent regarded computers as boring, but only 25 percent would consider a technical career.

The BBC story points out that in 2005, women made up just 21 percent of the IT workforce and “the proportion of IT workers who were female had declined steadily since the 1960s.”

No matter how bad things have been, when you quit a job, part on good terms.

Australians and New Zealanders are bad at making a clean break. We’re too blunt and our work culture doesn’t help.

Keeping perspective when you’re given 30 minutes to empty your desk isn’t easy. The good news is this response to a resignation is rare.

Parting on good terms is also difficult if you quit because of workplace problems—maybe the colleague from hell or a tyrannical boss. Even so, you must resist the temptation to even the score.

There are three justifications for making a clean break:

  • Things change. A difficult boss will one day move on. The company might change its pay policy. A new espresso machine might replace instant coffee. Either way, it doesn’t do to burn your boats. You might want to work at this place again—one day.
  • Even if you plan to burn your boats with an employer, think of your reputation. Reports of bad behaviour during your notice period will spread. Bosses talk to each other more than you think. So do colleagues. Bad behaviour at this stage can undo all the hard work you put into establishing your reputation.
  • A messy split is no way to start the next stage of your life. We’re not talking about bad karma, this is more practical. As you wrap up one stage of your life, you should make a positive preparation for the next. Allowing your bitterness or anger to boil over means you lose focus.

Here are six things you should do before starting a new job.

  1. Tell your existing employer you are leaving. Do this fast and stay as professional as possible. Don’t make a big production number.  It’s best to do this face-to-face. If that bothers you, write a short letter – not an email.
  2. Tell your existing employer why you are going. Focus on the positives – even if there are negatives. Say your new workplace has wonderful coffee. Don’t whinge about the powdered Nescafe.
  3. Wrap up loose ends. If you can finish projects do so. Try to ease the transition for whoever is going to fill your shoes. You never know, that person could be your boss one day.
  4. Work out your notice in good faith. Don’t start late and leave early or skive off to the pub. Work normal hours—of course no-one will expect you to work around the clock now you are on your way.
  5. Remember to thank people for the good times – there must be some. Be positive but sincere. Colleagues will remember your parting words longer than the thousands of words spoken while working together.
  6. Close on a high note. Singers leave the best songs for their encore – try to do the same.