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Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Which way is up?

July  1995
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This month I respond to a programmer who knows where he wants to go, but isn't sure how to get there, and advise a job candidate who is waiting for a response from a potential employer...and waiting, and waiting. No one wants to appear overly desperate or aggressive, but showing enthusiasm and being a pest are not necessarily the same thing.

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Welcome back to the Career Advisor column -- this time online! I am personally excited about this medium, the Web, particularly the "mailto" function, which allows you to send your questions automatically. Even if your browser does not support this function, your mail program shouldn't be more than a mouse click away.

Which way is up?
Currently, I work as a Programmer/Analyst for an investment bank in NYC. We develop and support client/server systems in a heterogeneous WAN environment. Before then I worked for for 2 1/2 years doing object-oriented programming in an OS/2 environment.

Now I would love to move into an Advanced Technology Group setting and would like to eventually parlay such experience into a more strategic position where I can authoritatively speak on technology trends and analyze how technology can be applied to help strengthen an organization.

My questions include: Does this career progression appear logical and doable? How difficult will it be to make the switch? What actions do I have to make at each stage to move to the next level?

From your brief description it appears as though you are in a good position -- because of your experience and, more importantly, because you know where you want your career to go. Large investment banks are typically technology front runners, worrying more about having the right systems than the money it takes to implement them. As always, having exposure to these hot technologies makes all the difference in your career path. So, in answer to your question yes, the progression you envision is both logical and obtainable.


Let me stress the importance of being savvy and aware of the hot technologies around you. The AT Group probably won't sit you down to teach you. Stepping out of the loop and going back to school risks losing touch. For the kind of work that you are seeking, you need to target large companies with enterprise-wide networks -- the areas of telecom, utilities, transportation, brokerage, etc. Keep your eyes and ears towards system design and your hands on the right technology.

Still waiting
I interviewed with a start-up firm a month ago. I reached the second round of interviews before another candidate, recommended by an employee, got the offer. I had been told by the firm's recruiter that they would get back to me whether their offer got accepted or not. They were quite enthusiastic with me, as I was with them.

They still haven't gotten back to me. Is it proper for me to call or write them to inquire about the matter? You probably know that one thing keeping me from taking such an action is to avoid portraying myself as a desperate job-seeker.

You need to follow these three steps:

  1. Follow up. Yes, call and ask what decisions have taken place since you interviewed and what the next steps are. Don't worry, you will not be perceived as desperate. This is a common misconception among candidates, but think of follow-up after your interview like any other project.

    A good project manager never lets an assignment stand for more than a week without calling his team to determine next steps. The same is true with any good sales person. These professionals are not seen as "desperate," so why would you?

  2. Be positive. Because our personal egos can become so threatened in the hiring process, I notice that candidates almost always assume the worst. Then they either get defensive or depressed. It is always dangerous to guess why there has been a delay in an interview call-back. As their recruiter, I immediately get on the phone and ask.

    The real reason for the delay is always startling. Over the years I have heard employers say:

    Hey, I have even seen situations where the HR person misplaced the file and was relieved by the follow-up call. Be positive and follow up.

  3. Get feedback. Most important, no matter what the outcome, be gently persistent and ask for feedback on how you were perceived. Ask for specifics. Appropriate and professional questions you can ask include:

    Companies usually prefer to channel feedback through a third party/recruiter because of bad experiences where the candidate got unglued, defensive, or abusive on the telephone. But if you present yourself professionally and persuasively, you can learn a great deal about how you come across during interviews.

Don't worry about seeming "desperate." Instead, worry about being perceived as "not interested" or "not assertive" or "not energetic." Good luck with the next round of interviews and keep us posted!

What have we learned?
I like how both readers are taking an active posture in managing their careers. The first reader has taken an excellent strategic assessment -- it's very impressive.

The second reader stumbled on one of my personal pet peeves: recruiters who don't follow up! To me there's just no excuse for not taking the time -- no matter how busy a recruiter is, no matter who the recruiter works for. I firmly believe all candidates deserve feedback throughout the interviewing process and should politely ask for it.

So until next month, keep your questions coming and I will address the most frequently raised issues. Also, be sure to skip over to the new Pencom Career Center and check out our "What Are You Worth?" salary survey, as well as job listings from around the country.

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About the author
Edgar Saadi is senior vice president for Pencom Systems Inc., the largest open systems/advanced systems recruiting firm in the U.S. He specializes in guiding advanced systems careers and helping employees explore all staffing alternatives. Reach him at

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