Matthew Sekol

"The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words."

Category: Jobs

Who’s in Control – You or Your Fear?

I admit it, I have a fear of flying. It might stem from having flown Kuwaiti Airlines during the Gulf War when I was 17 or a particularly disturbing 6 hour flight I took right after 9/11. Whatever the reason, I’ve been working on overcoming it for the past 2 years through an excellent program called SOAR, which has helped greatly. Lately, I’ve found that I’m not really bothered by flying so much anymore. While this program undoubtedly helped, I recently realized that something else was allowing that fear to continue.

I had been working at a global semiconductor for about 7 years as a technical lead and architect when I got promoted to manager of the team. Things were going well. Despite having most of my team across the nation and around the world, I never had to fly anywhere for my job. Instead, I adjusted my working schedule and used productivity tools to conduct meetings. This worked out great!

When large projects came up for our remote offices, I let others fly under the guise of giving them an opportunity or I would argue out of it. Granted, I didn’t get face time, but I still provided significant value to these projects and developed great relationships with my co-workers.

During my tenure, job offers would come up. Every job was a great leap forward, but seemed to require that I would have to fly somewhere. My brain shut down when I heard this. I was so comfortable in my job without having to fly, I couldn’t even entertain the opportunities that required travel, even light travel.

I had become complacent and my fear kept me down.

So, I continued to turn down jobs. Of course, my comfortable job couldn’t last and didn’t! The company I was working for was acquired, and the new company valued face time and travel over video collaboration and other cost saving efficiencies. The new company was also based out of Singapore and I live on the east coast. Not a good sign!

I was now being asked to fly to plan a migration, resulting in my team’s eventual demise. I had avoided flying for so long, but couldn’t anymore. Latent fear surfaced, but something else happened.

My perspective changed.

It was one thing to fly for career advancement or an exciting project, but to fly with the end goal of losing your job is a miserable prospect. Well, I did end up flying and it wasn’t horrible. 9 months later, I was out of a job.

In my new role as Microsoft Solutions Sales Lead, I have the opportunity to fly again, but this time the upswing is huge. I now have the opportunity to help grow the business by interacting with Microsoft, customers and other partners.

For 9 years, I allowed complacency and fear to rule my career. It took a real shock, losing my job, to realize that this was a mistake.

Here’s an analogy. I’ve been teaching my kids how to ride a bike. My middle daughter cannot maintain her balance because she doesn’t control the handlebars too well and she is afraid, just like I was. She wants to have the security of me holding onto her as she rides. This is what we yell over and over as I run along side her:

“Who’s in charge of the bike?”

“I’m in charge of the bike!”

My advice is – don’t get too comfortable where you are and allow fear to dictate your path. Let go of your fear and take control!

The One Thing That Stops Top IT Talent

There’s something different about IT people. Sure, we like our salaries like everyone else, but a job is more than that. Seeing technology bring people together, make their lives easier and help the company grow is a great thing to be a part of.

There’s a certain level of investment IT folks make in their systems, a pride. When we look for jobs, we are looking to improve and grow, or maybe we’re forced to. Well, sure we also look for the same reasons as other folks, too.

Having said that, there is one thing though that will scare off talented IT job seekers. It is an outdated system. I’m not talking about the last major revision. I’m talking about software 5 years old+.

Reason 1: Its a Career Killer
You could be a fantastic company with a great reputation, but seeing that you are on an outdated piece of software will kill my career. Companies come and go and just because you are awesome today, doesn’t mean I won’t be looking for a job again soon and need those technical skills.

If that happens, I will be taking a step backwards technically. If you don’t use it, you lose it applies to me here.

Reason 2: It Reveals Your Investment Strategy in IT
Having an outdated system shows me your hand. You’ve revealed that you don’t (or can’t) keep your systems updated. IT is nothing to you except a commodity. Maybe you’re stuck with a legacy system for compliance reasons, but I’m still judging you.

Reason 3: You Are at Risk!
Something strange that you might not be considering – by putting outdated software versions on a job description, you just told the internet which exploits that they can use to hack your systems!

Not only that, but if I come on board, I am responsible for everything that happens to this system. An older system is more difficult to maintain and keep secure. Chances are I will be hosed in the near future.

How to Fix It
Focus on the technology family and not specific versions of the software. Consider the risks of your outdated software and, if you are truly looking for top talent, put a plan together to get the software updated once the new person starts. This is a great challenge to mention during the interview and could entice top talent to join, especially if it is something we’ve done before.

Consider this, your top talent candidate is confident, has been through this before and can modernize you AND get a quick win for themselves shortly after they join. It’s a win-win!

Tips for Ramping Up Your LinkedIn

Folks seem to have a love\meh relationship with LinkedIn. It is certainly a powerful networking tool, but a lot of folks only use it heavily when they are looking for a job. While I could probably write a whole article on why I’ve come to realize that’s a mistake, let’s stick to the topic and get you started. This is dedicated a great group of folks, you know who you are. Here’s the scenario:

You travel down a dark, tree-lined path. A toolbox is up ahead. You bust open the lock and LinkedIn is inside. You pick it up and turn it over. There’s a note attached that says, “I can help you get a job.” You stare at it blankly and wonder what to do next.

Step 1: Your Profile
Your profile should get sorted out first. There are a million great sites with tips on getting your profile rocking, but it comes down to content. LinkedIn makes it easy to update your profile through wizards that take you through each section. Make sure you fill out relevant sections with data and upload a good picture (don’t crop others out of your picture, people can tell and avoid tuxedo pictures).

I used each section to tell the story of my career, rather than just copying and pasting my resume. It makes for a more engaging read.

Like Donna Serdula mentions on her excellent site, LinkedIn Makeover, try to get the All Star status on your profile. I encourage you to follow her blog and learn other tips. Her site also offers paid services to get your profile updated. If you are not a wordsmith, this could be a great investment.

Please note: I have not used Donna’s paid services, but her site is a wealth of information and definitely worth checking out!

If you are looking for a new job, update your Headline to reflect it. The Headline appears under your name on your profile. It doesn’t/shouldn’t reflect your current title. For example, mine says:

★Creative IT Leader ➡ Up for the next challenge

I considered “Seeking the next challenge,” but I thought it was too obvious. If you want it to be obvious, ‘seeking’ or ‘looking’ are good terms to use.

Next, customize your public profile link. It appears below your picture, just click Edit. Make it something memorable, like your name. Mine is for example (shameless plug).

Step 2: Connect with the People You Know
This is probably the no-brainer of this write-up, but is worth mentioning. Start by connecting with fellow employees, vendors, and partners. Keep LinkedIn on your mind as you network with people. If you need help learning how to network in real life (*gasp), go read Pam Ross’ article – How I Stopped Sucking at Networking. She has a lot of great tips, particularly the Rule of Three.

Step 3: Get in a Group and Start Commenting
You obviously have some wisdom to impart, whether from education or career experience. Why not help someone out? The Groups on LinkedIn can be a great way to get your name out there and get people looking at your profile all while being (somewhat) altruistic.

On LinkedIn, go to Interests and then Groups.  Click the Find a Group button and start looking. Try searching for terms from your industry or job titles to start. For example, I am in IT and focused on Microsoft. There are groups for Microsoft Exchange and Office 365. Since I am a manager, you can also find me in the Information Technology Managers (IT) group. There are also geographically based Groups you can join. Watch your Updates (the LinkedIn default page) for Groups that your peers join and join those too if they are relevant.

There are two great ways to get going in Groups. First, start commenting and liking interesting threads. Second, post a link to an interesting (and relevant) internet article and make a meaningful comment in the text.

One tip on Groups – if you join a Group and see a lot of spam, you could try reaching out to the Group moderator to see if you can help control it, but it might just be better to leave the Group.

Step 4: Customize your Pulse Feed to Comment and Share
LinkedIn has a robust publishing platform that allows any member to write articles. These articles appear on your LinkedIn Pulse. You can customize it to get specific articles that are relevant to your interests. Each article is curated to a specific Channel.

You can change or update your Channels by clicking on the In: within the article square.













Next, click the See More link under Other Channels and start clicking areas of interest.






Once you’ve done that, go back to Pulse and you will see a new set of interesting articles. Like, Share, and Comment away to get noticed! Shares are particularly useful in generating interest within your circle.

One tip on commenting – think before you comment and leave politics or other controversial topics alone. Don’t get into a flame war on LinkedIn (or any social network site).

Step 5: All this Action is Getting Attention, Get Some More!
You should see your profile views start going up now that you’ve stirred the LinkedIn pot. If you’re interested, click back to the folks who have looked at you. 

If you are looking to get hired at a particular company, go search for folks that might be the hiring manager. You could either send them a pain letter (I’ll get to Liz Ryan in a minute) or just click on their profile. They will get the same profile view notice that you got. It might lead them to click on you!

One tip on contacting individuals – if you don’t have LinkedIn Premium, you can only receive InMails, but you can’t send them. This could hinder you sending any communication to an unknown person. If you are job hunting, you might want to consider a subscription to LinkedIn Premium. If not, send them a note the old fashioned way or try to see if you have a connection that can facilitate an introduction.

Another way to see a company’s activity is to search for the company on LinkedIn and click Follow. Some companies will post jobs or relevant articles that will now appear in your Updates.

You can also get more attention by searching through the LinkedIn Jobs. Recruiters will see your clicks as you look and can then reach out to you.

Step 6: Find Good People to Follow
With so many people writing articles on Pulse, you have your choice on who to follow. If you are job hunting, I recommend following Liz Ryan. You can follow someone by clicking the Follow button in the upper right of their profile or below their name on the Pulse article you are reading.

Getting Out of the Woods
You’ve taken your first steps out of the woods with your LinkedIn nestled in your pack. You look behind you and see a small group of people peeking at you from behind the trees. Ahead of you lies a sunrise just over a massive briar patch.

Hopefully, this advice will get you started on using LinkedIn to get your next job. This advice is just the beginning. Start checking around in LinkedIn and see what else you can find!

Part II of the ATS Saga: The ATS Made Me Lose My Mind

And I’m better for having lost my mind a little bit. Here’s the summary of Part I: After applying for several jobs via Applicant Tracking Systems, getting leads to real people through networking, not hearing anything from either the ATS or people and then watching the jobs disappear (read filled here), something in my brain snapped. I’ve revamped my original resume in the hopes that I can make the next ATS choke. After all, the revisions here have just about as much of a chance at getting me an interview as my real one apparently!

See how many references you get! Invite your friends! Bet money!

Please note that per Uni-Kitty, there’s no consistency…

Matthew Randee Sekol
(yes, Randee with 2 e’s) 

Expert Lego Builder | The Doctor’s Companion | Brony

Extensive Lego experience working to design and implement Lego interlocking bricks per the instructions and also through self starting creative methods. Led house-wide efforts to organize and catalog Lego bricks for easy repurposing. Traveled with The Doctor during his regrettable American phase and left him an emotional mess. Expert at running from CyberMen and Daleks. Survived 6 months in a time bubble with an Ood. Can sing all songs from My Little Pony Seasons 1-3. Currently working towards committing Season 4 songs to memory.

Professional Experience

The Galactic Empire – Death Star, A Galaxy far far away     2012 – Present
IT Manager, Superlaser Team
Under my authority, all Rebel Alliance servers and systems were decommissioned immediately. All automated processes and support matrices were written down on parchment and given to Ugnaughts for disposal. I kept the team in a state of Force-induced apathy while opposing infrastructures crumble around them.

  • Leveraged the Soul Infinity Gem to migrate users into a parallel idyllic universe during complex M&A activities. Responsible for anywhere between 25-5000 souls and their return to an earthly existence. The resulting savings was $5 million in salary costs during soul relocation.
  • Saved $7 million by building servers with Lego and convincing upper management that they were performing at optimal throughput. Gave new meaning to the phrase “that server is bricked.”
  • Increased Enterprise level support capabilities at no additional cost by repurposing WOPR subroutines to handle repetitive tasks and perform trending analysis on tickets.
  • Increased the team’s productivity by deploying surveillance cameras that feed into “The Machine.” The Machine sends me the social security numbers of those that are not performing optimally, so that I can intervene.
  • Lowered reliance on the public power grid and reduced costs by $20 million annually by deploying Mr. Fusion devices in data centers to provide power. Also, an additional savings of $4 million were realized through a related recycle program.
  • Provided 99.999% uptime for servers (and staff) by leveraging the multiverse, swapping out Earth 1 resources with others from Earth 2-52. Evaluated Earth 0, but did not recommend that solution due to confusion.
  • Increased ROI on Identity Management solution by integrating systems with GERTY and utilizing a series of mind wiped dopplegangers for the employee base.
  • Protected the company’s data and services by using the Sword of Omens to predict hardware and software failures before they happened.
  • Designed the methodology and document templates for a Business Continuity plan, training peers and familiarizing themselves with the outsourced vendor, The Dharma Initiative, and their off-site hosting facility, The Arrow.
  • Designed the Legal Hold process, storage and annual auditing. Designated email, Windows files, and SharePoint data was stored offsite and out of phase with reality aboard the USS Nimitz.
  • Met the company’s staffing goals in emerging regions and remotely administered the “Voight-Kampff” test to weed out replicants.
  • Enhanced corporate collaboration by entering employees’ dreams and planting ideas towards a common goal.

New-Path – Los Angeles, California     2005 – 2012
Farming Engineer, Sr.
Before being promoted to Manager, I served as team lead and worked on being less paranoid. During this time, I went slightly mad, but quickly recovered with help from Substance D. I ran several projects alone using multiple personalities to complete the work on time and within budget. My responsibilities grew over time, leading me to serve in both a support role and as an architect. At the end of my tenure, I mostly grew corn and blue flowers.

  • Designed and secured an external facing partner portal used by 50+ partners located in the island prison of Manhattan. Only the best and smartest partners survived, leading to a stronger marketplace and several strange sub-cultures.
  • Coordinated the Windows-based SAP ERP move to Allentown using transporter technology, dematerializing the equipment, allowing it to near-instantly rematerialize in the rack. Re-IP’d the servers after the move.
  • Lowered password reset tickets by 40% and saved 60% across IT in account creation and termination time by leveraging cybernetic implants from Cyberdyne, Inc. to authenticate users. Terminations were scheduled and completed via a T-1000 system, which performed 100% within SLA.
  • Achieved a successful and seamless Day One transition across several M&A activities by wiping employees’ memory with a Rekall server and re-implanting memories for new core functions.
  • Saved the team 50 hours per month by having the employees’ consciousness leap into another body and keep working during their lunch hour.
  • Secured all Windows desktop to server transactions with software from Omni Consumer Products, a Gartner leader in security.
  • Led a cross-team effort to update all systems for the Daylight Savings Time changes in 2007 with little end user impact by rotating the earth backwards, changing all the clocks and then rotating the earth forwards again.

Wayne Enterprises – Gotham City, Connecticut     2004 – 2005
Manager, Secret Research Programs
The transition to Wayne Enterprises was my first management role. I was responsible for overseeing IT inventory, budget, projects, and staff. I was sidetracked with research projects that were deemed ‘unscrupulous’ and summarily fired by Mr. Wayne. Shortly after, I stepped outside my comfort zone and trained on word play and riddles.

Momcorp– New New York, Earth    2999 – 3004
Bureaucrat Grade 35
By the time my tenure ended at Momcorp, I had been promoted 3 times from Grade 38 to Grade 35 Bureaucrat. I had a proven record of success at the robot manufacturer, increasing efficiency within .05% operational parameters and stamping all documents 5 times before sending to the master in-pile.

  • Upgraded the building’s cooling systems and saved $2 million annually by using an Ice-Nine replacement.
  • Successfully refocused staff during meetings by singing “Ooh Child” and challenging others to a dance-off.
  • Upgraded decision making corporate wide by installing a yes/no bit, eliminating all complexities and grey-areas.
  • Designed and held technical training for the organization using a black monolith to augment end user intelligence, resulting in lower ticket counts.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – Scotland     1998 – 1999
NT Installation Auror
Here, I served as a Windows Installation Technician, responsible for updating all computer systems to Windows NT 4. Wizards were able to network without using the fireplace flue.

  • Scored 50 points for Gryffindor.

Adams College    1998
Bachelor of Arts in Life, the Universe and Everything

Certificates and Organizations
Polliwog – Swimming (YMCA)              1986
Activision River Raiders                           1988
Junior Woodchuck                                     1990
Husband (if you can believe it)             2001
Official Comic Book Nerd                       2002
Father (Level I)                                              2006
Father (Level II)                                            2007
Father (Level III)                                           2009
Master Builder                                              2014

Referrals – Helping out everyone, even yourself!

From software resellers to consulting partners to yourself, everyone likes to be recognized for good work. Sometimes, you might be asked to do a referral for companies that you’ve worked with on a particularly successful project. This activity can have several benefits that are well worth pursuing.

Keep in mind though that when doing a referral, you are essentially a spokesperson for a 3rd party or your own company. Be sure that you can back that company with your own reputation!

Always check with your management chain before doing a referral. If your manager isn’t comfortable with this or if it is against corporate policy, check with the vendor to see if your company name can be made confidential. If so, you might still be able to participate!

Helping Your Company
If you are having issues convincing management to participate in a referral, you should consider how a referral can help your own company. It’s easy to move on from a successful project and forget about external partners that have helped you. In IT, this can happen as you move into the long term support model. Down the road though, you might find yourself in a situation where you might need that same external partner to help you again on a future project.

Providing this partner with a good referral that helps them generate business with another company could help your own company negotiate better discounts on pricing in the future and can drive a closer relationship with a talented organization that will only understand your company better as time goes on. Not only that, but if you might be standardizing on a software platform with this partner, you can lower costs across the long term through this standardization.

Helping Another Company
Sure,  you’ll be helping the partner you are doing the referral for by generating new business, but you will also help the company you talk to! This is one example of where you need some sales acumen. Every company is different and while you’re talking about your own challenges and achievements, keep in mind that they may not be applicable to that company. Ask questions that pull out the details and think about how you can tailor your answers to just what is relevant to them. You could drive them to success in their venture.

This reason is mostly altruistic, but can still benefit you. If the referral is with another business in your industry, it might be beneficial to see how they deal with common problems that you may have. This open dialog could point you in the direction of solving a major pain point.

Helping Yourself
So, what does all of this do for you? For one thing, you become the driver and a champion for a (potentially) strong partner at your organization. You can also gain new knowledge about how other companies operate and find new opportunities for improvements in your own processes. These conversations help develop leadership and communication skills if done right.

The referral process can also be a powerful networking tool. You will gather new contacts in industries similar to yours or ones using similar technologies, which can help further your own career.

Part I of the ATS Saga: The Real Gatekeepers

Search for the terms ATS and resume on the internet and you’ll discover a ton of blog entries and articles about Applicant Tracking Systems, how they work and potentially, how you can game them. The problem is that you can’t really game them. You are at the mercy of something beyond your control, like asteroids and taxes, but even less fun. Not only can the ATS get in the way of a potential opportunity, but it turns out that poorly trained hiring managers can too.

I found a job at a local company and despite having several contacts there, they directed me towards the Zuul-like company gatekeeper, the ATS. The job was for a manager of the team that runs the Identity Access and Management solution. I actually have this experience, having rolled out CA’s IdentityMinder solution, upgrading it, and expanding its role at my current company. I’ve also been running Directory Services for years, worked with different directory owners and trained IT staff on using IdentityMinder. Lastly, I have been a manager for a few years, so I thought I was a pretty good fit.

Knowing I was up against an unfeeling algorithm, possibly from another dimension, I checked online to see what to do. Surely, I could find a fault to exploit. After reading many, many articles, I took the following steps, which are not anywhere near as exciting as crossing the streams:

  • Reorganized my relevant skills up to the top
  • Used keywords from the posting in the resume
  • Removed all lines that spanned the length of the page
  • Changed “Professional Experience” to “Work Experience”
  • Put my old company names, the dates I worked and my job title each on their own lines
  • Moved the header into the resume for easier parsing

I submitted the resume through the ATS’ horrific re-format, which butchered it into oblivion, despite my planning. After an hour, I got my work experience redone and reviewed the summary. I shook my head at the plain text blob it showed me. I decided to start over and try HTML formatting. When I finished, I still had the same result, but with line break codes inserted everywhere. I tried again with plan text and carriage returns, cutting and pasting carefully into each section. Still no dice. I left it that way and hoped that the summary was for machine eyes only, sparing a real human the pain of reading it.

There was a little light at the end of the tunnel though. After all this time invested, I was able to check a box that would send me an email when the system matched me with future job postings. Maybe the ATS wasn’t so evil after all. It was going to save me time, instead of taking it away!

For a month, I didn’t hear anything about my application other than a confirmation of receipt. I followed up with my contacts, including one that was listed as my internal referral, but they weren’t the hiring manager, so their hands were tied. My attempt to game the ATS had apparently failed.

After a month later, lo and behold, the ATS found a job was a match for my skills! Click here! I was told! I thought this was odd because I had been checking the job page at regular intervals for jobs, but who could refute the Click here!? What match had the ATS system found?

It was for a Facilities Project Manager.

By this point, I realized the ATS was messing with me. Not only had it not understood that I was a potential match for the applied for job, but it thought I was a potential match for something I had zero experience in. Granted, there is a level of assumption here that the ATS ranked me poorly for the position, but after applying for several IT manager jobs there, I’m willing to make it. I set out to figure out what I had done wrong to warrant this result.

To start, I went out to Wordle and compared my resume to the Facilities Project Manager job. As you can see below, there does appear to be some overlap for some potentially huge generic key words, like project(s), management, team(s), manage/manager/management. That’s really about it though. The facilities job is the left, my resume is the right.

FacilitiesPM Resume

Wordle only goes so far though. I do think it shows the lack of diversity in terms on the part of the hiring manager though. Hopefully, project wasn’t considered a key word.

Next, I tried, which is an excellent site that compares your resume against the job description. It matched me to the facilities job at 36%. Budget, collaboration and disaster recovery were my top skill matches with no other skills really matching. I came away from this experience with two realizations.

First, the hiring manager who writes the job description has a critical role to play in the success of finding someone with matching skills. Focusing on the job description without an understanding of how their particular ATS works is a waste of time for the hiring manager and applicants. HR should train hiring managers or work with them when they have a new requisition to help ensure the matches will be more successful. An ATS can provide value in parsing out relevant candidates if the description is well written and the system is leveraged appropriately. I’m guessing that since the facilities job has been open for 3 months now, they have not written it correctly. Again, assumptions I’m willing to make.

Second, a hiring manager should not rely solely on the ATS to get results, especially when there are internal referrals available. While an ATS can sort relevant candidates, your employees can show you good ones. A well designed internal referral program can supplement the ATS. Trust that your employees aren’t wasting your time by getting these resumes to you. I have been internally referred at a great company that goes so far as to assign you a recruiter after referral. This experience has been phenomenal and bypasses the ATS headache altogether. Besides, wouldn’t you rather hire someone based on an existing employee’s recommendation versus a bot that can only evaluate their resume? If an employee is willing to put their reputation on the line for someone else, they are probably worth a look.

Needless to say, this experience has given me little hope for the job I was originally going for or really any job at the company. I continue to muddle through social networks and vendors to find folks that might have real influence there. This has left me with a question though – is this a sign that maybe this company isn’t really one that I would want to work for? And what’s to keep me from losing my mind? Nothing, it turns out (find out next week)!

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