Tips From an Executive Recruiterby Jeff H. Chapman
Don't be lulled by the idea that an active marketplace in our field means all job hunters land the positions of their dreams. Competition is still stiff. The impressive, talented and prepared candidates will be hired for the most exciting opportunities, handing everyone else the leftovers.
After 25 years, the field of machine vision and automation has finally exploded into the mainstream. Certainly, the demand for automation technology and the people to develop and implement it is at an all-time high. Demand outruns supply for qualified technologists, marketers and management professionals who understand the special nuances that make the machine vision industry so challenging and yet so rewarding. This situation creates fertile ground for new graduates and experienced machine vision professionals alike. It also complicates things for both the job seeker and the employer.
For all the excitement over the Internet as a job-finding, recruiting and staffing tool, the process is more involved than simply posting a resume on the Net, answering ads and responding to Net inquiries. That's why you should review some of the tested strategies machine vision professionals use to launch and ensure a rewarding career. Most of the moves offered here fall under the category of common sense and obvious--sometimes the most difficult concepts to grasp and apply when you consider your own career.
Think outside the campus box
Many new college graduates, referred to as "fresh outs" by recruiters, limit their horizons by looking only at opportunities presented through on-campus interviewing. Don't leave the point of entry on your career path to chance. Interviewing with only the companies large enough to send out campus recruiters means you may miss some of the very best jobs out there.
Take the initiative to fully research the market, digging deeper than the obvious large players. Often, smaller companies offer new graduates higher levels of responsibility earlier in their careers, which means they can be more quickly recognized and rewarded for their talents and contributions.
Use insiders to refine your plan
No matter what your experience level may be, start your position search with a strategic marketing plan. Be specific, targeting the companies most likely to require your kind of talent. Use the Net to learn as much about the companies as you can. The newly unveiled Automated Imaging Association's on-line magazine, Machine Vision Online, is an excellent place to start. Remember that your industry knowledge will ultimately be the foundation of your career, so never stop studying the market, no matter where you aim your professional focus.
As you search the Net and come upon companies that appeal to you and contacts who may lead you to opportunities, discover as much about them as you can. Read their press releases, study their history and ownership and customer list. Because independent consultants who serve the industry are easily accessible and well connected, seek them out. Ask them what they do, learn about their backgrounds and how they fit into the industry. Tell them of your interests and ask for their help. If approached right, even busy industry vets will take a moment to help someone new. Finding and learning from insiders will help you more quickly become an insider yourself.
Check company Web sites for posted positions, but be aware that only half a company's openings are ever posted, if they post on their site at all. Companies have multiple reasons to avoid openly revealing their expansion plans. So, often the best opportunities are kept quiet, to be discussed only between company management and trusted recruiters and confidants. To add depth to your search, check the listings on industry-specific sites that have position postings, such as Machine Vision Online.
Net-casting works out its glitches
If you aren't concerned about open-market exposure of your job hunt, you can post your resume to a number of Internet sites where your skills can be sorted through by recruiters and hiring managers looking for automation talent. One of the Net's most visited job sites, where you can post your resume for free, is The Monster Board (www.monster.com). Unfortunately, most of the job-posting sites are relatively broad in scope, attracting professionals of all types. The search categories often are limited, forcing machine vision and factory automation professionals to list themselves under generic, non-automation, categories. This makes it difficult and even frustrating for companies and recruiters to cull through all the postings to find experienced automation professionals.
Until recently the Net has provided no anonymity for position seekers. The Monster Board now offers a service where data that can identify you is removed from your posting and you're assigned a code. Those interested in your resume or posting send e-mail to a blind box which is then relayed to you, the position seeker.
Recruiters are finding that the lack of controls on the career/posting sites is an inherent Net problem. There's no way to know the validity of the posted information or the current status of the posted candidate. Watch in the future as online job-hunting sites begin to offer additional services, including background verification, resume writing, career guidance and very targeted market exposure.
Face time pays off
One of the most effective ways to manage your career is to actively develop and cultivate a wide network of industry contacts. Take advantage of every opportunity to gain industry-wide exposure by attending trade shows, seminars and professional training on industry related topics. While you're at these events meet and get to know your peers, especially the industry's current and emerging leaders. Leverage what you learn outside by sharing it with the people you work with. Always assume that your individual effort, for the good of the team and the company, will be rewarded with professional growth opportunities.
Seasoned machine vision and automation practitioners who offer a portfolio of career success stories, with supporting industry references, are always in very high demand. When asked, many of the most talented industry leaders say they have "never had to look for a job". These are the people who, early on, earn the respect of their colleagues and the executive recruiters who naturally seek out a familiar person when they need talent. The seasoned practitioners recognize the importance of knowing and learning from the best in the industry.
Traps to sidestep
The most elusive, difficult and nerve wracking stage in the job-search process is still the interview. Ask a dozen so-called experts and you'll get at least that many renditions of the best interview strategy. There's no room here for an interview checklist, but use this advice to avoid a major pitfall: One of the most common mistakes of inexperienced job seekers is stating too broadly what they want to do, for fear of missing out on an unknown opportunity. It's much more effective and impressive to state, without hesitation, your precise career goals. Don't appear indecisive by saying that you're "open" to whatever the company needs.
Veterans who decide to make a career move need a different, more specialized approach to job hunting. They have to be cautious to avoid compromising their current employment. If it's time to move on, this is where your personal-contact network can be leveraged, but only with the most reliably discrete people. This is also where a trusted, professional search consultant can be helpful -- even essential.
Jeff Chapman is President and Chief Search Consultant of The Chapman Group, Inc. (www.thechapmangroup.com), a professional search firm based in Scottsdale, Arizona. The firm provides search, recruiting and human resource consulting services exclusively to the factory automation technology marketplace.