Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Christmas thoughts

On a freezing, snowy day here in Essex my thoughts have wandered to where I would rather be and, the answer, of course, is in fabulous Las Vegas surrounded by beautiful people - well, my buddys JP and Angus anyway - sipping a cold drink at the awesome Voodoo Lounge (pictured) before heading to the Bellagio for a spot of poker.

If not Vegas then maybe in one of the bars lining Las Ramblas in Barcelona watching the world go by....Instead, on Saturday afternoon I found myself on the outskirts of Reading watching the Mighty Leeds United playing out the most tedious 0-0 draw in arctic conditions - not quite living the dream!

I know it is a cliche but here in England it is odd how everything stops when there is bad weather.  All three interviews I had scheduled for today have been cancelled which is frustrating as we are rapidly approaching that time of year when recruitment slows right down (in my sectors) for a wide variety of reasons.  Incidentally, last year I wrote a short article on when is the best time to look for a new job which can be found here: http://www.appointments-uk.co.uk/articleMarch2009.php

I am particularly irritated by these cancellations today as ideally I would like these deals finalised before the holidays begin as it really is a battle to schedule meetings in December.  I am never quite sure why this is the case: is it really because people mentally switch off and move into party mode? 

In recruitment there is a saying that 'time kills deals' due to the two sides courting each other cooling off or other complicating factors arising - for example, here in the UK a number of people I know who were offered Computer Forensic roles in the Public Sector earlier this year had these posts withdrawn following the Public Sector cuts introduced in George Osborne's budget.  A more extreme example is my Venture Capitalist friend who lost all his prospective deals immediately after the terrible events of 11 September 2001.

The Christmas period can also have some very odd effects on jobseekers.  I recall one Fraud Investigator who was at final interview stage for a Big Four Company and was incredibly excited about the opportunity before Christmas.   After spending the holiday with her rather dull husband (seriously, half an hour with this guy makes a Nick Clegg speech look strangely exciting) she finally decided to divorce and so cancelled all her plans to change jobs.

Finally, a note of humour (well, arguably - it made me chuckle anyway) on this miserable evening.  Did you hear the joke about what Audley Harrison and Michael Jackson had in common?  They both wore a glove for no apparent reason....

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Fun in Glasgow

I have been working in Scotland for most of this week and the travelling between meetings has given me a chance to catch up with some reading.  I am currently half way through the excellent second volume of the diaries of Chris Mullin: ‘Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005-2010’.  If, like me, you have a fascination with UK politics and are interested in reading the ruefully honest thoughts of that rare creature – an independent-minded MP whose career was not as important as his politics – I highly recommend it (and the first volume: A View From The Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin).

Whilst in Scotland, I had a lot of fun speaking to the students on the Computer Forensics and E-Discovery degree at the University of Glasgow.  The Course Leader, Brad Glisson, was impressive as was the quality of the students who appeared to be very bright and enthusiastic.  Maybe the habitual moaners on some of the forums who criticise the quality of current undergraduates could break away from tedious stereotyping and learn a little about the reality by spending some time in Glasgow with this bunch of students? 

One question that came up during my talk was whether or not it was worthwhile for students to gain an advantage by taking extra certifications.  Lee Whitfield, founder of: http://forensic4cast.com, in one of his excellent articles (http://forensic4cast.com/category/uncategorized/, talks about this point: 

“The problem is making yourself more appealing to a potential employer.  My best advice is to get some training. Finish your degree but don’t just stop there.  Find a way to pay for an EnCase passport and attend their courses. If you do that it means that you know how to use the software and can go straight in to a job and start working right away without the company having to spend money training you. Anything you can do to help a potential employer save money will be in your favour and, if you can do the work you already have won half the battle.”

It is rare I disagree with Lee as I think he offers outstanding advice.  However, my view is that if you are studying for a Bsc or Msc at a decent University there is absolutely no point taking the extra certifications.  To my mind, it is just wasting money and for most students in the real world already in debt it won’t make enough of a difference to justify the expense.  On saying that, if you can afford to do so it won't do any harm.   

I certainly do agree entirely with Lee's next piece of advice:

“I would even suggest going to a local forensic company or police force and asking if you can volunteer your time there for free while you finish university. If you offer to work for free I don’t know many people that would turn you down and it would give you some much needed experience. Also, if you prove yourself to be good at the job they’ll be more likely to hire you once your degree is over”. 

If the organisation doesn’t seem too keen for you to spend time with them – they often try to tell you that you can’t spend time with them for confidentiality/security reasons – then offer to make the tea, do the filing or even wash the cars!  Although you should never lie on your CV (the consequences are too severe and you will get caught) you can certainly exaggerate your experience and half a day at a forensics company can legitimately be added as work experience.  This will certainly give a new graduate an edge over others for no financial outlay and will increase your chances of being interviewed.  At the interview, you can then use the experience in a light-hearted way and show your human, fun side – as I have said in numerous articles, it will help make the interviewer like you as a person which is the whole point!

As always, I would be interested in knowing whether or not you agree.  

Finally, as someone with a broken boiler and no heating/hot water for the coldest weekend of the year I will leave you with the following which still made me smile earlier today.  In his note of commiseration to Valerie Profumo after the downfall of her husband, Noel Coward wrote: ‘Do remember that nothing ever matters quite as much as one thinks it does.’  Quite!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Reality of the Big Four

The Big Four firms have recruited extensively (here in the UK) within the Computer Forensics/eDiscovery area over the last few months, especially at new graduate level.  Undoubtedly, both the quality of work and opportunities for progression are excellent at these companies for the right people.  However, just in the last week I have been approached by a number of recent graduates who joined a Big Four organisation in 2010 and have already realised that the work isn't for them and they are now looking for a new opportunity in a different forensics enviroment.

Following on from this, I thought it could be useful to readers of this blog to see the piece below about working for a Big Four organisation which was submitted to me by a very strong graduate who spent some time in a Big Four environment before moving to Law Enforcement this summer:

"I enjoyed my time working in computer forensics at a 'Big Four' accountancy firm. The team was great and the people that I worked with were very intelligent, capable individuals from various backgrounds. For the graduate positions no experience or a forensic qualification was required, and in some cases they took those without computer science-related degrees - indeed, the selection process was much more about general aptitude and attitude than specific technical or industry knowledge.

One of the major benefits was the opportunity to visit different clients and work on a wide variety of projects, and I took part in several high-profile national and international assignments for both public and private sector clients. However, for those expecting to be home every night at a reasonable hour, or indeed home during week-nights for months at a time, then this type of role is not for you. Flexibility is by far the largest commitment of the job, with a requirement to be literally anywhere for an unspecified period of time with not a lot of notice, which is to be expected with the spontaneous nature of corporate investigations. This said, the uncertainty can sometimes be exciting, with the pressure to 'hit the ground running' and get on with the job when you get there - and the flights and hotels were always nice!

eDiscovery is the corporate flavour of computer forensics practised by the Big Four firms. It is battery-farm forensics, sucking terabytes of data from a firm's servers and/or a multitude of PCs, getting the e-mails/Word documents/Excel spreadsheets out, and pumping them into a review environment for trainee lawyers or paralegals to run keyword searches over. At a graduate level expect to be working in a team performing one of these roles on one project for long periods of time. Data Analytics is the other major area of the corporate forensic technology world, which at a graduate level is essentially running SQL queries over large sets of structured data - usually financial. As time progresses it gets a bit more interesting, and with some good in-house training you will be able to reconcile financial systems to check for fraudulent activity.

I have recently moved from a Big Four firm to the law enforcement world purely to embark on a different type of work. Whilst I enjoyed the pressure and the variety of projects at the firm, my individual responsibility in these projects was very small, and understandably so due to the volume of data captured. Although I am now only dealing with the examination of one computer, not ten, I am responsible for this from acquisition, to report, and to court if necessary, and this is very fulfilling."

If you have experience working for a Big Four firm in this sector I would be very interested to know whether you agree with these thoughts?

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Is an IT degree any use in 2010?

I am speaking to the Computer Forensic undergraduates at Glasgow University next week and generally spend a lot of time at Universities outlining the career opportunities available to students.  Even from my brief snapshot of an annual visit I have reached the view – which is, I think, pretty accepted in the uk computer forensics community - that the quality of computer forensics courses varies tremendously from excellent to pretty pointless (in terms of content rather than other skills gained).

There is often debate on the forums about whether a potential computer forensics practitioner benefits more from a general IT degree or a specific one in forensics.  However, could it be that this argument is too short-sighted?

Maybe the question we should be asking is whether an IT based degree is actually of any use?  The CIO panel at Silicon.com certainly didn’t think so in the following article published this week:

I spoke to one very talented, experienced computer forensics analyst to ask his opinion on the article:

“As someone who dropped out of University after becoming disillusioned by what the course was offering - I have to agree with this article.

I was studying Electronics at University and I was awarded a scholarship from a major organisation where I spent two summers working at the forefront of the electronics industry.  I would say that hardly any of my university course was relevant to what I experienced in industry.  The course was outdated, expanding on basic principles that I had learnt at A’ level and far behind where the electronics industry was heading.

Of my peers who did graduate, a significant number have returned to further their studies in other areas as they were unable to find work in the electronics industry for one reason or another.  In my biased opinion, experience counts for far more than any qualification.”

I tend to agree: do you?

Sunday, 14 November 2010

What day is it?

We all have professional pride – even recruiters - and nobody wants to be the Audley Harrison of their profession.  Luckily, in recruitment when we get it wrong nobody dies and we aren’t humiliated in front of thousands of people to the same level as poor old Audley last night.  However, I was reminded of my most embarrassing recruitment error just this weekend.

It was just before midnight on Friday night and I was happily playing poker at the excellent new Fox Poker Club on Shaftesbury Avenue (http://www.foxpokerclub.com/) – a poker club with windows, whatever next – when a burly figure approached, moved his head very close to mine and whispered ominously: “Oy, David – what day is it you muppet’. 

Oh dear, it was Steve.  Now, I enjoy bumping into Steve as much as people look forward to major surgery.  

Steve is an outstanding Fraud Investigator who was based in Germany a few years ago.  We had been working together on securing him a role with a major Consultancy based in London but arranging the final meeting had been a complete nightmare as his diary was incredibly full and the hiring MD he had to meet was always out of the country.  Finally, a meeting was arranged for a Thursday and all was set for the conclusion of a deal that had been simmering for around four months.  

There was just one slight problem as I had got a little confused with dates and had booked Steve’s flights two days early when the MD wasn’t around and Steve couldn’t stay.  The deal collapsed, the champagne was never drunk and by the time I had finished apologising and refunded all travel costs and compensated Steve for his time nobody was happy - I have always treble checked interview times/dates since!  

This is probably my worst recruitment mistake but it is not as bad as the catastrophic recruiter error that is unforgivable – sending a CV to the company where somebody currently works.  I think you would be surprised just how often this happens, especially with some of the contingency recruiters out there who just scatter-gun CV’s to as many organisations as possible on a speculative basis in the hope that there could be interest. These recruiters often aren’t even aware that one company can be a subsidiary or otherwise related to another which is one of the reasons it is vital for any jobseeker to emphasise to recruiters that they can only approach organisations with written permission.  

Gaining written permission and keeping thorough notes on every call/email made during the recruitment process also helps prevent the loss of control often experienced by jobseekers.  When dealing with recruiters, I am astonished when quite senior people are actually unaware whether an organisation has been approached on their behalf.  I would always advise a jobseeker to ask a recruiter about their relationship with an organisation before they give the recruiter permission to contact a company on their behalf - try the following questions:

·        -  How long have you worked with the organisation?
·        -  How many people have you placed there in the last 12 months?
·        -  Do you work with HR or the Hiring Manager?
·        - Why should you represent me with this organisation?

Recruiters are supposed to facilitate the hiring process and if you don’t have confidence that you are going to be represented professionally then walk away.... 

What a day on Saturday!  The Mighty Leeds United continue their meteoric rise crashing into the play-off spots and the Australians thumped at Twickenham!  What next: surely not victory in The Ashes?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Not Welcome!

I have sailed for most of my life.  Through this wonderful sport I have literally travelled around the world to compete at events and met some of my very best friends from all walks of life and of all ages.  

Unfortunately, sailing still has an elitist reputation in some quarters.  Those who still hold this view should visit my home club – The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club – to see just how far from the truth this is (in fact, let me know when you are at either of the club houses in Cowes or Burnham-on-Crouch and if I am free I will happily buy you a drink or four and introduce you to some of my pals).  Every weekend sees parents giving up their time to encourage the thriving youth fleets and although there are some very wealthy members (funnily enough, none in recruitment) everyone mixes in a very casual atmosphere on the balcony on a summers evening – it is inclusive and all are welcome.  I like this attitude and actively refuse to attend any sailing event at a snotty club with ‘members only’ on the door.  

I mention this inclusiveness as very rarely for me I am in ‘Billy's Bar’ at Elland Road – home of the Mighty Leeds United (Billy’s Bar is in memory of the late, great Billy Bremner, sadly missed in both Leeds and Scotland)  as they prepare to destroy Hull City this evening – and  yet would rather be elsewhere. I adore being in Leeds so it could be a lot worse especially after our recent couple of startling victories.   

However, the point is that I want to be at the F3 conference with a lot of my friends in the computer forensics sector but I am not welcome.  My name isn’t Dave and I’m not getting in – although ironically it is, but I still am not getting in.....(dodgy 90’s music reference – apologies)!

For those of you not in the computer forensics sector, F3 (http://www.f3.org.uk) ‘exists to provide an open forum for all forensic computing practitioners, to enable them to share their collective knowledge through discussion and training’. I have tremendous respect for the numerous members of the committee whom I have known for years and the organisation no doubt does a great job for the members.  However, F3 have an annual conference which begins today where, as a recruiter, I am not welcome.  I pay to advertise in the brochure but I am not able to attend the conference as I am not a practitioner.  I have tried to argue the case in previous years that I wish to attend as I am a member of the community but I have had no success.

Yes, it is ‘members only’ and sadly I am as welcome as Phil Woolas at the christening of Ed Millibands newborn child.  

My colleagues here tell me to not get so irate about this as it doesn’t matter in the scheme of things and that there is no point in me attending anyway.  I think that misses the point: the reason I attend Infosec every year is that I am able to hear speakers discuss trends/issues and by understanding these points I am more informed and credible when I am discussing the industry with my network.  Ok, forget that worthy reason, I just want to spend a couple of nights in the bar with some of my friends!
As I see it: 
  • I am active on numerous forums where I think I am a part of the community who is able to actually contribute above the tedious recruiter level of purely posting current vacancies;
  • I lecture extensively to the computer forensics students at Universities;
  • I speak at events attended by experienced members of the computer forensics sector and so far, I don’t think there have been any complaints that I am bothering people (well, except for the unfortunate case involving a case of vodka, three packets of wine gums and the Russian gymnasts which we will skip over as that was a simple misunderstanding).     
But still, I am not welcome at the biggest UK computer forensics event of the year. Is this fair?

If you help run a club, community or forum of any description that bars people for no clear, valid reasons please do reconsider.  Some of the snotty ‘members only’ sailing clubs I have shunned in the past are now desperate for new members to ensure their survival but they have woken up to the new world order too late and the future isn’t bright.

Oh, and if you are at the F3 conference and sober enough to read this, do please have a beer for us recruiters stranded at the door....

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Be very afraid....

Today I waited outside a school and stole the dinner money from the cutest, smallest children.  I then committed a number of armed robberies before finishing off the day with a random killing spree.

That is bad enough, but even worse, I am a recruiter!  I know you could accept all of the above and still be seen with me in public but well, when you know what I do for work I quite understand that you will shun me if we ever meet at a party.

I was prompted to write the above as on Forensic Focus yesterday, someone called ‘4rensics’ posted the following about recruiters:

“Dont get me started! Completely useless... but thats a different rant for another day Smile
If I never rang back any of the people I've done jobs for, both forensic and before I joined this I would have been saked a thousand times over... yet when they don't call back, it’s the norm... sounds like a cushy number, get CVs... End! Go home. OK I've started....
Walk away from the keyboard!!!”

Clearly ‘4rensics’ rather tediously falls into the arrogant trap of thinking that others have easy jobs.  However, sadly the basic views of ‘4rensics’ are shared by many jobseekers and due to the number of terrible recruiters around I have to accept these are widely held for valid reasons.   

This is a major problem.   The perception of recruiters isn’t changing – in the fifteen years I have been in recruitment I would say it has got worse.  I think the basic problem is that as recruiters our fees come from Clients which means there is a tendency to neglect jobseekers unless we can clearly see how they are going to make us money.  As I work in niche markets I can spend a lot of time helping people with their CV’s and discussing the market as although this doesn’t earn me money in the short-term over a longer period of time it is invaluable, but generalists aren’t able to do this.  Surely, however, the model has to change so that we can use our industry expertise (especially those of us in niche areas – I think the generalists are doomed) to help people effectively manage their careers over a long period of time?  

As an amusing aside (well, maybe not amusing at all), I did hear one excruciatingly bad story in the computer forensics area about a real cowboy recruiter who made a ‘headhunting’ call to ‘sell’ an Analyst role to the Computer Forensics Legend Professor Tony Sammes.  To get through to him he told people he was a friend and, well, just came across as a complete idiot.  It is a bit like me calling David Cameron and offering him a role managing parking regulations for a local council.

It is increasingly clear that recruiters don’t just provide a patchy service to jobseekers but also to Clients.  In his excellent blog an HR Manager (http://myhellisotherpeople.com/2010/10/26/listen-to-the%C2%A0music/) compares the slow death of the recruitment industry to the decline of the music industry for a number of reasons but mainly due to arrogance and a reluctance to accept inevitable change.  

On the whole, recruiters still expect to work to a percentage fee structure regardless of the actual work involved and there is usually no follow-up after a person has been recruited.  In the rapidly changing environment in which we work and with the huge growth of social media this just cannot continue.   In particular, I agree with one commenter on the above blog who says that the big organisations and many medium-sized ones are embracing resourcing as part of a wider talent strategy and as a minimum now have the tools and the ability to eliminate all but the very niche recruiters from the process.  As a niche recruiter it really must now be all about how we can genuinely add real value.

Moving on......

Today, I am entertaining at Twickenham as England see off the All Blacks whilst of course keeping an eye on events at Coventry as the Mighty Leeds United bring their unique brand of silky football skills to another stadium of admirers......Have a good one!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Ask the question?

One of the recruitment newsletters I subscribe to is ‘Ask the Headhunter’ which is written by Nick Corcidilos (http://corcodilos.com/blog).  This week he discusses whether at interview you should explicitly ask for the job to clearly demonstrate your interest to the hiring manager.  Nick strongly believes that the answer is a resounding yes, essentially because most people aren’t entirely sure they want a job until they have heard much more about the position and company at the interview.  Therefore, at the end of the meeting you should let the interviewer know that you have made up your mind positively about the position.

I am not sure about this advice.  I appreciate that in some sales interviews it is standard for the jobseeker to ask whether the interviewer has any concerns so that they can then presumably overcome all objections whilst still in the interview.  However, can this more aggressive style really be successful in the sectors for which I recruit or will it actually put off hiring managers?   In fact, is it actually aggression at all or just that as we become adults we develop emotions such as embarrassment, pride and self-consciousness which prevent us from asking for what we want?

Maybe in our sector there are other ways of making it clear that you are interested in the position without actually directly asking for the job.  For example, summarising what the company is looking for and how you have demonstrated this during the interview can make it easy for the interviewer to see how you clearly you fit the role – or is this just over-complication?   I would be interested to hear what has/hasn’t worked for you.

As an aside, I received an amusing CV this week from somebody in their late 20’s who felt it was important to record details of their paper round fourteen years ago, including (bizarrely) the name of the newsagent which was, I think, of paramount importance....Mind you, that is not quite as ‘hilarious’ as the person who sent me a CV through the post earlier this year in an envelope filled with confetti to ensure that their application stood out.  On my knees picking up confetti for ten minutes I admired this strategy greatly which is right up there with comedy email addresses –  in 2010 I have actually received job applications from ‘x-ratedstud@’ ,‘beer-monster86@’ and ‘sweatygirl72@’.  Why?!!!