Thursday, 31 March 2011

New Video / New Article

Thank you for all your comments about my last blog post.  This isn't me being sarcastic - there were in fact no public comments - as a number of people contacted me via email/twitter to pass on their views.

I have followed the continuing debate by real experts in the industry such as Eric Huber, Harlan Carvey and others with interest and the discussion has really re-inforced my view that Twitter is where the real community now lies.  Whether or not this is true the most important thing, following the article by David Kovar, is that the whole subject is actually being openly debated and I look forward to hearing more thoughts on the topic of community.

I am now almost a week into my trip to the US and this weekend I am looking forward to a break from the bright lights of Vegas to trek in the beautiful Red Rock Canyon (pictured) which is an amazing place.  Before I put on my hiking boots and head off into the wilds, I wanted to share my latest article/video which I hope will be of some interest to readers of this blog.

1, New Article

For lovers of cutting-edge, insightful, analytical and thought-provoking work I can only apologise as I can't help you with anything of that nature.  However, my new article about the importance of personal branding has now been published on Forensic Focus and can be found via this link:

Personal Branding Article

I really would be grateful for any comments as I think this is a vital area neglected by most jobseekers in the computer forensics/ electronic disclosure spaces.

2,Leeds Metropolitan University Video

As mentioned in a previous blog, I was filmed delivering my guest lecture to computer forensics students at Leeds Metropolitan University earlier this month and the 'highlights' can be seen below.  I should point out to anyone who views the video that Leeds Met appear to have suffered technical difficulties as I don't seem to sound like Richard Burton and my boyish (yet rugged) good looks don't seem to have come through as in real life.....

Leeds Metropolitan Video

For once, no comments welcomed!!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Belonging and Community

I have just read a very interesting blog by David Kovar about fragmentation of the digital forensics community:

It is a thought-provoking piece on many levels, but the idea of community has always bothered me a little within digital forensics. 

With the notable exception of www.forensicfocus, where Jamie actively welcomes newcomers - however ridiculous the questions often are - unless you are an established forensics professional is there even such thing as a community?   I have always been quite surprised at the tension between Law Enforcement/Non-Law Enforcement and even today I would argue there is quite a divide.  Does the dynamic of this split within the sector mean there will never be a true community?

I wonder if people on the inside realise how tough it is for newcomers to the area to gain any foothold into whatever community does exist.  Is it the nature of the business that makes professionals wary of new faces?

Let me illustrate this just by two of my personal experiences of being excluded or at least on the very periphery despite being a relatively high-profile recruiter in the area for the last seven years or so: 
  • I am unable to join a number of forums here in the UK such as the very popular and apparently excellent – I say apparently as being excluded makes it tricky to form a judgement.
I can think of three pretty good arguments for the exclusions:
  • The nature of the work that means that some things shouldn’t be open to the wider public with an interest in the area.  I am not a computer forensics expert so I don’t know if this is really valid.  Is it?
  • I have nothing to add to the community - well, even my close friends wouldn't argue that I add very little to any conversation!;
  •  Using a recruiter as an example isn’t ideal as I do appreciate that terrible recruiters out there who abuse forums, LinkedIn groups etc.
However, what about undergraduates who want to actively get involved in the community? Or talented professionals in other areas of IT or law who would like to move across into digital forensics but are unable to penetrate the barriers currently blocking their access to parts of the community?

Social media is changing the very concept of privacy and I wonder that if, as time progresses, we will gradually see more openness in the world of digital forensics.  Interestingly, talking of social media, since I have been active on Twitter I have become very aware that there is a relatively small, but incredibly knowledgeable and supportive digital forensics community active on that platform.  If you aren’t using twitter yet then I suggest you sign up and use the hash tag #DFIR to have a look at what this community is discussing today.  Follow me at:  @davidsulivan

Well, a cold beer with my name on awaits at the Bellagio poker room so as I disappear off into the Las Vegas evening I would, as always, welcome your comments.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fabulous Las Vegas

I am off to Las Vegas in the morning for three weeks.  I wouldn’t say that it is impossible to be bored in Vegas, but I think it was Sinatra who said that the problem with Vegas is there just isn’t much to do between 8am-9am on a Sunday morning...

I am delighted that we do a lot of work with US West Coast Clients as it gives me the chance to base myself in this great City between meetings.  I can’t deny that live poker games and banter with drunken tourists 24/7 is attractive, but so is the spring climate, huge variety of food, drinks, bars, shows and people – I love the place and spend a lot of time there.  If you tire of the lights and constant activity then a short drive takes you either out into the beautiful mountains where there is fantastic hiking or else to stunning Lake Mead for a spot of sailing or windsurfing.   

I always look forward to spending time with one of my best pals out there, Steve, a US recruiter who specialises in sales recruitment.  Steve is tremendously successful professionally (let’s not go there on his personal life right now, hey Steve) – invoicing over $1.5M in fees last year - and he puts a lot of this down to the coaching he provides for jobseekers, especially around being aggressive at interview.   Don’t worry, he doesn’t condone physical violence – well, except for maybe those really annoying interviewers who were obviously neglected by their parents aged five and delight in catching you out with their superior knowledge.  Gosh, how incredibly clever these people are....zzzzzzzzz.....

However, Steve is convinced that jobseekers must raise their aggression levels to be successful.  For example, if you are being interviewed for a senior sales role then he suggests a good interviewer is likely to expect you to ‘close’ them at the end of the meeting.  Typically, this will involve you as a jobseeker asking a question such as, ‘Now you have met me Mr Client, do you have any concerns about my ability to succeed in this position’.   

Assuming the interviewer is happy to play ball, this strategy provides the jobseeker with the opportunity to answer any concerns and to further reinforce reasons why they should be hired.  This makes perfect sense as when the interviewer asks you for questions at the end of a meeting when you really want the job then that is the question you really want to ask, isn’t it? Especially when you feel you haven’t quite clicked personally with the Hiring Manager or don’t think you have really portrayed yourself in the most positive light.

However, in more conservative disciplines such as eDisclosure and computer forensics should you be using these techniques?  My natural instinct for roles in these areas is not to attempt to close the interviewer as it can be perceived as a little too aggressive.  When I said this to Steve he downed his beer, laughed for a good half a minute and asked me if I still listened to music on cassettes as I am so ‘old skool.'

Hmmm, I fear he may have a point.  What is your view?

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Bad Advice

I was inspired to start writing a blog after continually reading terrible advice for jobseekers.  In the first paragraph of my very first blog post I wrote the following:

‘One of the problems with recruitment is that most people have experienced it in some form and that objectively it is incredibly easy – and it is of course, or rather it should be – but this very simplicity causes a large number of people to 'offer' recruitment advice.  The problem is that a lot of this advice although well-intentioned is just incredibly unhelpful to the unsuspecting jobseeker.’

I was reminded of this today after reading an article by ‘Recruiter X’ suggesting  that the modern jobseeker should differentiate themselves from the masses by sending a CV by post on high quality paper.  How can anyone possibly offer this advice in 2011 when a paper CV is a complete pain for everyone concerned?  It will certainly ensure you stand out in the same way as turning up to interview in a fake leopard skin thong, ‘I’m with stupid’ T-shirt and a beret will make you memorable to the interviewer!  

Not persuaded and still think a paper CV gives you an edge?  Well, why not go a step further and do what one jobseeker did when they posted a CV to me and fill the envelope with confetti.  How I laughed whilst on my knees clearing up for twenty minutes.  Mind you, the CV did stand out as it was the only one in the bin for a couple of weeks.

Regular readers will know my thoughts on this subject.  Your CV is still important if you choose to reply to a jobboard advert and it must be clear and uncluttered like this so that when you are asked to send a CV you can represent yourself in the best light.

However, to actually stand out from people with similar levels of skills/experience it is increasingly all about effective personal branding/self-promotion or whatever else you would like to call it.  How well known are you outside your immediate Team?  Are you active on forums, relevant LinkedIn groups and Twitter?  Do you write a blog or record your thoughts on YouTube?  If you are actively looking for a new role are your Facebook settings correctly enabled to show your business details?  

If you contact somebody about a potential new role – or even send them a CV - how easy is it for them to search online to find out about you and discover what really sets you apart?   How easy is it for them to contact you and have a conversation?

Not convinced?  Well, for Christmas an elderly relative bought me some lovely notepaper and envelopes which you are more than welcome to use in your job search.  I can also recommend a great article by ‘Recruiter X’....

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Back To The Future

This afternoon I listened to the latest excellent podcast from Lee Whitfield and the guys from Forensic4cast. 

Towards the end of the episode they got into a very interesting discussion about whether forensic tools have evolved so much that this may, in fact, negate the need for specialist forensic investigators.

If you haven’t listened yet I suggest you do as they raise some very interesting issues: 

On a related point, I have been pondering whether the steady prevalence of social media will in fact negate the need for recruiters, even in specialist markets such as mine.  As with the computer forensic analyst, the decline of the recruiter has been forecast on numerous occasions over the years, probably most recently with the rise of the job board which was going to kill us off for good.  As many of you who are contacted regularly by recruiters will know, we are still out there in numbers.

Let me share with you my view of the future.  

Advertising is still at the heart of the recruitment industry in 2011 but in a niche area such as Computer Forensics / Electronic Disclosure advertising has always been a bit hit and miss due to the limited size of the target market combined with the fact that the best people – the ones Clients want to hire – are rarely actively looking so aren't reading adverts.  As an aside, one of my hates as a recruiter is posting a job on say, Forensic Focus, and then other recruiters post what is clearly the same job a day or so later.  Don’t these people realise how silly this looks or do they just not care? The whole advertising of jobs in this area is all very haphazard to my mind and results are usually poor.

I don’t think that recruiters will carry out the actual recruiting in the future as this will lie with the hiring manager (HM).  I see the future recruiter as someone who can advise the HM on market conditions and help the HM to use the correct tools for sourcing certain roles, eg, Boolean search techniques on Google/Bing.  Think about it – the recruiter always used to have a valuable database but with the growth of social media the value of this database has massively receded.  The skill now is finding the best people from the huge social media database available to everyone.  Arguably, the only reason the HM doesn’t do this all the time in 2011 is time and habit.

The way recruiters are currently paid is ludicrous.   If you don’t know, recruiters are paid a percentage of first year salary by the organisation that hires a jobseeker which leads to significant problems with the treatment of the jobseeker.  As recruiters get paid by the hiring organisation, not the jobseeker, this means that the levels of customer service for jobseekers is, well, consistently awful.  This could all be changed really easily by allowing recruiters to act as personal  agents for individual jobseekers, paid by them rather than the organisations they join.  This would mean the recruiter/jobseeker could form a genuine long-term career partnership, based on the same model as sports agents or the people who represent movie stars during their careers.

If the recruiter is still required to carry out a specialist search by a particular organisation, wouldn’t it make sense to invoice for the number of billable hours worked by the recruiter on the specific requirement rather than a random percentage of year one salary?  Doing this would mean that recruiters were engaged exclusively by an organisation and this would again lead to a much stronger partnership between recruiter and HM and much more accountability.  Everyone would gain from this development of the relationship.

In recruitment there is lots of talk about partnership and the awful cliché ‘adding value’ but this is usually just words.  The reality is that once a jobseeker has accepted a role at an organisation the recruiter usually walks away with a fee and there is no ongoing engagement with the hiring organisation or hired jobseeker.  This can’t be right?

As always, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Getting Serious About Facebook

I spoke to forensics students at Leeds Metropolitan University on Friday.

As readers of this blog will know, I spend a lot of time in Leeds watching silky, Brazilian football at Elland Road, but it was my first visit to Leeds Met and I had a great time!  The students were keen, the campus was amazing and the two lecturers, Maurice Calvert and Emlyn Butterfield were outstanding – I can only see this course grow in reputation.   

The University Marketing Team were also very switched on filming parts of my lecture and then spending a good 45 minutes afterwards interviewing me about my background and what I hoped I had been able to bring to the students via my talk.  Overall, I was very impressed.

During the talk, I was again surprised at just how few students utilised social media as part of their job search strategy.   Very few had LinkedIn profiles, a twitter account or had considered using Facebook as a serious recruitment tool.  As regular readers of this blog will know, I think it is absolutely vital to develop a personal brand via social media. Students have the very best opportunity to do so as their online profile is less developed than those later in their careers and so easy to manipulate.

The attitude towards Facebook always confuses me.  The view I usually hear is that Facebook is more about staying in contact with friends and family than a serious business tool.  I can't agree. If that is what you think then consider this:
  • The majority of people who find new jobs - over 50% - find these positions via referral.  In some countries this figure is much higher - such as Sweden where it is more like 70% - and in tight communities such as forensics/edisclosure I would suggest that the figure is probably over 70%;
  • People like to refer people they know;
  • Facebook is the largest social network available so this is your best chance of getting referrals;
In practical terms, this means that your status must show you are looking for a new role.  Update this status fairly regularly (emphasis on the word ‘fairly’) to keep potential referrers up to date with your progress.  Although it doesn’t come easy to a lot of us, ask for referrals.
    On top of your personal referrals, every organisation that understands the possibilities offered by social media (and even in my markets this is growing daily) has a presence on Facebook.  Many recruiters are also searching Facebook on a daily basis looking for people with your skills/experience.  Make it easy to be found!

    For advice on how to effectively utilise Facebook, I suggest you read the following article from Texas-based Social Recruiting expert Craig Fisher:

    I spent three days with Craig at a conference a few weeks ago and believe me when I say this guy is a true expert on social recruitment strategies.  If you only follow one piece of his advice I would suggest it is the following about Facebook apps which will give you a massive edge over your competition:

    "You should definitely be using Branchout.  This is a Facebook app that utilizes the employer data on your info page to populate a social graph of business connections.  It tells you who in your Facebook network you know at which companies.  It also gives you the option to import your LinkedIn profile for deeper networking. You should also import your blog posts into your Facebook profile.  There are many apps that do this.  If you don't already have a blog, you can actually start one by using the notes section of your FB profile.  Write about your area of expertise and let your FB friends know you are knowledgeable in your field."

    The first rule of job searching is to make people know you are available.  Facebook gives you access to a huge number of people. The second rule is to make people like you as we hire people we like.  Facebook gives you the opportunity to do this.

    If you are serious about your job search I would ask whether you can you afford not to be utilising Facebook as part of your strategy? 

    Friday, 4 March 2011

    Jonathan Krause - A Contractor's Tale

    I am delighted to say that Jonathan Krause (pictured) of has kindly written a guest blog which I have published below.

    I have known Jonathan for a number of years and always enjoy his company, despite his rather unfortunate passion for Nottingham Forest.

    Jonathan is one of the most successful freelancers I know within the computer forensics space and in this blog post he provides a fascinating insight into the reality of his work.

    Jonathan always has interesting opinions on all things computer forensics so I would certainly suggest you check out his new blog and, of course, follow him on twitter

    A contractor's tale

    I’ve been working in computer forensics for the past seven years, the last three of which have been as a contractor/freelancer. The decision to move from permanent employment to running my own affairs was a big one but one I’ve not regretted it all. In IT as whole the role of contactors is well established but in computer forensics for reasons unknown - which I touch on later - is quite unusual in that I’d estimate that there are fewer than thirty of us on the UK market. 

    The terms contractor and freelancer are interchangeable for me as I consider myself to have a foot in both camps. The difference for me is that a forensic freelancer works on individual projects directly for an end client (usually a law firm or a corporation) while a contractor works for longer periods on behalf of another forensic provider. 

    The advantages of working this way rather than being employed are many. Being independent is a big one; I decide my terms of business, the design of my website, what time of the day I start, how much to pay myself, whether I would rather spend the day in the park with my family than sit in front of monitor and so on; for me it’s a more ‘civilised’ way of earning a living than working to someone else’s rules. The money? Well, that obviously depends on how much work you get in but the scope is there to earn substantially more than any advertised forensic/e-discovery salary I’ve ever seen. If you’re employed by a corporate, you probably know your hourly/daily charge out rate; are you OK with the fact that you only ever see a fraction of that? I knew I wasn’t.

    Unsurprisingly however, it’s not all milk and honey. The entry costs can be formidable – licenses for FTK, EnCase, X-Ways, and a myriad other tools. Then there’s your analysis computer, write blockers, laptop, cables and so on. Software licensing needs to be updated, and unless you’re going to sit on your laurels you need to factor in training and certification costs. When freelancing you’re a one man forensic department so you have to be able to turn your hand to almost any device or situation you may come across. Setting up a limited company and registering for VAT are a must which means you’ll need to pay for an accountant. 

    Contracting/freelancing isn’t for beginners, you’ll need several years of experience and to be somewhere near the top of your game as no clients will pay for you to learn on the job. You need to be confident in yourself and in your skill set, be able to talk prices, negotiate and bargain. Barren periods are inevitable; how are you fixed to cope financially with all your obligations if the phone doesn’t ring for a couple of months?
    And then there’s the small matter of the work. 

    Once you’ve set yourself up, got yourself a memorable name and put up a nice web site… then what? Where’s the work going to come from? You can try marketing, pay per click advertising but they don’t come cheap .The bottom line is that the main source of work for freelance/contract forensic people is through word-of-mouth, which takes a lot of hard work and getting the right breaks to achieve.

    So, it’s tough to get established and there’s an ever-present element of risk but for me the potential rewards and work-life balance have been worth it. As I touched on before, there are a very few people in forensics that have chosen to take this route, which goes against the grain of the IT industry as a whole. Using contractors has obvious advantages for companies; they are available from a few days upwards, they hit the ground running, companies don’t need to pay their National Insurance or give them any of the other rights associated with employing someone, they provide a high skill-set, they are out to impress (being eager for repeat work) and they come with their own software licenses and forensic hardware. A bargain!
    It begs the question as to why the forensic market for contractors is so small. At first I thought it may be due to the security clearance issue, but there are plenty of contractors in other IT markets who require and are granted clearance. The only reason I could come up with is the ‘vicious circle’ effect;  most forensic providers aren’t aware of the supply of contractors, so they don’t tend to use them, meaning that the low demand is matched by low supply. It’d be interesting to hear any other thoughts on this unusual state of affairs.

    If anyone’s interested in the contracting or freelancing route I’d be happy to share my experience in the comments section below.

    Jonathan Krause