Dear Dr. Civitelli,
Hello and thank you for the opportunity to ask you this question.
I’m a good worker with 29 years of IT in both the US Navy (now retired) and the commercial sector. I have solid experience and certifications in Computer Security, Red Hat Linux and VMware virtualization, though I only have an AA degree attained back in 1987.
I produce really good, polished work, having numerous times received compliments and kudos for the products I’ve produced (either written reports or tools/applications). I work hard and am modest, though passionate, about the work I get assigned or involved with. I’m not an attention-grabber, but work long, steadily, professionally and quietly.
My “flaw” is that I tend to be slower than many of my peers (stated as a personal observation consistent with my past 15′ish years of work). I’m not the fastest with learning new technology, nor applying it/them. I do get it. I simply am not quick with the learning or application and certainly not as quick as my peers.
When I attend a week-long technical class/school, I usually need about 3-4 additional weeks of personalized study before I’m ready for the exam (which I pass). It takes me time (again, longer than my peers) to figure something out and engineer a solution. My saving grace is that I do it well, provide a polished, well-thought-out solution– typically better than my peers with good documentation to boot. Time and again, their speed and expediency results in sloppy code, missed checks for alternative/possible problems, etc… yet their style is flashy, noisy, garners public attention and tends to get the immediate rewards. They are appreciated for getting it done quickly, while I’m usually coming in second place for doing my own work well and polished.
I am concerned about this, though. I am planning in a few months to publish a newly rewritten resume and seek employment somewhere else (I’m not in a bad company, simply looking for new/better opportunities/challenges, better pay, better benefits, than what I currently have available). I’ve gotten by so far on my skills and reputation in my transition from the Navy 9 years ago, to the IT company I have worked for since then.
I am not wanting to get into a new opportunity yet have my slower speed be a bad liability (per se). I don’t wish to advertise I am slower—as I’m certain it will severely curtail the offers I get for an interview—though I don’t wish to be dishonest, either.
I would like your advice for how to address this both within my resume (i.e. what is appropriate to state there) and as I interview to determine what the pace of work is like (and thus whether I will not only fit in, but succeed).
Thank you for the opportunity to ask you about this.
Dear Careful Coder,
To respond to your question, I interviewed IT industry recruiters, hiring managers, and career coaches. Their advice for you is below.
“Congratulations on such a successful 29 year career in the IT industry! Much of what you reference resonates with those of us who are more conscientious in our work and the output we produce as well as those of us at a more senior level. That being said, there is no point in trying to compete with your “quicker” peers as you seem to have a very different and more experienced set of skills to offer.
The key here is finding a position that highly values the strengths you bring to the table. Positions that praise experience and accuracy along with those that expect a very low or non-existent margin of error are likely to be a great fit for you. One example could include advanced technological equipment used for surgery. As the consequences and “criticality” of error are high if the equipment does not function properly (e.g., the loss of a life), accuracy is traded for speed.
Additionally, you have the experience and patience to position yourself as a “reviewer” or “teacher.” Both of these types of positions generally require keen attention to detail as students and/or trainees need to learn how to do things correctly at the outset. They are also likely to prefer a slower pace as they learn how to do things for the first time or absorb important information.”
Lynda Zugec, Managing Director, The Workforce Consultants
“IT is a very fast past industry. It moves and changes faster than most other industries. At no point should things like, “It takes me time to learn,” be emphasized. During the early part of the interview process, you’re in the selling phrase. This occurs when you are sending your resume and during initial interviews. Once the offer is near or in hand, that’s when you should enter the matching phase — to determine whether there is a good fit in terms of your style and theirs. Think of it like dating. On the first few dates, you don’t broadcast the fact that you’re a 40 year old guy who collects comic books; it’s only once there is mutual interest that you say, “If this is going to go anywhere, I need to see if you’re OK with the fact that I’m really into comic books and I have a closet full of them.”
Given your approach it’s best to avoid startups and financial services — those are industries that value speed. I would focus on retail, industrial supplies, paper good companies, a traditional media company, government, or a company providing goods or services to the government. These types of companies are more common outside the tech hubs of SF, Boston, NY, DC, Chicago, and Austin. Different values have their place. Fast and sloppy has advantages in some cases; slow and steady in others. Make sure your values match up with those of the company.
Also remember that the best way to find a job is through networking. Not only does this help you find jobs but it will get you in the door with a level of credibility.”
Mark A. Herschberg, Mark A. Herschberg on LinkedIn.com
“Speed only matters if the quality of the work is acceptable. Shoddy work delivered quickly is of no value, and in most cases is of negative value. The numerous mentions of “slowness” relative to others speaks of a lack of self-confidence. First, believe in yourself. A resume is a sales brochure, and the product is you. If you don’t believe in what you’re selling, no one will buy it. Second, if speed of work is truly a concern –- and not just a ready-made excuse for not trying –- there are ways to improve speed (plan, measure, improve, repeat). Third, focus on the quality of the work that you do, not on how long it takes. If your estimates are accurate and your quality is good, you will be an asset to any company.
Fourth, word your resume to show –- with numbers wherever possible –- the positive business benefits your work has created. For example, “Wrote a widget-ordering system in Pascal,” is boring and expresses no business value. Instead, “Designed and implemented a new widget-ordering system that reduced turnaround time from two days to ten minutes, using Pascal. The new system allowed the company to double productivity without hiring new staff.”
Steven A. Lowe, Founder/CEO, Innovator LLC
“My advice is to turn this characteristic into a positive. Tell recruiters that you are very thorough. There’s always the allure with the “fast worker,” but some tasks/positions require a more careful approach. Maintaining legacy systems, or even training might be areas you could consider.
Or from a different perspective, is it possible to get faster? Something as simple as learning to touch type might help. (I’m sensing this, only because I’ve had experience with workers who couldn’t touch type. It’s a bigger factor than you might think!). Other things like working on tool skills “after hours” might improve “speed” during the work day (tool skills include learning the shortcuts in the software you are working with, or learning editing tools).
You wrote that you are looking for better pay/better positions, but you might take into account the good will your current employer has given you. Would you find an employer that would appreciate you as your current one does? You may think about redefining your role, or even seeking an internal transfer, especially if you have built up a positive reputation after nine years.”
Rick Umali, Tech Blogger and Computer Professional
“It would be helpful to be evaluated for any potential learning challenges, and to complete a comprehensive career and personality assessment to determine your preferences and work style in more detail. You could use this information as a strong baseline of information. Based on the outcomes of these assessments, it might be prudent to consider completing a B.S. degree in order to stay competitive and relevant. An AA from 1987 is likely obsolete.
You are obviously a more seasoned worker competing with younger “ready-fire-aim” colleagues who are more adept at self-promotion. With that said, I praise you for your commitment to excellence. I agree with your comment that you will need to carefully screen potential employers to determine if your methodical work style will be compatible. You seem ideally suited to longer-term project work where you have the opportunity to work quietly by yourself with minimal distractions and interruptions.
Your writing conveys a high level of emotional intelligence and a solid internal locus of control –- two highly desirable employee characteristics. You should certainly speak to these strengths in interviews.
Finally, I am curious why you want to leave your current employer. I understand the desire for better pay, benefits, etc., but I wonder if perhaps you could transfer to another department or position within the same company where you are already known and seemingly appreciated for your thorough and detailed work.”
Debra B. Davenport, Ph.D., Identity IQ
“Technology continues to increase the speed in which people conduct business. However, just because we have to move fast, does not mean that someone developing an IT solution has to move as rapidly. In fact, in a lot of cases, quality over quantity proves for a better approach. If you feel that your value lies in paying attention to the details, then the first thing I would do is to stop comparing yourself to the other IT Professionals out there in the respect that you are slower than them. Instead, talk in your resume and interview about how you take on a different approach, coding with quality when conducting development to reduce the amount of development defects when an application is deployed.
Second, establish yourself through your resume and job interviews as having the appropriate domain experience and expertise for the job opportunity that you want. The appropriate certifications go a long way toward establishing your expertise. Finally, make sure your resume is succinct and to the point. While hiring managers want to provide ample time to analyze and drill down into each skill (which here we do in as an efficient manner as possible), the attention span of a recruiter is minimal due to the increasing amount of jobs out there. If you do not grab the attention of a recruiter within the first few seconds of digesting a resume, you might lose out on a potential opportunity.”
Joe Papeo, Recruiting Manager with DATA Inc.
“Everyone has a pattern of speech that is repeated unconsciously. In your case, you repeat negative language that is cancerous and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You repeat words such as “slow,” “flaw,” “not as quick,” “severely curtail,” and “only have an AA.” It almost sounds as if there are self esteem issues. STOP APOLOGIZING! Start a new and improved “positive speak.” You should maximize strengths and minimize what your consider weaknesses. Communicate how your skills and qualifications have, are, and will continue to be an asset no matter where you are employed.
Remember, you are not a Victim, you are a Victor!”
Michael Coritsidis, Career Coach