March 15, 2010
Allen Ackerman is a recruiter of 15 years and former software developer. He recruits in the digital media space and is the founder and president of A-List Placement in New York City. His deep understanding of technology and expertise in talent acquisition has enabled A-List to grow into an emerging force in the new media talent acquisition space. His professional experience led him to create The Hire Syndicate, a web-based platform for split recruiting based on a recruiter Pod system.
David Abrams: How did you get into the recruiting field?
Allen Ackerman: I am a technologist at heart. I have a degree in computer science, and I was a software developer and coder for quite sometime. As much as I loved coding, I made the natural transition into recruiting.
I was attracted to it for a number of reasons. One because I feel I am still in touch with technology through technical recruiting, and also because I enjoy the social aspect and financial model of recruiting.
David Abrams: So you are a living example of somebody with an engineering degree making a career change into an area outside of the track. You still work with engineering, but outside of engineering.
Allen Ackerman: Exactly. And again, being a technologist, I am always looking for new ways to apply that technology to better facilitate the process of recruiting. It's just a lot of fun to be connected to so many different areas of technology, as opposed to just being in development in one specific area.
David Abrams: And your recruiting practice is based in New York City?
Allen Ackerman: That's correct.
David Abrams: In what area of IT do you specialize?
Allen Ackerman: It's commonly described as digital media, or new media where it really relates a lot to web-based companies or web-based aspects of companies, less like infrastructure and traditional IT type of role.
David Abrams: So you deal with the technologists who power the Web 2.0 world, correct?
Allen Ackerman: Precisely.
David Abrams: How have you found the employment market in the Web 2.0 area to be?
Allen Ackerman: Well, it's interesting. When the financial crisis hit, everything took a hit sometime around September of 2008. I had been recruiting for over dozen years, and when I made that transition that I mentioned earlier, it was right as the dotcom wave was taking off. I was braced for what happened in 2000-2001, when recruiting completely dried up in every aspect.
However, that didn't take place this time, things just slowed down. Things have been slow, but they started picking up through the end of '09. One thing we are noticing is that recruiting cycles are stretching out longer. Clients are taking longer to make that decision and are really expecting the perfect candidate. Over these first few weeks of 2010, we are seeing just a tremendous uptake in our field.
David Abrams: So for those who are interested in working in the world of Web 2.0, things are certainly looking brighter?
Allen Ackerman: Absolutely, the market is hot.
David Abrams: Is there any particular vocation or a subset of a vocation in this field that you expect to be popular in the coming years?
Allen Ackerman: Absolutely. On the development side, things definitely are trending towards Open Source, which is PHP, MySQL, Ruby on Rails, and then to a lesser degree Drupal, Joomla, and Major CMS development platforms. I can't emphasize enough how huge mobile development is and will be. I don't think anyone will doubt that it's the platform of today and where things are going in the future.
David Abrams: Do you also see career opportunities in development of mobile applications and platforms?
Allen Ackerman: Yes, absolutely. We are doing more and more with our phones these days than anyone thought we would be doing three or five years ago.
David Abrams: Do you find that your candidates can enhance themselves by going to school and taking a few courses in order to become familiarized with mobile platforms and open source software?
Allen Ackerman: Yes. Let me start with something that I think is very important in respect to education. This is something I've found throughout my career of recruiting regardless of what I am recruiting for, whether it's a direct mail marketing position or a senior Java developer.
One mistake technologists make a lot of the time is that they think they can work as a programmer and that will take the place of an undergraduate degree.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is for one to complete his or her undergraduate degree, although they might still be able to get a job without it.
It's definitely a differentiator, and it's a good thing to accomplish. I recommend that everyone get his or her undergrad degree, regardless of where they are in their career.
David Abrams: You point out something important, that a degree is not only representative of what one has learned, but it's also symbolic of the fact that they have taken the time to go through a program over four years. It may be a predictor of success in someone's career in the eyes or of individuals responsible for hiring.
Allen Ackerman: It shows the ability to commit and see something through that's really important to its fruition. I absolutely agree with that.
David Abrams: In the field of information technology and Web 2.0, what sorts of degrees do your clients look for?
Allen Ackerman: Interestingly enough, most recently I've been working a lot with user experience. User experience is something that's been around for a while, and it has recently become really, really important in the process of building web properties.
The disciplines of user experiences include everything from information architecture, to user interface, and a lot of business intelligence. It's a big emerging field that I think people should be aware of. Courses and degree programs are offered in human interaction at a number of schools across the country.
David Abrams: What about information technology or computer science degrees?
Allen Ackerman: Of course those programs are always helpful for people interested in going into programming.
David Abrams: Do your clients ask for individuals from certain schools?
Allen Ackerman: From the technology standpoint, of course MIT is a classic, but I don't see that many resumes with MIT on it. Carnegie Mellon is a fantastic school for technology, and that's instinct credibility when I see a resume with Carnegie Mellon on it. I can't remember if I have actually come across one Carnegie Mellon grad who wasn't extremely adept.
David Abrams: Certain schools actually have developed a brand name, which tends to standout. You mentioned MIT and Carnegie Mellon, and also some schools which are very good but may not have reached quite at that level of respect. If a job applicant has a master's degree in information technology, computer science or one of the areas of user interface design, will that also be looked upon very positively by most of your clients?
Allen Ackerman: Absolutely. NYU also has a great interactive technology program, along with Columbia and plenty of others. But I would agree with that, and I would also add creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit as something looked at positively by my clients.
Even when people are in school, they should be creating their own website or doing some sort of small project, because that's a great way for people to approach employers as they become ready to enter the workforce. It's a much better position to be in then just saying, "I've got all this great education, hire me."
David Abrams: Are there any certifications that you see your clients look for?
Allen Ackerman: For a lot of these technologies I mentioned, there are different certifications one can earn. I think it's a good thing and it's helpful, but it shouldn't be the only thing, meaning real-world completed projects should be part of the composition as well. If someone has a bunch of certifications but they don't have any experience, it's still good, but they should really want to have a combination of the two.
David Abrams: Do you see any particular certifications which are in demand these days?
Allen Ackerman: The PMP, which is a project management certification is popular, along with Six Sigma, which I've seen often with development tools. Whether it's PHP or Java programming, there are certifications for those as well, which are also definitely helpful.
David Abrams: What about someone on the outskirts of technology who would like to transition into the Web 2.0 area. Maybe they don't have the preferred educational background, perhaps a degree in accounting as opposed to a degree in computer science or information technology. How might they go about making that transition?
Allen Ackerman: That's a good question. There are a number of different directions one can take. If it's programming, I think those barriers of entry have lessened in recent years just because of the trending direction technology has taken.
One thing I could suggest when it comes to programming is that having a good head for math and logic is important, and people who want to enter this field should really have a sense for that.
There is nothing wrong with taking some courses, working on some projects, definitely with mobile development. That's something I would jump into with both feet. There are training centers all over the country. There are degree and certification programs offered at different schools across the country, so I would definitely say that transition is doable.
David Abrams: As we all know, today's workplace and marketplace is a very, very competitive Do you have any advice for candidates who want to differentiate themselves in the interviewing process? Any suggestions for what they might want to do in terms of their career or their education in order to stand out from the crowd?
Allen Ackerman: There are a few pointers that I would love to offer in terms of just basic protocol for interviewing and applying for positions. In general, a resume really shouldn't be more than three pages. I see eleven-page resumes, and it just doesn't make sense. No one has time to read that.
When people are just starting out in their career, their resume really should just be one page. The purpose of the resume is to act as a teaser or marketing document to get you into an interview. You don't need to be telling your life story, you just need the main things.
Secondly, when people are applying for positions, they should read the descriptions and not just apply to everything that looks good. I can't tell you how much of a difference there is when the candidate has read the description, applies, and writes a short little cover letter describing how their experience relates to the specific position, as opposed to sending something that they could easily send out for a hundred other positions. I think that's absolutely differential.
People should show that they are really interested, even indicate things they did at home, like researching the company's website.
I also think one should never get to an interview more than fifteen minutes early. It's good to make sure you are going to get there early, but typically you want to arrive to the office ten minutes at most beforehand. If you get there a bit earlier, go get a cup of coffee.
It's uncomfortable for the interviewee to be sitting around in the office for half an hour, and also for the potential interviewers. It's a statement on how one manages his or her time, and in a sense it can indicate that that person does not manage their time as well as they should.
They should also always follow-up with a thank you email, or even better some of my candidates handwrite a note and mail it. I mean, that's a nice touch.
David Abrams: They seem like little things, but they can have a big impact, can't they?
Allen Ackerman: Absolutely.
David Abrams: You see mistakes that individuals make in the interviewing process; Any advice on how to avoid those things?
Allen Ackerman: Definitely wearing proper interview attire is important. Technically even if you are interviewing at MTV or in more of laid back kind of environment where you know people won't be wearing suits, it's still the right thing to do. You can never be the worst dressed person in the room, at least for your first interview.
Ask intelligent questions if you have intelligent questions. Obviously people shouldn't typically ask about salary and vacation and things like that in their interview. Be polite, have a firm handshake, look the person in the eye. There are things I learned back in grade school.
David Abrams: If I am in the job market, maybe I am a technologist, and I want to partner with a recruiter, what suggestions might you have for me? How do I best seek out and partner with a recruiter?
Allen Ackerman: That's an interesting question. To be honest, recruiters are paid by their clients to fill specific positions, so they tend not to necessarily partner with a candidate and help them find a job, it's just not how the system works. However, if you are respectful and you have a good resume, a good background, and you develop relationships with recruiters, that can either help you today or tomorrow.
Another good thing to do is to recommend a friend or someone who you think is right for a position. If a placement actually comes from a recommendation, then there is strong motivation for me to go out of my way to return the favor. That's absolutely something one can do in terms of partnering with a recruiter, and in building relationships.