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  • Product Management: Startup vs Big Company

    Written by Sara Mauskopf, Director of Product at Postmates. This article was originally published on TechinMotionevents.com

    Now that I’ve been at Postmates for almost 8 months, a lot of people have asked me the difference between Product Management at a larger company like Twitter where I worked from July 2010 to July 2014, or Google where I worked from 2007 to 2010, and at a startup like Postmates. I too was curious before I decided to join a startup.

    small vs large

    So first, let me define Product Management at a larger tech company. As a Product Manager, you are responsible for defining a roadmap for your area and ensuring that roadmap meets the goals or objectives you set forth for your team, which should align with the goals of the company. You’re responsible for ensuring the items on the roadmap are prioritized, and that there are clear product specifications for those items. Finally, you work closely with the team to build, launch, collect data/feedback, and iterate to a standard of exceptional quality. Through all phases, including planning, you are working closely with engineering, design, and other key stakeholders across the company. And because everyone looks to you as a leader for your product area, it is important you are inspiring those around you to do their greatest work by setting the right context, establishing a sense of urgency, and working collaboratively.

    Looking for a product or project manager role? Check out the job board to see if any positions are a good match.

    As it turns out, all those fundamentals remain the same at a startup. In fact, the fundamentals are so important that having experience at a larger company as a Product Manager is one of the best forms of training for startup Product Management. But on top of all that, at a startup you have responsibilities and challenges that do not exist at a larger company. If you are thinking of making the transition from big company PM to startup PM, here are some things you’ll want to know.

     

    work juggle

     

    1. You’ll often have to do things you have never done before and probably suck at.

    Working at a startup, you quickly discover where your personal weaknesses are because on a daily basis you need to do something you have never done before and probably are not good at yet. Executing out of your area of familiarity manifests through needing to do something that larger companies have a person or team dedicated to doing. For example, at a startup you will most certainly not have a user research team that helps you assess how your feature will be received in the market. If you want user research or early feedback on a prototype, you will have to find and interview users yourself. Although it can be daunting to roll up your sleeves and try something you have never done before, it’s also the fastest way to learn how to do it. If you are lucky, you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had!

     

    2. You’ll need gymnast levels of flexibility.

    Rhythmic-Gymnastics-Ball

    Imagine any company has 5 “fire drills” a quarter. In other words, 5 times per quarter, the average company has to quickly react to something in the market, change a plan due to unexpected data or user feedback, or get in a war room and really focus on a hard problem that has not been given enough attention. At a larger company, those 5 instances are spread out between a lot of people and teams, so you personally probably only experience a "fire drill" at most once per quarter. At a startup, any fire drill usually involves most of the product, design, and engineering team because the team is so small. It’s important at a startup that you can quickly tackle these fire drills, avoid getting thrown off course, and reprioritize your roadmap when needed. Most importantly, you need to mentally be able to deal with plans changing more frequently. It’s ok!

     

    3. You’ll do less talking the talk, more walking the walk.

    At a startup, there is nowhere to hide. People who can step up to the plate and tackle the challenges will shine and get even more responsibility. Underperformers who can’t cut it will quickly make their way out. In addition to not needing to worry much about whether your individual performance will be recognized, if you ask any good PM at a larger company they will tell you they spend some percentage of their time carving out territory for their team, evangelizing the great results of their team, and other activities generally thought of as “managing up”. It’s not because large companies are full of evil political people, it’s just because when you have a lot of people working in one place it’s easy to get lost in the noise if you aren’t making it clear what your team works on and the results they have achieved.

     

    walk the walk

     

    You don’t have to worry about that much at a startup. Now, I spend my time working and moving the company forward rather than evangelizing my team internally. With fewer people to communicate with, you can spend more time doing the work, which is great because there is a lot of work to do.

    Jobspring is a proud sponsor of Tech in Motion events. Connect with companies like Postmates at Tech in Motion - find an event near you here.

    About the Author

    sarah

    Sara Mauskopf joined on-demand delivery company Postmates in July to build and run its Product Management team. Postmates is transforming the way local goods move around a city by connecting customers with local couriers who purchase and deliver goods from any restaurant or store in a city in minutes. Prior to Postmates, Sara was a Group Product Manager at Twitter, having joined the company in 2010. She started her career at YouTube and Google as a Partner Technology Manager (a role that's a mix of partnerships and engineering). Sara graduated with a bachelors degree in Computer Science from MIT.

     

  • Five Ways to Keep Top Contractors Engaged

     

    By: James Vallone and Ben Sanborn

    You know how hard it was to find a top contractor, right? Well, now that you have him or her onboard, what are you doing to ensure they stay engaged and retained? Contractors today have a plethora of offers to choose from. Since most work on a temporary basis, they are continually evaluating offers and lining up their next job – even while they work for you. If they have a bad experience with your company, you risk losing them and you risk the potential loss of referrals of other great contractors. (Yes, contractors refer non-competing contractors to companies they know are reliable and great to work for! They also warn others to stay away from bad experiences.) You are not only vying for a contractor’s expertise, but for their loyalty. So, how do you keep contractors engaged and happy?

    Contracting at JobspringThe best way to do so is to understand what contractors value in their work experience. Most contractors are independent, pride themselves on providing great customer service, love the thrill of fresh challenges, value open communication, want to feel as if they are part of your team, and appreciate clear direction about what your project objectives are and how they can meet them. There are ways to ensure that you create a positive experience for contractors. Here are the top five:

    1. Onboard quickly and completely. Just because they may not be in the office every day, doesn’t mean they don’t need to know where the bathroom is! Provide a full orientation. Give them a building tour and introduce them to key people they will work with or need to know. Discuss hours, break times, access to the building, and parking. Make sure they have the right technology and equipment to do the job, know how to access systems, and how to communicate with your Helpdesk. If they are not working for an agency, be sure they understand how and when to submit their timesheets and who to contact if they have an issue. You want to make a good first impression. If you don’t, contractors will assume you do not fully value them or will end up feeling less than confident about how to fit in and meet your needs.
    2. Treat them like a team member. Too often, contractors are left out of the game. While they work for you, treat them like a true member of your team. Be inclusive. This is particularly important if your contractor works offsite. Invite them to company events, celebrations, happy hours. Keep them abreast of internal news and updates. Clue them in about company politics and any pertinent historical info that would be useful to know. You want to make them feel welcome and included. That said, be mindful that some contractors do not want to be down in the weeds more than they have to be. If a contractor doesn’t jump to attend happy hours, be respectful and don’t take it as a negative sign. Many contractors became contractors to avoid the hassle and extra-curricular activities that being an employee entails.
    3. Dedicate time for one-on-one meetings. Include your contractor in team meetings, but don’t overlook the value of having regular one-on-ones. Weekly check-ins or even just an informal coffee or lunch on a regular basis can help you keep tabs on how satisfied the contractor is with your company and if they are running into any hindrances that they don’t want to discuss in front of the entire team. Contractors want to be included as a team member; keep in mind that that they are not employees though. As an outsider, they can provide you invaluable insight into your culture, team dynamics, process workflows, and input on how you can improve your contractor/company work arrangements. Contractors bring third-party eyes to your internal processes. Don’t be afraid to tap into their perspective.
    4. Honestly discuss performance. Contractors want to make you happy. They want to leverage their expertise to ensure you get what you need. Unless you provide performance feedback, it’s hard for them to know if they’re hitting the mark. Rather than holding a typical boss-to-employee type performance review, open up a dialogue about performance in general.  The best contractors are service-minded and will ask you for feedback so that they can make things easier or more effective for you. Return the favor and ask them as well. Discuss how things are going, what feedback you’re hearing from stakeholders, and any adjustments that need to be made to stay on track.
    5. Pave the way for future success. It’s not your job to help a contractor line up more work, but if you are pleased with their performance, by all means refer them to other groups within the company. You can be sure they won’t forget your kindness. If for any reason a contract is expected to end before the agreed-upon time, give them a heads up. If there is potential for converting to a perm hire, discuss it with them and offer them the option. You want to keep a positive relationship going so that you have the opportunity to work with them again in the future and to garner referrals from them. One thing companies often overlook is the business development aspect contractors naturally bring. Contractors that have great experiences with client companies become evangelists and often refer other clients to each other. They want you to succeed and are more than happy to help bring you business.

    These tips will help you go a long way to creating a positive experience for contractors so you can keep them engaged, retained, and returning to work for you again. By taking a look at what contractors value, you can address their needs and ensure that the project is completed in a mutually satisfying manner.

    To learn more about how Jobspring Partners can help with your IT staffing needs, please feel free to contact an IT staffing consultant at any of our locations through out North America.

  • Interviewing IT Contractors? Four Topics That Employers Mess Up

    Article by: James Vallone - Director of Business Development

    Have you ever interviewed a contractor and realized that something you just said caused them to be noticeably less interested in the job? Interviewing IT contractors is very different than interviewing perm candidates. There are a lot more land mines to look out for. Contractors think and act differently during their job search. To successfully engage IT contractors, you must be fully aware of what’s on their mind at all times and tailor your conversation to their agenda.

    Begin by understanding that a tech contractor’s job security is based on weeks or months, not years. Typically, contractors are not as interested in long-term career development at your company (unless it’s a contract-to-hire position). They will want to focus more on the specific challenges and expectations of the project at hand. Contractors also greatly value their independence and will view the employer on a peer-to-peer basis (or service provider to client basis) rather than an employee/boss relationship. They are chameleons, fitting into different cultures and becoming members of teams for temporary periods. Many are contracting with more than one company at a time, so time is their chief currency.

    To keep contractors fully engaged during the interview process and interested in your opportunity, here are some important things to pay attention to during the interview:

    1. Don’t be vague about the contract length. Let’s say the contractor asks you how long the contract period will last. You waffle and admit that you are not exactly sure or give a wishy-washy response. What does the contractor hear? They hear that maybe you’ll consume far more time than the contractor wants to commit to this engagement or, conversely, that you may not provide a long enough engagement to make it worth it for them. 

    Advice: Always be specific about both the estimated minimum and potential timeframes so they can feel more secure about the engagement.

    2. Don’t disclose the specific contractor pay rates you are willing to pay. First off, if you’re working with a staffing firm, redirect any questions the contractor has about pay rates back to the agency. It’s the agency’s responsibility to address this. If no agency is involved, it is still not in your best interest to specify rates early on the process. Why? Because if you throw out the rate first, you may risk being too low and turn them off. He or she may decline your contract on the spot without taking the time to explore if there is room for negotiation. On the other hand, if your rate is higher than what the contractor expects, then they’ll hold you to this rate and you may end up paying more than you needed to. 

    Advice: Ask the contractor to provide their pay expectations first so you can establish more control during negotiations.

    3. Don’t discuss your overall budget in too much detail. Any talented IT contractor will want to work for a company that has a solid and reasonable budget in place for staffing. However, they do not need to know exactly what your entire budget is. Communicating that you have a significant budget in place will certainly prove to the contractor that IT is an important initiative for the company. But the contractor may leverage this information against you and inquire as to why you’re not paying them more. And, of course, disclosing a budget number that is very low will have the obvious impact of stirring up concern about the commitment to IT spend. 

    Advice: Use adjectives, not numbers, to discuss the financial context such as, “We have a solid or healthy or strong budget in place for this department.”

    4. Don’t make promises about contract-to-perm conversions. Some contractors may inquire about a potential conversion to permanent hire. They may ask because they are interested in converting to perm, or they are really looking for a permanent position, or because they are not interested in a permanent position altogether. It is really important to understand where this question is coming from before you provide an answer.

    Advice: Ask the contractor first about their interest in becoming a permanent employee. If you find they are ideally looking to be converted to perm, give them a realistic timeline of when the job could convert, but be honest and explain that any conversion would be based on the contractor’s performance during the contract period and that this is not guaranteed.

    Remember, it’s your job to sell the contractor on the great opportunity they have to work at your company. You will always be competing with other employers and must differentiate your opportunity. Avoid these common interviewing obstacles and keep the interview hyper-focused on the selling points to attract the best IT contractors.

  • Contract-to-Hire: Is it Right for You?

    Trends in the HR space are not like those in other industries. While there are always new trends that come into place, in some cases, tried-and-true methods are usually always applicable. However, every once in a while, a trend like contract-to-hire frequently fluctuates between hot and cold, and the past few years we have been going through a heat wave. Several companies are currently focusing on hiring contractors for their businesses and are seeing great rewards and benefits with the work they perform. Our Director of IT Contracting James Vallone discusses why contract-to-hire has been picking up steam with hiring managers all over the world, as featured in Website Magazine.
     
    Website Magazine: Companies and professionals have three routes available when hiring: contract, contract-to-hire and permanent. Contract is when an individual is engaged to work for an agreed amount of time with no intent for permanent employment. When the contract ends, the individual moves on to other jobs. Contract-to-hire is when a person begins work as a contractor with the intention that after a set amount of time, the role will become permanent. And lastly, permanent is when an employee is brought on immediately without any contract period.
     
    There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of work engagement; however, we’ve seen an increase in popularity for contract-to-hire positions. We thought we’d examine some of the reasons companies (and professionals) find this arrangement so attractive, including:
     

    • Fast hires
    • Ease of hiring
    • Cost efficient
    • Immediate impact
    • Flexibility
    • Broader talent pool

     
    You can read James Vallone’s full article here on Website Magazine: Contract-to-Hire: Is it Right for You?

  • 10 Tips: How to Select IT Staffing Firms

    Companies generally like to work with other companies that know their industry and have a strong background with desirable contacts within their field. The staffing industry is no different, which is why working with a specialized staffing firms can give you a significant edge over generalized staffing firms.

    When it comes to IT staffing firms, things can often get pretty technical, as you would imagine – but that doesn’t mean hiring an IT staffing firm should be difficult. Our very own Director of IT Contracting James Vallone and Executive Leadership of Contracts Ben Sanborn provide guidance and tips on how to select an IT staffing firm, as seen in InformationWeek.


    InformationWeek: One question we are often asked is, "What are the advantages and disadvantages of partnering with a specialized IT staffing firm versus a generalized staffing firm?"

    Understanding the pros and cons can help you find a firm that most closely meets your specific staffing needs. Generalized staffing firms are often large, national firms with recruiters that typically work remotely. They staff all types of roles and positions and do not focus on a specific discipline. They have broad talent sources called staffing generalists. They can be experts at staffing large volumes of roles and, for companies that focus on quantity vs. quality of hires, they make routine, high-volume staffing convenient. If we compare them to the healthcare world, they would be general practitioners.

    James and Ben have identified a few of the differentiators between generalists and specialists in IT staffing, that help businesses determine if a firm is right for you:

    1. Are they local?
    2. Do they have people that specialize in current technologies or are they IT generalists?
    3. How long have they existed?
    4. Are they active in the community, do they hold meet ups, do they participate?
    5. Do they speak your language and can they hold a conversation with you on the technology?
    6. Do they listen and understand your needs?
    7. What is their reputation in the industry?
    8. Do they have a sourcing strategy or are they just fishing from the same pond?
    9. Do they make it easy for you to staff?
    10. Are they a full service provider?

     
    You can read James Vallone and Benjamin Sanborn’s full article here on InformationWeek: 10 Tips: How To Select IT Staffing Firms

  • Contract-to-Hire: Is it right for you?

    Written by  James Vallone and Ben Sanborn

    Companies and professionals have three routes available when hiring: contract, contract-to-hire, and permanent. Contract is when an individual is engaged to work for an agreed amount of time with no intent for permanent employment. When the contract ends, the individual moves on to other jobs. Contract-to-hire is when a person begins work as a contractor with the intention that after a set amount of time, the role will become permanent. And lastly, permanent is when an employee is brought on immediately without any contract period.

    There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of work engagement; however, we’ve seen an increase in popularity for contract-to-hire positions. We thought we’d examine some of the reasons companies (and professionals) find this arrangement so attractive.

    • Fast hires: Many companies must fill vacancies so fast that they simply do not have time to wait for their ideal permanent hire candidate. In a contract-to-hire scenario, they request contractors who are already prescreened and qualified, conduct a phone interview, make a decision. The contractor can often start the next day. Given that a typical permanent hiring process takes two to four weeks, with an average of four to six weeks before the start date, contract to hire allows companies to hire with minimal interruption to productivity.
    • Ease of hiring: We have seen hiring managers run into situations where they don’t have a job officially approved, but they need the head count. It can be easier to get a contract-to-hire approach approved up front, fill the job, and have the contractor already working while you’re waiting for job approval. If it is approved, you transition the role to permanent. If it is not, the contract ends without hassle.
    • Cost efficient: Companies pay a staffing firm an agreed-upon rate for a contractor’s hours, this amount can be more cost efficient than immediately going with a permanent hire. (Particularly, in those rare instances when the hire does not work out.)
    • Immediate impact: Because contractors can typically start immediately, they get up to speed and productive much faster than the average permanent employee onboarding process.
    • Flexibility: Even with the most promising hires, companies and professionals both need time to figure out if an individual and the culture is right for them. While every job arrangement has a probation period during which a professional can be let go, contract-to-hire makes the whole situation far more comfortable for all involved. The contract period gives the company and the professional an opportunity to “see how it goes” and determine if it’s the right fit. While permanent employment is the goal, when the contract period is up, both the company and the professional have the opportunity to evaluate the situation and decide if permanent placement is indeed the best decision going forward.
    • Broader talent pool: Some companies express concern that if they go contract-to-hire they may miss out on the best permanent hires. What we typically point out is that some of the best professionals prefer contract-to-hire because of the ability to evaluate over a period of time if the company is a good fit. By going contract-to-hire, you open up your position to a much broader talent pool. Many professionals who typically only apply for permanent hires are willing to consider contract-to-hire. So, you do not lose anything by opening a role to this arrangement.

    Contract-to-hire isn’t for everyone. But companies who prefer to lower hiring risk, appreciate a “trial” period to ensure cultural fit, and want to expand the talent pool they draw from, often find that it can be a great way to find the right people for their roles.

  • The Most Used Language?

  • Jobspring Partners' Weekly Market Knowledge Report 3/26

    Every Monday in our Jobspring offices around the country, the recruiters participate in “Market Knowledge” – a chance to share articles to inform the office about what is going on in the tech markets in our cities. Since we find this knowledge share so useful, we thought that we could start sharing some of these articles with our blog readers!

    Here are the articles that our cities found the most useful and informative:

    Boston

    Windows Blue Update Leaks Online With Tile Changes (Mashable.com)

    The newest  version of Windows Blue, said to make it even easier for users to multi-task, was leaked online earlier today.

    Submitted by: Adam Salk

    Smartphone app will now connect consumers to athenahealth’s network of doctors (Boston.com)

    In conjunction with a Colorado company, AthenaHealth has developed a mobile app that allows consumers to contact their doctors directly to solve medical problems.

    Submitted by: Lindsay Houle

    Chicago

    Who is Chicago’s Hottest Showcasing Startup? [Poll]  (Tech Cocktail)

    Vote on Chicago’s top up and coming start-up!

    Submitted by:  Brad Marek

    Former NFLer’s Tech Startup Aims to Connect Pro Athletes With Gamers  (NBC Chicago)

    Ever wanted to play Words with Friends against a famous athlete? This could be your chance!

    Submitted by:  Kevin McNamara

    Los Angeles

    CSS3 Introduction  (CSS Matter)  

    This article shares the new features of CSS3, what it can do, and resources!

    Responsive Web Design With Physical Units  (Smashing Magazine)

    Discusses ways to design while knowing the physical characteristics of your device.  

    Both Submitted By: Paul Cutter

    New York

    NYC Subways to Get More Touchscreen Travel Kiosks (ABCnews.Com)

    Technology continues to merge itself with New York City, now expanding into more public transportation than ever.

    Submitted by: Neal Singh

     

    Luring Young Web Warriors Is a Priority. It’s Also a Game.  (NY Times)

    Department of Homeland Security is now starting to look for children who know how to hack.

    Submitted by: Ryan Kincaid

    Silicon Valley

    Three soaring Silicon Valley IPOs in nine days, so what's next? (SiliconValley.com)

    With the recent IPO successes from 3 companies in Silicon Valley, several companies are planning to go public since the “IPO window is still open.”

    Submitted by: Danny Cavero

    Yahoo Buys Summly, 17-Year-Old Nick D'Aloisio's News Summarization App  (Huffington Post)

    Yahoo acquired a London based start-up, Summly, for just under 30 million making Nick D’Aloisio, the 17 year old founder, Yahoo’s youngest employee in history.

    Submitted by: Ouliana Trofimenko

     

    Don't see something on this list that you read about recently?  Comment below and share market information that's a must know!

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