Career advice: When you have a history with the interviewing company

This month's Premier 100 IT Leader also answers questions on coping with politics and jump-starting a fledgling career

Brent Stahlheber
Brent Stahlheber of Auto Club Group - AAA

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader:

Brent R. Stahlheber

Title: Senior vice president and CIO

Organization: Auto Club Group - AAA

Stahlheber is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about having a history with an interviewing company, jump-starting a young career and coping with office politics. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of our Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

Back in 2007, I interviewed with a company in my hometown. I had a tuition reimbursement obligation of $10,000 with my employer, which I would have had to pay back if I left. The interviewing company agreed to give me a $7,000 bonus to help cover that expense. But that felt like a sour start to a relationship, and I did feel an obligation to stay the year with my company and wipe the tuition balance clean. In the end, I sent an email declining the offer.

Now that same company has a senior-level position that I would love to apply for. Should I write to the hiring manager that I interviewed with in 2007, reiterating the circumstances in 2007 and explaining that this time things are completely different? I'm sure he will have some involvement in deciding who gets hired. I would consider dredging up the past after five years only if the company is very small (less than 50 employees) or the town is small enough that you personally know the hiring manager. Though this seems like an awkward situation to you, it is unlikely to be on any hiring manager's radar. If you declined the offer professionally, it shouldn't weigh on their decision as they seek to bring in the right talent for the job. Companies expect a certain number of candidates to decline offers, and negotiation is a natural part of the process.

Hold your head high, demonstrate confidence in the level of the skills you bring to the table, and make sure you ask strong questions that highlight your strengths and background.

I graduated last spring with a computer science degree and some decent coding chops, but I'm still unemployed. How can I jump-start my career? Preparation is key to a successful career opportunity. Have you studied the companies you are interested in working for? You should try to understand their business and get a feel for the culture by the way they interact with their customers through public forums. Model your résumé to show how your skills fit the company's needs -- while keeping clearly within the straight line of integrity. You might also consider asking others to help you get a foot in the door -- your network is more important than ever at this stage following college.

If you've prepared adequately but still aren't getting any at-bats, it's time to show your entrepreneurial spirit. I'm not sure where your core CS degree lies, but if you have strong Web skills or mobile skills, you could research a company's website or mobile technology (including the lack thereof) and design and model suggestions for improvement. Show them how a Gen Y skill can help their company. If you can't get in the door, ask for the name of the chief marketing officer and send him or her your suggestions with a nice cover letter.

The other option is to get out in the community -- walk in the doors of some smaller businesses and tell them about your background. Offer a 90-day contract-to-hire opportunity, where they can simply choose not to hire you if they feel it didn't work out.

Good luck!

I took a job at a smaller company last year. One thing I was looking for was less office politics, but there is actually more of it here. What's the best way to stay out of that nonsense? Office politics is a part of any job -- small company or large. Politics in an office is not necessarily bad, and I can guarantee you that there's no real way to avoid it. So the question must be how to effectively cope with it.

In order to be successful, you must learn the rules. Politics is the most competitive game you will ever learn, and playing poorly can cost you recognition, opportunity, promotion and even your job. First, remember that office politics greatly differs from office gossip -- stay out of the latter. Office politics centers on someone trying to gain advantage. It is the way workers engage together. This can be positive, when leveraged for cooperation, or negative, when used to compete. Learn the dynamics of the organization. For example, how is collaboration rewarded?

If you help others be stronger without shining the light on yourself, you will gain powerful allies. Share information from the outside through independent research that you completed that helps your colleagues or manager see opportunities.

Presenting yourself as nonthreatening and collegial will go a long way toward winning this powerful game.

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