Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Advice aimed directly at my brother.

Don't schedule an interview on a Friday or over a holiday. Getting between an interviewer and his weekend is slightly less stupid than getting between a mother bear and her cub.

Lies my Recruiter told me: stay plannless.

This one was actually really useful, assuming the recruiters that told it to me were correct (100% of recruiters who gave me advice agreed on this, but it's a small n). I never knew how to answer the question "where do you want to be in five years." If I had a plan, it was "enjoy the fact that people like you are willing to pay me ridiculous amounts of money for something I find easy. Keep doing what you tell me until the level gets less ludicrous, at which point I'll find someone less well balanced with more money , and do what they tell me to." This seemed like a bad thing to say out loud. I assumed that this question was an oblique test of my ambition and assessment of my own capabilities.

Turns out, nope. They're asking about your plan to find out if "do good work for company X" is in it. I think the original advice I got took this too far: any manager who thinks "My only ambition is to do really well at this job you haven't even offered me." is a good answer is probably not going to support any goals you have or develop. But don't make the job on the table sound like a stepping stone. What worked really well for me was to say "I'm still gathering information on this. I know that what I want right now is to do a job remarkably like the one you're offering me, learn from it, and use that information to evaluate my next step. Possibilities include X and Y, but I want to stay flexible." Thus far I've avoided having X=starting my own company, because if I don't believe myself when I say it, they won't.

Advantages of this approach include: you're showing you really want this particular job, you're not going to run off three months from now, you're not wandering aimlessly hoping someone hires you, and you're adabtable.

The right answer probably varies on the type of position you're looking at. No small software company expects lifetime loyalty. If they limited themselves to people willing to work on one project (or related set of projects) for 20 years their pool would shrink to chlorine and dead mosquitoes. You can emphasize your desire to work with whatever their special technology is. Large companies (Microsoft, IBM, Google) have enough different kinds of work to fulfill some people's need for novelty, so play down any job hopping ambitions you might have (especially since one of those is tired of people using it as a resume booster to get a job at another). I wouldn't get overly specific what type of thing you want to work on, since you'll be expected to change every couple of years (graphics is probably broad enough that you can sell yourself as a guru. Security and perf are fine. Halo 4 Grenade Launcher renderer is not.). Emphasize growth within the organization.

For temp positions, it seems acceptable to me to admit using it as a stepping stone. How much loyalty do they want when their internal rules probably bar them from hiring you for over six months? Just make it clear that you won't leave before the six months if up. If you have a plausible reason why you prefer contracting to perm, you can slip it in here. "Full time position" is a bad answer unless it's temp-to-perm, because they'll wonder what's wrong with you that you can't find one.

I'm still at the stage where growth is the only acceptable plan: at the very least I can dream of being an SDET II. Eventually you hit a point where coasting is acceptable (not everyone gets to be an architect), but I'd be wary of admitting that. My best guess is to act excited about the inevitable treading you'll have to do as new technology arises ("I can't wait to work on the floobertygibbit"). If you're a crusty UNIX guru who hasn't done anything new in 10 years...I dunno, save money while that's still a viable option?

Anyone with better advice, feel free to chip in.

ETA: This advice is wrong. See here for an update.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Kid Made the Blogosphere

Yeah, yeah, there's nothing more boring than watching bloggers navel gaze about where their hits are coming from. Seriously, everyone else, stop that, no one cares. But this is totally different, and besides those rules don't apply to me.

First, visit tracking is really cool. My post about Megan McArdle happened to come shortly after she posted a scathing review of a particular Comfort Inn. The airline that stranded her, thus causing the unpleasant interaction, found me by googling her name. They stayed exactly 0 seconds. I didn't actually investigate, but I can't imagine I'm in the top 1000 results in a google search for her name, so I have to applaud their dedication.

Second, I made Confessions of a Community College Dean. This is about as a big a deal to me as some of the book signings I've been to, except that I can brag about meeting Lewis Black in a way I really can't with Dean Dad, because my friends find him substantially less impressive. The fact that my letter was printed a day after I sent it makes it seem like a less impressive achievment. I assumed he had a huge backlog of letters that he picked and chose from, but no, apparently two sentences from me gets an entire post.

Third, 75% of my non-me, non-friend traffic comes from recruiting agencies, and that's just what I can confirm from their IP address. Often they go to a specific post, and it's type-in, not link-following (at least, sitemeter can't tell what referred them), from which I can only conclude a link is being passed around. I would offer to sell ad space to job-seekers, but honestly, they don't stay for that long, and it's not that hard to get a recruiter to look at your resume.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Should have followed that train of throught to the next station.

I always wondered why I should bother with a cover letter, since I just highlighted relevant bits of information from my resume. I chalked it up to "showing I care", which is a bit stupid, since often I didn't. Now I find out the problem is that I'm an idiot: a letter much like mine is Ask a Managers "what not to do" in this post on how to write a cover letter. If I can't conduct my next job hunt entirely through poorly trained recruiters, I'll definitely refer to this.

Not the Worst Problem to Have

Eventually I'll stop stealing topics from Ask The Headhunter, but until then... what do you do when you have an offer at one company, but are midway through the application process at others?

You can avoid this problem entirely by scheduling your interviews in order of preference, but that's not always possible, especially if you're unemployed or your current job situation is untenable.

Headhunter thinks that it's perfectly ethical to accept the offer, but continue interviewing, and either rescind your acceptance or quit early in the job, and that this is fact the best option. I categorically disagree. First, it is unethical. If you give your word, you should follow through. Period. Second, it will eventually bite you in the ass. Even if you didn't want that particular right now, you may wish to work for that company, or that person, or that person's friend, somewhere down the line, and you don't want to burn that bridge. Most companies won't take offense if you turn them down for a better offer, especially if you phrase it correctly, but they're not going to take you back after you've cheated them.

Then there are the consequences to other people. Once you accept the job, the company will tell their other applicants the bad news. Best case scenario their second choice is still available, but you've cost them several weeks. Or the person has accepted another job. Either they follow your lead and the chain continues, or they do the ethical thing and stick with their second choice job, in which case you have demonstrably worsened their life.

Headhunter says "In reality, there's little difference between quitting on day one or after several years" but that just isn't true. Turnover is inevitable and accepted. Jerking them around is not, for the reasons I've listed above.

So what should you do? First, evaluate the offer on its own merits. Is it acceptable? Is it worth negotiating? If you'd rather stay unemployed (a decision that rests in part on your estimation of your future prospects), turn them down outright. If they're good but not great, talk to your other potential employers and let them know what's going on. In the software industry, most companies can move very fast in situations like these. In fact, most of them ask if you're currently weighing other offers, and have a system set up to fast track you if you are.

Full disclosure: I've only faced this problem once, and most of the offers were from different units within the same company

Saturday, October 27, 2007

But who will bell the cat?

Ask The Headhunter's has a series on his $30,000 strategy. If I may summarize: quality, not quantity. Don't send your resume out to 400 companies and hope you get a hit. Instead, spend that time finding the one job you are perfect for, make yourself more perfect, and spend the interview demonstrating your perfection. It sounds like a great strategy, if you happen to have enough information to know exactly what they want, the skills that match up to that want, a lack of competition in that area, and the power to make them interview you the way you want. If you lack any of those...good luck.

So 99% of the population, even in high demand fields, will have to aim a bit lower. I'd love to skip the stage where HR asks me whether I'm good with people, but I'm not the one with the power in this situation. And not everyone has the contacts to get good intelligence on several companies, or even one company. I didn't have two personal-contact-based job to rub together, and he wants me to find their five year business plan and how I can shorten it to four years?

I think do think that the mindset he recommends is a good one: you are not trying to get them to give you a job, you are demonstrating your ability to the job. This starts with the resume and cover letter: personalize (corporatize?) them for the job you're applying to. Brush up on the relevant skills if possible. Go in ready to demonstrate your ability to do it. But have an answer prepared when they ask you what your biggest weakness is too.

Comfort yourself with thoughts of how much worse it could be

Via an unprofiled blogger at Dean Dead, I bring you: Applying to Grad, a livejournal community about getting into grad school. Applying to grad school is like applying to a job, only a lot more work, and frequently the best case scenario is you owe thousands of dollars.

Job Boards are Not Your Friends

I've talked about my experience with the big job boards. Ask the Headhunter has some choice words for them, career builder in particular

The company's mission is to sell advertising and take care of its shareholders. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you're a job hunter or employer who needs to land a job or fill one, consider this mission statement a disclaimer. CareerBuilder is not in the business of matching people with jobs. It is a marketing and advertising company that uses trivial data base methods to make money from naive job hunters and employers.

Obviously I don't have any insider information on this, but it has a lot of face validity. The corporations are the ones that pay them, they're on the corporations' side. Although apparently they will take my money and bump my "relevancy score". That, to me, is an even bigger red flag: it is impossible to ethically represent two parties with divergent interest: you have to choose one. Taking money from both is an ethical violation, which is illegal in many states (for certain transactions- I'm sure career builders lawyers have look at this).

I don't know if this applies to specialized boards, like dice or Independent School Placement, and I'm sure it doesn't apply to craigslist, which is either free or charges a low flat fee to the employer and doesn't make any claims about helping you. This is also worth keeping in mind when you talk to recruiters- they're nice, but they're paid by the company, not you.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Delusions are like Hope, but more specific

My recent job loss wasn't the only time my life had failed to proceed according to plan. There was one other. Other than that, I have to say it's been pretty orderly, unless you count "I got what I wanted and it turns out it sucks", in which case very little has followed the plan. But let's be generous and focus on the two times when the universe just flat out told me no. These were both very big disappointments. I had a whole life built up in my head, and it was destroyed.

Something that comforted me both times was reading Megan McArdle (currently at The Atlantic, previously She experienced something similar when 9/11 cost her her upcoming job of awesomeness +1 at a management consultant firm, which torpedoed her only point of entry into the $100k+ great hours live anywhere consulting field. It hurt. A lot. Despite her MBA the best job she could get was as a glorified secretary.

Several years later, she found a job as an economics journalist, which she absolutely loves. And here's the important bit: she never would have found it had she not been laid off and gone through two years of hell. If I hadn't lost my first opportunity, I never would have moved to my current line of work, a move that has without a doubt improved my life. I believed that even in the midst of the unemployment. Setbacks are temporary. Without them, you might never take the risks that allow you to do truly awesome things.

Of course, I'm saying this from a point of privilege. I have a good degree and an excellent resume in a high-paying large-opportunity field

Alas, I can't find the post where she spells out exactly how awesome losing her job led to the real job of awesomeness. But you can see for yourself that she's now a widely journalist with so much clout that she's got her own personal hate blog and a dismissive nickname used by even reputable bloggers on the opposing side. And isn't that what we all aspire to?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rare moments of competance

I get such a noisy signal as to whether a given technique or answer went over well (Okay, I didn't get that job. Which of the 400 answers I gave was wrong?) that I'm hesitant to give broad spectrum advice. You can get a lot better answers elsewhere (see sidebar for examples). But all the good, tested advice comes from HR people, and there are some things they just don't get. So here are answers to questions from technical interviewers

The Question: I bought a car from some guy. He's given me two days to return it. I give it to you to test. What do you do to make sure I don't get ripped off?

The Answer: This obviously a multi part answer. But the bit that set me apart (and I know this because he specifically told me) was that one of the steps I listed was to look for documentation on-line. Previously I'd worried that saying that made me look lazy, but apparently it looks efficient, which is just like lazy except employers like it a lot more.

The Question: can you develop GUIs?

The Answer: Yes, but they will be ugly.

Obviously, that doesn't apply if you're being hired as a graphic designer. But if you're a tester or dev, and you know they're specifically asking whether you can design interfaces for in-house tools, this is the only answer that will get you respect.

And now, a technique that I've gotten less feedback on but really seems like it ought to work:

When you're listing test cases, list the circumstances under which they would and would not be valuable. For example, in the car case above, I mentioned that because I was testing a single car for personal use, I would not test to destruction, but if I was the QA Engineer at Ford, I would select some number of cars to push to the absolute limit. This helps you two ways. One, it shows you think about the problem and the best way to approach it, and don't use a one size fits all attack. Two, it fills up time while you think of more appropriate test cases. If the choice is between dead silence while you think (and if you're like me, the harder you think the more bored you look) and an inappropriate test case, labeled as such, go with inappropriate.*

*Note to the socially challenged: this does not generalize. Silence is almost always better than inappropriateness.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The bit about proofreading? Universally Applicable

Dean Dad is a wonderful source of information for anyone looking for an academic job, both for how to get it and why you might not want to. Today he covers the application process for academic admin jobs, and inadvertently reveals that those search committees have a lot more time on their hands than the business world equivalent. There's only a 50/50 shot a given business will read your cover letter in the tech industry, but college administrators apparently have to write a minimum of four pages, single spaced, to be taken seriously.

Seriously though, do proofread your cover letters.

Freelancing for the socially maladept

One of my plans when my job hunt hit a brick wall was to freelance. I could pull flash gigs off of craigslist and the mini-job websites at first, eventually developing a multibillion dollar enterprise with my own business card. With metallic print. The fact that my name is the kind of name that was born to precede the words "consulting firm" just proved what a brilliant idea it was. The sites that were going to help me launch Prestigious Name Consulting were:

  1. Scriptlance - the only page I actually signed up for. The Data Entry gigs didn't pay well enough to bother with, given what it would do to my unemployment benefits, and I didn't know enough Flash to compete effectively. I bid on a few real programming projects, but since I was trying to stay flexible (I'll get an awesome job soon, I can feel it) I could only consider small projects. It turns out it's a good thing I didn't spend too much time here, because it suffers from a major flaw/feature: since the point is small, modular jobs that can be done anywhere, you're competing with programmers all over the world, many of whom have much lower costs of living. You'd think speaking English would give you an advantage, but based on the grammar/spelling of the job If you do find a good project, using a site like scriptlance has the advantage is that payment is completely secure and anonymous. Scriptlance also has a board for full time job postings, which I can only assume was created to leverage some synergy they think they have.
  2. Rent a coder -and Get A Freelancer - Same basic idea as scriptlance, only I haven't used them.
  3. Craigslist - I perused this fairly heavily, and there are a few gems, mixed in with the "i hav a awesm idea for a game, looking for a programmer to do all the work and share the profits 90/10." Craigslist posters frequently want local programmers, so it doesn't suffer from the same problems as the others. On the other hand, their requirements are a bit stricter: they often want references and demos of past work. And pants are rarely if ever optional.
Secrets of the Job Hunt has a list of more here, but no additional information on how they compare.

[Full Disclosure: The links to the non-craigslist sites are affiliate referral links, and if you sign up and take or give work through them I make money (it doesn't cost you a thing). So if you really hate me, don't use those links. But wouldn't an even better revenge be joining and doing million dollars of work, allowing me to retire in the manner to which I wish to become accustomed. Because then every time I wake up at 4 to a hard day of playing video games, I'll know it's due to you, and it will kill my soul a little bit. Wouldn't that be the perfect revenge?]

So a combination of valuing my time highly, lack of the right skills, hope for a full time job and, in the case of craigslist, fear that I would accidentally respond to a vague yet excruciatingly specific ad in the adult suggestion kept me from taking this too far. The one freelancing gig I did get I got through a combination of a rare skill (one that is otherwise pretty hard to leverage, because there's little demand) and knowing the right person. That gig taught me a valuable lesson about time estimation and how even very simple things can take a very long time, and possibly contributed to my reluctance to try again.

If anyone knows of any other sites, or has feedback on these, let me know

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lies my recruiter Told Me Part 1, True Lies

Part 1 in the ongoing series "Lies my recruiter told me"

"This will be a fairly techy interview, so brush up on your technical skills"

I knew that I interviewed better in college than I did two years ago, and I knew that at least part of it was because I had lost a lot of the academic knowledge. I even did toy programming projects to keep my skills up. But actually studying programming concepts specifically for an interview would have been cheating. It wasn't until it was specifically pointed out that this was a good idea that I realized that maybe interviewers would prefer me to look up polymorphism rather than guess during the interview (I got it on the second try). In general, I won't look up stuff for first-line phone interviews or snort HR screenings, but it's worthwhile if you know specific things will come up in an in-person.

"At the start of the interview, ask what they want, and tailor your answers to that." You can see why I thought this one was cheating, but it makes sense. As a bonus, it shows that you're really interested in the position. And if you do in the first stage of a circuit, you can look up stuff for the second stage.

I think that about sums it up for good advice. Even then, it was only useful because I was an idiot. We'll get to the funny stuff tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Job interview questions

That is, what should you ask them. Secrets of the Job Hunt list some really good ones here.

1) Why is this position available right now?

6) How much freedom do I have in the decision making process?

My personal favorites are: "what surprised you most about working here?" or "what do you wish you'd known when you were in my position?"

A quick run down of job hunting websites

  1. Career Builder- I found this one when craigslist compared itself to it. I don't think I found a single job off of this site, but I did get a cool daily e-mail suggesting dozens of inappropriate jobs.
  2. Craigslist- This was the only job posting site I found to be worth checking daily. They're cheap or free, so they get a lot of small start-ups posting. Depending on your outlook, this may or may not be a good thing. I never had a problem with a scam or otherwise bad link in the tech section, but ymmv. The search is keyword only, but I found it worth my while to browse and read appropriate ads. I got almost all of my interviews off of craigslist. It's also worth checking out the computer gigs section if you have sills that are in demand for small projects, like flash or PHP. They have a resume posting board, but there is no way in hell I was posting identifying information to an open board on craigslist.
  3. Dice- Their job postings in my area were okay but not great. As I've hammered into the ground, the real value comes from posting your resume so others can see it, and I have no idea whether dice is better or worse than its competitors in this area. I suspect it's not a huge difference, because recruiters often refer to seeing my resume on some job posting site, not dice specifically, which makes me think they troll them all. The same company owns (for those with a security clearance), (finance jobs), and a few others. I think the specificity is helpful, but not enough to completely replace other sites.
  4. Hotjobs - I think I found a few jobs to apply to, but the rate of new jobs was such that it was only worth checking every weeks. They have a resume posting board that I've never used, so it could either be a panacea of 1998-style tech start up jobs or a cesspool that McDonalds uses when all the pimply teenagers quit over working conditions.
  5. Indeed- This is a specialized search engine that crawls other job postings sites for positions that fit your criteria. You can't tailor search results the way you can when using a specific site, so you have to wade through a lot of crap, and I have no confidence that it catches every applicable position. In general, I found it useful only for finding job search sites to peruse on my own.
  6. Monster- Like hotjobs, monster was filler when craigslist wasn't giving me enough positions to fulfill my obligations to the unemployment office. Unlike hotjobs, I know of a confirmed case of someone posting his resume to monster and getting a callback, leading to a job at a company known for their agonizing death marches. This same company found my resume on dice. So really, I don't have much useful information about monster either.
  7. College Grad- entry levels jobs. I didn't here about this till recently, so I have no idea how good it is.
  8. Your friendly local unemployment office- my state has a computerized job posting board. The quality isn't bad, but the rate of new interesting postings makes monster look like craigslist. It was worth looking through once, and would probably have been worth looking through again a month or two after that, but nothing you could count on.

If anyone else has other sites to suggest, or information about any of these sites, do let me know.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jobs? We don't need no stinking jobs

I wanted to start a series of posts on ways to make money other than jobs, but this blog is doing a far more thorough job than I ever will. It contains hundreds if not thousands of web based money making opportunities like paid surveys, selling photos, doing product reviews and such. It's a tad more commercial than I would like, but it looks legit and contains lots of useful links. I'm really regretting finding this after I got employed- it looks like she's making a career of off internet-based opportunities for a lot less stress than I'll face, and she's doing it off of the actual surveys and whatnot, not her referrals and blog ads, which is uncomfortably meta for me. Those "watch me make n thousand dollars a year running this blog about making n thousand dollars a year running a blog" type things make me go nilhistic.

Lies my recruiter told me, prelude

Initially I was very resistant to working through recruiters, for reasons I don't quite understand now. My best guess is it was a combination of pride ( I was so awesome I should be able to find a job on my own) , avoidance of contract work (the temps I saw were all click monkeys who didn't know what a race condition was*) which I thought was synonymous with recruiters, and a feeling like this was cheating (unexamined feelings of cheating will be a recurring theme here).

Two things precipitated the change. The first was that I accidentally got on a recruiters list when I applied to a specific job posting on craigslist. They asked to submit my resume to another one of their clients. I wasn't qualified for the posting, but in keeping with my general principle of "don't turn down a chance to practice interviewing", I said yes. They turned me down too (I'm assuming they noticed I was not qualified), but they shared an HR agent with another company, who had a job that was an excellent fit for me. This, combined with the cumulative pressure of weeks of failed job hunting, including a grab for the brass ring (that would be precipitator number two), made me think that maybe recruiters weren't so bad.

I tried to apply directly to recruiting agencies, but that was a non-starter. I only knew a few names. Most didn't take direct applications, the closest I got was essentially a job posting board.

I had heard about dice the month before at an otherwise useless mandatory unemployment resources meeting. Don't let the preceding sentence fool you: the woman leading the meeting was absolutely useless, and took a long time demonstrating this. A fellow job seeker mentioned dice as one of the things they tried. I added it to my list of sites to check regularly (craigslist, hot jobs, career builder and monster being the others). I chose to post to dice only because the monster hack was in the news and dice seemed more focused. Honestly, I'm not sure it matters. A friend of a friend did well with monster, another occasionally gets recruiters calling after seeing her personal web page. Dice worked for me.

E-mails and calls flooded in. Two/day, minimum. I will be working two weeks after posting my resume. I don't think the interviews reached one/day, but they would have soon. I suspect I would have done even better had I not had the previously mentioned low-experience problem. And now, I'll be able to solve that.

That said, they're not miracle workers. They're more like walking contact books. Sometimes they overreach their area of expertise. This is the start of a series in which I share advice I was given and make fun of it explain its good and bad features. And there's at least one piece of advice that was really useful. It was insultingly obvious, but I'm an idiot (I told you feelings of cheating would reoccur), so I'm glad they sent it. Copying and pasting a recruiter's e-mail would be plagiarism, but I figure I'm safe if I paraphrase and combine several letters.

*Note to non-technicals: this is a bad

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Or maybe I killed all my competition hunting rodents

When I started this blog oh so long ago, I did a brief search to see who else was covering the same area, in the hopes that I could steal learn from them. The only blogs I found were corporate, by either job search websites or recruiters. I think there's two contributing factors here.

Reason number one bitchslapped Mandatory Vacation four days in: any person you'd want to take advice from will rapidly render their blog obsolete. People in the business of job hunting are the only ones that can keep it up for the time it takes to build a decent site. Even a perpetual contractor will job search at most two or three times a year, and the better he is at job hunting the less time he'll have to describe it. And even if you're in an industry with longer search times, no one knows how long their job search will take. I considered starting this blog many times before, but I was always on the verge of another job, and waited to see if the latest great new thing would work out. (It's not a coincidence I started this blog shortly before being hired. I'd hit bottom job-search wise, leading me to decide that founding this blog wasn't a waste of time, and to investigate avenues I hadn't considered before. As it turned out, those were the right avenues to investigate, and I could have saved myself months if I'd used them first. The lesson? Thou Art Not Too Good For Recruiters)

Reason number two is shame. Trying and failing to find a job hurts. Telling other people about it is opening yourself up to criticism. I probalby wouldn't have been able to do this if I didn't have a rock solid reason that didn't reflect on me as a person to explain the difficulty I was having. Thus, focused, useful, long running job hunting blogs from the perspective of the hunter are going to be thin on the ground. (Please don't let yourself get distracted by the image a man with a spear running through the Serengeti, stabbing the grass in an attempt to hit a small rodent, which easily dodges the spear and says "we were hoping for someone with C# experience." It's just not productive).

But sometimes you get lucky, and an existing blog transitions into a job hunt blog (obviously this is a happier event for job blog readers than the newly christened job blog writer). I haven't found one of those either. But there is Lazy Man, who fulfills half the bill. Like me, Lazy Man just got laid off from his programming position in a tech heavy area. Unlike me he has a large amount of accumulated wealth, several streams of alternative income, and a wife who earns six figures, rendering a new job optional, at least for the short term. Nevertheless, I suspect he'll still have some insights into the process, or at least some process. Advice on founding your own business might be even better than advice on finding a way to work for someone else.

Nice problems to have

Since I knew I was taking this position, I've received three more calls from different recruiting agencies. I've lost count of how many agencies already had permission to refer me for interviews (it's less than 10. I think.). Now that I'm employed, I won't be needing their services. Immediately. But even if this wasn't a term-limited position, all good things must end, and it would be stupid to throw all those contacts and associated goodwill away. So I'm going through my e-mail, letting each one know that I'm currently unavailable but appreciate their interest and asking to reconnect when my current position expires. The response has been entirely positive. One recruiter even asked if my new company had new openings they might hire her to fill. I can't say this fills me with confidence, but the recruiter who got me my current job didn't realize that there's a difference between compiled languages and scripts*, so I'm not sure it matters.

I should note that I didn't come up with this idea myself. I simply explained the situation honestly to the first recruiter that called after I had the job, and he asked if I'd mind if he kept me on file. I'm not sure it would have occurred to me otherwise, but it should have.

*Note to anyone who's here for the teaching-job blogging: if you were a programmer, and I'd delivered that joke better, you'd be shooting soda out of your nose with laughter. And the soda would be free. But you wouldn't get summers off.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Well that was fast

I had been job hunting for over two months when I started this blog. The next day, I had a phone interview. The day after that, an in-person. And the day after that, a satisfactory job offer.

I said satisfactory, not great. It's a long commute, and you heard my impression of the people. But I got my goal salary, the benefits (which come from the recruiting agency, not the company itself) are reasonable if not stellar, and when the contract is over I'll be able to round up to two years of experience, making me eligible for many more jobs. Plus there's the, whachallit, actual experience I'll have, which might prove useful in the future. For while the company is boring, the job will actually give me a fair amount of autonomy and responsibility.

So what now? As defined, this blog has the virgin slut problem, where it's about the search for its own end. But fear not, three people who have visited and are not my friends, I have a plan. First, I have a backlog of advice just waiting to replicate itself onto the internet, which should take up some time. Second, this is a temporary position, so six months from now we get to do the whole thing over again (hopefully faster. If it takes this long next time, you might want to take my advice with a grain of salt). I plan on filling the in-between time with posts from my as yet unpseudonymed friend, who is a college senior looking for teaching jobs, and perhaps my brother, who is a college senior looking for programming jobs. And if anyone else out there is job hunting, you can see that this is blog is clearly a good luck charm.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More Praise for Dice

I previously praised dice as a great way to get interviews. It's better than I knew.

In the first few weeks of job hunting, I submitted my resume to one of the SuperMegaIncorporated companies you find around here. I honestly don't remember if I submitted my resume at large, or to a specific position (they have hundreds if not thousands), but either way I never heard back. And as far as I know, my resume is still lying in a virtual drawer, being eaten by virtual beetle larvae, or goats. But the goats can have my resume, because a recruiter at SuperMegaIncorporated found my resume on dice and would like to talk to me about a position. Not a position I'm qualified for, mind you, but if I limited myself to jobs I qualified for on paper I'd be ruining my wrists testing video games for $9/hour + pizza.

(Note to recruiters: here I am using humor to lighten the stress caused by having exactly the wrong amount of previous work experience, and the subsequent difficulty. I am, in fact, an excellent worker and you should hire me right away)

This brings me to another advantage of recruiters and job posting boards: they know what they want more than you know what they want. Until you're at the write-your-own-ticket stage, you're never going to find a job posting that you fulfill every stated requirement. Corporations know this, and there's usually some give in the system, especially if the position goes unfilled for a long time. But you, the lowly job seeker, has no way of knowing which requirements are optional and which are actually required. Letting them do the sorting can save you a lot of time. Of course, it costs the company a lot of time, but that's their own fault for writing ambiguous requirements.

One last note: a lot of places say they require "A BS in Computer Science." This is bullshit. My BA has raised eyebrows exactly twice, and both people accepted it when I explained that I'd fulfilled exactly the same requirements as a BS. And according to a flyer put out by the advising department at my school, you don't even have to major in CS, just take some classes in it. This is the same department that allows people to major in Medieval Literature, so take it with a grain of salt, but there it is.

Second Verse, Same as the First

I had the in-person to follow up to yesterday's phone interview, and I can see why that guy was chosen to handle first contact. My interviews were divided evenly between people who didn't know what questions to ask (and said so, repeatedly) and people who didn't speak English.

Now, the non-funny details:

My first interviewer was had clearly never read my resume before, and quite possibly had never read any resume before. He didn't have a lot of questions, and what he did have I answered quickly. There were a lot of silences. He did not ask me to code anything.

The next interviewer spoke English even worse than the previous one. I didn't know you could pronounce "manager" to sound exactly like "major", but she did. I figure she asked the most informative questions of the lot of them (from the companies standpoint), but if "define the difference between black box and white box testing" is in the upper half of questions, I have to assume the screening process just isn't that rigorous. She did not ask me to code anything.

The next interviewers was a tester/test planner, but not an engineer, and may have had an inferiority complex about it. He repeatedly said "I can't ask you any engineering questions." When I answered his questions, I emphasized the planning and resource allocation portions of the answer, and avoided rattling off lines of code, robot-like, to impress him with my l33t neural-coding skills. Although if I could actually hack people with my voice, that would be pretty awesome, and I think I'd deserve the job. But I'd aim for a better one. Perhaps one that had employees under 30. Anyways, I think this guy asked pretty good questions, but only covered very select areas, so were I HR, and I wouldn't let him have the final vote. He, of course, did not ask me to code anything.

My last interviewer was a dev, who assured me he had no experience with testing. Finally, some coding questions, one might think quietly to oneself, and then later say outloud when asked if one had any questions. But one would be wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Many of the questions he did ask were test planning related ("most of what you do is corner cases, right?"), which frustrates me because he admitted he didn't know a good answer from a bad one. The only thing he could evaluate me on was the face validity of the answer and on my confidence and body language. Which, it turns out, you can fake.

So the interview was totally softball, which means I either hit it out of the park or failed before I even got to stage 2, and they were stringing me along for most of it. I'm going to be miffed if I don't get an offer, because I don't feel I was pushed hard enough. Has anyone found ways to turn easy interviews to your advantage? When it's clear they're not asking a lot of questions I try to expand my answers, but that only goes so far.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Always hire a professional

I just got off the phone from another interview, which was exciting because he clearly had less experience interviewing than I did. Maybe I could use this to my advantage if I was savvier, but for me it's like being held up by a 14 year old who stole his father's gun: he has something to prove, and while he doesn't quite know what it is, he will cut you down if you impugn his ability to do so. You want a nice, professional mugger in these kinds of situations, one who gives clear instructions, takes as much money as he can get in the 60 seconds he given, and is long gone by the time the cops arrive. This interview was the equivalent of being asked "so, how much money do you think I should steal?"

That said, I'm being brought in for an in person interview, so maybe he's adjusted for his inability to ask useful questions
Friday, I had an interview at a rather awesome company. Today, I got a call back from the (third party) recruiter, letting me know that they were interested but needed to finish interviewing candidates, which is probably the best outcome I could have hoped for. My recruiter also insisted I let her know if I had any other interviews or offers (they're not the only company I'm working with), so she could let awesome company know.

Hurray for upswings

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Number one tech job hunting hint

1. post your resume on
2. ...
3. profit

As with any advice given before I actually get a job, there's a limit to how much I can guarantee the results. But it seems promising thus far. I posted my resume after 5 on a Tuesday. By the next day, I'd had nine resume views and four contacts. By the end of the week I'd had almost 40 views, and maybe 10 contacts. Friday was the first day I woke up without an inquiry in my mail box, and that was because Friday's recruiter had the good sense to call me in the afternoon (people, my employment is part-time, work from home. Why on Earth would I be up at 9AM? or 10AM? If I'm conscious before 10:30, it's because my cat let me know he was hungry by chewing through my Achilles tendon).

Most of the contacts are recruiting agencies. Those are my favorite, because the other contacts all seem to be for jobs on the other side of the country or jobs at companies that have already interviewed and rejected me (or, in one memorable case, the company I had worked for and been fired from. I never expected them to realize their mistake so quickly). Recruiters are actually part of step 2, but it would hardly be a South Park reference if I specified step 2. Recruiters will contact you, either with a job in mind or just to get you in their system. From my small sample size, it's often the bigger agencies that call you before they have a job in mind, so it's worth doing. They will then send you on interviews, and eventually you'll impress someone enough that they will attempt to suck out your soul via your brain offer you a job, which will eventually lead to profit, unless, like many Americans, you spend more than you earn, in which case you're still in debt.

Posting on dice is pretty straightforward: you upload a resume and register as having specific skills. Add as many as you can reasonably claim. The big question for me was my privacy settings- initially I hid my contact info, but after I hunted around, it looked like the info was only available to companies with dice Employer accounts, not every stalker with library access, so I opened it up. I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect recruiters, especially at individual companies rather than agencies, want to see that you're a real person before they contact you.

After that, it's the usual routine: respond professionally to inquiries and follow up in a reasonable time frame. You'll get a lot more contacts this way, so you can calibrate things like how much money to ask for, which some people (never me, a paragon of reason and prudence) occasionally need.

Two months ago...

Two and a half months ago I had a job I hated. Two months ago I was given a chance to leave the job, where by "given a chance" I mean "was told to return my badge and I would be escorted to the front door." This didn't really worry me, because I'm a programmer in a tech-heavy area and had a great resume (if you ignore the fired bit). Two months later...I'm still collecting unemployment*. This blog is my attempt to vent and help others in the same area. And if I could make my former salary in ad revenue, that would be great. But mostly, it's the whining.

I think the biggest problem is that I was fired in the sour spot of experience levels- I'd been working for just over a year when I was pushed out. When I was graduating college, I was full of promise and everyone wanted me. And based on the job boards, there are plenty of positions for people with two or more years of experience. But with one year, you're pretty much sunk. And I doubt I did myself any favors with my early insistence on a short commute, interesting work, no decrease in salary (my former employer was quite generous), and person-to-corp full time position. Worse, while my programming and testing skills have increased, I've forgotten a lot of the academic side of programming, so I interview more poorly than I once did (I used to be an awesome interviewer). After I got rejected from the job I really wanted last week, I made a couple of changes, which I will go over in detail in future posts.

*Technically I'm not unemployed, because I'm working part time for my friend's start up. If I got my theoretical max of hours- which I never have- I might make enough to cover the COBRA payments.