Saturday, October 18, 2008

Job prospects in a bad economy

I have a long standing hypothesis that opportunities for contractors actually go up during recessions, because contractors are an inferior good in the economic sense of the word. For those who aren't up on econ theory: when times are bad, the price of a used car goes up and the price of a new car goes down, even though people prefer new cars to old, because fewer people are buying new cars and more people choose to buy used over new. Likewise, if the price is the same most businesses would rather have a permanent employee than a contractor, because of the benefits of continuity and the reduced cost, but in an uncertain financial environment prefer contractors because getting rid of them is free. Recently, my recruiter confirmed this.

What I did not anticipate was how this would affect recruiting companies. Last week I got eight calls and e-mails (three of which were the same company with the same offer. I sense some inter-department competition). Of those that actually gave positions, rather than instructing me to send them my resume or asking me to do their job for them, they were either for a stable company that has the reserves to ignore the recession, or a company that just got a second round of venture capital that (I assume) is run by idiots. So there are still jobs to be had, and the recruiters are hungry.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When it's okay to use work internet for personal issues

I'm getting an inordinate number of hits from financial institutions.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

HR Newbie: More bad advice

It is possible to arrive too early to an interview. I have to cope with bad traffic and parking when I'm interviewing, so if things ever went well I might end up getting there more than half an hour before the stated time. I guess the thing to do at that point is hang out outside or in the building lobby, because I can see how arriving too early sends a bad signal.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obviously, things have dropped off a bit. After I got a job, the daily who-called-me seemed less important (for the record, two e-mails and two phone calls, but that was anomalous).

But some things I are just too important. For example, there is no good time to use the phrase "skank ho" in a job interview. Although if your rejection letter uses the phrase "you scare us", you probably don't have much to lose.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I either need to hit something or take a shower

Putting up with bullshit is part of dealing with recruiters. Generally it doesn't bug me, because they're so bad at it that getting upset would be like getting mad at a toddler who insists he's allowed to stay up til 2AM. It's a lie, but it's not like he's put you in jeopardy. So I tolerate when they ask me what kind of day I'm having, even though they seem remarkably uninterested in the answer (Pet peeve: recruiters who take a long time to get around to telling me they're a recruiter, at which point I tell them I'm unavailable, and they say thanksforyourtimebye and hang up before I've even processed it. If you value your time that much, maybe you should get to the point faster).

This guy, on the other hand, is vile. Reading him feels like reading those articles where the writer goes undercover as a used car salesman. Just for an example:
You must never tell the person about the job, even the actual title, until you have conducted a quick work history review. Start the conversation by asking your prospect if she’d be open to discuss an opportunity if it were clearly superior to what she’s doing now. Most people will say yes, then immediately say “Great. Could you please give me a quick overview of your background, and I’ll then give you a quick overview of the job. If it seems mutually interesting we can schedule some time to talk in-depth.” You have applicant control when the person says yes. You lose it if your job is less appealing than the one the person has now. By having the candidate talk first, you can look for potential areas where your job is bigger. If not, you’ll have developed a relationship with the candidate that will allow you to ask for referrals.

Words cannot begin to describe much I want to kick him in the nuts. And the worst thing is that his techniques won't work substantially better than cold-calling, but take a lot longer; if you read carefully, he's focusing on meeting an in-house quota for contacts, not actually placing people in jobs, much less finding good candidates for his client companies. I can't imagine they'll be thrilled to know he's head-hunting using techniques guaranteed to select the stupid and weak-willed.

Bonus evil: You can see his bullshitting in action. Ask a Manger left a comment with some very good objections ("If you call me out of the blue and demand that I give you an overview of my current job before you tell me about the position you’re calling about, I’d be really annoyed"). And he responds by trying to redefine the word "demand" and then implying that the recruitee is somehow imposing on the recruiter (oops, I mean a "highly-regarded executive recruiter who handled multiple executive-level positions"). A tip: the person making cold calls is never the one with the power. That means it's up to you, Mr. highly regarded executive recruiter, to prove why I shouldn't hang up right now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Two phone calls, after days of low volume communication. When I tell them I already have a job, they always say "Oh, I thought you were on vacation.", which leads me to think I have inadvertently penalized those who actually read my instructions. *sigh*

Monday, May 26, 2008

post-offers update

Four e-mails, three from the blacklisted company (one of which was for a PM position- the fuck?), one from some other group, one phone call with a third offer, and some back and forth negotiations.

Miscellaneous inteview tip: keep your right hand free

Always hold things in your left hand, especially as people are leaving or entering the room. You will have to shake hands and it does create awkward moments when you have to juggle your coat, notebook, pen, can of soda, and paper copy of your resume in order to do so. And if you're me, you'll drop something.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lies my recruiter told me: you're not worth that much

One of the measures I use to asses whether I'm charging the right amount is how often people refuse to pay it. If no one will pay it, it's obviously too high. If everyone will pay it, it's too low. The rate I gave generally caused recruiters to pause, then say "I'll see what I can do" , which seems like a good hint that I've hit the sweet spot.

One person took a more active approach.
Your rate is too high for SDET positions, so if you don't hear from
many recruiters, I suggest in a couple of weeks you lower your rate a little
Admittedly, it's a high rate. On the other hand, I had just gotten two offers at that rate. One of which was for the same large company most of her jobs are for. I can't help but think that maybe she's underestimated me.

Now, I wouldn't have minded if she'd simply said "sorry, we don't pay that much." which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say, even if it will cut her off from the top talent. But either she's a complete incompetent who can't find good placements, or she's trying to increase her profit margin by lowering my salary. Neither of these things fills me with a desire to work with her. In fact, it inspired me to make a blacklist, length one. I put up with the hamhanded manipulations of most firms because they're fun to laugh at and if I threw out everyone who tried to push my salary down I'd never work with anyone, but I draw the line at outright lying. A company that is willing to lie that brazenly will take every opportunity it can to squeeze me, and I don't want to spend my time fighting them.

This isn't exactly a huge loss, as these are the morons who have tried and failed to enter me in the system four times. They're also nationwide, and I am very, very tempted to list the corporate name here, but I know too many lawyers. Even though I'd win any defamation suit they brought (the truth being an absolute defense and all), I don't want to risk the loss of anonymity. But if you want to find out whether a potential company excells or not, e-mail me (domain name

Game over. I win again

One in-person interview, one phone interview, and three e-mails:
  • one specific job from a company I already had a relationship with
  • one from a different person within that same company, telling me my rates are too high (more on that later)
  • one reply to a previous mail. He had invited me to apply for an SDE position, I explained I was looking for SDET. He wrote back with the promise of many SDET positions, and as proof attached descriptions of five SDE positions he had open.
In addition, I got two excuses to bring back the "choosing a job" tag. More on that later.

Get paid to quit your job

I haven't used Zappos, but apparently it's an online shoe store that has really good customer service. How do they get it? By paying employees to quit. After four weeks training (at full pay) and one week on the job (also full pay), they offer employees $1000 to leave. And as the company has grown, the amount they pay quitting employees has risen. The argument is that they only want really dedicated people, and what better way to test dedication than paying someone to leave? The problems as I see them are:

  1. Better workers are more likely to leave. The $1000 is a lot more tempting when you expect a month-long job search than when you expect a yearlong search.
  2. People who know they will hate the job might be willing to go through the five weeks to get the $1000 payoff.

The benefits:
  1. The aforementioned weeding out of the undedicated. I find the whole company loyalty thing vaguely creepy, but I can see why they would value it.
  2. Cognitive dissonance will lead the employees who stay to be happier and more dedicated than they otherwise would have been. With absolutely no data, I declare this to be the most valuable effect of the program.
  3. There will be threshold/snowball effects that make employees happier more dedicated still.
Things I would have to know before declaring this a good program:
  1. What employees who take the buyout go on to do
  2. Comparison of any quality metrics between employees who stay and those who go.
  3. Average tenure of employees who stay, compared to similar jobs elsewhere
  4. How much does the program cost Zappos (compared to the benefits calculated from the above data points)
  5. I'd like to know the wages of the Zappos employees, but honestly, all the other data captures the relevant points better
If I remember correctly, Zappos is the same company that pays you if you return shoes. That is a piece of brilliance. Assuming they have some kind of metric to prevent serial returners, it's a great way to demonstrate confidence in their product and compensates for one of internet shopping's big costs, and on the way leads to a lot more impulse purchases.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Good news everyone, the recession is over.

Two phone calls while I was in an interview, one e-mailed dev contract, two perm positions (one dev at a company that had previously turned me down, one test at my former employer), one large contracting company that had already contacted me (four times) but apparently failed to put me in their database, one test contract I'd already rejected from another recruiter (that one I was completely unqualified for).

I was going to blow off the recontact from the large agency, but figured it couldn't hurt to check. Turns out I'd never gotten into their master database. I suspect the problem was that I told my first contact that I couldn't give her a salary range without hearing their benefits, and she never e-mailed me those.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Are you even trying anymore?

One half-hearted form letter not specifying a position, one incredibly enthusiastic letter for a position whose requirements have almost zero overlap with my qualifications,* and for a dev position. Well done, internets.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still the prettiest member of the fellowship

I was beginning to get concerned when I didn't get any e-mails today. I even initiated a couple of recontacts that came to naught. Then, as I was leaving work, I got a call from a very interested recruiter with a very appropriate job. He's driving out to meet me tomorrow, and I may end up with an interview on Thursday. When it looked like transportation might be an issue, he said he could arrange it for me (it ends up working out). And the job looks quite interesting.
Other techniques for getting paid what you're worth: give headhunters different numbers. That way you can search for the really lucrative jobs without cutting yourself off completely. I use a complex formula based on the following factors:
  • Did the recruiter follow my contact instructions?
  • How annoying is he?
  • How frustrating was work today?
  • How much time did I waste in traffic?
  • How aghast is he that I insist on knowing the non-monetary compensation offered before I list a monetary wage?
  • How many recruiters have I talked to today?
  • How bad are my allergies?
  • Did my cat do something adorable today?
It seems to work fairly well, although to be fair the really high quotes haven't produced anything yet.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Okay, maybe the economy does suck

No fresh contacts today, but I did get a call on Saturday (wtf?) from a firm I'd already heard from, and discovered a voice mail left last Friday while I was interviewing (the missed call got masked by another from someone I didn't care about).

My resume is up to an even 50 views on Dice, one week after posting. Assuming no duplicate views, that's a 20% conversion rate, which seems perfectly reasonable considering it's easy to confuse my resume for that of a developer.

There's 3 or 4 threads kicking around where I responded to someone who has not yet responded to me. Given that I spent my valuable time politely telling people that their job was completely inappropriate but thanks for considering me, I feel I'm owed some sort of response. Don't make me start deleting mail without responding people.

The wage gap

Suzanne posted a link to Economic Woman's post on salary negotiation in response to my post on the same topic, and I think it raises some important points. It's well known that women make less than men. The most popular statistic fails to account for profession, education, hours worked, and experience. However, even studies that control for this show some gap. One hypothesis is that women are less successful than men at salary negotiation. Note the words less successful, not bad at. It may be that women don't ask because they don't care (I find this unlikely). It may be that they do ask, but aren't as skilled at it for reasons that are their own fault. It may be that they ask, but their bosses react differently than they would to a man, and so the woman is less successful, or even penalized for doing so. Men may face the same risks in asking for a raise, but have a higher risk tolerance, either due to innate preferences or because women are more sensitive to wage fluctuations (maybe because they're more likely to head single parent households). And for all these reasons and more, women may draw the perfectly rational conclusion that they're better off not asking. I have not studied the research on this in any detail, but none of the news reports I read indicate that the studies done are capable of discriminating between these hypothesises.

So what can you do? I wish I had better answers. I've already talked about how negotiating with managers makes me fearful and uncomfortable, so I'm not exactly a role model. Beyond my advice for general negotiation, I would say:

1. know this research, because knowing is half the battle.

2. be in an in-demand field. Being discriminated against by 90% of employers in a field with 1000 jobs is a lot more fun than being discriminated against by 90% of employers in a field with 10 jobs. Even if that last guy isn't prejudiced, and you somehow land that job, and he pays you market wage, you have no credible threat of exit, because you know, even if he doesn't, that nothing else will pay you as much as he does, and that will sap your will to negotiate for even more. As a bonus, in-demand fields (like software engineering) tend to feature substantially less prejudice, because driving away talent hurts corporations in a way it does not hurt restaurants or even university chemistry departments, where the supply of good candidates far exceeds the demand. Alas, this advice is unuseful to anyone without the talent in and enjoyment of such fields.

3. find a hack that lessens your fear. My hack is using third party agencies: I fear no loss of precious, precious goodwill, since the few ways they have to hurt me (like screwing up my paycheck) will hurt them and are legal actionable in a way that giving me destined-to-fail projects is not. Plus, they can't stand at the coffee pot and glare at me. And they're so brazen in their attempts to push my salary down that I can't possibly feel guilt about fighting back. It would be like feeling bad about filing a police report after you were mugged.

Anyone who's found a useful hack is encouraged to post it here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Apparently recruiters don't work on Fridays

One phone call. At 5:30 PM.

One invitation to interview for a position in another state.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I don't see why people are so worried about the economy.

Only one fresh contact, this time for a permanent position. I don't think they're used to being told you're only looking for contracts. (or "contracts", as she referred to them). Two invites to interview, one of which I've taken and another (from the same guy, same company, different teams) I might follow up with during vacation.

One phone interview, set up by my current agency before I posted my resume on dice. It went okay but not great- they wanted academic knowledge, and I had 0 time to prep since I'm in wrap-up mode at my current job. But they seemed to accept that explanation, and I had some very classic know-what-you-mean-but-not-the-vocabulary-word moments that backed it up. This particular job has a bitch of a commute, so unless they raise the offer another 10% (after raising it 10% just to get me to interview), it's a practice interview anyway.

How to negotiate your salary

I do not have a natural affinity for salary negotiations, because there's so many damn unknowns, and what if I insult someone and lose the offer, or they find someone better while they're waiting, and dude I already pay more in taxes than some people earn in a year, so why get worked up over it.

This is, of course, bullshit. Someone's going to be making money off of me, and it might as well be me. This a rare moment where agencies are actually add something to the economy. The agency is not smart enough to disguise it's attempt to push my salary down, the techniques it uses to attempt this piss me off and motivate me to fight back, and it doesn't hurt my relationship with the people I'll actually be working with.

That said, back-and-forth negotiation is an uphill struggle, because I'm trained to deal with facts and logic, and the person I'm talking to is trained to screw with words, and has had this conversation many more times than I have. When I had to negotiate a salary bump to compensate for a decrease in benefits, the recruiter talked circles around me. My defense was to simply repeat my points- "I delivered the work, you deliver the money. Benefits are money."- until she caved.* But I hate doing that, and I won't always have their balls in quite such a vice grip, so I'm always looking for simple tricks that simplify things.

The first is, as I mentioned, arguing from data. I happen to have an gold-plated starting point in the form of a well-paid full time offer. Even though I turned it down (and thus can't leverage one against the other), it's a marker of how much I'm worth. Agencies will always try to make you feel like you're asking for an unrealistic amount, but if you stick to data, it's hard for them to do so. I'm already preparing arguments for when they argue that my rates are unrealistic, and it involves making them send me data. Also, keep in mind that no matter how many times they insist the company is only willing to go to X, they are lying. The company is paying them X+20, minimum. What they're negotiating for is their profit margin. Since in an optimum world they wouldn't even exist, I don't think that margin should be high. I've never heard a first number for an hourly contracting rate that couldn't go hire (disclaimer: small sample size).

There's also pre-screening. The rate I listed on dice is really the upper bound of what I realistically expect to get, but that's okay. Recruiters will offer me jobs that pay less, the only jobs it scares off will be those that paid too low for me to consider. Lots of studies have shown that asking for a large amount increases both the money and respect you eventually receive, even if you don't get as much as you ask for. It also should bring me a more interesting class of job, since only the high-level jobs will pay anywhere near that much.

For that extra inch, ask for extra time, either between offer and decision, or decision and start time. I got $2/hour to start a week earlier, and a friend got $5/hour to accept an offer immediately.

Lastly, don't be afraid to walk away. You only need to find one company that's willing to pay your goal, and it's okay if the others can't, because you're not as good a fit or their product isn't profitable enough. I don't like the idea of outright rejecting a job as a negotiating tactic, but I'm not sure if that's actually sound policy. If you're turning down a job for reasons other than money**, accepting it for more money will just make you miserable. If you want only a bit more, outright rejection is too extreme. I would just ask for more money. The only time I'll use rejection as a tactic is when I think they're lowballing me, at which point I'm okay with saying "nope, not enough money, but thanks." This is true even if I don't think they're taking too large a cut of what the originating company is offering them- my skills are more valuable to some companies than others, and I'll go to the ones that value me more highly, thank you very much.

*This story is also a perfect example of things recruiters do to manipulate you. She complained about their costs, and made vaguely threating noises about other benefits. There was a general air that I was horrible person for bringing it up, and was quite possibly taking food out of starving children's mouths. I suspect that if this were actually the case, they wouldn't be quite so eager to administer my next contract.

**On a reasonable scale. Few jobs are so odious I wouldn't do them for a million dollars a week, but even fewer jobs are actually worth that to the company.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Job updates.

5 contacts, one interview request (rejected)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Agency fails to anticipate that computer scientist can do math when extending offer

Dudes I contract for-

Since I started working for you, my experience has increased by 50% (measured in strict calender time) and by, conservatively measured, a fuckload in actually accomplishing things. So a 4% raise for my next contract is not going to cut it- not when, under any reasonable set of assumptions, that works out to less than the permanent position I was offered, and especially not when the increase in commute amounts to a per hour pay cut.

And no, [large company] is not planning on paying x. They're planning on paying x+25 or so to you, which based on your desired profit margins works out to x. Do not blame [large company], because I happen to know exactly how much you are paid for me now and what market rate is for corp-to-corp is.

It was someone other than my regular recruiter who made this invitation to interview (the normal one apparently had an off-site meeting all day). And while I'm not saying they deliberately set up a bad cop to let the familiar good cop be a hero and offer me more, I am saying that's exactly what's going to happen.

Day 1 back on dice.

3 contacts.

One at a company I already talked to, who asked for a copy of my resume and asked for times to call me.

one who led with a demand for several pieces of information she already had, and wanted to know when she could call me. Based on the (short) description and (barely existent) requirements, I think I'm vastly overqualified, but it looks like a short commute so I wrote back anyway.

One who did not ask for information he already had, but did ask for me to call him when convenient, if I was interested. His company website lists benefits, for both salaried and hourly employees. Guess who's getting called back first.

I found one additional job that I am absolutely perfect for, and would really enjoy, that uses some esoteric skills I picked up in college. I liked it so much I actually applied, with a cover letter and everything.

Monday, May 12, 2008

dice is a pain the ass, had better still be useful

After informing my manager that I would not be accepting the permanent position (a conversation that went as well as I could hope for, and I mean that in the best possible sense), I uploaded my resume to dice (my contract doesn't end for another two weeks, but there's nothing like walking away from money and security to motivate you to find your next hit). Either they changed the system or I completely repressed what I pain in the ass it is. Did they lose all my skills? If so, could they maybe enable a search feature instead of a menu that jumps the scroll bar every time you select something, thus necessitating superfluous mouse movement?

This time, I specifically said to e-mail, not phone, and if you must phone for the love of god don't do so at 7:30.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I am Jack's exciting interview

Jack had a phone interview at a very interesting job that seems much less likely to kill him. It went well, and he has an in-person in three weeks.

Monday, May 5, 2008

HR Wench: 3rd Party Recruiters: Listen Up

I get annoyed when recruiters start letters with demands for information. People who contact me should start with what they are offering, not a petulant demand for information that was contained the resume I know they've read. I naively assumed that these recruiters (or rather, the agency, since I've received the same e-mail from multiple people at one firm) simply failed business etiquette 101, but it turns out I should be grateful, since the owners of multi-employee recruiting firms have decided that the location, nature, and salary of a position is classified information that a potential recruit does not need to be told.

I don't see why you need more than one basket to carry eggs

Google accounted for 77% of job growth in Santa Clara County last year. I couldn't find exact numbers for Microsoft/King County, but they're probably comparable, given that both companiesprivate bus services to deal with the traffic problems they cause.

I think Google has already peaked, so this can't be good for Santa Clara. But then, Microsoft began its descent years ago and itgrew by ~25% in the last few year (data for King County alone not available).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Angry tirade unlikely to convince company to hire you

You would think this would be obvious, but apparently not. Swivet, a literary agent, has a post up detailing the absolutely psychotic letter she was sent after rejecting someone's manuscript. It does not seem to have altered her opinion of the salability of the manuscript.

How to set up a phone interview

Recruiter or company: we would like to set up a phone interview. Please send us times.
You: I can do X,Y,Z. (Try to get a variety of days and times).
Company: Okay, we'll do Y. Please confirm.
You: Confirmed.

You do not have an interview until you say confirmed.
These steps will probably take over e-mail, but if time is a factor they may call you.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Succeeding by failing.

One of the most valuable things I learned in college was a single study I read for psych 101, which I will recreate here. Answer the following three questions, one at a time:

1. You have just taken an important test, and will find out the results in two days. A friend is organizing a very cheap trip to Hawaii in three days. Do you take her up on the offer?

2. You have just passed an important test. A friend is organizing a very cheap trip to Hawaii tomorrow. Do you take her up on the offer?

3. You have just failed an important test. A friend is organizing a very cheap trip to Hawaii tomorrow. Do you take her up on the offer?

Most people answer yes to 2 and 3 but no to 1. Logically, this makes no sense, since the only outcome of question one is question 2 or 3. But the uncertainty of the outcome prevents people from making plans, even if the plan doesn't depend on the uncertain outcome.

Similarly, people will work very hard to avoid an outcome labeled "failure", even if the the consequences of failure aren't that bad. Suppose you've just graduated college and are choosing between starting your own company and working at one of the few corporations that can guarantee long-term, if not lifetime, employment (think Google or Microsoft). Google and Microsoft are sure things. No, you don't know exactly what bonus you'll get next year, but you can count on having a large, stable stream of money. Starting your own company is a huge risk. You're looking at a year or two of absolutely no income even if you succeed- and failure is pretty likely. Why start a company?

As Paul Graham outlines here, you do it for the years after. At least in the tech industry, someone who's started and failed a business is vastly more valuable than someone who spent two years in a cube. And I'm willing to bet this is consistent across the board: security requires a large company, and large companies do not give interesting work to entry level employees- meaning you learn absolutely nothing. Either you take your experience and start another business, or you get hired by someone who's willing to pay a premium for everything you learned.

Sometimes, failure is more than a valuable experience, it's the start of something better. I'm lucky I got fired last year. I'm lucky I didn't get into my first choice of college, since I would never have pursued Computer Science if I had. Now, I'm facing a similar situation: the company I currently contract for has made me a very good offer to go permanent. This place has a lot going for it: I have a lot of autonomy. The work is interesting but not especially taxing. The money would be quite good, if not astronomical. Leaving opens me up to a lot of risk: realistically, I'm not going to get much more money, and may end up with a paycut. The next job might not have such interesting work. God knows how long it will take to get a new job.

Nevertheless, I'm leaving. If I stay, I will always be afraid of leaving, because working here is so easy. And while I learned a hell of lot in my first six months, I don't see the next six being nearly as educational. So I'll take the pay cut and the risk and keep contracting, not only because the behavioral economics are cleaner and I like teasing my perm friends about overtime, but because long-term, that's what's best for my career, even if it involves short term failure.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A note to recruiters at top secret projects: don't put your entire mission statement in the job posting.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

should i ask about vacation at my job interview

That was a search query that led someone here. The answer is: No. Inquire gently in the HR screening if you must. Otherwise, wait until you have an offer and are negotiating salary and benefits.

The Saga Continues

My contract job ends in four weeks. I was going to enjoy two weeks visiting my friends and family, but I've got minor oral surgery two weeks after that, which means I'll either still be interviewing (nothing like five hours of talking when you can't feel one side of your mouth) or just starting a new job (drool makes a good impression, right?), so I'm going to see if I can at least get a couple of leads before I get back from vacation. To that end, I sent off updated resumes to a couple of recruiters today. I'm not super-hopeful, since contracting jobs tend to work on a faster pace than that, but I feel better for having done it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And I'm prettier than he is too.

Eight months ago I was in a job so stressful I stopped eating and yet constantly wanted to throw up. Then I was fired.

Six months ago I still hadn't recovered my appetite, and was starting to worry I'd never find a job.

This week I have a fun job with lots of autonomy and impact. The company I contract for is putting on full court press to get me to sign on full time. The manager who fired me is now a PM with no reports. Despite not having my resume online anymore, I still get one e-mail a month from my ex-employers or their agents asking me to apply for a new team.*

I win, bitch.

*Not to ruin the triumph, but: Most are third party agents who I assume have no access to my file. But at least one was a real manager. This is what prompted me to look up Dumbass Manager's job- I couldn't believe they'd keep asking me if they had access to my file and his statements carried any weight at all.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wish I knew this before the court date

In job hunting, as in so many things, there's a fine line between enthusiasm and stalking. Ask a Manager has a post up on how to avoid a restraining order alienating a potential employer. The rule of thumb is: if you look enthusiastic over this job, it's a good thing. If you look enthusiastic over a job, it's a bad thing.

My personal fault is probably under-enthusiasm. I generally don't get particularly excited about individual jobs, due to a combination of not wanting to be disappointed, fear of looking like a stalker, and genuinely not caring which job out of a set I got. As I get more experience and learn what I like and dislike, I predict I'll start actually turning down interviews and expressing a corresponding enthusiasm for those I do pursue.

Friday, April 11, 2008

All recruiters are not created equal

Jack: I don't know SQL
The Good Recruiter: Okay, then I won't send you any database admin positions.

Some time later:

The Incompetent Recruiter: I've got a position that's perfect for you. It requires four years of SQL, and one year of Java.
Jack: ....what part of that do you think is a good fit?
The Incompetent Recruiter: have...*pulls up resume on computer*...C# experience.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Jack's Job Hunt

The incompetent recruiter has thrown: one attractive job, one completely unrelated job, and one marginally related job.

The good recruiter has thrown: one very appropriate job

The recruiter that gives referral bonuses is on vacation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Jack's Job Hunt Day 2

I refer to Jack as Jack in my e-mail. His e-mail is His resume lists him as Jack Lastname. So why does The Incompetent Recruiter insist on calling him John in his response? Frequently, because TIR is one of people who constantly works your name into e-mails.

I don't know if the fact that my usual problem is people coming up with wacky nicknames for me makes this more or less annoying.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Adventures of Jack

Starting today, we'll be following my friend Jack, an employed dev who has decided he maybe doesn't want to work himself into a stress based illness and then be yelled at for not keeping himself healthy enough to work another 120 hour week. Today I sent his resume out to a few recruiters I worked with: The Good One, The Incompetent I Currently Work For, and The One That Gives Referral Bonuses. Updates as they become available.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Random crap

100 things not to say in a job interview

Halting State was a fairly boring book that totally captured much of tech interviewing and working, except with more international espionage. Charles Stross's background as a programmer and indignant Scotsman really showed. And I suspect it's a much better book if you don't consider near future scifi the diet mr. pib of speculative fiction.

And for anyone who's wondering: the friend who didn't know how to interview got passed on to the next stage of the process, and the one who didn't know how find jobs IMed me Friday to let me know he had two job offers already. Alas, our conversation was cut short when he got a phone call with another offer.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Proof I'm not talking out of my ass

My apologies if I sound like a dead englishwoman, I was listening to the thirteenth tale on my mp3 player and its affected my brain. Anyways....

I have a friend who has been SDET contracting for many years. His latest contract finished, and he's looking for permanent work. On my advice he posted his resume on dice last Saturday. I also forwarded his resume to a number of agencies that had contacted me last time. By EOD Thursday he'd had five recruiter interviews and two technical phone interviews, which is all the more impressive when you remember that Monday was a holiday. And that there's a recession. And that he's looking for a perm position, which is a slower process. In contrast, I believe it took two months to find his last job (to be fair, part of that two months was Christmas season). And that was during a fairly good economy, for a temporary position.

Posting resumes. It works bitches.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It's like advice, but easier

This advice was originally devised for a friend who's spent the last year and a half doing theoretical computer science work, but has been tempted into interviewing for an applied position by the prospect of hellish hours and something free food. He's got about a week to prepare, and is willing to put serious time into it. This is about half guesswork, since my own position was similar but not identical: I wanted jobs that (while still testing) had a significantly larger coding component than my last job. Not only have some technical skills atrophied, but he's never done a job interview before and doesn't know what to expect. What I said:
  1. The most common interview pattern is: 1-2 phone interviews, then one half or full day in person circuit. If it's full day, you're probably going to have very long breaks.
    1. The phone interviews last anywhere from 15-45 minutes. If there's two, the first is probably with HR. After a bit more time in the working world, I look forward to telling any HR screener that I'll only talk to the hiring manager.
    2. The in-person circuit will have around four 45 minute - 1 hour interviews, with a different person each time. You will almost certainly get more than one question is that time. Adjust your level of detail accordingly.
  2. If an interview takes substantially less time than you were told, you failed. This includes both a single interview running short or being sent home before the time you were told has elapsed. The only exception to this is if the interviewer actually says "wow, you answered those questions so fast, I have nothing left to fill the time with. All the other interviewees took much longer." At that point, worry about the quality of the company.
  3. conversely, running over is a good sign. Getting more interviews then you were told you'd have is a very good sign.
  4. You will be asked if you have any questions. The answer should be yes, and your questions should be insightful.
In addition, here are some general tips for prepping for an interview you're intellectually capable of completing, but have some brain fuzziness on:
  1. Find or create a project that uses the skills you will be tested on. I actually started working for a friend's company, at wages that wouldn't have been worth it even if they didn't cut into my unemployment check. But it was fun, kept me sharp, and made it a little easier to transition back to the working world.* When you run into things you've forgotten the background of, look them up. Hyperspecific example: if it's an unspecified dev or test position, work on strings, lists, and trees.
  2. Work around what you're not sure of. Hyperspecific example: if you don't remember the intricacies of ints, use bignums.
  3. Testers only: develop a schema of ways to test real objects (I've been asked to test toasters, vending machines, and escalators). For breakage testing, I like to use Faith's five kinds of torture: sharp, blunt, hot, cold, loud. Interpreted creatively, these will take you far.

* It does weird ass things to my resume though. I either have a two month gap or list a two month job that doesn't mesh well with the jobs before or after it. My current solution is to mark is as short-term/part-time, and note that the owner was a personal friend when I list him as a reference.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

It's not you, it's me

Back when I was doing the job circuit, I had an interview I thought went really well. Really, really well. But I didn't get the job. I was surprised, but put it down to the fact that the HR rep who found me so impressive had evidently been fired.

Last week I met a friend of friend who worked for that company. Apparently there have been a number of potential hires that the engineering team wanted but were shot down the CTO, who's an idiot and has really antagonized the engineers by doing so.

This isn't the only job that rejected me six months ago and is still unfilled- and the jobs weren't fresh postings when I looked at them. Even the start-up with 0 testers still hasn't hired one. I can't help but think that maybe I wasn't the one with the problem. From now on, I resolve to blame every failed interview on a bad CTO or companies that expect to hire awesome developers who are also testing demons for the same rate they pay the click monkeys. 'Cause there's no way I was at fault. Not at all.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Ask and you shall receive

It looks like the internet is already trying to solve my problems. (article) is a beta job posting board where you can set a price that companies must pay to interview you. The suggested prices seem to run from $100-$600 or so, although you can set anything you want. This strikes me as a step in the right direction: interviewing takes a nontrivial amount of time, so if you're good enough, companies should pay you for the privilege. It also shows that they're serious about you and aren't going to demand a whole bunch of information, they contact you six months later to let you know the position has been reorged out of of existence. And it's certainly cheaper for them than paying $10k to a headhunter to call you at work.

There are restrictions, of course. They have to approve you before they'll let employers see your resume, with an eye towards graduates of prestigious schools, workers at prestigious companies (although they allow for both fortune 500s and startups), and "in-demand skills" , which I suspect means they'll lower the bar for workers in fields suffering from a labor shortage. They claim to have an algorithm to detect "serial interviewers" who are just in it for the cash, but I don't know how they'd distinguish that from "people who really like their current job." There's a reputation system involved, so my guess is that companies can rate people who they think deliberately spiked the interview. But that's never going to be perfect, and companies will be very wary of paying you to interview for a job you'll never take. I think the next step is for the potential employer to donate to the interviewees favorite charity, so he or she receives no direct financial benefit, yet the company has proven that they are serious.

My dream is for this concept to expand into micro transactions and be able to charge people each time they contact me. It would be a small amount- even $1 would do it- because what I really want is to prevent recruiters from spamming me with every job that has "test" or "java" somewhere in the description (note to recruiters: java and javascript are not the same thing. I know both, but that's a coincidence). I'd also like them to get more contractor friendly, but that would involve a fundamental shift from "better jobs to people who already have pretty good ones" to "enabling honest signally in job hunting through monetary cost." And no matter how unfriendly they are to contractors, I'll be uploading my resume.

(hat tip: my money blog)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

using my powers for good

According to site meter, most of my visitors are recruiting firms, so let me take this opportunity to give you all some advice:
  1. If you are contacting me unsolicited, the first part of your message should be what job you are offering me, not a demand for a resume and home address.
  2. If I have given you the courtesy of writing back, explaining that I am currently under contract but will be available in N months, try to keep your job solicitations to less than weekly. Companies that politely write back expressing their interest get added to list of places to contact when I'm on the market again. Companies that ignore me and send me more inappropriate offers may not get the first round of e-mails.
  3. If you want me to start in two weeks, on a different coast, for a temporary position, the pay had damn well better be "market"
  4. I know that you aren't programmers, and some of the finer technical distinctions may escape you, and there is a fudge factor in both job postings and resumes. But do you notice how none of the languages or systems required for this job are listed under the "languages" section of my resume? That's a clue that I might not be the right person for the job.
  5. Failing that, could you maybe figure out that the one year of experience I have is less than the five years experience this job requires?
  6. Or that "tester" is different than "technical lead"?
  7. It really is insulting for you start a solicitation by demanding information from me. So imagine how pissed off I get when you don't even tell me what the job is.
I realize as I'm writing this that thousands of people would love to have people harassing them to accept a job, so I think I'll stop whining now.