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.