Job hunting

Objective: “Obtain job where I commute by zipline”

September 8, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments , , , ,

I spent an hour last night reading freelance writer Julieanne Smolinski‘s Twitter feed.  She’s funny in a Jack Handey kind of way, and I retweeted this Tweet:

I know you’re not supposed to lie on a resume, so I suppose my “Objective” has to be “obtain job where I commute by zipline.”

Thing is, that’s as good an objective to put on your résumé as any other.  Objectives say nothing and waste the attention of your reader.

Look at these sample objectives I found from Googling “sample resume objectives”:

  • Marketing position that utilizes my writing skills and enables me to make a positive contribution to the organization.
  • Accomplished administrator seeking to leverage extensive background in personnel management, recruitment, employee relations and benefits administration in an entry-level human resources position.
  • To transfer the office management expertise gained during eight years in a corporate setting to a managerial-level position for an established non-profit that needs fundraising and event-planning talent
  • To find a role in Human Resources that will utilize my experience with legal forms, payroll and employee recruitment as well as enable me to grow within the company.

The pattern is clear: Describe the position for which you’re applying, often with obvious fluff.  Rest assured that saying that you want to “make a positive contribution to the organization” does not give you an advantage over those candidates who don’t state it.

Don’t waste the reader’s attention on a rehash of the job description and canned drivel.  Leave out the objective.  Instead, write a three-or-four-bullet summary of your skills that summarizes the rest of the résumé.  For example:

  • Seven years experience in system administration on Linux and Windows datacenters
  • Certified MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional), working on CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
  • Four years help desk experience for 300-seat company, and fluent in Spanish

A hiring manager with 100 résumés to sift through isn’t going to read the whole thing word-for-word unless you give her a reason to.  Without a summary at the top, the reader has to skim to find the good parts.  Make it easy for her to find the good parts.

Finally, note that Julieanne’s quip gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the objective: It’s all about what the candidate wants. It’s like saying “Hi, glad to meet you, I’m Bob Smith, here’s what I want from your company.” The résumé is a tool to help you get the interview, and that starts with telling the reader what you can do for her, not the other way around.

(For more on objectives, see The worst way to start a resume)

Your github account is not your portfolio, but it’s a start

August 24, 2011 Job hunting, Open source 6 comments , , ,

Gina Trapani started a Google+ thread about using Github as a portfolio of your work to show potential employers. This in turn was prompted by a blog post by PyDanny titled “Github is my resume.” It’s a great idea, but it’s only a start. Your portfolio should be more curated than that to be effective.

I shouldn’t complain too much. Far too few job seekers consider the power of showing existing work products to hiring managers. That’s probably because so few employers ask to see any. In my book Land the Tech Job You Love, I cite Ilya Talman, one of the top tech recruiters in Chicago, estimating that only 15% of hiring managers ask to see samples of work.

Consider the manager looking to hire a computer programmer. She has hundred résumés from respondents, all claiming to know Ruby and Rails. She knows that anyone can put Ruby, Rails, or any other technologies into a résumé without knowing them. Even well-meaning candidates might think “I read a book on Ruby once, and Rails can’t be too tough, so I’ll put them on my résumé.” Looking at sample code is a great way to separate the good programmers from the fakers.

Since creating a repository of someone else’s good code is only slightly more involved than putting “Ruby on Rails” in a résumé document, a good hiring manager will ask in the interview about the code. When I interview candidates, I ask for printed code samples of their best work for us to discuss. Pointing at a given section on the paper, I’ll say “Tell me about your choice to write your own Perl function here instead of using a module from CPAN“, or “I see your variables seem to be named using a certain convention; why did you use that method?” In a few minutes, I can easily find out more about the candidate’s thought process and coding style than a mile-long résumé. This method also exposes potentially faked code.

So as much as I applaud candidates having a body of work to which they can point employers, simply saying “Here’s my Github repo” is not enough. The hiring manager doesn’t want to see everything you’ve written. Although everyone is different, she probably wants to see three things:

  • quality of work
  • breadth of work
  • applicability to her specific needs

Most important, she doesn’t want to go digging through all your code to find the answers to these questions.

Consider my github repository as an example. There are 28 repositories in it. Of these, nine are forks of other repos for me to modify, so clearly do not count as code I’ve written. Three repos are version control for websites I manage. Some are incubators of ideas for future projects that have yet to blossom. My scraps repository is a junk drawer where I put code I’ve written and might have use for later. How will an interested employer know what to look at? It’s arrogant and foolish to tell someone looking to hire you “here’s all my public code, you figure it out.” It’s the RTFM method of portfolio presentation, and it doesn’t put you in the best light possible.

For an effective portfolio, choose three to five projects that show your best work, and then provide a paragraph or two about each, describing the project in English and your involvement with it. There is literally no project or repository, on Github or elsewhere, about which I can say “This work is 100% mine.” Everything I’ve ever worked on has had work contributed from others, and the nature of those contributions needs to be disclosed upfront and honestly.

None of this is special to Github. There are plenty of online code repositories out there, such as Perl’s CPAN, which can act as a showcase for your work. Of course, you can also create your own online portfolio on your website as well. The keys are to highlight your best work and accurately describe your involvement.

A common complaint I hear when I discuss code portfolios goes like this: “Most of my work is private or under NDA, so I can’t have a portfolio.” Hogwash. You can go write your own code specifically to show your skills. If your area of expertise is with web apps, then go write a web app that does something fairly useful and publish that as your portfolio. Assign it an open source license so that others can take advantage of it, too. You’ll be helping your community while you help your job prospects.

Do you have an online code portfolio? Let me know in the comments, and include the URL for others to see.

Should I put ____ on my résumé?

August 15, 2011 Job hunting 3 comments

I read Reddit’s résumé subreddit regularly, and it’s one of the most common questions asked: “Should I put such-and-such item on my résumé, or leave it off?” The variations are endless:

  • Should I put a job on my résumé that I was at for only three months?
  • Should I put my college work on my résumé, even though I only was in for two years of a four-year degree?
  • Should I put my hobbies on my résumé?
  • Should I put my volunteer work on my résumé?
  • Should I put my high school education on my résumé?

The answer is the same for each of these examples: It depends on the job for which you’re applying.  Here’s how to analyze the situation and make the right choice for the job.

First, remember that the purpose of a résumé is to get you a job interview. Therefore, the question you have to ask yourself is “Will this piece of information help convince the reader to call me in for an interview?”  If it won’t, then leave it out.

Second, every position is different, so you must ask the question as it relates to the job for which you’re applying. You don’t have a single résumé that you blast out to the world. Consider every point on your résumé as it applies to the job for which you’re applying. For example, you probably don’t want to put on your résumé that you play guitar when applying for a job as a system administrator, unless you’re applying for that sysadmin job at a music publishing house.

All that said, here are a few items that you should almost definitely leave off a résumé:

  • “References available upon request,” which is assumed and is therefore noise.
  • A list of references, because these will be asked for at a later point in the hiring process
  • A photograph, which is inappropriate in the United States

Don’t try to make things on your résumé sound more interesting than they are.

July 6, 2011 Job hunting No comments , ,

Did you work a cash register at one of your jobs? Then say that in your résumé and move on. Don’t try to make it sound more exciting than it really is.

If you try to fluff it up and make it sound “more businessy” or “more resume-friendly” than it is, the person reading the résumé will just roll her eyes. Maybe she’ll laugh at you, or call someone over and say “Hey, this guy worked a register and called it ‘Accounting for legal tender’! Ha ha!” We know when you’re trying to fool us, and we think it’s both funny and insulting.

Now, if your cash handling is a key component to your background, perhaps because you’re working to be a cashier at a casino, then by all means, play it up, by giving specifics: “Handled over $50,000 per shift with zero short/over”. That way you’re showing the scope of your responsibilities. But if you’re looking for a sysadmin position? Don’t bother.

A résumé is about telling a company about what you’ve done that will help them decide that you’re worth bringing in for an interview. Don’t try to BS us in the process.

Job ads to avoid

February 18, 2011 Career, Job hunting, Social No comments

I came across an ad for programmers the other day, and one of the requirements was that you be able to:

Get along well with other sometimes mal-adjusted geeks

The way I read this is “some of the other people are anti-social assholes, and we, as a company, are OK with that,” probably because they are able to turn out code and they’d rather not deal with the long-term effects of such people on a team.

Having worked for such a company before, I suggest that life is too short to work at them, regardless of how cool the job may be otherwise.

Quit whining and send a thank you note after an interview

February 6, 2011 Interviews, Job hunting 5 comments ,

Over on reddit, the old chestnut of a question “Do I really have to send a thank you note after an interview?” has come up again.  It’s always sad to see the excuses that people try to come up with to forgive themselves for skipping this basic step in the job hunting process.

The cost of that thank you note is ten minutes of your time and a 44-cent stamp.  The payoff could well be landing the job.  It cannot hurt you in your job search, and can only be a positive in the mind of the interviewer.  You also take the opportunity to reiterate your good points and show the interviewer that you were paying attention during the interview, and you show that you actually are interested in the job, which is sometimes hard to tell.

It’s ten minutes and 44 cents to give you an edge over other candidates, to help you land the job you want, so that you can be gainfully employed and get out of the job hunt.  The cost/benefit ratio is huge.

Quit whining and do it.

You can’t take the easy way to writing a résumé

January 10, 2011 Job hunting 6 comments ,

I came across a horrifying thread at Hacker News: Can I use a LinkedIn profile instead of resume for my job applications? It’s a reasonable question, and the answer is “No, you cannot use a LinkedIn profile instead of a résumé.”  If the job ad asks for a résumé, then you give them a résumé.  If they want the résumé in Word format, you give them the résumé in Word format.  What the hiring company asks for, you give them.

What makes me shake my head in dismay is the number of people who replied to say “Oh, yeah, just give ’em a LinkedIn URL instead, they can forward that around.”  The people who act this way are likely to not get interviews. These people who want to modify the process, let’s call them the IKBs, for “I Know Better.” Here are some things they need to learn.

First, if the company has gone through the trouble of writing an ad, they probably have a pretty good idea of what they want as a hiring process.  If the people doing the hiring didn’t think it was important what got sent in, then they wouldn’t have specified. But they did, so it does.  The IKBs don’t just get to decide from their easy chairs that they know a better way, at least not if they want a job.

Second, the IKBs aren’t somehow smarter than the people doing the hiring. Comments in the Hacker News thread include self-delusional drivel like “people cling to tradition for irrational reasons.”  This is the way the IKBs say “I know better than others how they should run their business.”  They are fooling themselves.  It sounds good when you tell yourself that, but the hiring company will simply ignore you.

Third, LinkedIn is not a substitute for a résumé, because LinkedIn’s format might not be the best way to present the story of you.  There is precious little space for the details and stories that make your résumé compelling to the reader.  Further, every résumé you send out must be tailored to the job for which you’re applying.  You cannot customize your LinkedIn profile for each company.  Maybe when applying to one company, you emphasize the work you’ve done in Oracle, and to another it’s all about the Linux sysadmin, depending on what the company wants.

Some posters on the thread mentioned that LinkedIn has a “résumé builder.”  All that does is reformat the fields already in your LinkedIn profile into various different résumé formats.  However, it doesn’t take into account the hard thinking and preparation that it takes to create a compelling résumé. Don’t get suckered into it. These résumé building websites are worse than worthless because they pretend that a good résumé is about the formatting.  It’s not.

Most of all, what makes me weep for the IKBs is that they think they’ve found an easy way to get a job.  Just fill in a few blanks, send off an email, and the hiring managers will fall over themselves to snap up the candidate.   It doesn’t work that way.  Finding a job, especially one that you’re going to want to go to every day, takes hard work.  If you think that you’ve got an easy time firing off résumés to companies, then you’re not trying hard enough.

Go ahead and be an IKB.  Take the easy way to writing a résumé.  Just don’t expect any interviews.  Those interviews will go to the candidates who have applied themselves and done the hard work necessary to present themselves in the best possible light to the company.

Résumé-building websites are worse than worthless

January 1, 2011 Job hunting 2 comments

We all want an easy way to get things done, and resume-building websites promise an easy way to put together a résumé for your job hunt. Unfortunately, using them does you a disservice by making you think that formatting is what matters, and helping you create bland, uninteresting résumés that won’t grab any reader’s attention.  You cannot create a good résumé by filling in a few blanks off the top of your head.

I read a job-related message board where a new job seeker was pointed to a website called cvmaker that claims to let you “create beautiful, professional résumés in minutes, FREE.” It isn’t possible. Sure, you can create a document in minutes, but a résumé that a hiring manager will find compelling takes hours at the minimum.

cvmaker would have you believe that what matters most is formatting and visual presentation. I assure you it is not. Visual presentation is important, but without having something to say, it’s all just pretty fluff.  You must put real time and energy into creating your first resume, considering what value you bring to an employer. It is about how you tell your story, not whether it is beautifully formatted.

cvmaker is comically bad.  It suggests that you fill in a section on “Interests”. Your interests do NOT belong on a resume unless they specifically relate to the job for which you’re applying. For instance, you can mention your love of running in marathons if you’re applying to work at a sporting goods company, for example.  If it doesn’t relate, leave it out.

cvmaker gives you a section to put references, but references do not belong on a resume. It suggests a default of “References available upon request”, but putting that on your resume is a space-filler and makes you look stupid.

The capper of cvmaker’s awfulness is where it lets you fill out your work history.  All the emphasis is on dates and company names.  A text area for each position has the ludicrous caption “Optional details such as job responsibilities, achievements etc.” Those details are not optional. Those details are where you explain to the reader what you have done in the past that makes you worth bringing in for an interview. They aren’t noise. They are the very reason you write the damn resume!

If you’re a job seeker and you’re struggling with how to create your basic resume, stop looking at resume websites, right now. Instead, go to your local public library, or your college library, and check out some books on job hunting. Martin Yates’ Knock ‘Em Dead books are a fine place to start.  If you’re a techie, I’ll point out that my book Land the Tech Job You Love is aimed specifically at you.  Chapters 3 and 4 cover the details of résumé creation.  You can ask the librarian or your career counselor for suggestions as well.  There are many books out there that provide far more and better examples from which to draw inspiration, and you will not be surfing random web pages of questionable value.

You want a good book on job hunting to give you the concentrated learning about how to think about what you want to put in the résumé, and why you want it there.  I guarantee that if you throw together a résumé in an hour, you will create a résumé that no one will be interested in.

(And don’t think that you can create a good résumé just by filling in a few fields in the Microsoft Word résumé templates.  When we hiring managers see those come in, we groan and figure you can’t think for yourself.)

Please, don’t sell yourself short by taking a cookie-cutter approach to your résumé.  It takes hard work to do it right. Don’t let any résumé-building websites or templates lead you astray.

Crappy job? Tough it out until the new year

November 23, 2010 Job hunting, Work life No comments

December’s the worst time to look for a job. The job market stinks, of course, but in November and December, it’s even tougher to get hired.

As the holidays approach, people go on vacation. Managers who drive the hiring process scramble to cover missing people. Schedules turn into Swiss cheese. When the day-to-day operations of a company turn patchy, hiring falls by the wayside.

I learned this one the hard way. I’d quit my job early November, without another job lined up (dumb idea #1). I had a big lead on my next job, and the manager wanted to hire me, but he couldn’t round up people for the interviews. You just can’t get a full roster of people for a group interview the week of Thanksgiving.

When we finally got my interviewing process done, my boss-to-be couldn’t get the executive sign-off for my hiring. No one with sign-off authority was around. When that finally happened around the 20th of December, I had to wait another two weeks until the start of January to actually start.

If you’re thinking of starting the job hunt now, grit your teeth and bear it until the new year. Work on new tech skills over any holiday you have, and add items to your resume that you’ve worked on lately. When the new year rolls around, you’ll have the jump on everyone else.

Does your résumé have to fit on a single page? Roger Ebert has the answer.

November 1, 2010 Job hunting 3 comments , ,

Every time I speak to a group of people, and people talk to me afterwards, the topic of résumés always comes up. And every time people ask about résumés, someone always asks “Does my résumé have to only be one page?”

Your résumé does not have to be limited to only one page. It just needs to have nothing irrelevant and uninteresting in it.

I refer to film critic Roger Ebert‘s rule about how long a movie should be:

“No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

You should apply the same rule to your résumé.

As long as what’s in your résumé is relevant to the reader, and the reader finds it interesting and it helps show how you’ll be a valuable addition to the hiring manager’s team, you can put in whatever you want, and your resume can be as long as you need it to be.

This means that when you apply for a job as a network engineer, you don’t bother mentioning your job at a pet store back in college, unless it somehow relates to the job for which you’re applying. If the job for which you’re applying is at PetSmart corporate headquarters, then by all means, include it.

Is anyone reading your résumé going to care about your “hobbies and interests”? Probably not. I guarantee they won’t if your hobbies and interests are “music and reading.” On the other hand, if you’re looking to do web development for Guitar Center and you play an instrument, then definitely put that in your résumé, perhaps even in your professional summary.

This also means that you have to tailor every résumé you send out. You have to go through every line and think “Will someone reading this résumé care about this?” You have to figure out if some bullets in your work experience should be expanded.

From today forward, don’t ask “Is my résumé too long”. Instead, inspect every word to see if it is of interest to the reader.