How to keep a job you don’t love

December 7, 2009 Career, Job hunting No comments

You wouldn’t think I’d be advocating hanging on to a job you don’t love, but in today’s economy it may make the most sense. In the latest issue, #6, of PragPub, the free magazine from Pragmatic Bookshelf, I talk about how to make the most of the time you’re spending in a job that you have to keep. It’s also the first in my new monthly column for the magazine.

PragPub is published every month in three different formats, so you can read in the format that works best for you. I admit, I print mine out. Sorry, trees!

Finally, from last month, there’s an article with me in the blog Interview Mantra.

How to show open source experience in your job hunt

November 1, 2009 Job hunting No comments

You’re out looking for a job, and you want an edge over the rest
of the candidates out there. Your experience in open source should
count for something, right? It just might, but the key is how you
sell it to the person who reads your resume, and to the interviewer
in an interview.

First, think of each project as a freelance job that you’ve worked
on. Just as different freelance gigs have varying sizes and scope,
so too does each project to which you contribute. The key is to
not lump all your projects under one “open source work” heading.

Explain in your resume the contributions you’ve given to each
project. Don’t assume that someone will understand what your project
is, or immediately grasp the importance of what you’ve done. For
example, on my resume I might have:

Perl programming language (www.perl.org)

Created the prove command line testing tool. prove allows
the programmer to interactively and selectively run tests in a test
suite without a Makefile, making test-first development much easier.
I wrote prove in 2005, and it was immediately embraced by the
Perl testing community. It has been part of the core Perl distribution
since 2006.

As with anything you put on your resume, explain what you did and
why it was good that you did it. The only difference between
project work and a “real” company is that instead of explaining the
value to the company, you’re explaining the value to the project
or to the users.

Wags familiar with prove may say “But all you did was write a
couple hundred lines of code around the standard Test::Harness
module.” The key to someone looking to hire me isn’t what I did,
but why I did it, and that I took the initiative to do it at all.
I saw a need for a tool, created it, and released it to the world,
to much appreciation.

So what have you done to contribute to help open source projects?
It doesn’t have to be as big as a deal as you might think. Submitted a code patch? Explain the bug, how you fixed it, and
what you did to get the patch into the system.

As with any project, make sure you explain what the project if
there’s any chance someone reading might not be familiar with it.

(Thanks to Esther Schindler for asking for comments in her article “What To Include In Your Open Source Resume”, which prompted this posting.)

How to boost your career by contributing to open source projects

August 13, 2009 Ask Andy, Career 2 comments

I’ve been hanging out at JavaRanch.com lately, after I was the guest forum contributor a few weeks ago. The Java market seems to be glutted with programmers from what I read, and there’s a lot of interest in using open source to boost one’s résumé. One poster asked for specifics of how he could use open source projects to help his career change to one of programmer. Here’s what I told him (with some minor edits):

The key to getting into open source isn’t to find a project to contribute to. What you want to do is contribute to a project you already use.

What open source projects do you take advantage of every day? I’m no Java expert, but it seems like half of what the Apache Foundation is driving these days is Java-based. Do you use Ant? Struts? Jakarta?

How about non-Java projects that you use? Do you use SpamAssassin? It’s in Perl, so would give you a reason to also learn Perl. Any Apache modules you use? You could learn some C.

How can you contribute to those projects? It doesn’t have to be just contributing code at first. Hang out on the mailing lists and provide answers. Update support wikis or contribute documentation. I know that on the Parrot project, a large amount of contributor time goes just to maintaining the tickets in the bug system. Anything you can do to pitch in, do it.

Start with joining the appropriate mailing list for the project, or monitoring forums. Hang out in appropriate IRC channels. Listen to what people are saying. Make yourself known as being someone who is willing to pitch in. And then do the work people are saying needs to be done.

Go into it with the goal of contributing to the project, and not of improving your career. When you take care of the first part, the second part will come naturally.

Good luck!

Any other suggestions? I’d like to turn this into a sort of standard page that I can point people to when this question comes up.

Resume tactics from the grocery checkout lane

August 6, 2009 Job hunting, Resumes 3 comments , ,

Next time you’re at the grocery store checkout lane, take a look at the magazines and see what they do to get you to read them. There’s a valuable lesson there for your resume.


Magazine covers

There’s always a blurb on the front for an article inside that offers a specific number of items inside. They’re of a form like:

  • 17 hottest celebrity couples
  • 23 ways to keep your man happy
  • 37 quick and easy meals for summer
  • 684 new looks for under $100

The magazines’ editors know that numbers attract attention. If you’re like me, those numbers may be the first thing you notice after the cover photo. The numbers also promise a level of service. It’s not just “an article about celebrity couples,” but a promise of seventeen of them.

You should use this approach on your resume as well.

First, we know that numbers attract attention. When scanning your resume, the reader’s eye will be drawn to the numbers naturally.

Moreover, numbers make your story more interesting and give the reader a sense of the size of your accomplishments, or the troubles you’ve solved in the past.

Consider the difference between these two bullets:

  • Ran the help desk. Answered trouble tickets, responded to phone calls and tracked spare computer parts.
  • Ran the help desk for 200-seat office. Staff of 3 answered average of 50 phone calls and 27 trouble tickets per day. Maintained 200-unit inventory of spare computer parts worth $10,000.

These two bullets describe exactly the same responsibilities, but the addition of specific numbers draw the attention of the reader, and add the details that give a much fuller picture of your responsibilities.

Without the numbers, the reader might also logically assume that the reality is more like this:

  • Ran the “help desk” in a four-person real estate office. Answered questions a few times a week about Excel. Kept a spare PC in a closet in case something tanked.

Remember, your awesomeness is not self-evident, and part of your job in telling the story of your awesomeness is giving the numbers to support it.

For more on the power of numbers, see chapter 3, “Résumé Content: Getting The Words Down” in Land The Tech Job You Love.

Hunt for your job like you hunt for your toys

August 1, 2009 Job hunting No comments

We geeks love our toys. ThinkGeek has
led an industry on new toys, but many of us revel in our old toys
as well. The quest to find the last comic in our collection, the
last Star Trek model, or an old first edition Heinlein novel can
be pretty compelling.

Darth Vader bank Say you’re looking for some crazy collectible. Maybe
it’s that Darth Vader coin bank that says “Impressive, most impressive”
when you give it a nickel. Where are you going to find this most
elusive of tchotchkes? (Yes, I know, they’re actually easy to
find
.)

First place you look is on eBay. You go surfing around, and sure,
there are some Vader toys that are pretty cool, but not what you
want. You could make do with an R2-D2 bank, but again, it’s not
what you really want. You check Amazon Shops and Craigslist, but
come up empty there as well.

Are you going to say “Oh well, my Vader bank must not exist.” Of
course not!

You’re going to keep searching. You’ll scour the web, finding other
potential sources for your elusive quarry. You hit the streets,
visiting collectibles stores, talking to the people who work there,
asking if they have suggestions on what to score your treasure.
Plenty of stores don’t even post their goodies online.

Sometimes you stumble across an excellent score, and it feels like
you just lucked into your find. Fact is, if you weren’t out looking,
that “luck” wouldn’t have struck.

So why don’t job hunters treat their job hunts the same way?

Many job hunters get up in the morning, check Dice and CareerBuilder
and Monster, don’t find the job they want, and conclude “Nobody’s
hiring” or “There are no jobs I want.”

Or maybe they figure that they’ll go pursue a job that might be
interesting, but isn’t really what they want, settling for the R2-D2
bank instead of the Vader bank they really one.

You’ll call or email companies that you’d like to work for, and if
they’re not hiring, you’ll ask for suggestions on other places to
check.

The big job boards are the eBays of job hunting. They’re the
first place you look, but rarely the last.

Don’t stop looking if you come up empty. Certainly you must not
conclude that because you haven’t found what you wanted in the
first, second or third place you’ve looked, that it must not exist
anywhere.

You don’t have to be so diligent in your hunt, but you’ll lose the
job opportunities to those who are.

How to work with headhunters

July 29, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment

I’m a fan of Nick Corcodilos. His book Ask The Headhunter was one of my inspirations to write Land The Tech Job You Love. His thoughts on why you should refuse to reveal your salary history are inspiring, and underscore the importance of keeping the relationship with a potential employer equal to both parties.

When Nick asked if I’d review his draft of his new book How to Work With Headhunters, I jumped. No surprise, it’s a great book, and I recommend it. It’s a straightforward, no-BS guide to how to get the most out of the relationship with a headhunter, which can be tricky. The job seeker is at a disadvantage because she only seeks a new job every few years, so this relationship can be hard to manage. Most importantly, Nick spells out what headhunters do and don’t do, so you understand your role. He also explains how to tell if a headhunter is a pro or a waste of your time.

The ebook is on sale at asktheheadhunter.com, and you can get $10 off with the discount code “tenoffblog”. Tell the Headhunter that The Working Geek sent you.

OSCON slides up on Slideshare

July 26, 2009 Job hunting No comments

I just posted the slides from my Effective Job Interviewing From Both Sides of the Desk talk at OSCON.

Thanks to all who came, and if you were at the session, please submit your feedback. I’d like to see more soft skills talks at OSCON, and your voice will help that.

The importance of cover letters in the hiring process

July 20, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment

Jeffrey Thalhammer, who last wrote for The Working Geek on “On breadth vs. depth of technical knowledge”, has strong opinions about resumes and cover letters:

Last week, my wife attended a “resume bootcamp” seminar. Among other things, I asked her what the seminar recommended for cover letters. According to the speakers at this seminar, the resume is far more important the cover letter, and they de-emphasized letter-writing skills. I was shocked!

In my experience with hiring, I’m far more impressed by a compelling and concise cover letter than a long and esteemed resume. To me, a resume is like a PowerPoint presentation and I don’t mean that in a good way. It is usually a dust-dry list of bullets and broken sentences that lack any texture or color. Reading a resume is never fun or even interesting.

On the other hand, the cover letter is an opportunity to tell me a story that holds my attention and helps me understand you. As an expository document, rather than a declarative one, your cover letter can leverage all the literary devices of your language: cadence, phrasing, metaphors, symbolism, vocabulary, etc. These are what make your cover letter interesting, and make me want to talk to you.

A good cover letter indicates your ability to communicate with others, and in the software industry, it also indicates your ability to write code. If you can’t express yourself elegantly in your natural language, then you probably can’t express yourself elegantly in code either. I realize this judgment is harder to make with those who don’t natively speak your language, but fundamentally, I believe it is still true.

This doesn’t mean that you should write a five-page cover letter for each job — economy of words is still important. Consider writing your cover letter as if you wanted to thrill the reader with a summary of the exotic vacation you took last month. Tell them what you did, why you did it, how it affected you, and why the reader should be interested in your story. Make it exciting and fascinating to read. Show me your energy, your style, and your personality. And of course, be professional too.

In their defense, the speakers at the resume bootcamp were all HR recruiters. Often times, recruiters are given only a list of keywords and skills associated with a job, and instructed to harvest as many compatible resumes as possible. From that perspective, I can understand why they would put so much more emphasis on the resume. But once the resume gets to a hiring manager, I think the cover letter becomes a much sharper image of the candidate. So in the end, you really need to have the total package: a great cover letter and resume. But don’t neglect one for the other.

A note for hiring managers: If your HR department does not pass along the candidates’ cover letters, you’re not getting the whole picture on your job candidates. Ask your recruiters to pass along the cover letters and all the correspondence associated with any resume they submit to you. You can learn a lot by looking at how a candidate interacts with recruiters in the early stages of the hiring process.

Jeff Thalhammer has been specializing in Perl software development for over 10 years. He is the senior engineer and chief janitor at Imaginative Software Systems, a small software consultancy based in San Francisco. Jeff is also the creator of Perl-Critic, the leading static analysis tool for Perl.

Geek conferences for families

July 13, 2009 People 2 comments

Skud asked me a few weeks ago if I’d mention something here about support for women with children at geek conferences. Specifically, she asks for updates to the Geek Feminism wiki page on childcare and women-friendly events.

What jogged this in my mind was a geek conference of another kind. I went to the American Library Association’s annual conference on Saturday, and they were very family friendly. A big sign by registration pointed to the child care area, and there were plenty of amenities to help conference-goers with families:

Child Care and Camp ALA
Make this year’s annual meeting a family affair. Once again, ACCENT on Children’s Arrangements, Inc. has planned a great children’s activity center for ALA convention attendees’ children. ACCENT is a nationally recognized professional childcare company organized to provide quality on-site children’s activities in a nurturing, safe, educational environment. ACCENT’s counselors are fun-loving professionals with plenty of experience with children. With activities such as arts and crafts projects, active games, movies and much more, the children are sure to have a great time. The fun includes optional field trips for children ages 6 and older.

CAMP ALA welcomes children ages 6 months – 17 years, and is available Friday, July 10-Tuesday, July 14. The cost for the camp is $80 per child per day. Parents pay $48 per child per day for the center and ALA funds $32 per child per day. An optional $15 lunch is available, or children can bring their lunch. If you prefer, you can register your child for a field trip day instead (children ages 6 years and older only), which includes lunch. The cost for each child with a field trip is $90 per day. Parents pay $58 per child for the field trip day and ALA funds $32 per child per day. A $10 Non-refundable registration fee per child is also required. Download a Children’s Program and Registration Form.

Children’s Policy
Strollers are permitted on the exhibit floor but only if there is a child in them at all times. Unescorted children are not permitted on the exhibit floor. Children under the age of five must be restrained at all times (stroller, back pack, etc.). Any child over the age of five must have an exhibits only badge to be admitted to the exhibit floor. These badges are available at onsite registration for $25. An adult must accompany all children under the age of 16.

New Mother’s Room
The New Mother’s Room is located in the First Aid Room, Level 1, near the Concierges, McCormick Place West.

Can you imagine a computer conference like this? Maybe they’re out there and I’ve just never been to one.

The wags out there will likely point out that librarian conferences skew female far more than techie conferences, and that’s true. But is that cause or effect?

Milwaukee Jobcamp slides available online

July 11, 2009 Job hunting No comments

The slides from Thursday’s Milwaukee Jobcamp, “Effective Job Interviewing From Both Sides of the Desk,” are now available at Slideshare.

I’ll also be giving this session at OSCON next week out in San Jose.