Job hunting

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 (

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.)

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.

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

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

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

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, 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.

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.

What do I do when there are no jobs to be found?

June 25, 2009 Job hunting 1 comment

I found an article that claimed that US job hunters only spend forty minutes per day looking for a job. Maybe that’s forty minutes checking job boards, but that’s only 10% of an 8-hour work day on your job.

You may think “I don’t have a job!”, but you do. When you’re out of a job, your full-time job is to find your next job. Treat it like a 9-5 job. No matter what you do, don’t sit around and do nothing. Don’t allow the gift of time you’ve been
given to find a job be squandered by doing nothing.

There are three big reasons to treat your job hunt like a job:

  • You’ll increase your chance of success

  • You’ll fight off the depression of being jobless

  • You’re going to get asked about it in interviews

Let’s look at each in detail.

You will have more chances of success

You may think there are no jobs to be found, but there are. You just haven’t found them yet, probably because you’re looking in the wrong places. Checking job boards doesn’t count as job hunting especially since only 7.5% of jobs are filled through job boards. You have to get out and talk to people.

Talk to everyone you can. Even if you’ve exhausted every source you can think of, try for just one more. Look back through your hunt logs and find a target you haven’t checked in a few months. Wherever you pursue, look for a new option you haven’t explored yet. You can’t get a job from a contact that you don’t make.

One excellent source of information you may not have considered is your local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce is a group of businesses organized together to help each other. The website will probably have a directory of members and job listings. More important than these sources is the opportunity to talk to the Chamber staff themselves and find out what they may know about the needs of companies in the area.

Don’t just call or email the Chamber. Show up at their office, in person, and talk to someone. You’re far more likely to be remembered when you meet someone than you are just from email. Be sure to show up with a number of copies of your resume, and some of your personal business cards, so that you can leave some if it’s appropriate.

Just keep pushing. Keep making one more step, checking one more idea. I know it can be disheartening, but anything is better than doing nothing. Chance favors the prepared mind, and the more time you spend working, using the Internet, the more likely you are to stumble across the job you need, and maybe even one you will love.

You fight off the depression of not having a job

Sitting around on the couch watching bad TV is a great way to aggravate your worries about not having a job. Playing World of Warcraft or napping all day may feel like a little vacation, but they’re not going to get you that next paycheck. Don’t give in to the temptation.

Treat your days without a job as if you do have a job, and your job is to find a job, and improve your skills. Get to the office at 9:00, even if your office is just the kitchen table, take lunch like you normally would, and then keep working until 5:00.

What can you do besides look for jobs? Take advantage of the time off to start all those projects you’ve just never found the time for. You’ve been given the time, so use it!

  • Start a blog. Write about what you’re learning in your time off. This becomes a record of your progress, to help you remember that your time’s not been wasted. It’s also a record that a future employer will see when he Googles you after he’s seen your resume. Finally, it helps you practice writing, since you’re in a field where the written word is crucial to future success.
  • Teach yourself something new related to your job. Always wanted to learn a new programming language, but you told yourself you never had the time? Now you have the time. Want to learn a new Linux distribution? Clear out a spare partition on your home machine and get to it. Maybe you’re a project manager who wants to learn more about programming. Get going, and then blog about it.

  • Take a business or technical class, maybe at your local community college. Community colleges are a fantastic value for your dollar for introductory classes. My local community college charges only $77 per credit hour. Start with business classes before you worry about the technical. You can always learn technical skills on your own. Business knowledge is important to any employer. Take a class in accounting or marketing, or a good business overview if you’ve never taken one before.

  • Take an unrelated class in something fascinating if you haven’t found anything appropriate technical or in business. Maybe you’d like an introduction to automotive repair, or to get your feet wet in conversational Japanese. My local community college has programs in criminal justice and fire protection, both of which I’d love to find out more about. Whatever it is, learn something. Then blog about it.

  • Contribute to an open source project. Somewhere you’re likely using some open source software. Learn about it. Learn about the culture surrounding it. Find out what its needs are. Find out what kind of help they need. Then provide that help. You don’t have to be a programmer to contribute to open source. You can provide documentation, answer user questions, respond to bugs in the bug tracker, and so on. Blog about it.

  • Contribute to Wikipedia, or a wiki related to a project of interest. Wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia, and can always use improvement. There are tons on Wikia. Find a topic related to your job, not arguing about Jabba the Hutt’s family history. Then blog about it.

  • Frequent mailing lists and bulletin boards related to your area of expertise. See what you can learn, and who you can help. Blog about the most interesting ideas.

  • Go to your public library. Libraries are amazing storehouses of knowledge. The chances of finding something fascinating and enriching are high!

  • Read read read! Find something new to inspire you. Blog
    about it.

You’re going to be asked about it at interviews

Chances are that an interviewer who sees that you’ve been out of work for a while will ask about your job search. She may even specifically ask “What have you been doing in the four months since you got laid off?” How will you answer this question?

You could answer:

Well, I’ve gone on a few interviews, and reading Monster every day, of course, but, uh, that’s about it.

which is hardly inspiring, or you could answer:

I’ve gone on some interviews, but those weren’t very encouraging. I’ve been investigating companies in manufacturing, because I feel like that’s where my heart lies. In the downtime, I taught myself Python and I wrote a tool to analyze the RSS feed coming from Simply Hired using Python. The source code is in my portfolio of sample code that I brought today.

or maybe

In the downtime, I’ve been monitoring Stack Overflow for SQL Server questions, trying to help with the problems that novices post. It’s kind of fun because I know how to handle most of the problems, like optimizing indexes, but some of them are stumpers so I go dig and find the answer. The latest was a problem someone had with…

or how about

… and I’ve been hitting the topics that I’ve never had time for. The accounting class I had my eye on was full, so I’m in my fourth week of a class in metallurgy. Plus, I’ve been checking out cookbooks on German cooking from the library, and I practice a new dish every day for lunch.

Imagine how a hiring manager is going to be impressed with your drive and initiative! In all these examples, you’re showing how you’re making the most of your down time, improving yourself and maybe even helping others. That’s the kind of drive that you can’t train into someone.

Keep thinking like you’re working

Stick to the notion that you have a job. Keep a regular schedule. Work at your job of finding your next job. It can’t help but improve your chances and get you back on someone’s payroll.

For those who have been out of work, what do you do during the day to keep yourself active and working on the job of finding a job?

There is no shame in self-promotion

June 24, 2009 Career, Job hunting No comments

The phrase “shameless self-promotion” makes no sense when you’re
talking about your career.

“Shameless self-promotion” implies that there should be some sort of shame in
letting others know about what you’ve done, and nothing could be
further from the truth. Indeed, it’s the only way you can be sure
of getting the message out.

Have you ever had a garage sale? Did you put up a sign pointing
to your garage sale? Or did you hope your neighbor would put up a
sign for you, thinking “It’s a good garage sale, people will tell
their friends about it?” Of course not, because you knew that it
was important that people know about your garage sale. So too it
is with your achievements at work.

Techies seem to believe that if they do good work, they’ll be
rewarded. Unfortunately, “If you build it, they will
come,” only works in fantasy movies.

At work, your job and your career rely on the people above you in
the company knowing what you do. Part of your job as employee of
You, Inc. is to make sure that others know what you do, and how
awesome you are. Your awesomeness may not be self-evident, or may
not be understood by the people that matter. Say you’ve been using
a new editor plug-in that helps you navigate source better, and makes
your job easier. That’s a cool thing you’ve done, because there
are plenty of people out there who would write code in Notepad.
You need to let your boss know about it, and keep track of it for
yearly review time. It may well be worth putting on your resume,
too, for your future self-promotion when you go to get a new job.

Aside from your career, if you’re doing anything in open source and
you want people to use your project, promoting the project is as
important as writing solid code. Without users, your project is
pointless. If it’s a conference or meeting, that needs promotion
even more. See my post on Perlbuzz
“How to announce an event, or, awesome is not always self-evident”
for more on the open source and conference angle.

Finally, for more on keeping yourself employed and boosting your
career even in the middle of a recession, please join me and Chad
Fowler for our webcast “Radical Career Success in a Down Economy”
on July 1st. You’ll need to register in advance. Chad and I are
putting together as much as we can into our hour-long time slot.
Chad’s excellent new book, The Passionate Programmer,
is also where I stole the idea of “your awesomeness is not self-evident”,
for which I’m eternally grateful.