Don’t confuse “qualifications” with “skills assumed of everyone”

April 20, 2010 Job hunting 1 comment ,

When employers are looking for candidates, the fact that you can tie your shoes and not pee in your pants are just assumed. You’d never see a job for a computer professional advertising:

  • Able to get to work on time
  • Knows to go to bathroom and not wet self
  • Can tell ass from hole in ground

So why do candidates put these sorts of filler bullets at the top of their resumes in sections called “Summary of Qualifications”?

  • Able to work well with others
  • Strong work ethic
  • Attention to detail
  • Quality-oriented
  • Dependable
  • Responsible
  • Results-oriented
  • Problem-solver
  • Interested in improving efficiency
  • Able to find innovative solutions
  • Proficient in Microsoft Office and the Internet

If you are a professional in the computer field, every one of those bullets is assumed . Those are the price of admission, not selling points. Putting such vague mundane “qualifications” as the first thing in your resume says to the reader “I am completely average.”

Instead, tell about what makes you awesome, not average. Instead, your summary of qualifications should have bullets more like these:

  • Eight years experience in web development, using Perl, Java and Ruby on both Windows and Linux environments.
  • Expert in SQL databases, especially data migration between MySQL, PostgreSQL and MS SQL Server.
  • Designer of seven different e-commerce websites both with HTML/CSS and Ajax.

Bullets like those give specifics. They apply specifically to you, not just anyone like “detail-oriented” does. They make the reader take notice and want to know more. The details grab the attention.

What schools should be teaching IT students

April 18, 2010 Career, Programming, Work life No comments

This past Friday, I spoke at POSSCON on what schools should be teaching IT students. Here are the slides from the presentation.

How to give a tech presentation; also, column archives now available

March 14, 2010 Work life No comments

I’ve been writing a column for PragPub, the free monthly magazine of the Pragmatic Programmers, for the past few months. The latest column is part two of a discussion of how to give informative talks, such as to your local user group.

PragPub is on its ninth issue, and is available in four different formats. You can download the entire magazine as a single document in PDF, ePub and .mobi, just like every Pragmatic book, and it’s also newly available as HTML. The archives of all nine issues are available as HTML as well.

Here’s a list of my columns in past issues:

Every issue has something of interest to me, and I think you’ll find something for you as well.

Use Google Alerts to monitor your online presence

January 7, 2010 Career, Internet, Job hunting 1 comment ,

Next time you apply for a job, the hiring manager is going to Google your
name and see what she finds. Do you know what people say about you? About
things you’ve written? You should.

Google Alerts is a fantastic little tool that I don’t hear people talk about
enough. Google Alerts lets you enter a Google search once, and Google will
update you whenever the Googlebot finds new matches for your search, often
within only an hour or two of the page’s publication.

The most obvious Alert search is your name, as a phrase in double quotes, but
that’s just the start. Here are some more ideas:

  • Your name (“Andy Lester”)
  • Your nick (“petdance”)
  • Your email address (“”)
  • Your company’s name
  • Resumes related to your job market in your area of expertise (I have an alert for “resume Perl Chicago” (but without the quotes)
  • Titles from blog postings you’ve made
  • Links to specific blog postings you’ve made using the link: syntax

Keep an eye on the results. It’s not vanity, it’s understanding your personal

For more of my suggestions of how to improve your working life in 2010, see the January 2010 issue of PragPub magazine. It’s a free download in three different electronic formats: PDF, ePub and mobi.

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.)

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 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.

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.