• The worst way to start a résumé

    As I go through dozens of resumes, I’m amazed by how many people still waste the crucial top two inches of their resumes with drivel like this:

    Objective: A fast-paced, challenging programming position or other technical position that will utilize and expand my technical skills and business experience in order to positively contribute to an organization.

    You and everybody else, buddy. Why should I give it to you?

    Read on →

  • The job interview is not about collecting factual information.

    There’s a common misconception in the techie community that you should make sure you don’t fall prey to. Here’s what it sounds like.

    Read on →

  • How to explain past problems in a job interview

    In her recent US News article the always spot-on Allison Green of Ask A Manager answers the question “How do I explain in an interview that I was fired?” An example from the article is:

    Read on →

  • Milwaukee JobCamp, a free all-day job hunting event, is this Thursday

    Thursday, October 7th, 2010 is the fourth Milwaukee JobCamp. This free day-long event takes over a huge amount of space at the Potawotami Casino conference. There will be sessions on a huge variety of topics related to the job hunt, as well as a resume help desk room and, of course, lots and lots of networking with others.

    Read on →

  • Fifteen ways to kill your job interview

    There are hundreds of ways to ruin an interview, but here are 15 that are dear to me, or that candidates have pulled on me in the past.

    • Show up late

      • It's inexcusable. Drive there the day before to make sure you know you can get there in time.
    • Be unprepared

      • Your first assignment at this company is to show up prepared. Don't fail it.
    • Smoke, or smell like smoke

    • Have bad breath or body odor

      • Nobody wants to smell your smells. Eradicate them.
    • Shake hands like a fish

      • Don't shake hands with a death grip, but don't wuss out, either.
    • Come underdressed

      • If you find yourself asking "Do I have to do X?" for the interview, play it safe and do it. That means wear a suit.
    • Speak ill of anyone, especially past employers

      • If you complain at the interview, you'll complain all day at work, too. No boss wants to deal with that.
    • Complain; discuss your problems

      • Your boss has his own job-related problems to deal with. He doesn't want to hear about yours.
    • Bring up your needs, such as money or benefits

      • Your interview is all about what you can do for the company, not what they can do for you.
    • Lie

      • You'll be found out, and you'll be worried about it until you are.
    • Appear uninterested

      • No boss wants to hire someone who doesn't care about the job she's going to be doing.
    • Fail to ask your own questions

      • The best way to show that you care, and that you have a mind for business, is to ask your own questions about what you've discussed during the interview.
    • Appear desparate

      • Enthusiasm is one thing. Desperation is another.
    • Leave your phone on

      • There's no way you could be expecting a call that's more important than this interview.
    • Cut the interview short

      • Allocate adequate time for an interview. A longer interview is always better, so plan for the good. Don't try to squeeze in an interview on a long lunch hour. Make sure your kids are adequately covered and you don't have to say "Sorry, I have to leave, my sitter can only keep my kids 'til 4:00."
  • "I just slammed out 300 resume applications for which I am more than qualified for this week, I doubt I will hear from even one"

    A recent poster to reddit asked I just slammed out 300 resume applications for which I am more than qualified for this week, I doubt I will hear from even one.....any advice for [engineering] job hunting?

    If I'm hiring people, the slammed out resumes mean nothing to me. You want to know the number one way to attract my attention? Write a cover letter that says that you've actually done some research into the job for which you're applying.

    It's a buyer's market out there. You're putting your resume out there with, say, 500 other applicants. Wading through that much shotgunned resume crap is daunting at best. Give me something to grab hold of. Give me a reason to say "Hey, this looks interesting."

    Don't waste your time applying for 300 positions. There are not 300 positions out there for which you are qualified, and that you would be happy doing. Instead of shotgunning them, work on two or three or five and really get into understanding the job. Research the company. Research what they need. Find out everything about the company that you can, and spend the time figuring out what you bring to the table that will help the company the most.

    Finally, those 300 applications came from where, Monster or some job site? Less then 10% of jobs get filled through job boards. Personal networking accounts for about two thirds of job placement. Instead of wasting time with shotgunning resumes that are obviously shotgunned, work to talk to everyone you can and find pointers to other people who can help you find a job. The jobs are out there, but you have to know where they are.

  • How to do a web resume right

    I'm amazed checking out the web resume for my friend Julian Cash. It hits all the right buttons.

    • Catchy domain name, hirethisgeek.com.
    • Strong bulleted overview of his skills on the front page.
    • Links to key points in the margin on the right, and at the bottom of each page
    • Subpages about important areas of interest (project management, programming, etc)
    • Contact information at the bottom of every page
    • Testimonials page, although I'd put some information about each person to give weight to their words.

    If you can get your web resume to be even one tenth as interesting as Julian's, you're way ahead of your competition.

  • When was the last time you were thanked?

    Seth Godin's blog entry today sums up so much of my frustration with much of what I see on the Net:

    Yes, I know you're a master of the web, that you've visited every website written in English, that you've been going to SXSW for ten years, that you were one of the first bloggers, you used Foursquare before it was cool and you can code in HTML in your sleep. Yes, I know that you sit in the back of the room tweeting clever ripostes when speakers are up front failing on a panel and that you had a LOLcat published before they stopped being funny.

    But what have you shipped?

    What have you done with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world?

    Go, do that.

    Right on, Seth. To that list of "so you can..." I'd add

    • You're a master debater on Slashdot and Reddit
    • You're quick with a link to letmegooglethatforyou.com
    • You correct people in the ways in which they ask questions in IRC

    The tough part is that most of the things that you do "with your connection skills that has been worthy of criticism, that moved the dial and that changed the world" require you to get off your ass and get out from behind a keyboard.

    Ever given a talk at a user group meeting? Ever organized a conference? Or lined up a speaker for a user group meeting? Written an article or blog post where people say "That's changed the way I look at things?" Or created software where people say "I don't know how I lived without this?"

    When Seth talks about "moved the dial and changed the world," I'll even set the bar a bit lower. When was the last time someone thanked you for downvoting someone on reddit, or being an oh-so-clever snark poster on Slashdot? Ever received appreciations for pointing out what you perceived as someone's shortcomings in a flame war?

    Which is more likely?

    • "Thanks for telling that guy your negative opinion of him."
    • "Thanks for that presentation on Ruby modules."
    • "Thanks for reaching level 75 on Farmville."
    • "Thanks for putting together this group. I learned a lot."

    Get out there from behind your keyboard and do something that builds rather than tears down.

  • Don’t confuse "qualifications" with "skills assumed of everyone"

    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.”

    Read on →

  • What schools should be teaching IT students

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

  • Use Google Alerts to monitor your online presence

    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 ("andy@theworkinggeek.com")
    • 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 brand.

    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

    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

    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

    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

    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.

    Read on →

  • Hunt for your job like you hunt for your toys

    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.

    Read on →

  • How to work with headhunters

    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.

  • The importance of cover letters in the hiring process

    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.

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

    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

    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.