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How to get a Great Tech Job

This post is a guest post from Sandy Smith, a hiring manager and PHP developer at Forum One Communications in Alexandria, VA. It was originally an email to a mailing list in response to a job ad posted by a recruiter. The job requisition was worded in such a way to make it sound like the recruiter wanted someone with every web-tech skill and a “mastery” of it for about $75,000 (USD), a salary that is extremely low in the Washington, D.C. area. His response was so good that I asked if I could reprint it. He obliged. Follow Sandy on Twitter at @SandyS1 or at his blog.

So, random thoughts from a hiring manager, speaking entirely for myself, not for my company (My team has no open positions, though Forum One is hiring):

1) This is perhaps not the best job ad in history but it is not that bad. “Mastery” is a very vague word, and nobody wants to advertise for someone who’s “mediocre” at PHP, etc. So cut them a little slack that word, which seems to be the big problem for most people.

2) Learn to read job ads for what they really want. They almost all must pass through an HR person who is NOT a programmer, and sometimes vetted language is helpfully “punched up” by some editor before going out, not realizing they’re effectively changing the requirements by using more “positive” and “colorful” language. I’m going to use “needless” “quotes” some more, “here.”

3) When we’ve worked with recruiters–and I assure you as a hiring manager I see the same ratio of good/bad ones (hint: don’t call me to ask about a position and then demonstrate that you never bothered to visit the company website to look at the description we have posted–and hint: when I say I don’t deal with recruiters and you’ll have to talk to the same HR person who didn’t call you back the last time, you not getting a gig doesn’t mean I’m suddenly empowered to deal with recruiters…so…don’t call me), we’ve usually just supplied a position description to them. They didn’t alter it much, so the wording may not have changed much if someone from the hiring org posted it themselves.

4) The years of experience and the main technologies mentioned are the important parts of a job ad, as are some of the “types of work environment” experience credentials. The extra stuff is usually requested by the HR person to give them a way to sort through the avalanche of applicants, most of whom are barely if at all qualified, who arrive in their inbox. So if there is, as I once abused a quasi-governmental agency for requesting, a ‘magical pony who craps rainbow sherbet is flitting around a meadow somewhere thinking to itself, “You know, I think I’d rather have a government web job,”’ they can find it.

5) The key word is “Drupal.” They’re not really asking for somebody who can invent a new algorithm better than quicksort or even bridge C++ to Ada to PL/SQL to PHP or implement a perfect Strategy pattern using techniques borrowed from OCaml…they’re asking for a PHP web developer who can configure, theme, and write some custom modules for Drupal that might work with some outside systems that others seem to be responsible for. Your best bet is to send in a competently formatted (and spell-checked–seriously, do not put “detail-oriented” and have spelling errors) resume and a cover letter addressing the important points and showing how your experience matches those points.

6) And yeah, if you can’t hang some Javascript and CSS with XHTML onto those template files, then you’re probably not right for the job, and you should move on. And start Googling some tutorials because I know I expect basic Javascript, CSS, and X/HTML out of even backend PHP developers.

7) There are a lot of people applying for much lower-paying jobs, but quite frankly, there are a lot of people who believe in spamming every open position they find with the same resume regardless of whether they’re qualified or not. Trust me, it’s really obvious to the people on the other side when you do this. You will get much better results if you target your application to the position, and skip ones that you know you’re not really right for. I realize this is hard when you’re not currently working, but a better effort on likely positions will get you more than minimal effort on every position you find.

8) Not every technical team is that great, and even if they are, they aren’t always great at finding the right people for the job, as the temptation is to hire someone like yourself, because hey, you’re awesome! Even if someone like yourself isn’t really right for the job. It’s not smart, but it’s really human. So while I have many issues with recruiters, I don’t think you can always lay the blame at their feet for not making their clients smarter. Who among us hasn’t had to swallow our pride and do something kinda dumb because the guy with the money said he didn’t care, he just wanted it that way?

9) If your organization is hiring for a PHP-centric position and you haven’t posted the job ad here–and there’s no legal/contractual reason you can’t–for heaven’s sake, why???

10) None of this is to suggest that recruiters don’t have problems of bullet-point matching that other people have brought up, or that they shouldn’t match candidates to positions using something better than what any random HR person can do in order to make them worth the money.

Photo by Utopian Branch Library

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Informalities Can Kill Your Job Search

The economy is way down and the pain is not only being felt at the pump. It’s being felt in the job market. Unemployment hit an all time high last quarter as more and as more and more people hit the streets looking for meaningful employment, bad habits are accompanying them.

Sarah Needleman of the Wall Street Journal wrote a story today about the informality used in social media, text messaging and other “typical” lines of communication. Often times, the informalities deep six candidates.

I’ll admit that I am guilty of being informal in job searches. Needleman indicates that the most egregious mistakes come from entry level candidates just out of school, indicating a generational (and of course, maturity) issue.

I also tend to use emoticons mostly in IM. This has gotten me in trouble in the past where the text I’ve written in emails was misunderstood because of a lack of a :-) or ;-) to indicate humor. Text as a medium sucks, and that is why ultimate care must be taken in how text is formulated.

Other things that can kill a candidacy with a company are:

  1. Not understanding the company culture
  2. Eagerness to proactively answer unasked and unrelated questions in an interview
  3. Blanket resumé distribution
  4. Inappropriate attire for an interview (Understand the culture of the company as in point #1, especially in the web space)
  5. Buzzword Bingo on resumés or in interviews
  6. Inability to discern exactly what an interviewer is looking for despite the questions asked
  7. Inappropriate behavior, photos, language as demonstrated in social networks, blogs, etc

Obviously, not all of these things apply in every situation. Astute candidates get ahead of the curve and understand before sending “Send” what exactly is being communicated.

As a bonus, my friend, Jen Nedeau, is quoted in the article as well. She demonstrates an appropriate use of these technologies.

“I definitely text my managers if I am running late,” says Jennifer Nedeau, 23, a project manager at New Media Strategies Inc., a marketing firm in Arlington, Va. “I know I’m not bothering them with a phone call, but they’re still getting the message.”

I’d add that text messaging a manager comes after you’ve got a good relationship with the manager or if he/she explicitly gives permission. Otherwise, you’re asking to be on a list. ;-)

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Job Search: Define Your Goals

A friend of mine just landed a job. Congratulations to her as the job market is shriveling up. I won’t mention her name for fear it could cause complications at her new job but many of you know her.

She hasn’t worked for a company in 17 years, give or take, and has lived quite successfully as a consultant. However, she became enamored by the possibility of helping companies directly in her line of expertise.

She gave some thought to what she wanted to do and wrote this document, republished with her permission.


Overall function
I want to provide strategic direction that integrates new and social media opportunities for a dynamic organization. I see this function as working collaboratively with many departments and functions such as marketing, communications, PR, recruiting and retention, customer service, community management, investor relations and product development.

About new media and social media
I’m defining these terms not just as technology and communication tools, such as blogging, YouTube, Flicker, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, social bookmarking and social networking, but also as a new realm of communications with a distinctly different culture that includes activities such as ““

    User-generated content

  • Conversations and comments
  • Personal branding and online profiles
  • Personal and personable content
  • Community management
  • De-institutionalizing of information
  • Rating content
  • Tagging
  • Link, links, links “¦ and more links.

My ideal job looks like –

  • Working across a number of departments ““ marketing and communications, sales and business development, HR for recruiting and retention, IT, customer service and PR.
  • Providing strategic direction, internal consulting and project management.
  • Interacting with staff at many levels, including executives, managers, creative teams, technical staff and admin.
  • Designing, implementing and managing projects.
  • Keeping abreast of emerging new media technologies and trends.

I am less interested in work defined by digital media maintenance, e.g.

  • Keeping a website current.
  • Managing online advertising and email campaigns.
  • Handling technical functions of a company’s digital communications.

I am more interested in —

  • Being at the forefront of new media.
  • Identifying opportunities and developing strategies using new media.
  • Designing, implementing and managing projects.
  • Internal education, integrating new media and expanding an organization’s capacity.

Company / Environment
The environment in which I want to work is an organization that —

  • Already has a strong brand, marketing department and PR component.
  • Values creative business strategies supporting both short- and long-term goals.
  • Has leadership that is open and pushing to be an adaptive and dynamic company.
  • Has leaders who know they need to do something different ““ and fast, but may not have any strategy or plans yet.

The type of organization I want to work for is —

  • A large corporation, even a national brand.
  • Military organizations and federal government, or a government contractor tasked with bringing social media functions into the government.
  • A small municipality with robust funding for creative economic and community development.
  • I am less interested in nonprofit organizations.
  • The industry in which I work is of less importance to me than the job function.

Location

  • Company location is not important.
  • Willing to travel.
  • Looking to work in a creative and flexible environment, where technology and online
    communications are robustly supported; meeting space is beautiful, and productivity and
    results are valued over face time.

Notice how she defines exactly what she does and does not want. She knows specifics, down to the detail, on the principles of her employment. She knows that she may not be able to detail specifically which company or organization she wants to but she knows specifically the role she is looking for and what she wants to accomplish.

As unfortunate as this is, the economy is growing worse and more people are looking for work. You may be one of them. Instead of hitting the job boards with dervish-like ferocity, take a day or two alone and in a quiet place and write your own roadmap.

Knowing specifically what your goals are will greatly increase your chances of finding meaningful employment where you can do what you love and love what you do.

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