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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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