Over at wait till I come!, Christian Heilmann recently wrote about how to write a proper CV and get hired as a web developer. He opens with a disclaimer explaining how his tips are really only for prospective web developers and that ‘they will probably not work for other professions involved in web development' but I think he's selling himself short. As someone who also has hired web developers, I think that aside from a few skimmable details, his tips are useful for any jobhunter. Let's take a look.
HOW TO READ JOB ADS
Christian's right when he warns about job ads. Many people, including myself, have an understandable tendency to take them at face value; that is their point. After all, if the hiring company can't describe what they want, how can they hope to find anyone that corresponds to what they want? Alas, if it were only so simple. In a company where every team or department already has a manager, the decision to hire should come after a specific need to do so has been identified by that manager, in which case writing a job description or even a job posting should be fairly straightforward, but if this were always the case, I'd have nothing to say here 🙂 Some scenarios that I've seen-
- The Company Doesn't Know – Surprisingly often, companies can't even begin to describe their staffing needs. This is somewhat excusable in the case of a small company, where e.g. the CEO knows that ‘accounting needs to be done' but doesn't know enough on the topic or even someone else who can help him understand that he actually just needs a bookie – a person to organize the company's books/ledgers. Similarly, when a company needs to open a new department, it makes sense to find a qualified manager who can then go further in properly recruiting the members of the team. Unfortunately, not all people have the culture to seek pertinent external advice in defining the resulting job listing and only a stroke of luck would attract that competent manager.
- The Company Knows, They're Just Lazy – I see this all the time with one-line job listings on websites that allow for more, or hollow job listings that look for qualities that anyone should have (“must be a team player”). Or even, easy-to-verify absurdities like the one Christian points out – I remember in seeing an ad in 1998 that required 5 years of Java experience when Java itself was only released in 1995.
- The Company Knows, Until Bureaucracy Intervenes or Plays Broken Telephone – I once needed to hire a web developer intern. Following internal procedure, I wrote a one-page job description for my company's Human Resources Department and then had a short meeting with them where they explained that they would need to distill my job description into a few lines, which we did together in the meeting. They didn't know why the procedure couldn't have begun with me writing that short description first 🙁 With the short version done, it was now their responsibility to post the ad or have the ad posted by their ‘recruitment services'. I asked HR to see one of the posted ads; their reply – sorry, we can't show you. Frankly, I'm not even sure that HR knew where to find the ads, since some recruiting services won't divulge their sources for fear that companies will leapfrog them. However, ads must have been posted somewhere because CVs started trickling in. To my dismay, most of them were for web designers or multimedia producers (like people who made CD-ROMs back in the day). Clearly, my short description had been given short shrift.
- The Company Knows, But Can't Afford It – Sometimes, a company has done its homework and knows exactly what it needs for a specific position but also that they can't afford to pay market rates at that position. In my experience, this was always the case when the job listing asked candidates to specify their salary requirements in their reply to the ad.
RELYING ON THIRD PARTIES LEADS IN 90% OF THE CASES TO FRUSTRATION
Although I don't know where Christian pulled the 90% statistic from, I do agree with him that you can't rely on third parties for your main job search or in other words or do what I call a ‘passive job search'. That's where you send your CV to recruiters or post it on job listing boards and then sit back in expectation of an email deluge where your biggest problem is deciphering legitimate replies from spam.
It is boring to read through job listings, customize cover letters and CVs, and then follow up with the targeted companies, but when you're doing that hard work, it's with your own interests in mind. Recruiters (agents from recruitment/hiring services) are typically paid a commission when you get hired, and if you know this, I can understand your thinking that they have the same end goal as you do. However, that arrangement doesn't guarantee that the recruiters' interests are in harmony with yours. You want to find your dream job or at least you should be trying to do so. Recruiters just want to get paid for the least amount of effort, and frankly who can blame them – on some level we all want that. In consequence, they will try to setup interviews for you that will only be productive if the interviewer promises to forward your CV to someone else that may be interested.
If you don't have much interview experience, unnecessary interviews may not bother you at first. Later on, you will consider them a waste of time, best avoided by contacting the company directly before the interview and trying to get a better understanding of what they're looking for. I like to ask for a job description, formal or ad-hoc. Usually it will be the latter which is ok, especially if there isn't even a job listing for me to see since the recruiter referred me directly to the company.
NETWORKING IS EVERYTHING
It's true. A lot of people don't like the idea of ‘who you know' being primed over ‘what you know', and I'm one of them. That said, get ‘who you know' to put you in a situation where what matters most is ‘what you know'. Stay in touch with old colleagues, clients or partners. Ask friends to send your CV out to their friends and contacts. Be active in online communities and social networks, in particular those related to your profession, and don't hesitate to mention that you're looking for work. Create accounts on general-purpose open business networks like LinkedIn (popular in North America), Xing (popular in Europe) or ZoomInfo (popular in Israel, I'm not sure why).I once read that the majority of available jobs in a market are never publicized outside of companies. When you think about it, it's not hard to understand why. Financially, it can cost very little to stay ‘internal'. Employees hear of an opening and then tell their individual network of contacts. If a new hire is found, the company wins and the employee wins (doubly so if there's an incentive plan involved).
WRITE A GOOD CV
I agree with everything that Christian says here. One point I like is ‘remember that whoever is hiring will have to look through dozens of CVs a day'. Taking that further – if you want your communication (i.e. your CV) to be well received, it's important to properly understand your target audience, in this case likely someone or some *machine* in a Human Resources department or hopefully even your boss-to-be. If you follow Christian's advice, you'll be on the path to a good CV but it will require research for it to be a great CV, one where the viewer feels as if you're already a part of the company. For that to happen, you will need to tailor your CV specifically for the company that will receive it. Learn about the company from their website – try to find the job you're applying for, especially if you haven't already seen the ad. See what Google and other search engines have to say about them. Then, apply what you learnt in rewriting parts of your CV. For example, every company has its own lexicon of terms that are particularly meaningful to them and that can sometimes be understood from their website or in their press releases. Integrating some of these terms (only where relevant) in your CV would show your familiarity with the company and make you seem familiar to them. In a similar vein, be careful which words you use in your CV. Here are some more general CV-writing tips.
HAVE A LIST OF ACHIEVEMENTS AND INTERESTS
This should either be on your CV or a mental note for interviews. As Christian mentions earlier in his article, online portfolios are good for freelancers but you still need luck to be found since there are so many portfolios out there. In any case, not everyone can have a portfolio like a freelancer but everyone should be prepared to talk about what could have been in their portfolio i.e. their professional highlights. Among questions that you should be asked will be which projects did you love working on and why? If not, there's no harm in bringing it up anyway to show some in-depth knowledge but of course, stick to achievements and interests that are pertinent to the job you're interviewing for.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
This is the most important element of any job search – your goal. Your sole objective. When I searched for work, I asked myself what my dream job would be and used that as my compass through all the ups and downs and ins and outs of my job hunt. If you're unsure, compare what you're qualified to do with what you love to do in determining which professions match up best and thus which jobs to aim for. Since a dream job requires a dream work environment, you should learn about work conditions for your dream job and prioritize their importance for you. Companies will always try to save money and a typical way is by offering lower salaries to new recruits. Whether or not they can pay more, a good company will try to accommodate your priorities (developer example and rebuttal) as much as possible especially if the cost to them is low but the value to you is high. One of the reasons I joined Amazon in France was because they were objective-oriented and not hour-oriented. This meant that as long as I was achieving my employee objectives, no one would complain about me leaving early on Friday afternoons to get home in time for Shabbat. Amazon only gained from the arrangement since the flex-time policy was in effect for everyone and thus cost them nothing exceptionally for me, whereas from my point of view it was a major reason to stay on since not many companies permit such flexibility outside of Israel.
Choose a direction for your job search, equip yourself with a good CV, prepare for interviews and then push that CV wherever it makes sense. Posting it on job boards and sending it to recruiters and headhunters is also useful but should be kept secondary – it's up to you to stay proactive if you want that dream job.