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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Recruiter

More in the continuing series of my job search experiences…

In my last post, I talked about searching for a new job.  I gave my experiences using the internet and networking.  Using either one of these methods, you will eventually experience The Recruiter.

Recruiters at a very high level come in two flavors, internal and external.  Internal recruiters are generally HR folks who work within a company; their job is to find skilled candidates to fill positions that the company needs to hire.  These recruiters often use other search mechanisms, such as job boards and external recruiters to find candidates.  Often your first contact with the actual company that is hiring is with the internal recruiter, although that may not be the first contact you make about the particular job.  Why?  Because some companies have external recruiters that vet candidates first, then pass them on to internal recruiters, who further narrow the field before passing on the resumes to the hiring manager.

External recruiters, on the other hand, don’t work for the company that is hiring.  They are paid by the company to find qualified candidates.  Their interests are two-fold: on one hand, they want to develop a long-term relationship with the hiring company, so they want to be picky about candidates to ensure that they’re adding value to the hiring chain.  On the other hand, they need to talk to a lot of candidates in order to find the right one for the jobs that they’re involved in searching.

This presents a dilemma.  And it’s one of the most frustrating parts of dealing with external recruiters.  Often, based on a resume that you’ve posted on a job board, you’ll hear from an external recruiter.  He or she will probably want to meet you in person, go over your experiences and skills, and talk about the job that they’re trying to fill.  On the other hand, they have to deal with thousands of candidates in order to find maybe three to five that qualify for the position.  What happens to the other 995 candidates?  Well, as much as the external recruiter promises that you’ll hear back from him later this week, if you’re not in that top five, you probably won’t.

And here’s the rub.  They might actually have been hired by the hiring company to find a candidate, or they may be trying to find and promote a candidate themselves – even though they might not have an existing relationship with the company.  They hope that they can present a candidate so compelling that the company will hire you, instead of someone else, and pay their finders fee.

What does all this mean?  For any given position you find on aggregators, job boards, and even company websites and networking, there is probably an external recruiter out there trying to fill that position too.  That means that you’ll run into them a lot.  And most times, that contact will consist of the following:

  • Initial email or phone call
  • In-person meeting
  • Maybe one follow-up phone call
  • Then, either:
    • Another call back because the hiring company likes your resume and wants to talk to you, or…
    • No call back ever.  Crickets chirping.

The last point is the most frustrating, because you’re inevitably going to have to deal with external recruiters, but you will inevitably not like dealing with them, because they never call you back.  In reality, the companies that they represent make that decision – and those companies would have also probably never called you back either.  But in the first meeting, the recruiter will make it sound like regardless of this job, he or she wants to work with you and establish a long-term relationship, and there will be more jobs if this one doesn’t work out.  A second call from a recruiter, offering a new Job B after Job A didn’t work out, rarely happens.

But it did happen to me.  I found a great external recruiter, and in fact he helped me get the job I have today.  He called me literally every day, and my interview pipeline was full to the brim every week while he was working with me.  (If you want a referral, contact me, but out of respect for his privacy I’m not going to post his name here.)  From the day that I found out that my last contract gig wasn’t going to be renewed, my “A” recruiter was on the job – and it was clear that he was not going to stop until we found a job that I liked.

In the end, he put two offers in front of me.  In the worst job recession in memory.  He was fabulous.  And, sadly, he was one in a million.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:18 pm  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Search

So you’ve lost (or want to lose) your job, you’ve written the perfect resume, and you’re ready to write a kick butt cover letter. Now to find that perfect job. There are many ways to search. The three major ones are online job search engines and boards, external recruiters, and networking.

Let’s start with the Internet. There are a gazillion job search engines and boards, and all of them want you to post your resume on them.  Resist the urge.   Unless you’re applying for a job listed on their board and they require your resume in order to apply, try to limit the number of boards that you post your resume on.  This may seem counter-intuitive; doesn’t having more eyes on your resume in more places help?  Well, yes and no.  Some boards are great, others just harvest your personal info and sell it, then offer you job requisitions that you can find elsewhere.

Then there are “aggregators” – these are like uber job search engines. They dig deep into other job search engines, as well as company job websites and other boards. Aggregators keep track of all the currently posted jobs, and when you search for a specific term, they direct you to the original website that listed the job. I’ll get to my stories about boards, aggregators, and other jobs sites in a moment.

Next, there’s networking. The basic premise is, you know people. Some of these people like you. Many people you know have a pretty good idea of what kinds of jobs you can handle. Hopefully, those people work. And, hopefully, the companies where they work want to hire someone. If all these parameters come together, a friend or relative or former co-worker of yours might help you get a job. Sounds far-fetched? My outplacement firm told me that 90% of open positions get filled by networking.  While I will not discount the value of networking, I think some of the claims are a bit exaggerated.

In my case, I had three or four great networkers helping me out.  One, a former co-worker, found a job that I qualified for, submitted my resume (with my permission) and even gave me a reference.  Another, a relative, was relentless in putting my resume in front of hiring managers for jobs that I felt I qualified for.  While networked jobs resulted in many phone screens and a few face to face interviews, none ended in an offer.  That wasn’t the networker’s fault, but it does highlight one flaw: selectivity.  When you search for a job on the internet, or for that matter anywhere else, you’re going to search for a specific set of skills that you have, and look at jobs that are looking for those skills.  When someone in your network refers you for a job, it may or may not be a great fit. Think of it this way: you may be the greatest IT C++ development project manager of all time, but (except possibly for former coworkers) your friends and relatives may just know you as “the IT guy.”  There’s a big difference between looking for “IT C++ development project manager” jobs and looking for “IT” jobs.  The point is, when you network, make sure you look for the same criteria as you would when you search in other ways.

Now for my anecdotal data: in the time I was unemployed, I interviewed for hundreds of jobs, with dozens of face-to-face interviews.  Networking resulted in one face-to-face, and no offers.  Job board aggregators resulted in many phone screens, but no face-to-face interviews.  One job board – a board specifically geared toward IT people – resulted in many interviews and one offer (that ended up being a contract rather than a direct hire).  The other contract job, and the permanent job came from my next topic: external recruiters.  This is a topic that I’m going to dedicate one full post on, coming up soon.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 5:58 pm  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Cover Letter

In my last post, I made some remarks about what worked, and didn’t work, for my resume.  If you’re going down that road, once you finish your resume you’ll be tempted to start sending it out.  Before you do that, however, you should think about your cover letter.

Recruiters, both internal and external, receive literally hundreds or sometimes thousands of resumes per day.  In the previous post, below, I talked about ways I found to make it stand out.  But there is another component – the cover letter, and you should not neglect the quality of your cover letters.  In some cases, recruiters will simply dismiss any resumes that don’t have cover letters.   Sometimes they will look to the cover letter to fill in additional information that isn’t covered in your resume (more about that later).  In every case, an attention-getting cover letter can mean the difference between your resume being read, or deleted.

Think of it this way: your resume is supposed to get the hiring manager’s attention.  Conversely, the cover letter gets the recruiter’s attention.  It draws the recruiter into your resume; it makes them want to read more about you.  Here are some tricks that helped me out, when I had to come up with a cover letter.

  • Highlight the parts of your resume that directly relate to the position.  Guide your reader through the resume, pointing out specific roles or projects that demonstrate that you meet or exceed the job requirements.
  • You can also use the cover letter to augment minor areas of your resume, for instance “Although it’s not highlighted in my resume, one of my additional responsibilities in my role at XYZ Company was managing a virtual server environment including ten servers and forty virtual guests.”  This might be important if you’re applying for a position where this experience is unrelated to the primary role, but is a “nice to have” in the job request.
  • Don’t make excuses for not sending a cover letter.  If the web form doesn’t include a cover letter option, append it to the front of your resume before you attach or upload it.  Always include a cover letter with your resume when you email applications.  And by all means, take advantage of any job website “apply for this job” options that allow you to include a resume.
  • Don’t Google “sample cover letters” right before you send your resume, and attach the best looking one.  Most recruiters have also Googled “sample cover letters” and then laugh at you when you include them as your own.
  • Take 30 minutes to an hour per job to think about the job req, what it’s looking for, how you match those requirements, and what value you can add to the role.  Write it all down.  Then, clean it up.
  • Finally, try to match the language and cadence of the letter to the type of company you’re applying to.  For instance, start up companies tend to be very high energy, creative environments – let your cover letter reflect your energy and creativity.  Don’t be boxed in to tired old catch phrases; let your creative side show when you’re applying to companies that are looking for creative talent.  On the other hand, if you’re applying to a company that is very conservative and proper, let that side of you show.

Now I’ll wrap up with a story.  When I got started on my job search, I broke most of the rules for cover letters.  I tried to avoid sending them if I could.  I used samples that my outplacement company provided me.  They were afterthoughts, if they were used at all.  My first big break came when I landed my first new job – what ended up being a short term contract, but still a win – and the HR recruiter commented that my cover letter was what put my resume ahead of hundreds of other applicants.  It was, in fact, a high tech start-up company and I had spent about an hour making the cover letter creative yet pointed, humorous yet not overly giddy, and it perfectly highlighted my experience against their job req, point by point.  It was the first time I had spent this much time on the cover letter – mainly because I felt that the position was “my position” – written for my exact experience.  Unfortunately, the job didn’t end up as good as the req, but the lesson I learned – which improved my job hunting skills later – was never, ever underestimate the power and value of a good cover letter.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:03 pm  

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Resume

Probably the first thing that you’ll turn to when you lose your job, or decide it’s time to find a new one, is your old resume. I had one too, and I had floated it – somewhat halfheartedly – for a few years before my “position was eliminated”. It clearly wasn’t very effective, because I didn’t get much response from it.

Then, when I was laid off, my former employer hired an “outplacement firm” (who my coach worked for) to, among other things, help me prepare my resume.  Here’s how it went, and how it turned out.  First I’m going to cover the advice that they gave me, and then how I modified that, and what my results were.

First, format isn’t terribly important.  A header at the top should cover contact information.  You should include as much contact info as possible, including URLs to your pages on sites like LinkedIn.

Next should be a brief profile.  This is where you summarize yourself: what you are, what you’ve accomplished, and your background.  It should start out with a statement like “A <your field> professional with a proven record of delivering <solutions>.”  You should include an adjective or two, like “expert”, etc. – but don’t overdo it.  Following this intro sentence, you should cover at a very high level your background – e.g. “direct marketing”, “focus groups”, “Linux”, “Security”, etc.  Cover as much as you can in one sentence, but don’t drill down yet.  Finally end with a sort of sell sentence… I don’t know exactly how to describe this, so I’ll break one of my rules (which I haven’t mentioned yet) and post mine here.

A detail oriented technician, problem solver, and technical coach with a reputation for taking on the most difficult and challenging projects and completing them on time and on design.

There, does that help?  Good.  Actually, this is the part of my resume that changed very little over the years.  What comes next changed quite a bit.  My professional experience.

At this point, I was told to start listing job data – employers, along with a summary of what business the employer was in.  Dates should be given as “Month Year to Month Year”… if employers want more detail, they’ll ask.  Next, list your latest title or job role, and the dates you held that title or role.  I was told that as you describe your role, you should start with a paragraph that summarizes what you did, and how it affected the company or department.  You can also list any particular emphasis your role had, and any products or processes you used to accomplish your role.  For instance, (not from my resume):

Designed distributed application layer for websites involving JavaScript running on Solaris 10 with an emphasis on application speed, ease of use, and cross-site connectivity.

After this brief summary, you start to list some bullet points.  This is where you list what you accomplished – important projects you completed, high profile accomplishments, etc.  You want to start with an accomplishment word, like “Improved” or “Reduced”.  Then, explain what you improved or reduced.  Then say “by”, and explain how you did it.  Explain it from early idea stages through to implementation or delivery.  It should be two or three sentences (each bullet point), and you should have usually 3-5 bullet points per role.

You then repeat this for each role you held within the same company, and then repeat for each company you worked for.

Now, how that worked out for me.  Well, pretty good… but not perfect.  Here’s where the talk becomes a bit IT-specific.  I don’t know about other careers, but in IT, it’s all about technology – what products have you mastered? Which ones have you learned?  Which ones have you briefly touched?  In reality, for IT professionals, right after your Profile but before you work experience, you need to list – pretty much in bullet points – what technology you know, and how much you know it.  And you must be honest.  Do not try to fake your way into a job you don’t understand.  It won’t end well.

Finally, at the end, summarize your education – colleges you attended, degrees you received. Also, list any certifications.

The last steps involve checking your resume for accuracy and errors, with multiple eyes.  Typos are death.  You must catch them all.  Spell check and grammar check everything.  Then have someone else spell and grammar check it.  Then read it, out loud, to someone else and take any corrections they suggest.  Clean it all up, spell check it one last time, and then you’re ready.

In my experience, the resume my outplacement firm helped me build was described as polished and very professional.  At the same time, before I added the bullet list of technologies I know, it was also passed over by a lot of recruiters and HR people.  These folks have hundreds or thousands of applicants for each position, and they quickly scan a lot of resumes.  If yours doesn’t have the keywords they’re looking for, even if you’re perfect for the job, they’ll skip it.  It’s also important to update the “Profile” section with keywords from the job req – NOT FAKED, of course – so if a job req says “Looking for a marketing professional with 10 years of experience in focus groups”, the first line of your resume for that employer should read “A marketing professional with 10 years of experience in focus groups.”  And, it has to be true.  If it’s not true, don’t lie – print the truth, and hope for the best. And, as you probably guessed, you need to change that line for each employer with whom you apply.

In reality, this resume worked great for me – and in fact, after I added the technology bullet points at the top, I had no end of calls from recruiters and HR.  Then, it was just a matter of weeding out the best jobs, pursuing those, getting past phone / tech screens and interviews, and negotiating a final offer.  I’ll get into more details about those in future posts here.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:54 pm  

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Big Day

Another in the continuing blog series about my extended unemployment.  First off, let me say: this will be the only post I make that doesn’t have a summary or a lesson.  Most will be along the lines of “Here’s a story about an experience I had with Cover Letters, and why you need to write a good one.” This one has no lesson, except this: It Can Happen To You.

So you’ve all thought about it… what if it’s you?  I must admit, although I didn’t fret much, I did think about it.  When it came, it was surreal.  I had arrived at work as normal, and started my usual Monday morning routine – check email, answer the high priority, set aside the lower priority stuff for later, take care of any pressing matters.

The first pressing matter that came up was, a colleague of mine pinged me on chat.  We worked together managing what was essentially a ticket management system for a data center I managed.  For those of you who care, the system was based on Plone.  I won’t go into the gory technical details, but when someone who helped us manage the lab (i.e. staging systems, or adding network addresses, etc.) left the company, their name had to be removed from a database in Plone or the whole system would simply stop working.  So this colleague pings me, and says “Hey, just thought you should know that Fred got laid off today, he was a ticket manager, so you should remove his entry in the databse.”

Aw crap.  I liked Fred (name changed to protect the innocent), and then it occurred to me… today was the day that they were going to make the next round of cuts.  Ugh, I wonder who else will get the axe.

As I said, I didn’t think much about it, as far as whether it would effect me.  I had survived many rounds of layoffs, and although I knew it could happen to anyone, I didn’t expect the axe to come down on me that day.  About an hour later, the phone rang.  I was just about to go grab an OJ, but I figured since I had efficiently caught myself up on email, I should stay caught up and answer this call.  After all, if I didn’t answer the phone, they’d just email me, and then I’d have to read it, do something about it, yadda yadda yadda.

So I pick it up.  It’s Gordy (again, names changed).  He’s the head of our IT group in Chicago.  We go back, used to work together a lot on related projects, he’s a pretty nice guy.  So I wondered why he’s calling me.  He tells me, “Hey Mike, I’m up by the door to HR, can you come up here?”  My first thought was terribly wrong – some folks used to call me when they got stuck behind a security door, because I’m usually in the office early.  And, well, if you get stuck behind a security door at 7:30 AM, you pretty much need to call someone.

But it’s not 7:30 AM.  It’s nearly 9.  And there’s no security door to get stuck “behind” up on the HR floor.  Crap.  I’m in the cross-hairs.  A million things went through my mind all at once, and I’m sure I went completely pale.  But I steadied myself, hiked up my pants, locked my computer keyboard, and headed up to find out what the future holds for me.

Gordy introduces me to an HR person they brought in temporarily from Stamford, probably because the regular HR folks didn’t want to.  Then Gordy and temp-HR-person starting going through the details – The Bank is suffering financially.  We’ve laid off  many, and there’s still more to come.  And my position has been eliminated.  Temp-HR-person starts going through the severance details.  Health insurance.  Some company will be hired by The Bank to help me clean up my resume, and maybe help me find a job.  In fact, the rep is here, and (if I feel like it), I can meet him today.  More details, sign this stuff at your leisure, mail it in by suck-and-such date, yadda yadda yadda.  It was about 10:00 AM, and I was already feeling tired from information overload.

Finally they asked if I wanted to meet my new job search coach.  It was just after 10, I had come into the office expecting to not leave until 4:00 PM.  Sure, what the hell, what else do I have to do today?  The coach introduces himself, outlines what he’ll be doing for me, for how long, and what resources will be available to me.  He asks me a few questions about my career.  Also he tells me, it’s time to think about what you’re going to tell people.  Don’t tell them you were laid off or RIFed, he says.  Tell them that your “position was eliminated”.  Heh, that’s the same term that Gordy used.  I never quite understood that statement… whenever I used it, even in interviews, people inevitably responded “Oh, you were laid off.”  Whatever.

Finished with my new coach, they handed me the personal items I could carry home (the rest would be packed up and mailed to me later that week) and a security guard escorted me to the elevator, down to the first floor, and through the security gate.  Once out, I couldn’t come back in, so he bid farewell and went back upstairs, probably to escort another poor sap down to the ground.  To this day, I don’t envy him.

Out on the street at 10:30 AM on Monday, I had no idea what to do next.  In the immortal words of Tommy Shaw, “I’ve got nothing to do
And all day to do it.”  Money wasn’t an immediate problem; after 11 years, The Bank was taking care of me pretty well in our divorce.  I must admit that a small, tiny part of me wanted to go to a bar.  But I figured I had big news to tell my family, and a fully schnockered Dad coming home and saying “Daddy lost his job” wasn’t going to be a good start for the family.  I headed to the train station.

It was 10:30 AM, and my next train was at 11:30.  By then, I would probably be hungry, so I decided to stop at a fast food place at the train station.  I got a burger and fries, and waited for my train.  A lot was going through my head, but now I can’t remember it all.  My coach was going to call me in a few days, after things sunk in.  I didn’t have to start my resume yet, I had plenty of time and the coach would help me with that. Soon I would have to tell people – starting with immediate family, explaining what happened, reminding them that I work in IT in Financial Services, and this sort of thing is to be expected, especially during this terrible economy.  We’ll be fine, we have a parachute – not golden, but at least something.  Then, I’d have to broaden out the message.  Parents.  Brothers.  Cousins.  Etc.

But right now, it’s not time for that yet.  Right now, it’s just me and my newfound status – unemployed.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:03 pm  

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Job Search Blog

I’ve added a new category – Job Search – where I plan to post some of my experiences of finding a job career in the worst job market in thirty years.

A few basic ground rules before we get started:

  • I’m an IT guy.  This shouldn’t matter much; an unemployed IT guy has the same basic challenges as an unemployed marketing person or an unemployed burger flipper.  But my stories and advice will be framed in an IT job reference, just so you know.
  • I have worked primarily in financial services.  This includes proprietary trading, hedge funds, investment banking, and retail.
  • Prior to my recent extended period of unemployment, I was pretty much continuously employed since I was 15 1/2 years old.
  • I’m generally not touchy feel-ie.  I don’t do well in group therapy sessions.  In my experience, networking meetings are group therapy sessions.  But more on that later.  The importance of this will become clear as I tell stories and give advice.

Here’s what I’m going to cover, in no particular order, subject to change:

  • Networking
  • Job Boards
  • Resumes
  • Cover Letters
  • Presentation
  • Attitude

One more thing about me: I have a job now.  I was unemployed from November, 2009 until April 2011 with a couple of short-term contracts during that period.  I have since found a job I like doing at a place I like.  I’m not going to tell you how to get a job, I’m simply going to tell you how I coped, applied, and survived during my extended unemployment leading up to getting my new job.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 8:53 pm  

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