Note: This is all my opinion. It has no basis in scientific theory or groundbreaking research on job searches. It is based solely on my own personal experiences hunting for jobs over the years, as well as experiences related to me by other people in the tech community that I know personally. It’s a highly limited subset, being mainly restricted to the central Ohio area. You have been warned.
It’s a great time to be in the tech industry in general. Unemployment is down in most areas in the tech sector. You have the advantage. Use it. As with all things, times change. There were times it wasn’t good to be in tech. Those times will likely come again. But for now, you’ve got it good. If you’re not happy where you’re at right now, do something about it. Go and find a new job.
I want to help you. Like all well-meaning people (and some not so well-meaning), I will share my unsolicited advice and opinions on almost every topic under the sun. For now, I’ll just keep my advice to finding a dev job. I’ll break my advice up into categories. I suppose there’s some organizational pattern in there somewhere. I don’t see it. If you find it, let me know.
First, my own ‘credentials’. Just who the hell is this guy giving you his unsolicited advice? That’s a good question. My career has been varied. I’ve experienced a bit of variety over the course of my adult life. I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems, but I didn’t get it until my mid-30’s. Before I went back to school and earned my degree, I worked fast food, retail and factory worker jobs. I was a worker, a supervisor and a manager at various times.
The same goes for my post-degree life. I have been a developer, a team lead and a manager. I have worked as a contractor and an FTE (full-time employee). I have worked in state government, banking, insurance, health care, education, marketing and IT consulting jobs. I have worked for tiny startups of less than 10 people and large multi-national conglomerates with hundreds of thousands of workers. I haven’t done it all. But I’ve done quite a bit.
So on with the advice!
Resumes (Curriculum Vitae)
Ah, the resume. Or the curriculum vitae (CV). I will offend the purists (I love doing that) by stating that for our purposes, they’re pretty much the same thing. Where was I? Oh, yes. The resume! The time honored method of reducing everything important about you down to a single piece of paper or file. It’s a good topic to start on because it should be your first stop. Before you do anything else, you have to define who you are up to this point.
So first, you must create or update your “paper” form resume. I say paper, but come on, you’re gonna do it in Word. Yes, that’s right: Microsoft Word. Don’t use Google Docs or any of the other alternatives to Word. There’s a reason for that. The business world runs on Microsoft Office. And don’t use a version of Word older than 2013. Sure, there are places that use Google or other alternatives. Those are the exceptions to the rule, and don’t believe what anyone tells you otherwise. You need to make sure that your Word document looks the exact same to the person you send that file to as it does to you. Presentation matters. If you don’t own Office, that’s fine. The free version of Office Online works just fine.
The style of the resume really doesn’t matter, so long as it’s neat and clean and SIMPLE. Don’t get fancy or carried away. Make sure information is neatly presented and that blocks of information are clearly organized. If the person doing the hiring can’t spot your name, email address, phone number, skills list, employment history and education in under a second, they won’t waste their time. Your resume will get skipped and never looked at again. I can’t even count the number of resumes I tossed because I couldn’t spot necessary information (like their name) at a glance.
Side Note: Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t put pictures on your resume. Even if your job will be dealing with some form of art or design. Your portfolio should be presented alongside your resume, not in it.
There’s endless debate about the order of items in a resume. But in general the hiring people I’ve talked to and dealt with tend to prefer this order:
1. Contact Information
Name, phone, email, home address. Nothing else. Do NOT include things like social media links with the exception of LinkedIn. More on that in a minute.
2. Summary Paragraph
It’s all about you. Keep it short, just 3 or 4 sentences. Keep it professional. I know it can be hard to summarize yourself, your career and your skills in a small paragraph, but it’s critical that you do. Anything longer won’t get read and may impact you negatively.
3. Skills List
A simple comma delimited list of your basic skills. I’ve seen people use multi-column bullet points. As long as it’s not too big, that works as well. Sort it by strongest to weakest and/or newest to oldest. Acronyms are better than full names. Say C#, not C#.NET. Say SSMS, not SQL Server Management Studio. Include versions. Don’t say VS (Visual Studio). Say VS2017 or VS2015. Don’t include every version you know, just the last couple versions you’ve worked with. Where appropriate (like PHP), you might list the most popular versions you have worked with before the newest.
4. Employment History
If you aren’t looking for your first job, it’s absolutely critical to get this one right.
|Do Include||Don’t Include|
|Summarize job duties||Manager name|
|Company name||Too much detail|
|Job title||Contracting agency|
|List of skills used||Anything negative|
What if I don’t have an employment history?
Looking for your first job? That’s fantastic! Welcome to the industry. If you lack a job history, here’s where you can replace it with details on personal projects you’ve worked on. Use the same guidelines as a job. Keep it high level, keep it simple, and if at all possible, include links to where they can see your projects on the web. Only include appropriate projects. By that I mean projects that are likely to impress the hiring manager. If you’re applying for a job at a bank, don’t include a link to your Skyrim mod. Do include a link to your Github project where you extended a database ORM to work with MySQL.
Keep the links short. Use a service like Bit.ly to create a shortcut link to your content. The manager may have your paper resume and will be typing the link in. If it’s long, they won’t bother. And one link that goes to your personal profile or page is better than multiple links. Just be sure that links on your personal page to other content are clear and easy to find.
What if I’ve been doing freelance work?
That’s fine. Just be careful how you present it. Don’t list out every project. Try to summarize it together as if it were a single job. List the 2-4 most well known clients you worked with (and if your contract with them allows you to mention them). Don’t include things like “I made a web page for uncle Phil’s cat”. Even if he paid you to do the job. List highlights of your best, biggest and most successful projects.
If you don’t have a college degree, my recommendation is to omit this section entirely. Do NOT list your high school (or local equivalent) unless it is a dedicated technical or career school. I would also omit career bootcamps or certification factories. While they work for some, for many they have little value and many hiring managers hold negative opinions of them.
6. Awards, Certifications, Memberships
Many omit this part entirely and as a hiring manager, I seldom would ever look at this section. I would probably recommend this be omitted entirely unless you have a significant award that would give the hiring manager a favorable impression of you. For instance, a few awards I might include would be: Eagle Scout, top military awards, or a top award in the field where the company you are applying to operates. Do not include awards that are common or obscure. That may seem counter intuitive, but if it’s something anyone can get with minimal effort or it’s something no one has heard of, you’re better off not including it at all.
Some people will recommend that your customize your resume for each job application to emphasize the skills the job posting is looking for. I’ve never done this. I can’t say that I’ve found good evidence that this has any benefit. I can’t say it doesn’t either.
As a hiring manager, I never read a single cover letter. Not once. When I received a resume with a cover letter I immediately rip it off and threw it away. I don’t have time to read your life story. Nothing personal, but I don’t care. I only care that you have enough of the skills that I’m looking for to fill the position that I need that will make it worth my time to interview you. If you submit a PDF or Word doc where the first page is a cover letter, I’ll immediately delete it. I’m sure there are managers out there who read cover letters. Wherever they are, I don’t think they exist in the tech industry anyway.
I’ve never submitted a resume with a cover letter (except in an English class). I see them as having precisely zero value and are actually a waste of paper.
“We’ll Keep Your Resume On File”
Yes, the circular file (sometimes rectangular). The one sitting on the floor next to their desk. You know, the one that may or may not have a plastic bag in it and gets emptied at least a couple times a week. That one. That’s where they’ll keep it.
If you ever hear this, don’t expect to ever hear from them again. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to them down the road if you’re looking again and they have openings. Go ahead. Send them your resume again. Never rule a company out because they rejected you before.
LinkedIn & Other Social Media Platforms
OK, time to address the elephant in the room. A LinkedIn profile is a requirement for any professional job seeker. While there are a growing number of people who use it as a business related (or even personal) social media platform, it’s still first and foremost a platform for people looking for jobs or looking to be found by employers. Take the time to cultivate contacts. Connect to people you’ve worked with in the past. You never know who might provide you a job lead when you find yourself looking. Over the years about half the jobs I’ve found have been from leads from people I know. The other half have come from recruiters, which I’ll get to in a moment.
The one absolutely critical thing to remember about LinkedIn is this: Make sure your resume and you LinkedIn profile match EXACTLY. I don’t mean word for word in every detail. But your list of jobs, job titles and the dates you worked them should match precisely. The descriptions can vary so long as the general gist of it remains the same. And they should never, ever contradict each other.
A lot of people don’t like LinkedIn. Personally, I’m fine with it, so long as people remember it’s a professional social media platform. It’s not Facebook or Instagram. Keep your comments and postings professional in nature. If you wouldn’t share it with every single person you’ve ever worked with, maybe don’t post it on LinkedIn. Don’t post things about your dog, or your aunt Meg, or what you ate last night. Do post links to articles about interesting technologies or companies.
All other social media platforms
Aside from LinkedIn, all other social media can be lumped into a single bucket of consideration as it relates to your quest to find a new job. The first and most important rule is to keep your accounts private. Check the settings. Make sure that people cannot see your profile without being connected or “friends”. If the platform doesn’t allow “private” profiles, or it’s something you want to keep public, then use extreme caution with what you post. Potential employers nowadays WILL look at your Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and WhateverElse profiles that they can get access to.
If you’re tweeting your 2 AM drunken ravings, they will find them. And you will find fewer opportunities come your way because of it. So before you begin your job hunt, do a review of your “public” social media presence. Review it with this question in mind: “What will someone who has never met me before think of this?” If it’s a negative image, then consider pruning at least the more extreme postings in your timelines.
Just remember: On the Internet, nothing is ever really deleted. If it’s going to bite you later, it’s better that you never create it in the first place.
There are a plethora of job boards across the internet. From big, multinational boards like Monster and Dice and LinkedIn Jobs to the company specific job boards that many companies have to the web page some guy cre
ated for the local Chamber of Commerce, there’s no shortage of places to look for job postings. For tech people, some boards are much better than others. Keep in mind a few simple rules for using job boards.
One important thing you will need to do is to organize yourself. Keep careful track of the jobs you applied to and where you applied to them at. However you keep organized is up to you. I use spreadsheets. It’s critical that you don’t just click apply to every job posting that interests you. The reason is simple. Job postings will be duplicated across many boards. They’ll often even be duplicated on the same job board (Indeed seems to be one of the worst at this). And a sure way to not get an interview is to apply to the same job multiple times. If the hiring manager keeps seeing your resume pop up, they will get annoyed.
Uploading Your Resume
Many job boards allow you to post your resume. You can use it or not. It’s a mixed bag. On some boards, your resume will live forever whether you want it to or not. I still get emails from recruiters who somehow found a 15 year old resume on Monster where I mentioned limited knowledge of Cold Fusion and they want to know if I’m looking for a CF job. Other boards make excellent use of resumes, allowing you to submit your saved resume or upload a different one for each job posting.
Many of the boards will use your uploaded resume to try and pre-fill a number of form fields used to submit your information to hiring companies. They will often get some of the information wrong. Be sure to check and double check every single field to ensure they were converted accurately. This task will get annoying and repetitive as you do this process over and over and over again. You will ask yourself repeatedly “Why the hell did they want me to upload my resume if I have to type all this info out again?”. You will never get an answer to that question…..
Company Boards & Taleo
Many companies use a job board service called Taleo for their company job board. This service annoys the hell out of me. The URL will appear in the form of [CompanyName].taleo.net. There are a couple of reasons I hate Taleo. First, if you’re using a password manager (and you should), it won’t know which to use. And why is this? Because despite the fact that they are all running on the exact same platform, you can’t use the same account/credentials for all of them. Every single one requires you to create a brand new account and enter the same information OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
During my recent job search, I literally reached the point where if I found a company was using Taleo, I refused to apply for the job I was interested in. I moved on. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that bad, except for the second reason I hate this service. Taleo is one of those systems that couldn’t figure out which fields on my resume Word doc belonged in which form fields in their system. So I had to correct close to 60% of the data fields. And I had to do this for each and every company. Nope. No way. Done. I didn’t want to work for your company anyway.
I saved recruiters for last. I have a love/hate relationship with recruiters. You will too. Some of them you will love. And some of them you will hate. It’s normal. Just go with it. They’re just like the rest of us. Follow a few simple steps to make sure your recruiter relationships go as smoothly as possible.
Recruiters Are Not Your Friends
Nothing against them, but the recruiters you work with are not your friends. It’s a business relationship. You are engaging their services to try and find a job. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. They have resources and contacts you couldn’t possibly hope to cultivate yourself. It’s OK. That’s their job. If they succeed, you both win. They get paid. You get paid. Some of them are genuinely the nicest people in the world. Some only appear to be nice because they want something. Just like all the rest of humanity. And that’s fine. Like I said, they’re not your friend, they’re your business partner.
It’s important to remember that distinction. Why? It’s because of the way job positions work, especially contract positions. With contract positions, the way it sometimes works is that a company sets an hourly rate they’re willing to pay for a contractor in a certain position. The recruiter’s agency sets an expense rate for their costs. What remains is what’s left to pay you and the recruiter’s commission.
With some companies, they set a fixed percentage and won’t budge. With some, you can negotiate for a higher percentage for yourself. In these cases, you’re often lead to believe you’re negotiating with the hiring company. Nope, you’re actually negotiating with the recruiter to see how much you get and how much they get. For other contract positions, you actually are negotiating with the hiring company. Either way, you should at least try to negotiate and see if you can wiggle a little bit more for yourself. If you reach a point where no one will budge and you feel you’re worth more, don’t be afraid to decline and move on.
For direct hire placement, it typically works differently. In those cases you are negotiating with the hiring company. If you eventually agree to a salary and are hired, the recruiter’s commission is typically a payment from the hiring company equal to a percentage of your first year’s salary. This percentage is typically in the 25-30% range, plus or minus a bit. In these cases, it’s in the best interests of your recruiter to get every penny for you that they can. When you get paid more, they get paid more. It’s win, win, win.
Though I’ve never come across this, I have heard that some recruiters will expect payment from you for their services. While this does occur with some search services, like executive search companies, this is not the norm in IT recruiting. Avoid these agencies & recruiters.
Quantity or Quality?
Don’t limit yourself to a single recruiter. Remember, it’s a business relationship. If they don’t get you a job, they don’t get paid anything. Some companies only work with certain agencies. So get multiple recruiters working on your behalf to find as many potential opportunities as possible.
That said, you’re better off with a smaller group of trusted recruiters working on your behalf than you are by grabbing a recruiter from every agency in town. If you don’t already have a set of recruiters you trust, ask around for recommendations. Ask both for who people trust and who they don’t trust. There are certain recruiters in every town that can’t be trusted as far as you can throw their BMW. These are the ones that will take advantage of everyone they come across. Find them and avoid them.
If there is one expectation above all others to set with your recruiters, it’s this: Do not allow a recruiter to submit your resume/profile to anyone without consulting you first. The good ones will follow this policy anyway, but always be sure to commit each and every recruiter you work with to this policy. As with resumes, if 4 different recruiters submit you to the same company, it makes you look bad. And it will annoy your recruiters. When they bring up an opportunity, it’s fine to tell them “I’ve already been submitted to Company A for that position.” You won’t hurt their feelings. They may ask who submitted you. It’s up to you, but I usually will share the name of the agency that submitted me.
Okay, I said one expectation above all others. But here’s another. Do NOT share your current or past salary information with anyone. It’s not any of their business and it will set a low bar for your next salary. They will say: “If they worked their last job for $42/hr, I bet I can get them to go for $46/hr this time.” Always shift the topic back to the salary you are looking for. If they press you and won’t take no for an answer, move on. There is no shortage of recruiters out there. And that’s not a person you want to work with.
Be realistic, too. If you’re one year out of college and expect to make $150k, wake up and smell the roses, as the cliche goes. Do your research before you start. Resources like the annual Stack Overflow Developer Survey and Glass Door can help you determine what a fair salary range is for your skill set and experience in the local market.
Don’t Say Yes Until It’s Right
When a job offer is forthcoming, you will likely feel pressure to give an answer quickly. Don’t be afraid to slow it down just a bit and say wait. This is a life altering decision for you. Do some serious evaluation. Make sure it’s the right company, right job, right pay and so forth. If they’re serious, they will wait a couple days for an answer. If they demand an immediate (or close to it) answer, that could mean they’re desperate. That may not be a situation or culture you want to be a part of. It may also mean that you’re selling yourself short, salary-wise, and they want to commit you before you realize you could demand more money.
If you’ve found yourself working with a bad recruiter, they may also put some pressure on. They want their commission and therefore want you to accept. While the good recruiters also want their commission, they also realize that referrals are more important. They won’t pressure you. Instead, good recruiters will work to try and address any concerns you may have. They may also ask questions like: “What would it take for you to accept this offer.” While on first view, that may seem like pressuring, it’s really a perfectly fine question. It’s another way of asking: “What concerns do you have and how can I assist you in addressing them”.
Pressure or not, be certain to communicate your plan and be firm about following it. Make it clear up front what your plan to respond is. If it’s Tuesday and your intent is to consider it and research it and give your answer Friday afternoon, then tell them so. As long as you’re communicating your plan, most companies and recruiters are fine to give you at least a couple days to consider. But they won’t wait forever. If you want to take three weeks to think about it, they’re not going to go for that. Like I said, you have to be realistic.
So there it is, all my unsolicited advice. I hope you find a nugget or two of wisdom somewhere in there. Like I said at the top, it’s based on my limited subset of experiences. I’m not some academic with years of research on thousands of people. It’s just me. Maybe it helps. Maybe it doesn’t. But it’s there in all it’s splendor.