Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding a Job in the Internet Age.

This is a list of tips on how to optimize your job search using the tools available online.  This is all based on my experience of numerous searches I have done over the last 9 years as a contractor.  I do not claim to be the final authority on this and if something here does not seem right, then follow your own best practices. 

This document is broken into many parts.  Most of the parts can be executed independently, but having an understanding on how they interconnect can only improve your chances.  These parts are:
  • How the position placement process works
  • Tweaks on your resume
  • How to use the job boards
  • Recruiter calls
  • Interview tips
  • FAQ
Preamble:
Looking for work is work.  It requires dedication, time, strategy, and energy.  You may be spending 4-8 hours every day in an effort to find that next position.  Consider the research an investment. 

Disclaimer.  There are other methods to job placement than what I have listed here.  If you are the type of person that is really good with people, I can recommend “What Color Is Your Parachute 2010” This doesn’t mean the principles listed below won’t work for you, but use all of your talents to your own best advantage.

How the Position Placement Process Really Works.

In an ideal world, companies would create databases of all the resumes submitted to them, and have a program that can find people with skills required with a simple keyword search.  Workers would get called up, and both worker and company would be happy.

In the real world, large corporations do create databases of employee talent and resumes.  But they are not used to any degree.  The resumes submitted from outside of the company become stale, as those people have long since found a job, while in house talent cannot be acquired because that would be interdepartmental poaching, and the employee usually has no incentive to transfer as they would lose any seniority and favors accrued in their present department.  Most companies also have policies that forbid offering raises to transferred employees.  This lack of reward keeps the payroll in check, but also leads to stratification of talent, which in turn gets raises only by “transferring” to another company. 

So, almost all new positions invariability lead to recruitment from outside.  This task is outsourced to Job Placement Agencies for a fee.  Some of these placement agencies maintain a stable of candidates to offer, but the vast majority use the internet to recruit candidates.  The process works something like this:
  • A manager identifies a need for more help and submits requirements to Human Resources.
  • HR rewrites requirements, often adding many other skills.
  • HR submits requirements to the Recruiters.
  • Recruiters search for candidates using sophisticated keyword search software.
  • Recruiters contact candidates and vet them for availability, skills, and salary.
  • Some Recruiters test candidates and interview them personally.
  • Recruiters submit resumes of candidates to employers.
  • Employers “Phone Screen” accepted candidates.
  • Employers interview candidates.
  • Offers made.
Or:
  • A manager identifies a need for more help and submits requirements to Human Resources.
  • HR rewrites requirements, often adding many other skills.
  • HR submits requirements to the Recruiters.
  • Recruiters submit job postings to various job boards.
  • Candidates contact Recruiters on job postings.
  • Recruiters vet candidates for availability, skills, and salary.
  • Some Recruiters test candidates and interview them personally.
  • Recruiters submit resumes of candidates to employers.
  • Employers “Phone Screen” accepted candidates.
  • Employers interview candidates.
  • Offers made.

This missive primarily deals with the first half of these lists.  The rest of the process is to demonstrate how dynamic the process really is.  At any point in this process a break can occur that keeps a candidate from becoming an employee.

The main problem with this process is the sheer information overload that is now occurring on all levels.  In the past, Companies in bad economic times might expect thousands of resumes the day after a job posting, now receive hundreds of thousands today.  The subcontracting to the Recruiters is one way of managing the load. This is the environment we are living in.  We must adapt our tactics to it.

The Resume

In one respect, the resume has not changed, it still has only one purpose, and that is to get an interview.  Your resume is still the main tool to advertise yourself to the Recruiters, HR, and the Hiring Manager.  However, as each of these entities have different motivations, a well-crafted resume that would be successful to all of them may be impossible.  There are many articles on writing a resume.  Read several of them!

In the header of your resume, include an email address.  If your email address does not reflect a professional attitude, then create a new one using gmail.  Go to http://www.google.com/, select gmail in the upper middle of the page.  Select a name that would have a positive bearing on you.  For an example, if you are an auto mechanic, you could use iFixFords@gmail.com.  As a .NET Programmer, mine is PGardockiDotNet@gmail.com.  A Pastry Chef could have ThreeTierCakes@gmail.com.  If you are using Microsoft’s Outlook program, you can then set up your email retrieval to go get your email and set up a rule to place it in specific Job Search folder.

You will find there are many patterns to writing a resume.  The main types of resumes that come to mind are what I refer to as “hard” and “soft”.

A hard resume is extremely detailed, and leaves nothing to the imagination of the reader about your abilities.  For example; “I hit nails with a hammer.”  The problem with this style is that any skill not defined in the resume is assumed to be not available. A soft resume may read; “Performed attachments of fibrous materials”.  The second description implies knowledge of range of glues and connecting techniques.  The problem with this style of resume is that the audience has changed.  If it were read by the hiring manager, it could intrigue the mind and secure an interview.  The problem is HR and the Recruiter look at the resume first.  And if the Recruiter is looking for the resume on the internet using keywords “nail” and “hammer” he will never see that soft styled resume.

No matter how well your resume is written, there will be those that hate it, and those that like it.  Everyone is different, your resume is not going to be static, and it will be rewritten often.  Some resume writing articles will have you rewrite a resume for every position you post to.  In this day of information overload, you cannot afford the time to do this for any but the most desirable positions.  Your time is limited, and you must make an assessment.  Do you want to take an hour to rewrite for a single position, or submit to 10 more positions? 

The most important part of your resume is keywords.  A keyword is a word used by a search engine in its search for relevant Web pages.  This is applied by Recruiters to search the mass of resumes on the various job sites.  They can be one or two word descriptors of your skill sets.  Your resume must be littered with the keywords that someone would use to find your resume.  But they must be inserted in such a way as to look natural to the naked eye.  The method I use is to provide a list of skills on my front page.  Then, in the main body of the resume, each keyword is repeated in the position where it is appropriate.  This validates the keyword to both the eye of the reader, and to the more sophisticated search programs.  This is probably the most important advice I can offer you.  This technique is derived from Search Engine Optimization principles.  Search the internet for SEO and you will find several articles on this.  The main point of SEO is to get Google and Yahoo to present a web page first.  The same principles can get your resume on top of a keyword search by Recruiters. 

For example, part of my skill list reads :
Known Computer Languages
.NET 1.1, 2.0, 3.5
Ajax
ASP.NET
C, C++ and C#

Later in the resume these are validated:
XYZ Corp 1/2007-7/2007: Senior Developer, QA Tester, Data Masking Specialist.  Using C#, developed a Windows Service for the PARS to PIIN interface.  PARS, or Police Arraignment System, is an Sybase based Client Server System, and PIIN, Police Integrated Information Network, is an Oracle based ASP.NET System.  Using Use-Cases provided by XYZ Software Architect, created both batch processing and event driven data transfer modules interfacing these modules.  Tasks included troubleshooting the Oracle and Sybase stored procedures supporting the interface and the generation of consistent and coherent masked test data for proper testing of dataflow using a Winform C#, application. 

Technical skills required: .NET 1.1, ASP.NET, Ajax, C#, and XML.

The Bolded text is provided for emphasis of this document, and is not actually on the resume.

Keyword placement is important for not just the Internet Keyword search, but also by the Recruiter who has a list of requirements from HR.  Neither the Recruiter, nor HR, really knows what the hiring manager needs, and have only the keywords to relate to.  The more keywords that match, the more likely your resume will be selected.

So, where do you get your keywords?  You will have to pick a dozen or so from your mind and apply them.  Then later I’ll introduce you to some of the internet tools that will help.  The third method involves talking with Recruiters.  When they ask you what skills you have, they will go down a list of keywords they use.  Add the new relevant words to your resume.

The Internet
On the internet, there are a number of job sites.  Some of them are www.dice.com, www.monster.com, www.phillyjobs.com, www.careerbuilder.com, www.theladders.com to name a few.

Each site allows you to set up a profile, or skills list, and upload your resume.  In this era of information overload, open as many accounts as you can manage. 

Each site also allows you to set up “Search Agents”.  A Search Agent is an automated search that will step through every job posting on the board, and present all postings that have matches with your keyword list.  This is one of your tools to derive keywords and refine your resume.  On each site, set up a search agent, place your keywords and search.  Job postings should be presented.  Read each posting presented and derive the keywords that the Recruiters and HR personnel placed.  Add the relevant words to your list and update your Search Agent.  Repeat this process.  When you think you have derived all the keywords that apply to you, set up the Search Agent to send you daily emails.  These emails are lists of all job postings and will save you the effort of going to the site and running the Search Agent manually.

Now go to the next job site and repeat this process.

Once you have an expanded list of keywords, add them to your resume.  Post the resumes onto the job sites, and update any skill lists.  Each site has an Active and Inactive, or Public/Private settings for the resumes.  Make your resume Active/Public.

Keep your online documents fresh.  There are time stamps on all documents on the web.  So while you are on an active job search be sure to update all your on line resumes about once a week.  When Recruiters do searches, they will check on how old the resume is.

Applying to a position.

The Search Agents will return a list of job postings, which will contain a variety of information.  They may include title, rates offered, list of responsibilities, list of skills, education requirements, and contact information.  Some can be applied to by simply pressing a button “Apply”.  Others may mention an email address.  Others will send you to a link to another site to place information.  Others may have several methods.  If there is a contact email, and an “Apply” button, use the email.

Because there are many hands involved with writing the postings, there are often far more skills listed than are really required.  It will take a practiced eye to divine the original intent of the Hiring Manager from the additions that HR and the Recruiters may have added.  I work on the assumption that what is posted on top left is most important, and descending in importance the further down, or to the right of that skill.

Example:
Wanted, Actor to play the Son of God
Rate: DOE (Depends on Experience)
Required Skills:
  •  Walks on water
  •  Conversion of fluids
  •  Healing sick
  •  Reattachment of Limbs
  •  Beard
Education Level
  •  Masters Chemistry/Alchemy degree
  •  Bachelors Physics
  •  Knowledge of Biology, Pharmaceutical, Medical a plus.
  •  Carpentry

From this you can assume the special effects budget is limited, and so Walking on Water is a requirement, but having a Beard, and knowledge of Carpentry is just “Nice to Have.”

This of course makes assumptions about the personnel that wrote the requirements, and may not apply in every case.  If the title says Toyoda Automotive Technician, and the top skills listed are manage the supply system and understand thermo coupling characteristics of 0/30 oil, you may have to look deeper than top to bottom.

Always send a Cover Letter when allowed.  There are many articles about Cover Letters on the web, written by people better at it than I,  research them and read a few.  The only thing I will add is make sure whatever keywords describe the major requirements in the job posting, use those keywords in the cover letter.  Don’t go overboard on this.  So far, Cover Letters are read by humans only.  If you are using a template letter, read the letter twice before sending.  Make sure you do not have anything hanging from the previous letter.

Once applied for, write down this position on a list.  You may not know with whom you just applied for, but you might have applied to “Senior Bottle Washer”, Exton, PA.  This position will probably appear in a number of agents, and calls from Recruiters.  It is important not to apply twice for the same position.  Most double entries are dismissed out of hand by Hiring Managers.

Recruiters, General Concepts

Recruiters provide the connection between the Hiring Companies and the Candidates.   Candidates and Recruiters are bound by a bond of “Enlightened Self Interest.”  If the position is a permanent one, then the Recruiter gets a one time percentage of your yearly salary.  This is normally a sliding scale, which could be from 10-30%, lower salaries also have the lower percentage.  So a $10,000 yearly salary could be 10% or a $1,000 fee to the recruiting firm.  But a $100,000 salary would be in the upper percentage and could be $30,000.  So it is in the Recruiters best interest to get the best yearly salary for you.

Recruiters for hourly rates work differently.  The Recruiter will get an hourly rate, and pay you something less, and keeps the difference.  So for hourly rates, the Recruiter does not have all your best interest in mind.

But in either case it is in the Recruiters best interest to get you interviewed and hired.  And he has a lot of competition.  There are thousands of recruiting firms.

Recruiter Calls.

If all is well with your resume, and your skills/keywords are in demand, Recruiters will start calling and emailing you.  This is time to put your best face forward.  Not that you need to impress them all that much, but consider it practice for when you have that interview with a hiring manager.

When I am in the hiring cycle, and the phone rings, I do three things. 
  •  Check the caller ID. 
  •  Take a deep breath.
  •  Smile.
  •  Then answer as if I am answering a call in the office, and have no idea who is on the line.
  •   “Good Morning”, this is XXXX, “How can I help you?”

I try to keep the conversation upbeat, and focus on what I can do for them.  After all, they are calling you, they have a “need” that you might be able to fill.  Forget that you are unemployed and need a job, the fact they are calling you says that you are in demand. 

Always have a pen and paper handy, to take notes, in addition to the job particulars, who  called, salary, and the prospect they have.  Note any keywords you may use, unfamiliar or not.

During the conversation the Recruiters will ask you many questions. 

On salary expectations.  Contrary to a lot of articles I've read, I tend to be up front with the numbers with the Recruiters.  But then, negotiation is not one of my strong points.  I will say, the Recruiter is not going to place your resume in front of a hiring manager without both of them having an idea of the salary range.  I rely in the Recruiters for this because negotiation is not one of my strong skill sets, but negotiation is part of the Recruiters skill set.  They are probably better at it than I.   But the most important part of this line of questioning is it gives you a feel on how the market is valuing your skills.  If you throw a number out there, and they say OK, then maybe you are going too low.  Raise your price on the next call.  If the Recruiter thinks you are too high, they will let you know. 

On your qualifications.  Tell them what they want to know.  Do not get too technical, as most Recruiters are not technical.  If they were, they would be doing your job.  Do correct them when some skill set is presented incorrectly, or mispronounced.  It will not do either of you any good if they look stupid in front of the Hiring Manager.

Personal information.  I stop short at presenting my SSN until the interview process is further along.  They will ask for your SSN if they have to do a prescreen.   You may have to give it to them to proceed.  I usually wait until I have definite two way communication set up in the form of phone numbers and return email address I can reach the Recruiter with. 

If you are in front of your computer, establish two way communications while on the phone.  Have them send you an email, and flip a return.  Attach a “Word” copy of your resume to the email.

Testing.  Some hiring managers will require you to take online tests to verify your competency.  These tests are presented over the internet by third party companies like “Proveit”, and “Brainbench”.  When taking them, make arrangements with the family for quiet time.  My tests tend to run 1.5 hours each.
  
Fraud.  The internet is fraught with fraudulent offers.  You will get them.  They range from vultures, who will help you with your placement for a fee.  They will claim to have an inside track with the hiring managers, but then so do the free recruiters.  Then there are job prospects that are totally unrelated to your postings.  Sometimes these will involve buy-ins to pyramid schemes.    One position I wound up attending involved them wanting me to set up an office (at my expense), to process Real Estate claims (or some such crap), and collect a sliding percentage on the revenues.  In my experience is about 2% of the prospects I have received have been fraudulent.

After your conversation with the Recruiter, add a record to a job search list.  Include the Recruiters name, email, phone, company name, job prospect title, job prospect company, current date, agreed too salary.  This will help when multiple calls for the same job comes in.

The Interview
There are plenty of interview tip pages on line.  These are written by people that are better at interviewing than I.  Read several of them.  And definitely read a couple “do’s and don'ts” pages, if only for the humor value.  Surely you won’t be bringing your lunch into the interview room.

Couple of interview tips I have not seen posted:
         Bring your own pen.
       Bring a portfolio of previous work.  Mine is in a top of the line leather binder with plastic inserts. 
       The purpose of the portfolio is to provide substantiation of whatever information you are currently providing.  If you mention awards, inventions, or accomplishments that you have earned, there should be pictures that can be shown.  What a portfolio is not, is a pseudo Power Point presentation; do not go through the whole thing page by page.  The fact that you have it, and you show a few items in it is enough.  The interviewer will note that there is more in there.  It shows preparedness and fore thought.  Both of which are desirable traits.

Digital Presence
If you were to Google yourself, what will the search engine reveal?  What is on your Facebook page?  This is your “Digital Presence,” and it is fair game for employers to find out what they can about you through your postings.  Privacy went out the window a long time ago, and we have to adapt to the new information environment.  Clean up your Facebook page.  The company is not hiring a party animal.  I know nothing is truly gone when you remove things, but the employers are not likely to dig that deep.  Do you have articles, or blogs? What do they say about you?  You can’t control what others say about you, but you can control what you say about yourself.  Write a couple of blog articles about what you do.  Tech tips, recipes, your resume, book reviews on Amazon.  Work your digital presence so you are controlling your message.

FAQ’s
How many keywords do you use?
I have over 60 major keywords that have validation within the body my resume.  There are more keywords in the main body of the resume of lesser importance. 

Is it possible to have too many keywords? 
The short answer is yes.  How many is too many, is a hard question.  If your resume is nothing but lists of keywords, you will be dismissed by the first human eyeball that views it.  My resume does not seem to be overloaded at with a keyword to total word ratio of 1 to 40.  The trick is to have resume with enough keywords for the automated search agents, but must be also presentable to the human eye.

Do I need to respond to all the voice mails and emails I get?
No.  The recruiters are dealing with information overload as best they can, and boiler-room tactics of calling as many candidates as possible is just one tactic.  A “thanks but no thanks” for positions that don’t fit only takes time from both of your days.

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