Hacking the Job Hunt

If you are job hunting you have seen your fair share of nausiating stock photography like this.

Over the last couple of months lots of people have chatted me up about finding employment in the IT sector.  The economic ass-plosion of 2008 is still reverberating in 2010, and from the few datapoints I have seen in my everyday life, it can still be a long slog to find a new gig.  While I don’t have an endless network of contacts or many secret ins to hand out to people, my time working for an IT mega-corp has provided me with one insight that I think is valuable to people in their job search: It is almost an absolute certainty that you are wasting your time submitting application after application to a large company’s web site.

Application Shot-gun Style

The typical job search for a newly out of work or graduated IT worker seems to be:

  • Google, Google, browse, bookmark
  • Copy and paste 10 resumes into the job application sites of large companies
  • Brace themselves for the eventual onslaught of HR workers overjoyed at the reception of a perfect resume

What has actually happened is that they have spent a few hours flushing their resume down e-black holes.  After going through the hiring process you get a peek behind the mega-corp HR curtain and understand what a waste of time that was.

The point is this: large IT companies do almost all, if not every last drop, of their hiring of junior to mid level positions through staffing companies.  The general workflow for one of these companies when they want to fill a junior or mid position is:

  • Requisition someone from a staffing agency they have a relationship with
  • Hire that person through the agency on a 4-6 month contract
  • Evaluate the person and transition them to a permanent employee after the 4-6 months if things work out

Big companies find this process to be advantageous because its both safer for the company (they can axe someone if they don’t think it will work out without anywhere near the risk of terminating a full time employee) and because outsourcing the HR and headhunting for junior level workers is more efficient.

I have found that only a few types of people generally get hired directly from a big company’s website:

  • Senior level positions: 8-10 years of experience or an otherwise very thick resume.
  • People with very specific or hard to find skill sets.  If you have years of experience with a relatively obscure piece of software or hardware there is hope for you.
  • Rockstars with very impressive skill sets and resumes flush with big time gigs or Open Source coding projects.

The irony of course is that the above people are the very ones that will be the least likely to need to resort to shot-gunning their resume across the internet to find a job.

In fact, 90% of the non-senior level postings you see on company’s websites are not “real” postings.  When a company wants to move a contract agent to a permanent position, they have to take the step of publicly posting their job position on their web site.  However, they already know who they want to fill the job and won’t be responding to random applicants.

Hacking the Job Hunt and Actually Getting Hired

The above is not necessarily bad news though.  It just means that you need to understand how the process works and figure out where it is most advantageous to insert yourself.  Hint: its not by flushing your resume down the mega-corp website, its by making contact with the headhunter.

The upside of this arrangement is that there are thousands of staffing agency headhunters that are running around desperately trying to fill jobs for big companies.  Like a real estate agent, these people only get paid when they successfully place a candidate.  These folks are your friends. They want to find you a job.  Its the only way they make any money.

Sure they might not understand what it is you do for a living.  Conversations with them are often painful.  You will invariably have to explain to three of these people a day that its not possible for you to have eight years experience with a three year old technology.

But who cares?  Odds are these days that if you are shot-gunning your resume you just want a damn job and would be happy to put up with the ridiculousness of all that comes with it.  You can worry about leading a life of of quiet desperation as a corporate sheep after you stop worrying about your car getting repo’d.

The key then becomes getting your self found by these headhunters.  The single best way to get yourself noticed is to optimize your resume to be found by agencies.  Again, understand the process:  these people find contacts by searching through the large employment websites for suitable candidates with keyword searches.  They type in “PHP” and troll through the 8,000 results looking to match up Company X’s list of keywords with Job Seeker Y’s keywords.

Make a new resume just for this purpose and post it on careerbuilder.com, monster.com, and other similar web sites.  Load it up with buzzwords.  Have an intro paragraph chock full of buzzwords.  Have a bulleted list of 9 to 12 skills you can legitimately claim to have that might match a simple keyword search.  It doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be keyword rich.

Once you list yourself that way you will start getting random pings from headhunters.  Whether the gig is appropriate for you or not respond to the person and chat them up.  Describe what skills you have and tell them what you are looking for.  These people get paid when they place people so they are happy to have every lead they can get their hands on.  You are not a special flower with interesting career goals to these people, you are a dollar bill with ears.

Sure some of them might think its odd that you contacted them if you weren’t a good fit for the position they were advertising.  But hey, screw those people, they probably aren’t very good at their job anyway.

Senior level IT workers get jobs by networking and reaching out to contacts.  If you are a junior level worker you don’t have that network yet so use the one that is available to you: headhunters.

Posted in Employment, Geekery

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