March 6, 2007

A gazillion recruiters calling my cell phone, two offers, one new job, and zero neckties: Breaking the rules to find a new job

Filed under: Software Blog — marcstober @ 6:07 am

“Hi Marc, this is Mike from the sleazy consulting group in Boston. I saw your resume online and would like you speak to you about a .NET position for a client that I think would be a perfect fit for your background. I am in today and my direct number is 617-123-4567. (If it turns out this position isn’t the right fit for you, I wonder if you know anyone who would be looking for such a position?)”

I probably got around two hundred messages like this. Always the emphasis on some insignificant words that make the message sounds businesslike, without actually talking about the job. Always the line about the job being a great fit, which I learned from experience usually means that they don’t have a client, yet, but they’re cold-calling managers and want candidates ready to go when they schedule an interview. Often making me depressed that I haven’t been invited to the parties of unemployed software developers.

This is my second “mid-career” job search—what at one time I would have called a “real grown-up job.” All the idiomatic advice that was drilled into my subconscious work ethic in college and earlier no longer applies:

What “they” say:


You need go out and pound the pavement and be willing to do whatever, because you need a job.

You’re not going to pay the mortgage doing just whatever. You need to be selective. Especially if your time is already committed to a current job.

Your resume should not be more than one page.

Your resume should read like a mail-order catalog full of projects a potential employer can get done by hiring you.

The point of a job interview is to correctly answer the questions you’re asked. Try to o think of one or two intelligent-sounding questions you can ask at the end.

A job interview is basically a sales call, and you can do better if you control the conversation. (Read Ask the Headhunter.) Before you accept a job, however, you’ll want to ask some questions to make sure you’ll actually get the resources to succeed in the new position.

Entry-level employees should be seen and not heard.

They want someone who will speak up with a solution they’re looking for (and you can start this in the interview).

80% of success is simply showing up on time.

No one really cares when you get to or leave your desk, and even if they do, both you and your manager have more important issues to discuss.

Being professional means you know how to answer the phone, fill out forms, and put paper in the copier.

Being professional means you know when and how to ask someone to do these things, even if you think you could do it better yourself.

Wear a suit and tie.

I made a point not to wear a tie; I didn’t think I’d enjoy working for anyone who would see this as a problem for a software developer. (I did wear a jacket and dress pants. And I might wear a tie in the future if being considered for an IT manager position in a company where other executives wear ties. But I’m not there yet.)

I worked hard to break the rules, and, for the first time in my career, got two job offers the same week. (Surprisingly, it was a far more stressful week than any one in which I’ve been unemployed!) My strategy was to focus on contacts directly from employers and after about two months looking for a job, ironically, I accepted a job with the first company to contact me directly, in the first week of the job search.

I decided to accept an offer from Partners Healthcare and this broke the job-search rules a little, too. I didn’t choose strictly on salary, and I turned down a software company (generally considered a better choice for a developer) to work in IT. There were a few reasons, not the least of which is that at this point in my life it helps to choose the job closer to home. Even though the other job would have paid a little more it wasn’t going to materially make a difference in whether I could pay the bills, so that wasn’t the main factor. A big reason I took the job is that I’ve never worked in a large IT department; I’ve always worked in small companies reporting directly to a CIO or VP. I’ve never been able to move up or across the organization while saying in IT and I’ve never had to coordinate projects with other internal teams, and I want to see how that’s done. I value my software industry experience but there’s a lot of my training (particular my graduate degree in information systems, not computer science) I haven’t been able to use at smaller shops. I’m also not exactly going to work for a corporate IT department: good science, technology and research are a reason for Partners’ existence and a way that it’s judged. Someone compared working for Google to being in grad school and in that sense Partners reminds me a little of being in college. (Keep in mind I went to Washington University, where the medical school was a big part of the institution.) I liked being in college; the work was challenging, the institution as a whole was supportive, and I learned a lot. So we’ll see how it goes!