Archive for June, 2009

What do I do when there are no jobs to be found?

June 25, 2009

I found an article that claimed that US job hunters only spend forty minutes per day looking for a job. Maybe that’s forty minutes checking job boards, but that’s only 10% of an 8-hour work day on your job.

You may think “I don’t have a job!”, but you do. When you’re out of a job, your full-time job is to find your next job. Treat it like a 9-5 job. No matter what you do, don’t sit around and do nothing. Don’t allow the gift of time you’ve been
given to find a job be squandered by doing nothing.

There are three big reasons to treat your job hunt like a job:

  • You’ll increase your chance of success

  • You’ll fight off the depression of being jobless

  • You’re going to get asked about it in interviews

Let’s look at each in detail.

You will have more chances of success

You may think there are no jobs to be found, but there are. You just haven’t found them yet, probably because you’re looking in the wrong places. Checking job boards doesn’t count as job hunting especially since only 7.5% of jobs are filled through job boards. You have to get out and talk to people.

Talk to everyone you can. Even if you’ve exhausted every source you can think of, try for just one more. Look back through your hunt logs and find a target you haven’t checked in a few months. Wherever you pursue, look for a new option you haven’t explored yet. You can’t get a job from a contact that you don’t make.

One excellent source of information you may not have considered is your local Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce is a group of businesses organized together to help each other. The website will probably have a directory of members and job listings. More important than these sources is the opportunity to talk to the Chamber staff themselves and find out what they may know about the needs of companies in the area.

Don’t just call or email the Chamber. Show up at their office, in person, and talk to someone. You’re far more likely to be remembered when you meet someone than you are just from email. Be sure to show up with a number of copies of your resume, and some of your personal business cards, so that you can leave some if it’s appropriate.

Just keep pushing. Keep making one more step, checking one more idea. I know it can be disheartening, but anything is better than doing nothing. Chance favors the prepared mind, and the more time you spend working, using the Internet, the more likely you are to stumble across the job you need, and maybe even one you will love.

You fight off the depression of not having a job

Sitting around on the couch watching bad TV is a great way to aggravate your worries about not having a job. Playing World of Warcraft or napping all day may feel like a little vacation, but they’re not going to get you that next paycheck. Don’t give in to the temptation.

Treat your days without a job as if you do have a job, and your job is to find a job, and improve your skills. Get to the office at 9:00, even if your office is just the kitchen table, take lunch like you normally would, and then keep working until 5:00.

What can you do besides look for jobs? Take advantage of the time off to start all those projects you’ve just never found the time for. You’ve been given the time, so use it!

  • Start a blog. Write about what you’re learning in your time off. This becomes a record of your progress, to help you remember that your time’s not been wasted. It’s also a record that a future employer will see when he Googles you after he’s seen your resume. Finally, it helps you practice writing, since you’re in a field where the written word is crucial to future success.

  • Teach yourself something new related to your job. Always wanted to learn a new programming language, but you told yourself you never had the time? Now you have the time. Want to learn a new Linux distribution? Clear out a spare partition on your home machine and get to it. Maybe you’re a project manager who wants to learn more about programming. Get going, and then blog about it.

  • Take a business or technical class, maybe at your local community college. Community colleges are a fantastic value for your dollar for introductory classes. My local community college charges only $77 per credit hour. Start with business classes before you worry about the technical. You can always learn technical skills on your own. Business knowledge is important to any employer. Take a class in accounting or marketing, or a good business overview if you’ve never taken one before.

  • Take an unrelated class in something fascinating if you haven’t found anything appropriate technical or in business. Maybe you’d like an introduction to automotive repair, or to get your feet wet in conversational Japanese. My local community college has programs in criminal justice and fire protection, both of which I’d love to find out more about. Whatever it is, learn something. Then blog about it.

  • Contribute to an open source project. Somewhere you’re likely using some open source software. Learn about it. Learn about the culture surrounding it. Find out what its needs are. Find out what kind of help they need. Then provide that help. You don’t have to be a programmer to contribute to open source. You can provide documentation, answer user questions, respond to bugs in the bug tracker, and so on. Blog about it.

  • Contribute to Wikipedia, or a wiki related to a project of interest. Wikipedia is an open source encyclopedia, and can always use improvement. There are tons on Wikia. Find a topic related to your job, not arguing about Jabba the Hutt’s family history. Then blog about it.

  • Frequent mailing lists and bulletin boards related to your area of expertise. See what you can learn, and who you can help. Blog about the most interesting ideas.

  • Go to your public library. Libraries are amazing storehouses of knowledge. The chances of finding something fascinating and enriching are high!

  • Read read read! Find something new to inspire you. Blog
    about it.

You’re going to be asked about it at interviews

Chances are that an interviewer who sees that you’ve been out of work for a while will ask about your job search. She may even specifically ask “What have you been doing in the four months since you got laid off?” How will you answer this question?

You could answer:

Well, I’ve gone on a few interviews, and reading Monster every day, of course, but, uh, that’s about it.

which is hardly inspiring, or you could answer:

I’ve gone on some interviews, but those weren’t very encouraging. I’ve been investigating companies in manufacturing, because I feel like that’s where my heart lies. In the downtime, I taught myself Python and I wrote a tool to analyze the RSS feed coming from Simply Hired using Python. The source code is in my portfolio of sample code that I brought today.

or maybe

In the downtime, I’ve been monitoring Stack Overflow for SQL Server questions, trying to help with the problems that novices post. It’s kind of fun because I know how to handle most of the problems, like optimizing indexes, but some of them are stumpers so I go dig and find the answer. The latest was a problem someone had with…

or how about

… and I’ve been hitting the topics that I’ve never had time for. The accounting class I had my eye on was full, so I’m in my fourth week of a class in metallurgy. Plus, I’ve been checking out cookbooks on German cooking from the library, and I practice a new dish every day for lunch.

Imagine how a hiring manager is going to be impressed with your drive and initiative! In all these examples, you’re showing how you’re making the most of your down time, improving yourself and maybe even helping others. That’s the kind of drive that you can’t train into someone.

Keep thinking like you’re working

Stick to the notion that you have a job. Keep a regular schedule. Work at your job of finding your next job. It can’t help but improve your chances and get you back on someone’s payroll.

For those who have been out of work, what do you do during the day to keep yourself active and working on the job of finding a job?


There is no shame in self-promotion

June 24, 2009

The phrase “shameless self-promotion” makes no sense when you’re
talking about your career.

“Shameless self-promotion” implies that there should be some sort of shame in
letting others know about what you’ve done, and nothing could be
further from the truth. Indeed, it’s the only way you can be sure
of getting the message out.

Have you ever had a garage sale? Did you put up a sign pointing
to your garage sale? Or did you hope your neighbor would put up a
sign for you, thinking “It’s a good garage sale, people will tell
their friends about it?” Of course not, because you knew that it
was important that people know about your garage sale. So too it
is with your achievements at work.

Techies seem to believe that if they do good work, they’ll be
rewarded. Unfortunately, “If you build it, they will
come,” only works in fantasy movies.

At work, your job and your career rely on the people above you in
the company knowing what you do. Part of your job as employee of
You, Inc. is to make sure that others know what you do, and how
awesome you are. Your awesomeness may not be self-evident, or may
not be understood by the people that matter. Say you’ve been using
a new editor plug-in that helps you navigate source better, and makes
your job easier. That’s a cool thing you’ve done, because there
are plenty of people out there who would write code in Notepad.
You need to let your boss know about it, and keep track of it for
yearly review time. It may well be worth putting on your resume,
too, for your future self-promotion when you go to get a new job.

Aside from your career, if you’re doing anything in open source and
you want people to use your project, promoting the project is as
important as writing solid code. Without users, your project is
pointless. If it’s a conference or meeting, that needs promotion
even more. See my post on Perlbuzz
“How to announce an event, or, awesome is not always self-evident”
for more on the open source and conference angle.

Finally, for more on keeping yourself employed and boosting your
career even in the middle of a recession, please join me and Chad
Fowler for our webcast “Radical Career Success in a Down Economy”
on July 1st. You’ll need to register in advance. Chad and I are
putting together as much as we can into our hour-long time slot.
Chad’s excellent new book, The Passionate Programmer,
is also where I stole the idea of “your awesomeness is not self-evident”,
for which I’m eternally grateful.

The best career advice my father ever gave

June 22, 2009

For Father’s Day 2009, I’d like to take you back to 1984 and how
I learned a valuable lesson in life and work from my father.

I still had shooting pain in my groin when my Dad walked in for

It was my third day working at the McDonald’s in Durango, Colorado
back in 1985. I was 17, going into college, and had just started
my first job in the real world. I’d been trained for about two
minutes total. “Here’s how you make hotcakes,” Vic showed me, and
I’d make hotcakes all morning. Then at 11:00 when lunch rush
started, I was moved to the lobby to mop and clean tables. I didn’t
even need training on that.

My most important training was the harshest kind, that mop wringers
can be dangerous. I’d put my mop in the wringer, leaned over the
bucket and pushed down hard on the handle. My wet hand slid off
the spring-loaded handle, leaving it to arc up and whack me right
where it counted.

I was not having a good day.

A few minutes later, my father walked in for lunch. After a while
my mopping duties took me past his table. “How’s it going?” he
asked me.

My frustration came out. All the barked orders, being treated like
a peon, my scratchy polyester uniform, and to top it off I just got
cracked in the family jewels because the wringer handle was wet!
It was just too much!

I looked at him, tears welling in my eyes, and as emphatically and
dramatically as I could, I sniffled “They don’t pay me enough to
take this shit!”

Dad chuckled. “Yes, they do,” he said, “they’re paying you minimum

It wasn’t I wanted to hear. He might have said something else more
concillatory and sympathetic. But later that day, as I slopped
away with that mop, I thought about what he’d said. He was right.
It was silly of me to think that I would have a life of luxury,
only doing fun tasks, on my third day of work at a fast food joint.

It’s like that in the technical fields, in our cushy white-collar
worlds. The first year I was a professional programmer, I spent
hours separating the carbon paper and tractor feeds from thousand-page
reports on 5-part fanfold paper. It wasn’t programming, but it was
part of the job. As I got better as a programmer, my value as a
programmer increased, and my boss assigned me report duty less and

I never thought that it was beneath me, either. I knew that different
jobs had to be done, and that’s part of working on a team. My
patience and learning paid off down the road.

Lessons for the working geek

  • Everybody has to start somewhere, but it’s never at the top.

  • No task at your job is beneath you. If you have to string cable, you string cable.

  • Wisdom can come from anywhere. Sometimes that might even be a parent or boss, surprising as that may sound.

  • Stand on the side of the bucket opposite the wringer.

What low points did you have at the start of your geek career? What
important work life lessons has your father taught you? Post them
in comments below.

“Radical Career Success in a Down Economy”: A free webcast on July 1st

June 21, 2009

On Wednesday, July 1st, at noon Central time, I’ll be giving a webcast presentation with Chad Fowler called “Radical Career Success in a Down Economy.” We’ll be discussing how to thrive at work and further your career, rather than worrying about losing your job.

From the webcast announcement:

We all know we’re in the middle of an economic downturn. The news is full of statistics on job loss and unemployment. Everyone is feeling the crunch. In times like this it’s natural to worry about your career.

But you don’t have to be afraid. With the right steps, it’s possible to not only succeed in this environment but to succeed radically, as well as be prepared if the axe should fall. This webcast is about how to set yourself up for now and the future.

Career experts and authors Andy Lester and Chad Fowler will walk you through strategies for preparing yourself to not only stay employed but to find the work you love.

A webcast is an online presentation, where slides are shown and Chad & I give the audio presentation. A chat window lets you ask us questions, as well as discuss topics with other webcast participants.
The webcast is free, but you must register in advance. Register now to make sure you don’t forget, and O’Reilly will email you a few hours in advance of the event.

Two important numbers for job seekers: 7.5% and 1:11

June 5, 2009

Geeks like numbers, right? Here are two numbers for the job hunting geek to remember.

7.5% and 1:11

Read on for why these numbers are so crucial to your job search.

Every year, CareerXroads publishes a survey of where large companies find their employees. Below are the top four sources of hires from their Sources of Hires report.

Source of hires Jobs filled
Internal promotions + transfers 38.8%
Referrals 16.7%
Company website 12.3%
Job boards 7.5%

Only 7.5% of jobs are filled because from job boards. But what does the average geek do when he wants to find a job? He hits the job boards, doing simple keyword searching on CareerBuilder or Monster or one of the niche sites. But the hard truth is that almost four times as many jobs (29.0%) are filled from personal networking or hard research finding a company that’s a fit. It just doesn’t make sense to turn to the job boards as your primary source of finding a job.

Of course, it’s easy to see why we as geeks would turn to these behemoth databases. They give us such nice database filter screens to fill out!

“Why, yes, I’d like a job as a (JAVA PROGRAMMER) or (LINUX ADMINISTRATOR) making (OVER $80,000) within (15 MILES) of (60050). If only I could specify that I’d rather not wear a tie.”

Then the machine soothingly pumps out screens of job openings for us to sift through. Too few? Too many? Tweak a few knobs, refine the search, and get better results. It’s a fantastically geek-friendly way to do it.

But then that 7.5% comes back to remind us that the easy path is not always the most effective.

One in eleven

Even more eye-opening for the job seeker who would just as soon surf his way to a better job is the ratio of 1:11. That’s the yield that CareerXroads found of hires per referral. They found that:

The efficiency of referrals is one of the single most important characteristics of US hiring practices…. More than 17,000 positions were filled from just fewer than 200,000 referrals or 1 hire for every 11.2 referrals!

No hiring manager can imagine hiring someone after reading only eleven résumés. It’s more like one in several hundred at the very least.

What this means for you is that a referral is far more likely to turn into an actual job than throwing a resume after an ad you found on the net.

If you’re serious about getting a job, leave the job boards behind, network with your personal connections, and do the hard research to find the companies that are a fit for you and your skills.