• Improving Chances of Getting an Interview

    by  • 8/8/2009 • work • 1 Comment

    I had someone call my bluff on my Trina Thompson post about changing how you’re looking for work rather than simply complaining about not being able to find it (and potentially choosing to sue your school). I’m re-editing my email response, and likely adding more to it for the purposes of this blog post.

    I’m no expert on finding a job, but I have hired people, and I’ve seen a lot of resumes. I know which ones caught my eye, and I did speak to a lot of recruiters and HR people in the last six months while I was looking for a new position, so I heard all sorts of recommendations and suggestions.

    Remember that; I don’t know what I’m talking about, but my changes in how I applied for jobs and using what format of resume did appear to correlate with a rise in call backs and interviews. More interviews seems to indicate to me that at least that portion of my job search was better. Even if my interview technique wasn’t that good, more interviews definitely helped my chances of finding a job.

    How to find the jobs to apply to?

    Put the largest version of your resume with the most keywords on Monster.com and Workopolis.com. Subscribe to the RSS or Twitter feeds of Craigslist jobs sections in your area, check out third party aggregators like eluta.ca and jobshark.com.

    Post your resume on google docs, and share it out so that anyone can see it. Don’t be embarrassed that someone will see your resume; try to make sure everyone sees it.

    Use social networks to your advantage. While you may not still be in touch with your mentor from College, or that first boss you got on so well with, maybe they’re on Linked In, and willing to give you a recommendation?Make sure that all your friends on Facebook, Myspace, Linked In, Twitter, etc etc, know that you have your resume on line, and that you’re interested in knowing if they hear of anything interesting that opens up.

    Try not to limit your search, geographically. If you need to, move. Buy a car, sell a house; consider jobs in remote locations if they match your skills and your needs. Be willing to relocate and be willing to change your life in order to find a job, especially if you are currently or soon to be unemployed.

    You will see duplicate jobs listed on a variety of job sites, and you need to keep track of every place you send a resume, and every place that If you submit a resume for a job through Monster.com and it goes directly to the HR department of the company, AND you’re later contacted by a recruiter looking to fill that position at that company, you need to know if you have or have not already applied to the company in question.

    Don’t lie to the recruiter about having already applied; it can embarrass them if the company comes back and says “Why didn’t you check this applicant out better? We already have him in the list?” Since recruiters hold the only door at many companies, you don’t want to embarrass them and limit your chances.

    About Recruiters

    The thing about recruiters is that they don’t always know how to determine a good fit, and many of them end up relying on skills tests. You might see multiple choice exams on Redhat Linux or Windows Exchange Server that test trivial items on tuning and system installation where there are really two correct answers. They’re not typically technological themselves, so they don’t have the equipment to ensure you really know what you claim on your resume. These are gate-keeper recruiters, and they act mostly as a resume filter, keeping out the obvious liars. Most of these types are rational enough to appreciate that you’re not likely to hit 100% on any of these trivia tests, and anything that surpasses basic luck at guessing is good enough for them.

    There are also boutique recruiters where there are a half dozen or so professionals who do very specific recruiting and matching for clients. These guys can often at least talk the talk, and their eyes won’t glaze over if you answer a question in an overly technical fashion. Even if they don’t understand, they work more on a bullshit detection system; they can tell more when they’re being lied to or played. I liked working with these recruiters most from both ends of the spectrum; when looking for work, and when looking for an employee. They don’t tend to fluff you up so much, and they’ll give you more of a real sense of your chances, etc.

    You can also work directly with internal HR right off the top, which is a crap-shoot. Nobody knows what you’re going to see from that end, but nowadays, more often then not, they’re an extension of the keyword system from the Taleo based web site. They’ll likely choose a short list of candidates based on what their automated keyword search system spits out, and then they’ll start calling people and doing initial phone interviews to see if you match the high level picture and should then talk to the hiring managers

    I don’t want my boss to know I’m looking

    If you’re still gainfully employed and need to keep that job while you’re looking, consider who has direct access to your social network, and how would they react if they knew you might leave? If you post about looking for work, you may as well assume that your current employer will know about it. However you might want to hold off posting directly about interviews you’re doing, if you’re short listed, etc. Announcing that you’re looking should suffice; if they know that you’re doing well in the search, some employers might not react well to that.

    You shouldn’t be concerned about having your resume online; as a professional in the IT world, you should always have your updated resume online in the popular job sites, and out among your peers. I know, some employers might expect that you stay with them for the rest of your life, but they’re delusional. People can change jobs rather frequently, and companies can go away overnight.

    In order to keep your chances up in the event that you’re unexpectedly without work, you need to have current information already out there, and any employer should appreciate that you need to look out for yourself by keeping your resume updated and active.

    About that resume

    For the longest time, I was sticking with the age-old “2-3 pages maximum” guideline they showed us in school, with bullet points and very little real information, and only really covering off the high points. It seems that the real answer, however, is to go big, with a proper Curriculum Vitae that lists as much as possible about everything you are professionally.

    Listing absolutely everything, including the fact that you worked with Window 95 and Windows NT 3.5 becomes important in the world of keyword searching for applicants. It seems that absolutely every company I’ve seen lately, big and small, has moved to a horrible software based system like Taleo. These systems cause me to curse and twitch when I have to use them, due to poor UI design and questionable logic, but they help recruiting dig out the right people with key words, and the more keywords there are there, the better your odds of being found are.

    I took my short three page resume that covered ten years (yeah, I know) and did a full re-write to focus on the skills that I had. It’s still relatively concise, but there’s ten times the information in there now.

    I don’t have a degree, so I really need to focus on what I can do. You can take a look at it if you like; I have it on Google Docs. I think it looks like overload, but it’s been the most successful version I’ve had in getting call backs, possibly due to it containing some of the more obscure keywords that seem to be in demand (Actimize and autosys, for example).

    If your current job is your only relevant job to IT, list your education with the same specificity you would were it a job; team projects, systems experience, etc. If you started a degree or other course of study but didn’t complete it, what happened?

    A resume isn’t about the truth – it’s really about your version of the truth. It’s politics, spinning whatever you have into why you’re a good fit. I’m likely going to turn this reply into a blog post, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if I get angry emails on that.

    When I’ve done hiring in the past, I really didn’t care what your GPA was, or if you like hiking and camping. EVERYONE seems to say that they like to read, but hardly anyone can tell you what book they last read. I didn’t care about unrelated jobs at all, like if you delivered pizza in college or worked at McDonalds in high school, since none of that really says anything about what you can do with technology.

    The value of editing

    One of the things that bothers me is that every recruiter has their own idea of what is the ONLY way to do a resume, so sometimes you need to have that generic looking 2 pager for them and the big one for uploading to the job sites. I’ve tried to maintain slightly different resumes for different industries, targeting one more at Internet-related UNIX systems administration and one at financial industry production work, and others depending on the industry and skills they value in their listing.

    To start off the re-development of your job-seeking self, sit down without a copy of your resume in front of you and think – “What HAVE I done?” If you have a lot of IT related job experience, it can be easy to overlook large areas of experience you have that you have forgotten about. If you have only one or two jobs, or just experience in school, you will likely have a harder time filling space.

    What software products have you used a great deal, what software products have you tried and discarded as being inappropriate for what you were trying to do? What software do you know is vital to the role you want, but you only used it once a couple years ago?

    Identify these items and don’t be afraid to say “knowledge of” or “exposure to” in describing the products that you have limited exposure to. People who know nothing about these products are claiming to in their resumes just to get past the keyword filters, and they’re disappointing interviewers everywhere because they made it through screening and you didn’t.

    What projects have you worked on in your position, alone, or as part of a team?

    Are you interested in QA as it relates to software development? What kind of testing, development, or deployments are you involved in? Any specific test strategies you have developed, methodologies you have used, deployment strategies used to promote code from developer desktops to production?

    Are you looking into roles in operations or production support or administration? What ticketing and monitoring software do you use? Are there methodologies in use at your company that could be relevant? ITIL? ISO? SDLC? PFM? OMGWTF?

    Sometimes it’s the little things; are you working as a generalist, Geek of All Trades in an office filled with developers? What exposure do you have to the tools that THEY use; even knowing how to use their tools or what they’re used for can be important. When a developer refers to “Eclipse” what does he mean? There are dozens of products by that name, but only a couple that a developer would care about – knowing context can be important.

    If they don’t have a title for you in your current position, you’re left to invent one for your resume. Are you doing the work of a Network Administrator or that of a QA Engineer? Are you working more as a Systems Analyst or a Systems Administrator? If you’re the only technical employee in the company, in charge of printers and desktop support, don’t be cute and list “Office Geek” as your role; HR and Recruiters won’t get it. You might be better off going with “Desktop Support Specialist” or something along those lines. Be descriptive but try to stick to terms that you can defend in interview; don’t claim to be a Network Administrator if you were little more than a customer support person who was in charge of resetting the DSL modem when it crashed.

    Interviewing

    I really have nothing to say here; try to be relaxed, and keep your extreme opinions to yourself unless the interviewer goes there first. Other than that, be the best version of yourself that you can be, and try not to act like these people are your friends.

    There are recruiter interviews, HR pre-screening interviews, technical interviews, peer interviews, cross departmental interviews… they’re all different things, and no two technical interviews go the same way. Some don’t go well because they turn into little more than high-pressure trivia game shows like my Google interview did. I prefer interviews that allow you to think rather than regurgitate facts.

    In my experience, recruiters and HR pre-screens are pretty informal, and they just want to verify that you’re real and that your resume isn’t a colossal lie. Don’t sweat those ones.

    Ask the interviewers questions; ask them how they came to be there, or what they like about the company, etc. Most people like talking about themselves. Don’t ask right off what the wages are, and consider carefully when they ask what you expect.

    Feel free to ask a recruiter if he can tell you what the budget is for this position; some have been able to guide me to a range that isn’t too low or too high. Do a bit of google searching, ask people who do the kind of job you’re looking at what they earn, and look for IT salary surveys; they can give you a kind of bell-curve for what people are getting in that role. I’d say ask for an amount that falls to the right of the top of the curve, and accept one slightly to the left, but still near the top.

    Feel free to pad what your current or past compensation is if you feel concerned that it will colour what the new employer might offer. Get in writing any sort of compensation plan they might have; is there a performance bonus structure, and is there regular wage reviews? Vacation time and any other compensatory strategies?

    References

    If you have friendly managers, team leads, or co-workers from your current and last couple jobs that you can use as references, let him know ahead of time, and get their permission. Don’t include a list of references with your application, and stay away from including phrases like “references provided on request” – that’s a given.

    When you are asked for references, contact the people you plan to use and ensure you have current contact information and check if they have any special restrictions on times and dates that they can be reached. Providing the least frustration to the reference checkers possible will only help in the long run.

    Send your references a copy of your resume, and provide them with any talking points that you think might make sense. You might want to send them a copy of the job listing that you’re applying for as well, so they can also touch on why you’re

    This first all-inclusive version of your resume is the one you use on the job sites, and it can be huge if you like. You can edit it based on the job you’re applying to, adding, re-phrasing, and displaying yourself as that perfect fit that has all the skills they want, or at least has parallel skills with what they’re looking for.

    Life Long Learning

    Mention anything that you’re currently doing or considering doing in expanding your knowledge. Life long learning is a nice phrase, and some companies really try to fund this through paying for courses or maintaining a library of reference books in the office. If you learn more, you can become that much more valuable to the company that shows that they respect and value employee growth.

    Find industry specific courses that might benefit you both personally and professionally. For example, in the financial sector, there are a couple courses through the Canadian Securities Institute (yes, CSI) such as the CSC which are really aimed at mutual fund managers and insurance people, but could help understand the business side of things. Interested in becoming a Project Manager? Well, the Project Management Institute has some industry respected courses on that front. How about computer security? Well, check out International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, Inc., (ISC) for their SSCP or CISSP programs. There are other industry recognized organizations that offer programs in computer forensics, vendor specific products and methods, and plenty more.

    Let’s take a look at a small chunk of a job listing and try to turn what they say into something tangible that can be mentioned in the resume and cover letter that might be good to submit.

    Required Skills/ Competencies/ Attributes:

    • Concern for Order and Quality
    • Analytical Thinking
    • Commitment To Continous Learning
    • Customer Service/ Service Partner Orientation
    • DB2
    • WSAD / Websphere

    Concern for Order and Quality

    Any examples you have where your concern for quality in testing might have saved your current company money by you delaying rollout? Maybe you were able to prevent a nasty bug from biting them on the ass?

    Have you developed / improved on a software rollout technique? Maybe you’re deploying software updates remotely from a central server, using Ghost, or other imagine or licensing techniques? Are you familiar with wikis like Confluence, mediawiki, twiki, or document repositories like Sharepoint, or Documentum ?

    Many companies use some or all of these to house process documentation, and knowledge of them can be valuable, even if not mentioned explicitly in the job listing.

    Do you have experience with ticketing software for job requests, etc? Peregrine, Bugzilla, RequestTracker, HP OpenDesk (or whatever it’s called now), etc?

    Analytical Thinking

    Show examples of how you’re used critical and analytical thinking to solve problems. When it worked, and when it didn’t; describe any techniques or resources you’ve employed in this.

    Commitment to Continuous Learning

    You could mention the CSC or PMI courses I mention above, any certifications, any courses you’ve audited, or any science and math books you’ve read that have added value to your brainmeats. List the why as well as the what; if you have an MCSE, why did you get that, and how does it apply to what you’re doing?

    Customer Service / Service Parter Orientation

    Whoever your customers are – internal staff, vendor partners, etc, how do you deal with them, how do you interact with them?

    DB2, WSAD / Websphere

    Even if you don’t have Websphere or DB2 specifically, maybe you’ve worked with other application servers in school or in a past position? If you don’t know what WSAD refers to, try to find out so that you know where it fits into the puzzle. (Check out GeekInterview.com for an interesting geeky interview question database)

    Summary

    I don’t know what I’m talking about, but neither do any of the job clubs or most of the recruiters out there when they tell you the Right Way to do things.

    You will likely need to tailor your resume to a format that they like, and you can do it without protest if the job sounds good. So long as you have the all-inclusive version I talk about, with absolutely everything included in it, creating a more targeted version is a relatively simple. With a resume, I’ve always found it easier to take things out than to put things back in in a way that ‘fit.’ Your mileage may vary.

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    One Response to Improving Chances of Getting an Interview

    1. Nowsher
      7/20/2010 at 11:21 pm

      Interesting.. this is very helpful.! Also wonderful writing ..! wonderful resume as well.. !:)

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