Job Hunting–Then and Now
When I graduated from university in 1994, the Canadian economy was in the tank. And because of that (and only because of that, I’m sure), my visions of employers hunting me down and begging me to come help them put a man (or a woman) on Mars as soon as I received my diploma, never came to fruition. Apparently, employers back then wanted practical skills and experience. Sure, I’d been doing farm work all my life, and had cut grass at a golf course, worked in restaurants, and been a night auditor at a hotel for two summers, but those jobs didn’t count as real business or scientific experience. Go figure.
I spent part of that summer after graduation golfing and doing volunteer work at my former elementary school. It was nice to kick back after four years of hard work, and relax. But by mid-summer it was time to find a real job. And when I say it was time, I know this because my parents told me it was so.
I scanned the London Free Press, Toronto Star, and Globe and Mail daily for positions. I sent my meager resume in for every job I thought I had a shot at. I even tried hand-delivering resumes to companies where I wanted to work, but that weren’t advertising. I didn’t get any replies.
My mother then suggested that I go into the local unemployment office and see what they had there. In order to get those leads, I first had to meet with an employment counselor who reviewed my resume and gave me tricks to make it jump out—formatting tips, higher quality paper, etc. They also suggested getting business cards made up, and paper-clipping those to my resume. I thought it a little foolish, since I didn’t have a business, but it actually worked. Sometime in July, I sent my resume in for another job I wasn’t qualified for at EDS Canada. The recruiter normally would have thrown my resume away, except they had never seen a new grad attach a business card to a resume before. They kept the card on their desktop blotter to show to other people my unique approach. A few weeks later, they had an opening for a very junior developer, and that card was still on their blotter. They called. I drove three and a half hours to that interview and I got the job. That little business card launched my career.
When I switched from EDS Canada to EDS in the United States in 1996, I did all of my interviews over the phone. I was still living near Toronto, and the new position was near Boulder, Colorado. It didn’t make financial sense for me to fly out to meet with the team, and since it was basically an internal transfer, the hiring manager didn’t request an in-person interview. The first time I actually met my new boss was on the day I started work, after a two day drive, halfway across the country.
In 1999, I met an HR coordinator for Alaska Airlines at a job fair in Denver. I passed by their booth a few times, but kept stopping and pausing at one of their postings, because I was qualified for it, but I couldn’t see myself moving to Anchorage. Finally, the recruiter flagged me down, and asked me why I hadn’t talked to him yet, since I seemed interested. I told him about my Alaska concerns. He laughed and said the office was in Seattle. I said “Well, I can do Seattle.” They flew me out for interviews a week later. A few weeks after that, I drove the rest of the way across the country and started my new job.
In 2007, I found my next job via an ad on Craigslist. That was the first time I used the internet to help my find a job. I did a phone screen, then an interview in person in Seattle, and started a few weeks later.
I’ve been actively looking for new work since early-February of this year. This time around, nearly everything has been done electronically. I’ve gotten leads via sites like craigslist.org, dice.com, linkedin.com, stackoverflow.com, glassdoor.com and careerbuilder.com. A brief email exchange with a recruiter is usually followed by a phone screen. A second phone interview may follow. I’ve had interviews via Skype, filled out programming tests via third party websites, completed code exercises via gotomeeting.com (this was my least favorite method), and done the traditional in-person interviews as well. One of the more unusual experiences was getting to spend the entire day with a prospective team… attending their scrum, getting assigned a task on their project, and working with some of the team to resolve the issue. That experience was pretty fun, and actually gave me a good feel for the entire organization, and them for me.
I’ve learned a few lessons through this interview process that I’d like share:.
- Keep spare batteries for your mouse / keyboard on your desk at all times.
- Make sure the area behind you on a video interview is not filled with crap, or other people moving around.
- Verify that you have the current version of Skype running before the interview.
- Do not start an install of SQL Server 2012 onto your PC 2 minutes before an interview.
- Always have a glass of water ready on your desk, just in case. And go to the bathroom before every call. A 15 minute call can turn into an hour without you expecting it, and there’s no easy way to stop a call that is going well to tell them you gotta pee.
Most of my interviews went pretty well. I did a couple where within the first 5 minutes I knew that I was not a good fit—either the work was uninteresting, or filled with self-styled cowboy-coders, or the work-life balance tilted to the wrong side of the scale. But I did get to meet with a lot of interesting people, working some interesting projects. At the very least, these interviews re-ignited my passion for working on projects that matter, and for working in new technology. A couple of years ago, I had completely burned out on software development. Now, those batteries have been recharged, and I’m ready to get back to it.
On Monday, April 8th, I’m scheduled to start a 6 month contract in downtown Seattle, just 5 blocks from my last job. I’m going to be keeping right on top of new technology and working on a project fits really well into my goals for what I want to learn about and do in the next few years.
Why a 6 month contract and not a full time job? All I can say is, that at this time, this position just feels right. Because of the demand I saw for my skills during the interview process, I don’t have any worries that I’ll have problems finding work when the 6 months is up. And, since my wife covers our medical insurance through her job, I can get a slightly higher rate per hour doing contract work than I would by working as an FTE. It also makes sure that I am paid for any overtime I work—not that I’m looking to rack up the hours. 6 months is also a long enough contract that I can get a true feeling for whether or not I like contracting, but not so long that if, for some reason, I don’t like it, that I can’t live with the decision for a few months. Sure I don’t get paid for holidays, vacation or sick time, but I’ve factored that into my hourly rate, and will just take unpaid days when I need to.
What does this mean for my writing? Not a lot. I’ll be back to taking the train in to Seattle on a daily basis. I wrote the better parts of four novels on the train, so I expect to be churning out more words after I get used to getting up early again. I’ve got a bunch of editing to get done in the next couple of months, and that commute time will be used wisely.
As for my GBS? Well, at this point, I have to believe my body has recovered enough to be able to do the work, or I wouldn’t be applying for jobs. I expect I will have ups and downs. We’ve outsourced a bunch of low priority things at home—like cleaning and yard work—so my focus will be on work and family and writing. All the extra stuff is extra—at least until I prove to myself that I no longer have to ration my reserves. We won’t know how long that will be until I get back to it.
So if this blog gets a little bit quieter next month, you now know why.