March 12, 2002
The Tech Job Search

03/12/01 RMIUG Meeting Minutes - The Tech Job Search

Dan Murray dan@rmiug.org called the meeting to order at 7 pm. It was a full house with about 110 people in attendance.

Dan introduced the executive committee members present at the meeting. Jeff Finkelstein jeff@rmiug.org is the newest member, replacing Art Smoot who has decided to step down but is still providing support for the organization. Tom Bresnahan tbrez@rmiug.org took the minutes for the meeting.

Dan thanked the meeting sponsors:

XOR (http://www.xor.com/) - web hosting
Microstaff (http://www.microstaff.com/) - pizza and soft drinks
NCAR - use of the meeting room
SoftPro books (http://www.softpro.com/) - two gift certificates


- The RMIUG has added a new discussion group named rmiug-jobtalk to Yahoo groups. This group was formed to resolve problems with excessive discussion on the rmiug-jobs list. Refer to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rmiug-jobtalk for more information about the purpose of the list.

List membership: - rmiug-jobs: 1800 (was 1650 three weeks ago) - rmiug-announce: 800 - rmiug-discuss: 500 - rmiug-jobtalk: 50 About 1/3 of those present are on the rmiug-jobs list.

- We've selected a new sponsor to help us hire a freelance writer to do the minutes, and we will post an announcement soon.

- Messages and minutes are archived at Yahoo groups.

- Martin Newmark of Cogneo Coaching offers personal, career, and business coaching. He has a background in computer science and mechanical engineering. In addition to coaching he offers several talks and training workshops for corporations and organizations. Feel free to contact Martin at 303-554-5840 or martin@cogneolc.com. You can also check the Cogneo Coaching website at http://cogneolc.com.

Next, Dan asked a few questions to the audience.

- About half those present were from Boulder, most of the rest from Denver. - 90% are looking for work - A couple have been looking for less than a month. - 25% have been looking for 2-3 months. - 25% have been looking for 4-6 months. - 20% have been looking for more than six months. - 15% have a job and are looking for a new job. - One person is at a company now hiring. - About 60% were laid off. - Only a couple people left their jobs voluntarily. - A couple left because their contracts ended. - About half are looking for a technical job. - 15% are looking for a business related job. - a few are looking in the categories of management, graphic design, or help desk.

- 20% feel the job market is improving. - 30% feel it's the same. - 50% feel it's worse. - 100% think it sucks :)

- 70% are using monster.com - 40% flipdog.com - 30% hotjobs.com - 30% rmiug-jobs - 40% dice.com - a few are using guru.com, brassring.com, grassisgreener.com, techies.com

After the questions, Dan explained the format for the feature presentation would be to have the speakers present one at a time, then join a panel at the end for Q&A.

Dan introduced the first speaker: Terrie O'Connell coachterrie@hotmail.com. Terrie is a nationally recognized career counselor who, through her comprehensive Career Center, combines career counseling with actual career opportunity by providing resources, advice, job openings, and much more. As a coach and as a recruiter, Terrie is known for having her 'finger on the pulse' of hiring not only in Colorado but around the nation.

The title of Terrie's talk was: The Top 10 Ways To Increase Results From Your Job Search.

Terrie stated that previous jobs and experience might cloud your current job search. It is a good time to be looking for more traditional businesses as opposed to dot coms.

1. Don't rely only on Internet job postings. Only 4% get their jobs through the Internet. Instead, focus on networking and contacting companies directly. If you can talk to the hiring manager before a job is posted, you're ahead of the game.

2. Consider doing consulting or freelance while you're looking for a full time position.

3. Put your experience in context with your entire career, not just your last job. Show some progression in your career arc.

4. Identify your transferable skills. Don't just say you did everything. Focus on the kind of job you would like to have next. Look outside the tech arena. See what skills transfer to that. Remember that you learn useful skills even during your job search.

5. Check your attitude. You're not superior just because you worked in an Internet-related job. That may even be perceived as a negative. You may be seen as jumping ship.

6. Don't complain about previous jobs' long hours.

7. Don't complain about the bad economy and getting laid off. Say you wanted to learn all you could while it lasted.

8. Don't talk about the jeans, beer Fridays, telecommuting. Be serious about the work to be done, not the perks.

9. Did you have an inflated title in your last position: e.g. VP of Marketing and Sales, and Development? Salaries of today's positions are reduced from the dot com heyday. Indicate that your interest has been to provide leadership and teamwork.

10. Wear business attire to the interview, even in Boulder.

Dan introduced the next speaker: David Jared dajared@yahoo.com. David has 12 years of software development experience: 3 years project management, 4 years Java/J2EE, 6 years C++. He is experienced in distributed systems, XML, dB architectures/transactions, object oriented design, unit testing, and GUI design. He is comfortable with system architecture design to hardware design.

David's talk presented the perspective of the job seeker. He stated that he has been on the job search for the last three months, and formatted his talk on the chronology of the search and mistakes made.

He was laid off in December. His first actions were to update the resume and contact recruiters, who weren't as helpful this time around. He looked in the Denver Post, but there were no jobs in developing positions or contracts. He contacted companies in the Denver-Boulder area that did work similar to what he did at his old job. He cold called CEO's directly. This worked out in one case, resulting in a meet and greet, followed up by a second interview. He might get hired if the company gets VC funding. He is also looking for VC funding for his own company. He looked on the web and online. His conclusion was that it's hard to look for a job in December with the holidays.

In January he posted his resume online, set up e-mail. He searched for small companies, so he focused on VC portfolio companies funded by VC at their web sites. He looked at contract positions and found a large number with a complete list of contract companies on the web. Online searching was not really working. Sending out the resume is not really good enough, you can't do it all in front of the computer. He cold called a couple companies related to his old job. They were very receptive, but skills were out of whack with where the companies were.

In February he redid his resume, contacted friends, visited the CU alumni job center, networked with Terrie and dozens of groups, seminars, and formed a short list of professional groups and networking groups. He contacted friends and family. He had just moved from California, and there were not a lot of contacts, so he contacted other professionals, like insurance agents. He created a networking resume to give out a shortened half-sheet to act as a stepping-stone to other people and contacts. He targeted his cover letters instead of using a generic cover letter. He has a varied background, so he created a custom resume for each position. However, that's very time consuming and can take several hours for each one.

The most important action is networking, getting your resume out there. Target your cover letters and resumes for each job. The hiring managers are looking for reasons to eliminate your resume from consideration, so target it to the job.

Q. What's the state of the economy? A. VC's and angel investors have some money, but not a lot, so they're being very cautious about giving out the money. It now takes nine months to close the deal. They are skeptical about software in Colorado, because there are not a lot of successes here, so it will be slow to recover.

Q. Is there any VC money outside of tech? A. No, though telecomm is getting some.

Q. Are you planning to broaden your job search outside small startups? A. I still look at large companies like Sun.

Q. How about biotech? A. Not here in Colorado, but some in California when I had connections. Only a handful. Genomica just had a huge layoff and are closed.

Q. Do your patents help your job search? A. No.

Q. How do the cold calls go? A. Usually I have a connection of some kind due to similarities to my old position. Usually they do want to talk to you to get information about the industry. Don't just cold call, send off letters in advance, and use normal mail. It's better to get an "in", to find a contact. About 50% of calls are well received, and they are interested in talking to you.

Q. If you can't get a job, then I don't have a prayer. I don't want to hire for a junior position. Have you tried applying for one? A. It depends on what you're trying to do with your career. I'm moving from hardware to software. Keep that arc going. It may require going to a junior position.

Q. Do you have a product idea for VC's? A. Yes, but starting a company is a lot like looking for a job. Start a company through networking. VC's are one of the last things you do after you have an established company for three years.

Q. Are you working on your product now so you'll have something to show? A. Ideas are cheap, and they're not what VC's are interested in. I'm doing market research first. Most don't care that you don't have a product, they want a marketing plan.

Q. You've been taking a lot of active steps. What kind of feedback are you getting from employers? What's most effective? A. Nothing has been. Probably networking will be the most effective. My friend sent 40 resumes, but got three interviews from personal friends, and a job resulted from that.

Dan comments - When you need to approach a company with a cold call, find other people through your networking (or job search groups) that may have a lead there. Bring a list of five companies that you're targeting to your networking groups, and ask if people know anyone who works there. In a recent networking group, one person had a "networking resume" that listed all the companies that he was targeting and he asked if anyone had contacts at those companies.

Next, Dan introduced the third speaker: Craig McSavaney craigmcsavaney@yahoo.com. Craig is the president and co-founder of Gold Sage, Inc., a company recently formed by veteran technologists to provide outsourced application development and management consulting services to technology managers. Prior to forming Gold Sage, Craig was Executive VP and CTO of netLibrary for 2 1/2 years. Craig came to netLibrary from Digital Systems International, where he was the General Manager of the Technology Applications Group, a $22MM software and networking services provider. Craig is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and has advanced engineering and management degrees from the University of Maryland at College Park and George Washington University in Washington D.C.

Craig added that he has also been laid off. He quipped that you shouldn't start your own company unless you have customers.

Craig's talk presented the job market from the hiring company's perspective. Almost everyone in the audience has participated in giving interviews.

Engineering managers are dealing with a lot more pressure than two years ago. CFO's are running budgets a lot tighter. This affects those still working. They're working a lot harder than they were after going through a couple rounds of layoffs. Plus it's tough for managers and employees to see your friends leave.

Return on Investment - It used to be eyeballs, now it's ROI. Remember, there are two parts: there's Return and there's Investment.

There is pressure to outsource. Folks still working haven't gotten raises; they're still working for their old salaries. But prevailing rates have dropped. You would be willing to work for less than those working now. Consultants and contracts in local community are cheaper, and overseas is cheaper yet. However, it's a lot of work to get a position approved. That may seem good, but the worst is yet to come. If a company is foolish enough to post a position, they get flooded with 3000 resumes. They just want a quick way to fill a position. Pre-screening is hard. It's hard to cull it down to 50 or 25. They use key words, so it's a good idea to target your resumes. Companies can be reluctant to use recruiters because they cost 25% more than the salary. - Companies are tempted to take advantage of the talent out there with all the layoffs. Requirements are much more than tech. They include personality, and a good fit with the team. That's why you're more likely to see a battery of interviews, talking to more people at the company to see if they fit with the team.


- Differentiation: How will they remember you? You hope for the good things, not the bad, but you've got to go for it instead of playing it safe. - Networking: You've got to call everyone you know, take them to lunch or dinner or coffee or a drink. Ask for 10 minutes of their time, not for an hour. I got my first job riding with a guy picking up his golf clubs. Sell yourself in 10 minutes, even 5 minutes. - Be prepared: You should research the company and their competition, look at their public filings, spend time with your contacts to learn about the company and what they do. You don't have to be an expert, but you want to be able to discuss what they do. - Be enthusiastic and effervescent: Don't fake it, but be happy. Don't complain about the tough times. You've got to want the job. Your attitude will guide the entire group interview good or bad. - Ask a lot of questions: People dread interviewing. It's nice to find yourself with an interviewee who is interesting to talk to. Another one of those silly management sayings is, "It's nice to talk to people who are nice to talk to". - Be prepared for a pay cut: Say you're ready to work at the prevailing rate, and you can prove you're worth it.

Q. How can you say that in the cover letter. The position says it wants 2-5 years, but I have 13 years experience. How do I say that? A. I think it's good to say it all. Say I'm ready to work for the going rate. Don't throw out hard numbers or a range.

Q. With such dramatic change, how do you know what the prevailing rate is? A. It has dropped a lot.

- Don't ask about money too early in the process. Attempt to avoid it.

- Be prepared for a long interview process. Don't give up if they go silent. The interview process is a burden for the hiring manager. Don't assume that they didn't like you if they don't call right away.

- Know what your references are going to say about you. There are services that will check your references - badreferences.com. You won't hear bad things from people's references, but you may get lukewarm comments. Tell your references what you want them to say. Ask they what they will say.

- Follow up with personalized e-mails the day you have an interview. Don't send a CC, but reference a specific part of your discussion. This will differentiate you from the crowd.

- Ask questions that occur to you after the interview.

- Track the progress without bugging them. Use your friend at the company. Ask HR if you can contact them once a week. Feedback will be generic from HR though.

Q. I've been working contract and freelance and want to move to full time. How do you convince the employer that you're serious? A. Freelancers that want to come back to full time set off a red flag. They make the interviewers test someone more rigorously. It's not impossible, but you need to be aware of it. Hiring managers are looking for personality traits that show you are ready to reintegrate with a team. Highlight your work experience with other people and teams.

Q. What if you're contracting after getting laid off? A. You get a free pass if you're consulting for the first nine months, but not for the last 5 years. The fact that you are working is a good thing.

Q. How willing are companies to outsource? It's strong on the East and West coasts. A. Not that strong here. When money starts flowing, then outsourcing will increase.

Terrie - What is your perception of out-of-country outsourcing? A. It's a lot harder than they think it will be. You have to lay a lot of infrastructure to send work to India. Savings are not as dramatic, but they are there. It requires a lot of commitment. - Offshoredev.com deals with this.

Q. Is there a heightened awareness towards job seekers, not as much attention to those applying who already have jobs? A. That doesn't matter. The best candidate will be picked. Q. Is there a perception that those still employed are not in the bottom 20% like those laid off? A. Really good people get laid off. You need a story grounded in fact of how you got laid off. At netLibrary, when the platform was completed, some jobs were not needed anymore. Refer to something that will make them think that you're not in the bottom 20%.

Next, Dan introduced Jenny Shedd jshedd@microstaff.com of MicroStaff Corporation. Jenny joined MicroStaff in the Boulder office in 1998. Prior to MicroStaff, she worked for Media Lab/MatchLogic as the Manager of Human Resources when the company went through a tremendous growth cycle. She is incredibly familiar with recruiting and the hiring process having worked inside an organization as well as with an outside agency. Jenny's talk focused on her experience from the recruiter's standpoint.

- Hiring companies are no longer looking for you. That's changed. You have to impress them. Networking is key. Employee referrals make up 75%. Get an insider to champion your resume. That way you become a known quantity.

- About half the hiring managers don't post jobs anymore. They put them out to the staff. The positions don't even make it out to their own web sites. Hiring managers talk about positions for weeks or months prior to getting approval to hire. Some jobs are filled and never posted. By the time it hits Monster, you're three weeks too late. The jobs are posted to specific groups, then to newspapers, then Monster. Monster brings in people from everywhere, e.g. a tugboat captain applied for a tech position.

- There are more positions now than ever. Money is tight, but it's encouraging. Hiring cycles are longer. People are taxed, there's a lot to do. It used to take four weeks to get through the initial screens, now it could take eight weeks. One marketing position took two months to fill after reviewing 100 resumes. Companies are reluctant to hire full time staff; they have to prove there's a need. There is an opportunity to see services on contract or consulting. Try before you buy. This is an opportunity to market yourself in a company.

- Salaries have changed. They were inflated, but there's still a sense that you get what you pay for. If you lowball someone, you will lose them when the market changes. You won't have their loyalty if you lowball. Salaries are 10 to 15% lower. Contractors are 50% lower. You need to be flexible. Desperation is out there too. Some applicants have said they would take anything, but hiring managers know they won't keep them.

- Back to basics: Use interviewing etiquette.

- How much time to spend on the cover letter? Many managers don't read them unless they're in the top 10.

- Follow-up vs harassment? Even calling once a week is pushing it.

- Stand out from the pack. Practice interviewing with a friend. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Be prepared for the typical questions. Many people can't articulate what they liked about their previous jobs. Tell a story of the challenges overcome.

- Project the passion: Hiring managers don't want a burnout who needs to make the mortgage payment. Even if you have to fake it, even if you have to think about golf, be enthusiastic.

- Leave your bad attitude and angst at the door.

- Resumes that have everything including the kitchen sink are hard to interpret.

- Understand the position, know what's relevant, and know the company. Understand the business. You have to be able to relate how you will solve the problem. Someone please tell us they are the one and why.

- Staffing companies ARE still viable. Can companies still afford to pay the headhunter? Some realize that they don't have the time to do it and it costs them man-hours to do it in-house.

To summarize: - Deal breakers: Too much personal or negative. Too much desperation. Exaggeration - you can't have done everything. Admit your weaknesses with a positive spin.

- Makers: Enthusiasm, confidence without overselling, knowledge of job and company.

Next, the speakers reconvened on stage for a panel Q&A.

Dan - What about cold calling? Do managers feel too overwhelmed? Terrie - It's better to have a contact. Interview someone at your peer level to get some leads. This is all about developing your leads. The goal is to get information, determine the needs. Jenny - I never minded talking as long as they recognize I'm busy. Let me off the phone in 5 minutes. Being personal is important. Craig - E-mail or voice mail: odds are you won't get a response. If you can get hold of someone, risk is manageable. Don't ask for a lot of time.

Q. I can get to HR but can't get further to the hiring manager, software manager. Jenny - My job is to not let you through. There's nothing wrong with finding out if HR is doing the screening or someone else. David - Cold calling is the technique of last resort, only if networking is failing. You tell people whom you want to contact with networking, that's how you bypass HR.

Q. How do you differentiate recruiters? A. Good reputations, heard good things from hiring managers. How long has recruiter had a relationship with the hiring company.

Q. What about a hole in your career - the unemployed time period? Come up with a story to fill that period? Q. What about a skills resume instead of chronological to fill the hole? Terrie - Depends on the timing and the reason for the hole. Mothers have that problem. Pursuing a new degree is a good reason for a hole. You don't need to explain with today's economy. Fill up those holes with volunteer work to keep those skills.

Q. I was laid off from my last four companies. (I'm jinxed. :) I have a scattered resume. Do I need to cover up the holes? How can I leverage those multitude of skills not specifically focused? A. If you have lots of short stints, make sure you let them know the reason, i.e. company went out of business, lost funding.

Q. What if the companies have changed names? Which name do I use? InfoBeat, Exactis, 24/7? A. Use the most well known name.

Q. What's the etiquette to find out why you were turned down? Craig - I've had good success calling HR, talk them to coffee or breakfast, 15 minutes. Most have been receptive.

Q. Resumes are used more to exclude than include people. How do I make my resume more attractive? Jenny - Clear and concise without being everything to everybody. I think people try to be too broad.

Q. Do you like the summary statement? A. Only if targeted to the job. Not generic statements. Terrie - Resumes are scanned by keywords. Some want to see cover letter in e-mail. Don't just send e-mail attachment. You should have the cover letter in the e-mail body, not the attachment. It's ok to send as attachment if you also put it in the body of the message. PDF's are irritating.

Q. Craig, did you use recruiters at netLibrary? If so, how did you choose them? A. We did use them two years ago, but that's not relevant today. Terrie - I worked for netLibrary. It depends on the personal relationship. Q. As things tightened up, did it depend on cost? Craig - It was based on service. Recruiters do more than filter resumes and handle flaky stuff.

Q. Dice will have a job listing with a huge laundry list of skills, like 10 years of Java, and it's a junior position. Terrie - Recruiters are being told to do this, to find the perfect one. Match as many of the skills as you can. Q. How can that be right? Terrie - You see a lot of that in government, with a requirement that only a specific person could have. David - I see that too. There's no way that anyone could meet those requirements. It's just a way to deal with all the resumes. I think there's no sense in sending it in, it will just be filtered out. Strategy is too go past the hiring manager (sorry guys). Find the insider.

Terrie - I have a free job support group Wednesdays at the Med on Walnut between 9th and 10th. There's a facilitating session from 3:00 to 4:00.

Dan adjourned the meeting at 9 pm. Many of the audience stayed to talk to the speakers afterwards.

Respectfully submitted by Tom Bresnahan tbrez@rmiug.org.

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