A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tips For Job Searchers

I put this list of tips together a few years ago after a quite successful job search.

  • Don't use a functional resume if you can possibly avoid it. Everyone wants chronological.
  • If you want to change fields, try to avoid too much detail about the field you're trying to get out of. My resume was previously going on and on about EDA CAD, saying things that were incomprehensible to anyone outside of that field (including the headhunters) resulting in my getting hardly anything but EDA CAD interviews.
  • Keep your resume down to 2 pages
  • State employment offices often have free classes in how to write a good resume, and coaches who you can show your resume to for advice. This can make a big difference.
  • Things are substantially complicated by the use of Word to do resumes, and the fact that Word is an ugly, unreliable and shifting standard controlled by an evil empire, and Word resumes will look different when viewed on a variety of different platforms. But Microsoft Word is the gold standard in resumes. It's what the headhunters want to deal with. Some people like to publish their resume as a pdf, rtf file or other format, headhunters don't like that. Many headhunters want to edit / reformat your resume, at least to remove contact information, and they can't do that with any format other than Word or text. I've often showed up for interviews and found the manager was reading a substantially reformatted version of my resume. I never saw one that the headhunter had actually improved, but I figure let the headhunter do it, a happy headhunter is a headhunter who is more likely to find me a job. Also, the internet job boards are usually only able to cope with text or Word formats, most of them deal primarily with text format, so you have to have your resume available both as a text and Word document. If you send multiple formats to the headhunters, like a Word and a pdf file, they will use one (Word if it's available, or text), forwarding that to the hiring managers, and throw the others away.
  • Don't just do your resume in Open Office or Wine on Linux and start sending it out. I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. Although Open Office and Wine are trying hard to emulate Microsoft Word, for some reason, possibly legal, they aren't allowed to use exactly the same fonts, so things don't line up exactly the same way and your resume can look like a disaster (columns collapsing, pages overflowing 5-10% followed by a page break) when the headhunter views it using real Microsoft Word. Over a couple of months in 2002, I sent out many copies of a resume I had painstakingly done with Wine before finding out it looked absolutely horrible when the headhunters were viewing it with true Microsoft Word.
  • When you save your resume on Microsoft Word, don't save according to an old format. Saving to an old Word format was a good idea when new Microsoft products could read old Microsoft formats, but now Microsoft deliberately hobbles new versions of Word so they can't read files created by old versions of Word (to force people to buy every release that comes out).
  • Make sure you view it with the latest Word. I did my resume on Word 2000 and then viewed it on Office 2007, and it looked awful. It is outrageous that a resume viewed on a later version of the same company's product doesn't look the same, but that's Microsoft for you. You don't have to buy the latest Microsoft Office, just do you resume on whatever version you have, then take it on a RAM key to an internet cafe, and edit it on the latest Word there.
  • Just because your resume looks good on true Microsoft Word, don't assume you're home free. View it with Open Office. Often the different fonts will bite you then. Though basically none of the headhunters will be using Linux to view your resume, they will be forwarding it to managers and engineers, many of whom will be Linux or Unix-based. Generally, I have found that the fonts on Linux are a little bigger than the ones on Windows, so a resume has to have about 5% empty space at the bottom of the page on Word to fit right on Open Office.
  • One thing a headhunter told me is to make sure that your contact info appears on every page of a printout of your resume. Many headhunters have a pile of unstapled printouts of resumes all over their desk (I think I would use a stapler if I were in their position, but we have to play the game their way) and the pages get mixed up and they have trouble telling which page belongs to whose resume.
  • Don't change your resume too often, when you overhaul it, spend days on it. You have to examine it very carefully for typos, typos will kill you. The spelling checkers don't understand the computer jargon and acronyms, it's really easy to get typos into your resume, and every time you make any change whatsoever, you have to check it looks good from Windows, and that it looks good from Open Office. If you don't have Open Office, you can download it for free here.

Job Boards

  • The places to post your resume to get results seem to be craigslist.org, Dice, Monster, Careerbuilder, and Hotjobs. Craigslist seemed to be the most widely read.
  • The main thing I have to offer is my extensive C/C++ background. Most job boards can't cope with a search for "C" and return all job listings that contain words containing the letter "c", so you have to look at lots of irrelevant jobs. Some object if the search string contains a "+" character, perhaps thinking it's a regular expression. Only Dice and Careerbuilder were able to search effectively for "C" or "C++" jobs.
  • Dice is particularly good in that you can narrow down your job search to specific telephone area codes. No other job board that I saw can do this.
  • I was able to set up Dice and Careerbuilder to deliver to me, every day, an email listing all the new jobs in C/C++ in certain geographic areas that I was looking for. This was very efficient in time usage.
  • A lot of robots scan job boards to harvest email addresses to spam with really stupid offers for work at home schemes, "resume blaster" services, and invitations to visit obscure job boards that don't really have any worthwhile jobs on them. When you start a job search, create a new email address that is forwarded to your regular email address. When you finish your job search, forward that email address into oblivion so your real email address will be unspammed by these parties in the future. In my text resume, I put spaces between every char of the email address to make it harder for the robots to harvest.


  • If you use soft keys in your editor, turn them off at the beginning of your job search so you get proficient at using your editor without them. You may be asked to write some code during the interview, and it probably won't be feasible to load your own softkeys into the editor.

Web Presence

  • Headhunters and HR departments now commonly google candidates to get the dirt on them. Article.
  • Visit your social networking sites, such as facebook, linkedin, and twitter, and make sure nothing that you don't want a headhunter to see is visible on those sites. Update the privacy settings so a stranger can see as little as possible.
  • Age: If you are a programmer over 40, headhunters will discriminate against you illegally and quite strongly. Make sure that neither your pictures nor your full birthday are visible to strangers on any social networking site. If you dropped some of your early career off of your resume, make sure it's not showing on linkedin either. Take the dates of your college degree off of linkedin.
  • Google yourself. See if anything unfortunate shows up, and if you can, clean it up.
  • One trick to make websites, such as your blog, ungooglable is to remove your full name from text everywhere, and have your full name be visible only on a picture.
  • Always eat a big breakfast before interviews. You may need the energy, and you can't be sure what sort of lunch opportunity you're going to have. If you're in a strange town, the "Big Breakfast" at MacDonald's will do just fine.
  • Usually, they ask you if you would like a coke or something between each person you talk to. Always go for the coke so you'll be as awake as possible. Bring change to pay in case it's a vending machine. When I was interviewing at Amazon in Seattle, they didn't have a coke machine in the building, and at the end of the day I was getting exhausted and stumbled on this unbelievably basic question, something everybody learns in college, which I think cost me the job.
  • Always bring several copies of your resume with you. Often you show up and the engineer interviewing you has either a text version of your resume (which in my case is much harder to read than the Word version) or a horribly mangled version the headhunter has forwarded to him. It's good to be able to pull out a nicer resume and say "read this" and when I've done that they've always agreed that what I gave them was more usable than the headhunter's version. Plus it will have your contact info on it.

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