Interviewing and recruiting procedures are similar at most tech companies. The more prepared you are for what you will encounter, the more successful you will be. This chapter familiarizes you with the entire job-search process, from contacting companies to starting your new job, so you won’t have to write off your first few application attempts as learning experiences. Hiring procedures at technical companies are often substantially different from those followed by more traditional firms, so you may find this information useful even if you’ve spent some time in the working world.
The first step in getting a job is finding and making contact with companies you’re interested in working for. Although networking through a contact with a company provides the highest probability of success, there are a number of other possibilities, including working with a head-hunter or contacting the company directly.
Networking (the social kind) is the best way to find jobs. Tell all your friends about what kind of job you’re looking for. Even if they don’t work for the kinds of companies that might hire you, they probably know people who do. Coming from “Susan’s friend” or “Bill’s neighbor,” your résumé is sure to receive more careful consideration than the hundreds of anonymous résumés that come flooding in from strangers. Companies often reward employees for successful referrals, so don’t think there’s nothing in it for them. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn are another way to find additional contacts, both directly and indirectly.
Once you have a contact at a company, it’s up to you to make the most of it. If the contact is not a close friend, it’s tempting to call him or her and say, “Hi, I’d like to speak with you about getting a job.” Presumably, your contact already knows that this is the ultimate reason why you’re calling, so cutting to the chase may seem reasonable. This approach, though, is tactless and likely to be unsuccessful. Your contact may find it arrogant or presumptive that you would assume his or her company needs you before you’ve even heard about the company or its current needs. For best results, you need to be more circumspect:
Start by setting up a time to speak. You don’t want to annoy your contact by trying to talk with him or her at an inconvenient time.
When you do speak to your contact, begin by asking about the company and finding out what it does. If it sounds like a good place to work, ask about openings. If an opening sounds ideal for you, explain why you believe that you would be a good match. Don’t be surprised if the contact doesn’t know which jobs are currently open, especially in larger companies. You can often find this information online from the company’s Web site or via job sites such as Dice. (That said, not all job openings are posted, so it doesn’t hurt to ask.)
Finally, thank the person for his or her time and ask if you can send a résumé or if there’s another person you can speak with about any openings.
Especially when labor markets are tight, many firms use outside recruiters known as headhunters to help them find candidates. If you list yourself with a headhunter, she will assist you with your job search and call you when she learns of an opening that matches your skill set. Some headhunters are more helpful than others, so ask around to see if anyone you know has recommendations. If you can’t locate a head-hunter this way, you can search the Web for headhunters, recruiters, or staffing services. You can check out a prospective headhunter by asking for references, but be aware that headhunters deal with so many people that even those who frequently do a poor job will have 5 or 10 satisfied clients who serve as references.
The term “headhunter” is used universally by applicants and employers, but many of those to whom the term is applied find it insulting. Therefore, it’s probably best not to use the word “headhunter” when talking to one. Avoid headhunters who want to act as your sole agent or want you to pay them fees - reputable headhunters understand that they are only a part of your job search and that their compensation comes from employers, not applicants.
When you work with a headhunter, it’s important to understand his or her motivation. Headhunters are paid only when an applicant they’ve referred is hired. It is therefore in a headhunter’s best interest to put as many people as possible into as many jobs as possible as quickly as possible. A headhunter has no financial incentive to find you the best possible job - or to find a company the best possible applicant, for that matter. If you recognize that a headhunter is in business for the purpose of making a living, not for the purpose of helping you, you are less likely to be surprised or disappointed by your experiences. This is not to suggest that headhunters are bad people or that as a rule they take advantage of applicants or companies. Headhunters can be very helpful and useful, but you must not expect them to look out for your interests above their own.
You can also try contacting companies directly. The Internet is the best medium for this approach. You may know of some companies you’d like to work for, or you can search the Web to find companies in your area. Most companies’ Web pages have instructions for submitting résumés. If the Web site lists specific openings, read through them and submit your résumé specifically for the openings you’re interested in. If you don’t have a contact within the company, it’s best to look for specific job openings: In many companies, résumés targeted at a specific job opportunity are forwarded directly to the hiring manager, while those that don’t mention a specific opening languish in the human resources database. A tech-oriented job site such as Dice is a good place to start your search if you don’t have a specific company already in mind. Nontechnical recruiting and networking sites such as Monster and LinkedIn are also worth exploring.
If a site doesn’t provide any directions for submitting your résumé, look for an e-mail address to which you can send it. Send your résumé as both plain text in the body of the e-mail (so the recipient can read it without having to do any work) and, unless there are instructions to the contrary, as an attached file (so the recipient can print a copy). A PDF file is ideal (easily created with OpenOffice or free converters such as PrimoPDF); otherwise, attach a Microsoft Word file. Do not send a file in any other format unless specifically requested. Be sure to convert the file so that it can be read by older versions of Word, and be absolutely certain that your résumé isn’t carrying any macro viruses.
Approaching a company directly like this is a bit of a long shot, especially when the résumé is sent to a generic human resources e-mail address. Many companies use automated screening software to filter incoming résumés, so if your résumé lacks the right buzzwords a human probably won’t even see it - consult the appendix for tips on getting your résumé past the automated screeners. With a good resume in hand, however, it takes so little time and effort to apply that you have nothing to lose.
Job fairs are an easy way to learn about and make contact with a lot of companies without much effort. Your chances of success with any one particular company at a job fair are low because each company sees so many applicants, but given the number of companies at a job fair, your overall odds may still be favorable. If you collect business cards at the job fair and follow up with people afterward, you can distinguish yourself from the rest of the job fair crowd.
You can also try more traditional job-search methods such as newspaper classified ads. In addition, if they are available to you, college career centers, alumni organizations, and professional associations can also be helpful in finding jobs.