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Employment, Interviewing, Job Hunt

Honest Advice Series: Pride is reserved for the employed

Good afternoon, evening, and morning to you, my faithful readers.  Or as Warren Ellis is fond of saying, “Good morning, Sinners.”

When last we left my tawdry little walk through the ins and outs of seeking out employment with a giant behemoth of a company where you can rest safe in deep pockets filled with money and advancement opportunities, I’d advised you not to directly apply for a position through the corporate career website.  This time around I think it would be beneficial to my readers (and my view counts) to start imparting some actually usable advice on how to attract the attention of a independent headhunter (good) a hiring manager (better) or an internal corporate recruiter (best).

Let’s start by reminding everyone of the realities of seeking a job as a cog one of the great machines of commerce.  You will have a lot of competition.  A lot of people out there like being a cog, it would seem.    Plus there’s a certain attraction to inserting yourself into a team doing really large things your family and relations will have heard about.  The most positive feedback I ever heard from relations about my career was when I did a brief stint with the XBox team over at Microsoft.  My job was to basically push buttons on a controller and venture out of my hole every couple of days for my turn at a trough full of Thai food or pizza, but I got a lot of good reactions doing it.  A lot of people associate a known brand with quality or importance; so having the name “Microsoft” associated with my job made me instantly more important (and memorable, which we’ll return to later) in a lot of people’s estimation.  The painful reality of this situation is a lot of people will be attempting to elbow you out of the way when attempting to attract the attention of the people they see as having the ability to let them into the club.  If you don’t find some way to positively attract the attention of people who can help you, well you’re going to spend a lot of Saturday nights standing at the door watching others have fun.

So how do you positively attract the attention of those what can help you?  It’s not as simple as it sounds.  Continuing the metaphor of attempting to enter an exclusive club, there are basically two ways once a club has become amazingly popular.  Backing up, a common method for gaining entrance is to start attending said club before it becomes popular.  In this manner you will be welcome as a “regular” once it gains in popularity and hopefully allowed entry.  There are three problems with this strategy as far as we are concerned.  First you won’t know which club is going to become world-famous popular at the start unless the promoters and owners have a history of popular clubs, but then they won’t let you in anyway.  Second there is always the very likely chance you will be suddenly denied entry once the club becomes popular and you no longer fit the desired clientèle persona.  Third this strategy is really only applicable to people looking at joining startups.  We’re talking about attempting entry with an established and currently popular enterprise.

So to gain access you have three actual strategies.  First, you may be lucky enough to be just the sort of person they look to patronize their club.  Second, you may know some one who can vouch for you or put you “on the list.”  Finally you can bribe the doorman.

We needn’t worry about the first strategy since it obviously doesn’t apply to us.  If you’re the software version of David LaChapelle you won’t need my advice because the companies will come looking for you.  My only advice for you all is if they aren’t, then either you need to start self-promoting your talent through articles, books, and conference engagements or perhaps I might suggest you aren’t as talented as you think you are.  Alternately I suppose it might be possible to fake the sort of talent and personality that may appeal to your corporation (see my previous posts about the mythical self-image of specific corporate employees) but in the best case scenario you will eventually be expected to produce at the level of talent everyone thinks you possess, then the jig will be up.  You can also say hello to the land of being black balled, but more on that state in a different post.

So strategy number two, knowing some one who can put you on the list, is where we’ll start.

This is probably the most effective strategy available to a potential cog.  Personal references are still crucial to entry even in the age of digital media and social networking.   But not all references are created equal.  Having the receptionist pass your resume onto the VP of Product Development may not be incredibly effective (unless said receptionist is actually romantically involved with said VP, but that’s against corporate policy and the VP might wonder how you know the receptionist which opens up a whole … but I digress) but its still better than cold calling the recruiter.  The best reference is some one said VP knows, respects, and trusts has some idea of the actual job and who would be a good fit.  To accomplish having a person like that available to you means you’ll need a fat Rolodex of contacts and people you know already in place.  To build such a Rolodex you’ll need to start right now … after you leave a comment of course.

The way you build such a network of contacts is referenced in my blog title.  You’ll need to take your pride and feelings of shame, box them up in a neat little storage bin, and tuck them safely away for future use when you have your job and can afford such luxuries.  Feeling positively amoral and shameless yet?  Good.  Now start reaching out to everyone you know and start chatting them up about your life and how they’re doing.  Occasionally and inadvertently drop how you’d heard good things about your corporation.  What you’re attempting to do is take advantage of the memorable nature of the branding efforts I mentioned earlier.  You’re making a connection between you and said corporation hoping it will either spark the memory of a mutual acquaintance or relative who’s safely sitting at the bar already.  Talk to everyone, including ex boyfriends or girlfriends.  Remember that we’re no longer at home for Mister Shame.  Social networking sites are excellent for this endeavor.  I heartily recommend a blitz campaign using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Naymz, and any other heavily trafficked site you can find.  But a word of caution, you may want to set up accounts specific for this activity unless you want some one to refer the VP to your Facebook page where they can review those pictures of you your friend posted from that time in Seattle where you partied for two days with Layne Staley and ended up … I’m digressing again, right?

Your ultimate goal is to find a friend, a friend of a friend, a relative, or a former colleague who’s working at your corporation to whom you can attach yourself like a lamprey eel.  Once the connection’s been established, keep it current but casual.  The point is to keep yourself in their mind when some one mentions a new opening in a department for which you’d be a great fit.  The scene should play out where your contact approaches the person after and talks to them a little more about their needs.  You’re casually floated as a possibility, and a promise of an introduction is made.  You then either meet to chat with the “hiring manager” and you’re in if you really are a good fit.  That’s it.  It’s really that simple.

But how do you get the person to want to put you forward as a candidate, especially if they only know you from boarding school?  The answer is you won’t have to because you’re already bribing the doorman.

All large companies have what are called “referral bonuses.”  This is essentially free money of varying amounts that a company promises to pay a current employee if they find them another cog to join the machinery.  Policies and amounts vary from a percentage of the eventual salary paid after six months to a year of employment all the way down to a flat fee paid immediately on your first day of employment.  So by referring you to the “hiring manager” they are satisfying their own sense of greed, and in this case greed is definitely good.  It costs a lot of money to advertise, recruit, screen, and interview qualified candidates.  By referring a candidate directly, the internal employee is saving the company a lot of time and money.  You get a great job.  The company gets a great employee or a really good liar, which may be the same thing depending on the company.  Your contact gets a nice chunk of money to spend on video games, vacations, or possibly the book I’m helping write <shameless plug> that’s scheduled to be released this Fall </shameless plug>.  And to top it all off, the recruiter can go back to working their screenplay/novel/play/web comic taking a satirical look at life in a corporation.

So what’s the first thing you’re now going to do, Sinners?  That’s right … comment.  Then you should poke that fellow in Burnsby you used to work with and just check to see what he’s been up to.  I know.  It’s been ages.  You?  Oh just more of the same.  Actually you were just reading about that new product over at [fill in company name] and was thinking they’re really doing interesting things over there.  Oh really?  He is?  And he’s on that team?  Ha ha.  Didn’t he nearly get fired for chatting up the receptionist all the time?  VP of Product Development now, is he?  Small world ….


About cowboytesting

Hi. My name is Curtis S, and I'm a tester.


4 thoughts on “Honest Advice Series: Pride is reserved for the employed

  1. You spelled “opens up a hole” wrong… 🙂


    Posted by Max Guernsey, III | August 7, 2010, 9:48 pm
  2. Hmm, I think I’m starting to get addicted to your blog like my weekly Sunday newspaper. Good article this week.

    Perhaps 2 suggestions: If you work in a big town/city and you change jobs every 2 to 3 years, go back to the recruiter that placed you previously. If they had a positive experience with you in the past, they are more likely to look out for your next big job. Lastly, go the User Group meetings in your town. You will most likely meet new people and bump into old friends there, great for networking. Learn where the real enthusiasts hang out, you may extend your networking that way. Can I say SCRUM? 🙂


    Posted by Survivor | August 9, 2010, 12:37 pm
    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. This blog has been a real boon to me as far as working out my thoughts and meeting interesting people is concerned.

      I like the suggestion for interest groups, especially if you are looking at a company in a niche market (like McAfee or Paypal) or one known for certain tool sets or frameworks (like Google’s love of all things Linux).

      I haven’t had as much use out of reaching back out to recruiters once you’ve been placed unless you keep in touch with them during the interim. Recruiters tend to have a small shelf life at companies and are usually completely overworked. It can be hard for them to think past the current openings and people they’re talking to right now. You stand a better chance with an independent recruiter or boutique staffing firm, but they’re not on the inside either.


      Posted by cowboytesting | August 9, 2010, 12:47 pm

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