j0443718[1] Job hunting was pretty slow over the holidays, not too many companies advertising for new positions. But after the first of the year, things have really started to pick up, so I’ve been doing more job applications, interviews and all that jazz. At first I was focusing solely on landing a traditional, full-time job. But since the market was lean, I finally decided to start applying for more contract positions. I realized there is not much constraining me to seek a more traditional position (like being the primary breadwinner of a family or something). And it might be fun, for a change, to switch jobs and companies more frequently.

Many of these vendor and contractor positions are at “The Software Giant” in Redmond, as all the recruiters and staffing agencies call it in their job ads. Working with recruiters is new to me, as in the past I’ve always applied for jobs straight with the hiring company. And when I’ve been on the interviewer side of the table, my  group was always interviewing a new hire directly after filtering through resumes ourselves.

Some of my more worldly engineering friends give recruiters the less flattering moniker of “pimp”- making me slightly wary of what kind of role I’d be entering into, exactly. But so far it hasn’t required mini-skirts, gum-chewing or hoop earrings; and none of the recruiters I’ve seen appear to be packing heat or sporting tattoos, so I think I’m safe! 😀 I’m still finding there is a lot to learn about this underworld of engineering contracting, however.

It’s All About You, Really

First, my assessment of recruiters is about the same as my assessment of real estate agents: if they’re any good at making a living at what they do, they’re really in imagebusiness for themselves; not for the buyer, and not for the seller. Their primary motivation is to close the deal as quick as possible, not to get the highest price for the seller, the best house on the market for the buyer. Or, in the job world, the best candidate for the position or the highest salary for the client.

I met a woman who’s been doing contracting for a while, asked her for advice, which was this: stay on top of your agency (she is choosing to stick with one). They will promise dedicated and loving services to you to keep you continually employed. But the marriage grows stale fast, and they soon forget about you when your contract runs out and you need another gig!

Predator or Savior?

It seems like there are dozens, if not hundreds, of staffing agencies out there, big and small. Some are huge firms with many employees and elaborate websites, and others are a single person with a cell phone working the streets on their own. Most are covert about their identities in advertising, often running “blind ads” that don’t give any contact information or details about the employer for which they are hiring.  image

One advertises on craigslist with this offer “finally, a recruiter who does not rip you off…”  It does appear as though the hourly wages most of these recruiters offer are lower than a traditional full-time role. They seem the same on the surface, but when you consider the vacation, holidays, health insurance, and retirement plan contributions that permanent positions offer, the recruiters’ offerings pale a bit by comparison (probably because of the obvious situation of a middle man needing to take a cut). 

Lost In Translation

I’m coming to realize that working with these people requires you to be more active at staying in the driver’s seat. For one, making sure that the recruiter is able to keep straight all of the jobs they are trying to fill, and which jobs I’m interested in. It seems like some of them are juggling so many openings, they start to get them confused. They also seem to forget stuff I tell them, like what is my target salary range or what it is I’m looking for.

imageOften the job description they’ve gotten, or chosen to truncate before publishing,  is poor or vague. And there is the difficulty that the recruiter may not know a lot about my particular field. This is also a challenge when communicating through an HR rep about a regular position. More than once I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking back and forth with the recruiter (who is going back and forth with the hiring manager on the other end) before I finally realize that the job was not at all something for which I’m qualified or was seeking.

It’s like playing the “telephone game” with the hiring manager- whatever I say, or he says, is going to get morphed in the recruiter retelling, and who knows what the result may be! 😀 So, it’s good to ask for a full job description as soon as they express any interest in the resume submittal.

Format, Schmormat and Editing Elves

I always try to submit my resume and cover letter in PDF format, to help ensure that its formatting stays intact, and to prevent accidental (or deliberate?) modification. But when submitting files through craigslist and monster, often size limits or site rules prohibit PDF, so then I have to give up a Word version of my resume. Oh, I pray the fonts and page breaks come out OK on the other end! I thought this was the only concern, until recently…

So the other day, I was asked in an interview so tell me about your experience with X. To which I replied, sorry, I have no experience with X. The interviewer was puzzled, turned  his monitor so I could see my resume displayed, and countered but it says here on your resume extensive experience with X. Egads! Recruiter person had modified my resume and typed this in! Being intimately familiar with every character on my resume, I could see in that fateful moment that more had been altered as well, including my first name being truncated to an initial. My resume’s appearance was marred like an lady with smeared lipstick!

image I’m starting to realize that recruiters not only want to put their company name at the top of the resume, but also strip off the candidate’s personal and contact information. I suppose to prevent the hiring company from trying to contact you directly. And, then, while they’re already in there editing your resume, it must be tempting to put in a few little “improvements” of things they know the hiring manager wants to see that they think you have. But this is obviously a slippery slope, and it backfired in this particular instance, creating a very awkward moment for both me and the interviewer.

You’ve Been Served

So, now I know: bring multiple copies of original resume on distinctive paper, and foist them upon hiring manager at start of interview, despite his objections that he already has a copy. I’ve also come across a few times when my resume was completely butchered by some data warehousing application, rendering my curriculum vitae into an aesthetically horrifying blob of keywords. I just cringe when I see that, because I’ve agonized, just agonized, over every delineating line, bold font face, bullet shape, and character spacing in that document. It is an artistic masterpiece, if I do say so myself, and I don’t want anyone, or anything, rearranging the bits on my behalf!

I’ve been somewhat hesitant to force interviewers to take a fresh copy of  my resume, because I can usually see that they’ve taken notes on their copy, so I know they don’t want my copy. But no more! From now on, I’m being strict: hiring manager, you will take my fresh copy whether you think you need it or not!

Your Hazing, Er, Interview Appointment is at Ten O’Clock…

Some companies, and The Software Giant is especially renowned for this, treat the job interview less as a get-to-know-your-skills and more of some kind of prank you must endure to qualify for membership in the fraternity. The classic: I’ll ask you a question, then no matter what answer you provide, I’ll imply that your answer was unsatisfactory and force you to answer it again, in iteration. image

The supposed strategy is to test if the interviewee has infinite patience or will eventually get snappish. Fortunately, if you know this is the goal, you can refuse to get snappish, no matter how stubborn the persistence of the interviewer in attempting to send you over the edge. But since everybody knows this about The Software Giant, you’d think that the discovery technique may have lost its edge. It does make some small voice inside you want to shoot back, alright, alright, tape me to the flagpole, smear me with peanut butter and make me sing I Feel Pretty if that’s what’s necessary, just let’s get this over with!

Enough About You, I’m Changing the Subject…

And, another favorite: the interviewer that won’t give you a word-in edgewise, preferring instead to fill the precious 50 allotted minutes talking about their own subjects of choice.image I once encountered this as a college grad, my would-be manager spent the hour telling me old Army stories from his glory days. I took the job anyway, and sure enough, he continued telling Army stories that filled all working hours! 🙂

Recently, one late-arriving hiring manager elaborated on about all of the internal politics his group was facing, and how annoying management had been in handling all of it. Then he handled a support call during my interview, and mentioned in passing that the job description had changed since I applied, and had anybody told that to me before I came? Attempting to be gracious, I had scarcely a few minutes to expound upon my skills. Minutes which were useless anyway, since I had no job description which could guide me in what I might discuss. It was like a car wreck in slow motion, and yet I could not think of a way to grab the wheel and steer out of it!

The Dating Game

When you have a badly managed interview, and they later they break the news that you didn’t get the job, it causes some feeling of relief. imageAfter all, the management of the interview probably reflects the management of the department! You find yourself musing do I really want to work for a guy who fills every waking minute with Army stories? I hope I don’t get this job…. 

There are many parallels between dating and job hunting, and both have their share of humorous foibles. Considering the obstacles to finding a compatible match, it’s astonishing that anyone ever gets married or gets hired. But, they do. And so one continues to submit carefully crafted resumes and cover letters aimed at poorly worded job postings, saying "bring it on!” to whatever interview curveballs may lie ahead in the search for Mr. Right Company. At least I feel I’m getting better equipped to reach up, remove the blindfold and steady the aim of the cupid-like recruiters who are so set on finding me my match! 😀