A Rant About Job Hunting

Rikki Endsley

ROSE Blog: Rikki's Open Source Exchange

Jan 19, 2010 GMT
Rikki Kite

This morning I had coffee with a former colleague from my days (gasp! more than two decades ago?!) as a young record store employee. We talked about how times have changed since our afternoons spent thumbing through cassettes and LPs, reminisced about the first few CDs that trickled into our store, reflected on where we went after we quit pushing The Pretenders on vinyl, and shared stories about how we stumbled into the wonderful world of open source. (And then we got into a discussion about how cool we really are even if our kids don't know it, but that's an entirely different blog post.)

My friend is job searching. He's looking over his resume with years of Linux experience and wondering what it takes to get potential employers to acknowledge ever receiving it. He's considering getting some certification of some sort, thinking maybe those additional letters on his resume are the missing piece – or is it something else?

Does his resume need a rewrite? Is his cover letter crappy?

I told him he's not alone. I feel for him and all my other friends on the job hunt. It's torture for me to write my resume, and I'd rather type out a new thesis than tackle a cover letter. And boy am I ever a horrible interview (just ask my current employers, who hired me despite my bad awful first impression).

I occasionally look over resumes and cover letters for friends and former colleagues because it's much easier to give someone else feedback than to critique your own career neatly laid out before you in a .rtf file. (Or should it be .txt, .doc, .odt, or .pdf? This was another topic covered over a single cup of coffee today.)

Let's assume you picked the right format for your resume, and you wrote a clever cover letter that clearly shows what a great fit you are for this open position. Then you reread your resume and realized you were being much too modest, so you rewrote it applying everything you ever learned about self-promoting, imposter syndrome, tooting your own horn, and asserting yourself.

You know that Clay Shirky was not talking to YOU in his rant about women because you did your homework, for crying out loud. So why aren't those employers calling you back?

I have too many friends with decades of experience, degrees, certifications, networks, skills, and connections who are not getting called back. They aren't getting emails back, or rejection letters, or any acknowledgment at all that their resume and cover letter was received and reviewed by a person somewhere out there on the wonderful world wide web. They are discouraged, and I don't blame them.

When it comes to the job hunt of 2010, what works for getting you work?

Do companies no longer send out feedback or a rejection letter if an applicant doesn't fit the role?

Do experienced professionals need to add certifications to their decades of hands-on experience? If so, which certifications are most practical?

Did you find a new open source-related job in the past 12 months? If so, what tips would you offer someone who's still on the search?

Do you look at local resources? Or are job boards better?

If you are a prospective open source employer, what tips do you have to help job seekers turn their resumes and cover letters into job offers?

And to my friend who stopped by for a surprise visit today and took me out for coffee: Thank you. I enjoyed our trip down memory lane at Pennylane, remembering the simplicity of those good old days back when a "bad day at the office" meant we were told not to smoke in the stockroom or the realization that we were too broke to buy the newest Tom Waits. Good luck on your job search – I'll let you know what I find out.


  • great ideas

    Thanks Mackenzie and Alison! These are all great suggestions. Events are always scrambling for volunteers, which is a great way to get in the door for free, meet great people, and network. A lot of event attendees are willing to share rooms, too, and that can really help when money is exceptionally tight.

    Taking classes is *always* a good idea. (One of my big motivations for going back to grad school a few years ago was that I fully expected to be laid off.) And I wonder how often volunteer or part-time positions help lead to full-time work. I'd love to hear more about any of those success stories, too.

    I think this post really hit home for a lot of people. In addition to comments here, people have contacted me via email, Twitter, and Facebook to share their frustrations with the job market and job searching. If there's anything I can do to help people network (or review resumes/cover letters, or anything else), let me know!
  • finding an open source job in 2010

    My job isn't strictly open source but it does involve Linux. I don't really know why I got hired, but maybe my comments can still help somebody. My observations:

    1. having a posted, downloadable project somewhere that I could point to was a big help in my search. The project established that I was motivated enough to finish something on my own and answered a lot of recruiter questions. For example, "Do you have experience coding up GUIs?" Dude, download my solo open-source project that uses GUIs and see for yourself!

    2. I took a lot of classes in preparation for changing jobs. I chose which classes to take in part based on looking at job listings. I ignored requirements for certificate programs and instead focused on employer-desired skills in addition to what courses matched my interests.

    3. I never spent more than an hour per day applying for jobs. Instead of spending time on putting out lots of applications, I focused on acquiring the skills that employers want.

    YMMV. Good luck!
  • Conferences

    I don't think rejection letters are the norm anymore. When each resume gets less than 30 seconds to be read, who wants to spend a full minute sending out a form letter rejecting someone?

    I got my open source job...it'll be a year ago in 2 weeks. It all started from when I was at Ohio LinuxFest 2008. While there, I was approached by some guys who started quizzing my Linux knowledge and asking about my contributions. They were impressed and went back to their boss and recommended me. I had lunch with the CEO last January, and that was it. I think they counted the chat we had at OLF as the technical interview.

    So, my advice would be to go where geeks gather, chat with people on subjects you know, and mention you're in the market for a job. Oh, and take calling cards with you! For that matter, calling cards that make you stand out! Mine say "Geek" instead of a job title, have my GPG fingerprint, and the back is my name in pink binary (8bit ASCII). Someone will likely have a lead, and with a card that sticks out, they'll remember to call you about it.
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