30 July 2009

Tales from the job search trenches

As a newly minted member of the growing unemployed masses, I have jumped head-first into my job search efforts brimming over with enthusiasm (ask me in December if I am still so geared up). Things have sure changed from previous times in my career when I was looking for employment. Yes, there is a challenging economic environment, but the tools and strategies have changed as well.

When I saw the writing on the wall about my job several months ago, I was anxious about what I might wind up doing if I became unemployed. Considering how worried I was earlier this year, I am actually surprised that I am enthusiastic and feeling downright excited about the new opportunities that are lurking out there. I don’t claim to have found the magic solution to job searching in the post-modern era, but my hope is that by sharing my strategies, and thoughts, I might inspire others, and perhaps hear suggestions from readers that I can learn from. If nothing else, all the activities, and strategies, I am using have really lifted my spirits.

My current job search strategy is as follows:

1. Network like MAD!

Connecting with old colleagues, friends, and associates, is the cornerstone of my job search. I particularly love using LinkedIn. Several months ago I only had about 3 members in my LinkedIn network and today I have 228. I know that my LinkedIn network is pretty small compared to those who have many thousands, but I have already been seeing dividends from my networking efforts.

I started networking by searching for people I had worked with, both in my most recent, and past jobs. I was astounded to find out how many people I knew were on LinkedIn! I was able to connect to one or two people I had known from a job 20 years ago, and then discovered many other ex-colleagues when I looked at who were in my friend’s networks. Soon, I had re-connected with most of the people I had ever worked with, even folks I hadn’t spoken with in over a decade.

Once I connect to people on LinkedIn, I write them a note telling them what I’ve been up to, and mentioning that I am eager to hear about any opportunities in product or program management they might know about. I have gotten several leads this way, as well as good advice. As a bonus, I rekindled a lot of friendships that had lain dormant for far too long.

I am a BIG fan of using LinkedIn recommendations. In general, I write a short recommendation for anyone I have ever worked with for whom I can think of something positive to say. So far I have written 130 recommendations (some are more verbose than others). In fact, I quite often don’t even ask individuals to connect with me on LinkedIn, I just send them a recommendation. People can’t make recommendations visible on their LinkedIn profiles without first connecting to the person who wrote it, and I have noticed that very few people will decline the gift of showing a recommendation to the world (and thereby join my network). This also puts future conversations (e.g. asking for introductions) I have with my contacts on a positive tone, since I have done something nice for them. There is the added bonus that writing a recommendation for someone periodically inspires others to reciprocate (I now have 26 recommendations written for me).

LinkedIn searches for recruiters who work for various employers I am interested in have also been productive, and not only resulted in requests for my resume, but actual job interviews.

Groups on LinkedIn are also useful as places to look for information, and make new acquaintances in areas that interest me. I have joined a bunch of groups in the Seattle area, as well as some professional communities.

I have also started attending job seeker networking events in my area, and have met some really interesting people this way, who have a lot of ideas to share. Getting out of the house and meeting people is important. There is even a group of job seekers that meets at my church twice a month that has been been helpful as a support group.

2. Applying for jobs

There is just no substitution for the old fashioned slog of applying for jobs. I have been using a variety of job posting internet sites to look for openings, and then sending in my resume. Some of the job search places I have used are: craigslist, LinkedIn, SeattleJobs, and monster. However, it also doesn’t hurt to go directly to the web site of an employer I am interested in and searching for their openings.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any single place to look for job openings. I see jobs posted on Craiglist that never show up anywhere else, and vice-versa.

When I do find a job posting that interests me, I always go to LinkedIn and search for people who work at that firm. Invariably, I usually find that at least someone I know has a friend working at the prospective employer (which LinkedIn makes it easy to see when viewing the people it finds in searches). My goal is to get an introduction to someone at the firm, and give that person my resume. Recently, I even discovered that my next door neighbour was a friend of a hiring manager at a local firm that had a promising job opening. I have asked my neighbor to make introductions.

3. Lending a hand

I am a huge believer in the reciprocal benefits of helping others. Certainly, people are more willing to help me if I have helped them, but there are many other ways that volunteer work can reap dividends. I first picked up many of the skills I use in my career through volunteering. I worked for free at a computer store when I was 13, since the employment laws prohibited me from doing ANY work and that was the only way I could get the experience I wanted. Over the years I have continued to do volunteer work to pick up new skills even while I was gainfully employed elsewhere. I posted on USENET (the early Internet community) back in the early ‘90s offering to setup NetWare 4 servers for free, and found myself working late at night in server rooms of San Francisco area bio-medical firms, setting up their latest systems.

Recently, I have started a community on LinkedIn, called “WorkFree”, just for this purpose. Individuals can post messages about their interest to do free work in particular areas, and employers can advertise their interest in getting some free work done.

I have found other opportunities to lend my expertise, and ideas, to everyone who is interested in talking. Even though a recommendation a good friend made to an analyst firm discovered they had no openings, I took advantage of the contacts to offer my services to provide insights on the technology industry for free. Who knows what the friendships I am building through my conversations with various industry experts will lead to, even years down the road…

I also love helping other people with their careers. One of my friends recently became unemployed himself, and I suggested that he write a paper on an open source IT project he had been doing at his previous employer. I will help edit this paper, and then promote it on newsgroups and blogs that deal with this kind of technology. My friend has picked up a huge amount of valuable expertise, that could get him noticed by many potential employers. We just have to get the word out. This also helps me by making it possible to bask in the glow of my friend’s expertise. It doesn’t hurt me one bit to be seen (and noticed) as someone who finds great new technologies, or people. Hey, marketing is something I do, and being able to successfully promote my friends only helps grow my portfolio of show-case marketing efforts.

I am now actively looking for other such opportunities to help people in their job searches.

4. Becoming an entrepreneur

As if my job search, and volunteer, efforts weren’t taking up enough of my time, I have also taken on the task of helping a good friend with his web startup. He has spent years, and a lot of his own capital, building a very impressive project and business management system. I am helping find beta volunteers willing to manage their businesses on this system, building real-world case studies that will allow us to get more investment.

My ability to make any money from my efforts are slim, but this gives me yet another opportunity demonstrate my marketing skills, as well as create a great way to do more networking.

5. Home grown research

On top of all of this, I have also undertaken the task of starting up my own market research project. I have been keenly interested in understanding how recessions impact technology for many years, and now that I am between jobs I am free to indulge my curiosity to its fullest, in exploring this subject. I had started the “Recession Study Group" club at Microsoft, back in 2005, which has grown to over 200 members, but this was always just an extra-curricular effort and my ability to openly investigate this subject was limited.

Now, however, I have constructed a survey that asks both consumers and IT professionals how the economic downturn has changed their spending (and posting it to newsgroups, and contacting IT bloggers asking if they would be interested in posting it). I am following up with interviews of a dozen or so consumers and IT professionals to flesh out the results. I will be writing up a full report, with analysis, on my blog in the coming weeks.

One of my theories is that deep recessions can act as catalysts for permanent changes in the use of technology. When times are good, people are content to keep spending as they always have, but when times are tough, they will more seriously consider alternatives that might have been easy to dismiss in happier times.

Conducting this research is definitely fun, but I hope it will also further help in my networking efforts, and serve as yet another showcase for my work. It’s not like I can use the research studies I did at Microsoft as examples of my work, since all that data is proprietary.

What doesn’t work

1. External recruiters

I spent a lot of time getting in touch with recruiters, doing searches on LinkedIn and writing template introductory notes to some 200 people in this field. I have had a lot of positive responses from these external recruiters (and even spoken with over a dozen of them on the phone or in person), but almost no solid leads have resulted from all this effort. I get the definite impression that external recruiters are becoming increasingly frozen out of many employers, who are reluctant to pay high fees when the volume of candidates applying for jobs DIRECTLY to their own web sites is so massive.

Some recruiters have given me good advice on my resume, and how to focus my job search efforts, but not a one has come up with promising job openings.

2. Posting resume to on-line job boards or applying to jobs on employer web sites

Just throwing my resume into the mass of CVs swamping HR databases won’t get you anywhere. In my situation, in particular, my lack of official credentials or a college degree almost certainly means I will flunk any automated screening system. The only way to get noticed is to use my network to find an acquaintance or friend who can recommend me to someone they know in a company I am interested in.

From here to eternity…

I am sure that my job search strategy will change over time. I might be biting off more than I can reasonably chew by undertaking all these varying projects, but for the moment I think they complement one another. Ask me again in a couple months how well that is turning out.

There are many other things I need to consider adding to my repertoire. A number of people have suggested I start using Twitter and Facebook as part of my networking tools, but I have been reluctant to invest the time in still more social networking tools. Facebook, in particular, seems to be much more of a tool for socializing than “networking”, and has become incredibly busy with trivia. Still, maybe I should give it another look.

NOTE: I have posted some of my techniques for using LinkedIn as well as a podcast on how to contact people at firms you want to work for and build relationships. Also, you can listen to my series of my "Anatomy of a job search" podcasts where I interview fellow-job seekers about their search strategies and brainstorm ways to improve their effectiveness.


  1. Good luck Man!! As an ex-Microsoftie who went through the same process I can understand what's happening with you. Have you gone through DBM, they did have couple of job fairs before and they help you with the resume, job search,etc. Apply for jobs on simplyhired.com it pulls jobs from all major sites. Another thing to do is put your resume online on Monster/Dice/etc. When I was in the job hunt I have searched for software companies in seattle on google and applied for jobs by going to each and every individual company site.
    Prepare well, show lot of passion and confidence. You should land a job in no time.

  2. Do you know coding?

  3. Do you know coding?

    I have led software development teams, with both developers and testers, in very technical product areas, but I am not a "coder" myself.

    That is one field that I will leave to my betters.

    Instead, I will stick with program and product management, confusing programmers with lots of silly customer and competitive requirements. :)

  4. So you could contribute to overhead but not to productivity. You can command but not act. Goodluck my friend. The world needs a few less product managers. The best product are managed by the coders.

  5. I have tried one technique from a job hunt book with so-so results. I make a list of the employers in my field from the Yellow Pages, on my computer with Notepad (simple, doesn't take up a lot of computer power or screen space). I write down the phone number and street address, then go to the Post Office web site to get the full address (with nine digit zip code).

    After I get a lot of these in job categories, I call each one. I try to get past the receptionist and speak to a person in the department (in my case desktop publishing and print design). I have a quick thirty-second spiel about my qualifications and capabilities, and wind up by saying "Can I schedule a time to come in, speak with you and see your facility?"

    Sadly, after about 150 calls I got only two offers for interviews. One was a "courtesy" interview with an ad agency, the other was closer to a real job interview.

    The problem is that most people immediately say "We have no openings." They will accept a resume, and I send one, with cover letter and with some little mini-resume cards (about 4" x 5 1/2" so they fit in a standard #10 envelope) with my basic stats and contact information. I have asked employers to pass the mini-cards on to anyone interested in freelance or other work.

    The really discouraging part, and what is frightening, is that 10-15 percent of the businesses I call have disconnected phones, or state that they're out of the business or are closing within a month.

    It's agonizing, because this is a second career choice. My career was in TV engineering, with publishing just a hobby. The TV business has collapsed, because its main advertisers, car dealers, are ALSO closing and collapsing. Temp agencies offer no hope for part-time jobs. All I can do is try to get unemployment now that my severance pay is almost up, apply for anything I might be able to do, and keep trying.

    The hardest part is remaining optimistic in a time when American business and manufacturing is apparently trying to commit suicide with stupid decisions. I'm not certain delivering pizzas will be a survival job; we can't build a country by delivering pizzas to one another.

  6. how wonderfully ignorant, anonymous/11:15.

    many a program manager has had to clean up the mess of devs who have no idea how to manage a budget or schedule, not to mention user research and business requirements.

    herding unfocused devs and designers contributes to productivity and efficiency.

    good luck to you, mikhail.

  7. I make a list of the employers in my field from the Yellow Pages, on my computer with Notepad. I write down the phone number and street address, then go to the Post Office web site to get the full address (with nine digit zip code).

    After I get a lot of these in job categories, I call each one.

    Have you tried using LinkedIn to find people who work for these companies? You could join groups on LinkedIn for printing professionals and find people you think might be interesting to contact from the member's list.

    You can also try writing articles for your own blog about your experience in printing, and then post the links to the printing communities on LinkedIn. This can help you make friends, and network, with other people in your field (who may know about jobs).

  8. I am also an ex-Microsoftie that was cut in January. I have given up on corporate America. After all I am just a middle aged white guy with patents, awards, commendations and customer testimonials. These companies are off shoring as fast as they can and I imply do not want to waste any more time or interest in a corporate ideology that is dying. In other words I am a pariah. I took some advice and read "48 days to the job you love" and I am now doing what I truly love rather than what think I must.
    Good luck. But keep in mind that America was built on the independant spirit and the entreprenur. For me, I say good riddance to the corporation.

  9. As a laid-off corporate recruiting manager, blogger, ex-Microsoftie, and now CEO of a tech startup, I must commend you for an excellent blog post. Your efforts will yield results - you're doing it right!

    For others reading this post, please follow this advice, especially the LinkedIn advice. Your blog will also get attention. Might I also suggest signing up for Twitter. It's a great way to network with others in your field, get your message out to thousands and keep up with news and information. For example, I just tweeted a link to this post, which reached my network of over 7,000 people (many of whom are recruiters). You never know who's watching, reading, listening.

    Lastly, I suggest to you and to others to target, target, target your job search.

    Identify a list of target companies for whom you wish to work, location, company size, specific department, job title, even manager, if you can. Learn everything you can about your target companies, make connections and apply for jobs. Eventually, you will find the perfect role and the stars will align.

    Good luck to you and all others who are searching in this market. I'll check back in from time to time to see how it's going.

  10. I was 'lucky' in that my employer started layoffs in September 2008 before shutting down our entire division in December.

    I would advise anyone who has been laid off to spend a little time 'getting their head back on.' Being laid off is traumatic. It's hard to bust your butt for an employer and then be laid off, and you need to come to terms with what happened and why before you'll really be ready for your next position. Get up in the morning, get some exercise, and work on brushing up skills you haven't used in a while and learning new skills. I started up a local software-related SIG and acquired some additional certifications in my areas of interest, and this eventually led to my new position.

    I found that it was helpful to use each of the major high tech websites... Monster and Dice. I also used Craigslist. It's good to post your resume on Monster and Dice. Many times a job will come to you especially if you have rare skills. I received several calls on my posted resume and had a few interviews. I was also contacted by various recruiters, and a few contracting companies. The recruiters were helpful, especially with resume advice. The contractors were insulting, offering me jobs at much lower levels that I was obviously overqualified for, at lower than prevailing rates. Their justification was "Someone will take these jobs at this amount, and don't you need a job?" I was thankful that I had the financial wherewithal to tell these folks to go away.

    If you haven't been in the job market in a while, it's worthwhile to have your resume professionally re-written. I did this and found it made a huge difference in the # of calls that I got after replying to jobs. Investigate job-specific training; many training companies are offering free training to laid-off software workers as a marketing move so that you'll take more with them, or recommend them to colleagues, once you land a position.

    Finally, don't give up. I had interviews at three separate companies that seemed promising, but none came through. After one loop I ran into one of my interviewers in the elevator, and he asked me if I was taking the offer (oops). It turned out that the new CEO froze hiring and I never received that offer. Interestingly enough, ALL of these companies had layoffs in the groups I interviewed for, so if they had hired me I'd have been gone shortly thereafter. I'm especially thankful I didn't get hired by these companies because I would never have found my dream job where I work now. It took me 9 months to get it, but my pay doubled, the benefits are much better, and I'm much happier.

    So, polish your skills to make yourself an even more valuable employee, polish your resume, get it out there so people can be hunting you while you're hunting for a job, don't settle for a crappy job if you don't have to, don't give up, and believe in yourself. All recessions end, even this one.

  11. I found that it was helpful to use each of the major high tech websites... Monster and Dice

    Interesting. I have posted my resume on Monster and Hotjobs but haven't gotten any responses from that other than dubious come-ons for multi-level marketing scams. Perhaps there just isn't as much interest in marketing, or program management, type people as there are for developers with specialized skills.

    Of course, perhaps my resume could be tweaked to better show up in searches, but I have already put a significant effort into fine tuning it (and getting professional help) so I am not sure how much more can be done.

    Like I said in my post, all my solid leads have resulted from networking.

  12. help dev focus and guide them. helping devs understand customer requirements. huh.

    dev understand customer requirements, but they are not doing it because there are not enough resources. i have met a product manager, all he says, oh our customer requires better products, they need a bullet proof os, they need iphone. even if a dev agrees to it, it is not value add. dev needs to know the tradeoff. dev needs to know what can be left which is still loved by customers. everybody knows customer requirements, but very few know customer tradeoffs.

    so called product managers spend their time on obvious discussions on email lists. any dev, if had time would beat these product managers at their skill. the skill which product managers have that they are not good at anything substantial.

    well, yahoo ceo said it right that yahoo could do without some product managers. microsoft also knows this. i hope you join some university where you could learn something productive to do. you may get a job after the economy is booming. but you will again lose in the next recession. my friend, useless things are easiest to cut. msft just showed to you.

  13. Way to go, dude! You are ahead of the curve and have figured out most of the battle from Day One. It took me a while to get these things figured out as the reality of the market has significantly changed from about a year ago when I first started looking.

    I can't say enough about networking and keeping good connections. Best of luck to you.

    I am starting my new job shortly.

  14. You should also try indeed.com, which searches across the various job boards, as well as a large number of corporate career sites. it's been an invaluable resource.

    As far as personal networking, LinkedIn is the best, but staying connecting via Twitter, Facebook, and a blog are also great ways to keep your friends and former colleages informed on what is happening with you, and allows them to respond with advice and, hopefully, connections.

    For those in the Puget Sound, I'd also recommend attending the various networking events available through www.seattletechcalendar.com or www.npost.com for information on startups and tech companies.

    In the Bay Area, great resources include sdforum.org, ebig.org, and svase.org among others.

    Just remember that looking for a job is a full-time job in itself. Keep making connections. You never know who knows someone, or what that random connection at a tech SIG might lead to.

  15. Very impressive that you have such a positive go-get-'em attitude. You are the kind of employee companies need.

    Indeed.com is fabulous! You must try it.

  16. Great strategies! I know all of this is a lot of work, but I'm sure it will result both in a great job and a lot of new friends. One unexpected benefit of being unemployed is the feeling of community I get knowing there are others that are out and supporting one another. Best of luck.