IT Job Search Tips and Advice

Job search tips and advice. How to ace the job interview!


Want to land that IT job on the first interview? Read “Securing The Offer” for all the inside information you need to know to impress potential employers.


Years of experience: Look for someone with at least 3 years of experience IN YOUR INDUSTRY.

Stability: Ask how long the recruiter has been with the company. May average recruiters change jobs constantly and never build up any momentum. The more longevity the better.

Aggressiveness: If the recruiter is hurried, aggressive, and a little domineering, that is a good sign.

Detail-oriented: Sales and detail orientation to not usually go hand-in-hand. A good recruiter will have both.

Understands You: A good recruiter does not need to understand programming language syntax. We are in the business of selling people. Look for a recruiter who understands how to probe for what makes you distinct and how to sell that uniqueness to his clients.

Phone vs. Email: High producing recruiters shun email and pick up the phone. What does YOUR recruiter do?

Awards and Recognition: Ask your recruiter about awards won, quota, total number of placements, number of consultants on billing, etc. The more the better!


Are you getting calls from your resume? What is the purpose of a resume? To get a job? No! The purpose is to get an interview with someone who makes decisions so that hopefully you can make a string case for getting the job. The interview process is like Survivor. You have to keep yourself from getting voted out, and a poor resume is a great way to lose the job game. What we're really looking for when we look at résumés is someone who is passionate and successful at whatever they try to do. We like people who are passionate about software. Writing a shareware app when you're a teenager is just as good a qualification to us as getting into MIT.

Resume content: Agency recruiters, human resources managers, and often hiring managers filter through hundreds of resumes a week. With that many resumes the first thing the reader does is look for a reason to throw out your resume. That means you often only have about 15 seconds to capture someone's attention. Is that fair? Maybe. Is that reality? You bet! You can do three things to increase the chances of having your resume read:

    1. Use the correct format
    2. Include plenty of quantifiable accomplishments
    3. Heavy use of appropriate keywords targeted for the position for which you are applying

Resume format: There is one, and only one, proper resume format for recruiters--chronological. Recruiters do not have time or patience to figure out the complexities of a functional resume. Recruiters work on commission, and time is money. Hiring managers have other work waiting for them, and they want to get out of the office and go home like anyone else.

A second danger of using a functional resume is that the reader automatically assumes that you are trying to hide something. This is a universal assumption. No job seeker on earth is able to hide unpleasant facts within a functional resume. Recruiters are trained from the start to pick up on any possible "red flags" that identify the job seeker as an undesirable candidate.

Quantifiable accomplishments: Listing quantifiable accomplishments is essential in helping the recruiter see you as money in his pocket. Remember this point--you will only capture a headhunter's attention when he sees you in terms of commission potential. Since recruiters earn their fee by providing better candidates than their competition, your resume should shout "ACCOMPLISHMENTS," not "duties and responsibilities."

Quantifiable accomplishments are most convincing when connected to bottom-line results: revenue earned, money saved, market share increased, costs cut, or time saved. This type of information gives the recruiter selling points to market you to their clients and put you in front of employers more quickly.

Heavy use of keywords: Heavy usage of keywords is important to help the reader more easily match you as a potential candidate to one of the many open jobs at the time and helps clarify exactly what your expertise is. At any given time a recruiter may have 10 to 100 specific positions to fill. Recruiters categorize their positions by qualifications identified by keywords. When reading resumes the recruiter scans for those keywords.

If you are one of those people who thinks, "All programming languages are the same" then wake up. That attitude will not get you a position. If a company is using a recruiter to fill a position it is because the company wants to hire someone who is already over the learning curve and who can immediately contribute. Do you go to a cardiologist for cancer treatment? The cardiologist can learn about cancer, but that doesn't make him the best value for your money, right?

An added benefit is that most recruiters store resumes in databases, and the frequency of key work occurrence on your resume will affect where it shows up in search results. For that reason we also recommend that in addition to heavy use of keywords for your primary skill (SQL Server, for example) that you include the ancillary keywords (stored procedures, SSIS, SSAS, DTS, T-SQL, etc.).

Recruiters often use ancillary skills to narrow down search results to a manageable number, so if you don't showcase your skills you are cheating yourself out of opportunities. List only relevant skills. While a hiring manager might skim past your first college job, a parsing engine might flag you as a house painter, cashier, or any other keyword it finds—possibly routing you to the wrong positions. If you are a Java WebSphere developer then you don't need to list your college classes in Pascal and FORTRAN.

Name and Contact Info: Listen up here! If I get a resume and at the top it just says, "Rajesh" with no last name or address or phone or email, to the trash it goes! Put your full name as it appears on your ID, your full contact information including address, city, state, and zip, a phone number, and email.

Work History: Our biggest pet peeve is people who put down the years but not the months. What are you hiding?

Education: Put your university, major, degree, and graduation date on the resume. Yes, we ARE familiar with the reputations of many (though not all) foreign universities.

Formatting: Believe it or not, but the best resume format is good old-fashioned ASCII text. Modern technology has given us a technology called resume parsing. It is still very imperfect, but it is increasingly common. There are about four major parsing engines in use today, and they scan your resume and pasrse the data into specific fields for contact information, work history, education, skills, etc.

Just like a good Web developer will optimize a Web site for Google, a candidate should optimize his resume for parsing engines. We recommend ASCII text because it does not allow you to use some of those annoying MS Word features that parsing engines can't swallow (like text boxes and tables and embedded images) and that spam filters look for (VB Script macros). ASCII text also forces you to format the resume in a linear, structured format that parsing engines can easily read and to focus on content, not flash. Sample ASCII resume format.

Make the text left justified. Eliminate special characters: i.e., replace bullets with asterisks and remove italics, bold, and underlining. Spell out acronyms; the abbreviation might not be a search term. If sending hard copy, use at least 12-point type in a standard font (Times, Palatino, etc.). Place contact information in the body of the resume, not in a "letterhead" that may fail to scan.

Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation, Capitalization: If you can't spell basic English words properly, why would l think you can spell a SQL query correctly? Check your spelling!!

OK, here's one really bugs me. Learn where spaces go in relation to other punctuation. Whenever you have a comma, there is always exactly one space and it's always after the comma and never before it. Thank you.

The personal pronoun "I" is always capitalized.

All sentences must end in a period.

If your cover letter looks like this I will not even look at your resume because you don't have the common sense to write better than a 2nd grader:

i m interested in your summer job.

here is my resume

My #1 pet peeve is people who don't know which Words to Capitalize. I call it "drive-by capitalization." Just like Gangsters drive by and Spray bullets, IT Applicants like to Drive by and spray capital Letters all over the Place. Bad, bad, bad. Nouns are always capitalized in the German language, but we are talking about English writing here. Do not capitalize your nouns unless they are proper nouns. A "programmer/analyst" is not a proper noun. A "Programmer Analyst II" IS a proper noun.

Their, There, and They're. If you can't get these straight you need some serious help. Ditto for Two, too, and to.

In standard American English the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. "text," not "text".

Your written skills are a reflection on you. Unfortunately fewer than 40% of people seem to have decent writing skills. This is an area where you can really make yourself stand out.

Objective: Don't waste time and space unless you are writing a targeted objective.

Good Objective: To break sales records

Poor Objective: To find a company with good benefits that will allow me opportunity to grow in my career.


After you have sent in your resume you should call as well as email to follow up if you genuinely feel you are a good fit.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Calling on the phone gives you a chance to display corporate verbal communication skills, make a case for why you are a good candidate and it is more difficult for someone who is busy to ignore you. Email is a backup follow-up method, but email is only good for one-way communication. If you really want to establish rapport and move forward you need to throw the keyboard out the window and pick up the phone.


Cover letters: Don't waste your time unless you really have something valuable to contribute in the body of the cover letter. An example of valuable information would be, "While I currently don't live in your city, I just signed a lease to move there in two weeks and will be available for interviews immediately." An example of useless information would be, "Please consider my resume for your open position. I am enthusiastic and a quick learner."

Multiple resume submittals: Don't send your resume in over and over and over again. You will get blacklisted for looking too desperate (and for being annoying). If you are not getting calls then the job posting is not well written, you are not a fit, or you need to differentiate yourself with a better resume or personal phone calls.

Portfolios: Everyone I have seen who has come to an interview with a portfolio has received an offer. A portfolio can be sample test plans, code you have written, screenshots, performance reviews, recommendation letters, etc. If you don't have a portfolio start collecting one now.

Personal Web Sites: Be sure to clean up your social networking profiles on MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, and anywhere else. Smart recrutiers and hiring managers have learned to scour these sites so they can see if you are a pothead or a pervert before calling you. You are judged bythe company you keep.


Remember that a recruiter is paid to find a reason to get rid of you, and the ones he can't get rid of are the ones that get placed. Don't give your recruiter a reason to get rid of you.

Find someone who has really good writing skills to proofread your resume and anything else you send out.

Recruiters and headhunters can be a tremendous resource to your job search efforts. They are privy to a great number of opportunities in the hidden job market. They are experts at presenting candidates' best selling points. They also act as go-between for candidate and employer, allowing the candidate to learn important employer feedback. Designing your resume with recruiters in mind is an important first step toward building relationships with influential recruiters who have the power to introduce you to your next boss.


Finally, as Joel Spolsky wrote in a 2004 article:

The number one best way to get someone to look at your resume closely: come across as a human being, not a list of jobs and programming languages. Tell me a little story. "I've spent the last three weeks looking for a job at a real software company, but all I can find are cheesy web design shops looking for slave labor." Or, "We yanked our son out of high school and brought him to Virginia. I am not going to move again until he is out of high school, even if I have to go work at Radio Shack or become a Wal-Mart greeter." (These are slightly modified quotes from two real people.)

These are both great. You know why? Because I can't read them without thinking of these people as human beings. And now the dynamic has changed. I like you. I care about you. I like the fact that you want to work in a real software company. I wanted to work in a real software company so much I started one. I like the fact that you care more about your teenage son than your career.

I just can't care about "C/C++/Perl/ASP" in the same way.

So, maybe you won't be qualified for the job, but it's just a lot harder for me to dismiss you out of hand.

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