Linux SysAdmin Will Work For Food:
A Few Thoughts On Finding A Job In the New New Economy
I was laid off from a contracting job at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, California in October of 2002 due to the elimination of my department. I spent the next five long, depressing months looking for a tech job in Silicon Valley. Ultimately, I landed a position in my field of Linux development and system administration at a small network software company called NextHop in Mountain View, California at the end of March 2003. I learned a few things about searching for a job along the way, including how the process really works and what resources are the most effective. These are my notes. They are most relevant to people searching for work in the wasteland of Silicon Valley circa early 2003, but anyone looking for a professional career can probably get something out of this.
So, you just got laid off or are about to be laid off. Now is the time to start planning. I don't mean to depress you, but finding a well paying computer job right now is really, really hard. It took me five months, and I have the skills. You can assume your search will be equally difficult, barring any major change in the economy over the next few years.
The first thing to do is to have some skills. If you don't have any, stop reading this now and go to school or something. This is not the time to try and find employment based on your enthusiasm alone. Better to remove yourself from the job market for a few years and learn something. Plus, then there's fewer competitors for the jobs that are out there.
Next, get your resume updated. I'm not going to go into detail about this because others have covered that ground many times. Instead, here are a few pointers based on what I've learned:
- Put your name, email address, and city/state at the top of your resume. You might want to include your cell number too. Recruiters like to know where you are in the country right away.
- Consider obtaining a new email account just for job hunting and placing it on your resume.
- List your jobs first if you have a lot of work experience, otherwise list your education.
- Exactly half of the world thinks an objective statement is a good idea. Write one or not, it doesn't matter.
- Don't include references. You can always email them later when a company actually wants to hire you.
- Create text, html, and Microsoft Word versions of your resume.
- Put a comprehensive list of keywords somewhere on your resume covering all your technical skills.
Now for the biggest annoyance about your resume: everyone has an opinion about it, and everyone disagrees. Recruiters in particular are always suggesting changes to your resume, and their advice conflicts. Get used to making little tweaks every time you talk with a recruiter who wants to submit your resume to a company. Also, recruiters will often want a Word version of your resume, so get it ready beforehand and be ready to submit it when asked. If you are a microsoft-hater, use OpenOffice as it works fairly well and produces decent Word documents as long as you don't get too fancy on the formatting.
Notice above that I suggested creating a html version of your resume. That's because your resume should be on your website. You do have a website, right? If not, go get one, and feature your resume on it prominently. Include links to the text and Word versions of your resume there. This doesn't take much effort and it shows that you are serious about getting a job. Plus, it gives you something to do while you're unemployed (see hollenback.net for how I spent my enforced vacation).
Another great self-marketing tool is the business card. You can get them made up at any print shop, but if you are particularly poor (say because you don't have a job), get them at Vistaprint. In exchange for a small ad on the back of the card, they will send you a box of 250 business cards for $9.00 (including shipping). There's no need to put your address on the card, instead include your cell phone number, email address, and web site (see how it all fits together?). Carry a big stack of these cards around, because you are going to be giving them to everyone you know.
Joel makes some really good points about how to write your resume.
Keywords are also important for your job searches. Pick one or two that best describe what you do. My work revolves around Linux, so that's the keyword I use most often. Don't just search one job category on craigslist, search them all because sometimes jobs pop up in unexpected categories. For example, I was looking for mixed development and system adminsitration positions, which sometimes get posted in "software development" and sometimes get posted in "system administration".
The other job sites are a mixed bag, tending towards junk. Don't waste your time with monster, it is completely and absolutely full of suck. I never got a good job lead from monster, and I don't know anyone else who did either. I did get a lot of spam through them. For example, after I posted my resume on monster, I received several unsolicited phone calls from companies wanting to sell me job training. Hotjobs probably goes in the trash bin too.
For the open-source world, Hotlinuxjobs.com probably deserves a mention also. Although I didn't really find any good leads through them, I talked with a recruiter there who was friendly and appeared knowledgeable. Their job openings are also very well described. If you are in something like kernel or driver development, this is the place to go. However, there isn't much there for system administration work.
I ended up using craigslist and Dice about 95% of the time during my job search. A couple of other sites worth mentioning are Mojolin and Brassring.com. Mojolin is just Linux jobs and I found their listings very useful. I still don't know if Brassring is any good, but its at least not as much of a spam pit as monster.
This gives you a basic structure for unemployment. Every morning, get up and read the web sites and email listings to obtain a list of jobs to apply for. Oh, and by "morning", I really mean "noon". Take advantage of one of the perks of joblessness by staying up late and getting up late every day. Its not like you are going to miss that important job at 9 am, this is after all the computer industry.
If you don't hear anything back on your email in three to five days (and you probably won't), send a followup email. I landed one phone interview where the interviewer specifically told me I got the interview because of my persistence and followup emails. Too bad I didn't get the job too, but job hunting is all about interviews. Just like in acting, if you go to enough auditions, eventually someone will cast you.
On the issue of persistence, here's a little anecdote: I got my current position because I kept trying. I applied for a position via dice.com, but the email listed in the posting was bad so my message bounced. A lot of people might have given up then. However, I looked at the email address, and realized it was an obvious typo - it was email@example.com or something similar, which was most likely 'gretchen' transliterated. I tried the fixed address, and it worked. That lead directly to my current position.
Personal networking is an absolutely critical part of the job-seeking process. Although the job I landed I found on Dice.com, I did manage to score several interviews through begging my friends. The first thing you need to do is send an email out to all your friends and let them know you are unemployed, or soon to be unemployed. Avoid blasting out one form letter to everyone. It's a lot more personal if you send each person an individual message. It's not like you have to tailor the message a lot, just send it to one person at a time. Take some time to think about all the people you have worked with in the past. You did stay in touch with them, right? Now is an excellent chance to catch up on the gossip and oh, by the way, did I mention I'm looking for a job now? See how smooth that was?
If you are part of a large layoff, then someone has probably set up some sort of yahoo group or email list for the casualties. Join this list and do some networking there. You could even write something up about your experiences finding a job and post it on the list. Hey, that's a good idea! Its also probably a good idea to hand out your business cards to people as you leave the job. Make sure also to send out the obligatory, "It's been so swell working with all of you, lets get together soon!" message and include your personal email address, just in case anyone wants to send you a job offer.
Continue this networking all throughout your job search. If you are still unemployed after a couple months, send out emails to everyone and let them know you are still looking for work. Otherwise, they might think you got a job and not think about you for that opening which would be a perfect match for your skills.
Finally, don't be afraid to call every couple of days after the interviews to express your interest and find out if they have made a decision. That keeps you fresh in their minds, but anything more is probably overkill and could work against you because you will appear needy. No one wants to hire someone who is desperate!
Thus, your basic plan for unemployment is to be annoying, but in a good way. People don't really like to be reminded of tragedy. It's all well and good to see a train wreck on the nightly news, but you don't need to be reminded about it every day, for god's sake. Thus, you have to fight that tendency by constantly putting yourself out there. Keep reminding everyone that you are actively seeking work. Write up large navel-gazing web sites and talk endlessly about your problems to anyone who will listen. Hand out business cards everywhere.
At the same time, you have to keep it positive. Don't complain about the situation (well, except maybe at the bar at closing time). Keep it light and upbeat so you don't depress everyone. Keep getting the word out there, and eventually you will land a new job. Look at me as proof positive that it does happen. You just have to travel through the valley of darkness for a good long while and spend a few months questioning your self-worth to make it happen.
An addendum: a co-worker of mine from the HP job suggested that it is an excellent idea to send an email to everyone you annoyed during your job search to let them know you actually got a job. After all, it's all about the networking, and this keeps you in touch. Nobody keeps a job longer than 6 months these days anyway, so you will be begging them for job leads again very soon. Quid pro quo!
A further addendum: I was laid off from the job at NextHop just a week after I wrote this essay, and I'm currently seeking employment again. This doesn't invalidate any of the information above. It just demonstrates that I'm great at finding jobs, just not keeping them.
Update 9/03: After much struggling and several more months of unemployment, I secured a job working at a very cool financial company in New York called Telemetry Investments. I'm doing what I love: linux development and system administration. Every day, I get to look out of a 53rd floor window at the Statue of Liberty.
So take heart, it does work out eventually! By the way, I got the job through the New York craigslist.
Update October 2004: I ran across this nice list of 25 Difficult Interview Questions that seemed like a good thing to put on this page.
Update September 2007: Just had to add a link to Steve Yeggey's 10 Tips for a Slightly Less Awful Resume because he has some excellent advice that is also a ton of fun to read.
Update November 2008: Here's some great tools and tips for keeping your sanity while conducting a job search. With the current state of the economy I suspect lots of people are thinking about job hunting again. I am happily employed and hope to stay that way.
Update January 2009: Couldn't resist adding this list of six words that make your resume suck.
copyright 2011 Philip J. Hollenback
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