Aug 20 2010

What I’ve learned from hiring my own replacement

Stacks of resumes, CC-licensed image by woodley wonderworks, via Flickr

As I’ve posted below, I’ve left my position as IT Specialist/Web Developer at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers to start my new gig with the American Bar Association Journal.

I made it clear to my outgoing employers that I wanted to do everything I could to make the transition to the next person as seamless and pain-free as possible.  Since they needed to hire a replacement, and I’m the only one with lots of knowledge about technical work, and insight into the brain of techs, I was charged with sifting through the résumés and determining who might be a good fit, and who we didn’t need to bother talking with.

So I’ve been looking at a lot of résumés, and I’ve been assisting in the interview process, and I’ve learned a few things about job hunting.  Most of these are common knowledge, but some might be non-obvious, so take it for what it’s worth to you.

Your résumé is important.  Don’t skimp on the time you spend on it. A no-brainer, right?  But you’d be surprised about how many résumés don’t seem to have had even one proofreading.  Your résumé is the first and most important document the person doing the hiring is going to be looking for.  At least, it was for me.  Make sure your current address and phone number are there, at the top.  Are you applying for a web job?  Include a URL for your personal site, and your facebook/twitter if you use them.  If I’m interested in you, I’m going to google you and find that stuff anyhow.  Don’t have a personal web site?  Then you have no business applying for a web job.  Seriously.

Don’t use one of the built-in templates in Microsoft Word to make your résumé. They don’t look good, and everyone else uses them.  It says, “Hey, I know how to use wizards, but I don’t care enough about this to really spend the time to make it myself, so I’ll be content to look like everyone else.”

On cover letters: Really, shouldn’t we be calling them “cover emails” these days?  Does anyone send a resume in by mail anymore?  First rule: Don’t copy and paste the same cover letter for every job you apply for. Second rule:  CHECK YOUR SPELLING AND GRAMMAR.  Third rule: A bad cover letter won’t keep me from calling you if your résumé is good, but a really good cover letter might get you an interview, even if your résumé isn’t so good.

Guess what?  I don’t need to know every model of Cisco switch you’ve ever worked with.  Familiarity with Cisco hardware is sufficient.

If your educational background includes a school which advertises during re-runs of Judge Judy, and your current job is working at a deli counter at a supermarket, I’m probably not going to believe you have the technical skills I’m looking for.

During the interview, I know you’re nervous, and you’re trying to make a good impression. But if you’re relaxed and conversational, I’m going to like you more. Check out the company’s website before you go in.  Learn a little bit about them.  Have a couple of questions to ask.  Be personable. Let’s have a conversation, not an interrogation. And, while it’s not really necessary, if you send a follow-up email after the interview, it’s going to make me think you care enough to put in a little extra effort.

You’ve had six jobs in the last two years?  Thanks, but no thanks.  Next.

And finally, headhunters are useless. Seriously.  I’ve tried going through headhunters while seeking employment, and it always turns out to be a waste of my time.  Now, I’ve been on the other side of the equation, and I can say that they’re pretty useless for finding good help as well.  They cost too much, they do too little.  Avoid them.

May 04 2010

An update on my employment

As you can tell by looking at the dates on my recent posts, I haven’t been making too many updates lately.  Alas, how is the rabid Ian Monroe fan supposed to know what I’m up to?

Well, I’ll tell you.  I began my job hunt back in November with this post offering a bounty for tips that would lead to my next full-time job. After five months of job hunting, and lots and lots of tips from the bounty offer, I’m finally gainfully employed once again.

I started working for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers on March 1, 2010.  I’m now their IT specialist and web developer.  Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is the largest auction house in the midwest, and they (we) specialize in fine art, furniture, books and manuscripts, Asian art, vintage couture, and other, rather high-brow subjects.

I got the job through answering a craigslist ad, so nobody won the bounty.

However, I did learn some interesting things in my job hunt.

The bounty idea was extremely useful, as it netted me some freelance jobs that kept me in my home for the duration of my job search.  However, tips on full-time gigs were fewer and farther between.  I think this may have been a function of the economy in general; after all, a 10% unemployment rate means full time jobs were in high demand.

In terms of responses, it broke down something like this:

  • 1 response/interview request for every 60-80 inquiries on Careerbuilder.com
  • 1 response/interview request for every 25-35 inquiries on Mediabistro.com
  • 1 response/interview request for every 3 inquiries on Craigslist

Ultimately, Craigslist proved to be the most effective channel for soliciting work.  Didn’t expect that result, but there you go.

Nov 08 2009

The job hunt begins, and I’m offering a cash bounty

Greeting, friends.

Eleven months ago, I left Florida to come to Chicago and work my way through Northwestern’s Master’s of Journalism program.  Since then, I have been gainfully unemployed, focusing all my attention on my studies.

This year-long project has been a success thus far.  I’m now in my fourth quarter, and the end is in sight.  Medill has allowed me to build up a host of skills that I hadn’t yet fully developed, and on balance, I consider it to have been an extremely successful endeavor.

But as I reach the end of the program, I’m confronted with the reality that I’m now headed back into the job market, at a time when jobs seem to be particularly hard to come by.

Thus, I’ve decided to adapt a technique from the open-source software community, and to apply it to my job hunt.  It’s become common among groups that deal in open-source software to offer a cash reward to anyone that can code a particularly useful new feature, or quash some persistent bug.  (Interested in bounties in the open source world? Check out this, this, or this.) So, I’ve decided it would be an intriguing experiment to see if the same technique could be useful in finding my next gig.

I’m offering a $250 cash bounty to the person or persons who can provide me with a tip, lead, or introduction that leads to my next full-time job.

Why am I doing this?  Because I am convinced that the best jobs are not the ones you go and find, but rather the ones that find you. I’m interested in finding out just how useful it is to leverage social networks and personal connections in job hunting, or whether I’m better off going through want-ads and online job sites.  And I want to reward the folks who try to help me do well in life.  After all, it’s only fair, right?

So what kind of job am I looking for?

In short, I’m not sure.  There are lots of things I’m qualified to do, and I have an interesting skill set, combining a variety of expertise which often are not found together.  This makes me uniquely qualified for some kinds of positions which are generally very difficult to recruit for.

First of all, I have more than a decade of experience working with computers in a variety of contexts.  I’ve been a system administrator, a break/fix guy, a programmer and web developer.  I’m comfortable with a wide variety of platforms and technologies, from the executive level down to nuts-and-bolts of  implementation and support.

I’m proficient with a wide variety of media creation applications and production processes, including print, online, audio, video and interactive media.  I have been trained as a journalist at one of the most prestigious J-schools in the United States.  I understand newsroom dynamics and producing content on deadline.  I have good news judgement, and I know how to cultivate sources and story ideas.  My written work has been published in a variety of outlets.

I have excellent communication and problem solving skills.  I have a history of finding creative solutions to complicated problems.  I can translate complex technical information in to everyday language.  I can take creative ideas and translate them into technical specifications.  I’m a good multi-tasker, and can balance several projects simultaneously.

I have worked deeply with new media and social media, and I understand how to leverage new platforms to build audiences and maintain relationships.  I have experience with stuff like online advertising (both from a technical and business point of view), search engine optimization, and the semantic web.

Some possible jobs I’m qualified for:

  • Web Editor
  • Information Technology Manager
  • Content Specialist
  • Science/Technology Reporter
  • User Interface Specialist
  • Web designer/programmer
  • Project manager

This is only a partial list.  Frankly, (and hopefully without sounding too self-aggrandizing) I’m a pretty smart fellow, and I know how to make myself useful in a wide variety of roles.  I’m used to wearing many hats.  I’m flexible, responsive and I bring a good deal of value to my employer.

Here’s my current resume. Of course, I am happy to provide published clips, as well as professional and personal references upon request.

My Job Selection Logic:

  • Really interesting/innovative jobs get first priority in my search, no matter where they may be.
  • Jobs in the Chicagoland area get consideration over jobs that would require relocation.  However, relocation is not off the table for the right opportunity.
  • I’m not averse to traveling as part of my next job, and, in fact, I enjoy a little business travel from time to time.
  • Media-related jobs get consideration over technical-only jobs.
  • Full-time jobs get priority over contract positions.

The Rules:

  • I will pay $250 USD, via cash, check or Paypal to the individual that can provide me with a tip, introduction, or lead that translates into my next full-time job.
  • The bounty is payable upon my first day of employment.
  • Employment at this job must begin between December 14, 2009 and January 11, 2010.
  • Tips must be submitted via email. Send the email to: jobtip@ianmonroe.com.  If more than one person submits the same winning job tip, the winner of the bounty will be determined by timestamp on the email.
  • Professional recruiters may not win the bounty (but don’t let that stop you from getting in touch about potentially interesting positions).

So, do you know of a job for which I might be qualified?  Don’t hesitate — email me today and let me know.

Finally, even if you don’t have a tip that is immediately relevant, please consider that you might know someone who does.  So feel free to pass this offer along to anyone you think might be able to point me in the right direction.

PS – I will update this post with the results of the experiment as they become known.

UPDATE (11/19/2009):

World-renowned DJ and producer Q-Burns Abstract Message has decided to try out the job bounty idea as well.  He’s offering a 10% cut of his fee for anyone that can provide tips or contacts which end up turning into a live show.  Read the post about his variant here. Also, he’s posted some sweet DJ sets to provide a sample for the uninitiated.  Know a club or promoter that might be interested?  You should get in touch with him.