I’ve spoken to a number of friends about my frustration regarding the job hunt (going nine [!!!] months — and counting). I’ve wondered, at times, whether one of the reasons why I’ve been constantly rejected is my age.
Ageism — a.k.a. age discrimination — is, of course, illegal. But when it comes to the job hunt, it’s nearly impossible to prove. I’ve spoken with a number of my friends and colleagues who believe that it not only exists, but is prevalent. (Before anyone decries me for this statement, no, I don’t have any facts to back this up; this is merely what has come up in conversation. Maybe someone who knows more about human resources can explain this better than I can.)
In any case, one piece of advice I’ve received is to only include the last ten years of experience on my resume. That’s well and good, except that I have a lot of relevant experience that goes back a lot more than ten years. As a technical writer, I want to keep all my listings consistent. How do I go about keeping these experience listing on my resume without listing dates?
The solution: I divided the work experience on my resume into two sections. Under my Work Experience heading, I listed my experience going back to 2009 (slightly more than ten years, but for my own purposes, it works). The second section uses a heading labeled “Previous Work Experience (before 2009),” under which I list my positions — without dates — that I held before then.
It seems like a good solution for obfuscating older experience dates that might reveal your age. However, also be wary of other parts of your resume that might also indicate how old you might be. For me, personally, that section was my education. Before I revamped my resume, my bachelors and masters degree listings included my years of graduation. Those years were also removed as well. Prospective employers just need to know that I have those degrees; they don’t have to know when I got them.
So, if you’re a job hunter who’s older than, say, 35, hopefully this tip will help you with your job search and combat any ageism that might exist.
First and foremost, above everything else, find new employment. I have been unemployed since May 1. For those of you keeping score, that’s eight months. 67% of my 2020 was spent in unemployment. Getting a new job, for me, is priority number one above everything else.
I do have a couple of relatively promising leads, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, things will be turning around very soon.
Do more with my business. In 2020, as a direct result of my losing my job, I started an LLC. I managed to pick up two clients. It’s good experience, but not enough to pay my bills (hence why I’m still looking for employment). I haven’t done a lot with it in the last few months of 2020. I want to devote more time and energy into it in 2021.
I readily admit that I slacked off on this as the year went on, and I don’t want to let it slip in 2021. I intend to keep this endeavor going, even if I do land new gainful employment.
Get back to the gym. COVID-19 kept me from getting into my CrossFit gym more than I would’ve liked, but the pandemic wasn’t my only issue. I developed back and arm issues that kept me from being more active than I wanted to be. Simply getting out of bed without pain is a chore for me right now. Hopefully, I can get back to being as active as I was before the pandemic.
Speaking of the pandemic…
Travel. The pandemic is my biggest (but not the only) roadblock for this goal; my other major roadblock is making sure I have the money to do so (see “find new employment” above). I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it. Since the pandemic began, I can count on one hand the number of trips I took away from home (trips to the grocery store don’t count).
Trips for SQL Saturday have satisfied my desire to travel for the past several years, but now that PASS will be no more, I might need to find another outlet for my out-of-town speaking engagements (more on that in a minute). I also told my wife that I want to take a relatively significant vacation somewhere once the pandemic is over. She and I have both encountered a lot of stress this past year, and I think we both need to find a way to relieve it.
Find speaking engagements. One thing I’ve discovered about speaking for SQL Saturday is that I enjoy presenting. I’d like to do more. My last in-person speaking engagement was SQL Saturday in Rochester last February. I was also scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago (which would’ve been my first SQL Saturday where driving was not feasible), and I had applied to speak at a local code camp. Both of those were wiped out by the pandemic.
My friend Matt Cushing encouraged me to sign up for the Idera Ace Program, which would provide funding for me to take part in more presentation opportunities (not to mention that it would look good on my resume). Since I first started presenting regularly, all of my in-person speaking engagements (with the exception of 2019 PASS Summit) have been within driving distance of my home in the Albany, NY area. There is a reason for this: traveling costs money. The Idera Ace Program would provide more opportunities for me to speak at nonlocal events (pandemic notwithstanding, of course).
Do more house projects. These past several months at home made me realize how much I want to do with my house, and how little I’ve done to attain that goal. (I’m talking about “fun” projects, as opposed to chores.) Money has been a major detriment (again, see “find new employment” above) as well as energy (see “get back to the gym”), but time has not; since I don’t have anywhere to really go, I have no shortage of time on my hands. There’s a long list of projects I’d like to do, such as finish my basement, build a backyard patio and entertainment area, build a porch, and so on. While I don’t necessarily expect to finish these in 2021, I’d like to at least take steps toward those goals.
There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do, but I think this is a good list for now. (I reserve the right to amend it.) In general, I’m hoping for a better year, and 2021 supersedes the dumpster fire that was 2020.
Through my past several months of job hunting, it occurred to me that my career could best be summed up by what I did at one of my previous jobs. When I worked for a server infrastructure department, my job was to provide information to the server team in order for them to efficiently do their jobs. The department was a support team. My job was to support the support team.
It occurred to me that that was a good summary of my career, and a description of what I do best. I’m passionate about supplying my coworkers with whatever accurate information they need to do what they need to do, usually through documentation (although I use other means as well — it’s good to have database experience). This has created a mindset, as well as a degree of assertiveness, whenever I go into interviews.
So, my tagline is, “My job is to make other people’s jobs easier.”
A vast number of people, myself included, are looking for work. I will do my presentation titled “I lost my job! Now what?!?” this Saturday. I will discuss topics that include, among other things, dealing with the emotional impact, resumes, interviewing, and things you can do to hold yourself over during this period of uncertainty.
It’s probably one of the most (if not the most) difficult and awkward subjects to broach during a job interview. And yet it will inevitably come up at some point in every hiring process.
How much do you want to get paid?
For me, this is always a sticky subject during the interview process. I even said during a recent interview, “that’s always a loaded question” (I’ll confess that I use this line often during interviews when the subject of salary comes up). To her credit, the interviewer laughed at that. It ended up making a nice ice-breaker, because she then proceeded to tell me the salary range. I never even had to tell her what I was looking for. It was way above what I was going to ask. If I’m offered this position, I would have absolutely no problem with the salary offer!
When it comes to the topic of salary during a job interview, I’m old school: never, ever, bring up salary unless the prospective employer brings it up first (after which it’s okay to discuss it). That is one ironclad rule of interviewing that I always follow: always let the interviewer be the first one to bring up the subject of salary. I’ve written before that I think selling what you have to offer is the better way for you to conduct an interview.
Here’s why I think salary discussion is difficult: when doing your homework for a prospective employer, you can learn as much as you can about their culture, history, products, customers, environment, and so on. But unless it’s listed somewhere in the job listing, it’s often difficult to get a read on how much a job is willing to offer. If the amount you give them is too high, you might disqualify yourself as a candidate. If it’s too low, they might not think highly of your skill set. Also, especially during these days during the pandemic, if you’re interviewing for a remote or work-at-home job, it’s difficult to get an idea of what to ask based on where you live. Salary tends to be a moving target, and it’s one that’s tough to hit, at least for me.
So how do you approach the topic of salary? I don’t know whether or not this is the ideal way to do it, but this is what I do, and it seems to work for me.
I’ll usually start by discussing what I was making at my last job. In my mind, it establishes a starting point and gives me an idea of where to go from there. In all likelihood, I’ll need to make adjustments.
I also have a minimum that I would consider. (Make sure you have both hourly and annual salary numbers.) If my low number is potentially high for the prospective employer, I make sure to emphasize that I am negotiable. I am not an aggressive person by nature, so I, personally, have difficulty with making a highball offer, even though some people advise that I should do so. I do think you need to have an idea of your minimum. I’ve seen many job listings that I’ve outright rejected because the salaries they listed were well below my minimum (I do say I’m negotiable, but the jobs I reject are ones that go well below my negotiable limits). I’ve also been rejected as a candidate because my asking price (even my minimum) was too high. (To this latter point, if the employer is not willing to make that investment in you, is that place the best fit for you, anyway?)
The prospective employer also factors into my salary negotiation. I would love to work in, say, academia, but those jobs tend to pay less. Some private sector and contractor jobs will go higher. Where I’m applying often factors into my own expectation when it comes to salary.
So this is how I, personally, approach the subject of salary. Is it the best way? I have no idea. Is there a better way? Maybe.
If you have a better way, please feel free to comment below.
I had a conversation today with a recruiter — technically, it was an interview, but the way we spoke, it was more of a conversation between an agent (her) and a client (me) — who gave me some advice regarding my resume. I came away from the conversation with a few insights, and I’d like to share those insights here. This is not the first time I’ve written about resumes. I continually learn something new about them.
We left the conversation with her giving me a homework assignment: revamp my resume to incorporate what we had discussed.
Probably the biggest takeaway was to rethink how I was presenting my resume. I shouldn’t have the mindset of a job seeker telling prospective employers to hire me. Rather, I needed to approach it as a marketer. I’m marketing a product. The product I’m marketing is me.
This mindset is important. When you’re trying to present yourself to an employer, you feel a need to impress them with your extensive experience, everything you’ve done, and the many reasons why the employer should hire you. But if you’re marketing yourself, the thought process shifts. Instead, you’re advertising yourself and your skills. “Hire me! Here’s why!” She told me that it’s okay to not put everything on your resume — not lie, mind you, but rather, not throw in the kitchen sink when putting your resume together. Just highlight the important selling points. If they want to know more, they can refer to your LinkedIn profile — and maybe even call you in for an interview (which, of course, is the purpose of a resume).
I found this to be profound, because this is a point that I espouse as a technical writer, and yet I don’t practice what I preach when it comes to my resume. I am a believer in not necessarily including everything on a document. And yet it never occurred to me to apply my own technical writing skills to my own resume. Don’t try to provide every little detail. If they’re interested, they’ll ask for more (and if they want more, they can look at my LinkedIn profile).
I mentioned ageism as a concern, and a possible reason as to why I haven’t had a job nibble in seven months. (I believe ageism exists in the job hunt; it is illegal, but is nearly impossible to prove.) In the same vein of not needing to include everything, one of the takeaways was to only list positions for the past ten or so years. One of my concerns was that my experience before 2009 would likely reveal my age, but at the same time, it was all professionally relevant, and I didn’t want to leave it off. She suggested an idea that had never occurred to me: list the jobs (employer and title), but leave off the dates. Just say “here’s where I worked before 2009.” Again, if an employer wants to know more about those positions, check out my LinkedIn.
As an afterthought, after I’d removed the dates from the older positions, I still had a potential age identifier on my resume: my educational experience included my dates of graduation. Sure enough, in my latest resume revamp, my graduation dates will be removed. Employers just need to know I have a Masters degree; they don’t have to know when I got it.
The recruiter also asked me another question: what accomplishment at each position are you proudest of? I have to admit that that was a good question. She said that it was a question that should be asked for every listed position, and the answer for each was something that should be included on the resume.
I was told, be your own client. Market yourself. When it comes to marketing yourself, you’re your own blind spot. Only when it was pointed out to me did I know that the blind spot was even there.
In my job hunt experience, I might have come across what may be the worst online job application I’ve ever experienced — so bad that I felt a need to write about it. I will not identify the institution, other than it is a well-known institution in the Albany Capital District. Maybe if a representative from this institution is reading this article and recognizes that it is theirs, they’ll realize what a horrible experience this is, and takes steps to fix this problem — and yes, it is a BIG problem. I consider this a case study in how NOT to set up an online job application.
In my job search, I started looking into specific companies to which I could apply, so I went to this institution’s web site. I went to their careers section, found a few positions that I thought were interesting, and started applying for them. This is where the horror show begins.
Most online applications that I’ve experienced generally have an option for you to create a profile that includes your identifying information, resume, background, and so on. Indeed, I had applied to this particular employer years ago, and they had such a system in place back then. I poked around to see if I could find my previous profile, but I couldn’t find any such link. I figured, no matter; they probably had my old email address back then, so I’d probably have to create a new one.
As it turned out, this was a red flag.
Throughout my past several months of filling job applications, I’ve gotten used to ATS systems that read your resume or LinkedIn profile and autofilled job applications based on your resume and profile. I’ve had mixed success with these systems with varying levels of frustration, but for the most part, they’ve saved me a great deal of time and effort with applying for positions.
Unfortunately, for this employer, there was no such system. I clicked the button marked “Click Here To Apply.” It took me to a page that had this interface.
(At this point, I want to point out the part that says “You may add additional positions to this application.” I’ll come back to this later, but let me say that  during this first run-through, I wasn’t thinking about other positions yet, although there were others that interested me, and  I did not see this on the first go-round. Those of you who follow my post regularly know how much I emphasize that “reading is work!!!” Again, hold this thought; I’ll come back to this.)
Okay. I clicked Continue. The next screen was the standard HR-ese about EEO and code of conduct. I clicked the requisite box and clicked Continue again.
The next screen asked me to fill out my name, address, email, and various other boxes (“have you ever worked for [name of employer] before,” etc.).
Wait a minute. It’s asking for my name. Shouldn’t it ask to upload my resume or connect to my LinkedIn account? I looked around, and there was no such button or link. Okay. I filled the requisite fields and clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen asked questions such as date available to work, salary requirements, relatives that work for (name of employer), and so on. Again, I answered what they asked, and once again, clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen displayed the following.
I took issue with this question, particularly with the “highest graduate education year completed.” I have a Masters degree, I went to school part-time, and it took me 4½ years to get it, taking a class per semester (and a summer session) as my schedule allowed. So does that mean I click 4 (as in it took me 4+ years), or do I click 1 or 2 (as it typically takes to get a Masters degree full-time)? It did not specify, and there were no instructions. I don’t remember what I answered (I think it was 2), so I went with my best guess as to what they wanted.
Directly under that question was this.
Wait a minute. You haven’t asked me to attach a resume. I suppose it’ll ask me later (I still don’t understand why it didn’t ask me to attach one at the very beginning). I clicked Save & Continue.
The next screen asked about job history.
I already have my employment history on my resume (which you still haven’t yet asked me to attach, upload, or link). You really want me to take the time to fill this in? This screen frustrated me; I’ve been working professionally for thirty years. You really want me to fill all of that in? And why aren’t you autofilling it from my resume (that you still haven’t asked for yet), like everyone else using ATS is doing? The application only asks for at least four years of employment history, but I’ve only worked for a few companies over four years, and it doesn’t tell the entire story of who I am or my professional history.
Nevertheless, the application system had me over a barrel, so I had no choice but to fill it all out. Let me emphasize that the form is not easy to fill out; all dates are drop-down selections (which, I should add, don’t work very well), they don’t auto-format fields such as phone numbers (e.g. they don’t limit area codes to three digits), and you have to fill out the fields for employer, title, job description, and so on.
I don’t know how long it took me to fill it all out. I’ll estimate that it took between fifteen and thirty minutes. It felt like several hours.
It next asked for personal references, if I had fewer than two employers. Since I definitely had more than two employers, and I didn’t feel like filling out more than I had to, I skipped this step. (And I should note: what if I worked ten years for only one employer? Yet another problem with how this application was put together. Whomever it was that put this together was obviously not thinking.) Again, I clicked Save & Continue.
At this point (step 8 of 12, according to the application), it asked to upload documents (resume, cover letter, etc.). It only allowed up to two documents (most other applications I’ve filed allowed for more than two). Okay. I added my resume and cover letter, and clicked Save & Continue.
Finally, it got to the point to review everything I’d filled out (very painfully, I should add). I clicked Save & Continue. Subsequent screens displayed the requisite EEO questions — race, veteran status, and so on. I clicked through the screens. My application was submitted.
At this point, I went back to apply for other positions that interested me. It was here where the employer’s application went from being frustrating to downright infuriating.
Almost all automated job applications send an email acknowledgement, so I looked for one after I finished the arduous procedure. I didn’t see one. After waiting for several minutes and poking around my email, I finally found this sitting in my spam folder.
It sent it as an attachment? No wonder why it was flagged by my spam filter. Since I trusted the sender (or, more accurately, I knew from where it had been sent), I went in and followed the instructions. Okay, fine. I downloaded it and followed the sign-in instructions. It had me sign into their system, where I found this message.
Granted, there was no identifying information (other than my email and the employer, which I blacked out in this screen capture). Now, I am all for data security and ensuring data is protected, but did this message warrant sending a secure attachment and requiring a login? I don’t think it was. I’ve gotten other emails from job applications that included more information that was sent less securely. One other thing I found infuriating was that there was absolutely no reference to the position that I had applied. I’ve been using my email to keep track of applications. How am I supposed to know to what position this refers? In my opinion, this message was not worth sending in a super-secure email. I felt that the mechanism they used to send this message was overkill.
I had seen other positions on the list that interested me, so I went back to apply for them. I figured that the system would take my information from the previous application and use it for the new application.
I figured wrong.
There was absolutely NO mechanism to refill all the information from the previous application. There was no applicant account function, no resume or LinkedIn ATS autofill function, nothing. If I wanted to apply for another position, I had to refill the ENTIRE application manually. Did I mention how painful and tedious it was to fill the application? It might as well have taken several hours to do so.
Now, remember earlier how I mentioned that there was a link to “add other positions to your application”? I did not see that the first time around. The next time, I tried it. The link brought me back to the ORIGINAL job search page. There was NO function to add any other jobs to an existing application. Nothing like that was anywhere to be seen. And if it did exist (and I’m not sure that it does), it is not obvious.
This application system design is so horrendous that it’s saying “f**k you” to applicants. It is doing more to drive applicants away than it is to make them want to apply for positions.
This is not the first time I’ve written about bad form design. However, this problem isn’t just about the form; it’s also about the entire application process. The design planning was poorly thought out, if it was done at all. There is no mechanism for autofilling fields. There is nothing to save applicant data. The forms are not intuitive. And I’m willing to bet large sums of money that either there was no end user or QA testing done, it was done shoddily, or test criteria were poorly defined.
I could keep going, but to make a long denunciation short: whomever it was that put this together has absolutely no business working on UX/UI projects.
The object of well-designed UX/UI and online forms is to make it easier, not harder, for end users. As an applicant, I found this process to be infuriating, not just frustrating. A process this bad will likely deter qualified applicants from applying to jobs. And if this system is that badly designed, these applicants are likely to question whether they want to work for this employer in the first place.
This afternoon, I saw a tweet from James Phillips, who posted this:
It reminded me of what I think is an important point when you’re interviewing for a position. I responded with this:
This is a point that I emphasize in my job hunt presentation; in fact, I made mention of this in an earlier article, and I think it’s important enough that it’s worth emphasizing again. When you’re preparing for a job interview, make sure you have at least two or three questions prepared for the interviewer (I’d even prepare more that that; note that you don’t have to ask all of them). I’ve also mentioned this during Thomas Grohser’s interview presentation. I’ve sat in on his presentation a number of times (sometimes at his request), and I make sure that I bring this up as a talking point.
If you’re interviewing for a job, one of the worst things you can do is NOT ask any questions at an interview. I’ve heard several stories of people who blew their interview because they did not ask any questions — and for good reason.
When you’re interviewing for a position, keep in mind that you’re interviewing the company just as much as they’re interviewing you. You want to ensure that the position is the right fit for you — that it’s something that interests you, something you think you can fulfill, and the company culture is the right fit.
Asking questions is also a signal to the interviewer. It demonstrates that you are interested in the job and the organization. Not asking questions not only shows that you’re not interested, it also shows that you aren’t taking the interview seriously. This could prove fatal to your job interview.
That being said, it’s also important to ask the right questions (I actually wrote about this a while back). The best questions are those that demonstrate that you’re willing to be a team player for your prospective employer. For example, one question that I always bring with me to every interview is, “what is your biggest issue, and what can I do to help?” It demonstrates that I’m interested in the company, and that I’m willing to help resolve any issues that arise. Try to avoid questions that are self-centered (e.g. “what’s in it for me,” “what’s the salary range,” etc.). (That said, you’re going to want to know about the company, so try to phrase your questions in such a way that it doesn’t sound like, “what’s in it for me?”)
Whenever I prepare for an interview, I’ll research the company, and I always prepare appropriate questions in advance, such as “how can I help you solve your problems” (shows that I’m a team player), “what challenges does your organization face” (shows I’m interested in the company), or “what does your team do for fun” (shows I’m interested in team dynamics).
A resource I’d suggest is a book or website about good interview questions. There are a number of them out there (here’s a link to a few books on Amazon). Go to your local library, buy your own copy, or search Google. All of these provide good suggestions for appropriate questions to bring to a job interview.
Asking good questions won’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll land the job, but not asking questions nearly guarantees that you won’t get the job. Prepare questions in advance, and be prepared to ask questions as things come up during your interview. Don’t blow your interview by not asking any questions.
After this weekend, Christine wrote this ‘blog article. I haven’t yet had a chance to fully process it (as I’m writing this, I haven’t had my coffee yet, and my brain is still in a fog), but what little I did process, I found interesting.
I intend to scrutinize this more when I’m a little more awake. And I suspect I’ll be making some adjustments to my presentation.
INTRO: Recently I attended a presentation where a commonly held belief was repeated and I feel the need de-bunk this. The speaker stated “75% of applications are rejected by an ATS (applicant tracking system) and a human never sees them…”
First, I want to point out that recruiters will tell you this is false. As the main users of ATSs, recruiters have extensive experience and years in talent acquisition, and will tell you they hear this all the time and they cringe upon it’s utterance. But if you want to know my opinion on why this “myth” has infiltrated the job seeking world, scroll past all the research and jump to the end.
MY RESEARCH: Secondly, let’s track down the origin of this false statistic. The speaker I heard it from cited topresume.com. So I did some digging: