On recruiters not being partularly helpful

As I was looking for a job this time around, I had largely the same experience with recruiters as I did last time around. Although, with a lot more interest.

I posted my CV online on jobsite.co.uk once again, just like last time. But instead of just the ten or fifteen phonecalls the next morning, my phone was ringingly solidly at least the first two days.

This was just before 10:30, and I'd been answering the phone all that morning until then too.
This was just before 10:30, and I’d been answering the phone all that morning until then too.

I can only conclude that the market for web developers has only gotten better when we’re looking for a job.

Once again, I had intreviews line up within hours. One interviewer asked if I was available for an interview “in a couple of hours”. There’s no doubt that you’ll find a job via a recruiter.

On the other hand though, there’s lots of baggage that comes with it. They’ll often get upset and unprofessional if you turn down an offer – “you’re being really irresponsible turning down this opertunity, you won’t get another one like it”, I was told by one recruiter. When they’re not incredibly unprofessional, they’re pushy. These are the times when you realise that the majority of recruiters don’t care about how happy you are – they only care that you find a job.

I should mention that not every recruiter I worked with this year has been awful. Maria from ASG was wonderful at her job, and I really feel like she didn’t feel too pressured into making a sale. I really felt like I had a nice bond with her – she understood what I was looking for. She’s a Symfony specific recruiter.

If you’re going to go with recruiters, definitely go with only one. Don’t publish your CV on a job board and expect anything other than to be treated like high value meat. Find one that your friends have recommended. There are some trustworthy ones out there.

In the end though, much like how I joined MyBuilder, I got my new position by applying directly. I very much recommend this route. Look at who’s sponsoring your local meetups – they’re probably a cool company to be working for. I found my new company – Altmetric – through Siliconmilk Roundabout.

But my point is, the hassle and stress that came with recruiters wasn’t very fruitful ultimately.

Response to my CV

My CV has been really well received. I was worried about it just before I started looking for work, but it seems be doing quite well for itself. In this post, I’m just going to brainstorm some reason why I think that was the case.

The biggest risk I was taking with it was the tone I wrote it in: it’s very chatty, and laid back. You can definitely sense the passion behind it, though. Trying your best to show your passion for your work is probably the most important aspect of a CV. It’s easy to keep passionate people motivated, and they’re often in it for the right reasons. This is your first contact with a potential employer – it might be your only opportunity to catch their attention.

At least two interviewers said “I knew I had to get you in as soon as I read your personal statement.” I couldn’t think of what to say about myself there, so I decided to just explain why I love programming. Again, showing passion. But also making it clear what type of job I want. I don’t want to be a heartless code monkey at a bank, I want to be working closely with customers and making sure I can be proud of the product.

I’d suggest trying to specialise early. Most of the companies that reached out to me did so because they saw my Symfony2 experience. A few of these companies were asking for three or more years experience (which I don’t have) but that was overlooked just because of how much time I’ve spent with Symfony. That’s a good area to specialise, there are lots of other niches in web development: get some healthy Rails or WordPress experience. It looks much more interesting when put aside some generic “web developers”.

I did end up adding a section about my life outside of work. I mentioned my interest in (trying) to develop and write ARGs. If nothing else, it made the CV reader curious and more likely to get in touch with me just to find out more about it. I didn’t want to mention extra circular activities just because I thought it added nothing to the CV, so I tried to link them to how they help me be better at my job: inventive uses of technology.

My point is that CVs don’t have to be dry lists, and when you don’t have much experience you can still have an impressive CV. Just explain why you’re excited about your profession. If you can’t do that, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.

No, I don’t have code to show you

Whilst looking for a new job recently a question I’ve been asked by a few companies now is “do you have any projects you could show us, so we can get a taste of what kind of code you produce?”

The problem is I actually don’t. I’ve got quite a few projects from before I started my last full time position, but a year and a half later that code looks stale. Definitely looks like Shane-from-two-years-ago wrote it; you can tell from the mixed coding standards, the lack of tests, the database-as-a-singleton-passed-around-global-but-sometimes-by-reference usage. It’s not something I want to show employers.

This happened because I never carved out enough time to work on my own projects. There was always more actual work to be done – work I was being paid for. So if I was feeling in a programming mood, I’d carry on working on that, staying at work a few hours later than needed. I stopped seeing the value in working on my own projects.

Now that’s coming back to bite me.

It’s fine for employers to ask to see code examples. Why give someone tens of thousands of pounds a year, invest all that time in them, and trust them with your company, when you’re not entirely sure if they’re just bluffing their way through interviews.

Fortunately, I’ve found there’s a number of ways around this issue.

One company asked me to spend a while working on logic problems. They were fun little tasks actually. Mentally challenging enough to keep me interested, whilst actually showing the employer that I can think myself out of a problem. There was no stress in this situation. “I’ll be your compiler,” the interviewer said, handing me a pen and paper, “and this is your IDE.” The point was he wasn’t looking for syntax correctness – anyone can learn that – he was just trying to find out that I know how to think about logical issues.

A second company, asked me to work on a small project for them. I spent eight hours or so on this problem. I’m certain they weren’t even expecting that much. But I did it because it was fun. Again, they were just looking to see how I go about finding a solution to a tricky problem.

So, it’s not incredibly important to have a bursting GitHub profile. But it would have been easier if I had. Who knows how many companies might not bother responding to my CV because of my dull GitHub activity.

What should go in my CV?

My situation probably isn’t all that rare. Since graduating university I’ve had only two jobs. This means I can’t show off a long list of roles, and how I was valuable in each one. That’d be a pretty short CV.

MyBuilder, June 2012 – January 2014

  • Was a key part of the team that migrated project to Symfony2
  • Designed and implemented voucher code system
  • Wrote hundreds of unit tests to ensure easy maintenance, now and in the future

BEA Solutions, June 2010 – June 2011

  • Wrote stock management system, for companies to track and sell stock
  • Integrated this with a custom e-commerce system
  • Created customer management portal

And it’s really boring.

Instead, I like to tell much more of a story. I have a tone in my writing which I know some people like. And surely I want to be working with people who enjoy the way I write? They’ll be reading an awful lot of my writing, so we best start off with it up front.

I really feel like this shows more about me than the above version.

MyBuilder.com – Software Engineer June 2012 – January 2014
Symfony2, intensive refactoring, Postgres, Varnish, TDD, DDD, JavaScript.

I joined MyBuilder just as they were migrating from Symfony 1.4 to Symfony2. So I was a core part of the team that rewrote the application from the ground up; Symfony2 and MVC architecture is second nature now.

Refactoring overly complex code was a key responsibility for me, and making a 200 line controller into a 5 line controller wouldn’t be possible without the hundreds tests I’d written.

As a true startup, MyBuilder allowed me to touch other areas of the business when I felt I could be of help. In my time there, I’ve helped with marketing activities, recruiting, product design, and leading a small project or two.

I entered this position as a junior developer, but definitely left with a wealth of experience with teams, project management, and most important being a cleaner coder.

It’s a good bit longer (which many people would see as a negative), but surely that shows a lot more about my personality. That’s what I want an employer to care about most. I’ve managed to get across where my experience lies, but also that I’m passionate. The last paragraph is pragmatically useless, it’s only there because it adds a bit of my personality and how much I care about progression.

I feel like there should be a ‘In my spare time’ section, but I’m not sure what to put in there. I’ve seen job advertisements saying "please don’t bother sending us you’re CV if you’ve written ‘I like going to the cinema’." But I do like going to the cinema! And I’m quite passionate about other mediocre things too: reading, podcasts, board games, photography. If employers look down on those things, I may as well just miss out that subject entirely.

So, I guess that’s my CV.

Keeping Failure in Check

Our CEO announced that we were going to keep a “fail book” and devote a whole 15 minute chunk of our weekly meeting to discussing them, I internally groaned. Today was the third fail book checkin, and I’ve realised the man is a bloody genius.

Not that Ryan invented the idea, but it boils down to when you do something during the week which you loosely consider a “fail” then you write it in our small, personal books. Just a quick note, nothing too time consuming. Each week during checkin there’d be two winners: the person with the most failures, and the person with the biggest failure. The prize is a lunch for the two winners paid for by the business. When I heard that we were being rewarded for failing, I was a little annoyed. Shouldn’t we be punished if we’re wasting time or money?

A excert from my fail book

It took the first week for me to work out that we weren’t being incentivised to fail, but to write down the failure. Maybe even discuss it with the team. Taking the time to write down a problem that you’ve had (or caused) throughout your work day forces you to think about it for a short while. I don’t want to write down the same thing again next week, so how can I prevent it from happening?

To take an example from the first week (and to heavily paraphrase, since I can’t remember), something a colleague (lets call him Jerry) had an issue with was that the report he needed to generate wasn’t done by its due date. That happened because he needed some stats from the dev team first, so he sent an email to (lets call him) Marvin to request that information. But for whatever reason Marvin didn’t get back to him till later than expected, so the due date was missed. At that point, it’s easy to write down “I missed a deadline because tech team is lazy” (we’re not!), but that’s not really point of the books. The point is to figure out how the problem could be avoided. So Jerry changed his failure to “I didn’t chase Marvin about the email I sent.” It turns out that Marvin just didn’t get the email (which is hilarious story that I won’t be sharing).

I’ve found that writing down my work day issues helps me think about them more, and decide how I can take charge and make sure they don’t happen again. The first ever fail I wrote down was “I got in late because I let my boyfriend use the shower first, and he takes forever.” I’ve changed that now to “I got in late because I didn’t make sure I was in the shower first (when I know full well that Tim takes half an hour in the shower)”. Taking responsibility for an issue is really the only path to fixing it.

So there’s definitely no incentivising going on. Just a cool way of making you a better person.

PS: To hear the hilarious story, you need to come and work with us.