Part of the answer lies in turning the “issue and expectation” concept
on its head and re-thinking what it means to get a job from the employer’s
point of view.
Almost all of us, 99.9 percent, believe that getting a job in a competitive
market means we have to have a great resume—good grades, good school,
good recommendations, and some good experience. And we also have to
be able to fill in the blanks on those little psychological dramas that the
Human Resources people are constantly dreaming up.
For instance, a question such as “Have you ever lied?” could really be
an intelligence test to see if you are smart enough to put down the right
answer. Then of course you’ll have to suffer through the usual gauntlet of
“ How would you describe your personality?”, “What would you say your
weaknesses are?”, “What do you know about our company?”, and “What
did you like least about your former employer?”
The trick to these tiresome questions is to always answer with a positive—especially the ones that seem to be looking for a negative answer. For example, “What’s the worst thing people say about me?” Your answer: “People sometimes say I’m impatient to get things done. I don’t like working slowly.” And what about that “Have you ever lied” question? The answer is always: “I was raised in a family that just didn’t tolerate lying. However, I did once lie to a police officer about my age when I was stopped while driving my grandmother to the hospital.” And, of course, do your homework about the company you’ve applied to. The real questions run the gamut from trivial to complex. They range from “Describe your ideal job and tell us when you first became interested in computer science?” to “Given a simple program designed to take inputs of integers from 1-1000 and to output the factorial value of that number, how would you test this program?”
But what if you don’t even get so far as to be invited in for an interview? What do you do then? This is where the Issue and Expectation thinking can help. Normally, seeking a job coming out of college or moving from one employer to another presents the issue: I need a job. The expectation is: There is a lot of competition for this job; it’s not going to be easy. You are going to turn the issue and the expectation upside down. You are going to create the issue that “they need you,” and the expectation that “you will be a great long-term investment for the company.” First, put yourself in the shoes of the employer. This is what you are thinking: I need good people with certain skills to fill some immediate job slots. But I also want people who will grow and continue to contribute as the work changes and evolves. I need smart people with great skills, but also ones who show a budding sense of maturity who may turn out to be terrific long-term, loyal employees. My expectation is that I’m going to get a lot of resumes that look nearly identical, and I will have to interview extensively to find out what the person behind the resume is really like. I need to know who this person is and what their real ambitions are. Will they be a good match for our culture?
That’s what the department head who needs you at IBM, HP, Cisco, and Microsoft is thinking. The HR people, who will do the initial interviews to determine if you get to see the department head—well, no one knows what they’re thinking. They probably don’t know themselves what they’re thinking. (Have you ever noticed that HR people attend a LOT of conferences? That’s where they dream up all those fuzzball questions.) That’s why our strategy will be to go “around” the HR people—pleasant and polite as they are—and go straight to the hearts and minds of department heads who really can use you. First thing we do is the netroots work. Netroots is a relatively new word, a portmanteau of Internet and Grassroots. Invented to describe the Internet’s impact on politics and elections, netroots can also describe the process of data mining the net to find out what’s happening in the world. In this case, we want to learn everything we can about the company where we want to work.
Go to the company’s Web site and select “About HP” or “About IBM” or whatever. When you get to those pages find the IR (Investor Relations) site. On this site, or nearby you will find their Press Release site. When you get to the press releases read ALL of them for the last year to eighteen months, even two years back. The press releases are a treasure trove of vital information. First, they’ll tell you detailed information about every major product and program release the company has made. Not only that, they’ll provide the names of who was in charge, and even some of the key players. You want these names. Second, the press releases will also tell you all about every merger and acquisition the company has made in the last two years or more. Large companies buy up promising small companies, usually software- and services oriented companies, like candy. Every major company you might want to work for has made dozens, if not dozens of dozens, of acquisitions in the last few years. Often, these acquired smaller companies move right into the parent company more or less intact. They just change the name on the front door and on their Web site, fire a couple of innocent bystanders just to let everyone know there’s a new boss in town, and continue working business as usual.
One of these dozens and dozens of small companies is doing the exact same work you did your thesis. For example, you’re something of an expert on Ruby On Rails. Not only that, you think you’ve figured out a way to radically speed up Oracle-based SAP installations on HP systems. Bingo. You find the name of a recently acquired small company doing this or related work, and you get every name you can find from the Press Releases, and any other Web search. Now comes the hard part. Remember paper and envelopes? If you don’t, find someone over 30 years old and they will explain. Now you have to sit down and write letters to all the names in that company or department. Just explain who you are and what you can do, and that you would like to come in and talk to them. You can also ferret out their email, LinkedIn, or Face Book account and send a very short note to them. One of three things will happen: 1. They will ignore you. 2. They will refer you to the HR people. 3. Or, they will establish an email dialog, and then invite you to come in and chat with them.
I can’t tell you for sure that they will admire that you contacted them directly, but they will certainly respect the fact that you searched them out, knew what they were doing, and showed an interest in helping them. This can be a huge step in landing a job when your chances of being “discovered” in the resume blizzard are not as good as you could hope for. You can use this same process to try to land a job with a company that contracts with the big company you really want to work for eventually. Working at the contractor company will provide a lot of opportunities to develop relationships with people at the target company. And it will give you an opportunity to show them what you can do and who you are. Good luck to you.