The Universe of Discourse

Tue, 19 Sep 2006

Job hunting stories
A guy named Jonathan Rentzsch bookmarked my article about creeping featurism and the ratchet effect, saying "I'd like to hire this guy just so I could fire him." Since I was looking for a new job last month, I sent him my résumé, inquiring about his company's severance package. He didn't reply.

Also in the said-it-but-didn't-mean-it department, Anil Dash gave a plenary talk at OSCON in which he mentioned that sixapart was hiring, and "looking for Perl gods". I looked for the Perl god positions on the "jobs" part of their web site, and saw nothing relevant, but I sent my résumé anyway. They didn't reply.

A few years ago I was contacted by a headhunter who was offering me a one-year contract in Milford, Iowa. I said I did not want to work in Milford, Iowa. He tried to sell me on the job anyway. I said I did not want to work in Milford, Iowa. He would not take "no". He said, "Look, I understand you are reluctant to consider this. But I would like you to take a few days and think it over, and tell me what it would take to get you to agree." Okay.

I talked it over with my wife, and we decided that for $750,000 we would be willing for me to spend the year working in Milford, Iowa. $500,000, we decided, would not be sufficient, but $750,000 would. I forget by now how we arrived at this figure, but we took some care in coming up with it.

The headhunter called back. "Have you thought it over?" Yes, I had, I said. I had decided that $750,000 would be required to get me to Milford, Iowa.

He was really angry that I had wasted his time.

I really hate commuting. I had a job once in which I had to commute from Philadelphia (where I live) to New York. I told them when I took the job that if I liked it, I'd move to New York, and if not, I'd quit and move to Taiwan. Commuting to New York wrecked me. For years afterward I couldn't get onto a train without falling asleep immediately. After I quit, I didn't move to Taiwan; I stayed in Philadelphia and became a consultant. Every day I would wake up, put on my trousers, shuffle downstairs, and sit down at the computer. "Ahhh," I would say, "my morning commute is complete!" The novelty of this did not wear off for years.

One day I was on a five-week business trip to Asia. (I hate commuting, but I like travelling.) I got email from a headhunter who was offering me a long-term contract in Elkton, Maryland. I had told this headhunter's company repeatedly that I was only interested in working in the Philadelphia area. (Elkton, Maryland is about as close to Philadelphia as you can get and still be in Maryland, which means that the only thing between Elkton and Philadelphia is the state of Delaware.)

I wrote back, from Tokyo, and said that his company should stop contacting me, because I had told them over and over that I would only work in Philadelphia, and they kept sending me offers of employment in places like Elkton. I said it was a shame that we should waste each others' time like this.

He suggested that the problem could be solved if I could just give him a "courtesy call". From Tokyo.

Instead, I solved the problem by putting his company in my spam filter file.

When I was about nineteen, a friend of mine asked me to comment on his résumé. I told him it was too long (it was three pages long) and that no prospective employer would care that he had held a job washing dishes for his fraternity.

He didn't like my advice. I still think it was good advice. No nineteen-year-old needs a three-page résumé. I wonder if he eventually figured this out. You'd think so, but now that I have to read the résumés of people who are applying to me for jobs, it seems that hardly any of the applicants have figured out that you should leave out the job where you washed dishes for your fraternity.

I once explained to someone that I change my résumé and send a different one with each job application. He was really shocked, and said he would consider that dishonest. Huh.

I've talked to a couple of people lately who tell me that it's very rare to get a cover letter from an applicant that actually helps their chances of getting the job. At best, it's neutral. At worst, you get to see all their spelling and grammar errors.

I think most people don't know how to write a letter, or that they write one letter and send it with every application. Maybe they think it would be dishonest to send a different letter with every application.

There's a story about how Robert A. Heinlein became a writer: he needed money, and saw that some magazine was offering a $50.00 prize for the best story by a new author. He wrote a story, but concluded that that magazine would be swamped with submissions, so he sent it to a different magazine, which bought the story for $70.00.

I became a conference speaker and teacher of Perl classes in a similar way. I wanted to go to the second Perl conference, but I couldn't afford it. Someone mentioned to me that there was a $1,000 prize for the best user paper. I thought I could write a good paper, but I also thought that the best paper often doesn't win the prize. But I also found out that conference tutorial speakers were paid $1,500 and given free conference admission and airfare and hotel fees.

When you're submitting a proposal for a tutorial, it's perfectly honorable to go talk to the program committee behind the scenes and lobby them to accept your proposal instead of someone else's. If you do that with the contest judges, it's cheating. So I ignored the user paper contest and submitted a proposal for a tutorial, which was accepted.

I once applied for a sysadmin job at the College of Staten Island, which is the school they send you to if you aren't qualified for any of the City University schools but they have to let you go to college because the City University system guarantees to admit anyone who can pay the tuition.

I got back a peevish letter telling me that I wasn't qualified and to stop wasting the search committee's time. It was signed, in pen, "The Search Committee".

I accepted a job with the University of Pennsylvania instead.

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