Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A report from the field

Carl Larson, one of OCA's very own, shares his personal job search experience:
I wanted to take a minute to write down a few thoughts I had on how I got my job. This is because I don't think I will have time to make the meetup later this month. I had originally planned to drop by a Friday meeting sometime to share my little success story but have since decided against it, as, since I work in Bellevue & the meetings are at 1030- that would essentially take up an entire workday for me, and I don't feel comfortable doing that so early in a new gig. In any case, hopefully some of the stuff I did over the last 7 months'll be useful to others looking for work. It certainly taught me a lot.

So, a few details about the job - I was hired 2 weeks ago as "Site Conversion Manager" at GMI (Global Market Insite [not "Insight"]) here in Bellevue. Speaking as a guy who's had crappy jobs or been in the Army his whole working life - this is like I have died & gone to Job Heaven. 3 weeks paid vacation to start, my own parking & laptop, they laughed at my salary requirements and offered me 20k more, are paying for me to attend conventions & get trained up on a half-dozen new skills, the work environment is amazing, etc etc.

A few things immediately stood out, about how I got this job:

1) I worked my ass off. I got up (almost) always with my wife & had my day segmented into job-hunting & skill-polishing times. I figured out what kind of position I wanted & what skills I needed & then worked on that. (even tho the eventual position I got was quite different) After I figured out that my BA in Marketing was essentially worthless, I did a three month internship that turned into a contracting gig that gave me great skills and a good recommendation. I attended every free SVC class & networked like crazy. Eventually, after I had some skills, I started an SEO consulting business, acquired about 12 clients, and then used that to polish my portfolio. I kept an Excel file of all companies applied at, with additional tabs for potential employers, examples of interesting job descriptions, various versions of my resumes and cover letters, etc. All in all, it was a lot of work.

2) They found me, not the other way around. I had registered with The Smart Dept, Creative Group, Aquint, MAQ Consulting, Creative Circle & others, but only Creative Circle had openings for me to apply to. (Of course I did Indeed, Hotjobs & all those things too - total waste of time) GMI noticed me in CCís ìNewly availableî newsletter and asked to talk to me. Dunno what conclusion to draw from this, beyond ìregister with everyone! Because who can say who will end up having the necessary connections?î

3) Sometimes you never know what job you should apply for. After 7 months, I was pretty desperate. I would have done damn near anything involving a computer for as little as 35k/yr. I just wanted to get some experience & wait for the economy to improve. I had seen the job description for GMI earlier but did not bother to apply. They wanted too much experience & it wasnít my field. It was ìSite Conversionî not SEO, and at a managerial level, right? Wrong. Turns out they are happy to train me on all that, and what they REALLY wanted was someone who knew numbers AND people. Someone who can make sense of spreadsheets and analytics, which I demonstrated using my SEO skills. For more details on the job, see: Moral of the story1: The job description is not always accurate & Moral2: getting noticed is more important than being the perfect candidate.

4) Portfolio was helpful. A month or so before I interviewed with GMI, I had some solid experience doing SEO and wanted to make an impressive portfolio. But I couldnít afford a designer. I knew that if one of my friends took it on as a low-budget favor it would take months. So I looked for an Indian designer on elance,, odesk, etc. Took a few weeks, but I eventually hired Nitesh Shah, of (out of Kolkutta) who created a logo, business cards and two entire portfolios (including a beautiful folder design) totaling 22 pages. Total cost was about $400 and we went thru many substantial revisions. (he is now helping me with my website & other projects) You can view the two files here: although the folder and business cards are not shown. In any case, when several other potential employers saw the business cards & portfolio files they were very impressed. My contact at Creative Circle (who placed me in this job) was very impressed. But the GMI people didnít care much. So draw your own conclusions about if the time & money is worth it. v After I wrote the above text up, I sat down with GMIís Senior Recruiter & my boss & asked them both questions like: ìHow did you notice me?î ìWhy did you pick me, a person missing some of the core skills mentioned in the job description?î ìDid you look at my LinkedIn or other Social Media page(s)?î ìWas my resume ok, or could it have been improved?î ìWas my portfolio or the fact that I had started my own consulting business important in landing the job?î etc. Here are their answers.

Notes from Senior HR Recruiter:

She did NOT look at my LinkedIn profile. She recalled my resume being uninspiring, but professional, which was most important to her. (she did say that a moderately graphical resume might be helpful, and that she was partial to either pdf or Word) Key was that I obviously did my homework on the company before the first phone interview(she said many people take this for granted) and was obviously highly interested in position. Demonstrating past success and history of hard work was helpful also. She did not look at my portfolio or work samples. She contacted all of my references & did a background check.

Notes from my immediate boss:

Most important element was luck. A month prior they were looking for someone who was already trained in the positionís core skills. When they still could not find someone with all of the key skills, they revised expectations. When my boss saw my blurb in the Creative Circleís newsletter, he had to ìsellî the idea of training me to his boss. This is one reason it eventually took 5 interviews to hire me. Portfolio & having created consulting business were helpful in demonstrating entrepreneurial ability & my ìsoft skillsî. Neither was directly important for the job, but provided additional evidence that I was hard-working. He did say that he recommended the portfolio-building process for any job-seeker, at the very least because it helps you figure out your personal ìbrandî, how to pitch yourself and gives you confidence in your abilities. He checked LinkedIn & Facebook & Googled me. Said it was important that I was honest & professional, that he has rejected candidates who exaggerated on their resumes before. Also recommended that job-seekers get very creative about what roles they could possibly do (this job for me is an example). He said that, when he was job-hunting, he hired a resume consultant for $180 that was well worth the value.