June 2015 Archives

Over the weekend I ran into an article on the Safari Books blog about writing job postings. The big recommendation they put forth was a simple one: the 'requirements' section on every job-posting is where you lose most of the qualified candidates for the job who then elect not to apply. Wouldn't it be nice if you rephrased it to be inclusive? I tweeted about it.

Responses came in two versions:

  1. Favorites.
  2. People telling me I'm senior enough to know better about how the requirements game works.

Yes, I'm pretty senior now. However, in the 15+ years I've been a sysadmin I've job-hunted as one only three times.

Time 1: One app, one offer. It wasn't really a job-hunt so much as a pounce-kill.
Time 2: Was in the middle of a huge recession, I had a stale skill-set, and even in the technology I had skills in I didn't have experience with the hot newness. A startup took a chance on me. That search took better than two years.
Time 3: I was terminated and needed another job RIGHT NOW. It was also a hot market, and I had relevant skills. The firms that gave me offers (I had three) all were applied to in the first week of my search. It only took as long as it did to start working due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays getting in the way of everything. That search took six weeks, of which only three were active search/apply/interview focused weeks.

One of the replies is very good at capturing the spirit of the requirements game as it exists now:

True, that's what the startup that hired me did. They needed a blend of Windows and Linux, and apparently I talked a good enough game they hired me even though I didn't exactly have much being-paid-for-it Linux experience at the time (this was one of the big reasons I left WWU, by the way; they wouldn't let me get out of the Windows box). That job posting? It had a 'Qualifications' section, and didn't mention operating system! This was my in!

I haven't done enough hiring or searching to know how flexible 'requirements' are. If I hit every point, I make sure to mention that in my cover-letter. If I hit all but one, I'm worried but if the one doesn't sound mission-critical I'll still drop an app on it. If I'm missing two... I'll apply only if I really want to work there, or I have some other clue that the 'requirements' are actually a wish-list (big hint: 20 items in the requirements list).

Here's the thing though. If you're suffering impostor syndrome, and I sure as hell was during the Time 2 search, it's extremely easy to talk yourself out of thinking you're good enough for a position.

Do not bother applying unless you have...

  • 6 years of Enterprise Linux administration.
  • 5 years of Python scripting development.
  • 5 years of Postgres administration.
  • 3 years of Chef.

That's what a 'Requirements' section looks like. It takes a sense of entitlement to see that list and add, "...or can talk us into taking you anyway" to the bolded text.

I have one of those bullet-points. However, I do have Ruby, MySQL, and Puppet. Is that enough to take a chance on the position, or are they dead set on not having to train in a new-hire on those things? Can't tell, not going to bother going to all the effort of crafting a resume and coverletter just to be told 'Go away'.

Or maybe I tell my impostor syndrome to go hide in a corner somewhere and trust in my interview skills to win me a chance.

By changing the 'Requirements' away from a checklist of skills, and towards the qualities you need in a new-hire, you remove a big barrier to application. You'll get apps from people in non-traditional career-paths, like the person with a Masters in History but spent the last six years doing statistical analysis automation in AWS on a grant, and kept getting consults from other academic computation people for automating things.

I keep hearing there is a real talent crunch for senior people these days. Doesn't it make sense to encourage applications, rather than discourage them?