October 26, 2009

New job pt 1: foot in the door

Every journey begins with a single step, and for jobs, that’s getting your CV to someone who cares. I’ve been very lucky to have had some excellent advice regarding my CV: I’ve queried several employers who’ve had me for interview if there was anything they’d change on it, and universally the answer seems to be ‘it’s absolutely fine’. After some early false starts, I’m confident at this point that I look good on paper, so it’s just a matter of getting the paper into the right places.

The list

I job hunted fairly heavily before I left work - and did a bit more afterwards - but with my crushing defeat coming so close to the end of such a difficult contract, I found things were pretty raw and I was still fairly emotional over it all, which in retrospect probably made me quite unappealing to the agents and agencies.

I did some housework and organisation, but eventually I knew I needed to go back to work, especially if I wanted to pay for new shiny toys! The moral of the following story is: use the tools available.

First things first, I had to get my CV up on various internet job sites, and make sure it was searchable. Put in the right keywords and people will phone you. It helps to have a decent CV to start with, but fundamentally, being called up about jobs is a huge morale boost when you’re feeling a bit down, no matter how weird the job might be.

Agencies are hooked into the job databases from the other end, hence the phone calls, but they can be just as lazy as candidates, so tend to start with candidates who have recently updated their profiles. Most of the time, just logging in and checking your preferences is enough to bump up the timestamp, but sometimes you need to do a little more. The best thing to do here?

Update your searches.

The sites I was using (www.electronicsweekly.com, www.jobsite.co.uk, www.totaljobs.co.uk, www.gisajob.com, www.cwjobs.com) all have a feature which will happily let you save a search (by proximity to postcode, category, keywords and so on) and provide you a feed which dumps all current and - most importantly - all future matches into your inbox or reader.

So now I’ve got jobs that I’m probably interested in, heading straight to my eyes in the rss reader. Since I spend so much time reading articles in there, reading through jobs isn’t such a strain for me.

The application

Still I’ve not made any applications, but at least now I’ve flitered out most of what I’m not interested in. Applications from the job sites are distressingly easy to make, with them auto-filling most of the fields (if you’re logged in) and most especially the cover letter field.

Personal statements and cover letters are painful for me. They completely stress me out and I find I become tongue-tied pretty quickly, despite having delusions of eloquence.

One of the many running themes here is that practice makes perfect. It could be viewed as exercising muscles if that’s how you prefer to see it, but it works for vocals, writing lyrics, and writing cover letters. While probably not strictly necessary to write a proper cover letter when applying through a job site, it surely can’t hurt to try and stand out from the crowd. After all, that’s the name of the game, right?

Apparently this is the pinnacle of my efforts, since it resulted in a call back. Interestingly, I went to the trouble of sending a personal email containing this message straight to the agent, instead of just using the form on the site. It probably made a difference.

Please find attached my most recent CV, with which I would like to be considered for the role of Graduate Systems Engineer.

Coming from an academic background, I have had exposure to and experience with many technologies. The rapid changes in direction during early stages of research work requiring me to pick up new ideas, evaluate and incorporate them quickly all with a view to the bigger picture. I have been involved with documentation and I am not afraid of semi-colons or customers.

I would relish the opportunity to talk with you further regarding this role. I am living in Colchester, and available immediately.

Many thanks for your time and consideration,

I don’t know what possessed me to write such words in a cover letter while applying for a position with a defence contractor, but I did, and clearly worked. The following day, I had a call from the agent looking after the position.

The agent

Technically this is the agentS, since at this point I had another phone me to discuss a different position. Both covered largely the same areas: plenty of discussion about what I’m looking for, my experiences and what the roles entail. Some formalities about my availability, housing status and so on, but both are convinced that I’m not an embarrassment, so put me forward to their respective companies.

Dealing with agents is easy, so long as you’re honest and enthusiastic. As mentioned in some previous post, don’t apply for a position you’re not prepared to say yes to.

This was the start of what was to become a pretty heavy application process, as the two companies ended up in competition over me. Hard to say yes to both, though. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I pleasantly surprised by phone calls asking for phone interviews.

Interview information coming up next.

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