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Ask HN: Searching for jobs sucks.
50 points by photon_off on Nov 2, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments
I've started the process of looking for work (mainly Javascript, PHP, MySQL, and willing and able to learn anything), and I have to say it really sucks.

The problems are:

   * Same listings across hundreds of websites.
   * Aggregation of aggregation of aggregation.
   * Sometimes applying forces me to create an account on some site I don't care about
   * If I apply to each posting I see that is interesting, I'll likely apply for the same job 5 times.
   * URLs that expire in short amount of time
As a result, I'm finding it impossible to keep myself organized. Have I already applied for this listing? Is it a place I've disqualified for some reason [eg: pay is too low, looks like an HTML chop-shop, etc]? What company is it for? I end up doing the same sleuthing over and over again to find out it's either a job I've applied for, or a job I don't want to apply for.

Throughout this process, I've learned I much prefer responding to jobs that are listed on the company's own website. And, I've also learned to copy and past parts of job descriptions into Google to find those original postings.

Anyway, HN, what's the best way to go about finding a job (besides direct referrals)? And, why is this such a pain in the ass?

There's one thing that's worked for me EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Dedicate yourself, but do it easily. Recruiters and HR employees get hundreds of applications for every job post. Make yourself stand out.

I do it with a website: http://www.IHiredJeffClark.com

For the low-level jobs I want, I just direct them there. It has examples of past work and recommendations pulled directly from my LinkedIn profile.

For the jobs that could be The One (you know it when you see it), I create a specific subdomain for it. Then, I essentially write my cover letter on the website and include stuff relevant to that job (and the company) for them.

It proves what you can do and that you really want the job. 100% of the time, I get a callback.

Great advice. Also great: "One time I found an olive underneath the couch and Jeff was like, "Dude! That's disgusting!". He shamed me into not eating that olive and he might have possibly saved my life."

Excellent advice. I've been cranking out side projects left and right (http://ryan.vanmiddlesworth.org/), but the dedicated subdomain idea is gold.

Fantastic portfolio site! I've been meaning to do one for myself for quite a while now, and you're giving me a lot of inspiration and ideas on what to add to it.

That is the most unique way of finding jobs I've seen in a long time.

Excellent. Can you show use one of your subdomains?



[user and pass are both zipcar]

This is a really stellar example, and I'll definitely use this as inspiration. Thanks for sharing it.

Did it work? what feedback did you get?

I get a callback 100% of the time I use a subdomain. Less so on the others, but still far above 75%.

Jeff is my hero.

I've had a lot of success finding jobs online and landing subsequent interviews. Here's basically what I do:

* Use Google Reader to view RSS feeds for search results from SimplyHired, Indeed, HotJobs, Craigslist, LinkedIn, and Dice. Make sure your searches filter out recruiters and terms like CyberCoders.

* (Almost) Never apply to jobs via web form, especially through any 3rd party site. Strongly prefer postings with an email contact.

* Write a personalized cover letter for each position. Spend 10 minutes looking through their site and job posting, then craft your cover letter using their lingo.

* Use a spreadsheet to track your progress. This just keeps you on top of actually doing something. I prefer Google Spreadsheets b/c I can use it across multiple computers.

* Have a solid portfolio. Make sure it includes portfolio work, resume, and code samples.

* Send resumes in PDF, Word, and plain text. Each person has their own preference which is easy to accomodate.

I think you're going about it all wrong. If a job is listed on a job aggregator website, I assume its garbage. Here's what I would do. Pick n (5? 10? 15?) companies you'd like to work for. Then research them all until you know everything about the company. Find out what their founder, CEO, designers are complaining about. Look over their website and find three or four problems.

E-mail them saying, "I'm interested in your company, and I'd love to work for you. In the mean time you can check me out here, here and here. I found x, y, z. Here's how I'd fix them. If you'd like to talk further I'm available on Skype, email, and my phone number is x. Call anytime."

What makes you think all job listings are garbage? I've found a few really promising ones. I imagine it's the same ratio that employers get when they receive tons of garbage resumes and a few gems here and there.

I like your proactive approach very much, but the search space (all companies in my region) seems rather large. With job listings, I at least know they are hiring, what technologies they use, and what's expected of the role. I'd be down to do it your way if there were an easy way to browse through interesting tech-related companies in NYC, that I know are hiring.

I look at it as how is my time best spent. I could send a default resume/cover letter to 100 companies in the time it takes me to send 2-3 well crafted cover letters to companies I'd actually like to work for.

It's the "Penis Craig's list Effect" (Credit: Ramit Sethi). Basically you can send a picture of your penis (resume) and sound like a desperate creeper(cover letter) to 100 women on crags list. Or you can figure out what you think 2-3 women actually want and write something specifically for them.

Funded tech companies probably won't pass up a proactive, solid programmer that shows some competency through a blog, side projects, weekend projects, etc, etc.

Wow, you're lucky, NYC has so many amazing tech companies to work for an a really vibrant community. As Alnayyir said start breathing the tech scene and get out there.

I feel fortunate to be in Baltimore and part of our local Rails group (monthly pub nights) and our hackerspace (total playground) because I've met people at numerous other tech companies and if I ever want to go looking for a job I know I have a network to call upon.

Go live it!

>What makes you think all job listings are garbage?

Statistically they are, unless it's an exceptional company, but that's really just cargo cult rationalization at that point. You don't reliably get into great companies by going through monster.com

>I'd be down to do it your way if there were an easy way to browse through interesting tech-related companies in NYC, that I know are hiring.

I think you're missing the point. The point is to stop being a consumer and instead be a part of the scene and breathe what's going on in the industry. You should know what the great companies in your area of preference/expertise are before you ever need a job.

If you're not already a web-based tool to store where you're at in which applications, start right away. Some people use Google Docs, others use http://happyjobsearch.com/ (free) and some like http://www.jibberjobber.com/ (freemium).

We built http://linkup.com for that very reason that people prefer and get better results applying straight to company's own websites. If you'd like to discuss it more, email me at eric@linkup.com.

That biggest point that I wanted to talk about is "Have I already applied for this listing" problem. When sites talk about having 9M+ job openings in the US, that's because they show the same job opening multiple times. They have algorithms that take a job title, break it into chunks, and then remerge them in multiple methods. A good test is Microsoft - see how many jobs whatever site you're using has for openings at Microsoft - at any time Microsoft has around 2k openings, so if you see some multiple of that then something fishy is afoot.

Bluntly, it is a pain in the ass because the sites make money by having a huge number of repeat jobseekers continually visiting the site - who think that the site is 100% doing everything in the jobseekers best interest. But when you introduce a pay-per-post or pay-per-click model into the mix, delivering the best, purest jobs becomes contradictory to making a short-term profit. (Think early Excite.com vs Google.com)

Assume a simple, powerful solution could be created that would organize your job search, and make it easy to track everything.

This solution costs $35/month. After you sign up, will you be paying by Visa, Paypal, or WePay?

See? I'm willing to bet you would avoid paying for this service even though organizing, executing and tracking your job search is a pain in the ass.

If you are ready to pay, let me know, and the minimum feature set will be ready by the end of the week.

hodgins dot dan at gmail dot com

I would pay up to $100 for a website that had me take tests to prove that I'm not a crappy developer, and that had a reputation for uniting programming talent with awesome companies. I really wish something like this would exist, as I'm getting quite bored answering the sometimes-almost-insulting screening questions, and I'm absolutely certain companies are bored with asking them.

As per your offer, I probably wouldn't pay because I don't believe it's possible to offer such a service, without it missing some jobs I might really want, or without it not working. Some examples:

* Some jobs are exclusive to recruiters, and the only way to apply to them is through that agency.

* Duplicate jobs which have different descriptions. How could you handle that without making me think or do work?

* I don't believe you could offer better and/or wider reaching results than Indeed.com or other job search engines whose sole purpose is to find job postings.

* The job search market is already so full of middle-men that I don't trust half the posts and prefer applying to companies with job postings on their website, and via direct e-mail. In other words, you'd have to do a heck of a lot to earn my trust.

Job boards and craigslist suck just as much for employers as employees. Because the cost of applying is 0, people send their resume to every single job they can find. Its a chore to separate the wheat from the overwhelming amount of chaff.

So many companies recruit people directly instead. They'll use LinkedIn and github to identify people they want, and make direct offers. Sure, they might be overpaying for each employee, but its far more important that you hire great people than how much you pay them.

What I'm saying is don't expect much from job boards. You might find something to pay the bills for now, but you're much better off spending your time putting code out into the wild and meeting like minded people. When you've done that, you'll be turning down job offers you didn't ask for. (BTW, "I can't market myself" is a cop out - we're all programmers, just show us some friggin' code).

Finally, where do you live? If you're in Raleigh or NYC, a good friend of mine is looking for top-notch developers with your skillset. Feel free to email me if interested.

Where do you live?

A number of companies in and around SF have meetups and hacker events, and sponsor other groups. Go to hackathons at company offices, build something on top of their products, and then tell them you're interested in a job.

Engage companies on social networks, too. Tweet at the companies and their employees when you have interesting things to say, like blog posts you've written about your ideas for their products.

None of that addresses the organizational difficulty of a job search though. I usually prioritize and proceed in small batches. Just a few companies at a time, starting with the ones I'm most interested in. Assuming you have the luxury of time on your side.

Welcome to the real world.

The last time, I communicated with an Internet Consulting Firm HR manager. He wasn't looking for a developer but for a copywriter, though, we have had some discussion.

I took a look on sample websites of the firm's portfolio. The design wasn't great and that were not so well crafted material. I got an eye on the source code and... the most terrible source I have ever seen. Imagine, links get opened by JavaScript code!!! Load jQuery and still use attachEvent instead of taking advantage of the jQuery library.

But I just can't tell that to the HR manager, he have long described to me that they have the most talented developers with over 5 years experience.

It depends.

Do you have a solid resume? Do you know your stuff backwards and forwards? Are you willing to relocate pretty much anywhere for the right job? If so, pick the companies you'd _most_ like to work for (even if you think you'd never get hired there), and apply directly. If the company has a job listing on their website that matches well with your skill set, then all the better ( ex. http://www.google.com/intl/en/jobs/uslocations/new-york/swe/... )

If you're just starting out, or have a weak/varied work history, then your goal should be to end up somewhere where you can grow your skills, or where you can work your way into managing some larger projects. Even if the pay isn't great, or the commute sucks, a job can be worth if it fills some otherwise lacking spot in your resume.

Also, try to think outside the box. Do you have other bits of expertise in your background that might make you particularly attractive to a particular niche industry? i.e., if you know a bit about cars, then try to find a company that does something related to cars, and see if they have an internal development team. Often, domain-specific knowledge can make all the difference.

I'm not sure there is a "best way" other than direct referrals, unfortunately. The problem is the the HR/recruitment industry is fundamentally broken. Jobs are inevitably farmed out to 3rd party recruiters who then sub-farm in the effort to make a split (commission) if their candidate is excepted.

This of course is a generalization but it is the root of the problem.

The problem is not that the current system is broken in any way. The system is improperly optimized. It's designed around getting as many potential applicants as possible to maximize the chances of X amount meeting the particular skill and level you're looking for. There's areas for improvement, definitely, but every company invests significantly in finding a single candidate to maximize the return from the candidate turned employee.

I'd even go so far as to say it's decidedly optimized for recouping the investment in employees by offering a small percentage of the total expected value up front for those that can provide the proper candidates. However, I'd really like to see the whole process upended and brought more in line with modern capabilities.

I don't think that HR/recruitment industry is fundamentally broken. It isn't optimal, but definitely not broken. Also, show me what industry where dealing with people is the core business is doing better?

I got all my best jobs through recruiters. Actually I even like dealing with them in general, they provide with tons of valuable info which you wouldn't know otherwise. As an added bonus they often amuse me when talking in a top-down way like 'get really prepared', ' this is a really good position for you', etc.

EDIT: I should have said that recruiters start talking to you nicely only after a certain point in your career. Till then, I guess, it can be a terrible experience and is better avoided by the means described in this thread

really? all my "good" experiences with recruiters were when I was younger, less experienced, and a little desperate.

They are just tops if you want to get into a company that doesn't know how to hire good people. My experience has been that if a company is going through a 3rd party recruiter, their standards are ridiculously low (and thus, I look like some kind of minor god) which is great if you are desperate for the cash, and eh, being the big fish can be fun some other times, too... but it's not how I want to spend my life, you know?

Working for companies like that gets old pretty fast, especially when they make you do interviews... you end up interviewing a bunch of people who aren't worth $15/hr for $100K/year sysadmin positions... It can be pretty frustrating.

I think the thing is that when given a choice, most people avoid recruiters. If nothing else, that's a nice big chunk of change that could have either been a bonus or salary for the employee, or some extra profit for the company. I hear 1/3rd of a year's salary is not unusual... which is pretty huge, really.

so when you go through recruiters, you are competing with people who don't really feel they have better options.

I ran into the same problem last year and wound up building a personal search engine. It reads in listings from rss feeds and mailing lists and runs them through a simple ML classifier to filter out the dross. The classifier is seeded a list of keywords and then trained by feedback (thumbs up / thumbs down). It also doubled up nicely as an example project when I came to applying for jobs.

I've been thinking about adding a web interface and making it available to the public. Would anyone be interested in this sort of thing?

I have plenty more ideas for data sources eg follow links from HN and Reddit and crawl for links named jobs/careers. I could seed the classifier with content from uploaded resumes or from personal blogs. If enough people were to use it I could switch to collaborative filtering for the scoring. Imagine waking up to an RSS feed full of recommended positions based on the technology you write about in your blog and the code you upload to github.

I've gotten more legitimate interest for positions from my LinkedIn profile and Github repos than I ever did in all the years using monster.com. One person even hit me up based on my about.me page.

The only stuff I get from the older job boards these days is cookie cutter emails from the same 15 outsourcing companies.

One bit of real advise I can give besides beefing up LinkedIn and Github presence is to become friends with a recruiter who you had a positive experience with in the past. Keep that person informed every time you even consider looking for something else. Make sure they know what your current skillsets and desires are. I have a two people that fit the bill that I always go to when I'm on the market and check in with regularly.

Sounds to me like you've identified a potential opportunity! I recently went through a job search myself and while I didn't experience your exact pain points I definitely came away from the process thinking that there was room for improvement. I had an idea for a service that I wish I had during the process, I started hacking on it a bit but have yet to figure out a way to make it scale. I'm interested in chatting with you more about how the job search sucking might be remedied. Send me an email if you're interested (see profile).

For the OP: is there were a website that could help you out, what would you look for? What could a web application do to help alleviate your problems?

It's a pain in the ass because no-one is on your side.

If you could find a recruiter who got 20% of your signing bonus, it wouldn't be so bad.

Look at websites of businesses in your area --- as well as their LinkedIn pages.

You really want to prioritize embedding yourself in the industry, making a brand/name for yourself, and networking.

I'm not trying to sound like some kind of wanker, I'm a programmer too. My career never really got off the ground until I stopped settling for the retail-esque job search methods and got serious about socializing with smart people and building things.

Make something, slap your name on it, show it to HN. I doubt your job search productively consumes 16 hours a day.

Go to meetups for your various areas of expertise (PHP, JavaScript, Databases/MySQL), go to events/conferences, get involved in online communities, contribute patches, etc.

Stop being contented with the only part of your job search being submitting resumes. It's a fool's errand. Get people talking about you.

In my particular area of expertise, Alex Gaynor is something of a paragon of what I'm talking about. Look at how solid his career and reputation is, and how young he is. I doubt any programmer would be harmed by following his example.

Edit: I concur with Noahc wholly as well.

Edit2: Honest to god, if there's one thing I regret my father being unable to impart to me because of his blue-collar background, it's the nature of having a professional career and the necessity of networking/branding even as an individual. That said, I can change the hell out of the oil on my car.


Further, I move that Alex should be working on the MongoDB backend for Django.


You don't sound like a wanker at all! That's all sound advice you've given.

The problem is that I'm very good at building things, but not so good at branding/marketing/selling them. It's my job to engineer things, not sell them. And, for some reason, I always feel uncomfortable selling myself. I don't really enjoy boasting.

Check out my profile. I've made things, I've shown them to HN. I built, probably, the most powerful bookmarklet to date. But the splash page sucks, and it's confusing, so I'm scrapping it. My website similarity search engine is doing pretty well, with traffic growing 15% a week for the last 7 weeks.

But, I don't have a personal website, or a blog, or a twitter account, etc. I don't care for starting flame wars about "Why you should[n't] do X" or "How I did some amazing thing in some short amount of time". It's really not my thing. While I completely agree it'd make it easier to get a job, and is probably the optimal approach, it's not an option right now. It would take a large amount of time to suddenly build a brand/identity.

On the other hand, optimizing my approach to the current systems of job postings is probably a better use of my time. This is the type of advice I'm looking for.

My solution for the last three or so years has been to maintain a personal site (http://www.steveasleep.com/) that consists of these things:

  * Links to and descriptions for relevant projects
  * List of recent blog posts (optional)
  * Latest 10 commits I have made to Github
  * HTML/PDF résumé
  * Links to my profiles on SO, HN, etc.
As a college student casting about for internships, that simple combination has helped me a lot. If you're interested, I could help set you up with the super-simple backend that can be hosted for free on App Engine.

I've also thought about adding a "hacker résumé" to supplement the regular one. The college job search format usually requires a conventional (boring) one-sheet résumé, but I would also like to provide a summary of hackerly accomplishments for the people I actually want reading my site.

Sounds like a steady setup. How packagable is it? With AppEngine, you could make this an easier transfer by consuming a short list of URLs in a textarea (homepage, resume, blogA, blogB, profileA, profileB) and simply spawn a clone.

Seen anything alse like it? I sort of asked here:


Very packageable, actually. Here it is on Github: https://github.com/irskep/steveasleep

It reads the sidebar from content/site.yaml. Sidebar items can point either to external links or refer to Markdown files also in content/ which are converted to HTML at request time. The only other remaining customization is to change the theme in content/templates/.

I like this instead of the feed-me-URLs setup because you can edit the Markdown and just hit Deploy in App Engine Launcher. Also, if I ever decide to move to App Engine, I have almost no barrier because I use the data store only for caching Posterous and Github information.

>You don't sound like a wanker at all!

Thank you, but I hate feeling/sounding like a robo-MBA.

>The problem is that I'm very good at building things, but not so good at branding/marketing/selling them.

That's okay, you'll learn. You're an HN user. Start with telling people on HN about it. Ask a designer from HN to collab with you on it, making it explicit that it's a silly portfolio builder and that you'd both be doing it for that purpose.

You don't have to make a product you'd be selling, just...make something. And get people to talk about it. Something you can show people, even if it's just an open source helper-library you can talk about in a tech-screening.

>But the splash page sucks, and it's confusing, so I'm scrapping it.

Start from scratch, get help, get feedback, respond to feedback and pivot quickly. Don't let it languish without seeking advice and learning.

>But, I don't have a personal website, or a blog, or a twitter account, etc.

Well, I don't like that sort of thing either, so here's what I did. I made a very plain business card website. It links to a blog that's actually got a single post (but a thoughtful one, I'd like to think) that is in fact a tech demo for a micro CMS I rebuild a few times a year from scratch.

It also links to my CV which is W3-conforming html/css.

It also links to my twitter which acts as more of a connector-hub. I'm not an active twitter user, I just use it to ping random industry people occasionally. I'm not saying you should become some kind of social networking maven...just...poke, prod, get yourself out there a bit.

You don't have to be famous, you just have to have a presence of some kind.

Look at how many people in writing/journalism or in the entertainment industry that have a presence but aren't necessarily 'famous'. That's what you need to seek.

Just because you don't have the capacity or credentials to become some kind of coding superstar doesn't mean you shouldn't try at all.

>This is the type of advice I'm looking for.

In the new economy, being a more efficient resume-monger isn't enough. I hope for your sake I'm wrong, but I doubt you'll do much better than par for the course that way. If you're satisfied with merely doing "okay" and not really pushing your career to the next level, then I honestly don't understand why you're on hackerne.ws

Isn't lateral thinking, novel approaches, and aggressive self improvement while pushing past your comfort zone the whole point of this community? We're here because we glory in achievements and advancements, code and business alike. This isn't the monster.com forums where we talk about how to better organize our 100 resume and cover letter submissions per week.

I'd like to finish by saying, please don't respond to this looking for some kind of way to rationalize or defend your accomplishments/approach to job hunting. It's not my business, it's not the business of those reading this thread. You came for help/advice, and I tried to introduce a different way of thinking about your career.

Good luck, this is where I sign off.

I also come from a blue-collar family. When I applied to college, I didn't even know that you should have a backup school. I thought you applied to college and either you got in or you didn't.

I didn't actually go to post-secondary, but I know what you mean, haha.

What resources for finding meetups, events and conferences do you recommend?

I don't know. I've had great luck with craigslist for local jobs. For remote jobs nothing beats making physical connections, referrals are killer.

I recommend building a cool project preferably open source, to show off your skills and to set yourself from other candidates. You'll have employers coming after you.

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