1. Believe it or not, really cool jobs are available all over the place these days (and are more likely than not in some other city). Consider relocating. Consider it very seriously. It's not reasonable for everyone, but the life experiences to be had are worth the effort now and it will be the easiest opportunity you'll ever have to do so. (I'll be 30 soon, with a wife and 2 kids and have been trying to move for almost 5 years without ever finding the perfect opportunity. (PS: There is no such thing as a perfect opportunity.))
2. Do things the are interesting and outside the norm. (This is not limited to just skillsets...I'm talking about your personality and mannerisms, too!) These things may not land you a job, but they will be intriguing to your potential employers and keep you stuck in their mind as they continue the interview process. Example: I wrote an email to a potential job that I wouldn't be totally bummed if I didn't nail it. (Read it below, if you dare.) While this seems a little too casual, I did a lot of research into the office culture (beer fridays, sombrero day, casual atmosphere) and didn't feel like it would be too over the line. Do things like this and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with the results. (PS: They never responded.)
3. Find ways to improve yourself and network with influential people around your community. (Especially if you intend to stick around.) I live in South Florida and there's not a huge tech community here. So instead of attempting to get out and meet everyone possible (I'm not a networking, hustler-type guy) I decided to get everyone to come to ME. So I spend an aggregate day or so preparing an event called Hack and Tell (http://hackandtell.org) that gets great turnout, puts me in front of very interesting people and has done more for me than any other professional endeavor has to date! You are seen as a person who can get shit done without financial incentive (a huge signal to some people), know how to organize and pay attention to detail, and is professional experience no matter which way you slice it.
There are many more things you can do, but this is a great start. Remember that an extra-ordinary job is for extra-ordinary people. So be what you want! :)
Subject: Mike Greenberg wants to join the crusade as your next Software Engineer!
Dear Pervayors of Product X (and gainful employment):
My name is Mike Greenberg. I happened across your request for a sexy, humorous and talented software engineer to join your ranks. (Link to job posting.) Unfortunately, I only satisfy two of these requirements, but hope you would consider this email as a gesture of good-will that I will be the best damn software engineer I know how to be regardless of my shortcomings!
A little about me... I'm a Pisces and somewhat fanatical of process, hacking (of all sorts) and attention to detail. I take pride in my work (especially when I enjoy what I'm working on) and know how to rise to the occasion when it hits the fan. I'm extremely creative and have privately studied a number of unrelated and interesting subject-matter like design, studio art, analog film development, piano, robotics, life-process/self improvement, martial arts, yoga, mountain biking, and racquetball. As a result of mentally wondering around over the past 29 years, I've since endeavored to become a modern renaissance man and want to carpe diem with the best of them.
On top of all of this, and likely most interesting to you, I can program computers to do fun things. And I'm hoping that you're the sort of company who would like the sort of fun things I program them to do. Of relevance to your job description, I started a hosting company fresh out of high school. I understand at a deep fundamental level how the internet works. From OSI to API, Al Gore to IPv6 (j/k about Al Gore). If you're still reading and my casual (yet persuasive) banter has not caused any furrowing of brows, please take a quick glance at my resume at http://careers.stackoverflow.com/mikegreenberg/. Therein, I mention a few other neat things I've worked on which I haven't mentioned above. I greatly appreciate your time and effort reading forward. Looking forward to hearing from you!
With great sincerity,
- you organized hacker meetup
- you launched a sideproject/startup
- you wrote an ebook on a new programming language
- you traveled around the world for a year
Try to make your resume look fun, and you'll attract fun employers.
Considering the relocation: Don't give up just yet. 31 and packing my things these weeks, leaving DE for IL (just to be sure: Talking countries, not states or something here) at the end of the month. Wife and cats are being dragged along. :)
You can still do it.
As far as my history with this voicing in my emails: For my first Hack and Tell event.... where no one knew who I was, or what Hack and Tell was, in a location that is arguably in a poorer/seedier part of town.... I got sponsored with all-you-can-eat organic pizza from Pizza Fusion, 45+ person turnout, and enough presentations to host two events instead of just one. We just did our fourth event last weekend and our audience is still 30+ strong and had 6 presentations (far too many, but it's a work in progress). This is just one recent example.
I'm completely gungho for relocating(I grew up an army brat so that's what I'm used to) and would pretty much go anywhere if the job was interesting.
I sent a similar email to a company that does security certifications completely on a whim after talking to who I assumed was a PR type person. Turns out she was the co-founder and partner for this really small company(2 people I believe). Even though they aren't hiring I feel I made a memorable impression for when they do start.
The networking is where I currently struggle. I'm still in school so things I'm interested in (lascon, defcon, google io, etc) that would be a great opportunity for me to start meeting people are out of my budget and time schedule.
I looked at doing freelance/open source work to build a more professional resume but most stuff is either too far above my current skill range or I don't have the time to devote to it.
I just keep imagining that I'm going to have to suck it up, take the boring tech support type job, and hope that I stumble into someone who happens to be looking to hire a pen tester or something.
Yes, you'll miss your family and friends, but you'll make some new ones and you don't really have to give up the old ones. They're just a phonecall or email away at any time.