FROM PIE IN THE SKY TO HUMBLE PIE
Job hunting amidst the tech wreck
by Andrea Mone
Just over a year ago, Silicon Valley was very much an employees' market - So much so that all we prospective candidates had to do was show up to the party and we'd get hired. There were tons of job opportunities, multitudes of companies with funding and at that point good prospects, and with every move, upward mobility in the title food chain.
This certainly wasn't an ideal situation as quite frankly we became plain lazy. Gone were the days of doing research, anticipating questions and coming up with appropriate responses in advance, having the obligatory case of nerves, actually showing up to an interview on time . . . Hell, I worked for a company that broke all records when it came to the practice of nepotism. Various hiring managers exercised a knack of matching candidates with ZERO levels of direct, related or even oblique experience to high profile jobs. For instance, if you were a former security guard that made you in their mind an expert in network security! But I digress. Because it was such an "employees" market, companies and candidates could get away with bizarre practices.
I do firmly believe that across the board, we needed to work a whole lot harder at getting jobs that were a good fit for employee and employer. However, pan to October 2001 and the tables have turned dramatically - in my opinion too far in the opposite extreme.
As many of us are currently on the market for a job, I wanted to get a sense of some of the trends and challenges that job hunters are presently facing. I spoke to a number of friends/colleagues going through (at present or recently) the job search process to determine what exactly has changed from dot.boom to dot.bust , and how behavior and habits have had to be altered. The number of common experiences is staggering, and finding the right job has taken a back seat to finding any job. The information I gathered is presented as a number of observations under various categories with a moral to each! You'll have to see if you or any of your colleagues have experienced the following directly.
Your skills have to match the position verbatim or else BYE BYE.
Companies are looking for exact and I mean exact fits - square pegs only for square holes. If you haven't been doing exactly what a potential employer is looking for, you won't even be granted an interview.
Having broad experience across multiple and diverse industries or a history of cross-functional roles are huge negatives these days. Being a generalist is no longer in vogue. Companies are seeking individuals with a very narrow but seasoned field of focus. There are so many job seekers out there at the moment that companies can afford to be this discriminating and can actually find underwater basket-weavers with 25 years of experience and a specialty in Andalusian materials.
Another benefit to the exact fit criteria is that companies don't have to invest time or resources in training. Learning curves are no longer permissible.
MORAL: Change your resume to appear as if you have very specific experience within one industry even if it means bending the truth a little.
It's a whole new ball game - throw all of your old assumptions out the door.
These days the rsume is the key not an ancillary, leave-behind piece of potential reading material. The resume is what gets you in the door. Therefore, it needs to be special and, due to the aforementioned observations, specialized.
Just because you have managed to bypass human resources and recruiters to get directly to the hiring manager, don't assume you have an instant in. Hiring managers are so swamped; chances are they'll divert your highly targeted resume back to the very people you hoped to avoid. Everybody knows that HR or any of their kind is no friend to the prospective job candidate!
If you decide to knock again on a once opened door - a company where you previously had an offer, absolutely don't assume that you'll automatically be hired. You'll have to start from scratch again and most likely will be vying against a crop of recently laid off exact fits!
If you actually get in for an interview, don't ask questions that reveal your concerns about the company or space. The challenging questions of yesterday are the threats of today - you can now be viewed as questioning authority or disputing company viability rather than demonstrating diligent study and business acumen :)
MORAL: Have a spectacular, whiz-bang resume (think in terms of highly creative Stanford applications) and keep your big mouth shut.
Job security these days means that you might get a paycheck for a while.
From an employer's perspective, there are so many candidates out there that if you're not performing immediately, you'll be turfed out. This is very predominant in sales at the moment - companies need to close short term business to get funding or avoid bankruptcy. At the end of the day, they are more interested in procuring the employee's connections/contacts and don't necessarily need to achieve this end through full-time employment. Furthermore, if recent hires don't immediately live up to task, they will be replaced in record time - there is no grace period.
Ironically, job security has never been more important to former dot.comers. They are now seeking stability, a place to park themselves for several years to nurse and heal their wounds, and have the temporal desire to check boundless ambition at the door.
They are also faced with the prospect of trying to discover where they will garner maximum support. Like inflated stocks, dot.comers need to figure out where to set the bar at their true value (before bottoming out) - what is an appropriate title, salary, or company to aim for. This exercise entails trading ego for equilibrium.
MORAL: Having a job doesn't mean you'll get to keep it so work your ass off.
Job offer - what does that mean these days?
Having an offer no longer guarantees a job. Many employers are demonstrating uncertainty throughout the hiring process. The physical hire is contingent now upon discrete events that may or may not happen, i.e. "We'll hire you as soon as we close new business; this may happen in three weeks or three months, but as soon as it does we'll hire you."
In addition, many companies are stalling based upon what their competition is doing. In the meantime, candidates are playing a strange kind of hiring musical chairs, where the last person sitting is the last looking. Oddly enough, many have been waiting on the same job for months as other offers just aren't forthcoming.
MORAL: You've got the job once you've received your first paycheck!!
Dot.com stigma - Clear the room! That person has dot.com B.O.
Dot.comers and those perceived to be dot.comers (anyone with start-up, particularly failed start-up experience) are the victims of a pretty intense backlash - granted some of them deservedly so, but many of them not. Those seeking solace in larger organizations are often facing individuals who didn't attempt to cash in on boom opportunities, decided instead to stay behind and are a tad bitter. Now they are getting the last laugh.
As it's a buyer's market, in many instances good behavior is checked outside the conference room door where the interview is taking place. Some hiring managers feel they have the right to engage in a public knee-capping by scolding, mocking or dismissing candidates that were with dot.coms. A colleague reported being laughed at and asked, "What were you thinking?? That idea was really stupid!" Another was told, "I can tell just by looking at you that you are one of those dot.com people." What the heck does that mean??
Many hirers feel that dot.comers don't have the attention span or the gumption to stick it out for the longhaul. (Ironic as 12 months ago, you were considered a dinosaur if you didn't join a dot.com.)
Several colleagues were forced to remove those items from their résumé that might be perceived as threatening (i.e. founder status). They were also instructed by recruiters to tone things down at interviews regarding their prior experience, and not to ask probing questions. For many, interviews have become a nerve racking experience as they are walking on egg-shells, minding their P's and Q's (in this case, propagandizing and questioning).
MORAL: Play down your dot.com status and turn the other cheek. (It won't be long until they'll be kissing other cheeks!)
Underqualified - Dot.com CEO does not translate to mid-size company CEO.
Many of us that excelled and profited in the boom realize that sometimes titles were greatly inflated. In fact, one could walk into an interview a Director and emerge with a job as a Vice President.
For those formerly known as Founder, CEO, President, VP, a serious reality check is sinking in. Oftentimes, they are told that they don't have enough gray hair for the job, that they should greatly reconsider the level at which they are job hunting.
Even if a candidate has the skills and smarts to excel at the executive level, it oftentimes is irrelevant. If they were with a dot.com, it is automatically assumed that they skipped steps, didn't put in the time, and sure as heck didn't pay their dues.
MORAL: Be prepared to come down a notch or two or three.
Overqualified - You were a Founder and now want to be a Sales Manage?? Sure . . . right. . .
Many individuals have been forced to interview for lower level jobs at lower salaries. However, if viewed as a dot.comer, it is assumed that although you might be a good fit for the job, once the market recovers, you'll take off.
In addition to the "boogie" factor, there is also the threat factor. You've done so much that you won't stay in your place; you'll be gunning for your interviewer's job shortly.
There's not a whole lot one can do to avert this situation other than beg and eat some serious humble pie.
MORAL: With your fingers crossed behind your back, be as earnest as possible in your affirmations of contentedness at this level!
Although the situation at present appears to be grim, many of the individuals I spoke to have found jobs. Are they ideal? No. Does this matter at present? Not really. The playing field has changed for the moment and players must adapt to new rules and a new game. But like I said, for the moment. So, keep your chins up as it won't be this way forever.