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Finding A Job Without A Recruiter

Out Of Date Warning

Languages change. Perspectives are different. Ideas move on. This article was published on March 2, 2011 which is more than two years ago. It may be out of date. You should verify that technical information in this article is still current before relying upon it for your own purposes.

Last week I wrote about all the reasons that recruiters are bad for your career. For a variety of reasons I highlighted the reasons job seekers should avoid enlisting the services of recruiters that solicit them, and the traps that recruiters employ to disadvantage job seekers while improving their odds of collecting a commission.

On more than one occasion, people asked me “if I shouldn’t use recruiters, how should I find a job?” For me, there are a number of strategies I’ve used to find jobs in the past. It’s also worth pointing out that I have never received an offer while using a recruiter, but I have received offers through all of these methods here.

NOTE: After being asked by several people, I am not looking for a new job. This discussion was precipitated by a discussion on the DC PHP email list, and not by any recent, personal experience.

The Personal Network

Everyone has a personal network of people that they know. While the size of a person’s network varies depending on how long they’ve been in the industry, the places they’ve worked, and other factors, the best place to tap when looking for a job is the people we know that we respect and are hiring.

This may sound like a cop out. It’s not: the last six offers I’ve received for employment have come as a direct result of the network I’ve built up over time. My current position is due to the fact that I knew people at the company I work with, and contacted them while looking. This is the most effective method I’ve found for finding a job.

Building a network is a challenge but well worth it. And while challenging, it’s pretty easy if you employ three steps. First, be active in your professional world. This might mean attending or speaking at developer groups, or participating in conferences. Second, be active in the social media world – and actually contribute legitimate dialogue. For me I’m active on Twitter in the PHP sphere. I’ve also been criticized for being too personal in my Twitter feed, or expressing my opinions; to me, this is not a flaw, since I’d hate to work somewhere that didn’t respect the fact that I was a person. Third, be a genuine person in real life. Your network is only as good as the people in it, and if you’re not a genuine person people will perceive that you’re just using them.

The Job Board

Recruiters are not unlike you – they browse job boards for job postings, rewrite them, and ship them out. Cutting out the recruiter means doing the job board search yourself. That’s right – do the ground work yourself.

There are a couple traps you’re going to want to watch out for. The first is job scams. Any job that encourages you to spend money to win it is not a real job in the first place. Any job that seems too good to be true probably is. The second trap is job postings that have been posted by recruiters. These can be hard to spot, so make sure you always research the name of the job poster before you apply. It’s pretty easy to suss out a recruiter’s posting by simply Googling the company that has posted the job and seeing if they’re in the recruiting industry.

After finding a job that you wish to apply for, common strategies still apply to win an interview. While customizing your resume may not be always necessary, you should ALWAYS write a customized cover letter. The cover letter should be personal, short, and explain how you will fill the key points of the job description. If you can find out the name of the hiring manager, all the better. Oh, and make sure you follow the application instructions on the job posting.

This is an admittedly more difficult way to find a job, requiring more effort and having a lower ROI. That being said, if you’re new to an industry or the job market altogether, this is the best way to find a role. My first programming jobs were found this way.

A note on reading job postings: in the technology industry, perhaps more than in other industries, the job posting reflects the very best candidate if the perfect person existed. Smart hiring mangers know that perfect candidates are rare, and hire them up on sight; for the most part, they’ll get folks who have most of the requirements met, but lack in a few areas. THAT’S OKAY! If you can demonstrate an ability to fulfill the role, apply for the job. Don’t apply for jobs clearly outside your ability, but do apply for jobs even if you don’t meet 100% of the requirements; chances are good the hiring manager doesn’t expect that you will.

Finding Companies You Want To Work For – And Then Finding A Role

There are companies that all of us would love to work for. Large or small, we have a list, or if we don’t, we should. We see these companies as the “gold standard” and would be more than happy to work for them.

Most companies have some rate of turnover and growing companies are usually hiring, so the key to finding a position within a company you really want to work for is to keep your eyes open. Find a role that fits your skills and apply – and don’t worry if you don’t hear anything. As your network grows (see step 1) you may find it easier to get your resume in front of a hiring manager qualified to call you in for an interview. Before you know it, that dream could be a reality.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that recruiters are unnecessary to you being successful at finding a job, in the PHP world or in any IT industry. And while recruiters save you the time and effort of having to find the actual posting yourself, the costs are too high to justify their use. So avoid them, and implement these steps instead. You’ll find yourself much more rewarded in the future.

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Alister Bulman (@alister_b) wrote at 3/2/2011 12:37 pm:

Here in the UK, there are a few good-sized user groups. PHPLondon is one of the bigger ones, and there is usually at least one recruiter come along to the monthly meetings or yearly conference (just happened, at the end of February – another great day out).

However many recruitment consultants there may be at the meetups though, they are still outnumbered by developers who know if their company is hiring.

My own job, at peerindex.net was actually listed on http://www.phplondon.org/wiki/Job_offers – where £50 for the group’s coffers gets a company hiring for a developer based in greater London an advert. Come to think of it, it’s still there :)

Jen wrote at 3/3/2011 10:20 am:

Brandon, great positive follow-up to the recruiter article last time. I’ve used all three ways you mention of getting a job as well, though they are usually entwined. #1 and #3 make for a great combination. People like to hire people that they believe to be competent, smart, and responsible. If they know you, they usually already feel that you have those three traits because almost everyone seems more competent and smart when you get to know them (whether or not they really are).

A couple times, I’ve gotten hired because I knew someone, but there was also an office-politics reason to hire me. So, it’s not just about your skills at some of these bad jobs, it’s their ulterior motives as well.

Thankfully, my current company is a gold standard company. I got hired because we knew each other through business, I saw they needed my skills, and I offered myself to them. I’ve seen no politics from them in any capacity so far, and don’t expect to. You’re right: some companies are the best. That’s because they’re run by excellent people.