Sunday, October 15, 2006


Chris is studying for the GRE today and we're testing each other's vocabulary. This definition for dingbat is by far my favorite today:
1. An eccentric or silly person; 2. An ornimental piece of type for borders, seperators, etc; 3. An object (as a brick) serving as a missile.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Finding a job sucks. Or: on exposing your trackers to the world

Finding a job sucks. One thing that drives me crazy is when you go to a career fair for your university and you physically hand a recruiter your resume. They look it over and say "Wow! You look really qualified, we'd love to interview you!" You nod in satisfaction, having spent days polishing your resume. "But," says the recruiter, "we'd like you to go online to your campus's Career Services website and submit your resume through them to us; and then, would you go ahead and visit our corporate website and use our lame-ass resume tracker too?" Honestly, what's the point of giving the recruiters your resume if they're just going to shred it and ask for two electronic copies?

I wouldn't mind visiting corporate website X Y and Z to submit my resume if that's all their resume trackers wanted me to do. But that isn't what a resume tracker is for. Resume trackers provide a company three things: a way to keep track of applicants, a bar to entry, and a way to avoid paying something with a brain to weed through the pile of resumes, discarding the obviously incompetent. What I truly resent is having to rewrite my resume for every single company I apply for. Every company has its own unique take on what a resume should be; every company just knows the One True Resume Format. And it's your responsibility as an applicant to take the work of art that is your resume and compromise its integrity and eye-catching uniqueness in order to shoehorn it into the bland, uniform, generic Corporate Resume Form.

Okay, I get it: you're a big company and you've got thousands of hungry developers scratching at your door and you'd like a little bar to entry. Well, here's a hint. Think about exactly who you're barring. You're not barring the desperate underqualified morons with Gud Tiping Skills. They have nothing else to do but rewrite their resumes over and over, targeting with mindnumbing persistence every company they can think of. You're definitely discouraging creative programmers who find repetitive tasks disgusting. Your Generic Corporate Resume form doesn't provide the creative programmer a way to express all the neat projects he's worked on. And if you think letting your own applicants tell you how experienced they are in the limited number of skill fields you allow them to enter will produce accurate profiles of characteristically hard to qualify skills, you're just fooling yourself. Yes, resume trackers are a bar to entry, but it's the wrong bar to entry.

Okay, I get it: you're a big company and your HR department of 40 needs a way to track the state of 40,000 applications. I'm no stranger to that problem. My honors fraternity usually has two people in charge of handling all the requests for new membership. They aren't paid, they're in school, and they handle collectively about 150 new contacts each semester. These new contacts are the brightest crayons in the box, the top kids in their class, and by far the most discerning applicants. We don't want to drop the ball with them. I built our fraternity a recruiting tracker to keep track of who applied, when they applied, their statistics, which events they've attended, and any number of other things we would otherwise have to keep track of with paper. HR departments have these trackers as well.

When my honors fraternity wants new members, we ask our campus's registrar to send a note to students with a certain GPA who have a certain number of credit hours. Companies do this too: they send messages through my university's career services website, through my department chair, and through advertisements on campus. The result of this kind of direct advertising is a landslide response. Our honors fraternity recruitment begins with an info session, followed by two weeks of events open to the public before Pinning, the official start of the initiation period---a six-week long introduction to the fraternity before Induction, when the initiates become members. Companies do this too: you attend an info session, you interview, and you get hired.

The big difference is how we handle our recruitment trackers. When I wrote the recruitment tracker for my fraternity, I explicitly did NOT allow anyone besides the two officers who handle new applicants to use the tracker. Everyone else needs to ask them for information if they want it. Applicants never ever see the recruitment tracker. We don't want them to! The president and recruitment advisor, the two officers responsible for handling applicants, respond to every single application by email and make the changes to the recruitment tracker themselves.

"Inefficient!" you say, "Why not have a link in your advertising and have your applicants do it themselves?" Two very good reasons: integrity and respect. We don't want our applicants interacting with the recruitment tracker because we want to make sure the tracker has high data integrity. This internal tool is a great time saver for us, but it's worthless if it contains crap for data. The tool is inherently limited in what it accepts for input and what functions it can perform. If an outstanding applicant doesn't fit the mould, I fix the tracker or we flag the applicant and make annotations to the tracker entry. If an applicant hasn't provided enough information, the president or the rush advisor personally gets in touch with the applicant to get the required information. "Inefficient!" you say, "Why not use form validation and get all the information in one fell swoop?" Because it's not just about data integrity, it's also about respect for our applicants. We want them to know we care about them. Our fraternity isn't going to be just another name on their resume, it's going to be a big part of their life. Every interaction we have with them tells us more about them and tells them more about us.

Companies that don't interact with their applicants are missing worlds of information about their prospective employees! Not only do they avoid personal contact with these applicants, who may eventually become their co-workers, supervisors, or underlings; not only do they risk polluting their precious tracking databases with crappy data; but they also turn off the creative people they want to reach in the first place. Your HR people are extremely intelligent and quite adept at discerning the bullshit from the real. Much more so than any computerized filter could ever be.

The best of the best, the worst of the worst

All ranting aside, I wanted to share my application experience for the hopeful benefit of humankind.
  • Google. You don't even need to wonder. I've never seen Google's recruitment tracker, but I have no doubt it's brilliant. Every interaction I've had with them has been through email with their extremely competent and respectful recruiters. These guys are the best of the best.
  • Sun. Sure, I had to deal with their tracker, but it let me upload my own resume in PDF format. It didn't ask me to enter my experience as a form field. They didn't ask a bunch of questions that a non-moron would answer with their resume. If you're going to have a tracker, do it like Sun.
  • Micron. Aside from having a nice looking website anyway, their tracker uses AJAX for a much smoother experience. Kudos to Taleo. If you're going to use an off-the-shelf product, use these guys. The first page on the tracker asks you to upload your resume, transcript, any other helpful documentation. That's the way to do it. They ask you some form questions about your name, your institute of higher education (a pretty safe field to add to a form---there's pretty much only one way to report this, unlike your employment history and your skillset). They ask broad questions about where you'd like to work. That's it---end of story. Very much one of the best trackers I've seen.
  • Agilent. This may be one of the poorest trackers I've seen. You can't upload your resume, but you CAN paste a text copy of it. For those of us who don't use word processors but prefer to generate our resumes from XML or LaTeX, this is a big pain in the ass. Oh, but you can use the resume generator, which asks you a bunch of questions and produces a generic resume in text format for you. At least they don't force you to enter your work history in a series of forms. It's not really Agilent's fault, they just chose crappy tracking software. Agilent, go get Taleo.
These are just a few of the many places I'm applying to. Many are worse, some are better. None are better than Google, though.

Common Resume Interchange

In a world constantly spouting mumbo-jumbo about service connectivity and integration, you'd think the hiring process would be seeing some of this. But it hasn't. Most employers ask the same basic questions: who are you, where can we reach you, and why should we care. I call on the leaders of HR companies to produce an XML specification for resumes. If you don't want to excite your applying developers' gag reflex even further, your product had better allow for the following:
  • Be open and not restrictive about the format and content of employment history and skills. There's no objective way to quantify your skills, and your employment history (especially for the self-employed or you built your own company) is going to be very difficult to fit into someone else's idea of what your employment history should be.
  • Understand that the CRI is about metadata, not a replacement for a resume. It's fine if you want me to extract important metadata from my resume so you can get to it faster. I really don't mind. But the CRI will never replace a resume.
  • Build a plugin for Word. I don't use Word and I'd prefer never to have to. But if you want CRI to be useful, you should give away a Word plugin that can annotate your word documents with CRI data.
  • For God's sake, don't overengineer it! Don't build another XSL spec, don't build another GEDCOM spec. It doesn't need to be that complicated. And make sure you document the spec well enough.
  • If your client company can't be bothered to look at resumes individually, then your product should use natural language processing techniques to attempt to extract useful information from freeform resumes translated into text format. Yeah, it's a hard problem; your clients would be better off just paying a brain to look through the resumes. But don't succumb to the urge to put this problem in your applicant's lap, or you'll find that your tracker product reduces the quality of your clients' new hires. Talk about solving the wrong problem.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Carbonleaf and Matt Nathanson at the Aggie

I discovered I love Carbonleaf! Perhaps despite the Aggie Theatre, which seems to be completely incapable of decent sound balance. Matt Nathanson's band sounded muddy; the accoustic guitar and the vocals were barely audible over the bass! The Fox Theater did a much job when I saw Steven Kellog and the 6ers last Thursday, and when I last saw Matt Nathanson two years ago. Carbonleaf must be really awesome when the sound technician is decent.