After ten months of unemployment and over six months of actively looking for work, I was offered—and have accepted—a new job. Huzzah! It meets almost all of my job search criteria: The hiring firm is a small but growing company, with technology that I want to learn about. They have a strong people focus and a culture that seems positive and rewarding. As a bonus, it is a lot closer to my home than the last job, which will cut my commute time in half, if not less. A slight drawback is that it is a step (or two) down from my former role in terms of scope and responsibility, with a commensurate reduction in salary. That's a trade-off that is well worth making to get the vast majority of the hygiene factors I wanted. Not to mention the sweet relief of being able to stop looking for work!
How I actually found a job
Persistence, I suppose. It was from my thirty-sixth job application, though I was well into the mid-forties before the hiring firm contacted me for an interview. I fully researched to role, tried to learn a bit about the technologies, and scoped out the location beforehand. I went in as confidently as I could, and fortunately the people were great, the role played to my strengths, and they simply liked me.
I was discouraged a few times, and wanted to give up, but I kept slugging it out, as I described at job search.
For the curious, or anyone who would like to have a bit of a laugh at my expense, here is a slightly sanitized version of my search diary, with the firms lightly anonymized, and minor dramatic license taken in a few spots.
BEWARE, gentle noders. This writeup is RATHER LONG. Mostly I've noded it for the encouragement and/or amusement of Jet-Poop, who is also looking.
I smelled the termination event coming a mile away, oh yes.
My first application happened before I was sacked. I applied to a well-known mid-size software company in a consumer financial vertical. I picked them because I had, long ago, happily worked for a firm in the same vertical. The company did not respond to my application. A lack of response is quite typical when you are not selected for an interview, as there are often a large number of applicants. So it goes.
This was actually month four of unemployment. I took two months off, and then spent a full month with the career transition counselors. So for search purposes, February 2016 was month one of the actual search.
My second application was for a role with the technical arm of a national grocery chain. I tried three times to get interviewed here, because they have an excellent reputation as an employer. Eventually I found a friend of a friend who worked at the firm to refer me, and then I got a call back from the 'talent acquisition manager.' I felt that I had a strong phone screen with her. My resume was to be passed to the hiring manager, and I was expecting to get an interview, but none came. The TAM did not return my emails asking for an update on the opportunity. Sadly, many hiring interactions tail off in this way, once one party or the other has nothing further to gain.
The third application was to a small software firm that deals with grocery and retail advertising. The company office is close to my home. The role to which I applied was a bit of a stretch and the anonymous email reply said that the company "reviewed (my) background and qualifications and (we) find that we do not have an appropriate position." I kept watching this employer's career page, hoping for another chance, but no suitable role appeared. I was considering trying for an entry-level role there if all else failed.
The fourth application was to another small software firm. It was going to be via referral, but the position closed while I was trying to set that up. Sometimes the timing of things is wrong.
The fifth application was also by referral. My contact told me that they rejected me as unsuitable for the role, but that they would keep my resume on file. I was never contacted by the firm. They did indeed keep my resume on file, presumably with a poop emoji stuck to it, since other appropriate roles opened but they refused to consider my application since I was "already on file."
The sixth and seventh applications were submitted via LinkedIn's application process. LinkedIn's application process has no facility for personalization, such as a cover letter, and appears to be a black hole from which no information can escape. I have no idea if these companies, or indeed any firms where I applied by LinkedIn, ever even saw my application. Maybe the whole thing is just a bit bucket. I have developed a deep distrust of LinkedIn’s opaque application process.
The eighth application was once again by referral. "Most jobs are found by networking" the experts say. The employer got back to me directly, which was nice, but said that I was "too senior" for a role with them. This is often the term used to disguise ageism, and I sense that was the case here. It's too bad because my contact had lauded the company.
The ninth application was indirect, via a recruiter. After I spoke with her, she decided that I was insufficiently technical for the role, or indeed to be represented by her or her firm at all. I don’t feel that this is a correct assessment, but it's certainly her call to make. I would be unlikely to reach out to or work with this recruiter in future.
Around this time I spoke by phone with two other technical recruiters. (Technical recruiters in Ontario all seem to work remotely from their cottages. That must be nice. But I digress.) One gentleman told me that I would have to move to another city (Kitchener/Waterloo, in point of fact) in order to find a job, that my local market was completely saturated and that I had no skills that would make me stand out. This assessment may have been overly harsh. The other recruiter told me that I would need to take a drastic pay cut to find work, which...eventually turned out to be true. He was not interested in representing me either. Neither of these made my list of "jobs applied to" since there was no opportunity on the back end, but I include them here as month one search activities.
The tenth application was through yet another recruiter. The recruiter sent on my resume to the client, but got back to me within hours to tell me that the firm had decided I was "not a fit." I have no idea why. The recruiter promised other opportunities but never communicated with me again.
The eleventh was a semi-referral where I thought I had an in via networking (a former colleague got a friend at the target firm to refer me). The firm did not contact me, and the networked intermediary was unhelpful and unresponsive.
The twelfth was an on-line application to a firm where I lacked domain experience, but felt confident that I was a good match for the role as described. This was also a LinkedIn hosted application process, and the company did not contact me. The position seemed to stay open for a long time, but despite several attempts, I could not engage anyone at their firm to find out if I had been considered.
The thirteenth was the best of the early interviews, and is the one referenced in my March 29, 2016 daylog. It was a referral by a university-era roommate where I got in for an on-site interview. I consider myself a decent interviewee and I thought that by getting in the door I was in a good position to succeed. The interviews seemed to go well but they have a policy of only hiring software developers, and promoting managers from within. My hands-on coding was too far in my past for me to be considered. I think that this policy is short-sighted, and that they will eventually have to rethink it. I think it is a great company and I would recommend it to others.
The fourteenth was for an air travel industry related software firm, through another recruiter. I put some serious effort into preparing for this one but the promised interview never materialized. Scheduling seemed to be problematic. I feel slightly misled by either the employer or the recruiter, but I cannot tell where the breakdown occurred. So let’s sing!
Music: Nazareth's cover version of This Flight Tonight. 1
You got the job so perfect and sweet
But you've got Outlook, so pitiful
Now I can't talk to you baby, I get so weak
Sometimes I think the … job is just mythical!
The fifteenth was with a firm involved in facilitating banking transactions. I had seen their postings and decided not to apply, but the same recruiter as above (application fourteen) convinced me to let her represent me to them. I had a good phone screen and got into an on-site interview with this employer. I felt like the interview went well and that I was well equipped to handle both the technical and management challenges, but at the end they told me they were "continuing to interview other candidates." This is a polite code phrase in interview-speak that means "You did OK, but we're hoping to find someone better than you." In other words, "We like you, but we think that we should see other people." Soon after, the recruiter told me they had passed because my Agile process experience was not strong enough. If they had expressed this concern in the interview, I might have been able to address it. On the other hand, I have met a number of Agile zealots (I will return to this topic at the very end) and there is often no appeasement possible. So, call that "not a fit" and we move on.
The sixteenth was an on-line application to an insurance firm. I had a good HR screen and my resume was to be sent on to the hiring manager, but nothing further happened. Repeated requests for a status update eventually resulted in a polite "No, thank you" but no other feedback. The firm later reposted the role, and I applied again, but there was no further contact.
The seventeenth application was to the large on-line retailer, discussed in my May 2, 2016 daylog, although it was actually month four of the search by the time I had my interview. I duly studied up on the technology, which is very exciting. This firm sent me a lot of links to material about their commitment to diversity. I diligently studied that too, and lined up my references accordingly. (It so happens that my own diversity hiring record is excellent.) Then when I was on-site, a succession of white dudes, mostly heavyset and/or bearded ones, came to interview me. Sigh. I had four successive sessions of one hour each, mostly behavioral interview questions. One of the four was an Agile process zealot, though not obnoxiously so. He wasn’t too impressed by my "just enough" self-taught Agile process though. The most technical guy and I wrangled for most of our interview. He wanted me to describe how I would extend their architecture, sight-unseen, to handle a specific use case. I described business considerations and data design, but it all just made him unhappy. In the end he seemed to just want me to say "facade pattern," but by then the cause was well and truly lost. I spent a long time thinking about it afterward, and I think it was just a poor question asked by a technical manager who was an inexperienced interviewer. Still, it likely cost me the job, and I really wanted it because the domain is a long-standing interest of mine. But it was not to be.
The eighteenth was a very interesting opportunity to build a team, but it was going to involve a lot of travel to set up a development team in a near shore location, and to work with an auto-industry client in the canonical US location for such activities. The near-shoring was to take advantage of government hiring incentives. Apparently there was no manager talent pool in that location, thus the literal "man in the middle" hiring strategy. The travel element was too much for me so I did not pursue the role.
The nineteenth was via referral but the firm simply said that they had no suitable role.
The twentieth was for an accounting software firm that I was eager to join, and I was overjoyed when a position opened up. The application form asked for "quirkiest hobby" and I decided to take a calculated risk and said that I was a writer and admin at a certain on-line community. That did not appear to be the right choice as I was not contacted. I have heard that this firm is quite picky about hiring for fit, and I guess that they didn’t see me as the right hire.
The twenty-first was promising but the hiring manager and I could not connect on a day and time to interview. He seems to travel a lot and to neglect his email from time to time. I then had to defer when my dad passed away, and I let this one slide afterwards. Thus, this had no final resolution.
I applied on-line to the twenty-second, an HR/payroll firm, and was ignored. The position closed but was re-posted in month five; I applied again and was once again ignored.
For the twenty-third I felt like I was a slam dunk. The firm’s software was almost an exact match for my prior role, so much so that I was concerned about the amount of overlap. I had a great HR screen and then a shockingly lackluster technical phone screen where the interviewer reacted to everything and anything I said with either "huh" or "uh-huh" and then read off the next question in a monotone. He did not seem to be engaged. I was told "No, thanks" by email a few days later. It remains a mystery to me why this went so poorly. Time to sing again!
Music: "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League. 1
Don't, don't you want me?
You know I can't believe it when I hear that you won't see me.
Don't, don't you want me?
You know I don't believe you when you say that you don't need me.
The twenty-fourth application was an on-line application to a food industry startup. They did not contact me.
The twenty-fifth was to an unknown firm via a recruiter who keeps their clients confidential. Their client did not choose to interview me. As is almost always the case, no feedback was provided to explain why.
The twenty-sixth seemed like a very good match, with a huge global software and hardware company known for their database software. I had previously put off applying to this firm, because of their reputation for...draconian management. By now I was beginning to worry about how long I would be out of work, so I relented and applied. My experience ought to have been a great fit; however this firm did not contact me.
The twenty-seventh was a repeat of the twenty-fifth, save that I got one step further and had a technical interview with an intermediary. However there was no further contact.
The twenty-eighth was an on-line application which wanted a lot of detail, for a firm tied somehow to the banking and financial industry. They did not contact me, however Google and/or Facebook is now feeding me tons of ads about them. Sigh.
The twenty-ninth was a small nearby software firm who builds accounting software on top of a Microsoft stack. I had a good HR screen and got on-site. There I had solid, positive interviews with a product manager (first) and a founder (third), but the technical interview (second) went badly sideways. It was partly my fault. The interviewer was asking questions about how I would handle a technical scenario involving big data. I had my (paper) notebook in my messenger bag at my feet. After the fail at seventeen, I ought to have noted the problem, but I wasn't expecting this kind of deep dive and I tried to wing it. I misunderstood one thing that he said, which led to a mess. I thought he said the developer had tested the code with a representative file, so I didn't drill into memory management the way that I ought to have done. Further undermining this effort, the technical interviewer had once worked on a software platform that was used as a base by one of my former products. When that came up, the interviewer told me "Oh, yeah, we hated you guys." Oops. That felt like an ambush, and it put me off my game a bit. If the company recruiter had let me know in advance who I would be speaking with, I might have found him on LinkedIn and seen the danger, but they did not do so. At the end, the HR person told me that the technical interviewer had said I did "better than he expected" but I guess that was a low bar. This employer did not pursue my application further. Time for a quick Beastie Boys overdub of the interview (since it’s all the rage in 2016):
... You're scheming on a thing, that's sabotage ...
The thirtieth was with a software company who does...something...vaguely related to contact management? I don’t really understand what it is. A former colleague had just started there, and he put in a good word for me. I had a good HR screen and an OK technical phone screen and got on-site. There I did OK with the hiring manager, but I floundered in the follow-up with the technical lead. He was at least 20 years younger than me, and he had been a manager for about a year, promoted from senior developer. He asked some questions which were basically personnel problems that he was having, thinly disguised. It was more like I was advising him than we were doing an interview. But then suddenly he started asking me to define acronyms. (SOLID, for one.) I told him I didn't know that one, and 'flip' went his bozo bit. I could almost hear it snap over. We then fenced about whether a development manager needed to be able to take over as the senior programmer when his team members failed. He seemed to expect them to fail, and to like putting his underpants on over his tights and saving the day. I said that this behavior was not scalable and that an effective manager needs a technical lead to own that role. We agreed to disagree. A week or two later, their recruiter called me to say that they had "re-evaluated" the role and "re-written" the job description to emphasize that it was for a junior manager, and that I was "too senior" for the role. I feel like I could have helped them, but perhaps they’re not in a place where they need a full-time professional manager/leader. Or maybe I just came across like an asshole.
The thirty-first was well outside my usual zone, a consultant role to advise clients on how to apply for the Canadian government’s tax credit system for research and development. I had completed a number of these SR&ED applications in my former role. It was a long shot and ultimately it did not come through.
At month five another mental barrier crumbled and I began to seriously consider large banks and other financial institutions as employers. I looked through long lists of position openings but they almost always wanted specific banking experience, very specific technology, or in one institution's case, fluency in Spanish (which I do not possess). So what I had considered my final fall-back was proving to be more difficult than anticipated.
I applied to two smaller banks in quick succession. The first bank, application thirty-two, did not respond. The second (application thirty-three) responded in month seven, and I will defer that story to the end of this log.
I applied to a human-resource focused software firm with application thirty-four. They gave me an HR screen right away, that went well, and then seemed to fumble my application en route to the hiring manager. A frustrating period of polling for status eventually ended up with a familiar excuse: I was not technical enough. However I had an inside contact and I knew enough about the position to counter with a more detailed work history which was carefully mapped to the positions requirements. A few more weeks of silence ensued, after which another familiar excuse emerged: they too had "re-evaluated" their role and "re-written" the job description to emphasize different skills, and I was "too senior" for the role. You may roll your eyes now.
Thirty-five was a published role with a new recruitment agency, but it turned out that their client was in a part of Toronto that suffers from "You can't get there from here" due to that city's ludicrous traffic and public transit situation. So that turned out to be a nonstarter.
Thirty-six, by contrast, was to a relatively close firm, another who builds on top of a Microsoft stack. They took a few weeks to get back to me but when I did get on-site for an interview it seemed to go very well. They are a small, growing company with the sort of culture I was hoping to find, so I was very optimistic for the first time in weeks! Ultimately, I accepted a role with this firm. Yay!
Thirty-seventh on my list was not an application per se, but a conversation with a recruiter I met over LinkedIn. We discovered that his client was the firm from application number fifteen above. So, there was no traction there. He also had another client in the same all-but-unreachable quadrant of Toronto as number thirty-five. So, that also fizzled out, and we did not speak again.
Thirty-eighth on my list was also conversation with another recruiter, also via LinkedIn. His role turned out to be with the firm from application number five, above. He asked me to send him a list of all the firms I’d spoken with, which I did, and I guess that boggled him, or he has only a few clients, as I haven’t heard from him since.
Thirty-ninth was that recruiter who doesn’t reveal their clients, but they told me it was a loyalty card provider. This would have been a vice-president role, very swanky. But the client was not interested in me so nothing transpired.
Fortieth was yet another referral, for a company that makes software in a medicine-related vertical. I had a good phone screen and got in for on-site interviews. I’d done my homework and my interviews seemed to go well, but then things stalled out with summer vacations. I have let them know that I accepted another opportunity. Perhaps we will meet again one day!
Forty-first was another VP role, for a boutique size firm. I applied on-line via LinkedIn, and as always, that was the end of that. /me shakes his fist at LinkedIn.
The forty-second was a recruiter, who was recommended via a networked contact, but the recommended senior recruiter pawned me off on a junior partner, and she had only short-term consulting roles. I was not interested, and so nothing came of that.
Forty-third was a director role working with technologies I have plenty of experience with. Once again LinkedIn’s application process swallowed up my application and no response emerged.
I also obliquely approached another former colleague on LinkedIn who was hiring development managers. He had previously disparaged the processes and techniques of our mutual former firm, and I did not think it likely that he would consider me. His brush off was as studiously polite as it could be, and I commend him for it. But, as Mr. Data might say, "still no help for the Klingon."
Now it was finally time to suck it up and apply to the Big Five Canadian banks with their shiny towers in the heart of the Toronto financial district. Scotiabank was out because of the fluency in Spanish requirement that seemed to be on any post that caught my interest, but I did apply at RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) (forty-four) and CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) (forty-five). Neither bank replied to my applications with anything but automated responses. And of course, Google ads.
Forty-six was a new position at the company from application thirty-four. Apparently the CTO is "taking his time" to set up interviews and there has been no movement, though a promised HR update never arrived. Finally I let them know I had taken another role.
Forty-seven was another application via LinkedIn. Like all the others it died without a trace. I wonder if you need to have the premium (paid) LinkedIn account for that to actually work?
Forty-eight was a mobile-focused firm but in an interesting problem space. I applied but I thought my lack of mobile development experience would be a problem, and so it seems, since they did not contact me.
Forty-nine was another new recruiter, but yet again their primary client was the one from application number five. I think that if a firm cannot fill a position and it needs to engage multiple recruitment firms, but that firm won't deign to talk to qualified candidates who they have on file, then just maybe they are the problem.
Fifty was another on-line retailer, though this one has a brick and mortar presence as well. The Microsoft technology stack they use isn't in my primary skill set, but I tried to map my skills in my cover letter. It does not seem that I was successful, because they did not contact me.
Finally as I entered month seven there was hope! The company from application thirty-six asked for my references. I duly provided them and placed further new applications on hold while I awaited results.
But lo and behold, the corporate recruiter from application number thirty-three called, and when that went well, I spoke to the hiring manager. An on-site interview followed, after a ninety minute commute to their office (of which 20 minutes was a subway delay). I got along well in my interview with the product manager, because I can work with and relate to business guys. I did fine in my interview with the hiring manager, where I was very open about my "just good enough" Agile process experience. But then I got to the technical lead, who presented as a prototypical alpha geek, from the ponytail in back to sneer at the front. He, it turns out, is a strong adherent of the Church of Agile, from which no apostasy can be tolerated. The sneer emerged in full force when he dubbed my methodology as frAgile, the worst possible way to work. After about 20 minutes of our assigned hour, he announced to his colleague (no longer speaking directly to me) that the interview was over, and he quickly rose and left for the secure area of the building. No wrap-up or well-wishes were proffered. I had clearly been dismissed as insignificant before he even stood up. It is clear that he and I were not well-suited to be colleagues. Finally after two weeks the company recruiter, a very pleasant woman, called to tell me they weren't interested. I told her that the technical lead had already made that abundantly clear. She seemed a bit taken aback. I declined to elaborate, and that was that.
I have accepted a position, and I start work again on Monday! I hope that it will be an enjoyable and long-lasting partnership. And that I never have to slog out a job hunt like this one again!
1. "Fuck, you’re old!" – Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool (film, 2016).
2. NOT for BQ'16 (4,771 words)