Why Can't I Get A Job?


#1

“There’s lots of jobs out there, young man. All you need do is apply!”

Hi, I’m Austin Williamson, and I can’t get a job. And I’m not the criminal rapist one - that one’s from Ontario.

I was born and raised on the Prairies, bouncing between public schooling and distance learning. It was Distance Learning that introduced me to the wonderful world of the Internet. Which was either a blessing or a curse: access to internet enabled me to self-learn IT, but the constant hyperactive world of hypertext did no favors to my focus. Still, I managed to garner respectable marks in useless subjects: a nice A+ in Social Studies and a solid streak of As in Language Arts. (And 60s in Maths, because that’s how it works)

So anywho. I’ve been out of a job since November. I look. I apply. I’ve had all of one interview. But as one of sixty applicants for that position, I was far from most qualified.

This is my linkedin profile:
http://ca.linkedin.com/in/austinmwilliamson

I can’t figure it out… Why can’t I get a job?

EDIT to add:
With my poor math grades, getting into IT programs at a college is not an option. And upgrading is not an option due to a total lack of finances (parents are also tapped out, no help there)


#2

As someone with his own school issues, I feel for you. My answer was being self employed 33 years since I was 22. You need to get to the point no one cares about credentials, only about what you know and can do, that’s the real world. I wish you’d put “IT job” in your header, there’s tons of IT folks here. FWIW, the network guys I know didn’t get a real degree in it, they got certificates like CNE or were self taught. But that was a while back.

Another thing to consider is find tutoring in math. My BIL was a poor math student who got a liberal arts degree and worked at nonprofits in his 20s. He decided to get an MBA and got some serious tutoring and it finally sunk in. He also got officially tested for learning disabilities and was allowed extra time on the GRE. He went on to get a PhD and is now a tenured business professor. How you do in HS is not the real world.


#3

Well, if you want to get into tech, you need to interview for positions where there’s a lot of tech companies.

Tech companies tend to be where there’s lots of people. Toronto and Vancouver would be the first place I’d check (always where I went in Canada for work for more than one-off projects), but of course, if you’re applying for remote work some US bound options:

  1. Raleigh, NC
  2. Chicago, IL
  3. Scottsdale, AZ
  4. Houston, TX
  5. Dallas, TX

Also get some programming on your resume. Be just competent enough that you can pass a basic written test. This will help you get interviews for positions that don’t even involve programming. If you’re a Windows guy, Powershell and C#. If you’re a *Nix guy, Java and Python.

Helpdesk gets you in the door, and once you pay your dues, who knows where you can end up? I had a degree in CompSci, but mostly helpdesk experience when I got out of school. After 4 years in a support position at a software company, I became a consultant, and now at another company a Dev. I’ve seen lots of other people move up to escalation engineer positions, management, development, QA, etc. ETA: Sales. Ick!

Now. That’ll get you interviews. What you need to get hired is a show of initiative as well as competence. What I personally recommend for an inexperienced techie is to start projects. Come up with some idea that requires building something, and then start building it. Don’t obsess overly much about finishing every project, focus on picking projects that let you learn something useful, and be able to talk about what you learned from it. But definitely pick something that holds your interest.

Lastly, be open to moving, if you can swing it. It’s scary, but the experience will itself pay you dividends in life experience.


#4

Oh yeah. Networking helps too. That’s how extroverts go about it. :wink:


#5

Can you sign on with a temp agency?


#6

One thing to note about relocating (if you’re interested in moving) is that you don’t need to relocate to be able to apply for jobs in another city, as long as you’re willing to relocate once you get the job.

In my early 20s, I took a short vacation in Toronto and hand-delivered my resume+cover letter to every company that was in the phonebook under “multimedia”. I had some experience with Macromedia Director, so I figured that was my best bet for employment. I moved after I had an offer. At the point where I’m at in my career now I’d expect an employer to pay to move me, but at the time I’m pretty sure I relocated myself. I didn’t own much so it wasn’t a big deal.

(I don’t actually know how companies process resumes coming in over email vs paper copy delivered to their front desk. At the time, it worked for me, but I’m not necessarily endorsing this as an awesome plan. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I don’t do hiring, and it’s been 17 years since I did this so I have no idea.)


Also. . . I don’t know if this goes without saying, but I feel like maybe it’s worth pointing out - probably you’re more employable if you don’t talk about socialism with your prospective employers. Your online persona seems very into socialism, which is cool, but kind of bad for getting hired. Most employers are going to prioritize new hires who haven’t given a ton of thought to controlling the means of production & unionization and such.


Networking is important, which is unfortunate because I’m terrible at it. But if there are any meetups that you can reach, it’s worth meeting people. IGDA meetings, Tech User Groups, and that kind of thing are useful if you’re able to get to them & talk to people.

All my recent experience is video games, so bear in mind that I don’t know how broadly applicable it is. But what I was going to say is that doing something like Ludum Dare can be a good way to meet people, and also show off & broaden your skill set. A completed project, even an imperfect one, is a nontrivial accomplishment.


I don’t know if you want to do IT support or software dev or what. I know that there are lots of IT certification type deals that are near free and can be done mostly online. That’s far enough outside of my personal experience that I can’t tell you if that kind of thing (being Cisco Certified or whatever) is of any actual value. I guess it’s probably not the worst thing to have on your resume if you’re trying to get helpdesk type work


Re: linkedin. A real photo would be a good idea. Like, an actual photo, of you.

Also, what happened to your gig at PCIT, and could you go back there?

Have you looked at CGI? They’re a consulting firm that operates across Canada.

There are a lot of companies that operate their own job boards. Besides CGI, I know that Ubisoft and EA both have job boards that track openings on their websites. Also, Ubisoft at least will keep a resume on file if you submit it on their website. Probably other companies do that too. It’s both a good way to connect with a company, and a way to see what companies are looking for


#7

I’m an IT manager that does a fair amount of hiring. Screening resumes is actually “fun” for me - mostly because I can spot and throw resumes away after the first typo, outright fabrication, or other red flag and move on to the next qualified candidate’s resume. It’s the first (or only) impression you have with the recruiter, hiring manager, or automated grep tool. I’d be happy to review your resume if you’d like, PM me.

@gellfex, @ActuallyARegular, and @TooGoodToCheck_ have great advice.

What do you ultimately want to do with your career?


#8

My dream job is county IT admin - a nice little fiefdom to care after. But that’s probably six to eight years away; first I need a normal civvie job in order to pay down debts so I can take on student loans to upgrade some classes to enter a degree program with a focus on Systems Management.

And it’s that bit about normal civvie job that’s the problem.

At the other BBS, the main stickler was the LinkedIn profile itself - the layout and verbosity (and lack of professional photo), as well as concern that prospective employers discriminate against folks not currently employed.


#9

I’ll echo @Woodchuck45 - I’ve hired for everything from startups, to nonprofits, to enterprises as DTO. All the tech operations or DevOps resumes end up on my (virtual) desk.

For (most of) the roles in question, education matters less to me than a breadth of experience. Of course, that doesn’t help you if you don’t have significant experience yet, so your best bet is to try and make your resume memorable. I tend to gravitate towards resumes that are more personal in nature (I’ve mentored enough junior folk now to know that attitude is just as important as skillset) and that’s what will make me reach out to you.

There’s typically two career paths - long stints with companies (much rarer) or shorter stints with several. Both can be good or bad depending on the job. For example, aside from my stint as with the Wikimedia Foundation (yay!) I’ve technically worked for one company since 2006. That would make me a dinosaur in usual Tech culture, except that the infrastructure I maintained drastically changed in that same timeframe, as did the size of my team and the applications and languages we supported - so instead of a resume that looks like one long stagnant stint at a company, it makes it clear that my role has continuously evolved.

Same if you instead have several short roles - tell a story with your employment! Explain how you’ve progressed or what you learned regardless of how many locations you worked or for how long. I can’t stress enough that culture matters as much as skill, so you need to try and convey the type of employee you will be. That’s why everyone says cover letters are important, but they’re only useful if they’re personal. Don’t bother including a boilerplate one. No one will read it.

It really comes down to what you are trying to apply for - but that narrative is important if someone is going to take a “chance” on you with so little employment history - they need to know you’re eager to learn, accept that you need to learn in the first place, and that you’re not going to jump ship in a year because even with internal promotion the job isn’t in the industry you want or whatever.

Companies take a risk not because they’d rather just hire experienced folk (because those folk usually want more money), but because it takes a nontrivial amount of time to train you and to see if you fit in the culture of the rest of the team. In Tech Ops this is especially important because there’s usually multiple ways to do something, most of them “right”, and if you get the wrong kind of candidate on your team (the sort that believes there’s only one true way to do anything or so on), it can really hurt morale. I’ve seen that happen more than once. Showing a willingness to learn and improve and that you’ve flirted with multiple tools/paradigms goes a long way towards making it clear you aren’t that sort of candidate (the rest comes in the interview, but as you noted you aren’t getting to that stage yet).

Lastly, don’t worry too much about what the job requements are as listed - lots of hiring managers just toss the kitchen sink in there to cast a wide net. Apply to anything that looks remotely interesting. You may find that you fit the bill even if you don’t tick off all the boxes.


#12

LinkedIn, in my experience, doesn’t get you a job as much as point you towards openings or recruiters. From there, you need to get past the gatekeepers with a good resume/CV to even get an interview. But yeah, that profile could use a bit of cleanup.

There is indeed a natural bias against the unemployed. Thoughts like “why did this person have a job and no longer has one?” are pretty common. But that’s something you need to explain in your cover letter when you submit an application and probably again in the interview. Have a compelling story to tell about it.

If you want to have your fiefdom, you can either generalize (with a concentration in some technology) or fully specialize. Finding a niche can be harder when starting your career, but it can lead to higher pay down the line. Many of my admin coworkers got their start working helpdesk and gaining experience there, but there are other ways to get into a company.

I’d recommend sending out at least 5-6 custom-tailored resumes, each day, to jobs both close by and far away for jobs you think you’re qualified for and also for jobs that would be a stretch. You don’t need to find the perfect job, but one you can stay at for at least a year or two to build that experience (and to demonstrate to potential employers that you are capable of staying at a job - they invest a lot of money in recruiting and hiring, and don’t want to see that investment leave in 6 months).


#13

The chair leg of truth may be brutal, but it is much appreciated. Learning the perspective of prospective employers and hiring managers is something I needed. Thank you.

And thank you all for your feedback.


#15

shudder


#16

I’ve been working (though not in IT) through a temp agency for almost two years. It has some plusses. I’ve worked at various places in differing capacities that have added to my skill set, while my resume shows me as working for the same employer the whole time.


#17

My tech role is a bit different than yours, but maybe some of this will be relevant.

The saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” is half wrong - it’s both. At least in software development, most projects fail in one way or another - over budget, past deadline, or turn out not quite as good as anyone involved wanted them to be. Everyone working in tech has problems - not enough people, not enough time, don’t have the skills for one piece of it, trouble scaling, trouble with deployment, downtime, performance, security, customer service, etc. These problems cost money, may lose customers/clients, and may damage a company’s reputation. Everyone needs help - someone that can solve their biggest problem.

The easiest way that I’ve found to get tech jobs is to talk to people about their problems and find someone with a problem that you could solve, or at least help out with. A lot of places are willing to take a chance if you can confidently convince them that you can help when they’re worried about a disaster or just overstressed. Possibly as a contractor for that one job that they just can’t handle on their own, or temp to help them meet a looming deadline. And if you actually do carry through, do a good job, and get along well with the people there, then you’re in a good spot. You may end up with a full-time offer or regular ongoing contract work. (Although be careful - if the company finds itself desperate quite often, you’ll have stress.)

That’s been my way into every tech job I’ve had. Once in, of course, you do have to be able to deliver. But getting in involves, as others have said, networking to find the people with the problems that you can solve. HR are not the ones with the problem, and they probably don’t even understand it. It’s the tech workers and managers that are suffering or worrying and hoping you might be the one to save them that can get you past the screening barriers.


#18

I work through temp agencies. I work steadily, my bills are paid, my conscience is clear, and the agency stands between me and wage theft.

Which beats all hell out of my previous two direct employers.

So shudder all you like. I’m so glad to have helped you feel superior.

ETA: In case you live/work someplace where wage theft is either unheard of or an abstraction, feel free to shudder some more.


#20

That’s another plus for working through a temp agency. You don’t necessarily have to quit your job to travel (like Austin/tinoesroho went to Chile and came back as “unemployed”). With the temp agency that I’ve been working through, I can just say that I don’t want any assignments for a certain period, and for a certain amount of time (I think it’s up to three months?) I remain “active but not on assignment”. They are happy to find you more work when you get back, and you don’t have a period of unemployment on your resume.


#21

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