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The Anatomy of an IT Job Search

Just the thought of looking for a new job can be overwhelming. How much work will it take to update your resume? Are your technical skills up to dateHow long has it been since you updated your LinkedIn profile? And then there's the countless hours spent looking through job postings and applying. Ugh! It makes the idea of ignoring it all and binge-watching Netflix that much more appealing.  

But never fear. Akraya has been helping technology professionals find great jobs at leading companies since 2001. We know the ins and outs of a successful job search and we're here to help. 


Have you sent us a copy of your resume? Our clients are some of the best companies in the US. No joke. 

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Resume

Formatting
This is probably one of the most important items that job seekers don't put enough thought into. But with Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) in heavy use by employers and staffing firms alike, proper resume formatting has become more important than ever. So first off, what is an Applicant Tracking System or ATS? Here is a good definition from Bullhorn, a leading ATS provider: 

An Applicant Tracking System automates an organization’s recruiting and staffing operations and provides a central repository for candidate data—including résumés and applications. An ATS is built to help companies better manage every stage in the recruiting process, from application to hire, while delivering greater overall efficiency. 

So, with that being said, how does an ATS affect your resume? Well, there is a very good chance that when you submit your resume for any position, an ATS will be one of the first thing it encounters. The ATS software parses the information in your resume, creates an individual record in the ATS, and then populates your data into the appropriate fields. So, if your resume isn't formatted with an ATS in mind, it may not get entered properly. And that's bad news. But the good news is that if you know this, it's easy to format your resume for any ATS.  

Here are the five keys for your resume regarding ATS software and your resume's format: 

  1. Simple formatting is best. Always. End of story. 
  2. Sans Serif fonts are the safest. 
  3. No frames or tables, ever.  
  4. Use classic section headers: Experience, Skills, Software, Education, etc. 
  5. Always include a zip code. It's often what recruiters use to conduct a location search. 

And yes, many ATS have become extremely advanced and may be able to handle elaborate formatting. But why take the risk? Fancy formatting will never get you an interview, but it certainly can cost you one 

One free service that can check your resume and alert you to potential ATS issues with your resume is Jobscan. There are others, too. 

(Are you a cloud professional? Read The Ultimate Guide for a Successful Cloud Engineering Career)
 
Content 
The best place to start your job search is to create a killer technical resume. One that will communicate your strengths and accomplishments in the shortest time possible. So, before we start, let's consider a few facts that will help: 

  • Your resumes will get an average of 6 seconds to impress a recruiter. 
  • Recruiters look at hundreds of resumes per day. 
  • Most companies use some type of Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with resume parsing software. 
  • Errors will likely get your resume thrown out. 

With these facts in mind, it's time to start writing your resume. We'll start with the header containing your contact information. It should include the following and nothing else. 

Firstname Lastname 
New York, NY 21323 
(212) 123-4567 
firstname.lastname@gmail.com 

Nothing fancy here. No fancy formatting, fonts, or colors. This information should always appear at the top of your resume where a recruiter and ATS would expect to see it. With so much information available via Google Street View, Zillow, etc., we recommend leaving your street name and numbers off your resume. They aren’t needed anyways. 

Next comes the Summary section. This section replaces what was traditionally called the Objective. The Summary is going to tell the recruiter or hiring manger why you are a perfect fit in a few short sentences. It's like the 30 second elevator speech that sales people use when they meet someone for the first time. The Summary won't get you an interview, but it should entice the recruiter to read further. It should look something like this: 

Summary 
Experienced DevOps Engineer with 4+ years of in-depth experience supporting, automating, and optimizing critical deployments in AWS, leveraging configuration management, CI/CD, and DevOps processes. 

Notice that it's not an Objective that says what you're looking for. The recruiter already knows what you want, the job. Instead, this statement gives the recruiter a solid snapshot of who you are, your capabilities, and hopefully why you'd be a fit for the position. Be sure it matches up as closely as possible with the requirements of the position. 

After the Summary, recruiters expect to see your work history. Although for a technical resume, a Skills section is also acceptable. You'll want to use the section that is going to put you in the best light first with the other section to follow. Let's say you go with your Experience next. This is the section that you really want to sell the case that you are a great fit for the position. Use statements like the following: 

  • Wrote Puppet manifests and modules to deploy, configure, and manage servers 
  • Automated build and deployment using Jenkins to reduce human error and speed up production processes 
  • Reduced deployment time for critical agile project infrastructure from 1 month to 2 days 
  • Installed and configured Nagios to constantly monitor network bandwidth, memory usage, and hard drive status 
  • Managed GitHub repositories and permissions, including branching and tagging 

If you need some help coming up with content for the Experience section, the PAR method can help.  

Problem 
Describe a problem or situation you encountered at your current or previous place of employment.  
 
Action 
What action did you take to fix the problem? 
 
Result 
What were the results of the action that you took? Did it fix the problem? Did it lessen the impact of the problem? Describe how what you did had a positive impact on your department or company. 

Here is an example of a bullet point that could go on a resume as a result of the PAR approach. 

  • Eliminated unnecessary servers and consolidated databases resulting in a $2,650 per month savings. 

Take your time with the Experience section. It’s an important one, you want to make sure you get it right. Try to think about situations where you saved the company, your department, or your team time or money. Companies love problem solvers, especially ones that make things more efficient.  

The next section is for skills. Make sure you continue with a simple, straight forward format. Here, you simply want to list out your technical skills. There’s no need to worry about complete sentences or PAR statements in the Skills section. Here is an example: 

Technical Skills

  • Docker, Chef, Puppet, Ansible, Python, Ruby, TeamCity 
  • AWS services (EC2, S3, Route53, SQS, IAM, CloudWatch, CloudFormation) 

This is the section where it’s tempting to use a table. Try to avoid it just to be safe. You don’t know which ATS will be parsing your resume when you submit it. There are some that have difficulties with tables.   

Finally, at the bottom of your resume, you will want to list out any applicable awards or certifications. Both of these sections should be formatted the same as the Skills section.

Grammar
Proper grammar is often one area of writing a resume that doesn't garner enough attention. After all, if Microsoft Word or Google Docs doesn't underline a a grammar or spelling error with that red, squiggly line, then it must not be a mistake, right? Wrong. Word processing software is definitely helpful in catching writing errors. But there is no software that is 100% fool proof in catching mistakes. Review your resume multiple times and have atrusted friend or colleague review it as well. Your resume is one document that needs to be absolutely perfect.

(Read Don't Let Grammar Mistakes Sink Your Resume)

References
People are often tempted to put references at the bottom of their resume, but this is not necessary. The organization interviewing you will ask for references when they are ready for them. This usually happens further along in the process and is a very good sign that you are being strongly considered for the position. Be sure to let your references know they may be getting a call and what you talked about in your interview(s). However, it is important to understand that employers often have policies in place that restrict what references can say.

(Read What Can a Past Employer Legally Say About Me During a Reference Check)

 



Don't have your resume ready just yet? You'll want to get it ready after you see the great jobs that we have from some of the best companies around.

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Where to Look

There are many ways to look for a job.  

Job Boards 
Indeed, Dice, CareerBuilder, Monster, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Google for Jobs are some of the most popular places to find technical job postings. They each function slightly different, but from a job search perspective, you can search each of them for jobs and find quality postings. In fact, you will often find the same positions if you search multiple sites. Your best options for technical jobs are Dice, Indeed, and Google for Jobs.  

Note that as of January 7th, 2019, Indeed no longer allows postings from staffing firms so you may not get a complete picture of the available jobs for your skill set if you use Indeed. 

Most job boards also allow you to upload your resume to their database so that recruiters can find you. The only downside to this is that when a recruiter finds your resume, it won’t be customized for a particular position. Also, you will likely get calls for jobs that aren't a very close to fit for your skill set. You can always make your resume "private" so that it isn't included in keyword searches if this becomes a problem. 

Most job boards also offer email job alerts. These can be very useful if set up properly. To set up a job alert you'll need to locate the feature on the job search website and sign-up. The sign-up process usually asks for your search criteria which is then used to generate daily emails with jobs that are a potential match. It can be a great way to get early notifications for new technical jobs that might be a fit. If the jobs showing up in your inbox aren't a good match, you can always go back and tweak your search criteria until the jobs coming in are what you're looking for. 

Employer Sites 
This is the best place to go if you are targeting specific companies. Nearly every company has job openings on their website; usually in the About Us section. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully if you decide to apply for a position here. If they ask for a cover letter, provide it. If they ask for references, provide them. Not following the instructions is almost guaranteed to eliminate you from consideration.  

Staffing Firms 
One of the most overlooked aspects of a job search are staffing firms. Staffing firms are often lumped into the same group, and its usually not a good one. And to be sure, there certainly are bad characters in the staffing industry. Those that harvest resumes, post fake positions, and are generally unscrupulous to their clients and candidates. But it’s important to keep in mind that most major companies use staffing firms to help them find good employees. These are the firms you want to find and work with.  

Another thing to consider is that good staffing firms usually have an established, long-term relationship with their clients. They know the ins-and-outs of each company and are often trusted to source, screen, and place employees. This is a relationship that you want to take advantage of.  

Staffing firms are motivated to provide quality candidates to their clients. This is how they get paid. So, a good staffing firm will be happy to hear from a qualified candidate, like you, and will assign you to a recruiter who can help you with your resume, interviewing, and more at no cost to you.  

In your search for the right firm, you will want to find one that places candidates who are in the same category as you. Technical, Marketing, Accounting, or whatever your category happens to be, there are sure to be several staffing firms that can help. 

What to look for in a staffing firm 
There are a few things to look for in a staffing firm.  

  1. Do they place candidates with your skill set? There's no use working with a firm that specializes in placing Cloud Engineers if your background is in hardware. And don't go by what's on their website. Ask for examples of placements and numbers of placements. 

  2. Who are their clients? A staffing firm will only be able to place you at a company that is a client of theirs. Don't be afraid to ask up front. 

  3. Have they won any awards? Check their website to see if, and what, they've won. 




Social Media

According to a recent study by CareerBuilder, more than 80% of companies use social media as a way to help screen candidates. Other studies have reported upwards of 92% of recruiters use social media during the recruiting and hiring process, with 87% using LinkedIn. Any way you look at it, you can't ignore your social media accounts when looking for a job. 
 
Before you post or send out that first resume, be sure to check the privacy settings for all your social media accounts. That means LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and any other site where you post content. The privacy settings should be set to the securest for any account where there is content that might reflect in a negative light. When in doubt, make it as private as possible. Also keep in mind that your profile picture for most social media platforms is always public no matter the settings. 

Conversely, you should use the content that highlights your positives to your advantage. The best way to do this is to optimize you LinkedIn profile (there are lots of articles online on how to do this) and make sure the privacy settings are such that recruiters are able to find you. You may also want to turn on the Open Candidate setting which will signal recruiters (except for those at your current company) that you are in the job market. 




Technical Job Interview

By any account, the interview is a pivotal moment in any job search. Nail it and you get to move on in the process with a good shot at landing the job. Screw it up and you'll be passed over. It's important to know how to sell yourself, your skills, and answer some very difficult questions in an honest and upbeat way.  
 
It goes without saying that you need to research the company, but you should also fully understand the position as it is posted and be able to explain how your skill set is a great fit. This applies to all three types of interviews. The in-person, phone, and video interview. 

Phone Interview
A phone screen or interview is often the next step after your resume has been reviewed and deemed a possible fit for the position. But before you get on the call, plan out a few basics. Make sure you know how your skills match up to the requirements of the job description and write down a few questions that you would like to get answered. This will always impress a technical recruiter. Also, make sure you are in a quiet place and mute any cell phone, email, or text notifications.  

Make sure you are listening and answer the question that is being asked. This may seem obvious but without the ability to read body language, listening to what is actually being asked is extra important. And don't be afraid to ask questions about the companies processes when appropriate and offer your thoughts on possible solutions to issues or problems based on your experience.   

In-Person Interview  
The in-person interview is the big moment when you meet with your potential employer face-to-face for the very first time. The technical interview is a chance for the hiring manager to get a good understanding of your knowledge and your approach to solving real-world problems.  It's also a place where you will want to make sure you impress the technical recruiter or hiring manager conduct the interview. Self-taught developers may find this intimidating, especially if this is their first technical interview. The common thought is that they aren't as qualified without a Computer Science degree, but in today's tight labor market, that is much less of a factor. What does matter is that a candidate has the chops to do the job and do it well no matter where they got their knowledge form. 

(Read How to Impress a Technical Recruiter in 6 Seconds)

Dress 
Appearance is obviously important. Most people will tell men to wear a dark suit and women to wear a dark, two-piece skirt or pant suit with a white or light colored tailored shirt underneath. But this isn't usually the case when it comes to tech interviews. In fact, it can be a mark against you if you show up to a technical job interview in a suit. The best thing to do is to check the company's website, social media pages, or Glassdoor page to try to get a sense for the everyday attire worn by employees. Try to dress a bit above what you find. If most employees are wearing jeans and t-shirts, try slacks and a collared shirt. Ultimately, though, technical interviews typically focus on what you know not how you look.  

White-boarding 
Yes, we know, you hate the idea of having to stand up in front of a hiring manager at a whiteboard and write code. It's not how you work so how could it be a great way to showcase your skills? Well, it probably isn't. But that doesn't mean it's still not a part of the majority of technical interviews and, as a result, something you should be ready for.  

The key to white-boarding effectively is practice. You can use sites like HackerRank, CodeFights, Coderbyte, Codewars, GeeksforGeeks, and others to hone your skills. They all offer a wide range of coding challenges. But whatever you do, don't walk into a technical interview completely unprepared to stand at a whiteboard and show what you can do. 

Other Preparation
Job Description
Study the job description and understand how your skills match up to what is being asked for. Be prepared to discuss this.
 
 
Company 
Research the company so that you understand what they do and where the stand in the marketplace. Spend some time reviewing competitors as well. 
 
Fundamentals 
Be sure you understand the basics of data structures and algorithms. These are the core basics that are often brought up during technical interviews. 
 
Ask Questions 
There are many hiring managers that will immediately disqualify any candidate who does not ask questions when prompted at the end of an interview. Their thought process is that if you truly are a good fit for the role, lots of questions should have come up during the interview. And, at the very least, you should have come to the interview with questions.  

Be sure that during your preparation for the interview, you jot down a few questions related to the role. You will also want to bring pen and paper so that you can take notes during the interview. Jot down questions as they come up so that you can ask them later. 

Soft Skills
Technical job interviews will focus on your technical chops, obviously. But your non-technical, or people, skills are important, too. You can showcase your soft skills by being friendly, demonstrating your communication skills, and emphasizing your ability to work effectively within a team.  

(Read 3 Ways to Showcase Your Soft Skills at Your Technical Interview)

Video Interview
There is very little difference between a video interview and an in-person interview. You’ll want to follow the tips above as well as the following. 

Internet Connection 
You will likely be conducting your interview on Skype, Zoom, or some other widely used video conferencing software. It’s extremely important that you make sure you have a good Internet connection. You may want to situate yourself close to your modem if you are taking the call from home. 
 
Quiet 
We’ve all seen the videos of people being interrupted by their kids, dogs, or spouses while on an important video call for work. They’re funny if it’s not you. Make sure you are in a location where you won’t be interrupted. This isn’t just a work call that your colleagues will find a dog wandering in the background amusing. It’s likely your first face-to-face impression with your potentially new employer.  


(Read 5 Interview Tips to Help You Land Your Dream IT Job)




No updated resume? No time to look through job openings? Send us your LinkedIn profile and we'll take care of the rest.

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Follow-Up

Handwritten “thank you” notes are no longer necessary following a job interview. In fact, they can be viewed as archaic in today’s fast-moving, digital world.  Instead, send a personalized “follow-up” email to each person who interviewed you. The “thank you” isn’t what’s important here, although you’ll want to include it in your email. Instead, think of your email as a “follow up”. Use it to demonstrate your unique value. The other great thing about an email follow-up is that you can include links that further illustrate your fit for the role. Something like this: 

Hi Ari, 
Thank you again for talking with me on Tuesday night, I really enjoyed the conversation and appreciate all your help. It was great to learn more about the Zimbio team and your experience there. 

Working with such a knowledgeable, innovative group would be an incredible learning experience and I would love the opportunity to prove I'm a great fit for the role. Below are highlights of some of my accomplishments that relate to the position: 

<Provide Links>

Also, below is a link to my website where you can see more of my publications and projects. I've also included a link to a program I initiated at Stanford University. 

<Provide a Links> 

And finally, here is a link to the information I mentioned on our call. I hope you find it useful. 

<Provide a Links> 

Best regards, 
Jordan 

 
Be sure your follow-up email is sent within 24 hours or on the same day when possible. A good practice is to write the email immediately after the interview and then come back to it a few hours later with a fresh pair of eyes. You can also have a trusted friend review any emails before they are sent. 

It’s okay to follow up one more time approximately a week later if you have not heard back. An email like this should work fine.  

Hi Ari, 
I just wanted to follow up with regards to my interview on Tuesday of last week. Do you have an update, or do you need any further information from me? Please let me know at your earliest convenience.  

Thank you, 
Jordan 

Any further contact becomes risky. If you haven’t received a reply yet, the company has either gone with another candidate or has put things on hold. While it is frustrating not to hear back, know that you’ve done everything possible under your control. Don’t take it personally. It’s probably best to move on to other opportunities at this point knowing that they will contact you when/if they feel the need.  

(Read Get the Callback With These 3 Important Interviewing Tips)


 


Conclusion

Whether you’re looking for a new job or an unsolicited recruiter reached out to you about a position, going through creating a resume, interviewing, and waiting for a decision can be arduous. And while there are obviously no tricks that will guarantee you land the job, if you follow our advice, you will give yourself the best possible chance.