Despite today's sophisticated, automated systems for finding employment, you still need to talk to a human being to get hired. A good resume can get you that face-to-face meeting.
I've struggled with my resume over the years. The same questions seem to pop up. Do I put down all my work history, even though it may not directly pertain to the job I am applying for? Or do I include only pertinent experience, leaving gaps in my resume? Does my diverse software engineering background show the ability to adapt and succeed, or does it confuse the recruiter? Do I create different resumes for different jobs?
These questions leave me pondering how to consistently clear the first hurdle: getting the resume into the hands of the right person. Today, one may think it is as easy as clicking a button on a Web page, but I'm convinced this is futile. Databases are saturated with electronic resumes, making it even harder for an honest candidate to stand out.
At my last company, we posted a job opening on Monster.com for an embedded engineer. Within 24 hours I had 300 resumes to wade through. For the next month a dozen resumes a day were added to the backlog. The review process degraded from looking for the right candidate to looking for a strike against the candidate so the resume could be discarded. I am now on the other side, trying to make the cut by boiling down my career to the right keywords.
In What Color Is Your Parachute?, author Richard Nelson Bolles recommends using Web sites to find companies, not jobs. Research the company of interest and prepare a resume and cover letter for that firm, regardless of whether there's a job opening. According to Bolles, that strategy has a much higher success rate than blasting an electronic resume to every job board. It's too early for me to tell, since I have just embraced Bolles' recommended method, but reading the testimonials is encouraging.
Since becoming unemployed, I've cleared the first hurdle-getting an interview-only twice. The first was for a database engineer post, clearly outside of my desired field. I prepared as I always have: polished my old wing tips, learned to tie a tie again and practiced listening while trying to formulate an intelligent response or question. The interview went well, and it was a great experience for me-I still "knew how to ride a bike"-but the job wasn't for me. The position was full-time, while I was looking for a contract position so that I could continue my search for an embedded-engineering job.
The second interview-by phone-was for an embedded-engineering position. The interviewer surmised that I was not a fit for his organization, since I didn't have the experience he was looking for. Instead of ending the interview there, however, he turned it into a coaching session on how I could improve my resume by emphasizing pertinent experience and minimizing the irrelevant. It was both painful and rewarding to hear constructive suggestions from someone on the other side.
To a young engineer seeking direction, I suggest finding out what you love to do early in your career and sticking with it. If you don't know what you want, change jobs until you find it. A colleague once told me that if you love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life. I am where I am because of the choices I've made-not just because of the economy. Yet I'm not sure I'd do anything differently, because I've generally done what I love doing.
In this continuing series (posted at /www.eet .com/op/diary), EE David Knuth (pronounced ka-NOOTH) describes his experiences as a jobless engineer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.