3 Traps to Avoid When Searching for a Job

3 Traps to Avoid When Searching for a Job

I've recently been applying to new jobs in areas that my wife and I are interested in relocating to. One thing I didn't expect when posting my résumé online was the flood of calls I would get from recruiters (head hunters). At first it is exciting because all the attention makes you feel in demand. Only after having the recruiter submit you to some of their client companies will you really know for sure if you are sought after.

When you're looking for a job, particularly a software development job, it can be difficult to balance some things. You want to apply to as many jobs as you can to keep options open but you also don't want to build a bad reputation with loads of companies all at once by wasting their time and then accepting a job somewhere else. However, during my search I quickly realized that there are some companies that will waste a lot more of your time than you will theirs. Some of these companies want to keep you unemployed so they can keep their options open. I've put together a list of some things to watch out for when applying/interviewing with a company.

1. They never contact you directly.

Recruiters are a dime a dozen. You'll get calls from recruiters all over the country as soon as your resume is available for them to find. These recruiters are hired by companies to help them with the hiring process. On paper this is a win/win idea; the company gets to offload the work of finding new and valuable employees and job seekers get to interact with someone who's entire job is to get to know you, help you with your résumé, and give you helpful information about each company's hiring style. In practice this system can be heavily abused by the employer.

Some companies will never contact you directly. Recruiters prefer this because they love being in the loop, but I've found that there is a huge communication breakdown if the employer never contacts you directly. Recruiters will do whatever they can to make both sides happy. This by itself isn't a bad thing but it often means that you will never hear what the potential employer is really saying and vice versa.

If a company doesn't contact you directly after they've supposedly shown interest in you then contact them instead. One of two things will happen: 1) you will be talking to the source and you will get more accurate information, or 2) they will be bothered that you broke their precious line of communication through the recruiter. If they get mad that you contacted them directly in order to facilitate better communication then they don't care at all about your initiative and they weren't seriously considering you anyway. Get rid of the recruiter as soon as you can. Some places will try to hide behind the recruiter so they never have to talk to you personally; what do you think working for them will be like?

2. They act excited about you but continually put you off.

This one is really easy to fall victim to. In only a month of searching I've had three different companies act as though I was the perfect fit they've been looking for all along. Drunk with confidence and joy it's easy to stop pursuing other opportunities that arise because you feel so good about this one. Don't!

All three of these companies strung me along with promises of flying me out for an interview "soon". Of course you can probably guess that this often does not come to fruition. Attempts to contact them only result in excuses such as scheduling conflicts or they're waiting on X to happen. This is perfectly understandable to a point. Surely flying someone out for an interview does require some planning and scheduling, but how long should you wait? I say three days.

This parallel has been drawn more times than I can count, but searching for a job really is like asking someone on a date. Even if they are leading you on and telling you how great you are, you can't wait forever. I think three days is plenty long enough for them to at least give you something concrete. If they aren't giving you anything beyond "soon" then don't wait on them. Get out there and keep searching.

Just like when playing the dating game, if they act interested but continually put you off for an interview then what do you think working for them will be like? Remember, you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. If they can't be bothered to keep you in the loop with regard to your potential employment then you aren't as special as they wanted you to believe and they are keeping their options open.

3. They actually buy you a plane ticket.

Surely if the company has already bought you a plane ticket for an interview then you'd have to try to screw it up right? They already spent a lot of money on you, why would they do that if they weren't planning on hiring you? Barring any glaringly obvious problems upon meeting you, you've got the job. Wrong. I found this out the hard way. I finally had a plane flight planned so I stopped searching for jobs. I really thought I had this one in the bag. I passed all of their tests and interviews with flying colors and they acted extremely excited to meet me. When I got out there however, it was a complete disaster.

I was so excited to go to this company and meet the team that at this point I was sure I would be part of. They were so disorganized and almost seemed to act like I had inconvenienced them by coming for the interview. It was clear that the recruiter had not given me the full story here and my brief interactions with the company itself were not representative of the bigger picture. The team rather liked me and the skills I would have brought to the table, but the company at large was extremely disjointed. It was very obvious that the employees there worked in a somewhat oppressive environment.

For some reason that I still can't pinpoint, the CEO of the company I was interviewing for really did not like me. I couldn't decide if she was just always that, for lack of a better word, bitchy, or if there was something specific about me she didn't like. My guess after observing those who worked under her was that it was likely a mix of both.

I'm not exactly sure how companies like this one can justify so many plane tickets just to see if they are even remotely interested in a person, but they do. Believe it or not a plane ticket does not mean you have the job in the slightest. Some of these companies invest a lot more money than you probably realize just to find the perfect employee. I can't say whether or not this is an effective hiring strategy, but the fact that they are doing it at all at least says something about the job market. It's an employer's market right now and you need to keep applying to as many places as you are interested. If you really want to find a place to work then keep your options open and don't let a company get you drunk with confidence so that you stop your search altogether.

Update (2/21/2014):

They are difficult to find but you really can find companies who show active interest in you and communicate with you directly. Not too much long after all of this last year I received an email from Adobe. Ironically, the recruiter (an adobe recruiter hired directly by Adobe and not via a 3rd party) had found me through this very post; she even started off the first sentence of the email by letting me know that she worked directly for Adobe and had found me through my blog and my work on Github.

Today I have an amazing job at Adobe and I am extremely happy. It pays well, the atmosphere is extremely positive, and I work with people just as much or more passionate about software than I am. Keep looking for opportunities because the one way to for sure not find them is to not look.