Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Reputation vs The Resume


I have spent a good part of my professional career as a contractor so I was interested when I came across a post titled "Why bother having a resume?" on a blog site by Seth Godin. Seth gives an interesting argument that looks at the resume in 2 distinct ways: firstly he suggests that if you have a good reputation, then you won't need a resume; and secondly, that resumes are used by agents and employers in order to reject the bulk of respondents to get down to the interesting few they want to look at.

I partially agree with Seth on both counts, however experience suggests caution on either front. During the 1990's I was lucky enough to have so many offers for contract work that I could take my pick. Companies were falling over themselves to offer me a contract because I had the distinct advantage of having built up a good reputation in the IT industry here.

That no longer occurs, so what happened? Did my reputation go bad? No, I am still relatively well known and my reputation has not suffered. Did the job industry dry up? No again, although there are now many more applicants to choose from. The answer to this is much more involved and we have to look at a little history to see what went wrong in the industry here.

Prior to 2000, there was so much panic over the "millennium bug" that anyone who could spell IT was employed in the industry as a Y2K consultant - not much more technical expertise, or even very much in the way of IQ was required. Once the year 2000 came and went without the predicted worldwide mass destruction, the wonderful Y2K pig trough was taken away and hundreds of thousands of "IT Experts" were out on the street looking for new jobs. A short time later 9/11 hit the whole world (my brother was stuck in Hawaii, cursing that the late arrival of his plane from Malaysia meant that he had missed his connecting flight to be at a meeting planned for 9am near the top of one of the towers). Every IT project in New Zealand just suddenly dried up. This also meant that thousands more IT people, this time mostly good, experienced and employable IT people, were out on the street applying for any IT job available.

Companies and IT job agencies suddenly found themselves with a problem. For each IT job they advertised, they would get hundreds of applicants. Looking through all those CV's for a half decent applicant to consider was a nightmare. Companies that used to do all the hiring themselves, now started to put into place a "Policy". For those initiated into the secret language of corporates, a "Company Policy" is a proclamation that is set permanently into the steel frame girders of the head office and emblazoned across the foreheads of all General Managers and others who sometimes think they are in charge. This particular policy states, "No longer can a manager employ staff on their own but must go though an employment agency".

The reasoning was sound to begin with. Agencies could sift through the hundreds of applications and forward to them only the few that would be suitable for the role they wanted to fill. Reality however was much bleaker than the rosy view they were sold. What tended to happen was that the agencies, in an effort to cope with the influx of applicants, started hiring new, young people who were then tasked with the job of sifting the applications. I do know of agencies (or I should say "agents") who would, and still do, simply go through the first applications until they have two candidates that sound like they could do the job, then look no further (i.e. hundreds of job applications were never even opened), then forward those two to the client. Most however instigated the process of elimination that Seth talks about. This followed a simple process whereby firstly they would take out only those applications that had a university degree or higher, then go through those taking out only those who's current role was the same as, or similar to the role they are trying to fill. Only then, when they were down to a small hand full, would they actually look at the names and history of those that they had picked.

Even ringing the agents that I had built up a good friendship and reputation with was fraught with difficulty during the next 5-6 years. To protect themselves from the pleading masses, they had to resort to employing gate-keepers. These gate keepers would only let through people who were either the companies they dealt with, or the named people that had been selected from the process of elimination. The gate-keepers cared not for reputation and had heard before the pretentious arguments that they were somehow "long lost friends" of the employment agent in charge.

No job I applied for was going to even see my name unless by some pure fluke, I got through the process of elimination. My excellent reputation built with sweat and blood and now meant diddly-squat - the resume was king. Only of you were one of the first 20 who applied for the role, had a Masters degree from a known university, and had been doing that specific role for the past 5 years would you be deemed competent enough to have your name looked at.

Although the agencies have relaxed their stance somewhat, and I can again speak directly to the agent in charge, don't forget the power of the resume. Also don' forget the all important qualifications - even with my industry recognition and reputation I had to go back to university to gain qualifications enough to pass through "the process".

With recession noises being heard through the world at the moment, we may well find ourselves back in the worst of times again for employment.


  1. AnonymousJuly 16, 2008

    An interesting piece. But is it really a problem in the Delphi arena specifically though?

    In my experience there is a dire shortage of Delphi skills availability - quality or otherwise.

    We've been recruiting hard for over a year and can only WISH that we had too many CV's flooding in, and it's not because the agencies are filtering too rigorously.

    Quite the opposite - they say they are struggling to find anybody themselves.

    With only one recent exception, we are having to source our recruits from the pool of incoming migrant skills, which itself is likely to dwindle as the world economy tightens it's collective belt.

    In the C#/.net space things are very different.

    Finding quality people is still hard, but finding people who CLAIM to have skills is too easy, and there ARE swathes of CV's that have to be waded through.

    In many ways it's the same as it always was, except that you can substitute C# for VB.

    i.e. finding Delphi candidates was hard, but the quality of candidates when you found them was generally very high.

    VB candidates were a dime a dozen, but the quality was extremely poor.

    In the past I put this down to a number of factors.

    1. Delphi encourages new talent as it is accessible, but it is also powerful so discipline is quickly learned (encouraged by the fact that it is not especially arduous)

    2. Developers using Delphi are generally very happy with their lot

    Conversely VB, and C# in it's turn, and the tools that are essential to be productive in it (C# especially) hand-hold the developer to such an extent that they are not encouraged to learn the basic disciplines that foster high quality development practices.

    And similarly, a great number of people are attracted to the languages as a means of CV enrichment rather than professional application to a craft, and will always be looking for the next CV embellishment opportunity.

    Just my 0.02c

  2. Thanks Jolyon. Delphi was not mentioned and indeed my contracting work covered Delphi, FoxPro, C/C++ and a myriad of other languages, plus Business Analysis, Project Management, Management and consulting. The comments of the post relate to the situation we all went through during those times.

    I do note your comments on finding Delphi developers and have heard this from other sources as well. Perhaps this is an opening ready to be exploited by some savvy developers. Why pit yourself against the many other C# developers when you are virtually guaranteed a job or contract using Delphi?


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