“Oh my gosh, Jim, you’re the hot girl at the dance!”
A former boss called to ask about my week on the job hunt, and that’s what she said after I told her.
This is an American Indian dancing at a Potawatomi pow-wow. This isn’t the kind of dancing I’m talking about, but I’ve taken few photos that relate to dancing! I feel like I can get away with this because I’m part Potawatomi.
What a week it was! I landed a short-term consulting job with a startup software company. It starts today. An interview with a different company went very well, wrapping with the interviewer saying, “I think you need to meet the partners. I’ll schedule that for next week.” Thanks to introductions from a couple key colleagues, I had lunch or coffee with a handful of software-company presidents and vice presidents, and the chief financial officer at a venture-capital firm that funds startup tech companies. And that former boss even admitted that she was trying to make funds appear to hire me.
I am astonished.
Some context: for about the last 10 years here in Indianapolis, tech has been hot. Qualified people are hard to find. The last time I hired someone, I searched four months to find him.
And then in the past few weeks, I learned that the city’s tech scene is even hotter than I knew. A colleague who owns a consulting firm that serves this industry told me that he knows of about 200 local companies that make software. Most are very small, he said, with fewer than 20 people; many will wash out. But new startup companies are forming all the time. The venture-capital CFO told me that in five years, he expects as many as 300 more tech companies to form.
I had no idea that I’m swimming in so much opportunity. I’ve learned of it only as I’ve reconnected with colleagues I’ve worked with long ago. Many of them are now in executive roles and are well connected in the industry, and are bending over backwards to help me. It helps a lot that I’ve done good work in my career and people have (for the most part!) enjoyed working with me.
It makes me wish I’d stayed well connected with the good people from earlier in my career. I wrote about this on my software blog; read it here. Like I said there, I’m an introvert of working-class roots — a fellow who prefers to keep to himself and let his work speak for itself.
I brought this up to another colleague last week over coffee. He was the president of a software company I used to work for, and has since started his own company. “Jim, you now have two jobs,” he said. “Whatever you’re doing to earn a paycheck, and maintaining and expanding your network.” He admitted his own introversion, but said that he’s worked hard to stay well connected. It’s how he’s built his new business. “You can build these habits too. You should.”
As soon as I got the news that I was being laid off at work, I texted my closest friends and colleagues with the news. And after I packed my office into my car and drove home, I emailed a bunch more friends and colleagues.
I was deluged with replies. I had a call from a recruiter by lunchtime, and by mid-afternoon a coffee was scheduled with a woman I once worked for who is now a VP at a major local employer of software developers. She gave me a bunch of practical, useful advice on my search, and sent me a bunch of information about companies she talked to around town earlier in the year as she searched for the job she now holds. She told me she’d introduce me to anybody she met at any of those companies.
The next day, one of my oldest friends, who is well known and well connected in the open-source community, started asking around about freelance jobs I can do to make some money while I search. And I started reaching out to colleagues I enjoyed working with in the past but who I haven’t talked to in a while, to schedule lunches and coffees to catch up and see if they could connect me to people who might need someone who can do what I do. I’m booked for lunch for the next two weeks and have coffees sprinkled across my calendar.
And then the CFO of the company that let me go emailed me to schedule coffee, at which he opened his considerable contact list to me and offered to connect me with anybody he knew. That led to a few more coffees being scheduled with software-company CEOs and VPs around town — and directly to one job interview, with a company that needs to build a software testing practice. That’s exactly what I do best!
The strongest advice my VP colleague gave me was don’t settle. She urged me to wait for just the job I want — one with the right cultural fit (collaborative and collegial), at the right level in the organization (Director), with the right salary, doing the things I like to do the most (building and leading teams of technical people, driving projects, delivering software).
The closer I get to the money running out, the more I will have no choice but to settle so I can pay the mortgage. I hope that right next job is in this tidal wave of responses. This surge will peter out sooner or later, and then I will have to start working on alternate plans: aggressively seeking freelance and consulting jobs, and looking at permanent positions that aren’t exactly what I want but which will pay the bills.
But today, I feel like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, when everybody he knew in Bedford Falls collected money to make up for the Building and Loan’s $8,000 shortfall. I feel affirmed and valued, at a depth I didn’t know existed. They say that in hard times you learn who your friends are. I’ve learned that I have far more friends than I ever knew.
I’ve changed jobs frequently during my career – eight companies in 25 years. That’s not unusual in software development, which is my line of work.
Because of my nomadic ways I’ve worked with many fine colleagues, and LinkedIn has been a great tool for keeping track of them. (If I were only better at keeping in touch with them!) LinkedIn has also helped me connect with people in my industry who I’ve wanted to know. And LinkedIn has been useful for recruiting people to work for me. Heck, the company that employs me now found me via LinkedIn. I wasn’t even looking for a job when they sent me an InMail and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
And so you might imagine that I’m very glad to have LinkedIn. And I am. Except that day in, day out, the service’s behavior is at least annoying and occasionally atrocious and I think frequently about quitting it altogether.
Before I launch into my complaints, let me say that I did finally figure out how to work around or turn off most of LinkedIn’s bad behavior. But those settings were hard to find and not obvious. I couldn’t figure it out on my own. As a guy who makes software for a living, that’s saying something.
Here’s the rub: The occasions where LinkedIn was really useful made me willing to tolerate its ongoing irritating behavior. I was not unlike the alcoholic’s spouse who puts up with the benders and their consequences because of the occasional good times. But I finally had enough and Googled to find out how to tame this beast.
To the complaints:
1. The recruiters, oh, the recruiters
Four out of five times someone contacts me via LinkedIn, it’s a recruiter trying to sell me on recruiting services. They all claim to have a teeming mass of unbelievably qualified people they would love to place on my team.
I’m in management, so I do hire people. But these recruiters remind me of the people who knock on my front door trying to sell me tree trimming or new windows or driveway sealcoating. I don’t know them, I don’t know why I should do business with them instead of with the trusted providers I have used for years, and I don’t like their hard sell and repeated pestering.
This is the only thing I haven’t figured out how to turn off – without also turning off the kinds of contact I do want, such as companies contacting me about new and better opportunities. On average, I get one recruiter contact every week. I ignore them all.
2. The infuriating activity feed
In trying to be a social network, some time ago LinkedIn implemented an activity feed. It’s a wall kind of like Facebook’s, and it’s the first thing you see when you log into LinkedIn.
It’s not all bad. It summarizes what my contacts are up to – status updates, new jobs, and so on. And my other blog about software development automatically sends my new posts there so my contacts can see them. And sometimes my contacts post other interesting and useful articles there.
But by default, LinkedIn automatically posts to the activity feed every time you tweak your profile. So last year when the company where I work changed its name, and I changed its name on my LinkedIn profile, all of my contacts saw this on their activity feed: Jim Grey is now Grand High Muckety-Muck at XYZ Corp! And I got a barrage of clueless congratulations from my contacts, some of whom wondered why I changed jobs a mere three months after starting my last one. And if you have entered your birthday on your profile, LinkedIn notifies all of your contacts on your big day, and many of them will send congratulations for this, too.
All of these congratulations cause LinkedIn to send you an e-mail. And every time one of your contacts tweaks his or her profile or has a birthday, you get an e-mail, too. It’s a deluge! I lived with the annoyance of all of this for some time, getting an e-mail every time one of my contacts so much as scratched their nose. It was death by a million paper cuts!
3. The useless endorsements
People in your LinkedIn network can endorse you for skills you have. As I look at the endorsements I’ve gathered – a couple hundred of them now – most of them are for things I know how to do: software testing, test automation, technical writing, and project management.
But some of my endorsements are for things I don’t do, such as data warehousing and Microsoft SQL Server. I am acquainted with these things, but good heavens, don’t give me a job doing them; I’d fail in a minute.
Worse, all kinds of people who have never seen me use a particular skill have endorsed me for it. Heck, some LinkedIn contacts who’ve never worked with me have endorsed me for skills. Based on what?
LinkedIn makes it too easy to endorse people. When you log in, it often shows you people in your network with buttons labeled with skills, inviting you to click them for easy endorsements. And then with every endorsement, LinkedIn sends me an e-mail: Hey! Someone just endorsed you! Isn’t that great?
Not really. If you want to really do something useful for me, write me a recommendation. As a hiring manager, I actually look at those when considering a candidate. Even if the recommendation is fluffy, I think it has some value because it took somebody time to write it. They had to put a little effort and thought into it.
What about you? Are you on LinkedIn? What about it do you like and what drives you nuts?