Finding a Job the Unconventional Way

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Sometime at the end of last summer, I was sharing with my newlywed wife that I wanted to transition into a career as a software developer.  With no professional background in programming and only being able to put on a resume what I’ve taught myself in Excel and Access VBA code, a little HTML, and some SQL, deciding to find a job as a developer was no small endeavor. 

With the encouragement of a friend, I decided to start learning Silverlight and even blogged about my learning (the post originated at Silverenlightening.com and has been ported here).  I read tons of blog posts that focused on Silverlight and software development in general.  I tried reading a book on Silverlight and when I realized that Silverlight was over my head because of my lack of programming experience, I bought a book on C# and got some great practice over at ProjectEuler.net.  I went to several different users groups each month that focused on Microsoft technologies.   I started using new technologies at work to leverage the power and flexibility of the more advanced programming frameworks.  I asked lots of questions and even provided a few answers over at StackOverflow.com, an online community where programmers can ask questions to other programmers.  And I started following lots of software developers on Twitter.

I wasn’t planning on searching for a new job until the summer of 2010.  I figured that a year of practice and learning would put me in a good position to enter the market for a job as a junior software developer.  That was until I saw this tweet from the CEO of Fog Creek Software announcing a job for a support engineer:

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“Fog Creek? I can’t work there,” I initially thought, “they only hire the best and brightest developers on the planet!” As I read through the job description, I realized that I didn’t have to be a professional software developer to support professional software.  I just had to be smart and able to solve problems. Great!

I completed my first resume that evening, which led to a phone interview with the head of technical support at Fog Creek.  That interview went really well and eventually I was invited to New York for an in-person interview.  Although I wasn’t offered a job, the whole interview process was wonderful and I left New York with tons of confidence that I could find a new job, even with my limited background in the field of software development.

I continued to do the same things I was doing before going to New York: reading blogs, practicing programming, going to users groups, and keeping my eye on Twitter.  While I usually don’t pay much attention to when people I don’t know follow me on Twitter, when Kelly Thielemann started following me on Twitter, I decided to follow her as well.  I didn’t know much about her other than the fact that she was a recruiter for Matrix, a company I had heard about after going to the .NET users group, she tweeted about new jobs every now and then, and I’m pretty sure she went to my high school (though not a requirement when following someone on twitter, I’m more likely to follow someone local than someone halfway around the planet if they’re following me for marketing or sales reasons).

When I think back on it, I’m not sure what inspired me to click on the following tweet:

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Sure, Java is similar to C#, but I’m by no means a “Java dev.” Maybe it was the “Jr” part of the job that made me click through (if I’m anything in the world of software development, I’m certainly junior).  The job description seemed like it might be similar to the Fog Creek job, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to send in my resume.

The senior recruiter at Matrix who reviewed my resume saw very quickly that I wasn’t a good fit for the Java job (you actually had to know Java; who knew?).  However, she suggested another opportunity for a junior development position at HoneyBaked Ham Company.  It sounded like a great job that would provide a way to begin a career as a software developer, so I decided to pursue it.

The phone interview went really well and that led very quickly to an in-person interview.  After meeting with their lead developer and VP of IT, I felt very strongly that this job would be a great fit for me and was really hoping for an offer.  While waiting a few days to hear back from Matrix after the interview, I felt like I was dating again; I thought the anxious feeling wondering if the other person was going to call wouldn’t be an issue anymore when I got married.  Thankfully, I heard back from Matrix and received an offer!

After discussing the offer with my wife, I accepted the job and will start at HoneyBaked on March 1st.  I’m amazed at how things lined up so that I was able to get connected with HoneyBaked.  I followed blogs, networked at users groups, and kept up with industry trends on Twitter.  I didn’t go to any job fairs, use jobs-centered websites, or really do any of the conventional things that people do to look for jobs.  I guess that in today’s market, it doesn’t hurt to be a little unconventional.

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6 Responses to Finding a Job the Unconventional Way

  1. Adam Waid says:

    Ben-

    Outstanding blog post. Thanks for sharing your job search story/success. Congratulations on your new role!

  2. Turner says:

    Congratulations on the new job!

    I wonder how long it is before the “unconventional” becomes more commonplace. Companies always want a referred candidate compared to a completely unknown one, and social networking through Facebook and Twitter really ups the ante. My current company hired two guys I knew almost exclusively through Twitter, for example.

    More job seekers will need to start embracing these new social tools to maximize their job search potential.

  3. Great blog!! I’m so happy for you! It was great working with you. Congratulations on your new position!

  4. Geoff says:

    Hey Ben, congrats on the job. I work at HoneyBaked, and this post showed up in my Google Alerts? What division are you working for?

  5. Thanks everyone for the congratulations!

    @Turner Part of the reason why unconventional methods can work is because it helps you stand out from a sea of people doing things the ordinary way; this applies to both employers and their potential employees.

    @Geoff I hadn’t thought about this post showing up as an alert of a HoneyBaked employee…I hope you enjoyed it :-). I’ll start March 1 working with Scott Koon in IT doing software development.

  6. Geoff says:

    Haha, yeah it’s amazing what shows up in Google Alerts. Apparently there’s a phrase among college-age kids called “Going HoneyBaked Ham.” I haven’t been able to determine what it means yet, but it’s constantly showing up in Twitter posts as “Wow, you’re crazy, you went all HoneyBaked Ham at the club last night.”

    I work for the Michigan Division (there are four separate, semi-autonomous divisions), but I’m on the national Internet committee so I could see our paths crossing at some point. Anyway, congrats again and best of luck.

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