Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
  Keeping in the race
Because I am independently employeed, I have to look out for myself, including looking for the next project while finishing the current one. One thing I keep up with is various career newsletters which offer information ranging from mildly helpful to the truely bizarre. One such newsletter, CrossRoads from NetTemps provides a sample mix of the broad range of articles you get from this industry. It points out to me why the hiring business is so broken, and why its not going to get better any time soon.

One article, The Top 10 Questions Most Often Asked by Interviewers, takes a bunch of "loaded" questions that the industry has sold to HR people as the way to really find out about employees before hiring them, and then explains to potential interviewees what to say to respond to the questions correctly. For example:

What did you like best and least about your previous job?
Translation: Checking your administration and management skills.

Have you ever had trouble learning a new method or procedure? How did you deal with that situation?
Translation: Investigating your learning ability.

Now, being the smart-ass that I am sometimes, I'd probably answer the first question honestly: "worst:The office had a card-key system that was required to get in and out but unlocked automatically, except that one monday holiday it unlocked when no one was at work--I thought it was pretty stupid. best: the refridgerator stocked with snacks, drinks and quick meals was really handy."

Ok, what did you learn about my administration and management skills there?

The list was pretty stupid overall, but then another article came out about a very loaded subject for most of us: What Are Your Weaknesses? It starts out on great footing right away by explaining:

When interviewers ask this question they really don't care what your weaknesses are. They care about how you handle this question and what your response indicates about you.
So basically, its a pop pysch test. Great. I wonder how HR reconsiles these kinds of practises against corporate values like Honesty and Integrity. But all is not lost (or else I wouldn't be reading these newsletters). Occationally there's articles of real value, like Questions You Ask During the Interview and Nan Russell's Creating Your Own Luck. Nan talks about loosing her job, and taking a minimum-wage interim position that led to to a management position four weeks later and ultimate a VP position after several additional promotions over the next five years.

Since I'm a programmer and not interested in a management track, I can't just plug into any corporation and look to get noticed and move up, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of opportunities out there. Some industrious people would get involved in an open source project, others might try a startup; but the real opportunity lies in doing volunteer work. There you have a real chance to prove yourself. See a potential employeer isn't impressed nearly so much by you demonstrating that you're able to work on something you're interested in. He wants to know you can work on something customers are interested in. Volunteer work gives you the chance to do that, while also gaining experience with technologies you may not have been previously familiar with. It also provides for additional contact and great references if you do a good job. And there are no end of churchs, non-profits, community organizations, etc. that could use some help; though its not always going to be as exciting as you wanted--but the real life never is.

While I was thinking about all this, the Alumni Experience came out with a great article on this, Volunteering Leads to Employment, which includes some great tips on how to get started and some rules for making sure the experience is successful.

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