Ten Tips for Geeks on the Job Search

Well, it’s time to move on. Whether you’re looking for new employment, seeking a job for the first time, or just need a change of pace, the job market is definitely a challenge right now. As someone who’s currently on the lookout for full-time employment, I know the difficulty. Not only is the job market far more challenging than it was the last time I sought traditional employment (I’ve been working as a freelance writer for the last few years, primarily), but technology is changing.

But maybe not that much, if you’re an informed geek. Since I’ve been entrenched in the full-time employment search the last few weeks, I thought I’d share some tips that are particularly good for the geeky sector. Because, after all, if I’m anything, I’m a geek, and I’d love nothing more than to be able to geek it out in my day job.

  1. Start outside the mass job search engines. Sure, CareerBuilder and Monster are the big names out there. And they do list millions of jobs. Unfortunately, plenty of them are total bunk, meaning they don’t pay (or pay minimally) or are just plain scams. Same goes for Craigslist. The big job aggregates are a good second-string, but the truth is that they’re so burdened down with advertisements, sponsorships, and trying to get you to purchase “premium” memberships (yeah, because if you had a ton of extra cash right now you probably wouldn’t be looking for jobs) that almost everything gets lost in the shuffle. Instead:
  2. Start where your dreams are. Yes, this sounds as hokey as Pollyanna under a lace umbrella. However, I’ve noticed that the coolest jobs out there aren’t advertised in the big name search engines. In fact, they’re quietly listed on the websites of the companies you actually want to work for. Plus, the websites give you a much better idea of benefits and health plans and whatnot, while the built-in application system with the big search engines is usually pretty inadequate. Not to mention, you can learn a great deal about a company from their website. If you’re like me, the way a company looks on the web makes a big difference as to whether or not I want to work for them.
  3. Start local. Of course, not everyone can relocate at a whim. But even if you are considering relocation for your new job, I’d recommend looking locally first. For instance, here in Raleigh-Durham, NC, there are tons of great jobs in tech and general geekery, from video game companies like Epic and Red Storm to geek legends like Red Hat and IBM. Relocating isn’t just hard on new employees, it’s also hard on companies who often end up shelling out relocation costs. Plus, many companies are invested in improving their local economies.
  4. Accentuate your geekiness. No, this doesn’t mean to tell your potential employer how many level 80s you’ve got going in WoW currently. (Unless they specifically ask for it, that is, or you think it’d be an asset to the application–in some places I could see this working.) One of the really cool things about being a geek is the ability to learn many things. We’re polymaths. I know plenty of geek friends who’ve become central to their company’s workings simply because they know how to do so many things. Some have had jobs created for them; others have changed their jobs for the better. Even if you’re self-taught, make sure you mention your coding and computer capabilities. Even if you aren’t a total expert, chances are you’re head and shoulders above an average, non-geek candidate.
  5. Be social. Yes, the stereotype of the non-social geek is alive and well. And for some of us out there, the term “social” is never going to be one to apply. If you are outgoing, however, make sure your resume speaks to that. Talk about your communication skills, your friendliness, your comfort around people in general. If you’re not the best face-to-face, consider elaborating on your writing skills. Make sure your employer knows you’re good at getting your meaning across somehow. And while enumerating your two thousand Facebook friends isn’t the best way to go, mentioning your social media background is always a plus.
  6. Be current. Current trends. Social media. Web 2.0. Yes, the terms seem a little forced. But remember, you’ve probably got the edge when it comes to the Internet. Even if you aren’t applying for a job in the tech industry, being well-versed in your market is truly important: it’s not just about knowing your job, it’s knowing where your job is going.
  7. Look at the big picture. Sure, contract jobs are nice from time to time. But that’s the problem: time passes. Sooner or later they’re out. While I know of some geeks who do very well on a contract basis, and always have something new on the horizon, for many it’s not a good long-term strategy. Even in this market, it’s important to really measure an employer. Yes, finding a job is tough. But finding a job and then learning that the company is corrupt or that it makes you miserable with their policies is even harder. Put your time and energy into companies that are rated best places to work and have high BBB ratings; start where you’d be proud to work. That extra effort can make all the difference.
  8. Avoid the conveyor belt approach. It’s tempting to draft very generic resumes and cover letters and just shoot them off one after the other. But trust me: there are people reading these (and yes, in most cases human beings still read the resumes). And they can tell when you’re just shucking them out the door. Employers are pickier than ever, and even if your resume is stellar, if the cover letter looks like something a word bot spat out, they’re going to pass. Spelling and grammar is a no-brainer, but make sure the tone is appropriate. No l33t speak, no pwning n00bs. Unless, like I said, there’s a chance the company will appreciate that sort of thing. Be sure you use phrases in the job description and attend to all the essential job duties.
  9. Don’t let technology limitations limit you. Geeks come in all stripes these days. You’d be surprised how many non-coding jobs there are out there. Writing, public relations, sales, and even support are all jobs that many geeks will find a good fit. Don’t rule out a particular employer before you take a good look at their website. You’d be surprised. And even if you fit a job at a dream company but the job itself isn’t your dream, getting your foot in the door is a great first step. Many companies love promoting from within.
  10. Don’t sell yourself short. So you didn’t get your dream job. So you’re not doing what you love. Yet. Even if things didn’t turn out like you hoped, you can always move on to bigger and better things. But first? Get every achievement you can in your current job. Explore every facet of your environment. Make sure you complete all the quests. At the end, you’ll get a great reference. Then you can level!

Do you have any job-related suggestions to add? Do you have your geek dream job?

[Image CC by kennymatic via Flickr]


7 Responses to Ten Tips for Geeks on the Job Search

  1. I've definitely been in job-hunt-hell all this year, but I'm looking for a highly specialized job (assistant professor or lecturer), so it's a little different. However, my geek skills are in full effect and I have hunted down the internets to find exactly the right job posting sites, which most of my academic colleagues have not, so I know of every opening. On that note: apply, apply, apply, apply, apply, apply. The job market is saturated, the more you have out there the higher chance that one will catch you. My count is over 50 academic positions plus about 20 other positions. I've had a bunch of interviews and a few more coming so something is working. I definitely talk up my social networking skills when I discuss trying to relate to current college students!


  2. Just a couple of days ago, I applied for a job by sending a company president a board game. I've found that the most difficult part of looking for a job is getting the attention of the right people. This is was a local company where I feel that my qualifications would be a good fit but probably aren't what they're expecting. The game was about that company's industry and my message was "Your business isn't a game. You need an expert who thinks creatively. You need me."

    How's that for using geek interests in the job search?

  3. Great points! I had my resume on one of those mega-search search sites when I was looking two years ago. I had a few, actually, each styled to a particular vector of foot-to-door.

    The resume that won me the job was geared toward given users an experience they could trust and learn from. (Trust at a help desk is the most precious commodity ever.) I tweaked my resume to present a competent, experienced technician mixed with a compassionate, patient teacher who could make computer problems comprehensible to laypeople.

    The interview went well, the resume performed as expected, but my boss surprised me when she told me how she knew she'd found a good candidate. She saw the title of my resume on the job hunt site: "Geek Ambassador." I'd put that there for my own reference, but apparently the name was more public than I thought.

    So I'd add one more tip to the resume hunt: Always work the positive angle, even if you think nobody else will see it. Imbue a little surprise personality where you can. Everyone might see it and pass on by, but a little spark helps the right people to "get" you beyond just the resume.

    If I'd called that resume something more self-satisfyingly cynical — which is easy to do after months of unemployment and rejection — I doubt I'd have my job today.

  4. I get really annoyed when people assume I'm into computers and gaming or that I have technical know-how just because I call myself a geek. I like Stargate, Star Trek, X-Men and Babylon 5. I know NOTHING about computer programming and I wouldn't know how to play a videogame if the entire payroll of Square Enix sat me down for a lesson. I don't see anything particularly useful to geeks in this article, I could read exactly the same pointers on any non-geek-specific job website out there.

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