Job Ad Shopping Lists (or Recruiters: Your Nets Are Cast Too Wide).

I’ve been told for almost all of my full-time working life that I’ve been lucky since I knew what I wanted to do from the day I first set foot in the door. Ignoring the fact that I went from help desk monkey to programmer to system admin to project manager and back to system administrator (showing that no, I really didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do) much of the “luck” I’ve been graced with was mostly for applying for jobs that I wasn’t exactly qualified for and happening to get the job. When I was hunting around for permanent jobs on my own, before I got recruitment agencies to do the legwork for me, I never really understood how I managed to get these jobs or how the people I was working with managed to get into their positions as well.n It all dawned on me when I sat down with my very first pimp (people who find me jobs) who gave me the behind the scenes look at the IT jobs market, but I’d hazard a guess that these principles hold true no matter what the market is.

Take for instance the list of job requirements listed below. This job pays similar to my current position and the work is in the same area, however the list below has people like me thinking twice about sending our resume their way:

  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a complex MS Windows active directory based environment
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting desktop systems in a MS Windows environment including local and remote deployments
  • Demonstrated ability in supporting MS Exchange based messaging systems and Blackberry Enterprise Services
  • Experience in Video Conference and IP Telephony administration desirable

Just to make my point a little more clear take another position where the work would arguably be the same, but the required skill set varies wildly:

  • Proven analytical and problem solving capabilities
  • Consulting experience
  • Excellent working knowledge of Windows based Infrastructure Environments (Windows 2003 OS, Exchange, DNS )
  • Having obtained or working towards an industry accreditation such as MCSE
  • Experience with Active Directory, Citrix, VM Ware
  • A good understanding of communications equipment and distributed networks

Whilst the former isn’t too bad the latter example shows what most recruiters call their shopping list of skills they look for in a candidate. In most situations you’re not going to be expected to match the criteria perfectly, in fact they’re usually counting on it. Once you get passed a certain level of skill it gets pretty hard to be an expert on more than a few technologies, especially if they don’t go hand in hand with each other (like CITRIX and VMware for example). Typically any IT shop that requires people with in depth skills of any nature will usually have a team of several of such people, just because they can’t expect one guy to know everything and if you could find such a genius you wouldn’t want to hire just one of them anyway. You’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle if they ever get sick or, heaven forbid, find a better job elsewhere.

The tactic I use to combat this brick wall of requirements is what I call shotgun job applications. Knowing full well that the shopping list of skills is probably no where near what they actually need I’ll send out applications to any job that I think I’m even mildly qualified for, basically spraying the job market with resumes. The responses that I get back from the recruiters then shows which ones are looking for someone like me and not the ones who are just putting up wish lists and hoping for that coveted genius tech to come along.

Wide reaching skill sets can also be an indication of how big of an operation a place might be. For example a job ad that lists basically every technology under the sun is more than likely to be a one man administrator shop, and I’d be surprised if the pay matched the skill set required. Jobs with narrower skill sets are more likely to be much bigger operations with multiple levels of support handled by varying pay grades. Depending on what you’re looking for these can be good or bad things, as you’re likely to have a lot more freedom in smaller operations but also a lot more responsibility. Whereas in larger operations you’re probably going to be quite restricted in what you do but the pay off is that you’re not responsible for everything under the IT umbrella.

It’s not just places with jobs doing this either, there’s also a healthy amount of recruiters posting up fake jobs with astronomical or wide reaching skill requirements just so they can fish for applicants to keep on their books. In my last shotgun job application spree I managed to net about 2 of such recruiters who advertised jobs in Canberra but strangely had no presence in our nation’s capital. This raised red flags instantly and after being lead up the garden path several times (and the “jobs” they had advertised being linked to an unnamed company who just landed a “big government contract” they couldn’t talk about) I knew I’d been reeled in. It did help me land a contract extension though as their multiple phone calls towards the end of my contract made bargaining with my current employer rather easy.

On the other hand though I really can’t blame the recruiters or organisations who are doing this. After recently losing 2 members of my current team to greener pastures management has been in recruitment mode to get them in. Unfortunately for them they’re one of the honest ones and this attracted candidates who, whilst looked quite good on paper, floundered in the interview. The result was so devastating that for the next round of interviews they gave every candidate a writtern test to complete before the interview would start, something I hadn’t seen since my days as a programmer (and that was for entry level, this is for a specialist position). When you’re looking for a decent candidate you have to do something to filter out the cruft, and scaring them away with a list of skills as long as your arm is probably the most popular option.

I guess my point to all this is that if you’re even the slightest bit good at your job chances are that you could be doing a lot better for yourself. You may look at the job market and wonder where all these people with amazing skills come from but the fact is that most of them are people like you who just gave it a shot one day and found themselves so much better for it. If you’re in a permanent job you really have nothing to lose by sending your resume out to see if anyone bites, and if they do it could be your ticket into a wonderful new world of opportunities.

Of course there’s always the chance it will go the other way, but that’s what taking a risk is all about 🙂

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