You're a senior Java engineer who's been working with J2EE on enterprise
systems software and applications. You've got a résumé that reads like a
who's who and what's what of current technologies.
But when you apply for a job that looks like a perfect fit for your
skills, you get a rejection letter. Or even worse, it seems as if your
résumé was sucked into a black hole and you never hear anything back at all.
What's going on, you wonder. Why don't these people realize how perfect
I am for this position?
Potential employers look at a résumé in a way that's fundamentally
different than you might expect. And a lot of it has to do with the type of
work and the kind of company that's listed on your résumé.
To understand how people in the industry perceive different types of
engineering experience, imagine a box made up of four squares. From the top
left, number the squares clockwise, as 1, 2, 3, and 4. These numbers have
nothing to do with seniority levels; they're merely a way to visualize four
different types of work (see Figure 1).
Boxes 1 and 4 represent the work done at product companies. Boxes 2 and
3 represent the work done at IT organizations. The engineers who work at
level 1 build commercial applications that sit on top of the core
infrastructures built by engineers at level 4.
When we refer to product companies, we're talking about companies that
sell enterprise-wide products to other companies. These include Oracle,
Siebel, Arriba, and BEA. Using Oracle as an example, the level 4 engineers
are the ones who built the Oracle core platform. The level 1 engineers build
applications that run on top of it.
Engineers who build commercial applications must face a special set of
problems and challenges. Those who have worked in this environment have
experience with building a product that's going to market.
Engineers who work at levels 2 and 3 work for IT organizations, doing
similar yet different kinds of work. Examples of IT organizations include
the IT divisions of large companies such as Charles Schwab, E*TRADE, or DHL.
The engineers at level 2 build applications, for the company's internal
use, that sit on top of the core infrastructure built by engineers at level
3. While these may be powerful, complex systems and applications, there's a
fundamental difference between this kind of work and building a product
that's going out the door.
In the eyes of those within the industry, it's like looking at two
automobile engineers who are both building Fords. One engineer has been
building racing cars, the other has been building consumer cars. That's not
to say that one type of work is better than the other, but each product
demands different skills and experience from the engineer who builds it.
By the same token, an actor who's had a long career in situation
comedies is going to have a hard time selling himself to someone who's
casting a production of Hamlet. He might be a great Shakespearean actor, but
it's going to take some special strategies to sell himself for the role.
Many people fit into more than one of these imaginary boxes, and there's
no reason why a skilled engineer couldn't make the transition from one type
of work to another. It's a matter of perception on the part of potential
employers, and how well you can address those perceptions when applying for
The first step is to realize that based on your résumé, you are being
perceived not only by your skills, but by the type of work you've done in
the past. The second step is to specifically address potential concerns in a
cover letter or within the résumé itself.
Spamming out the same résumé for many different types of positions is
the most common mistake made by job-hunting engineers. It takes more time to
tailor your résumé and cover letter to each position, but in our experience,
it's the only way to catch the serious attention of hiring managers.
An unfortunate fact of life in the hiring world is that most résumés
aren't carefully read, they're scanned. Since we're currently in a buyer's
market, it's even more critical that you sell yourself carefully and
thoughtfully, taking as many issues into account as possible.
By recognizing in which of these four squares a hiring manager might
perceive you, you stand a much better chance of positioning yourself to
cross over into one of the other squares.
It's ultimately about depth and breadth of experience. Once you've built
racing cars, Aerostars, and Escorts, you should be able to get any job
building any kind of car you want.
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software
development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.
Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior position was at Renaissance Worldwide, where he held several senior
management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations.