Episode 44 – How to get a great job as a developer

On this podcast, we talk a lot about what is like to be a software developer, how to become a developer, how much and what kind of education is needed or whether any education is needed at all to get your foot in the door, and so much more. After all, this podcast is all about supporting software developers whether you are aspiring to become a developer, just starting out, or well into your career. But, today’s guest is a little different than what you have heard about before. Today, Mentoring Developers has interviewed a guest so unique that you can’t miss out on the chance to hear what she has to say.

Meet Cassandra Ferris. Cassandra is not a developer. Nor is she a consultant. Cassandra is a recruiter. Now, recruiters, at least in the tech industry, have in some cases gained a bad rap, but don’t let that stop you from listening in. Cassandra has a unique background and history that is very interesting. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a recruiter or how to approach a recruiter? Well, wonder no more. Listen in to episode 44 as Arsalan and Cassandra discuss what life is like for a recruiter. We promise that you won’t want to miss out on this one.

Cassandra’s Bio:

Cassandra Faris is the Talent Manager at Improving, a software development consulting and training company in Columbus, Ohio. She is highly involved in the regional technical community. She is President of the Microsoft-focused Dog Food Conference and Marketing Lead for CloudDevelop, a cross-platform cloud computing conference. She has an MBA in Organizational Leadership and Marketing and is an avid tabletop gamer, runner, and rabid soccer fan who travels as much as possible.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today my guest is Cassandra Faris. Cassandra, how are you?

Cassandra: Good. How are you?

Arsalan: I’m doing great and I’m so excited to have you on the show. I’ve been trying to get you on the show because I think you’re very unique.  I can say it easily that you are the most unique of all my guests so far and that’s because you’re not a developer yourself, but you hire developers and you work in Human Resources. You’re a recruiter. Is that right?

Cassandra: That’s correct. I am in charge of talent management for a software development consulting company called Improvement.

Arsalan: That’s awesome. I want to talk to you about all the stuff that goes into hiring and what makes a good developer for you to hire. What do you look for? What do you not look for or what do you try to avoid? But first I want to ask you about something very interesting about your life. You did something in Mexico and there’s some story behind that. Tell us a little about that.

Cassandra: When I went to college my minor was actually Spanish. I spent two summers while in college living in Mexico studying one summer and interning with a human rights group the following summer.  I came out of that experience as a Spanish-English bilingual. Being bilingual is actually the skill set that got me started with recruiting. My first recruiting role was with a diversity staffing agency and I was in charge of hiring and Human Resources for temporary warehouse employees. Throughout the day, my work was primarily conducted in Spanish.

Arsalan: Did you find that challenging?

Cassandra: I did. The biggest challenge when I’m going into a situation where I Have to speak Spanish is just learning the vocabulary. So, picking up the vocabulary for interviewing questions, HR issues as well as speaking the warehouse language was challenging and interesting.

Arsalan: Do challenges motivate you? Is that what gets you going?

Cassandra: It’s one of the things that get me going, yes. I like that challenges. I like helping people develop their careers as well. That’s something I’m really passionate about. In the case of the warehouse employees, several people were new to the country and several were political refugees and others had other situations that brought them here. So, it was exciting helping people get their start here in America.

Arsalan: It’s just so interesting. People have different backgrounds. We tend to assume that everyone has the same experiences as our own. I would never have known that this was how you got started. For me, this was a complete surprise and it’s wonderful because that reminds me that when I get to know people I will learn about their unique experiences and that’s what’s going to help me to have empathy for different situations, which makes me a good person to be around, right? Then, I will not judge people based on outward appearances and I will have the patience to learn about their quirks and unique situations. I think that makes for a better workforce. What do you think, Cassandra?

Cassandra: Oh, definitely. I think that’s part of what makes the world like mine fun and interesting is getting to know different people, their stories, knowing what they want to do and what motivates them and being able to empathize with all their different situations.

Arsalan: Okay, so we know a little about you, Cassandra. We know that you are a recruiter. We know that you got started in a diversity-oriented setting, but we don’t know much else. How do you define yourself right now? Do you see yourself as a 24/7 recruiter? Who is Cassandra Faris?

Cassandra: Well, my role is talent management and community outreach. So, it’s kind of two pieces of what I do. The talent management component is hiring software developers, BSPMs and everybody that supports the dev team and then helping them grow their careers and career skills. On the community end, I actually organize a couple of technical conferences. I speak at technical conferences and I do some marketing as well for my company and it all ties together with growing the dev community and being involved in it and contributing to the dev community as well as learning from it.

Arsalan: Okay. So, right now, your job is to hire people. Do you also onboard people or do you work with them once they’re hired?

Cassandra: Yes. I do onboarding and then once they’re hired, I help people. My employees will come on and they might have a certain career goal that they’re trying to reach or a certain skill they’re trying to pick up. Over time my role is evolving more and more into a role where I do that kind of mentoring and guiding of my employees.

Arsalan: That’s really interesting. I’m wondering if you have to go to school for this kind of thing. Do you have to get a special education to be a recruiter?

Cassandra: Not really. Recruiters come from all different backgrounds. For me, personally, I got my MBA in a focus called organizational leadership and the minor was marketing. The organizational component, specifically the HR component as well as marketing is what lead me to recruit because it kind of marries human resources and marketing.

Arsalan: So, you got your MBA, which is a highly desirable degree because then you can be a manager at a large corporation. I’m assuming that’s one of the goals of getting an MBA. So, what was your first job?

Cassandra: My very first job out of college?

Arsalan: Yes.

Cassandra: I was actually a warehouse supervisor in a greenhouse. I worked for a greenhouse that grew all the plants that ship to like a Lowes or Home Depot. My job was to supervise the employees who worked on that warehouse line. That was also a Spanish-speaking job. I started that job through a staffing agency and then was hired on full time to the company.

Arsalan: Okay. How long did it take for you after you left that job before you got a recruiting job?

Cassandra: There were a few years between there. I did some apartment leasing and some sales. Then, as I was completing my MBA program, I was also selling insurance for Nationwide and over time I decided that a sales job was not really the right role for me. It was a little too transactional for what I like to do. So, when I got my MBA I targeted the recruiting and HR world as a career. I find that more rewarding.

Arsalan: So, that was a conscious choice. It didn’t just fall into your lap. You wanted to become a recruiter and then you had a plan.

Cassandra: Yes. I wanted to do something with HR or marketing, so I didn’t necessarily set out to be a recruiter, I kind of fell into it given those two interests.

Arsalan: Okay. That’s really interesting. How did you start? I’m just wondering if my audience wants to become recruiters how they get started. Do they start off at some kind of internship? Is there a path or a corporate ladder that you have to climb?

Cassandra: There are all sorts of different paths that people take to it. I landed in it in a supervisory role in warehousing. So I’ve come straight from that path and I think that MBA is what allowed me to skip over the entry-level recruiting. But there are people who go into recruiting right out of college. There are bigger companies that will grow and build their recruiters. For me, the more conscious decision was to specifically target the tech industry. As I reached a point when it was time for a change from the warehouse job, I started wanting to be involved in the tech industry as a recruiter. So that was a more conscious decision for me.

Arsalan: You know the next question has to be “why the tech industry?”

Cassandra: It’s fun, interesting, and I’m always learning something. Every day, every person I talk to, every candidate I interview, every talk I go to I learn something new. It was partially the learning and partially the interest in technology, not necessarily as a programmer, but in technology in the way that it impacts our daily lives and the things we can do with it, and also the fact that it’s a growing industry. There’s good stability. There’s good security. There’s very low unemployment. So there are a lot of reasons that made me target that industry.

Arsalan: Do you find yourself going to a lot of developer events, gatherings and meetups?

Cassandra: Yes. I am at several developer events per month. The company I work for actually hosts several of them in our office. So, I’ll go to those are all go to the other ones around town. I’ll also go to a number of conferences. I also go to a lot of conferences because I like to have a high level of understanding of the technologies that my candidates are working with and understand the technologies do, how they’re changing, what the trends are in the industry and keep up to speed on those.

Cassandra: Additionally, I mentioned earlier that I organize a couple of different technical conferences. I’m actually the president of a Microsoft focused conference called Dogfood Con. That’s about a 450 person conference. It has tracks for developers, dev ops, IT, DBAs, as well as software professional skills track. I also do the marketing for a cloud computing conference called CloudDevelop and that’s just a cross-platform cloud computing conference. So, I’m definitely entrenched within the dev community. I have also spoken that a number of different technical conferences and user groups.

Arsalan: Okay. So, you have your hands full. You are immersed in developer culture. You want to be in the know and be in the middle so you can attract the best talent, right?

Cassandra: Exactly.

Arsalan: That’s your goal. I’m putting myself in the shoes of the person who goes to these meetups and conferences, and he or she sees a person who is a recruiter and conference organizer like yourself. But ultimately, this is all in the spirit of finding the best talent for you. Perhaps that person is interested in finding a better job or finding their first job, or just feeling out the work environment and trying to see if there’s something better. But, perhaps there a little bit shy and not really sure what to do in that situation. Yet, they are at that meetup or conference and you are there as well. What would you recommend to that person? Should they approach you? Should they try to email you? If they do approach you, what’s the best way of approaching you? What should they say to you?

Cassandra: Recruiters are usually pretty easy to spot at events. A lot of times will mention that that’s what we do, or if it’s a user group, sometimes a let us announce that we’re hiring. If it’s at a conference, a lot of times I’m working at my company’s conference booth. In any of those situations, the best thing to do is to just come up to me and chat. A lot of times how it looks, is that people will come up to me and they’ll say that they’re looking for a job or their friend is looking for a job and all have a short conversation with them about what they do and then I will have them email me so we can schedule a longer conversation. Usually, I’ll give them my card and asked them to shoot me an email, send me a resume and let’s meet up for coffee, lunch, or just have a more in-depth conversation. But having a little conversation at that conference or event is a good place to start.

Arsalan: So, that person is probably the person who’s trying to reach you or contact you. It’s also possible that there’s a line of people and it’s possible that they are not really sure what to say. Should they say, “my name is so-and-so? This is what I do and if you have any good opportunities, let me know.” Or, should they just strike a more social conversation?

Cassandra: Actually, you can do either one. It just kind of depends on what you’re more comfortable doing. It’s perfectly acceptable to also just come up and ask what skills you’re hiring for, and that’s a good place to start.

Arsalan: Did you know that I interviewed your husband a while back for this podcast?

Cassandra: Yes. I was actually in the house while you were interviewing him.

Arsalan: You were kind enough not to interrupt during the interview.

Cassandra: Yes, we both get each other’s jobs.

Arsalan: Did you listen to that? What did you think of that episode?

Cassandra: I thought it was good. I think there were some good points about how to grow your talent.

Arsalan: Yes, he’s a great guy. We’ve been in touch since then. So, everybody should check out the interview with Jared Ferris and will put the link in the show notes. Also, there’s a whole bunch of notes that Cassandra mentioned about all the things that she’s doing. We will try to have all that the show notes, so that when you are listening to this episode. You can go to www.scientdev.wpengine.com/episode 44 and you will see the transcript for this interview, some links, and all the show notes and a way for you to listen to it in iTunes, and etc.

Arsalan: It’s fascinating for me because we’re seeing your career, your life from the other side. I want people, developers, newbie developers, aspiring developers, all kinds of developers and designers to empathize with your situation because recruiters are unfortunately not the most liked people in our industry. What you do and people like you do is essential for us. It is a service, but sometimes there is an issue with the way that recruiters go about their business. That sometimes creates a situation where there is occasionally hostility towards recruiters. I don’t know if you have felt it.

Cassandra: I have but I don’t feel it very much anymore. But early on there was a little bit of people wondering what this recruiter was doing at the technical meet up. I think I overcame it pretty quickly, by being open about who I am and what my job is as well as my being at the technical events, not necessarily with the goal of hiring people, but more just so that I can learn. Do I hire people at those events? Yes. But is that the goal? No, it’s not the only one. So I think that for me it’s been a matter of building credibility and becoming entrenched in and a part of our dev community and giving back to it, and contributing to it. You know, sharing my knowledge about the things that I talk about and the things that are also important skills for developers as well is just helping support the community through sponsorships and organization, and marketing and promotion. I feel like I’ve helped our community grow and that has helped me as a recruiter.

Arsalan: Imagine I am a software developer and I just got my first job. It’s not a great job, but I’m doing it and it’s been a year or two and I feel like my talents are not being utilized. I don’t have the advancement opportunities at the company. The company is not encouraging me to go to conferences or to improve myself. I am essentially at a dead-end job and I now want to see what else is out there. Perhaps I could get a job as a more senior person or a mid-level person. I don’t want another entry-level job. I want to work in the company that I appreciate somebody who wants to learn and who will essentially hold my hand a little bit and help me grow. That’s what I want. What do I have to do? If you’re somebody who is recruiting for that type of position, what do you want to see in my resume and what do you want to see when you talk to me?

Cassandra: If your company is not encouraging you, you can take initiative to do things on your own, whether that means taking classes online or going to meet ups or doing something to grow your knowledge. Your employer should support it, but they might not always necessarily do that. In general, once you get past about a year to two years of experience as a developer, a whole bunch of opportunities will open up just by virtue of there being a lot of demand for mid-level developers.

Cassandra: One of the biggest barriers to starting as a software developer is getting that first one to two years of experience. Once you’re there, you have all sorts of options. When you’re ready to start looking for something new, you’ll want to start that process early. What you don’t want to do, is you don’t want to wait until you’re so desperate to get out of your job that you take the first thing that comes along. Instead, when you’re making that first move, you want to do is do some research and look at market salaries, the types of companies within the area, and maybe there’s a specific industry that you want to work in and target. So you need to do a little bit of research.

Cassandra: You want to start updating your resume and reaching out to your network. You don’t need to necessarily throw your resume up on a job board yet, but start putting out feelers. Start having those conversations early so that you can give yourself a few months to find the right job.

Arsalan: I want to know about how to craft a good resume for somebody who has maybe a couple of years of experience, but maybe not more than that. Are there different formats? I just want to have an idea of what you think makes a resume that get your attention.

Cassandra: There are a few things. It used to be that resumes were not supposed to be more than one page and that kind of harkens back to the days when resumes were a piece of paper and you only want to look at one piece of paper. Now that they are electronic, it’s okay if they go on to two pages and as you get more senior, maybe on to three pages. The biggest things that I look for on resumes include that I want a summary of what you do, this could be a quick little summary of you telling me that your developer, what you do, how much experience you have and what you specialize in.

Cassandra: From there, I want to see what technologies you have worked with. Obviously, a chronological list of jobs that you’ve had is helpful. On those bullet points where you’re talking about your job, I want to know what you’re doing. I see a lot of resumes that will say things like wrote SQL queries or wrote store procedures or developed .Net applications. That’s great, but what are you doing?

Cassandra: I’d much rather see developed .Net applications for insurance rating software or developed SQL queries for retail data or something that talks about what the software you’re working on does, who the users are, or how it ties into the business. I look for something they give some context, rather than just a list of queries. If you are applying for a .Net developer position, it’s safe to assume you’re writing C sharp. That’s implied. So, what are you doing with that C sharp? What unique components have you created and how are you contributing to the project? That’s all very important to me.

Arsalan: That’s a very interesting thing to hear because the reason people do that is essentially because we’ve been told that you need to have these keywords in the description of those jobs. Some people are searching for C sharp, Java, Ruby, SQL, whatever. What we have been told is that if you have these technologies only in a list of keywords at the top. They want to know where you use these technologies and I think that’s probably what’s making a lot of developers emphasize those skills and technologies inside their job descriptions. But that’s why we don’t think about the function.

Arsalan: I think we have evolved to a point where things have standardized as you were saying that if you are a .Net developer using C sharp, that’s no surprise. But, what you’re doing with that will indicate what industry you are working on and what type of applications you’re making. For me, that’s a good reminder to stay away from very heavy keyword user resumes and resumes that read more like a description. Am I oversimplifying this? A lot of times what we have is bullet points under job names. From what I’m understanding is to not worry about short phrases, bullet points and action words like we were told in college.

Cassandra: You do still want to call out those languages within your bullet points and call out the technologies, but give a little bit more detail about what you’re doing. Created JavaScript components for an updated retail website is much better than simply writing that you “wrote JavaScript.” Just let us know what you’re doing with the technology. Bullet points are good for readability and I do think the action words are still very important (designed, developed, built, created). All those things are still good ways to start the bullet points. I don’t necessarily like seeing resumes that contain a paragraph under every job. It’s hard to read. It’s hard to extract the pieces of information that I need. I do want to touch on the keywords in the keyword component of resumes.

Cassandra: one of the reasons for that is sometimes you apply for resumes online or you post your resume on job boards and they have to be searchable. Resumes get parsed and they pull out the information and the technologies. So, if you’re taking that kind of approach to your job search where you are putting your resume up online and see what comes out, or just kind of blindly applying to companies, then keep the keywords in your resume. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to look for jobs. I think it’s better to go through your network, people you know and kind of try things that way first. In that case, those keywords would be a little less important than they would be if you were just putting, your resume up on a job board.

Arsalan: Job portals are like shark infested waters.

Cassandra: They’re terrible.

Arsalan: You get a lot of recruiters who call you, contact you and email you because your information and your resume are there. An overwhelming majority of these people who contact you don’t really have any way of hiring you. They just want to see if you bite and if you respond to them, then they’ll start the conversation. These are like mass emails people sent automated. They take a lot of time and this is why they’re such a bad reputation for recruiters within the developer community because we get so many of these emails every day. Most of them are just spam.

Cassandra: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Candidates also do that. I get more of the job board resumes that are terrible resumes, than not. There are companies that will actually spam recruiters with resumes of a lot of times there’s subcontractors who they are trying to hire. They’ll just spam us with all these resumes that have nothing to do with the position that the person is applying for. So we get that as well. So job boards are also a frustration on our end. Plus, we are competing with every other recruiter in town to try to get a hold of you. So I am very rarely on job boards. I don’t use them very much in my recruiting. I think in the past two years. I have only hired one or two people off of the job board. That’s all that I have gone out sourced from the job board.

Arsalan: That’s an incredible thing to hear. That’s for all of our interviews are spanned. If you’re developer and you’re looking to get hired, the first thing you do is post your resume online and maybe apply for jobs or just wait. Like we said, most of the times the people who contact you are not going to be the right people. But if you know somebody like Cassandra, somebody was taking personal interest in your career, then you have a better chance. Not only do you have a better chance of not wasting your time, but also for getting a job where the chances of you actually getting hired are higher. You’re probably also going to make more money that way.

Cassandra: Here’s another thing. Another way that you can actually use the Internet. That is a very effective way of applying for jobs is that rather than posting your resume on job boards, update your resume and create a LinkedIn profile, if you haven’t made one. Yes, you’re going to get contacted by recruiters, but if you make a LinkedIn profile, then you can be proactive in your job search. There might also be a company that you really want to work for. Or, you can go on LinkedIn and find a recruiter or a human resources person or maybe, a developer who works there, find those people and contact them through LinkedIn and ask about jobs that way. That way you have a little more control over what you’re applying for, and who’s getting and seeing your resume rather than if you just blindly post online.

Arsalan: I think that’s really good advice. I think we’re coming to towards the end of the interview and it’s been an amazing interview because were finally getting to hear from a recruiter, somebody who will not spam us, but will listen to us and help find the right fit for us. So, we appreciate that Cassandra.

Cassandra: Thank you. Also, I do a conference talk called “Job Search Questions You’re Afraid to Ask.” Those slides are posted up on my LinkedIn profile and the talk actually covers when it is time to look for a new job and what you should be asking about. It also touches on some legal issues, things like non-compete on intellectual property and he gives you some guidance on how to make a decision about what you want to do. When I created that slide deck, I created to be something that could stand alone as a resource. So it might be a good idea to review it. If you are looking for something new and kind of looking for some guidance. It’s not comprehensive, but it does aggregate a lot of years of interviews and a lot of years of helping people to job searches with things that they should be asking about, but don’t necessarily know.

Arsalan: Yes, that sounds amazing. Why don’t you send me the links to your slides and your conferences that you go to and anything else and will make sure to put it on the show notes of the people can go to scientdev.wpengine.com/episode44 to see them.

Arsalan: So, Cassandra, it was a pleasure having you on the show. Before we go, I’d like to ask you if you have any final piece of advice for people looking for jobs?

Cassandra: Anybody who has ever talk to me in person knows this, but I will talk all day long about the importance of having a network. So, start going to user groups. Start going to conferences. Start meeting people in our industry and when you meet those people, stay in touch with them. So, if you meet somebody at a conference, after the conference, send them an email or send them a tweet, or a LinkedIn, however, it is that you like to stay in touch. Grab lunch or coffee with them every once in a while, or just have an online conversation. Because then whenever you’re looking for a job, you can always tap into your network and you can ask them whether they know of anybody who is hiring. For 22 months straight, everybody who I had hired had been through word-of-mouth, through networks. Then, I had one guy apply for a job off of the job board and I hired him recently, but it’s super important to have a trusted network of people who can help you through job search and who you can also help through their job searches. So, I think that’s the biggest piece of advice that I would give.

Arsalan: I think I fully endorse this recommendation. This is awesome. If you don’t have a network or a mentor, if you really want to talk to recruiter and get an idea of your skill set and where you stand, you can contact Cassandra and will have all the information and show notes for you. You can also email me at us@mentoringdevelopers.com or you can tweet at me at @mentoringdevs, or you can also go to my website at scientdev.wpengine.com/episode44 or whatever the episode number is. You can also go to iTunes or etc and leave a comment. We are looking for responses and feedback from all of you because we can then shape the podcast to match what you need. Also, if you go to mentoring developers.com/list, you will be signed onto an email list and you will receive a five email course where I talk about the five best ways of finding success as a developer. It’s really good advice.

Arsalan: All right, Cassandra, I’ll see you later.

Cassandra: Thank you.

Important Links

Dog Food Conference


Job Search Questions You’re Afraid to Ask

Twitter: @cassandrafaris

Cassandra on LinkedIn

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