in jobs

nonsense job adverts

I’m not currently looking for employment, but last week I was browsing the job adverts on a certain web-based recruitment site. One of the first adverts that I looked at had a description that went something like this:

We are looking for a web developer whose skills include the following: Java, Perl, Ruby, Python, HTML, XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Flex.

Exactly what language is their product written in? Is it all of them? I mean for god’s sake what a ridiculous, unreasonable and unobtainable set of requirements to be looking for. This was not an isolated incident though, there were a few adverts that contained this kind of nonsense in them – they were usually looking for someone with 2-3 years experience into the bargain. So, who applies for these jobs?

It may be someone who thinks they know each of these things inside out. But, forgive me if I’m wrong, I’m willing to bet that no such person exists – especially in their target audience. Any candidate who says they are experts in all of these things would have me suspicious right away.

Next, we have the folks that think: “Screw it, I only have a few of those skills, but I’m going to go for it anyway”. For me, the alarm bells would be ringing about the type of company that creates such a poor job spec. However, the person applying may be desperate. Now, given that that are unlikely to obtain many people applying for the job with the complete array of required skills, and presuming they actually want to fill the position, they are going to have to accept someone who is less qualified.  So, is possessing only two of the required skills enough to get you an interview? Or is there one skill in particular, say Java, that they are really looking for? If this is the case then JUST SAY THAT ON THE JOB SPEC YOU MORONS. It’s not that difficult, here, let’s give it a go:

Knowledge of Java is essential and experience of dynamic languages and web technologies will be looked upon favourably.

The companies core product must be written in some specific language, does it not make sense to promote the need for this skill? I cannot imagine any organisation creating a product with this myriad of technology. It’s just absurd.

So what are these companies achieving with job specs containing such utter nonsense? I don’t know. If my previous observations are valid, then it’s stupid candidates that think they know everything or people who are desperate. Is that a good thing? I think not.

I have never applied for a job through an agency, or website like this, but I know many who have – often you have no idea who the employer is before you enquire and I hate that (for fear of it being a bank). It is my personal opinion that it’s better to look for a job on, say, a companies website rather than through an agency – it takes a bit of work to identify companies in your area, but it’s worth it in the end. If a company can’t be bothered updating their website to include their latest job advert, they they probably ain’t worth working for; it’s either laziness or bureaucracy preventing this them putting it up, either way, they are probably best avoided.

Enough of the company bashing though. There is one other thing that I would like to talk about in more detail, and that is the candidates. In the past year or so I have heard a few “interesting” stories about people who have showed up for interviews at various companies. I would like to share them with you.

The first is about some dude who turned up for an interview at a rather large web-based company that sells, well just about everything these days, in a pair of denims and a running shoes. I mean what in the face of this Earth would make you think that dressing in this manner was how you go about getting a job. I’m all for dressing casual, and I wouldn’t work for a company that made me wear a shirt and tie to sit at a desk writing code, but it’s an interview for the love of god, dress appropriately.

In another incident a young fellow turned up for an interview and when asked why he wanted the job he said that his Mum had forced him to go to the interview. I was astounded when I heard this – I did piss myself laughing though. Maybe he just didn’t fancy the job and was too nice to say this. I must admit, though, I have done something similar: basically, I was asked if I would go and “talk” to someone who was looking for a developer, and as it turned out, I didn’t want the job, but the guys were so nice, I found it difficult to tell them I wasn’t interested (the work they were doing was simply “not my thing”). I ended up stringing it out for several interviews, I even answered my mobile phone in the interview (I had a legitimate reason mind you), and they still invited me back. This nicely brings me onto my last, and most recent, story.

Only a few weeks ago a friend told me about a guy who had turned up for an interview and when they went down to greet him he was on his mobile. Not only did he not hang up, he put his hand up to their faces and said “I will be with you soon” and continued on with his phone conversation. As far as I’m aware this conversation was of no particular importance, and as he had applied for the job (in my case I hadn’t), so you have to assume that he wanted it. Hardly the way to go about getting it.

Anyway, I’m always interested in hearing about the stupidity of candidates and employers, so feel free to leave your stories in the comments.

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  1. While I’ve worked will all those expected technologies, with the exception of Python, I would struggle to have an in depth conversation these days with about half of them. Is that what employers realistically expect? Is so, why not say so? Or are they really foolish enough to think that someone has been working with all of those technologies for the past 2-3 years, which when you think about it works out at about 3 months worked on each one which ain’t a hell of a lot

  2. I knew a guy who swore a couple of times when he was getting interviewed. He said at a difficult question, “Fuck I knew I was getting asked that” – he did not get the job.

    The words I had to put in Gregg to submit my comment were Boon and Oldring great words.

  3. I’ve had some belters in for interview – one guy who was quite simply drunk, and proceeded to tell me that Agile was pretty much the same thing as the Waterfall Model, and that he wasn’t a fan of Agile. Which is fair enough – I’m delighted for someone to come in and make a well-founded argument, but only if they actually understand the subject in hand!

    I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find good developers who have a deep understanding of the fundamentals. This seems to be a particular issue with .Net developers – I’ve found a much higher proportion of them that don’t actually understand the fundamentals of Object Orientation. In fact, I’m at the stage now where I’d far rather take on a Java or Ruby developer (as the last 2 have been) and have them learn C#, than take on a C# developer and have to teach them the fundamentals.

    So, our job adverts will typically not restrict it to a single language. And the problems with statements like “experience of dynamic languages” in job adverts is that they almost always go through a recruitment agency. Most recruitment agencies would have absolutely no idea what a dynamic language is. When they match up candidates to jobs, the first thing the look for is a technology match, and because they tend not to know anything about development, it’s all about matching languages.

  4. I never thought about the recruitment agency point of view with the “dynamic languages” thing. Interesting.

    I think you have pretty much hit the nail on the head with the languages thing. I think going down the road of understanding the fundamentals is the best way to go – well maybe unless you are looking for a contractor who has specific knowledge of a particular language or framework. For most good developers it is not that difficult to pick up a new language and I think this is something most good universities drill into their candidates. That said, the shift from Java to C#, for me, was/is not plain sailing. C# seems to have moved on as a language faster and, dare I say, better than Java. The result of this is that you really need to invest time in learning the new “modern” language features in C# – I actually have this very point noted down as something I want to blog about – otherwise you end up programming C# like a Java programmer.

  5. @Gregg
    This has made me think as well – probably 80% or upwards of all development roles are recruited through agencies who know almost nothing about development. And strangely, I don’t think anyone has cracked the problem online, although I see no reason why they couldn’t.

    A really powerful and well managed website that matched developers to jobs, allowed coding tests to be set, responded to and analysed etc etc would be an invaluable resource to a lot of companies. I’d happily give the 20% of annual salary (approx) that we currently pay for each role we fill for something like that.

    I’m now trying to think why no such site has emerged?…

  6. Most likely because most of the sites that start out this way get greedy (or ambitious, a fine line eh). They start thinking they will concentrate on developers only and may think about including the features you suggest, then they think “Oh wait, we could get more money if we take on sys admins as well”. At this point it gets messy to maintain a set of features for every different job category, so they consolidate and decide it’s better generic. Either that or large corporations have so many openings they want a quick fix when uploading specs, and sites, I would think, pander to the needs of the corporations.

    There are job boards that are more developer oriented like the 37 signals Job Board (Ruby on Rails guys) and the Joel On Software Job Board. However, you almost never see any jobs from the UK on there – well apart from the odd job in London. It would be interesting to know how many enquires a Scottish based company would get if a job was posted on there. Not too many I would think. That said, it may be a better quality of candidate you would get as if someone was on these sites as they possibly maybe be more likely to be interested in development.

  7. As an aside, we are currently getting 2-3 phone calls every day from agencies asking if we are taking on any new staff. Seems the current downturn in the economy is having an impact.