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Job Recruiter Interview: Specialization Can Provide An Edge

By Dave Abrams
January 27, 2010

Jay Lory is an independent executive search professional, and managing partner of SourceNet, with 15+ years of experience in the computer industry providing full life-cycle delivery of recruiting services to web-based and advanced software application companies in Silicon Valley.

Dave Abrams and Mr. Lory discussed the state of the technology job market and how job candidates can get an edge.

Interview Trascript

David Abrams: Tell me a little bit about your background. How long have you been recruiting?

Jay Lory: I have been recruiting for a little over ten years now, mostly in the Silicon Valley technology marketplace, primarily for product development, and product marketing.

David Abrams: I assume as a recruiter in Silicon Valley, you must have recruited for some of the leading technology firms in the country?

Jay Lory: Yes, I have. Initially I focused on the larger software companies in the valley [Oracle, Siebel] but over time the allure of the start-up became extremely appealing.

David Abrams: Do you have a recruiting specialty?

"There has been the shift towards decreased staff, with increased hours and individual responsibility that seemed to begin not long after 2001, and has developed into a trend."

Jay Lory: For the last year it's been primarily in the software space, in advanced communications media, social media applications development, and place-shifting technologies.

David Abrams: So, you are dealing with technology professionals, often software engineers, who are developing products. Some of these are communications products, and some are pure software products.

Jay Lory: Much of my time is spent recruiting software product development and associated engineering professionals. It can be product development targeted at the user or core-level system or application development. The "in-demand" software engineers in 2010 will possess senior level skills in multiple disciplines and on multiple platforms such and Windows and Mac and other technologies.

David Abrams: How has the Silicon Valley employment market been affected by the recession?

Jay Lory: Technology development and hiring in that marketplace has been strained by a number of different factors over the past ten years. In terms of hiring and retention, companies learned to run more efficiently with leaner staffs. There has been the shift towards decreased staff, with increased hours and individual responsibility that seemed to begin not long after 2001, and has developed into a trend. Additionally, longer staff hours do not necessarily translate into larger salaries.

David Abrams: When recruiting for candidates, what kind of skills are employers look for?

Jay Lory: I can only speak to the technology space, as that's where I spend most of my time, but I can tell you that degrees and certifications are absolutely required. While skill sets can be trendy, [currently iPhone application development] degrees and specialized certifications are paramount for many of the senior level technical opportunities available in the valley today.

David Abrams: Which degrees do your employers look for?

"[The technology job market] is still very tight. However, the past three months we have actually seen a bit of activity where markets have been quiet for some time."

Jay Lory: They look for computer science degrees, EE degrees, and also for advanced-level degrees or certifications in software development and communications.

David Abrams: Do they have a preference for any particular schools?

Jay Lory: There has always been emphasis on the brand name schools in Silicon Valley. Most clients obviously require, or prefer degrees in their specific technology space. While I think there will always be a preference for technology staples like MIT, Villanova, Stanford, and the University of Illinois, I believe many of the state schools have now offer advanced programs and curricula. Overall, I believe the institution is less quantifiable than practical experience and applications. Experience has always been the determining factor.

David Abrams: So the key is for applicants to have experience if they want to compete for any of these positions?

Jay Lory: With regard to hiring in the technology space, practical experience would typically trump the steepest education. However over the past few years, there has been a noticeable increase in employers' willingness to hire individuals with less experience than they typically would require.

David Abrams: From your standpoint as a recruiter in Silicon Valley, is there any advice you would give to a student about to graduate college hoping for a career in technology field?

Jay Lory: There are post grad programs available both online and off-line that are aligned with numerous technology companies throughout the U.S. Google began as a research project by two PhD students at Stanford.

"Aspiring employees should want to develop any associations that they can with the company they are hoping to work for, and they've got to do their homework..."

David Abrams: Are there schools that have affiliations with technology companies?

Jay Lory: Research & Development for alternative energy, and advanced communications are prominent universities labs across the country. There are universities that can be associated more closely with specific research programs, than others. There is also a sense of community in Silicon Valley which can be nurtured at research & development labs at many of the universities here. Some of the valley's more prominent think-tanks are collaborations between institutions.

David Abrams: What type of extracurricular activities do you recommend students interested in a career in this field get involved in while in college?

Jay Lory: I am seeing a lot of those things, including volunteering and interning. A lot of people will have demonstrated abilities that will allow them to get involved in certain programs at various levels. It depends on the particular technology space one might be a part of. For example, if one could be affiliated with, or do anything on the periphery of Google, that's considered a cool thing from a career standpoint. There are places to get started, but there is a very wide range. The landscape of positions may be very flat, but it's also very wide and varied. There are a lot of different projects and things going on in places where students can get plugged in.

Students really need to get the right type of practical experience in their chosen filed in order to launch their career. What is unfortunate is the current soft hiring market. One of the things that has always driven innovation in the influx of new ideas and talent into the marketplace. This trend may be compromised a bit in this type of economy. There are many newly graduated engineers in this marketplace and noticeably fewer opportunities available.

David Abrams: So you are still seeing that the employment market is tight in Silicon Valley?

"Job seekers additionally can gain an advantage by possessing a specific industry specialty or skill."

Jay Lory: It is still very tight. Although, hiring trends seem to vary quarter-to-quarter. However, the past three months we have actually seen a bit of activity where markets have been quiet for some time. The assumption is that companies are developing some new applications for new clients, and it usually blossoms from there. At some point, I do believe some normality [as we know it here in Silicon Valley] will return to the marketplace, possibly at a revised level than we've seen previously.

David Abrams: For technology workers or software engineers who have hit the glass ceiling, would you recommend they consider going back to school and getting more education? As you pointed out, it's a competitive marketplace, so would additional education help them upgrade their career?

Jay Lory: I think a lot of people, at all levels of employment are presently considering doing just that. They are getting certifications, and of course most of these certifications will come online, so that element that we were talking about earlier will come into play.

David Abrams: What would you recommend to a software engineer with an undergraduate degree who is considering getting a graduate degree? Do you think is it more helpful for them to get a master's degree in an engineering area, or would it be better for them to pursue an MBA?

Jay Lory: It depends on where they want to go. If they are considering a career in research and development or engineering, pursuing a computer science degree would make sense. If they see themselves moving into an area where professional services and industry consulting are prominent and provide upward mobility, the MBA would probably work in their favor. Additionally, it's not uncommon to see non-engineering, professional individuals in with multiple degrees in today's marketplace, perhaps an individual with a MSCS and an MBA.

David Abrams: Have you worked for companies who only consider candidates for particular positions if they have a certain degree? Maybe they won't consider candidates who don't have a computer science or electrical engineering degree?

Jay Lory: Oh yes, actually all the time. It's not an unusual part of the requirement at all.

David Abrams: Are there any other suggestions you would give to candidates in the field hoping to differentiate themselves in the market?

Jay Lory: Again, it goes back to experience. They candidate would need to continue to get certifications in chosen areas of interest and focus. I think a lot of it also has to do with the preparation and research they put into the companies they may be attempting to apply for. The level of intelligence one might gather on these companies, including its business approach, its culture, and the specific qualifications the company may be looking for, could go far in terms of differentiating oneself. Aspiring employees should want to develop any associations that they can with the company they are hoping to work for, and they've got to do their homework a little bit. Simply sending your resume out there probably will not get the desired result. A candidate in today's marketplace needs to make phone calls, meet new people, and really just do a lot of networking.

David Abrams: Are there informal alumni networks in Silicon Valley? If someone went to a particular school, is it easier for them to network with other alumni of that school?

Jay Lory: Yes, it is, and occasionally career advancement can be accelerated. There are many different associations associated with different market sectors that will offer collaborative opportunities, which may allow a job seeker to network with companies closest to their selected targets and career goals. These collaborative opportunities might occur within alumni associations or joint industry partnerships and in the general technology community itself. Job seekers additionally can gain an advantage by possessing a specific industry specialty or skill.

David Abrams: Right, it's hard to be a generalist?

Jay Lory: It really is. For example, the media side of the tech marketplace now has its own set of rules now, and each little pocket has its own unique set of requirements.

David Abrams: Is there anything that you could warn people about regarding what not to do with their career so they don't make the same mistakes you have seen made in the past?

Jay Lory: Today's job seekers need to consider what part of the industry they are seeking to enter and make some sort of determination of whether that industry segment is on an upturn or a downturn. There are obviously viable reasons for entering certain industries with either market condition. Thus candidates might want to consider a career with advancement possibilities moving forward. In my opinion, the ability to network as much as possible, with as many individuals, would provide opportunities, both present, and in the future. One element that is not mentioned enough is the job seeker's need for a support structure in place. Financially, physically and emotionally, job seeker's support structure [family] needs to be in step with the plan as well. Finding a career opportunity can take a bit of time in today's market. There will be wins and losses. It's really all about preparation and timing.

David Abrams: For those about to start a job search, how should they best partner with a recruiter?

Jay Lory: I think they today's job seeker would want to find out the recruiter's area of specialization and attempt to align it that area of specialization with their own so they know it is a good match. Recruiters tend to gravitate towards very high demand industry trends, so prospective job seekers need to be asking their recruiters the right questions. A generalist recruiter may not necessarily afford the job seeker the best opportunity to get placed in today's technology marketplace.

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