Friday, March 12, 2010

Failing Yet Another One of Life's Little Tests...Plus Tips for Getting Into IT!

[Note: I came to this realization before today - I just didn't have time to finish the article until now.]

Well, folks, I think it's time to waive the white flag regarding the job for which I interviewed a couple of weeks ago.

With no call back and no response to my inquiry about whether a selection for the position had been made, I think it's safe to say that the company isn't exactly beating down my door to claim me as their newest employee. I personally find the lack of information annoying. Nonetheless, according to most job search sites, it is not uncommon for most companies to just hope you go away if they don't have any further interest in your candidacy for a position. (But he said he'd call!)

The good news is that I'm pretty sure I wasn't dinged because of the J.D. Obviously, it's impossible to be certain, but multiple people from the company reviewed my resume (containing my law degree) and they still invited me in for an interview. Also, nobody really made it a big deal during the interview. I think if I was a closer fit for what they were looking, they would not have discriminated against me in hiring for the position based about my degree disability.

That said, I am disappointed. Based upon the job description, the position looked like a natural transition for me based upon my prior job experience (though not prior education). Essentially, I would be analyzing internet data through both basic statistical methods and by using tools such as SQL and some light scripting/programming.

In my prior position, I handled quite a bit of data and used SQL and some scripting in analyzing it - though not as extensively as the new position would have required. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use my prior work experience and also enhance my knowledge of SQL and PHP to allow me to eventually move into more advanced analyst or development positions.

Unfortunately, I felt a little blind sided at the interview. My conversation with the interviewer on the business side went pretty well. It seemed like we were really on the same page about everything; the interview with the tech guy, however, didn't go quite as well.

I didn't think it was a disaster, so when I updated you last time, I still thought I had a decent chance. In hindsight, I probably should have been a little less optimistic. The interviewer kept pushing me on my knowledge of PHP and programming in general even though they weren't mentioned as part of the job description. In fact, both the job description (and my resume) emphasized having a proficiency with data analysis and using SQL.

He also didn't seem particularly impressed with my SQL background even though I was very familiar with it and even used it in my last job. Moreover, he asked about my familiarity with other operating systems and wanted to know if I had any personal programming projects.

One thing I didn't share with you last time is that there was actually supposed to be a third interviewer: a more senior tech guy I believe. At the end of the interview, I was informed by the first interviewer that he couldn't find the third guy. At the time, I didn't think much of it since he said the other tech guy would just fill him in.

Now, however, it does seem pretty odd that the guy neither was around during a scheduled interview nor could be contacted (particularly in the era of cell phones, etc.). My assumption is that the first tech interviewer just told him not to bother with the interview because my programming skills were inadequate.

The biggest disappointment is that this seems to reinforce just how bad the economy is. It's possible that they interviewed a flawless candidate or one of the executive's nephews needed a job and they had no need to further review anyone else's credentials. Aside from those scenarios, however, I think I would have at least had a chance for a second interview in a better economy.

It isn't unthinkable that they interviewed some out of work web programmer or DBA (who was willing to be "underemployed") with decent statistical skills who could handle any necessary SQL or PHP programming with ease.

I don't think I would have had much trouble filling the role - albeit maybe with a period of adjustment. Most of the statistical analysis was pretty similar to what I had already done. I was familiar with SQL, and even its more advanced concepts are pretty easy to pick up. I was familiar with programming and PHP is a pretty straightforward language. Also, the type of things I'd have to do (use PHP to query a database) isn't all that difficult to learn and there are plenty of examples available on the web.

Sadly, in these tough times, companies aren't going to take any risks. There are a glut of well qualified and overqualified candidates for most positions, and those without flawless backgrounds for these positions are going to be at a severe disadvantage.

For those of you looking to get into the world of computers and IT, please know that experience and specific training are critical (particularly during the downturn) to getting into this field.

I'm going to spend the rest of this post discussing some strategies for improving your chances of getting employed in this field. I will link to a few external sites. Please note, I do not make any money off this blog, and I only recommend these sites as potentially useful tools.

Figuring Out What You Want to Do

IT is a large field. It can include anything from networking infrastructure, to web development, to programming. Popular areas include being a network administrator, working with or administering databases, designing and managing websites, and using of a variety of scripting and programming language. Because each area is different and getting up to speed in a specific area can take some time and dedication, it's best to select just one area at first and then pursue the appropriate skills and qualifications.

For the most part, I recommend for the average college educated job seeker (particularly those with a business/research background) to become as familiar as possible with SQL and scripting/programming (particularly web based scripting/programming). This sort of background will open up a number of doors in the business world for analyst and other positions where such knowledge is prized. Unlike most development positions, the amount of training and experience you will need will be less extensive.

Where Can You Learn These Skills?

Acquiring different skills will require different approaches. Because my focus is on SQL and light programming, I'll direct my advice towards these skills.

There are a ton of books, videos (usually web based), and tutorials available. Resources from the first two categories usually cost money (though a trip to the local library could help alleviate the cost). I also don't have any great recommendations. I purchased a couple books on PHP and web design, but they weren't particularly notable.

For the most part, I recommend sticking to free resources on the web to at least learn the basics. There a number of site with tutorials and free videos on Youtube.

The best site for learning the basics of areas like SQL and PHP is W3Schools. This site presents pretty straightforward step by step training and quizzes on how to learn various languages. If you can master each step and perform well on the quizzes, you should be able to develop a good background in a number of useful areas.

While this is a great site for learning the basics, even the mastery of all of the information it contains probably will only give you the knowledge base to work in positions where SQL, PHP, etc. are components of the job and not the job itself.

How Can I Demonstrate These Skills

One question that came up during the interview was whether I had a portfolio I could show to demonstrate my knowledge of PHP, etc. I had actually heard before that this can be a critical step in landing a development role. Because I wasn't under the impression that programming would play such a critical role in the position, I was unprepared to provide any samples.

If you're looking to enhance your resume, setting up some simple "e-commerce" applications on a web server can be a good way to do so and get some actual hands on experience in scripting.

If you don't want to start from scratch. Here are a couple good web tutorials about creating some simple applications:;

Operating System Diversity

This is also something that blindsided me during the interview process. Many web servers use Linux and many more nerds (i.e. the guys who are helping to make the hiring decisions) love Linux.

I was asked if I knew Linux during the interview. I'm really not sure how this was relevant, but aside from using a GUI interface once or twice, I really wasn't too familiar with using the OS.

This is probably tangential to more important skills, but installing Ubuntu (or another popular version) of Linux on another computer or by partitioning your hard drive may be a good idea. At the very least, you could honestly say you've worked with the OS, and if you can pick up some understanding of the commands and working with internet applications, you'll probably have passable knowledge.

Becoming a Real IT Professional

Unfortunately, most of these steps can only help you land positions that are tangentially related to IT. Unless, you're particularly disciplined and motivated, it can be quite difficult to really acquire the knowledge necessary to transition into the field - particularly its programming/software engineering wing.

Virtually all advertisements for software engineering/programmer jobs want people with knowledge of C++, Java, JScript, Ruby on Rails, SQL and about hundred other languages or applications. How on earth is an average person supposed to acquire that knowledge especially when one needs to find a job in a reasonable amount of time?

I seriously wish that I could have spent the time and money I wasted picking up my worthless J.D. to learn programming and working with databases instead. Of course, this lends itself to another problem, where does one acquire this knowledge?

I don't know of any great answer to that question. One answer is to try to pick up a second B.S. degree in computer science or information systems, but this is an expensive and time consuming undertaking - particularly if you're going at night while working during the day. Most of the on-line schools are also pretty expensive and virtually all of them are also geared to be four year programs as well.

There are some certification and training programs, but the quality and price of many of these are suspect.

The only one I found to be somewhat reasonable - and I know this sounds like some thinly veiled marketing ploy - is called Hands on Technology Transfer (HOTT) - hey, I didn't come up with the name.

I'm just providing the link for those who are interested. If you think I'm trying to snag a couple of bucks from you, feel free to just Google the company yourself. (If I was going to scam people, I'd start "Attorney Dreams" anyway.)

In any event, the reason I'm referring you to their site is because, it's the only company I can find that has regularly scheduled training in a variety of areas that can help you get into IT. I specifically linked to the PHP training.

The price does seem a little steep, but then again, I wasted twice as much on my worthless BAR/BRI course. It does seem that a course that lasts a whole week (of full day classes I believe) would be enough to provide rigorous training and help you build a portfolio of work samples. I don't, however, know if it's a reasonable substitute for a semester long college course.

Aside from going back in time and choosing a better major, I don't know what other advice to give.

If anybody out there who is "in the know" wants to offer additional advice, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at esqnever at hotmail dot com if you're interested in writing a guest post.

If I can ever land a document review job and make some money, I'd probably enroll in one or two of HOTT's courses to help me transition into the computer industry.

I will, of course, keep you apprised of any updates with my job search.


  1. Stay away from our industry, we don't need more unqualified people flooding our ranks.

    You choose law, you know nothing of technology. Don't kid yourself either.

    Why are you leaving law anyways, you guys bank.

  2. Hahaha...I'm going to assume by the last line this is a flame. If somehow this is a real post, please read the rest of this blog for your answer.

    I can assure you, however, I know more about technology than I know about the law.

  3. Hey, Esq Never, don't feel bad. I got the BS Comp Sci (honors) and never even managed to get an interview for an IT job, but of course when i was available for interviews was right after the tech bust of 2001. So I went into law as a patent agent, and then quit that job in late 2003 when the law firm I was working for ran out of work and was running off its patent agents. So now here I am looking for work as a lawyer during the biggest bust in legal employment ever. Talk about bad timing.

    Well, I am not even going to bother looking for work in IT. There are just too many smart, driven people trying to get into the field. Instead I am going to apply to any and all federal government position all over america, any that I might be remotely qualified for. I am a veteran and my service time gives me a veteran preference.

    If I were you, I would go into the trades. Seriously. My neighbor is a general contractor, and he and I were talking about it. He said that I would have a big advantage in that area because most of the people in the homebuilding trades are just drunks and are lazy and unmotivated.

    As I wrote in a recent blog post on my blog, the guy who replaced the wooden trim around the windows on the condo building next door netted 170K last year.

    Suppose you are thinking about opening a fast food place, and you have two possible locations: 1 location is an intersection has no fast food places within miles of it. And another location is an intersection with multiple fast food places at all 4 corners. Both places have equal traffic and consumer wealth. Which one is the most advantageous location for you to start your fast food business?

    Go to where the talent and smart and educated people ARE NOT. That is where your education and talent will be needed.

    And avoid areas of employment that are well known and well defined: law, medicine, nursing, law enforcement. Because these areas of employment are high profile, they attract a lot of job seekers. go to areas that are not well defined and are not high profile.

    THat is my plan, anyway....

    good luck....

  4. Sorry to hear that Esq. Never, I actually was thinking just yesterday that you probably got the job. I couldn't remember exactly which blogger it was, but since I couldn't find the post I just thought that blogger must have stopped blogging. I'm pretty sure at least one blog disappeared recently.

    In a better economy you get more interviews in a constant stream, so you shore up weaknesses and then start giving the perfect interview. In this economy, generally the interviews are further apart. For law as well, I'm not sure how you can research into the firm without the lexis lawschool access that gives you free access to any search. The best you can do is really memorize the websites. For other corporations, I'm not sure what you can do aside from wiki and again checking websites.

    I had kind of forgotten that myself, and some other things like preparing certain specific questions ahead of time. In this super tight economy you have to really nail everything perfectly, you can't let anything slip your mind at all, and that's just to get to the second interview. At the second interview you know the other candidate won't make mistakes at that point, so it becomes even tighter.

    I just myself recently interviewed for an ideal position for me in law, and am now in the waiting period. I made a follow up call, which I usually never do, and I was just told there was no information at the time. That's probably code for we're sending you a rejection in the mail, if we're going to send it at all. Timelines vary, but usually you hear sooner from private firms rather than later if you will be hired.

  5. Ha! That first comment was funny. EN, hang in there- at least you have a field that you have narrowed down that you are committed to getting into. That's the key I think. I've been a reader of this blog and all the other blogs since the inception, and I've been an occassional commenter. I have been desperately trying to get into a nonlegal field and leave the law for good. And I just started my new, permanent, nonlegal job! I really, really like it thus far. I'm sooo happy/relieved because it's been a 2 1/2 year struggle since law school, and frankly, I had been miserable and desperate. At some point this year, I decided to focus exclusively on getting a job outside of the legal field, decided which field after self-evaluation, and pursued it and let everyone know that this is what I was looking for. It took about 8-12 months or so. So, take heart, for those who want to get out. It is possible, and I was someone who had so much rejection, frustration with my job search, that I stopped believing it could.

  6. You should consider going to work in the belly of the beast by becoming a law librarian. That's what I did. Sure, you may have some weird co-workers, but it's a steady gig. We shit ourselves with excitement whenever we see anything related to web or database programming on a resume. And although it's another year or two of school, some people get hired while working on a masters part time. Or you could probably apply for web-related library jobs at big firms right now.

  7. Network admins do fairly well. I know one that makes at least $1,000 more than me.

  8. If you're going into IT, make sure you're doing something that requires you to be physically present at the work site. Everyone else (programmers, support, etc.) has been outsourced to India long before anyone even thought to outsource people in departments like HR and legal.

  9. Sorry to hear you have not heard back from the company, Esq.never. So annoying how companies just feel free to waste a couple of hours of our time and then never respond. Anyway, you should feel positive about the fact that you have the interest, skills and experience to pursue a non-law job. I think you will do just fine after focusing your job search on getting out of the law.

  10. I'm so sorry. I have to think this interview will lead to something eventually, even if it just gave you the secret code to job applications. It sucks so much, but I really think something good is out there for you.

  11. Hey esq never,

    sorry to hear the bad news. I've currently accepted a nonpaying internship in business...I think finding a job at this point is quite futile with a law background.

    fellow unemployable jd.

    question for you:
    how are you getting by without a job?

  12. 1:13 - Don't get too down. Some of the other bloggers as well as other JD's have been able to land non-legal jobs. The recession, however, isn't making this an easy task.

    As for your question, I currently live at home with my parents, and I have very few expenses most of which I pay for through savings. Fortunately, I held on to some cash reserves when I enrolled in law school.

  13. Similar situation, BSc in ChE with no experience and the albatross of a JD.

    Have you considered overseas contracting, perhaps with KBR or Fluor? Might be a bit dangerous, but in this economy any experience you can get is pretty much worth it.


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