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Is the IT industry short on Cobolers? This could be your lucky day

Sometimes a CV needs a few fossils

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Let's make one thing clear: your previous jobs are not the reason why you were hired. You were hired for having skills that bosses need.

People are employed because they are needed to do things that must be done, not because they can do something that is merely desired.

It’s not all bad news. The current Big Data hype means firms are reopening mature stable systems to suck in data. In this case, a “mature” system means that most, if not all, of the programmers who wrote it are long gone, so bosses often need archaeological skills to work out why the hideous old Oracle 3 and VB6 system behaves in a way that mystifies developers who’ve used versions that belong to this century.

Also, headcount freezes and attrition means that the support of some systems has dropped below a level that even Capita would find unacceptable.

What this all adds up to, is that some of the motley collection of skills that you’ve picked up over the years can be more valuable than you think. If you spin them right.

Your CV is wrong

First things first, drop the idea there is a perfect CV, even if you avoid the stupid mistakes I list here. You’re shooting in the dark and taking the time to read this article, which implies you’re not hitting as often as you would like. That means you need a Plan D. Plan A might be Python on top of MongoDB, B might be to go back to the bad old days of using Oracle, and C is to write SQL for whatever people will pay you to drive. Plan D is a shameless pitch to elbow your way in doing things other can’t or won’t do.

I suppose you can try to punt the idea that you’re smart enough to pick any API in a couple of days and since all programming languages either look like Lisp or C none really scare you. But realistically that won’t get your mortgage paid because you already know that the whole recruitment process fixates on having the latest version of the fashionable tech buzzwords and of course every single programmer on the planet is an Extreme Agile Top Down Business Oriented developer. Trust me on this because I read CVs for a living. We both know that when you say your last job was fiveyears where you used Hadoop and MapReduce, the reality is that for over four years you were the last remaining REXX guy, tending an old, critical system on life support. But by not mentioning it you are betting that a casual reader might think you only did the sexy skills. I have to admit that this spin can work, but at the price of that is missing jobs where your fossil skills are wanted.

Upgrade your pandering

A big mistake is only to have one CV that panders to this defective process, you need to pander to it in a more cynical way. Recruiters use keyword matching systems, so when a client says they want someone who knows Excel 4 macros (still in use) that’s what goes into the search field. Nor am I going to kid you that my firm doesn’t do the same - we just have a better search engine, one that lets me type in regular expressions and has a “sort of like” operator.

What no database can tell a recruiter is what you haven’t bothered to tell it. Please don’t tell me that you’re shocked when I say that job ads are spun to make the job look good, so there is a toxic symmetry where they don’t say that they need to migrate from Delphi and you don’t tell them that you know it. Whatever the skills needed, if the process is working properly, then you’ll be competing with people with roughly similar experience and sharing a fossil makes you stand out. Or not; you can’t know which of the jobs your CV gets sent to actually need your legacy skill which is why you need more than one. Fortunately there are still a lot of agencies so you can send a usefully different variant to each one.

That means you need to have multiple CVs, some with bright shiny leading edge buzzwords easily identified out from job ads, but others that include some of the things you think that no one wants.

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