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According to Hoyle...

Software Development Jobs in a Down Economy

[ Part I | Part II | Part III ]

April 2009

by Jonathan Hoyle



We continue this month exploring this month exploring the software development job market in the present economy, from a Macintosh perspective.  Last month, I began by making the comparison of the current economy with the '92/93 recession.  In particular, I noticed that The Bureau of Labor Statistics (which is a wonderful resource by the way) listed the January 2009 unemployment rate at 7.6%, which neared the high of the recession 15 years earlier (which itself peaked at 7.8% in June 1992).

A month later, we now have the February 2009 unemployment rate, which has jumped to 8.1%.  This figure edges out the worst of the '92/93 recession, and one must now go back to '82/83 to beat that number.  For those keeping score at home, this latter recession peaked at a whopping 10.8% in November and December of 1982.  Hopefully, we will not see the jobless rate spike to quite those levels, but it's certainly too early to rule out anything just yet.

But of course, this 8.1% figure is the overall jobless rate.  What would this figure be if we were to limit our arena of interest to that of software development?  As pointed out last month, this is the first recession to affect software engineers in any measurable way.  The Bureau does not break down the unemployment figures in narrow occupational fields like "Macintosh engineers".  The most specific these numbers get is in very broad categories, and in the Professional and Related Occupations group, the unemployment rate is 4.5%, or nearly half the overall jobless rate.

At first glance, this may appear to suggest that the current recession is not hitting professionals nearly as hard as other categories.  As it turns out, such optimism is not warranted, as professionals typically have a lower unemployment rate even during good times.  For example, the February 2008 overall jobless rate stood at 4.8%, but for professionals was 2.3%.  If anything professionals are being hit harder, as their unemployment rate has nearly doubled in a year's time, whereas the overall market has seen its joblessness jump only 68% for the same time period.

Posting Your Resume

Obviously, the first thing you want to have ready is your resume.  Keeping it up-to-date and ready for the viewing is certainly essential.  Some of the job-hunting books do not put a high premium on keeping a static resume, but rather ecommend that a professional taylor a resume specifically for the position to which he or she is applying.  Despite the logistical hassle of rewriting dozens of resumes, this recommendation may have made a bit of sense in the pre-internet days.  However, today most resumes are searched and found digitally, and keeping your resume accessible online precludes you from knowing who is actually reading it.  And although it is true that a significant number of resumes are still printed and mailed, those searching for software engineers rely less on old school approaches and more o the Internet.

Most people have heard of Monster and other such resume resources, and I encourage everyone - whether you are looking for job or not - to keep your updated resume posted at all times.  Moreover, keeping your resume copied on your own web site is useful (as mine is at  True, this may generate some unwanted phone calls from time to time, but it's an excellent gauge to determine your marketability.  It provided an object lesson for me only a few years ago, as at one time, recruiter calls began to diminish.  As it turned out, my resume (which boasted of very strong C++ and Carbon skills) made nary a mention of Objective-C and Cocoa.  Callers who did contact me made it clear that this was quickly becoming an important skill set.  This information became a wake-up call for me, and allowed me to be ahead of the game once Apple's Death to Carbon pronouncement was made at WWDC 2007.

I found another unexpected benefit to my policy of keeping my resume continually posted.  I had just started working for a small company, and apparently the CEO liked to keep track of his employees by monitoring for their resumes on  If he suddenly sees a resume for one of his employees pop up, he knew that they were interested in leaving.  Once I was hired, he had expected that I would mark my resume as inactive so that it would no longer be publicly searchable by other employers.  However, I never did take it down.  After a time, this CEO very indirectly brought up the topic about resume searches with me, and I happen to mention that I always kept my updated resume online simply as policy.  Once this understanding was made known, it allowed me the flexibility a few years later of looking for other opportunities without communicating that fact to my present employer.

Handling Recruiters

Getting calls from recruiters is an occupational hazard for any Mac developer wishing to test the waters for a new job.  Recruiters come in different grades of quality, and sadly the worst ones become more numerous in down economies.  After all, with a larger number of fresh people looking for work, one can quickly start up a business by simply collecting online resumes.  All you need to do is send out emails to the world about some vague "opportunities" that require "immediate responses", and watch the replies come in.  And since recruiters make their commission whether or not the job is the "right fit", many of these recruiters will persuade, cajole and pressure you into taking whatever job into which they can place.

Some recruiters will even undermine other job opportunities you have lined up, just so they do not lose their commission.  This happened to me about 15 years ago, when I was asked by a recruiter to tell him what other interviews I had lined up (asking under the pretext that he did not wish to duplicate those same efforts).  I naively told him what else I had scheduled for the next week.  I didn't think anything of it until on the day of one of those interviews, I had found out that this recruiter called this company's CEO, telling him of my other interview options, and placed me into a rather awkward situation.

Do not give to a recruiter any personal information (beyond that which is reasonably useful for job searches), unless you have a long standing and trusting working relationship with this person.  There is too much temptation for such people to compromise your situation so as to pad their bottom line.

Fortunately, there are also some excellent recruiters out there as well.  The good ones will tell you as much they can about a company who is hiring.  Sometimes they cannot give complete disclosure, but they will do due diligence in ensuring that this would be an acceptable option for you.  Where bad recruiters will barely read your resume and attempt to fit you into a non-Mac related position (due to ignorance or apathy or both), good recruiters know what you are truly looking for and will filter out inappropriate options.

Good Example:  As I do not wish to endorse any particular agency, I will mention one which is sadly no longer doing business: Scientific Placement.  Back in the pre-internet days, readers of MacWeek would recognize Scientific Placement's ad in the classified section over the many years.  Scientific Placement was one of the best Mac recruiters in its day, and its reputation only grew due to its professional integrity and individual personal attention to its clients.  Run by Dave Small and Allyson Pardue, this team of recruiters represented the best of the best.  To them, you were a person first and a client second.  They were genuinely try to find an appropriate match for both you and the hiring company.

Bad Example:  There are so many bad ones that I don't mind naming names.  Here's one that has annoyed me most recently.  I received an email a couple of months ago from a guy representing "BigMoneyJ*", saying he found my resume "nice" and wanted me to call him back for a immediate job opportunity.  Of course, I knew immediately that this ozo simply skimmed my name from a web scraper searching for resumes, and that there was no "immediate" opportunity.  I also realized that in all likelihood, he was simply trying to build a database of Mac engineers, just so he can market this to companies looking for people.  But I figured: "Fine, I'll post my resume on his site.  Who knows, can't hurt, can it?"  As long as I am with other Mac developers, at least I'd be in good company.  So, I go to this recruiter's web site, and clicked on "Post a Resume", and I get a server error indicating an incompatibility with Safari.  So I email him back mentioning that his web site is not compatible with the most popular web browser on the Mac, and that this was not the best way to attract Mac engineers.  I send him the  full server trace and error log, with a recommendation on how to resolve the issue.  Despite my detailed explanation of his server problem, this genius here came back with "try and type in the address by hand."  I realized quickly that this guy was about a sharp as a bag of wet mice, and so I wrote him off and forgot about it.  That is until about a month later, when I received nearly the identical email about an immediate opportunity again.  I emailed him back, reminding him that he had already emailed me, and told him to remove my name from his spamming list, and not to contact me again until (minimally) he fixes his web site.  Yeah, right.  I now see a new email from him every month about immediate opportunities.  Thank God for spam filtering.

LessonLife's too short to deal with morons!  Do not waste too much time with recruiters in general until they have proven themselves to be best of breed.  If they are, they can be helpful to you.  If not, you save yourself a great deal of grief byu ignoring them.

Coming Up Next Month:  In Part III, we will discuss interview techniques.  See you in 30!

[ Part I | Part II | Part III ]


To see a list of all the According to Hoyle columns, visit: