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Guerrillas in Pink Slips

Hustling that next gig takes chutzpah and a little know-how

By Jeff Kearns

BRIAN BARTON says he knows the best way for job hunters to deal with the human resources department: Avoid it at all costs. He doesn't have anything against HR types. In fact, he used to be one--which is how he learned to steer clear of those departments while job hunting. "We were a black hole for anyone looking for a job," he remembers.

Barton's brief stint in HR is one of many brief stints. Since he got into the tech world not too long after college, Barton estimates he's had about 36 different jobs. And now that more people are finding themselves in the boat he's been in and out of so many times, it was just time to put all the informal advice he'd been offering pink-slip victims into a handy-dandy little book.

The result, a slim, self-published volume of tips called The High-Tech Survival Guide, is chock-full of ways to get around the usual hang-ups that hinder job hunters by using guerrilla tactics to get the inside track.

"I wanted to make it unconventional," Barton muses. "The thing I've found in 10 years of job searching is that the unconventional people wind up on top."

Barton's message seems to be finding its target as more working stiffs join the rankled ranks of the local layoff statistics. After its release in May, the book is now in its fifth printing and has sold about 2,500 copies--not bad for something that's only available on the web (at www.hightechsurvivalguide.com) and at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park.

Barton's job search tips include: Know how to work the phone; navigate corporate voicemail systems after dark; don't blindly email a résumé; and use the web to get the names of the people who actually make the call on who gets the job.

The last point is one that Barton likes to emphasize. The whole reason job seekers want to avoid HR, he says, is because they don't make the call on whom to hire. "Their job is to screen you out," Barton points out.

"I think it's true," offered one networking company HR manager who read the book. "HR often tries to block you from the hiring manager because they want to control the process. But HR only sends out offer letters because a manager tells them to. If you can get in to the hiring manager and get around the HR manager, you're much better off."

She adds that the book explains some of the same tricks that recruiters use to place candidates. "The tables have turned--now candidates can use these same tricks to find the people who make the hiring decisions."

Barton cites the story of how he landed one job offer. When he spotted the ad on the web, he used some simple sleuthing to find out who was in charge of the department with the opening. He then got the right person on the phone under the guise of trying to find out more about the position, and in the process happened to mention that he had the right skills for the post. He didn't take the job, but he did use similar methods to land his current job at a big-name tech giant.

For the slightly more daring, Barton advocates dialing into the company at night, then entering names into the voicemail system's dial-by-name feature, which can yield not only names, but titles and departments, too. However, he cautions, always call back during business hours instead of leaving a voicemail.

The same works for stalking on the web, where published news articles can be a good source of info.

"I told a friend to search for the company's name plus news plus producer, and he got the name of one of the producers who worked there, then got through by calling and asking for them by name," Barton says. "He got the job."

While he swears by the unconventional methods, Barton's book also urges readers not to cross the line. "You should always be truthful, honest, and don't misrepresent yourself," he says.

The feedback to the book, however, hasn't all been positive. "HR people hate this book," Barton half-brags, wondering aloud if there may be a backlash from HR professionals.

But that hasn't put a damper on sales. "I've had feedback," Barton adds, "from executives who are considering buying copies of the book for people they've laid off."

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From the July 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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