Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ryan’s Guide to Job Search Strategy: Assets

#1) Assets: Skills, Credentials & Experience

Goal: To enumerate our assets, vis-à-vis our skills, credentials and experience.
Assets: The attributes and abilities you bring to the table to get a job done.
Learn: How to use shotgunning, expansion and clustering to build skills clusters of your assets.

You've seen the big picture, now it’s time for the hardtack of reducing our newfound mental model to practice. For convenience, we’re going to work in linear order, starting with Assets. Here’s a mental model, native loop model on the top, and the linearization on the bottom.

Shotgun --> Expand --> Cluster

A visible expression of an asset is a concrete skill, such as computer programming. This skill can be supported by credentials, e.g. a University degree in computer science, or experience, e.g. a software development internship with Amazon. Great, you’ve loads of credentials and experience. Following your broken mental model, you’ll list your credentials and experience on a resume, highlight them in a cover letter and force fit them to job posting. And you’ll get nowhere.   

The problem with simply listing your credentials and experience, which is what we were taught to do under our broken mental model, is that no one cares. No one cares that you have a PhD from Harvard. No one cares that you've volunteered with an after-school program.

People care about what you can do for them, about your skills that are useful to them. They care about your credentials and experience, only in so far as they present credible evidence of your skills, and only in so far as those skills that are useful to them.

We need a way of taking our credentials and experience and decomposing them into skills, skills that people and companies may find of use.

Our new mental model has the answer in three simple steps: Shotgun, Expand and Cluster.

1.1) Shotgun

Start by enumerating any skill, credential or experience you can think of. You can use your resume as a starting point, or work through the exercise with a friend.

I've grouped skills, credentials and experiences separately, but there is no need for structure at this point. You want to think as expansively as possible. If structuring helps, great. If a scatter plot works, also great.

1.2) Expand

Great, I've 9x solid items, 3x for each of skills, experiences and credentials. Let’s pick a few of these items and expand. Think about related items and write them down. Here’s mine:

I've chosen to expand a related experience and skill: NaturalMotion, a game middleware and free-to-play game company I interned with last summer, and computer programming, a skill I used extensively as an R&D intern building prototypes for NaturalMotion.

1.3) Cluster

Now that we've generated many skills and experiences, it’s time to cluster and connect them.

Think about the words and ideas that connect your varied activities. For clarity, I've colored connecting ideas in red, skills in dark blue and experiences in light blue. Ideas and skills are connected with lines. Related skills are connected with dashed lines. 

Things to think about:
  • What is related?
    • Python is related to Django, it's a web development framework.
  • Where have I employed a particular skill?
    • I wrote an integration test suite in Python
  • What experiences did I have while earning my credential?
    • I've written and presented loads of technical material during the course of my PhD

All paths should eventually end in a skill; however, it’s just fine to end with experience and cluster the skills elsewhere. This helps keep your clusters organized, which will be useful in the next step, putting your skills in the context for Mr. Market!

Tool Tip is a wonderful tool for quickly making simple figures. Built-in integration with Google Drive and Dropbox allows it to easily tie-in with your existing workflow.

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Next: Mr. Market

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ryan’s Guide to Job Search Strategy: A More Effective Mental Model

A More Effective Mental Model

Here it is, my mental model of an effective job search strategy.

Assets --> Market --> Aspirations --> Mission --> Companies --> Contacts --> Applications

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s loop driven, not the linear mental models to which we’re most accustomed.

The mental model is composed of two loops, the inner and outer. They are mutually interdependent, but due to their different focuses my be optimized independently.

Assets --> Market --> Aspirations --> Mission --> Companies --> Contacts --> Applications
The numbers at the top of each sub-loop, e.g. #1 for Assets, represent a linearization of the inherently non-linear loop-based mental model. I choose this linearization for convenience, but you can start anywhere on a loop-based model.

Inner loop - Assets, Mr. Market, Aspirations

The inner loop is primarily concerned with you. Your assets, your aspirations, and their context with respect to Mr. Market. This is the mechanism by which you choose where to play.

Outer loop - Companies, People, Applications

The outer loop is primarily concerned with others. Who they are, what they want, and the hoops they force candidates jump through, particularly for larger firms. This is the mechanism by which you actively position yourself to win an interview, and eventually a job offer.

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Ryan’s Guide to Job Search Strategy: Your Mental Model is Broken

Your Mental Model is Broken

Volumes have been written on strategy. In short, it comes down to choosing where to play and positioning how to win.

Unfortunately, the mental model of job search and acquisition that most of us were taught doesn't do either the where or how, let alone do them effectively.

Search --> Resume --> Apply --> HR --> Interview 1 --> Interview 2 --> Job Offer

If you’re like me, you were taught that if you gather enough qualifications/experience, work on your resume/cover letter enough and apply for enough positions, you would clear HR, land interviews and eventually a job offer.

Search --> Force --> Memory Hole --> Wait --> Hope --> Pray --> Dispair

The reality couldn't be further from the truth. For me, enough never happened. Enough doesn’t exist because my mental model was broken. My mental model, and I suspect yours as well, leads only to despair, not job offers.

I’m going to rework the first part of your mental model, the job search. If there is sufficient demand, I’ll cover interviewing and choosing between offers in a later guide. I've chosen to start with job search strategy because there downstream issues are a moot point if you don’t land interviews, or even better, so impress someone that you’re hired on the spot.

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Ryan’s Guide to Job Search Strategy: Introduction


This is your strategic guide to the initial stages of your job search.

If you’re like me, most of the career advice you’ve read, or otherwise received from good intentioned friends and colleagues, is vague and unhelpful. Obviously, I cannot guarantee you a job, but I will present a roadmap, a crystallized instance of a job search in progress.  

Herein, you will discover the mental model and accompanying strategy that I have developed, and am actively using in my own job search. The first collection of articles will focus on the initial stages of search. We will start with a high-level mental model, and proceed by systematically covering the concrete steps that will help you turn that model into reality. Specific examples from my own job search are included at every step. So let us begin...

This Guide is for

  • Recent graduate who have no idea how to apply their degree in practice.
  • PhDs who long to leave academia, but don’t know how (this is me, by the way)
  • People who (naïvely) followed their heart at age 18 with no thought to the future.
  • Long-term unemployed.

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Previous: N/A
Next: Your Mental Model is Broken

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Data Dive: Personality testing

Notice: I've been informed that the data were indeed crawled from a combination Adult & Youth surveys. There is no scientific value here, just a funny plug on the power of numpy, matplotlib and a few lines of bash/awk to take a hack at some data.

The Via Institute on Character offers a fun and informative ~10 min personality test. I was curious about how my results compared to the norm, so I took a little data dive.

Here are some humorous observations from a subset of their rich data-set (N=41513)...
  1. People admit to lacking Humility, Self-Regulation and Spirituality.
  2. Honesty, Love and Kindness are people's top priorities.
  3. Spirituality and forgiveness go (very weakly) hand-in-hand.

Observation #1
People admit to lacking Humility, Self-Regulation and Spirituality.

A priori, I expected the character attributes to have flat distributions (my null hypothesis), a straight line at p=0.04 (1/24 attributes). This couldn't be further from the truth for some attributes. 

In the upper-right hand corner of some images, you'll see a (+) or  (-), this corresponds to a big deviation from the flat null hypothesis.
(+) attributes are ranked higher than expected.
(-) attributes are ranked lower than expected. 
Others, without a marker, are more or less flat, e.g. Curiosity and Humor.

Observation #2
Honesty, Love and Kindness are people's top priorities.
Another slightly more flashy way to view the data is through a rank abundance plot. The  top quartile (ranks 1-6) are dominated by these three attributes: 

Observation #3
Spirituality and forgiveness go (very weakly) hand-in-hand.
Correlation coefficient plots by quartile show some very weak (+/- 0.15-0.2) correlation for top ranked (1st Q) and bottom ranked (4th Q) traits, but virtually none for average ranks (2nd and 3rd Q).

Q1 (Top Ranked attributes):
+) Spirituatlity / Forgiveness
+) Humor / Prudence+Perspective
-) Perseverance / Social Intellegence
-) Creativity / Gratitude
-) Curiosity / Perspective
-) Perspective / Creativity+Humility 

Q4 (Bottom ranked attributes):
+) Prospective / Hope+Humor
-) Appreciation / Forgiveness
-) Creativity / Humility

Note that correlation does not imply causality and the correlations, are very weak. They are, however, above the background average correlation of -0.02. These are humorous insights, and in no way should they be taken seriously.

Your Homework
Take the test for youself at
If you're keen to explore, redacted datasets (taken down at the request of the VIA Institute on Character) and analysis scripts available at