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How to Land a Linux Job

Finding a new job can be an overwhelming prospect in just about any industry today, but for those with Linux skills, the challenges are a little bit less daunting.

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You can find more than 11,000 Linux-related jobs on any given day on tech jobs site Dice.com, for example, and demand for Linux experience there is growing at a rate of 31 percent year over year, compared with just 20 percent for job postings overall.

A similar situation can be found on the Linux Foundation's Jobs Board, meanwhile, where more than 30 Linux job ads were recently posted in a single week.

Demand for Linux skills far outstrips supply, in other words, so it's no wonder companies are worried about finding the staff they need. Of course, the corporate world's problem is the Linux expert's opportunity.

I had a chance to speak recently with both Alice Hill, managing director of Dice.com, and Jennifer Cloer, director of communications for the Linux Foundation, about the Linux hiring market today. What follows is a collection of best practices for all those hoping to land a Linux job.

1. Networking

Every day in a current job represents an opportunity for technology professionals to build relationships with colleagues, vendors, recruiters and online communities, Hill said.

Not everyone takes advantage of that opportunity, however, largely because building relationships takes time. Soliciting opinions, offering praise, helping even when you're not required to and participating online are all steps in the right direction, but it's up to you to nurture those early beginnings of a relationship over time, she explained.

“If you can’t think of 20 people that you could call to help in your job search, then you have some work to do,” Hill advised. “Try and give yourself a goal: Contact three people in your network each week, or attend a Linux user group once a month. It’s not too late to become a networker, even if the term feels foreign.”

Cloer suggested that attending Linux-specific events like the Linux Foundation's LinuxCon can also be a good way to meet the right people.

2. Cover Letters

It may be a 140-character world in much of our lives, but cover letters are still very much a necessity when it comes to searching for a job, Dice's Hill said. Not only that, but creativity counts.

And a well-written cover letter is a good way to show how much you really want the position, in other words. “It’s not that hard or time-consuming, and it can make your candidacy stand out from the start."

It's also wise to link your particular skills with the key requirements listed in the job ad. For example, a job posting might state, "We are looking for an innovative problem solver, always looking to learn new technologies and concepts," or for "an experienced Linux engineer who is passionate about Linux," Hill offered.

In such cases, it's to your benefit to share in your cover letter what drew you to the posting. If the company is a dream place for you, explain why you’ve always wanted to work there, she added.

3. The Resume

“In the Linux and open source space, code is your resume,” Cloer said. Accordingly, it's worthwhile to participate and contribute to existing open source projects, both to make some early connections and to build up the base of code you can show off.

Use the body of your resume to demonstrate the results you've delivered, Hill added. “Create a technical skills section to hit all the keywords necessary to get past the hiring manager's screen.” For example, “Perl” and “Shell Scripting” are frequently sought in Linux postings.

Events and vendor-neutral training courses like the ones offered by the Linux Foundation can help bolster your section on technical skills, Cloer of the Linux Foundation suggested.

Posting your resume on a site like Dice, meanwhile, can increase your chances of being found. Eighty percent of employers search resumes in the Dice database before ever posting their job, Hill noted. The site also maintains an online library with numerous sample resumes you can view for free.

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4. Interviews

It's equally important to be focused and convey what matters during the interview. First and foremost, make sure you know your audience, Hill advised.

“Typically, your first interview will be with a non-technical recruiter or HR professional. Be sure to know how to explain your technical background and accomplishments to non-technical employees.”

Avoid jargon and complicated acronyms, in other words. Instead, focus on projects completed on time, the sizes of the teams you've worked with, the amount of code you’ve written alone, the reporting systems you’ve developed or used, and “most of all, time and money saved."

The Linux Foundation's Cloer added that it's wise to demonstrate your knowledge of the open development model.

Practicing your answers ahead of time can be a smart strategy. “Interviewers pay attention to the way answers are laid out, as it gives insight into process, not just finished product,” said Hill of Dice.

And once you've proven that you have the technical chops, “it will be all about culture and fit." This is your opportunity, in other words, to decide if this is a place where you want to work.

Create a checklist of everything you want in the job, the company and the boss, she advised. This will also help structure your questions for the interviewer. “Not having questions is an easy 'no,'” Hill warned.

Finally, know why you want the position and practice how you will articulate it. “It’s always surprising when someone tells a hiring manager they want the position, but they can’t answer why.”

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