Occasionally, you’ll see people put up a “why you should hire me” page, such as the one that got Jason Zimdars a gig at 37signals. These pages are effectively sales pages for people, though they read a little differently from a sales page for a book.

(If you don’t believe that a “hire me” page is a sales page, I recommend reading a bit more Patrick McKenzie.)

Most frequently you see pages for less-established entry-level people — people who try using a sales page because they have to, not because they want to.

And I thought, “hey, what if I tried that?” As a great fictitious man once said, “we try things. Occasionally they even work.”

So when my last company went out of business, I put a “hire me” page together. I had a little breathing room before missing a paycheck and reasonable savings. Why not try it?

Yeah, Why Not Try It?

I didn’t get much use out of it in my job search - having it when you’ve already found a company is somewhere between useless and counterproductive, it turns out. People don’t want to be sold to anonymously once they’re already talking to you (there’s a shocker.) In general, for a given known prospect, favor talking to them individually over sending them a link to a “hire me” page.

The people who succeed with these find a way to publicize them loudly – to get a lot of people to see them. I had a few people who were willing to post my page for me. But I found out another reason that vibrant entry-level folks usually do this: people will forward their page around. Having three friends post links to Twitter is… fine, but not going to make a big splash.

That makes sense. I’m a middle aged established programmer, and getting people excited about me is harder. I’m sure it can be done, but I needed an angle and I didn’t really have one. Not sure if I’ll try a “hire me” page again. But if I do, I’ll need a reason for people to care. “Experienced engineer seeks new gig” isn’t enough. And I hope never to have a really compelling hook like “experienced engineer with no savings needs a job right now to avoid his family starving.” Short of that, I’ll need some actual creativity when I write the page ;-)

The Late-Career Engineer

Something that affects my results here: I’m a Silicon Valley startup engineer with over fifteen years of full-time experience. I’ve been an architect before, and my current job title is “Architect/Principal Engineer.” Some of what I write here is for any non-entry-level software engineer trying a “hire me” page. But there are a few things specific to where I’m at.

Let’s talk about those.

As John Sonmez writes in Soft Skills, there’s a glass ceiling on full-time software engineering work. For a startup, it’s hard to just get hired at more than $200,000/year in salary under current market conditions. On the one hand, that’s a lot of money. On the other hand, it’s about two junior engineers. If Silicon Valley genuinely believes in 10x engineers then either it’s massively overpaying its junior engineers, or good senior engineers are a ridiculously good deal (some of each, I expect.)

There are a few other ways to bring the total up like options, stock, bonuses and whatnot. Bigger companies are more likely to do so. But at some point you hit the “look, we pay you as much as we ever pay senior engineers” point. The big difference skill makes is whether you can still get jobs at that level.

There are senior engineers who make far, far more than that. But they’re not hired based on web pages, recruiters or the standard interviewing process in general. They’re hired based on a friend of an executive knowing that they have made or saved enormous amounts of money in similar conditions in the past.

In an important sense, and often literally, they’re effectively freelancers rather than full-timers. They have less job security and a very different interview process, which often doesn’t actually involve interviews.

A fellow like myself can get a nearly unlimited amount of job security. I have low-level systems programming on my resume along with video, mobile devices, Ruby on Rails and distributed storage. Recruiters knock down my door, I’ve written books, led teams, architected large projects, taught classes and given talks at conferences.

This means I’m likely to have decent offers of employment forever, and I can stick words like “architect” and “principal” in my job title.

What all of this does not buy is the ability to show up and demand 2.5x the salary of a beginning junior engineer rather than the normal 2x. I talked to a lot of companies in the most recent job search, and it’s not just the five or six frontrunners that were skittish about my salary level. The non-frontrunners were usually ruled out by saying, “nope, nobody’s worth that much” without even an interview.

I don’t have a good way to quantify how many junior engineers my work is worth, but Silicon Valley startups don’t think there’s even the slightest chance I (or in effect, nearly anybody) could be worth three of them.

And that’s sight unseen – I actually interview really well and receive offers the significant majority of the time. But companies don’t give an interview if somebody would cost that much, regardless of whether they might be worth it.

I don’t mean any of this as “poor me”, obviously. When I say, “it’s hard to get hired above $200k/year,” I do not expect that to elicit sympathy ;-)

But I can’t tell you whether a “hire me” page might get you a raise in salary, because that’s not on the table for a full-timer at my level.

It could be if I went freelance, about which more later.

So, Bad Idea?

I say “not sure if I’ll use a hire-me page again” rather than “I won’t do that again.” I could imagine it working decently in the right circumstances. I learned some things this time, too.

Writing the page made me think through what I wanted. That’s valuable. It made me think about what I didn’t want, which is better yet.

It also got me to think about how I’d tell a manager or a company what I do that makes or saves money. That’s great in pretty much the same way. Even when we don’t write sales pages for ourselves, we’re always selling. Knowing your sales patter in advance is huge.

As I mentioned above, the page really needs a hook. The page could have been “experienced technical leader looking for next adventure” with better writing than I put into the first one. That’s a pretty weak hook, but still better than what I actually wrote.

(Don’t fall into the engineer trap of just listing things you do that make or save money and calling that a “hook.” Hooks are emotional. Something like “I write billing code that processes a billion dollars in revenue” is still more about the “whoah, a billion dollars” than it is about “oh hey, relevant experience for this role.”)

Writing the page is hard for the standard reason: people feel uncomfortable selling themselves. Me too. Coming up with a narrative around somebody else is easy, and exaggerating a bit feels appropriate. Doing the same for yourself feels like scumbag lying.

So we’ll see. I can imagine other hooks, and perhaps I’ll write a “hire me” page again. The best hooks happen naturally, and are a story around something real. I could have written as “going out of business, need a job in a hurry” – except that would ruin my chances for a good salary. Maybe I’ll just have a hook next time, or something I can spin into one.

I’ve tried a few obvious hooks. I get to sell using the author/speaker Ruby angle, but you’d be surprised how little that does to break the glass ceiling I mentioned.

On the other hand: “guy who started and sold a company over $20MM in value” blows that ceiling away completely. So: I acknowledge in advance that yes, there are ways to do it. They’re just hard to do as a full-time employee.

Does It Work For Other People?

I basically never see these pages for established engineers looking for a gig. That’s partly because recruiters really want to do that for you. Statistically speaking you shouldn’t let them, but their way is easier. So I can see why established engineers don’t do this – it’s a lot of work for an unclear and limited payoff.

You know who uses these and gets good results? Consultants, contractors and other freelancers. They need to find work regularly, they get a big bump in pay if they’re seen as awesome, and they’re selling to people who don’t already know them. They have trouble getting their page forwarded around too, but a “hire me” page makes sense for them, for all the same reasons that it usually doesn’t for a random full-time engineer.

Even for them, it’s far more about network and word of mouth than about sales pages. But high-power freelancers usually do both. And a sales page sets a lot of ground rules for working with you. Even if you get the actual gig by word of mouth, your page is an easy way to sum up, “here’s what working with me is like.” It sets expectations. Full-timers have to be careful about that because it makes you look high maintenance, but even there it can be valuable. There’s an art to it.

I don’t think it’s as useful for a full-timer, but still worth something. A freelancer has to set expectations all the time, while a full-timer doesn’t.

Also, if you were going to use that to set expectations with coworkers, you’d need to have all the new coworkers read your “hire me” page, which is a different set of interesting tradeoffs. I wouldn’t recommend it. Writing it for an audience of managers but not everybody else just makes more sense.

So What’s the Takeaway?

Man, I have no clue.

This is a little-used tactic that fits poorly for what most people do most of the time. It clearly works for some folks, but many of them already know about it.

I just feel like nobody talks about this, so I’m talking about it.

I feel like nobody tries it much, so I tried it.

If you feel like you got some good out of this post and want to say thanks, tell people about my Ruby on Rails book.

Year by year, I try to figure out what the next step in my career looks like. As far as I can tell, most people make a bunch of random mistakes until something works and beyond. I’m documenting this interesting-looking mistake I made.

If it winds up getting links to my books out there, that’d be cool too. Rebuilding Rails is definitely my most successful next-career-step so far.