Brown M&Ms, or why I no longer have a LinkedIn account

Last night the subject of job searching came up at our weekly Coffee House Coders group. One of our members finally got a new job after several months of searching (hurray!). That brought up a discussion about recruiters and how they handle job searching. This also led to a discussion about LinkedIn and out experiences on it. I've had two LinkedIn accounts over the years and both of them have since been deleted because I didn't care for the interactions on there. As with any service used for job searching and recruiting it fosters a certain type of interaction with recruiters that I found unsatisfying. I started thinking again about why this is. I thought I'd blogged about this in the past, but apparently not.

Let me start with brown M&Ms.

The band Van Halen had a contract rider that specifically stated that they had no brown M&Ms in a candy dish for each show. On the surface this might seem like a strange request but there was a perfectly sound reason for this. The full details are on Snopes but the relevant part is here, as described by the band's flamboyant and iconic lead singer, David Lee Roth:

"The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes ..." This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&M's in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation."

"So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl ... well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening."

He goes on to describe a situation where folks didn't read the rider carefully and caused $80,000 of damage (which was later blamed on the band because of David Lee Roth's Shakespearean over-acting and subsequent trashing of the dressing room over the brown M&Ms in the candy dish). The reality is that the stage set-up just sank into the flooring of the venue because the appropriate precautions weren't followed.

On my resume (which is no longer on my site because I have stage 4 cancer and am unlikely to excite any job prospects in the foreseeable future) it has a Creative Commons No Derivatives, Non-Commercial license attached to it. There were good reasons for it at the time. Since I had it on my site several job-board sites scraped it and put it into their databases, so the "Non-Commercial" was my way of telling them to knock it off. The other reasons were a little more subtle.

When I was laid off in the early 2000s I had a job interview via a recruiting company. When I arrived for the interview the recruiter handed me my "resume". I was horrified. They reformatted it with their letterhead and stripped out all of my contact information. Worse, they transcribed it so poorly that it made me look like a dunce. We're talking errors that made me look incompetent at best and deceitful at worst. I couldn't believe they did that. So the "No Derivatives" license was there to prevent that.

My career-path is strange. I've had my feet in both system administration and web development so I tend to get offers for both. Unfortunately I'd get job offers from recruiters that I knew I couldn't fulfill. Things like "Front-end developer" where my front-end development skills are severely lacking (most of my web development was on the back-end with rudimentary pages that didn't require much JavaScript. "Front-end developer" in this case is usually all JavaScript, with different frameworks that I can spell, and that's about it). Or I'd get "System Administrator" where they wanted 5+ years of Amazon Web Services experience, neglecting to note that I didn't list any cloud-based experience because most of the shops I worked in had no need for the cloud. Worse, I'd get hits on being a Python developer for jobs that wanted people with advanced degrees in math, which, I barely got the Bachelors in Computer Science because my math-skills were so poor. And lest we leave this out I have literally no skill at all with Windows.

So yeah, after telling folks all of the ways you don't fit the current job market you start to wonder if you're the asshole.

Unfortunately a lot of recruiting firms tend to think of you as their own personal consulting cattle. And this is where the Creative Commons License came into play. I had several interactions where I've confronted a company that blatantly ignored that little bit of text at the bottom. Fortunately I was in a position where I could put on the Shakespearean act of indigence, but honestly it wasn't much of an act: I was really pissed off.

This was a note that I sent to [REDACTED], a company that not only decided to reformat my resume, but also put a copyright on it. Needless to say, I was incensed:

I wanted to explain why I am not interviewing with [REDACTED] and [CLIENT] on [DATE], and why the Creative Commons license on my resume signaled to me that this wasn't going to work out. I'd like the opportunity to clarify what your company's lack of recognizing my desires with my resume signaled how our working relationship would proceed.

I view this license as a "Van Halen M&M dish". Van Halen would add a seemingly innocuous requirement in their rider to see if the venue read and paid attention to their rider. The dish of M&Ms were their way of knowing that everything was OK and that the show had a higher chance of success.

The Creative Commons license in my resume is my "Van Halen M&M dish" in this case. It tells me how this relationship would proceed.

What this tells me is the following:

  • [REDACTED] puts their branding over their people. There have been instances of folks being terminated for things on their resume that weren't true. By re-formatting my resume you put me at risk that everything in that resume was correct and that nothing was added in there that could jeopardize my career.

  • [REDACTED] feels they own me and my experience. By stripping out the license section and copyrighting the new resume you told me that the culmination of my years of experience is now your property to do with as you please. You also made it so I can't re-use the work that you did on my resume. You locked me out of my own story.

  • [REDACTED] didn't ask. In order to re-format my resume your company saw the license section and chose to ignore it. [REDACTED] didn't ask if it was OK to reformat my resume (I might have said yes); instead you imposed your will and your branding over my wishes. That tells me that [REDACTED] will put its interests over mine regardless of the reasons behind them. It also tells me that things that [REDACTED] deems unimportant won't be bubbled back to me so I can make that call. It shows me the relationship will favor [REDACTED].

I've had a lot of experience with different contracting houses throughout my career and I can tell when a relationship is not going to be worth pursuing. It starts with respect on both sides and understanding where the other party is coming from. I understand the need for consistent branding in the consulting business; I understand the desire to not have the consultant's contact information on their resume. I understand your position. But this whole experience told me that [REDACTED] isn't going to have my best interests at heart. [REDACTED] will do what it wants to please themselves and the customer. The consultant is not going to be an equal partner in this transaction. The consultant is just the product and should be grateful for whatever comes their way.

By stripping out the license and re-working my resume (without asking me) your company told me that I am not worthy of being consulted in these decisions, and that you consider my needs secondary to [REDACTED]'s needs.

And this is why I cannot participate in this interview on [DATE]. If [REDACTED] doesn't respect the little things that I request then how are they going to behave when the stakes are higher?

I wish you luck in your search and hope this can be instructive to you and your company in finding great candidates.

Thank you.

I'd like to say this was isolated, but it wasn't. And because LinkedIn seemed to be my path for getting interactions that mirrored this I decided that it was in the best interests of everyone involved if I just bowed out. If everyone isn't enjoying the game then it's up to the folks who don't enjoy the experience to leave.

I know this comes from a position of privilege, but it also comes from a position of experience. I've been in enough interviews where both of us wondered how we got there. They're a waste of time and effort. And usually it's because folks don't understand who they have and what they're pitching. To them I was just another warm body to parade in front of folks who may or may not jump at the opportunity to hire someone like me. They didn't care enough about the person to even think to ask about that strange little clause in my resume. They just stripped it out as a matter of course.

And those Brown M&Ms are the reason I don't have a LinkedIn account.