Takeaways from two years of job-hunting within tech
Job Hunting — Am I right?
Let me begin by asserting that job hunting is the worst. It’s even more horrible when you find yourself in a situation where you need the job for which you’re applying/interviewing.
I’m fairly happy where I am right now. Sure, I could be paid better, I’m not crazy about the tech stack I’m working with, and I don’t love the amount of system administration work I’m doing, but I get to code, work on things I believe in, etc. I really couldn’t have asked to be in a better spot with two years’ experience and no formal education in software development (read more about that on Hacker Noon).
But, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, just over two years ago I was working at a bank call center where I spent half my time getting my manager in trouble by refunding every fee possible and the other half explaining mortgage escrow shortages. For months, I applied to literally hundreds of jobs, and two years later I’m still receiving residual replies from those applications informing me that the positions have been filled, eliminated, etc. That time was one of the most frustrating and discouraging experiences of my life, and I often find others go through the same thing I went through.
First, a few caveats:
I want to be clear that it is my understanding and assumption that I experienced no discrimination during this process. As a white, American, male, I recognize that I’ve enjoyed a certain amount of privilege in my life, and still do to some varying degree depending on the situation.
Also, some of what I’ll share below is recent. While I have found that with my increased experience I’ve seen a much higher rate of return on my applications, I’m also still experiencing similar issues as I’ll describe with regard to communication.
Finally, I won’t include in my takeaways the experiences I had with five companies in the last two years that actually offered me jobs. I had a great experience with all five of them — especially HubSpot.
Here’s what happened:
I rarely received anything but an automated response from companies I applied to letting me know I successfully submitted my application. In fact, many of those emails actually described the attention the company would give to each submission and promised feedback, or at least a personal response, but I almost never saw that promise fulfilled.
During the initial interviews I had with eleven companies who wanted to speak with me and who I did not receive an offer from, I was told nine times that there’d be a follow up interview scheduled or that someone would reach back out to me and let me know if I’d be moving on in the process. Only one of those companies ever even sent me another email. Three of the companies took more than two hours of my time during that first interview and none of them got back to me even though they expressed that the interview went very well and that I was a top candidate for the job.
I gave countless hours to coding assessments, long talks with multiple team members, writing assignments, personality quizzes, videos, and more. One company even required that I visit them in their city on my own dime to interview for a 100% remote job. When I declined, they made it clear that that would hurt my chances. Unfortunately, the amount of time it takes to apply for jobs is sometimes prohibitive, not to mention deflating. I definitely experienced quite a bit of this.
The majority of companies didn’t bother publishing salary or benefits. While this may not matter as much when you’re looking at an entry level position to get a foot in the door, the time that both candidates and recruiters waste discussing an opportunity that’s not fiscally possible for the candidate to take is ridiculous. I found this especially true with jobs where I was asked to relocate to New York or San Fransisco.
I received virtually no feedback. I did not have single interviewer or recruiter give me anything useful by way of feedback regarding why I wasn’t selected for a given role or how I might make myself more marketable. I totally get that companies have hundreds or even thousands of folks apply for a given role, but this was a pretty disappointing part of my experience.
Ultimately, my job search was successful, in that I got a job. It wasn’t successful, however, in giving me any particular hope regarding the way our industry treats people who aspire to jump on board. But, I did learn a few things along the way that I hope will help you.
Here we go:
Apply for a ton of jobs. This is the real-world equivalent of button-mashing in Super Smash Bros. This might be scary or discouraging, but it’s so so so important. Find jobs anywhere you can and apply for all of them. Someone will bite, eventually. If you need a good place to start, you can head to the marketing website of any service you like/use and scroll to their footer and find a careers page. Some other great places to look are Glassdoor, We Work Remotely, Authentic Jobs, RemoteOK, AngelList, or Indeed (don’t discount this — it’s a great resource for local positions).
Apply for jobs you’re not qualified for. This is also similar to button-mashing in Super Smash. It doesn’t matter if a job requires five years’ experience and you have less than one, or if there are twenty skills required and you have five of them. Apply anyway! It’s not your responsibility to determine if you’re qualified for a specific role. It’s not your responsibility to determine if you’re qualified for a specific role. That’s what the recruiter or People/HR team is literally paid to do.
Apply for jobs you don’t want. Don’t waste your time if you really hate the company, but applying for jobs that aren’t your “dream job” is really important. This is especially true if you can get some feedback, an offer, or even just an interview. Every interaction is one that’s helping you learn and grow as a professional and an opportunity for you to gauge how the market sees your value.
Iterate on your resume. Have someone take a look at your resume with you and give you feedback on grammar, clarity, and format. I’ve often been told that employers don’t really care all that much about them anymore, but every job offer I’ve received has been due, in part, to something on my resume that caught the recruiter’s eye.
Don’t (always) accept the status quo. I want to be careful here because applying for jobs is a delicate situation to be in, but I’ve found success in being very firm with companies who are considering hiring me. In fact, there’s very clearly a direct correlation between my making more waves and my receiving an offer. For instance, in my current role I had second thoughts about whether my first in-person interview was worth my time since I didn’t really want to take the role as it was described to me initially, so I skipped it with only a short-notice email to let the interviewer know. Apparently, my skepticism made the recruiter even more interested in my candidacy, though I can see how this may not always be a good strategy. At any rate, don’t be a door mat. Your outward anxiety (as if you’re powerless) and willingness to accept any terms will come across as desperate.
Provide helpful and respectful feedback. I wish I had done this earlier. If you see something go horribly that could have been avoided, don’t be afraid to speak up and let the team you’re interviewing with know. I had a long list of suggestions after I was hired at my current company, and they welcomed the fresh perspective. Humility goes a long way in situations like these. Your carefully-timed and thoughtful perspective should be valued, especially if you’re hired.
Be someone you’d hire. To some significant extent in our industry, you get to be whatever you have the motivation and intellectual ability to be. Take advantage of the incredible resources available to you and learn as much as you possibly can. The more you can demonstrate your ability, the easier time you’ll have landing that first job. Write your own code and post it publicly, experiment with things you know nothing about, and learn the fundamentals.
Be someone you’d hire (part two). Don’t be a jerk. Remember that your soft skills are just as important as your technical ones. No one will care how well you can code if you aren’t a nice person — and rightly so.
Apply for jobs even after you’re hired. Be careful that you don’t jeopardize your situation, but continuing to apply for jobs even once you’re hired can be vital to your career. It will help you maintain a solid understanding of your standing in relation to the market, it will help you negotiate changes in your role and compensation with your current employer, and it will present you with opportunities to move on when it’s time. Transitioning roles/companies early in your career is helpful in order to get varied experience and to increase your compensation.
Remember that your value is not equal to what someone will pay you. While the market will tell you how much you’re worth in relation to itself, the amount of money you receive in return for your work bears no correlation to your value as a human being. This is important to remember whether you make $7/hr or $200/hr. You are so much more than your job. I feel this is especially important for those who will go on to have great success to understand.
At this point, you may be feeling as I do right now — frustrated. I’m frustrated because as I’ve taken time to reflect on my entry into this industry, I’m reminded of it’s short-comings. I’m also feeling that way because for all the words I just wrote, I feel as if I haven’t written anything you don’t already know.
I have no cure for the latter, but as for the former, let me conclude with some encouragement. It’s a great time to be a developer. Ours is a wonderful field full of endless opportunity. We’re among the first few generations of software developers, and every day we get to shape the future of our industry by the way we architect systems, write code, set direction, lead start-ups, empower others, further great (or terrible) ideas, and treat one another. Let’s do it the right way. And for those of you still trying to get your foot in the door, stay encouraged and keep fighting for it.
Need some direction? I’m happy to help. DM me on Twitter.
For recruiters and hiring teams —
Dharmesh Shaw said, “Sometimes you can tell more about a company by how it treats customers on their way out, than on their way in.” Well, I think the same can be said of how a company treats those whom it never extends an offer of employment. Let’s work on this.