Sometimes Job-Searching IS Just About Who You
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Sometimes Job-Searching IS Just About Who You Know...

by Leon AdatoMarch 15th, 2024
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Some of the more specific lessons I've learned from my recent job search, and the comments that blog post generated.
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(and sometimes it’s not)

My post about my 6 month job search generated some attention and conversation. The comments helped me clarify some of the more specific lessons I’ve learned recently or that I knew but were reinforced by the experience. After taking time to organize them into a somewhat coherent structure, I’m ready to share. Here are the first lessons on the list.

As always, if you have opinions, corrections, or experiences you want to share, please share them in the comments below.

This post picks up where “Should I start looking now” left off. In that post, I (basically) said that it’s important to stay in the job search game just to keep those skills sharp and to apply (rather than not) because you never know what might come of it.

So, apply for any job that looks interesting, but also understand the relative value of a cold application versus a referral.

My observation is that, when it comes to job applications, you get out of it what you put into it. Meaning that if your sum-total effort was hitting “apply now” on LinkedIn, you should expect the quality of the response to be about the same. Please don’t expect an immediate detailed reply from a company when you’ve done the equivalent of swiping right on them and then moving on.

I’m not suggesting that every job application requires you to create and send a customized resume and a 3-page cover letter. As with everything in life, you have to have your own level of interest and commitment to the company, culture, and the job itself. Some will deserve the minimal effort, others will take everything you can throw at it, and many will fall somewhere in between.

But that just speaks to jobs that you find posted or shared externally. At the other end of the spectrum are jobs that come from your own connections. I know people who insist that every job they’ve ever gotten has been because they knew someone at the company or, at the very least, from someone who knew someone (looking at you, Rachel). I’m sure a lot of folks reading this will agree.

My experience has been slightly more varied than that, as the Sankey chart from my original post shows:

With that said, my previous six jobs – spanning 17 years – happened (or at least were aided) by my knowing someone inside that company who helped make introductions and get the ball rolling.

However, my contacts at two of those companies were former coworkers, three were from folks I knew through networking, and 1 of my contacts was both (tip of the hat/kippah to you, Josh).

My point is that “I know someone” starts not only with working at a lot of places but also being in a lot of situations where you meet people from various companies and making connections.

“Leon, you’re an extrovert. You have no idea how hard what you’re asking is.”

First, you’re right. I’m not going to pretend that “it’s easy once you get the hang of it. For a lot of folks working in tech, it’s possibly the hardest thing you might be asked to do. The fact that it’s relatively easy for me is a blessing I count every day.

BUT… like a lot of hard things in our work, there are tools, techniques, and tricks to help us get past the pain point. Here are a few I’ve seen work:

Go where the fun is

Who said networking had to hurt? If you honestly enjoy some aspect of the tech industry, dive into that for your networking opportunities. If you speak a second (or third, or fourth – you big showoff) language, look for groups where speakers (native or otherwise) hang out. If you are excited about a specific topic (a beloved operating system, a kick-ass utility, or even a specific city), a cause (climate, social issues, or animal rights), or even a specific group working in tech – any of those is a valid place to make connections and start conversations.

Regardless of your topic, I promise you there are Slack groups, Discord servers, discourse sites, and even stackexchange groups focused on that area.

Heck, I’ve seen friendships and working connections bloom over a shared love of a specific TV series.

My point is that finding birds of your feathers can be the first step.

Alternatively, go where the work is

The risk with the previous option is that you don’t always meet people in tech. Plenty of folks outside of IT have a love of horses, a desire to save the whales, or an undying loyalty to Perl.

OK, maybe not that last one.

On top of that, plenty of IT folks want to keep their personal lives to themselves and create a boundary between them and their work life. And that’s 100% valid.

So think about the work you want to do, and find the groups (online or in person, as your needs, personality, and spoons allow) that focus on that area. Nobody said that lurking was an invalid way to be part of a group, at least for a while. But at a certain point, you have to make the leap to engaging, discussing, and connecting.

And that’s where my next suggestion comes in:

Get a wingmate

How many times do I find myself telling IT folks this in various contexts? From on-call to infrastructure to application development: You don’t have to do it all on your own. Call in a favor, phone a friend, and have them join you. That can be online or in-person. This person doesn’t even need to be particularly technical themselves. The whole point is to have someone nearby that you can lean on and who can be there to help you out in a pinch.

My experience is that once you start getting involved in a community, it’s a short distance to making friends – real, true, last-longer-than-this-project friends – who will, in turn, introduce you to other members of the community.

It’s ok that it’s transactional.

I’ve had several people comment on how difficult it is to “make connections” because it crosses a personal line they have about using people. And it’s true that business networking can feel incredibly (and transparently) transactional.

If that describes a feeling you’ve had, there’s nothing I will say here that will take the feeling away. What I can do is reassure you that it’s ok. It’s expected. It is no more “using” the other person than it is buying a piece of fruit at a farmer’s market – or, more to the point, browsing the fruit, asking the salesperson a question, and then NOT buying!

Conferences, user groups, meet-ups, slack channels, and all the rest are there (at least in part) to facilitate people meeting each other. Nowhere in that social contract is there a requirement that everyone bring equal value to the table, nor is entrance or membership predicated on providing labor of some kind.

You’ll just have to trust me on this, but it’s okay to talk to people with the intent of networking to find your next job.

Also published here.