My final semester of college, I remember having various professors instruct us on how to get hired and get noticed. They forced you to craft your resume their way, they told you to get a suit, and they docked you points if you didn't conform to their exact standards. Their whole goal was to make you look as professional as possible so that you would be noticed & not immediately tossed out as an applicant. But what happens once you actually get the call to come in for an interview?
Additionally, all of the instruction that I ever received in regards to applying for jobs seemed to center on applying for one job. But what happens when you're unemployed, or when you're desperate for a change, or when you're moving to a new city?
My name is Nic, and I'm a senior full-stack software developer that starts a new job in 2 weeks. I've been applying for a couple of months now, and really ironed out what was and wasn't working for me over this last search. I've been in the workforce for a decade now, and have a pretty solid understanding of not only what employers ask for, but what they want you to show them.
I've held a wide variety of roles (front end dev, full stack dev, and business analyst) across a wide variety of industries (manufacturing, insurance, health care, university fundraising, and more). I am NOT the best developer in the world, but I have a solid understanding of my own skill set and how to leverage what I am capable of to be a successful member of a dev team.
Also important - I am a cishet white male. I realize that this is something I benefit from, whether I choose to leverage that or not. All of my advice is written from this perspective, and while there are tips below that anyone will be able to utilize, some of them (ex. "Screen the recruiters") could be perceived as bullish, bitchy, snobby, or any related adjective you want to throw here.
Whether you're a soon-to-be grad or a career vet, this is the first step - what exactly it is you want to do. (Some of you are going to answer "I don't know!" and that's totally ok, for now.) For me, my titles have mostly said front-end developer, but I also did a lot with data storage and query, so I specifically targeted a full-stack developer role with this transition.
This step is relatively simple: examine what it is that you enjoy doing, or that you think you'd enjoy doing. If you're a student, talk to your professors about roles that might be a great fit.
Steps 1 & 2 have a bit of overlap, but I think it's really important to separate this part out. There are so many ways to come at this understanding, so I'm going to give a few examples here.
Knowing that I want to transition into a different role/title, it's important for me to understand what it is that makes me suitable for that position. As I mentioned above, I'd been a front end focused developer for a long time, but since I had some experience dealing with databases & data, I felt like a full-stack role might be a great fit for me.
I also spent about 2 years as a business analyst, utilizing my communication, organization, planning, and leadership skills to excel. Even though I was looking for another development role, this somewhat unrelated job on my resume had provided me with experience that is still a huge asset for me.
So now I have a good understanding of my pros, cons, and extra bits that allow me to stand out to anyone I speak to. Awesome.
I'm going to intentionally leave this section brief, with just a bullet list of most things, because there are so many other resources that explain this better than I could.
- Construct your resume. I prefer PDF formatting for my own resume. (Pro tip - use Google Docs)
- Get your LinkedIn updated. Mine is literally just my resume, but in the format they establish.
- Use a nice photo. This doesn't have to be a professional headshot. You don't have to wear a suit. You can show your piercings and tattoos (in fact, I encourage you to do so). Just make it look nice.
- Set your LinkedIn to Looking For Work.
- Do some of the tech quizzes on LinkedIn.
- Brush up on tech that you need to know more about. Do some tutorials. Put them in a GitHub so you can show clients that you're actively working on furthering your knowledge.
- Get ready. The recruiters are coming.
(Note: I mentioned this above as well, but this step can be perceived as bullish, bitchy, snobby, etc. Implement as you see fit.)
As the recruiters start to trickle in, you're going to feel great. You're going to be happy that they've picked you out of the millions of people on LinkedIn, and it'll feel amazing.
And then you'll realize that these are all canned messages that they firehose out to any candidate that might be a good fit for the role.
Years ago, I found myself applying for roles that I truly didn't know anything about, made it all the way to technical interviews on charisma alone, only to find out that I'd be working with a language that I disliked (.NET) or didn't know anything about (COBOL). I felt horrible because I'd bomb the interviews, and then I'd feel horrible because I wouldn't get a job offer, and then I'd feel horrible because I'd wasted so much time on that particular interview. I'd go through a similar experience with roles that I knew the tech stack, but when it came down to salary negotiations, the org and I would be way off base.
Today, I won't even schedule a phone call with a recruiter unless I have at least these 3 pieces of information:
- a full job description (including the tech stack)
- the client name (so I can research them)
- the offered salary range
You can change this list based on what it is you're looking for; this last time around, I was confirming that positions were fully remote, as well as full-time (vs. contract), so I added those in as well.
Recruiters will tend to be apprehensive about giving you all the information about the position up front, because they're afraid that you're going to go around them and apply to the orgs directly. I respect that, but I have learned over time that there are certain things I want to know before wading in to the interview process, even if it is just a "get to know you" phone call with a recruiter.
Here's how I typically respond to a recruiter asking to set up a time to talk with me (feel free to use this as-is, or augment it as you see fit):
Hi PERSON-NAME. Thank you for reaching out. I'd love to chat about the position. I had a couple of questions first:
- Who is the client?
- Do you have a job description I can take a look at, including the tech stacks?
- What is the offered salary range for the positions?
I had one recruiter get VERY offended that I asked for this info without talking to him on the phone. It'll probably happen at least once to anyone. You don't have to respond or feel bad; just close the conversation and move on.
Why do I do this? Because time is a precious resource, and I only have so much of it to go around. If you're attempting to change careers while you're still employed, you'll likely be trying to fit in conversations during your work day; doing this keeps that time to a minimum. If you're unemployed, it helps ensure that you have the info you need going in to know whether you'll be a good fit or not, and help you focus on the right job.
The recruiters will come. Slowly, but then more rapidly. Additionally, you'll hopefully have a ton of jobs that you're going to be directly applying for on your own.
At some point, you're inevitably going to run into a scenario where a recruiter wants to submit you to a company, but you can't remember if you've already applied or been submitted by another recruiter. It gets awkward. So - how do we avoid this?
What I did this time around (and will do every time from here on out) was to create a spreadsheet with the following info (click to see my sanitized personal sheet):
- Company name
- Job title
- Tech stack (the 2 or 3 main tools you'd be using)
- The offered salary (or salary range)
- How I'd applied (Direct Apply or LinkedIn)
- The date I'd applied (I didn't do this, but I should've)
- A link to the role (either the initial LinkedIn email URL, or the company's link)
- Who my contact person was (either w/ the company, or the recruiter)
- If a recruiter, what organization they were with
- The date of last contact, either incoming or outgoing (email, phone, smoke signal, etc.)
- Any notes (here I'd put what the contact was, if I had any action to take, just something so I'd know what the general status was)
- Whether the role was active or not (simple Yes/No)
I sorted this by Active, then Last Contact date, so all of the active roles would float to the top. I'd also highlight rows - red for dead (any inactive application), blue for initial interview, green for any 2nd+ interviews, yellow for things I needed to act on (like a code challenge or questionnaire).
This provided me with a bunch of benefits:
- A full list of everything I'd applied to.
- An easy way to check and see if an offered salary was matching up.
- An easy way to know which jobs I hadn't heard back from in a bit, and who my contact that I needed to follow up with was.
- If you're ever unemployed, most unemployment offices will ask you to keep track of who you applied to and when.
I hope you were able to take something out of this post; if anything, I strongly encourage you to implement the tracking spreadsheet as you do your next job search. Staying organized is the simplest way to help protect your time and your sanity as you go through a job search, and I wish I had done something like this sooner.
Best of luck to all of you job seekers out there!