What a year! And it’s only February. It seems every day another tech company is laying off a large percentage of its workforce. But unemployment is low and companies are hiring. WTF is going on? What does this mean for someone recently unemployed or just setting foot on their career path? Here's some advice on how to get a job in this economy from someone who has been on both sides of the equation multiple times, as an applicant and a hiring manager.
This post originally published at jarednielsen.com
1. Talk to your people
The easiest way to get a job is within your network. Most companies prefer to hire referrals and many roles are filled before they are posted.
You don’t know anybody?
You know somebody!
Unless, of course, you were raised by wolves. 🐺🐺
Being woodland creatures, wolves know that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. 🌳
The next best time is today. 🌱
Talk to everyone you know. Friends. Neighbors. Former teachers. Your mom. Tell them what you’re interested in. There’s a good chance someone you know knows someone. Or knows someone who knows someone. 🥓
If you think networking is a dirty word, start thinking of it as community building. Yes, you’ll encounter a lot of insufferable individuals during your career and those people are the icky part of this equation, especially in tech, which attracts the best and worst in humanity. Give your attention to the best. This is your community. You want to keep these people close to you and you do so by keeping in touch. Make time to say ‘Hey!’ now and then.
💡 Pro Tip: remember birthdays.
2. Get professional
Whether or not you found a lead through your network, you’re going to need to put a professional polish on the following:
your cover letter
your public profiles
Write a resume
There are countless resources out there on writing a good resume, as well as templates you can repurpose. Keep a main copy of your resume and then customize it for each employer. Don’t just submit the same resume to every job. And don’t submit more than one page if you’re not applying for an academic position, though there are those who will debate this. Think of your resume as a big ass business card. You want it to be something that is easy to read and sells the best of you. It’s your 8.5 x 11 (or A4) elevator pitch.
Write a cover letter
Write a boilerplate cover letter that you can adapt to each job. Your cover letter should be 3 or 4 paragraphs, but no more, and one page max. This is a standard outline:
Who are you?
What are your accomplishments?
How will you deliver value and/or solve problems for the company?
Why are you the ideal candidate?
As above, there are countless resources and templates available for writing good cover letters. Pick one that resonates with you and adapt it to your personality and professional goals. Above all, tell a good story. This is your one opportunity to craft a narrative and address any gaps in your resume, so make the most of it. Always submit a cover letter. Don’t skip it because it's optional. It's not optional. It's what sets you apart.
Polish your public profiles
There are at least three public profiles you need to prepare and/or polish:
Love or hate it, LinkedIn is useful in the job hunt, so make sure your profile is complete and up-to-date. If you want to go the extra mile, ask former colleagues for endorsements. Then use the platform. Announce your job-seeking intentions, then post regularly. Connect with people. Set up job notifications. Follow thought leaders, topics, companies, etc.
Most employers will ask for your GitHub profile to see what, and if, you are actively building and contributing to projects. Do the following to prep your profile:
Add a profile README
Pin a few repositories that showcase your best work
Fill out your bio
Link to your portfolio
Perhaps, most importantly, commit! Keep that chart in the green.
🟩 🟩 🟩 🟩
Some employers may ask for your Twitter handle. You are not obligated to provide any social media accounts (including LinkedIn, if you consider that social media). But if you're concerned a potential employer might find you anyway, now is the time to start deleting embarrassing posts.
Here’s a personal example: I was researching an applicant, an internal referral, for a role and I found his Twitter profile. It listed a few accomplishments and stated something simliar to "My pronouns are Ace / Buddy / Champ". This was a red flag for me as he went out of his way to make this public (at the time of this writing Twitter doesn’t require pronouns) and it signaled an insensitivity to difference. The last thing the tech industry needs is another white man who is unwilling to adapt. With more qualified candidates in the queue, it was easy to pass on this applicant as I was looking for someone with both hard and soft skills.
Don’t be this guy.
For more than one reason.
3. An application a day keeps unemployment away
The job hunt sucks. It’s stressful. It’s draining. It’s demoralizing. You’ll invest significant time and effort in an application only to receive an automated rejection email. You might even get into the interview pipeline only to receive that same automated rejection, as if you’re not human! If your skin isn’t as thick as The Art of Computer Programming, you’ll need a strategy to buffer yourself. Try the following strategies:
Reading between the lines
Going big or going home
Block out time every day, on your calendar, to sit down and apply to jobs. Set up notifications so your phone nags you when you need to get going. Then use this time to apply for at least one job. Make that your job. Do it at the same time every day, preferably early in the day or you won’t do it, and preferably for an hour or two because it takes at least an hour to sufficiently research a company and prepare a decent application. But this will be easy because you already created templates for your resume and cover letter, right?
Read between the lines
When reviewing the job description and requirements, read between the lines. There’s a story hidden there. See if you can find it. What problems does the company need you to solve? Is it delivery? Is it technical expertise? Is it communication and working well with others? Be sure to customize your resume and cover letter to state how you will (honestly) address these issues, without directly stating the problem. The company may be inadvertently advertising their pain points, but that doesn’t mean you need to poke at them.
Go big or go home
Apply for roles that seem out of reach. You never know. You might be a perfect fit. Or you might catch the eye of the recruiter or the hiring manager and they will refer you for a junior role or something else more suitable within the company or keep in you on the backburner for something in the future.
Keep a record of your job applications in a spreadsheet. Create three columns to identify the top three requirements that you don’t meet. At the end of each week, look at the five (or more) applications you submitted and their associated skills gaps. This will clue you in on what you might want to learn next week. Maybe it’s time to learn GraphQL or PostgreSQL or Kubernetes or the new hotness.
Here’s a template for you to use.
4. Build a portfolio
After you submit at least one application, what are you going to do with the rest of your day?
You’re going to build your portfolio! There are (at least) two ways to do that:
Your knowledge portfolio is, well, just that: the things you know. Invest in it every day by dedicating time to learning something new.
Your skills portfolio, on the other hand, is a demonstration of what you know. This might be an application you built, a component you designed, a blog post, a video, something tangible, but above all, public.
As stated above, all of this is taxing, and, while you’ve got the time to do it, take care of yourself. Spend time every day doing something you always wanted to do, but couldn’t because you were working full time. This will also help you feel grounded and put things in perspective. When you get that call, which you will, you want to feel calm and collected. You won’t be your best self if you spend 40+ hours a week feeling FOMO.
Yes, this moment is intense, but it can also be intentional.
Make the most of it!
It’s not just your career.
It’s your life.
5. Prepare for the interviews
You will eventually get a call. Well, you probably won’t get a call out of the blue. You’ll get an email from a recruiter requesting a few times to schedule a call. You’ll want to be prepared for this and all subsequent calls.
The Recruiter Screening
Recruiter screenings are generally 25-30 minutes. They’ll reiterate the job description and verify some information with you. Then they’ll ask a series of standard questions. These will vary from company-to-company, but expect variations on these themes:
Why are you interested in this role?
What’s your familiarity with our company / product(s)?
Where are you in your job search?
After the recruiter runs through their questions, they’ll turn it over to you to ask yours. This will be easy because you did your homework, right? Here are some stock questions for you to ask:
What’s the culture of the company like?
Is this a new role or a backfill?
What are you looking for in the ideal candidate?
What’s the interview process?
What’s the salary range?
That last question is the most important. If it wasn’t in the JD, you need to get an answer now to assess whether or not it’s worth your time proceeding. Don’t be shy. And don’t get off the call without asking. Recruiters are prepared for this question and keep in mind that they are human, too, so maybe they forgot or they’re feeling shy about telling you.
The Hiring Manager Screening
If you checked the boxes with the recruiter, your next meeting will be with the hiring manager (AKA your potential boss). Hiring manager calls are generally 45 minutes, give or take. If you make it this far, you’re a strong candidate. Managers are busy people and the last thing they want to do is interview 100+ applicants for one role. They already looked at a stack of applications and they put yours at the top. Now it’s time to impress. No pressure! To prepare for this interview, do the following:
Practice writing answers to stock interview questions
Do your homework (and then some)
Learn something about the hiring manager
Practice answers to stock interview questions
There are countless resources out there listing “The 100 Questions You’ll Get Asked in the Interview”. Copy / paste one or more of these listicles in a Google Doc and build it into your schedule to write answers to them. This will equip you with notes you can quickly review and help calm your nerves going into the interview. The goal is to avoid fumbling when one of these questions is thrown at you. 🏈
Do (more of) your homework.
Dig deeper into the company and the role. Revisit the JD. The hiring manager probably wrote it and if it’s not stated clearly, the value they want you to deliver and the problems they want you to solve are written between the lines. Be prepared to talk to these points and prepare five questions that will help you learn more about the company and the role and sincerely demonstrate your interest in both.
Learn something about the hiring manager.
Your relationship with your manager will make or break the job for you, so test the waters. Find them on LinkedIn or track down some other public profile. Then prepare a question or two for them based on their professional history. Don't get personal unless there's some obvious resonance between the two of you.
You’re not trying to stroke their ego.
You’re emulating a 1:1, where you can (hopefully) talk openly with one another. This will let both of you know if it’s a good fit.
But only do this if you do it sincerely. Otherwise, you’re trolling.
Most companies will let you know who your interviewers will be well ahead of time. Take advantage of this! It’s a red flag if they don’t, but not necessarily a deal breaker. If ther recruiter doesn't offer this information, ask for it.
Every organization will run you through a gauntlet of subsequent interviews, often referred to as ‘The Panel’. If you make it this far, it’s because the hiring manager likes you but now needs to perform due diligence and allow others to form an opinion. Time is money and the hiring manager doesn’t want to occupy too much team time with interviews. That’s good news for you! It means you are one of a handful of strong candidates remaining in the pipeline. As with the hiring manager above, learn something about each of the individuals you will meet. These interviews will be a combination of teammates and stakeholders. Everybody wants to make the hire, but (almost) nobody enjoys doing these interviews. They make the work week even busier and it gets tiring asking the same questions of each candidate and filling out the HR forms. So use this knowledge to your advantage! You want to get to a place where you can be a little less formal and more conversational. Let the interviewers know what it will be like to work with you. If you get hired, they’re never going to schedule a Zoom call with you and ask ‘Tell me about a time when…’.
Get into the weeds.
The Technical Interview
One of the panel interviews will be a technical interview. Every organization will test your chops somehow. There are several standard approaches:
Take home assignment
None of these will be a challenge for you, though, because you were investing 1% in your knowledge portfolio every day, right? And yes, some companies are still conducting whiteboarding interviews. Let me apologize on their behalf.
If you get a message from the recruiter asking for a quick call, you’re golden. They want you.
Now it’s time to discuss salary.
They’re going to give you a number.
Because you did your homework (and you asked about the salary range at the outset!), you’ll know if this is fair compensation.
And then you’re going to ask for more.
They expect this.
If you’re new to this or you really need the job, it’s going to feel scary. Don’t be greedy and do be appreciative. The worst that can happen is they say ‘no’ and you still take the job.
There are constraints and calculations when an offer is being made. Hiring managers work with a budget. If the role is a backfill, the budget is probably fixed based on the salary of the individual who left. If they advocated for a new hire, they made the case, based on industry benchmarks and comparable roles across the company, for a salary. If they’re hiring for more than one role, they need to divvy that up accordingly. More qualified individuals are going to get a bigger slice of the pie. Say, for example, a hiring manager gets a budget of $240,000. They could hire two devs at $120k each. Or they could hire someone junior at $100k and someone more senior at $140k. Or they could hire three associates at $80k each, or a 10X monster at $240k, but then they’ve got different problems on their hands in those last two scenarios. Hiring managers often take this strategy: they make a generous offer, but it's just shy of maxing out their budget. This gives both the hiring manager and you, the candidate, some flexibility for negotiation.
If you're not happy with the offer, you can always say ‘no’. But, as they say, “It’s easier to find a job when you have one.”
7. Help others
You got the job! Congrats! Now let’s bring it full circle. Listen to the people in your community. You needed help yesterday. You can offer help today. Reach out! Or write an article like this! ;)
How to get a job in this economy
If you want to stay in the loop, sign up for my newsletter, The Solution.
Top comments (1)
You are upbeat and your article is comprehensive. It kept me reading. ;)