How to find a new job in one thousand easy steps
Now that the search is over, is time to reflect on all the terrible stuff that is out there
I found a new job, which job isn’t that important for now, if you follow me on LinkedIn you’ll find out.
And I thought it would be nice to share what happened in the last 9 months in which I have been (with various degrees of commitment) open to work.
Before we talk about the numbers, let’s have a real talk
Why nine months? Haven’t you been unemployed for just 3 months?
Let me share a public secret with you: when a layoff is coming, especially in the particular way mine came to be, the company's senior management knows months in advance. We tried our best to avoid the worst, I think we did a pretty good job at that, but I decided immediately that I would be leaving, impacted or not.
So I started looking around early, knowing that for senior positions getting an offer, especially in an economic downturn, might take forever.
I didn’t have any economic problems and I was objectively in a privileged position when compared to many other folks out there.
Yet I would be lying if I said that the past months have been easy.
I started working at age 15 and never stopped, so being in the layoff limbo first, then garden leave, and finally officially unemployed, was the most maddening experience in my life.
What do I do? How many Netflix and Disney+ series can I watch? How many AI side projects can I build? Who am I without a job?
Above all, the most difficult part was the shame of being unemployed. Nobody out there cares, but I always felt a terrible shame in answering the question “So what’s your job?” with “I am in between jobs right now”.
It’s all in my head, but perception is reality and I am sure many of you folks out there can relate…
Before starting, remember that my experience cannot be compared “generally” because:
I wanted to find an executive position and that takes more time
I had enough of a safety net (like my wife working full-time and unemployment benefit) to be picky about my choices and manage my career like a professional athlete would do
I had lots of time and sometimes took calls just for fun and training
Here’s my stats:
Companies with at least an intro call: 15
Headhunters I talked to that yielded zero interviews: 8
N. of companies that I interviewed with (2 or more steps before being rejected): 10
Offers received: 3
Median number of steps (both rejected and successful): 6
Median number of steps (successful): 7
Reasons given for rejection: Competence (2), Culture fit (2), Diversity (2), Location (1)
Special mention: Canonical
In this piece, I decided to not mention any company because I think that as a candidate you see only one side of those companies and it would be unfair to share any negative view based on my partial experience.
However, I interviewed with Canonical as a sort of experiment after reading so much about how horrible their process is.
So I would like to share the experience to make sure nobody reading this piece makes the same mistake and stays clear of them until they change their hiring practices:
Canonical is fully remote worldwide, so they feel entitled to have a gruesome automated process because they have “too many applicants”.
The process starts with writing an essay about yourself (a written interview) that needs to answer around 30 open questions about your experience from childhood to recent times. As I said before, I had a lot of time on my hands so I wrote a 20-page essay on my favorite topic: myself.
After that, you are asked to do an automated coding test that is essentially a quiz on your favorite programming language then a coding test (that I passed to GPT and solved in a matter of seconds because the questions were extremely dumb), and finally an IQ and personality test.
Keep in mind I haven’t talked to any human so far and you can see the red flags here I hope.
In any case, I passed all of that and finally got to the first human for my management interview. I spoke to a very nice guy and we clicked, would love to work with him, to be honest.
Then I had a general technical interview and a system administration interview, again keep in mind I am interviewing for a senior management position here.
The general tech interview was fine, nothing too difficult and it was a nice conversation.
The system administration interview was, frankly, ridiculous. The poor guy that was interviewing me had to read questions from a script that was essentially a quiz on the Linux command line with questions like: “What does |& mean?”
Needless to say, I hilariously bombed that interview and the guy himself admitted that he didn’t know the answer to some of those questions from the top of his mind.
And let me highlight something here, none of the things I wrote in the essay were used for the interviews, nobody cared to read the essay because going through the pain of writing an essay was the point. It was just a filter for effort.
I subsequently got an automated email informing me of the rejection, no feedback, nothing.
Talking to the guys there, I also got the feeling that Canonical is a horrible place to work and they have super high churn. After going through this experience, I am not surprised.
Don’t take the search personal
I have friends who have been through layoffs and a grueling search for a new job, and we share the same feeling: it’s hard to not take this process personally.
The feedback is personal and if you get rejected by a company it’s easy to feel like you are not good enough and never find the job you want.
My advice is to work very hard on your psychological state and get a therapist if necessary because the process is cruel and brutal. When you are out there you are just a number, they don’t know you and nothing is personal.
The state of recruitment in 2023
You read very often on LinkedIn that you should have relationships with recruiters before you search for a job because they are your best friends and will help you.
Not sure if you ever noticed that this advice is never shared by candidates but only by recruiters, and there’s a reason why:
Recruitment isn’t a socially valuable non-profit, they are not trying to find a job for you out of the goodness of their heart. They are in the business of matching offer and demand, a mix of sales and marketing, this is a valuable job and one that we all benefit from but it’s also a number game.
So imagine if that advice was shared by someone in sales instead: don’t start searching for a laptop vendor when you need to buy laptops but have a relationship with vendors before you need laptops to make sure you are always covered.
It would sound ridiculous.
On top of that, recruitment in 2022/2023 was badly impacted by layoffs and in-house recruiters became busy to the point of burnout, there is no way they can look at all CVs and/or give you more than 15 minutes, let alone any personalized feedback.
So here’s my advice on how to cope with the current state:
Do not engage with recruiters that do not have a role for you
All agencies I talked to that didn’t have a role for me but “will be on the lookout” yielded zero results, never got back to me, or got back to me with excuses.
This makes sense, you are a “lead”, you are a person on a list but they have zero incentive to look out specifically for you. It’s the human equivalent of setting up a job alert on LinkedIn, except with less reach.
So my advice is to decline any conversation that doesn’t have a role behind it, it’s a waste of time.
Do not expect meaningful feedback
In the current state of affairs, the best-case scenario is to get zero feedback, many companies employ a new tactic of sending an automated email saying “You have been rejected because <standard reason> but please click this link to set up a call to get more detailed feedback”. Counting on the fact that nobody will do that.
But there is a worst-case scenario in which you will get some ridiculous feedback, for example, once I was rejected by a startup because I didn’t have enough managerial experience. What are you going to do with that?
So don’t interview to get feedback, it’s a waste of time.
However, if you are lucky and find someone kind enough to give you great feedback, please take that seriously and send them flowers.
They’ll ask about your current salary, be smart
There’s no way around it, recruiters will ask about your current salary. There are many possible reasons for it: they want to understand if you are on target for the client budget, they want to gather the data to sell it later, they want to lowball you later on.
The best thing to do is to try to avoid having the conversation, decline politely, but if they insist, never give your current salary but give an expectation range and ask if they have a range as well.
Do your homework with sites like https://techpays.eu/ (or https://levels.fyi/) and collect your own data, ask people around. Never accept to be lowballed on your salary: “You said 100k 1 month ago” is not a good excuse to give you a lower salary, be strong.
I know that many people like to dunk on recruiters, but we are all doing our job. You should always be kind to people and respect their profession. Decline politely or give them constructive feedback. Thank them and understand that, like most of us, they are under a great deal of pressure.
And if you work with a great recruiter, don’t let them go, they are so rare.
The only advice that works requires a thousands steps
The internet is flooded with people giving you terrible advice on how to find a new job:
Have a great GitHub profile, or whatever the portfolio equivalent
Go to networking events or cold call the CEO
and the list goes on…
Now, I am not disputing that some of those pieces of advice sometimes work but there is only one advice that consistently works:
Be excellent at your job and have a great relationship with your colleagues.
It’s simple and complicated at the same time:
The only people who know the value of your work are the people who worked with you side-by-side or saw your work up close. And it’s great if those people want to work with you again.
Of course, being excellent isn’t enough, people also need to enjoy working with you. Begrudgingly working with a brilliant jerk isn’t great, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend them for a job at my current company!
Not only that!
If you find a new job in a decent company they will ask for references and/or search for references independently.
And if you did a great job you a) will be in touch with those people and will be able to know about those calls b) you will not worry about those calls because you know they will give stellar feedback about you.
Have you ever heard of the PayPal mafia? Or the various alumni networks of famous companies like Uber? This is what this is about, create your network and nurture that network.
This is it, that’s all it takes: Be someone that smart people want to work with.
But what if you don’t have a network? What if you are just starting your career? Then join a mid-to-large company if possible (it doesn’t have to be a FAANG!), or work your way till you can join that type of company. It might not be fun and rewarding like a startup, but it’s an investment in your future.
Manage your career like a professional athlete
My final advice is that you should manage your career like a professional athlete, you should have a crystal clear idea of what kind of job you want to do and what are your strengths and weaknesses.
You are allowed to change your mind of course but work in intervals long enough that allow you to be good at your job before changing your mind.
Those intervals can be 1 year for a simple IC position but can go up to 3-5 years for very senior roles.
I decided 8 years ago that I wanted to be a successful technology executive, and every single career decision I made was in function of that goal.
Now, having an idea of what you want to achieve is great but you need a way to achieve that.
And the best way is to build optionality.
My advice is that you should:
First acquire skills that will increase your net worth, to have as much savings as possible
Then acquire specific experience more specific to the path you want to follow
At the same time build a network of people you like to work with and who are interesting
This will very likely require you to join a large company that has career opportunities and pays well, or get lucky with a fast-growing startup. And it might take more than 10 years, it’s not going to be a fast and easy fix.
But the reward is optionality: the ability to choose your next job without worrying too much about being broke, you might even take more chances on smaller companies and learn a thing or two about starting a business.
Whatever your path, if you can get to a point in your career in which you can choose to do what you want. Then you are lucky and that’s the sweet spot we all want to be on someday.
Mandatory disclosure here: YMMV, I am a just dude describing his journey with a lot of privilege and I am far from being the average job seeker in technology.
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