When I read anecdotes from frustrated job seekers in the tech industry, they usually start out the same way.
“I applied to dozens of jobs
but I am not getting any response.”
Sometimes the low response is warranted due to lack of qualifications or less obvious factors, but often the problem is simply that the job seeker never got access to the person/people who matter most in the hiring of technical professionals. Hiring bottlenecks start with the traditional application process (submit résumé blindly) and can be further complicated by HR reps that are hiring for disparate skills and business units. At a smaller company with no recruiters, the task of screening résumés may go to junior employees and administrative personnel with no background or training in hiring.
When you like a company and want to get an interview, the ideal entrance is very rarely the front door. The front door is the advertised entrance that HR wants you to take, crowded with active job seekers with varying qualifications that will be culled or herded through the process by the people manning the door.
After many years in the business I’ve learned that if you ask privately (meaning not within earshot of HR), most technical managers don’t want candidates to come through the front door either. They would rather you came through a back door, and if necessary to hiring protocol they will later introduce you to the front door guardians to ensure passage. HR mans the front door, but the geeks own the back doors. This is how it works at many employers.
What are the more common back doors?
Anyone involved with hiring entry-level technology professionals (or reads posts on Reddit’s cscareerquestions forum) is aware that students are being prepared by schools for how to do work in the industry, but are often ill-prepared on how to find work in the industry. There is a major difference between the two, and many grads are being edged out on jobs by equally or even less-qualified peers who were just a bit more proactive about their career. If you think finding a job is only about internships and GPAs, please keep reading.
Some students feel that if they aren’t working 10 hours a day building the next Twitter from their dorm room, or if they didn’t intern at Google or Amazon, that they will struggle to find work. This is hardly the case, and I assure you that if you do a few things during your college years (that require a minimal time investment and no money), you will be several steps ahead when it is time to apply for your first job.
The fundamental importance of professional networking for today’s career-minded tech pro has been pounded into our heads for many years now. ”It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” gets spouted by everyone who gets denied a job or interview, and there is certainly some truth in the saying. The mere thought of hobnobbing and mingling with other technologists at an event may instill terror in many (myself included sometimes), and most in the industry yearn to be evaluated purely on their ability to code and not their ability to shake hands and make good eye contact. If you are repulsed by the concept that your elbow-rubbing skill may be integral to career success, or are perhaps uncomfortable in traditional networking situations, please continue reading – it’s less necessary today than most think.
When visualizing networking, most in the industry probably picture a room with a number of people separated into small groups of varying size having discussions. (Googling “professional networking” confirms my suspicion) It could be an industry conference, meetup, or even a more social event such at a bar or restaurant. The images will be appealing to no one but salespeople, and even many of them may shudder.
Advice on salary negotiation is abundant, but material written for the general public may not always be applicable to a technology sector where demand is high and the most sought after talent is scarce. There is quite a bit of misinformation and the glorified mythology of negotiation is often mistaken for the much less interesting reality where little negotiation actually takes place.
Let’s start by going over a few “rules” that are often thrown around in these discussions.
Using absolutes is never a good idea (see what I did there?), and there are definite situations when you should not negotiate an offer. For example, entry-level candidates who are considered replaceable with other entry-level candidates often do more harm than good by negotiating, particularly when the job being offered is among the most desirable. We will cover when you should and should not negotiate a bit later, but there are clearly some conditions when it’s not a great idea.
There’s no harm in asking for more/Doesn’t hurt to ask
Actually, sometimes it does. When you propose a counteroffer, there are only a few realistic outcomes.
A recent blog post Technical Interviews Make Me Cry by Pamela Fox tells the personal tale of a technologist and conference speaker who gets a Skype/Stypi interview for her dream job, becomes stumped on a technical question, breaks down in tears, almost abandons the interview, fights through it, and eventually gets the job. Everyone loves a happy ending, and it was courageous for the author to tell her story so publicly as a service to others. However, I think some of her takeaways and the advice she provides can be improved upon.
So how can we prevent crying or freezing up during a technical interview?
Let’s start with the author’s advice. She offers that interviewees should prepare for the format and not just the material, and writes
The decision to join a new employer and the process leading up to the move can be fraught with emotional attachments, irrational fears, and incomplete information. Since job searches in technology often include self-interested third parties of varying influence (e.g. recruiters, founders, hiring managers) acting within a highly competitive hiring environment, the job seeker can be pushed and pulled in several directions, sometimes based on half-truths and distortions. The result of the job change (or the decision to refuse an offer and stay put) in many circumstances is buyer’s remorse, where regret can be felt rather quickly.
First let’s look at the more common reasons that candidates regret taking a new job, and then explore one rather simple solution to avoid the mistake.
You would need to be blind not to notice that tech recruiting firms are now tending to hire young and attractive female rookie recruiters, which is an obvious strategy (similar to the so-called “booth babes” at trade shows) to get the attention of the predominantly male tech audience. Some of the LinkedIn recruiter profile photos border on racy, and perhaps sad. I should confess here that I too use a LinkedIn profile photo, which is probably best described as smug (included below, for science).
Since I started blogging I have been regularly approached by readers living hundreds of miles away asking if I know a recruiter in their geography that might be able to help them find new work. For every ten people that hate on recruiters, there are at least a couple that see value. Many tech pros complain that they are only being approached by the aforementioned 22 year old crowd with an average six months of recruiting experience, sending canned messages with a pretty LinkedIn profile photo. How much solid career advice can you get from a new liberal arts or PE grad who was waiting tables until a couple months ago? Very little, and I should know – because that was me 15 years ago (except Economics and bartender).
I deal with internal recruiters that work at my client companies, but readers want intros to people who do what I do. These internal recruiters only represent their company, whereas agency recruiters like me can provide several job opportunities. Instead of just replying with “Sorry, I don’t really know anyone in your area”, I thought I’d provide some thoughts on methods to find someone you will want to work with in your job search.