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Practical Guide to Navigating Tech Job Market: Job Search and Networking

Practical Guide to Navigating Tech Job Market: Job Search and Networking

In recent years, the job market has experienced a seismic shift, with a notable tilt in favor of employers. This transformation can be attributed to various factors, including global economic challenges, ongoing geopolitical conflicts, the rise of AI, and financial pressures on companies, which have prompted them to adopt a more cautious approach.

Layoffs 2023

The technology sector, in particular, has faced significant challenges. Since the second quarter of 2022, tech giants have initiated layoffs affecting around 350,000 to 400,000 employees. This number, however, doesn't fully capture the extent of the downsizing, as many contractors have quietly exited major players.

This surge is primarily driven by significant staff reductions at industry leaders such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo, Meta, and Zoom. These companies are shifting their focus from rapid growth to operational efficiency to tackle ongoing market challenges. Even my home company, Spotify, recently did a 17% reduction in its workforce.

Being laid off

I can understand that being laid offed can be nerve-wracking. It's a situation many of us never anticipate or wish to face, and when it happens, it can shake our confidence and disrupt our lives. So I want to write some kind of guide for people so they can start looking for a new job with a guide in hand.

You're Not Just Your Job

Ever been to a party where the first question someone asks is, "So, what do you do?" Yeah, we've all been there. People often like to define us by our jobs, and honestly, we're kinda wired to think of ourselves that way too. But here's the real talk: You are way more than your job title. Your job's just one slice of the awesome pie that makes up 'you'. Remembering this is super important, especially when the job's gone. No work doesn't mean no worth. You're still you, just with some extra time to dive into different things.

Not a Disaster, but a Door to New Opportunities

Life's a rollercoaster of ups and downs, right? If you hit a down phase, like losing a job, it's part of the ride. Think of it as a quiet moment before your next big leap. It's a chance to gather your strength. Got some savings or a financial cushion? Set a comfy deadline for yourself and chill. Look for the right job calmly, and believe in yourself. Don't rush into the first job that pops up. That's the panic talking.

Now, instead of treating this as a disaster, think about the new doors it opens. Write down all the good stuff this situation brings and keep that list where you can see it.

Now as you calmed down let's talk.

Gone are the days when job hunting was mostly about sifting through listings and shooting off resumes to open positions. However, this segment of the hiring funnel has significantly shrunk (consequently, the role of recruiters has diminished as well).

How companies look for candidates

Source

The way companies scout for talent has shifted big time. They're playing it smarter, focusing more on their existing pool of talent and relying less on the traditional open job market. Companies are now more likely to shuffle their current employees around to fill new or changing roles, keeping the expertise in-house.

This shift has made networking and personal referrals more valuable than ever. When someone inside the company vouches for you, saying you're a great fit, it often turns out to be true. This inside-track method is now second only to internal transfers in terms of reliability. It's a way for companies to sidestep the risk of hiring someone who talks a good game but can't deliver.

Strategies to Stand Out

The first step to getting your dream job is landing an interview with the company. Your role-fit, skillset, professional background does not matter until and unless you have an opportunity to talk about it with the recruiter i.e. get to the first stage of interviewing. Landing an interview, in my opinion is the toughest part in the entire hiring process.

Today's job market is tough, standing out among numerous candidates is crucial, as simply excelling in interviews may not be enough to even get you to that stage. Here are several strategies to increase your visibility and chances of getting hired:

  1. Direct Contact with Hiring Managers/Executives: Knowing someone like the hiring manager, CEO, or CTO personally can be immensely beneficial. Reaching out directly with a message like, "Hello John, buddy! I always remember how we worked together on X, it was super cool. I see you've raised a round and are looking for a Y specialist — would love to chat about it!" can ensure direct communication with the decision-makers.
  2. Contributing to Open Source Projects: This is self-explanatory. Demonstrating your skills by actively contributing to open-source projects can make a compelling case for your capabilities. It's a way to show that you're already doing the work, so why not get paid for it?
  3. Active Community Participation: Being an active member of a community related to a specific project, technology, or topic on platforms like Linkedin, Reddit, Stack Overflow, or other channels increases your visibility. This makes you more likely to be noticed and recommended by others in the community.
  4. Gathering Referrals: The ability to collect referrals everywhere can significantly boost your chances. It's about networking and making connections that can vouch for your skills and character.
  5. Proactive Approach Post-Application: After applying for a job, reaching out to as many relevant people in the company as possible can make a difference. There's a chance that your resume won’t just be another one in a pile, and you’ll get noticed. Also you can search for hiring managers and recruiters who are actively hiring now, for example here.

It’s important to understand that while methods 1 to 3 are more organic and can sometimes feel forced if not genuine, methods 4 and 5 are practical and might need to be utilized for better job conversion rates. Those approaches require more effort than just filling out an application form and waiting for an invitation to an interview, but it can significantly increase your chances in today's job market.

The Power of Networking

Start with a simple strategy — inform everyone you know that you are seeking employment.

Seriously, reach out to everyone: go through all your Twitter and LinkedIn chats, old emails, and other communication channels, and send a message to anyone even remotely relevant. Social platforms is a good way to find professional contacts as well.

You never know what's happening in the lives of people you haven't spoken to in a while. They might have started a startup and need their first hire, or their friend left company X, and they are looking for a replacement. Networking with weak ties often leads to unexpected opportunities. Trust me.

Mining Referrals

Mining Referrals

As mentioned before, one of the most effective strategies for increasing your chances of connecting with people at a company you're interested in is by leveraging referrals. The world is relationship driven, and a referral is the ultimate indicator of belongingness.

Here's where you can seek out referrals:

  1. Tap into Your Existing Network: As previously mentioned, begin by reaching out to individuals within your current network who may have insights or contacts within your target company.

  2. Participate in Professional Communities and Forums: Engage in relevant professional communities or forums where you can network with like-minded individuals. These platforms often serve as a valuable source of referrals.

  3. Explore Specialized Interview Preparation Groups: Investigate groups dedicated to interview preparation, such as Leetcode. They can provide opportunities to connect with individuals who have valuable insights and connections.

  4. Leverage Referral Websites: Websites like Repher.me are specifically designed to help you secure referrals. They can be an efficient way to identify potential contacts who can vouch for your qualifications.

For more tips on asking for referrals, check out this guide on how to ask for referrals.

Networking at Meetups and Conferences

Attending conferences or meetups related to your field is a highly effective way to find common ground with professionals. Sign up for a meetup or conference (preferably free or online) in your area of interest. Don't be shy, connect with speakers or attendees and initiate a conversation during or after the event. Mention that you enjoyed their presentation and express interest in their company or open positions. Check out Meetup for events in your area.

Bold Outreach

Contacting people you don't know might feel a bit intimidating, but it's a skill that can open many doors. Here's a resource that can help you craft effective cold emails using ChatGPT: Cold Emails for Job Search. It's full of tips and templates to help you personalize your introductions and cover letters.

Scour LinkedIn to identify individuals currently employed at your desired company. Reach out to them to express your interest and ask about potential opportunities or referrals. Just remember to keep it light and friendly – no one likes to be bombarded with messages. A bit of politeness goes a long way in making connections that count.

Networking opens doors, but it's your personal story and self-awareness that will help you walk through them with confidence. Let's talk about CV preparation and the job search.

Reflect and Understand

Reflect

Before you start drafting resumes or prepping for interviews, take a step back and reflect. This isn't just about prepping for interviews or crafting your resume; it's about aligning your career path with who you truly are and what you really want.

Use reflection to:

  1. Building Your Narrative: In the eyes of top-tier companies, your personal journey is crucial. Reflecting on your past helps you put together a narrative that's not just true, but also engaging and relevant.
  2. Self-Assessment: It gives you a chance to really look at what you're great at and where you might need some work. This self-awareness is gold when it comes to asking smart questions to potential employers.It gives you a chance to really look at what you're great at and where you might need some work. This self-awareness will help you ask the right questions to potential employers.

A practical approach to reflection could be writing a short essay where you freely express your recent experiences. This exercise can yield various outcomes:

  • Your Wins: Talk about times you faced a challenge and came out on top.
  • Tough Lessons: Reflect on the moments that didn't go as planned, what you learned from them, and how you've changed since.
  • What You Love (and Don't): Pin down what parts of your job you really enjoy, and which bits you'd rather avoid. This can guide the kind of questions you ask when you're looking at new roles.

Being honest with yourself here is key. This isn't about making yourself look good on paper. It's about understanding who you are, warts and all. If you know you tend to take things slow, own it. That way, you can look for job environments that fit your style, like a more laid-back team, rather than a high-stress, all-go-no-stop situation.

Impostor syndrome

Also, reflection helps you assess your current level of readiness for specific interviews. A balanced view of your skills, minus the extremes of Dunning-Kruger or impostor syndrome, sets you up for a more effective interview prep.

Setting Your Goals

When it comes to shaping your career in the tech field, you'll face decisions that can have a big impact on your professional journey. Let's highlight some important things to think about when setting your career goals and making choices.

Company culture

Projects vs Products. There's a distinction between working on projects (like freelancing or project-based work) and products (long-term, vision-driven work in product teams). For some, the stress and uncertainty of constantly seeking new clients in project work are unappealing. Instead, they may find more motivation and commitment in product teams with a clear vision.

Startups vs Big Tech. Working in startups (typically smaller teams) versus large tech companies offers different experiences. Startups allow closer involvement with the product and customers and a better understanding of the business mechanics. However, they often lack experience in scaling to a level that requires a large team of engineers. I would say the choice between startups and big tech may depend on the phase of your career, but that is my opinion — decide for yourself.

Individual Contributor vs Manager vs Consultant. At some point in your career, you might have to choose between deepening your technical skills, moving into management, or consulting. It's a personal choice, as some find equal enjoyment in both technical and managerial roles. Consulting can be valuable if it aligns with your values, but it's not for everyone, especially those who prefer hands-on execution.

Innovation vs Stability: This refers to choosing companies based on their values and the nature of their products. Some may avoid sectors like advertising, crypto, surveillance, gaming, or streaming despite lucrative offers, preferring to work for companies whose mission and products align with their personal ethics.

Money vs Everything Else: The dilemma between high compensation and other factors like learning opportunities, professional growth, and company culture is common. While IT offers many exciting roles in startups with potential for rapid growth, these may not always come with high pay. Deciding factors often include life stage and personal priorities.

In my opinion, when you're at the junior to mid-level stage, it's crucial to focus on gaining experience and working with people who are smarter than you on complex projects. Forget about the money and be willing to work even for minimal compensation to accumulate valuable experience. As you progress to a senior role, you can start thinking about compensation, but it's advisable not to compromise your interest in the work. When you reach the staff level, you're expected to have a deep understanding of your field. In simpler terms, it's a journey where you initially work to build your skills and experience, and eventually, your reputation and expertise will work for you.

Crafting a CV

Resume

Crafting an effective CV is a topic often debated among job seekers and professionals. It's seen as a kind of voodoo magic by recruiters, but there is a certain logic to it. Personal experiences with job applications show that one-size-fits-all approaches, like creating a general resume for all positions, are not very effective.

Common Issues in Resumes:

  1. Role and Expertise Clarity: Clearly state whether you're an Individual Contributor or a Manager, and specify your area of expertise, be it Backend Engineering, Machine Learning, or DevOps. Recruiters, especially in the US, favor candidates with clear specializations.
  2. Customized Resumes for Each Application: Personalizing your resume for each job opening can significantly increase your interview chances. It may require more effort but can pay off in higher interview conversion rates.
  3. The Role of Cover Letters and Personalized Messages: While some debate their impact, personalized cover letters or messages can be effective, especially if you're not tailoring your resume for each application.

Resume Preparation Checklist:

  • Length and Format: Keep your resume concise (1-2 pages max) and in a format that’s easy to copy from a PDF.
  • Structure: Opt for bullet points over dense text. Start with your contact info, followed by a summary, experience, and additional details.
  • Content Focus: Each bullet point should illustrate how you improved a situation or achieved results, rather than just describing your job duties.
  • Metrics and Relevance: Include metrics that pass the "so what?" test, showing their impact.
  • Proofreading: Use tools like Grammarly, ChatGPT, or a language tutor to check for grammatical accuracy.
  • Feedback: Seek feedback on your resume from friends, community members, professional contacts or automatic tools.

Regularly refine your resume, perhaps every two weeks, incorporating new feedback and insights.

Crafting a CV

Links:

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a vital tool for self-promotion and for receiving incoming job offers. Enhancing your LinkedIn profile can significantly increase the likelihood of getting responses when you reach out to people.

LinkedIn Checklist:

  • Profile Photo and Background: Ensure your profile picture and background image are professional and appealing.
  • Custom URL: Customize your LinkedIn URL with your name or a professional nickname.
  • Headline and Description: Use all available characters wisely to include key search terms relevant to your profile, such as job titles, skills, and technologies.
  • Experience Update: Keep your work experience updated in line with your resume.
  • Networking: Connect with people from your professional circle, including past colleagues, university peers, conference acquaintances, open-source contributors, and others. Feel free to connect with me as well!
  • Open to Work: Indicate that you're open to work, either through the 'OpenToWork' feature or a subtle note, so recruiters can easily find you.
  • About Section: Use this section to make a strong summary statement about why you're exceptional. Include indexed words and contact information. Recruiters often view this section from the preview without opening the full page.
  • Complete Profile: If you have awards, publications, certifications, or pet projects, make sure they are included in your LinkedIn profile.

Now you're ready to start posting about your job search on LinkedIn.

Github

If you're a developer, chances are you'll be asked to share your GitHub profile in job applications or include it in your resume. When you do, it's crucial to make sure your GitHub profile is well-maintained. Presenting a cluttered or disorganized profile can leave a negative impression. Here's a checklist to help you optimize your GitHub presence:

  • Tidy up Your Repositories: Ensure that the repositories you display on your profile are relevant and reflect your best work. Remove or archive outdated or unfinished projects that you wouldn't want people to see.
  • Create Informative READMEs: For repositories you showcase, write clear and informative README files. A good README should introduce the project, explain its purpose, provide setup instructions, and offer any necessary context or documentation.
  • Use Your Profile README: GitHub now allows you to create a profile-level README to introduce yourself and highlight your skills and interests. Consider adding a brief bio, your areas of expertise, and links to other resources, like your portfolio website or LinkedIn profile. Here are some examples that can help you get started.
  • Provide Contact Information: Include contact information or links to your professional profiles on your GitHub page. This makes it easier for potential employers or collaborators to reach out to you.

Applying for Jobs

When applying for jobs, you often have the opportunity to include a cover letter. While it can be time-consuming and sometimes daunting, I found that using this option to increase relevance can be quite beneficial. Also, when it comes to job boards, I found that manually searching for positions was often more effective than relying solely on subscription-based job alerts.

To get started, here's a lineup of job boards worth checking out:

Create a nice profile on all popular job platforms and some company candidate portals. You don’t have to actively apply for jobs on all these platforms, but if a recruiter is looking through profiles, you may want to have a fine, updated profile be there.

Materials:



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More? Well, there you go:

Practical Guide to Navigating Tech Job Market: Interview Prep

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