Job Search Retrospective (2020 edition)

date2020-07-31
13 min read

I just completed the most interesting and intensive job search of my career. I am looking forward to taking a break, but first it is time for a retrospective! A lot of folks were interested in my reverse job posting, so I wanted to share some information about how it went and what I learned.

It’s a bit long, so feel free to take a look at the table of contents and jump around to the bits that interest you.

Disclaimers

  • I am not a career counselor, and my advice should be taken with context and a grain of salt.
  • I am not suggesting anyone follow the steps I did. For many people, that would be a terrible idea. If you do follow any steps I did, I am not responsible for the consequences.
  • Your mileage may vary. Job searches are hard. There is no one size fits all approach.
  • I intentionally did not name the companies involved in my job search. Please do not ask for names unless we are friends and you are looking for recommended places to apply for work.
  • I intentionally did not list where I’m going next. I’ll share that info when I’m good and ready.

My background

I am a principal software engineer with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from a state university. I focus on front-end web development and have 13+ years experience as a professional, including time at big names like Google, New Relic, and IBM. Take a look at my linkedin or resume to get more details on my work experience.

I am well networked from years of community work like helping organize conferences, running a Girl Develop IT chapter, public speaking, diversity in tech activism, and much more.

I am a cis, currently able-bodied, queer, white woman. I am relatively financially well-off from a combination of privilege, luck, and working many years in the tech industry.

I mention all of these things to give context for my job search. I have privilege, experience, and networks that made it easier and enabled me to take some risks. Not everything that worked for me will work for you, especially if you are in a different situation.

Based on my experience, my approach is most likely to work for people who fit the criteria below, which is not most people.

  • Financially stable enough that you can be unemployed for the duration of your public job search. It’s basically impossible to do a search like this while currently employed elsewhere.
  • Have significant experience in the field with a strong resume. I doubt this approach would work well for early career folks where there is a lot more competition for roles.
  • Have a good network and know how to reach it. Nobody would have seen my job posting without a combination of twitter followers, linkedin connections, and community slack channels.

What I did

Below is a rough summary of the steps I took during this process.

Resume

I didn’t spend a lot of time on my resume this time around. I made sure the content was good, but spent very little time on making it look pretty. I did not anticipate most of my opportunities being sourced from someone looking at my resume, so it just needed to be nice enough to serve as a tool for discussion.

Personal site

I was about 85% done migrating my static site to gatsby for over a year and kept putting it off. If I wanted to publish a job search post, I had to either finish it up or figure out how to update a ruby toolchain I hadn’t touched in several years. I chose the investment that would serve me moving forward. Yay, gatsby! I’ll hopefully write a separate post about the migration in the future.

Reverse job posting

The unique part of my job search was the reverse job posting. This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I tried it once before in 2015. I started with the same structure as last time, but revisited a lot of the content. Five years is a long time! I had more to offer companies and some of what I was looking for had changed. There were still a lot of commonalities.

I promoted my post through twitter and linkedin. I have a decent network in both that helped spread it around.

See my retrospective from last time for more details on the benefits.

Applying to jobs

I applied to a handful of jobs the old fashioned way. The companies I applied to were a combination of places recommended to me by friends, companies I talked to the last time I did a big job search, and jobs I saw posted in a combination of community slack channels and Jill Wohlner’s awesome underpin project.

There were also a small number of jobs that were sourced from my personal network through referrals.

Keeping track of everything

I used a combination of a big spreadsheet, email labels, and folders with notes to keep track of the state of my job search, the companies I was talking to, and where I was at with them.

I am really glad that past Julie was so organized and made such good resources the last time she did this. I was able to reuse a ton of the templates, questions, and other tools I put together in 2015 with a few tweaks to match my current needs.

The one major new tool I used this time around was calendly. It helped immensely with managing my calendar when I was talking to so many different people at once.

Filtering the list

I got a much larger response to my reverse job posting than the last time I did this. I suspect this is a combination of good timing, a larger network, and a much more impressive resume. As a result, I spent a lot of time going through emails, chatting with folks, and collecting information to filter the list down to something manageable.

Apologies if you sent me something, and I did not respond. I’m sure a few fell through the cracks, especially if it came in through twitter or linkedin instead of email.

Technical homework

Thankfully, this time around, only a couple companies required me to do “homework” assignments to make it to the interview stage.

One was a relatively simple exercise based on the kind of work I would do on the job and was timed at a maximum of 2.5 hours. We talked about and extended the project in my follow-up interviews. I thought this was a good example of this sort of exercise for companies that decide to do them.

The other was a much more complex project with no time limit. I spent at least a dozen hours on it, which is way too long for this sort of exercise. I never got feedback on the output or discussed it in other interviews.

Interviewing

One very small benefit of the current pandemic situation is that I did not have to travel for “on site” interviews. It is so much easier to put your best self forward when you get to sleep in your own bed the night before. In many cases, I was also able to spread the interviews across two days, which was much less grueling than the full day of non-stop interviews you normally get. I had a few anxiety-inducing technical difficulties like my home network failing mid-interview, but overall it was a much less stressful experience.

I continue to find technical interviewing a stressful endeavor that is all over the place. My technical interviews included a range of:

  • Leetcode style interview questions. I hate these with the fire of a thousand suns.
  • Pairing with people on problems similar to what I would do on the job. I love these and think they are great for getting signal on my skills and how we would work together.
  • System design questions. These ranged from fun to frustrating depending on the problem and the tools we used, but overall were reasonable. I missed having a real whiteboard for these, but made do with digital tools.

I really enjoy the more chatty sort of interviews where I get to talk through past work, my people-y skills, how I approach problems, and other things like that. These types of interviews were really hard for me earlier in my career, but I’ve developed a ton of skills and experience since then that make them easier now.

Overall, the interview process went well at all of the companies I talked to, but it was very time consuming. Interviewing was basically my full time job for several weeks straight.

Job offers, negotiating, and decisions, oh my!

I ended up with job offers from five companies, which is four more offers than I’ve ever had at once before in a job search. It was stressful to juggle calendars and time things, so they would all finish up within the same week or so. I was transparent with all of the companies I was talking to that I was evaluating several opportunities, which helped a lot.

Another first for this job search is that I did a decent amount of successful negotiation. I attempted to negotiate a little bit earlier in my career, but the results ranged from ineffective to really negative. I think about this a lot when people say women get paid less because they don’t negotiate. I think I was in a stronger position to negotiate this time around because (1) I am a principal engineer with a really impressive resume (2) I had multiple offers for leverage.

The good thing about having multiple job offers is that I had options and points of comparison. The bad thing about having multiple job offers is that I had to make a decision. It was really hard. I ended up with offers from five very different companies doing very different kinds of work, so it was not as easy as “pick the one with the best offer.” I ended up making some really intense pro/con lists and doing a lot of thinking to decide what I was most excited about and what tradeoffs were the right fit for my current situation.

Even though I could not accept all of the offers, I hopefully made some good connections with people at the companies I declined. They were all good places with interesting products and wonderful people. I think of declining with good companies as more of a “not this time” than a forever “no.”

Business, business, numbers!

I mentioned that this job search was really big and time consuming. I was curious just how big it was, so I collected a bunch of data. I thought you might find it interested too.

Sourcing

Below are some aggregated numbers to give you a sense of how much of my search came from the reverse job posting and how much came from more traditional job search activities.

Companies I included in my search:

  • 45 total. I added a note to the reverse job posting at some point to prevent this number from growing because it was already quite unwieldy.
  • 15 where I spoke to someone (usually a recruiter or hiring manager) via phone or video call to learn more.
  • 6 where I completed interviews.
  • 5 that offered me a job. I declined to move forward with the 6th company because of fit with the role and timing with other offers.
  • 1 where I accepted a job.

Overall sourcing of companies came from:

  • 26 from reverse job posting.
  • 8 from applying to a public job posting.
  • 6 from intros from my personal network.
  • 5 from recruiters cold contacting me.

Sourcing of the companies I got offers from:

  • 2 from reverse job posting.
  • 1 from applying to a public job posting.
  • 1 from intros from my personal network.
  • 1 from recruiters cold contacting me.

My personal network also had an impact on my search regardless of initial sourcing:

  • 21 of the companies involved my personal network in some way.
  • 3 of the companies I got offers from had some network involvement.

The company I took the offer at was one that I applied to and had referals from previous coworkers and my personal network. The tight competition for second choice was a company that contacted me via the reverse job posting where I had no network.

Time

The timeline for my job search was about a month and a half, with some light work in late June and the majority of July intensely focused on job searching and interviewing.

Rough timeline:

  • early June: attempt to start job search and realize it is impossible to focus on a job search while you are working nights and weekends at your job.
  • June 19: last day of previous job
  • June 30: post For a Limited Time Only: Looking for Work (2020 edition)
  • July 30: accept job offer

Of the companies I got offers from, I invested the following time:

  • Average of 10 hours overall including things like tech screens, talking to recruiters, interviewing, take home exercises, etc.
  • The worst time commitment was close to 20 hours because of an unreasonably large takehome assignment. They were an outlier, and most of the other companies took 6-10 hours of my time.
  • About 60 hours overall spread across a few weeks.

Takeaways

These are my personal takeaways. Please refer to the disclaimers at the top of the post before applying these to your personal situation.

  • A solid job search is really hard to do while employed full time, especially if said full time job is running you ragged.
  • A job search can easily be a full time job. Plan accordingly.
  • Understand what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. Speak confidently about these things to others. Practice on your partner or your cat if you need to (I definitely did both).
  • Stay organized. There are a lot of moving pieces, and you will drop something without a system.
  • Take notes. Human memories are terrible, especially when you are talking to a ton of different people and places.
  • Negotiating is much easier if you have multiple job offers.
  • Know what you are worth and try to negotiate if you can. It can often lead to a significantly better offer.