Anatomy of Julie's Job Search: Reflecting
The job search process is rarely linear, but I start in the same place every time: reflecting on what I want out of my next job and what I bring to the table. This provides a critical framing for everything else. Early on, it helps me decide what companies I am interested in and what roles to apply for. During interviews, it enables me to tell a cohesive story about who I am, what I am looking for, and why people should hire me. If I have multiple job offers, it gives me a framework for making decisions.
Most people at least implicitly reflect early on in their job search. They think about companies they want to work at and roles they are interested in. I take this a step further and make it explicit by writing it down. Documenting my thoughts forces me to introspect more deeply and produces a durable artifact that I can reference, share, and reuse.
These are the prompts I used for my current job search. The answers have changed over the years, but the topics have been pretty stable since I originally put them together in 2015.
- When: When am I open to start interviewing? When do I want to start a new job?
- Where: Where am I currently located? Where am I willing to work?
- About me: Who am I? Why should you hire me? This is sort of a mix between a resume objective, a personal mission statement, and parts of a cover letter.
- What I'm looking for
- Main things: A short list of top level priorities for me in my job search and why.
- Location and work hours: This is an elaboration of the "where" section that goes into details about preferred work hours, travel, and other related topics.
- Size: What size and scale of companies am I most interested in?
- Type of work: What type of work do I want to do? What roles will I be interested in?
- Culture: I use this section to call out a few top level values that matter to me and why.
- Extras: This is a new one I added this time. They are benefits I am so excited about that they go above and beyond the "pros" section and will put a job at the top of my list.
- Pros: Things that excite me about potential jobs. They are not requirements, but I am unlikely to take a job that does not have at least a reasonable number of them.
- Cons: Things that turn me off from potential jobs. They are not dealbreakers, but I will expect them to be offset by higher pay or other benefits.
- Dealbreakers: Things that are a no-go for me.
- Why did I leave my last job?: This is a question I often get asked, especially after quitting my job without a new one lined up, so I like to prepare for it. It can be tricky to answer if you had a bad experience because unfiltered honesty can come off poorly and hurt your chances of being hired. Thinking through an honest, but professional answer ahead of time helps me field these questions in interviews.
If I am performing a public job search, I will turn my reflection into a reverse job posting on my personal site. I then use this as a tool to promote myself through social media and my professional network during the sourcing stage. I am doing this for my current job search and did so for two out of my three previous job searches 1. Below are links to the associated blog posts.
- August 2022 - My current job search.
- April 2022 - A preview that I shared at the beginning of my summer vacation.
- June 2020 - My previous job search.
- April 2015 - My first public job search.
As noted in my introduction, my personal process is not an off-the-shelf tool that will work for everyone. The public aspect of my job search is probably the biggest example of this.
You can only get away with a very public job search if you are unemployed or in a special situation because most employers will not react well to finding out you're looking for a new job. All of my periods of unemployment have been by choice, which many people cannot afford to do, either financially or professionally. The primary reason I quit my job before looking for another one is that the interview process is incredibly stressful and time-consuming. It is a full time job, and I struggle to find the time and energy to be successful at it when I already have one of those. Quitting your job is also the easiest way to get a long vacation because most companies don't allow sabbaticals.
Even if you can afford to be unemployed or are unemployed for reasons outside your control (e.g. folks impacted by the recent layoffs), the public part of the process still may not be a good fit for you. It works for me because I have a significant professional network that will see and boost the post, and I have significant experience and expertise that helps me stand out. I cannot speak to how a post like this would work for someone early in their career or with a smaller professional network.
The public part of my reflection process is not a good fit for most people, but the explicit introspection part is good for just about everybody. Thinking about what you are looking for before you start interviewing helps you build a framework you can use throughout your search to focus on jobs that are the right fit for you. Reflecting on who you are and what you have to offer helps you build a narrative about yourself that you can reuse in cover letters and interviews.
The prompts I shared might be a good place to start, but remember that they are based on what matters to me and organized in the way that I think. Identify and answer questions that are important to you in a way that makes sense for your brain. The core questions are: "what do you want out of your next job?" and "why should people hire you?" Start there and explore in whatever ways work best for you. For example, I know people who do mind mapping or make a spreadsheet.
You can do this just for yourself and use the document as a private reference when going through your job search. You can also share it with trusted people like mentors or career buddies for discussion, feedback, and support. There isn't really a right or wrong way to reflect before your job search. The important part is that you do it.
People think a lot about where they are going to work. Work is a huge part of your life from a time and energy perspective and getting it wrong can range from mildly annoying to life-altering. Keep this in mind when interviewing people. Do your best to give them the full picture of what they are signing up for, so they can compare it against their expectations.
Note that I said job searching is so exhausting that I only tend to do it when I am unemployed and can give it my all. While most people cannot afford the unemployed part, many engineers find hiring so exhausting that it holds them back from looking for new jobs. You could see this as a good thing because your employees are less likely to leave, but it also has the down side of missing out on potential hires stuck at other jobs or retaining people who really don't want to be there any more. The software engineer interviewing process is really broken, and you could be competitive by making your hiring process less terrible.
It is also notable that my secondary reason for quitting my job is to get significant time off. I've seen an increasing number of engineers leaving their jobs for similar reasons in the last few years. Companies could keep some of these people by having better policies around sabbaticals. Even unpaid sabbaticals would probably help if people were able to keep their employer-subsidized health insurance. Sabbaticals that require 4+ years of tenure are almost useless in a field where people tend to change jobs every few years and times where people are dealing with increasing amounts of stress from the world around them.
I put a lot of thought into what I am looking for in a new job. I want to end up somewhere that is a good fit for me where I can do my best work. I try to communicate this in my reverse job postings, so that potential employers can get a sense of me and if I am a good fit for their team. It is not personalized for your company like a cover letter, but hopefully it provides a lot of useful information.
The search where I did not do this was a special case. I left a job much earlier than expected and quickly found a role at a company I interviewed with the year before, but had not worked out at the time because of headcount (see part 1 of Job Search Retrospective). If that role had not worked out so quickly, I would have done a public job search. ↩