Today at a Meetup a recruiter gave a rather lackluster talk on how to get a job in tech. I’ll be honest, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” and several other cliches did not really inspire confidence in the audience. It did, however, get me to start thinking about what made me successful during my last job search. As much as I loath listicles, I’ll attempt to distill my thoughts down to a few key points:
1. Vet the employer just as hard as they are going to vet you
I know this may be easier said than done when you really need a job, but it really makes a world of difference when you have to spend some large chunk of your future at this place. Future happiness aside, this makes the list for another reason: when the employer is a company you are truly excited and passionate about, it is a lot easier to be genuine and enthusiastic in interviews. Faked enthusiasm is easily seen through and lack of enthusiasm is quickly written off. Employers know that experience is good, but hunger is better.
2. Have a side project
Whether or not you are a software developer, have some sort of side project outside of work related to your intended career path. And don’t just have a side project – talk about it on a blog or some other public platform. A wise man once said, “never trust an engineer without a side project”. This serves two purposes: it gives you something interesting to talk about in interviews that you truly are the expert on (you invented it!) and also it demonstrates your genuine interest in the field. To reiterate, demonstrated passion goes a long way.
3. Have a presence in the communities that matter
Every profession or line of work has a certain set of communities in which people grow credibility. In business this may be Linkedin. In academia this may be scientific journals. In tech this is GitHub, Stackoverflow, and Meetups (and plenty of other places). Participate in these communities. Not only will this make you better and more knowledgeable in the things you do, it will also gain you recognition from other people in the field who may at some point be in a position to hire you. College job boards and sites like Monster and Indeed are noisy and crowded. Set yourself apart and go to the employer where they live.
4. Learn about the company, the hands-on way
When I applied to AddThis, as part of my application I included my blog where I had incorporated the company’s widgets into the design. As part of that process I learned a lot about the product, how it worked technically, and the value it offered to people like me. I think this may have been one of the most important things I did. Hands-on experience and ability to talk about the product or company with more than a surface understanding catches many interviewers off guard (in the best way possible).
5. Demonstrate willingness to learn, not ability to regurgitate facts
Unless you are already an expert in the field, there is a chance that a large part of your job will be learning. Even if you are an expert, every new workplace comes with domain specific languages and tribal knowledge that will not come easily. In interviews admit what you don’t know and reason about the things you do. No one is looking for someone that knows everything. Everyone is looking for people who can learn, grow, and contribute to the team.
There is a theme running through all of these that I think is really important: love what you do, and if you don’t, start over again until you do.
I hope these help, and good luck on your job hunt!