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Master your Tech Job Search in 2021

Over the last few years I’ve provided information on how to approach a job search to friends and coworkers. I typically send an email with this information, but I think it’s useful to a broader audience, so I’ll provide it here in a blog post.

This is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of every aspect of job searching. There are many other resources out there on the internet that have great recommendations. What I’ve written here just happens to be information I thought was useful and not well covered as far as I’ve seen.

Read on to learn how to make your job search more effective.

Get organized

Organizing your job search can be immensely beneificial. I’ve found this method by VM Brasseur to be a good pattern. Using a kanban board like Trello is imperative to keep track of every role you’re considering. I’ve done this in the past and it helps to tabs on the status of each role you’ve applied to. I’ve even kept notes on mutual interests that I discussed with interviewers so that I could remember in case we talked again.

Where to look for remote roles

Since I’ve worked remotely (or as part of a distributed workforce) for 12+ years, I primarily look for roles that allow for remote work. Prior to the pandemic, finding companies that were remote friendly could be challenging. This has changed somewhat, but the new challenge is identifying which companies are willing to continue allowing remote work after life is back to normal. To that end, here are some sites I’ve used to search for roles that are more remote friendly:

If you’re looking to work with a company that doesn’t profit off the ills of society, such as ad tech or surveillance capitalism, there are a few sites that list companies who do good in the world.

If you are interested in the startup world, you can find positions via their venture capital (VC) funding companies:

Finally, there are lists of remote companies all over the place — a cursory search would probably surface even more:

Looking for roles in Twitter posts

The above resources are all sites where you can actively search their list of roles. I’ve found another productive method is to tap your extended network, specifically people you follow on social media. I have experience searching on Twitter, and have gotten many interesting leads.

You can perform an actual Twitter search, but I prefer passively watching my feed for Tweets mentioning that someone has roles available. These Tweets are advertising open roles, so if the job description interests you, contact them via DM (or whatever contact method they describe) to inquire about the role or begin the application process. Even if the specific role isn’t something you are excited about, follow the person and they may post more roles in the future or retweet jobs from people in their network.

Another method is keeping an eye out for someone who Tweets asking for leads. You’ll often see responses from amazing and helpful people that are direct links to job descriptions. Look through these replies to see if there are any roles that interest you, and apply accordingly. I have even seen roles posted to Tweet threads like these days later.

One example of Twitter activity like this could be seen in the 2020 Mozilla layoff, which affected 250 Mozillians. People who wanted to help started using the #MozillaLifeboat hash tag, which had hundreds of tweets per day during that time. Obviously if you can help someone else this way, please do, but it can also be a source of roles that you might not be aware of if you’re doing a job search yourself.

Research to find top companies

There are mediocre companies in every industry, but there are also exceptional companies. If you already know the best companies in your industry, then start looking for roles on their websites. If you feel like you cannot meet their requirements, apply anyway and see if you may be underestimating your abilities. I’m also a fan of finding a really great job description that you don’t yet qualify for and using that to set goals for yourself for 6 months or a year from now. Work on building those skills you are missing and apply to that role or a similar one when you level up and meet your goals.

If you don’t know great workplaces, use your network to find out which ones are held in high regard by people you respect. Then start searching those websites for roles that intrigue you.

Apply to roles just a little bit above your experience level

I recommend that you apply for roles that have requirements that are slightly beyond your experience. Not having a few technologies that a job description lists is not a disqualifier. This should be viewed as a challenge instead. There are three reasons for this.

First, it is important to always be growing and investing in your skills. There is no better way to do this than learning a technology you haven’t used before on the job. Not meeting every bullet point is okay. Be honest during interviews, stating that you haven’t yet been exposed to the particular tool or technology before and would love to have the opportunity. You can also play with it on your own time to learn some of the basics. Then during the interview, you can say something like “I’ve used it for personal projects but haven’t supported it in a production environment.”

Second, it is best in my experience to avoid working in a role doing the exact same things you have done before. While this may feel more comfortable, I find these jobs to quickly become boring. Look for a position that has new technologies that will be interesting to learn. This enables you to add new things to your resume. You want to grow into the position; having skills for every line item listed in the description often ensures you will not love the job in the long term.

Third, when managers write job descriptions, they often list the skills that describe their “dream” candidate. The employee who may have just left the company and created a vacancy may not have ticked all those boxes. There are often few people who meet every requirement, but HR or management wants to list every possible skill that might be needed now or desired for a future project. Think of the job listing as aspirational, both for yourself and the hiring company. Aspire to work in a role that is just above your current capabilities.

Locate free mentors or coaching on Twitter

I have come across very generous people on Twitter who have made offers of free career advice, career coaching, or mentoring. For example, one person occasionally offers 30 minute meetings where you can pick her brain about any of these topics. I’ve seen Tweets asking mentors willing to volunteer their time to respond to her Tweet, and the thread grew to dozens of people offering their time to anyone who needs advice. This is a really special quality that we often forget about when thinking about social media, but it is one of the most selfless things I’ve seen on Twitter and can provide a great opportunity for newer job seekers to talk to seasoned veterans.

I myself have used these mentors to both build my network and get advice on my resume, job search, and more. I won’t share the names of these people because they haven’t given me permission to do so, but to find similar offers, you can search Twitter for the words ‘mentor’ and ‘coaching’ related to the words ‘job searching,’ ‘applying,’ ‘resume,’ ‘negotiating,’ and ‘switching.’ You could also search on the technologies or programming languages you use or desire to use in a new role, and you will likely find someone willing to mentor you.

That all being said, don’t pay for this — at least not early in your career or your search. If you are further along in your career you could employ a career coach, but I don’t think it’s necessary for your first job.

Use your network

Your social media network (let’s just say Twitter and LinkedIn for now) is a great way to find roles, mentors, encouragement, and camaraderie. As mentioned above, you can search for roles this way, but you can also ask your ‘whisper network’ about whether a team or a manager or a company is likely to be a good fit for you. Your social media connections might make introductions for you or even offer to setup meetings with someone you need to know to be considered for a position. It’s a good idea to be on the lookout for ways you can leverage your network like this.

But (and this is where we put the social in social media) you should also be offering to do this for anyone you run across that you might be able to help. If you’ve from this type of relationship, please be willing to give back (or pay it forward, whichever floats your boat.)

Resume building and writing

I won’t go into how to write your resume because there are many blogs and websites that already cover this. Take a look at my resume here as an example if you like.

I will say quickly that you should work hard to create your own resume building experiences. One way to do this is to get involved with open source projects or any professional project to learn how they operate at an organizational level and build skills that you can add to your resume.

Employers look for these team experiences, not just a laundry list of programming languages and frameworks.

Try to do more than just applying to roles on company websites

Related to the networking topic above, you’ll be more effective if you take a more active approach to the application process. Some coaches recommend reaching out to any contacts you have before you apply to find out information about the hiring manager, team culture, or other nuggets of information that can help you achieve your goal. If you don’t know anyone working at a company you are applying to, coaches suggest researching the company and making a new connection by even cold emailing. The goal of this approach is to find a champion that can help surface your application to the top of the pile of applicants.

Other ways to stand out are to work on open source projects and show your value. Or I’ve heard of people doing other work in advance to prove how interested they are in the company and the position they’re applying for. The most extreme case of this I’ve heard about was someone showing off their skills and suggesting that the company hire them for a role that didn’t even exist yet.

This isn’t easy and isn’t a guarantee, but having a contact help you is certainly going to be more effective than just applying by itself.

Interviewing

I’m not going to discuss interviewing in depth at all, but one great suggestion I’ve seen is to find a mock interviewer to practice. Interviewing successfully (or even without those jitters) is a skill that can be improved.

Find someone you trust, or an organization that is willing to act as the interviewer and schedule a mock interview. Approach it as if it were a real interview process. This will make you more confident in real interviews.

Pay scale and salary negotiation resources

Before you go into your first interview, you should know the target salary you are looking for. As @Latesha_Byrd and @techgirl1908 say, “know your worth”!

This is an amazing resource to help you figure out how people in your position are paid, whether remote or in a specific region:

When negotiating your salary, these blog posts are golden (even though a couple are vintage):

Hiring for certain remote jobs may not be possible in every state

Finally, some companies do not hire for remote positions in certain states. There are two reasons for this (that I’m aware of).

First, employers don’t always have a presence in every state. Therefore they often use Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) that are HR platforms that provide employee services in states where they don’t have an office. This is common practice for remote friendly companies. Still, sometimes they list the state you live in as a state they don’t hire in. While that’s hard to accept, especially if you like the job description, it’s the way things work these days. Not every company hires in every state.

Second, and this is the more underhanded(or shall we say, disappointing) reason, is because they don’t want to share the pay scale for the position. Colorado recently passed a law that went into effect in January 2021 that required pay transparency. This law said that job postings available to Colorado residents needed to share a salary range. In order to avoid sharing salary ranges, some companies are now disqualifying Colorado residents from these roles so that they don’t run afoul of this law.

While I don’t like this response, its entirely within their right to take this action at the present time. C’est la vie.

Wrapping up

I hope you were able to get some valuable information from this post. I found a recent tweet from Sahil Bloom (@SahilBloom) as I was writing this, and it reinforced a lot of what I have been saying for a couple years. Funny how things occur simultaneously like that.

Find me on Twitter (@fshwsprr) to respond if you have something to say; I’d love to hear from you.

Take care!