Volume 32 Number 8
3 Demands: Mastering the Job Hunt
By Krishnan Rangachari | August 2017
When you’re job hunting, there are three demands that a potential employer might make: skills, experience and achievements. The more you can exceed expectations on these demands, the more likely you’ll get the job.
Maybe all your experience is in the Microsoft .NET Framework and Azure, but a job you’re interested in is recruiting developers for Java and a competing cloud platform. What do you do?
First, about 30 percent to 40 percent of technology companies (including the likes of Facebook and Google) are technology-agnostic in their hiring. Even if you have zero experience in their primary stacks, they’ll hire you if you’re a good engineer; they’ll trust you to learn the tools and languages quickly.
Second, another 20 percent to 30 percent of companies will give “credit” for similar-enough technologies. For example, some shops on a non-Azure cloud will “honor” your Azure experience, and some Java shops will look favorably on your .NET experience.
At the remaining 30 percent to 50 percent of companies—the ones that are looking for specific stack experience—developers make the mistake of trying to sell themselves as “quick learners.” The problem is everybody claims to be a quick learner!
Instead, the trick is to gain and demonstrate some experience in the stack in which you have zero experience. Your day job may be in .NET, but you can take on skunkworks or tool projects at work using other technologies. Typically, you have more technical wiggle room with non-core projects. If you do this over a few months, you can shift your resume from being 100 percent C# projects to, say, 80 percent C# and 20 percent Python.
Then, in your interviews, if you get grilled on your stack experience, you can say, “My background is in C#. Over the last few months, I’ve been using Python more and more in my projects, and I like it a lot. One of the things that’s attracting me to this role is the opportunity to use Python even more.”
This comes off as not only sincere, but its vulnerable nature protects you. You aren’t claiming to be a Python god or goddess, but you’re also not bemoaning your Python newbie status. Plus, you’ve weaved a story of how your past experience leads into this future opportunity.
Sometimes, the whole point of a job switch is that you want a better position than the one you’re in right now. In effect, you want to “up-level.” But how do you upgrade from a manager position to a director one? How do you get hired as a manager if you’ve never managed people?
Upgrading from a team lead to a senior manager or director is relatively easy, especially if you’re at a big company. You can demand a loftier title when you switch to a smaller company or a startup. The smaller company appreciates your big-company experience, maturity, expertise, and skillset, and you appreciate the upgraded title, the greater scope of your responsibilities, and the opportunity for more direct impact.
Now, if you have zero management experience and your goal is to become a manager at a new job, it’s more challenging. That’s a little bit like a 12-year-old you’ve never met asking to babysit your 1-year-old. The 12-year-old isn’t a known commodity, and neither are non-managers who want to get hired as managers.
In such situations, it helps for you to become an “acting manager” at your current role. This means you can manage interns, mentor junior- and mid-level engineers, and act as a project manager on some projects, as technical lead on others, and as design architect on still others. This way, you don’t have to ask the companies you interview with to trust your “potential.” Instead, you can showcase your status as a manager in your responsibilities (if not in title) and share five to 10 experiences to prove it.
Sometimes, it may feel like the world is being flooded with new software engineers. How do you stand out in this virtually indistinguishable ocean?
While the number of software engineers keeps increasing, I observe—in my interactions with hundreds of software engineers each year—that there’s still an extreme shortage of self-aware software engineers with strong communication skills and good technical chops.
So, the more you invest in yourself as an engineer, the more you stand out and live up to your own potential. This includes practicing mock technical interviews on sites like pramp.com, devouring technical interview books and courses, investing in your own coaching and personal development, and polishing your resume and story-telling skills. It also includes mastering how to position yourself in every stage of the job hunt.
Ultimately, you aren’t competing with an army of mediocre software engineers; in fact, the more mediocre engineers there are, the easier it is to stand out! You’re competing with yourself to set extraordinarily high standards of performance, and pursue them with determination, dedication and enthusiasm.
Krishnan Rangachari* helps brilliant developers have amazing careers. Visit RadicalShifts.com for his free courses.*