As I enter month five (!) of searching for a job, I thought I’d reflect on the current job market and the experiences I’ve had while looking for a job.
This has been the first time I’ve been unemployed. I’ve worked pretty much since I was 16 (though not always full-time), and I’ve been fortunate that nearly 99% of those jobs have been in the field of technology, which has been an interest of mine since I was young. I don’t consider myself to have an ego and don’t feel entitled to have a job, but I’m somebody who has many years of professional experience across a wide spectrum of technologies, so I had hoped/assumed the job search process wouldn’t be as difficult as I’ve read it has been for others who are in a similar situation.
Some people claim that being unemployed can be a wonderful experience and an opportunity to do new things in your life. For me, finding myself suddenly without a job and too much time on my hands has been a jarring and uncomfortable experience. This hasn’t necessarily been due to the lack of income (though that isn’t fun either), but rather the sobering realization that, for the first time in my life, finding gainful employment in my field of choice isn’t always a guarantee.
How We Got Here
It’s hard to believe how much the tech industry have ebbed and flowed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the spring of 2020, I was Director of Engineering at a large, busy agency as the pandemic started causing panic across the world. I didn’t know whether we would need to go through layoffs, as many of the clients we were working with were reducing hours or were closing their businesses altogether, especially those in the travel and in-person event industries. My company took steps to prevent layoffs such as temporarily pausing certain benefits, and, thankfully, we were able to make it through without needing to go through layoffs. In fact, we found that business actually grew in the months following the pandemic, as companies moved more of their services online and needed a partner to assist them.
I don’t have specific numbers to back this up, but many companies that had to do with technology grew their business during that time. As a result, developers were hard to come by, and could easily demand whatever salary they wanted (within reason) at competing companies, so you saw the birth of the ‘Great Resignation‘, especially in the tech industry. I was doing some casual job searching at the time and was pleasantly surprised that was relatively easy to get interviews, and even offers, from companies. This likely built up my confidence that my past work experience would naturally lead to additional job offers and growth in the future.
Fast-forward to 2023, and many of the companies that doubled in size have realized that they hired too quickly as ‘normal’ in-person activities resumed. As a result, there have been large numbers of talented individuals laid off over the past year. The job market is saturated with individuals looking for jobs in a way that I’ve never seen before (though I remember 2008/2009 had a similar feeling). At the same time, remote jobs, that were once abundant, are changing to have in-office requirements, so the remote companies have even more competition. With these two factors, searching for jobs has been extremely competitive, and a very different experience from even a year ago.
Job Search Statistics
At the time of writing, I’ve applied to over 70 different roles, primarily focused on engineering leadership (Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, Technical Lead). I’ve interviewed with eight of these companies, and have had one offer, which I unfortunately turned down, as it was early in my job search and didn’t realize how challenging the search would be. The majority of the interviews have taken multiple rounds, where I’ve ended up being a finalist and was convinced I’d be selected for the job. However, in most instances, I was passed up for other talented individuals. This has been exhausting, investing so much of myself emotionally into a possible role, so now I try not to get excited about positions, even if it seems I am doing well during the process. Most companies simply don’t respond to applications, and I’ve become very appreciative of companies who at least reach out to let you know that you aren’t being considered for a role.
Sometimes I get the impression I may need to do a better job standing out from other candidates. I want to be myself as much as I can, and, in an effort to stand out a bit more, I’ve tried to make it a point to tell personal stories and give the interviews a personal touch so that hopefully people will remember me. However, I don’t want to portray myself as somebody I’m not, so I try to remain as authentic as possible.
I feel fortunate to have had as many interviews as I’ve had, but after five months and very little progress, I’ve found this process to be discouraging. I’m reminding myself to stay patient, though, and will shift to additional types of jobs if I need to. Conditions will change someday, and I’ll eventually find the right role.
Though these likely aren’t novel findings, I’ve made some observations when applying to jobs that may help others who are in a similar situation:
- Searching for jobs on LinkedIn is a double-edged sword. There are a plethora of job opportunities on LinkedIn, but many others in my situation are viewing the exact same opportunities as me. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see the number of job applicants be in the hundreds or even thousands, which is discouraging and helps explain why the majority of the jobs I apply for haven’t resulted in a response.
At this point, I don’t even look at the number of applicants, and will apply regardless. I know if a role is on LinkedIn, it’ll likely be a very competitive role.
- I’ve had better results by checking individual company career websites for companies I admire and want to work for. This is sometimes time-intensive since I have to check multiple sites, but there are often jobs listed on company sites before they are indexed by LinkedIn or other services. Some companies I’ve followed only post the position on their site, possibly to cut down on the deluge of applicants they would receive.
- Personal connections in my professional network have been a great way to get my foot in the door. I’m glad I’ve networked with so many talented individuals throughout my career. Though I haven’t yet found the right job, I’ve been deeply appreciative for the people who have reached out to me to see if any jobs at their companies would be a good fit for me.
- I worked with a talent company to review my resume and cover letter and learned some useful tips to help hone my resume and make it more effective. I learned a lot, even though I assumed I knew how to write a proper resume since I’ve reviewed so many at the companies I’ve worked for. Turns out, there are very specific ways to fine-tune my resume for Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that I hadn’t considered.
- I’ve learned that when I see a new job opportunity, I need to act on it quickly. I’ve had much more luck when I apply to jobs within the first couple of hours of posting rather than waiting until the right moment for me later in the week. There is so much competition at the moment, that it seems there is a benefit to being one of the first applicants to be noticed.
Taking Care of Myself
Though I’ve always been somebody who has made time during my week to be active and run or do something for myself, having so much time on my hands has been a new challenge. One would assume that if I have so much time on my hands, I must be having the time of my life, but it’s the lack of structure that has been bringing me anxiety each day. Here are some observations I’ve made regarding taking care of myself during the job search process:
- I learned early on that I need to create a plan for myself each day. I’ve never really been an anxious person, but having infinite opportunities of what to do during a day paralyzed me in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Though there are some days it’s difficult to find something meaningful to do, I’ve found working on house projects or taking a day to do something for myself helps keep me level-headed.
- Looking for jobs all day isn’t healthy, and I’ve found that most times there aren’t new jobs on the market to apply to each day. I’ve learned to limit my job search to 15-30 minutes and grant myself the ability to take time off.
- Being a runner, I was actually looking forward to increasing my distances and training a bit more with my extra time. Perhaps I’d hike each day and get stronger. However, I ended up unceremoniously breaking my toe which forced me to take it easy with physical activity. This has been really difficult for me, but I’ve used the situation as an opportunity to work on some projects just for fun. Sometimes that has been dabbling with a programming language I haven’t been able to work in or even working on a lego set.
I hope this post will someday remind me of a unique time in my life and I’ll have returned to my employed life with a new appreciation of employment. However, I also realize this could have been the start of when I decided to take a different direction that I hadn’t previously considered. Maybe it’s time to try something new or completely uncharacteristic for me. It’s difficult to know while I’m still in the middle of the process, but I hope there will be some clarity in the near future.