I haven’t posted in a few weeks, and there’s a reason for that. I recently changed jobs. It was a long journey, and I’ll go in to that here in this post. But the last few weeks were focused on wrapping up my work with my old employer and getting ramped up with my new employer. And with all of the recent layoffs in tech, I thought it might be of some value to others for me to post about my own job search journey. Maybe it will be of some help to you.
It was nearly a year ago that the seed was planted in my mind that it was time to move on. I won’t go into any details, but let’s just say I wasn’t happy where I was. It wasn’t the people. I really liked the people I worked with. It was everything else. But even so, I wasn’t sure about whether or not I should do it. I wasn’t going to actively look for anything, but I decided that I wouldn’t reject recruiter contacts out of hand.
The biggest question in my mind was “what do I want to do next?”. I realized I wasn’t absolutely set on any one thing. I didn’t want to go back to a full-time coding role, but beyond that I wasn’t sure. Did I want to stay with management? Or did I want to go into developer relations (devrel)? Maybe an architect position? The only thing I decided for sure was that I wasn’t interested in staying in Dynamics. It’s a fine product, but it just isn’t for me full time.
In tech, all you need is a presence on LinkedIn and a job history on your profile and recruiters will reach out to you on a regular basis. Typically I just ignore most of the messages, or respond with a polite “thanks, no thanks”. So I decided that if anyone reached out and it sounded interesting, I would be willing to hear more. Almost immediately I got my first hit.
Starting the Process
A recruiter from the Pittsburgh area contacted me about a dev manager position with a company in the area. I wasn’t interested in relocating, but they were open to someone who was remote most of the time but willing to come in to the office for a day or two every few weeks. Pittsburgh is only about a 3 hour drive for me, so that seemed fine to me, and the way they described the company and what they were doing sounded really interesting to me. And they were interested in me. So I updated my resume and sent it off to the recruiter. My journey had begun. I went through a couple of interviews, and I really enjoyed my conversations, but they eventually decided on an alternate. Still not entirely sure why, really.
And that’s the thing with most interview processes in tech. They will almost never tell you why they passed on you. You could go through six, or seven, or even eight interviews (more on that in a bit), and then tell you “thanks, but we’ve decided to move on with another candidate”. They’ll give some generic reason, and it might even be based in truth. But they’ll almost never tell you the real reason that they other candidate was a better fit, even if you ask. If you’ve got a good recruiter, they’ll try to leverage out some nugget of reasoning on the why from the hiring manager, but even then you usually won’t know.
And I understand it. I really do. I’ve been on the other end of that as well. As a hiring manager the last 9 years, I’ve interviewed, and passed, on a more than a few potential hires. And when the recruiter asks me why, I’ll generally give a reason that sounds… reasonable. And it’s always true. I won’t lie about why I passed on a candidate. But I also won’t always tell the whole reason why. Sometimes I couldn’t even articulate the full scope of reasoning to myself, much less to the recruiter. Sometimes it was as nebulous as something just didn’t feel right, or just didn’t click. It would be a gut feeling of some sort. And that would be enough for me to pass. So I do understand why they don’t always share a reason, or at least a reason that makes sense to the recruiter and the candidate. So, I decided to just take that as it was and move on.
The whole experience did solidify one thing in my mind, however. I was going to be picky about my next position. Thankfully, unlike my previous job search, I wasn’t in a hurry. I hadn’t been laid off, and my employer hadn’t gone out of business. I was very blessed to not be in that position again. As a result, I decided I was going to be extremely selective in my job search. But, I did also want to get more hits. So I updated my LinkedIn profile to show myself as “open to work”. LinkedIn has this feature that allows your profile to be marked as open to work, but in a quiet way. You will show up to recruiters who aren’t employed at the same company you work for in their candidate searches, but not to anyone else. It’s a great feature.
That was the only thing I changed in my search, but almost immediately I started getting a couple of dozen messages a week from recruiters. Most of them I would ignore.
Note to recruiters: If your message to someone on LinkedIn or email doesn’t include the full details of the job, including salary range, you don’t deserve a response. That needs to be your default. You wanna leave the company name out from the initial message, that’s fine. But it should include all the other details. And those details should include the salary range. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and mine.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many recruiters waste their time by just sending a message like “I think you’d be a great fit for a position I’ve got”. And that’s it. That’s their entire message. If you’re looking for a job, that’s the kind of recruiter you should ignore entirely. Don’t reward their lack of effort.
The other type of recruiter to avoid right out of the box is the one who is obviously spamming every contact they can get ahold of. I can’t tell you how many messages are something like “I came across your profile and thought you’d be a great fit for this junior Cold Fusion developer position.” I have nearly 20 years in tech and Cold Fusion hasn’t been on any profile or resume I’ve created since year 2 or 3 of that career. Those recruiters get blocked immediately. Don’t reply. Don’t acknowledge. It only makes it worse.
If you can weed through all that, you’ll eventually come across a handful of good recruiters who are honest, hard working, and will actually do their best for you. Find them and work with them.
Two Swings and a FAANG
After the first “pass”, I had a few other opportunities come along that held interest for me. Over the next few months I probably went through the interview process with a half dozen or so potential employers. I even had two job offers that I decided to pass on. For one, I finally decided that while the company and the opportunity sounded great, I just didn’t really mesh with the people I had spoken to. It’s important that you click with the people you’re going to work with and I just didn’t feel it was a good match.
For the other position, the recruiter had flat out lied to me about the salary range and the offer was well below what we had discussed. Some will do that. Sure, they’ll have some excuse, but it’s usually a lie. And this was a good 40k difference between what the recruiter said the range was and what the offer actually was. That’s not an “honest mistake” or a “clerical error”. They’re hoping that you’re desparate enough to take the job at the lower pay.
After those two misses, that’s where my swing at a FAANG job came. I was contacted by a recruiter for AWS (Amazon). They were looking for architects and one of their recruiters had come across my profile and wanted to submit me for the role. I had always passed on these positions in the past because their hiring process is completely, utterly absurd. And that’s putting it kindly. But I thought to myself: Okay, I’ll do it. Just this once so I can say that I’ve done it.
For those who aren’t familiar with the typical hiring process for the FAANGs (AWS, Facebook/Meta, Google, Microsoft, and so forth, and the companies that like to pretend they’re one of those big ones), let me enlighten you. The full process will require 10-30 hours of your time, if you’re lucky. Seriously. Pursuing a job with a FAANG is like a full-time job by itself.
First, you’ll talk to the recruiter. It’s a 30 minute call, but then they’ll bombard you with videos and documents you should review on their hiring process, which you’ll spend a couple of hours reviewing. Next, is the tech pre-screen. Someone who has a position similiar to what you’re interviewing for will spend an hour with you bombarding you with technical questions to see if you have the skills. Pass that and that’s when the real fun begins.
Your recruiter will bombard you with a bunch more emails, documents and videos on “how to pass” the remaining interview process. They’ll probably recommend you attend one or more “training” sessions with other workers who will talk all about how to prepare for the main event interview process. All that will eat up another 4=6 hours of your time, probably more. And then comes the main event, the round robin interview.
The round robin interview will take up 5-7 hours. It’s literally an entire day of interviews, one after the other. Each interview will be an hour of block time. It’s so long they even take a lunch break in the middle somewhere. Imagine an interview that requires a lunch break because it’s so long. The people will be various people from across the spectrum: at least one manager, some other technical people, and people from other spaces in the company. And each one gives you a score of how well they think you fit into their company. If you’re lucky, one of them will be from the actual team you’re interviewing to be a part of, but maybe not. In my case: not.
After the day long interview, they’ll get together and discuss all the candidates the group spent the entire day interviewing and they’ll pick one or two to make an offer to. Or, as in my case, they may decide that while you’re not the best fit for a level 6 architect, they think you would be great for level 5 architect, and refer you to another team.
But guess what? Is it good enough for the level 5 manager to just do one more interview and use all the feedback from all the other interviews? Nope. They want you to do the whole process all over again. From the beginning. Literally from the beginning, with the recruiter pre-screen, then the technical pre-screen, then another 6-7 hours of round robin. My response was “Fuck no I’m not going through all that again”. I mean, I was polite about it. I hate to burn bridges if I don’t have to. But it was still a no.
There were a couple other interviews over the next couple of months, but nothing that went anywhere. And that was when my employer was acquired by another company. And everything went to hell.
For anyone who hasn’t gone through an acquisition in tech, let me tell you a few simple rules. First, don’t believe anything they tell you. They’ll tell you nothing will change. They’ll tell you it’s business as usual. That’s all bullshit.
For the company being acquired, it’s almost never good, especially for the first couple of years post acquisition. I’ve been through it multiple times. It has always triggered my departure soon after. This time was no different. In this case, as per usual, all of the benefits universally got worse. A lot worse. Several benefits disappeared entirely. And, of course, there will be no adjustment in your compensation to make up for it. You will be expected to accept it, like it, and keep doing your job.
If you’re lucky they won’t find you redundant and eliminate your position. That’s happened to me before. This time there wasn’t that expectation for most of us. I wasn’t concerned for losing my job. However, as I had already been looking to move on, this proved the trigger for me to ramp up my search from casual to full-on active search.
Instead of just responding to recruiters who reached out, I started going to job boards and actively applying to positions that held even a moderate interest for me. I also quietly let a few friends know I was looking and to keep their eyes open for anything I might be a good fit for. I also began reaching back out to recruiters that I had contacted over the previous few months to let them know I was still looking.
The result was about what I would expect. I received a lot of rejection notices: a LOT. I was putting my resume in to every company I had ever been interested in and applying for a lot of open positions directly. As expected, few of these even got me in the door for an interview and none went past a first interview. For tech, it really is about making connections. Knowing someone or working through a recruiter gives you a huge advantage over spamming your resume or applying to open positions. But I was getting more traction overall for the last few months of 2022. And I was getting a lot of interviews. I even got a couple more offers that I passed on. While I was definitely more motivated to move on, I was still being picky and neither one seemed like the perfect fit of place, job, and people. Then we hit December.
A Lull, And Then Finding A Place In The Storm
A lot of companies put hiring on hold during December. It slows down a lot as many people are on vacation and many others just aren’t sure what their budget for the next year is going to be. It makes the whole hiring process slow down. I slowed down my efforts as well. I wanted to enjoy my holidays. I think I submitted less than 10 resumes all month and had only 2 or 3 interviews. It was good to pause and enjoy for a few weeks, despite my ever growing unhappiness at work.
Once New Years hit, I kicked it back into overdrive again. A bunch of recruiters started reaching out to me and I was getting quite a few interviews with various places. All along this same time news was hitting of FAANG after FAANG laying off workers to “correct” their COVID overhiring. BTW, that excuse is pure bullshit. Not one of these companies is in any way struggling financially. There’s only one reason these companies are laying people off: Shareholder value. That’s the only reason. Layoffs cause share price to go up. It’s sick and disgusting, but that’s America. Seeing what happened at Twitter, the shareholders of all these other companies started demanding the same from them. And they have complied.
It made me glad I hadn’t pursued AWS any further. To be hired, then laid off just a few months later would have been hard. It also made me wonder if I had waited too long. How far would the layoff/hiring freeze trend go through the industry? If you’ve wondered that as well, then don’t worry too much. Yes, there’s certainly the chance that you or I could be laid off today, or tomorrow. It happens even when the industry as a whole is going well. The two times I lost my job in an “involuntary” manner were both during good times in the overall industry.
Even right now, with all the negative headlines in the press, there are still a lot of jobs to be had in tech, all across the industry. Many companies are still hiring. Are they the FAANGs with obscene salaries and ridiculous perks like a cereal bar in the break room? No, that’s where the biggest block of cuts are happening. That’s not to say smaller companies aren’t cutting back either. Some are. But all that said, there’s still a lot of jobs to be had.
In the midst of all the chaos somewhere, just after New Years, a recruiter reached out to me about a company I hadn’t talked to previously. At least not in its current incarnation. There was a local firm here in town that I had interviewed with and almost joined when I was looking more than 4 years ago. But at the last minute I had gone with the choice I had at the time.
In the interim 4 years, that firm had also been acquired. Like most mergers, it was a little rough for them at first. But the merger was now a couple years past and things were good for them. It turns out that I was remembered from my interviews back then and they were very interested in me now. Even more, what they were saying about the position they had in mind for me was very much in line with what I was looking for. A couple of discussions with my new boss was all it took to convince me I had found my spot. I made my choice and cancelled the other interviews that I had scheduled. I had found my place.
I’m two weeks in now with my new employer, CGI, and I’ve been plowing through the onboarding process. That’s one thing that I really have to compliment about them. No other company that I have ever joined has been so well organized and detailed with their onboarding process. Sure, some of the mandatory training videos are corny. That’s a given for any HR system. But they have a clearly defined, well planned onboarding process for new employees that walks you through, step by step, every single part of the process right from day one. No other employer has ever done that. Pretty much every job I’ve ever started has begun with days, sometimes weeks, of essentially just sitting there waiting for this or that. And there’s been virtually none of that here. It’s actually pretty astonishing to be honest. It’s a lesson so many other companies, large or small, could take note of.
But what lessons would I have you take from all of this? There are a couple. First, be picky. I understand that sometimes you need to find something fast. I’ve been there. But take as much time as you can afford. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, move on and find something that does feel right.
Second, if you’re unhappy where you are, move on. Company loyalty is a thing of the past. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve worked there. The moment you’re no longer a financial asset to them, they will toss you aside. Sometimes they’ll even toss you aside when you are a financial asset. I see people who have worked the same place for 10 or 20 or 30 years and never gotten more than a 3 or 4% raise year after year. And yet they show no interest in finding something better, even though they are massively underpaid. Every big raise I’ve gotten has been from moving to a new employer.
And last, be prepared. And I don’t just mean financially. While that’s important, it’s also important that you prepare yourself career-planning-wise. Keep your resume up to date. Maintain connections with people across the industry, both workers and recruiters. You’ll go much further through people you know than through resume spamming. Build those relationships and keep them established. It will pay off.
Husband, father, gamer, developer, manager, writer, creative, blogger, model railroader, Buckeyes fan