I get asked this question by friends and family at least twice a week. While I acknowledge they’re probably expressing interest in my life, most of the time it feels demoralizing.
We play this quaint social game where I recite whatever moderate accomplishments I’ve achieved during the week. Sometimes it's completing a handful of phone screens, or surviving a particularly tricky technical challenge, or navigating the oscillating series of behavioral and technical appraisals that comprise a final-round interview.
Once we’ve completed this ritual, our conversation can move on to more pertinent matters. And I can breathe a sigh of relief, having survived another inquisition into my ability to function in a capitalist society.
But beneath these repeated, seemingly banal exchanges lay a realization: I was going about my job hunt all wrong. I already knew the difference between what I’d been doing and what I should be doing.
Allow me to explain.
The first time I looked for a job as a software engineer, I had just finished my training at Dev Bootcamp. I was essentially an apprentice looking for any patron (read: a company) who would hire me so I could get paid to learn on the job.
Because my skills at the time were new and not battle-tested (read: not put to the test of software being used in production by real users), I was not in a position to be selective about my prospective employers. This led me to working with recruiters to find opportunities.
With a recruiter as an advocate, I could often bypass the automated applicant tracking systems companies use. Eluding those screening mechanisms gave me the chance to talk to a real live human instead of being rejected moments after my resume was submitted. As I advanced in my career, however, this technique lost its usefulness. Instead of crawling through a hole in a fence, I could simply climb over the fence.
Fast forward six years. Once again, I’m searching for a job as a software engineer. As in the past, I’ve been using recruiters to source leads for me.
But something felt wrong.
Most of the companies weren’t interesting to me. Most didn’t fall within the preferences and guidelines that I’d provided the recruiters. The strain of juggling logistics and prep work for these obligations soon overwhelmed me. I found myself unemployed, in search of fulfillment, and flooded with opportunities I just didn’t want.
Yes, I know, a champagne problem. Let’s hold off on the judgment, okay?
How did I handle this situation? I spoke to my trusted advisors. My friends and family put forth questions I had not considered.
Expressing my frustration to a friend, I realized that I’d fallen into the trap of being efficient, but not effective. I was swiftly climbing a ladder that was leaning against the wrong wall.
Another friend inquired whether I needed to “dream a little bigger, darling,” after I shared how I’d painted myself into a corner by courting companies young or desperate enough to rely on third-party recruiters.
My dad asked me, “How many companies are you applying to as ‘safety schools’, and how many are long shots?”
This metaphor provided a lens which I had not considered applying to the situation, even though I’d been taught something similar during my time at Outco, a program that teaches software engineers how to improve their interviewing and problem solving skills.
The reframing cracked me open, revealing something that had been festering inside me, smothered by complacency and choked by fear.
“I need to challenge myself more,” I told my dad.
This realization is still fresh. It’s raw and bloody and hurts to look at. But that doesn’t make it any less true. I can’t unsee it.
By the time I got halfway through relaying my realization to a third friend, I was smacking my forehead because, “Duh!” It’s so obvious, right?
Except that it hadn’t been. It hadn’t been obvious to focus on companies I found interesting and technologies or problem-spaces I wanted to work in. It hadn’t been obvious at all that the person who should be most invested in selecting my next employer should be me.
I saved up six months of living expenses specifically so that I could not be rushed or panicked when searching for a new job. Don’t I deserve to do exactly that? Don’t I deserve to choose a workplace that aligns with my interests and values, where I might potentially—dare I say—flourish, instead of leaping into the arms of the first employer I earn an offer from?
So if you want to know how the job hunt is going, check my LinkedIn.