My last job search took sending out almost 100 job applications and during that process, I managed to collect a handful of practical tips that should be helpful to job seekers:

  1. Regularly Check All Mail Not Just Inbox
  2. Stack Overflow has an Inbox Also
  3. Cover Letters Really, Really Matter
  4. If You Do Homework Make a Screencast Demoing It
  5. Interviews Matter Much, Much More to You Than to the Company
  6. Find Out What Coding Test They Use
  7. Always, Always Review the Call Details Before the Call
  8. Never Tell Your Salary
  9. You’ll Never Know Why You Didn’t Get It; Let It Go
  10. Don’t Ever Stop Sending Out Resumes; Not Over Until the Fat Person Hires You
  11. The Older You Are, The Harder This Is
  12. The Job Market Has Changed - It Is About Keeping Bad People Out Not Getting Good People In

1. Regularly Check All Mail Not Just Inbox

The simplest thing I learned was obvious but absolutely unapparent. I’ve been a regular user of Gmail ever since I could get an account and like most Gmail users, I rely on the default Inbox view. The thing to understand is that Inbox doesn’t always get it right in a job context. There are lots of places in the job hunt process where a program sends you an automated email and I’ve found that those automated emails often do NOT show up in Inbox.

I’ve been faithfully using GMail since it came out and one of the things that really surprised me is the number of messages related to an ongoing job search that GMail happily filed away under “All Messages” and not in Inbox. Even when I had been actively in discussion with people at a given company, I would still find messages from the company showing up only in All Messages. This is hugely frustrating and it definitely cost me an interview or two until I started religiously checking All Mail every day.

2. Stack Overflow Has an Inbox Too

This means that at least sometimes a job you reach out to via Stack Overflow will reply to you via your Stack Overflow. And if you aren’t monitoring that Inbox then you’re going to miss the opportunity.

3. Cover Letters Really, Really Matter

While cover letters nowadays aren’t the old fashioned paper letter, they really do matter. A cover letter gives you an additional opportunity to highlight your skills. The cover letters I focus on most are the ones that at lease appear to be going to an actual human, say “lisa@company.com”. The ones going to “jobs@company.com”, I worry less about.

4. If You Do Homework Make a Screencast Demoing It

A lot of the companies now a days require you to do homework as a way of “screening” you for a job. And while I think that’s a bullshite tactic - just read the damn resume people - it is a real thing. One of the best ways you can highlight your work is to make a screencast demonstrating it. This not only showcases your ability to communicate but also addresses any issues that people might have with installing / testing your code.

5. Interviews Matter Much, Much More to You Than to the Company

One thing to understand is that any one interview matters much, much more to you than to the company. If you miss your interview then you are generally unlikely to get a second chance. This means treat each interview carefully, put it on your calendar, etc.

6. Find Out What Coding Test They Use

If the company assesses candidates with coding tests, again bullshite then try and find out what coding test they use before you have to take it. Coding tests are pretty widely documented and you can bone up specifically on say the TripleByte coding test.

7. Always, Always Review the Call Details Before the Call

This one is obvious but important - always review your notes / the calendar appointment prior to the call. When you are juggling a lot of interviews, it is easy to forget that job x requires a video call that uses client software y.

8. Never Tell Your Salary

One solid rule of thumb that I always follow is simple - never tell them your salary. I got this tip from Josh Doody of Fearless Salary Negotiation. Josh makes the argument that hiring is inherently unfair - the company has all the information and you, the candidate has none. Due to this information asymmetry, giving them your current salary only increases their advantage over you. Also keep in mind that it is illegal for California companies to ask you your salary history.

Note: Despite this being illegal in California, when a well known, venture funded California company asked me for my salary history and I cited this law, they said “Well you’re remote and in Indiana so we can ask you”. Needless to say I noped out of that possible job opportunity – yes what they said might have been legally valid but their HR department’s ready willingness to play fast and loose with the law told me everything I wanted to know about that company.

9. You’ll Never Know Why You Didn’t Get It; Let It Go

It has now been 2.5 years since I didn’t get Job X (a Senior Software engineering slot at a leading Wedding technology company). After passing the coding test, the coding project and being flown down for the onsite interview and absolutely nailing the whiteboard exercise, I didn’t get it – and I was never told why. You will never know why you don’t get a particular job and you simply need to let it go.

Note: This is a lot harder than it seems. I still haven’t let it go.

10. Don’t Ever Stop Sending Out Resumes; Not Over Until an HR Person Hires You

Once you send out say 75 resumes and get maybe 5 interviews, you feel very much like “why am I bothering?”. That’s crap – there are jobs out there but sometimes you have to keep at it. And at it. And at it. Etc.

11. The Older You Are, The Harder This Is

If you work in technology, you will find that the older you are, the harder it gets to get a technical job. I’m over 50 and I still write code every single day – and I’m good at it. But I noticed a very different response from companies after I turned 50. I didn’t take the step of editing my resume so my age wasn’t apparent but it is something I would likely do my next time out.

12. The Job Market Has Changed - It Is About Keeping Bad People Out Not Getting Good People In

My final observation is that the HR goal is now to keep bad people out. This is a dramatic change from tech hiring in years past; it really has shifted to keeping people out not getting them in. And the corollary to this is that good people fall by the wayside – in droves.

You need to keep this in mind when you are applying for jobs and really think hard about how you differentiate yourself.

13. Job Hound

My final tip is a plug for one of my current side projects, JobHound. JobHound makes the process of getting a tech job, well, suck less. Its free and you can sign up today and use it anytime.