If you’re a software engineer, finding a job is easy. Finding the right job is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Is your perfect role even out there? And how would you know it if you saw it? Here are eight steps to find out.
1. Know your strengths and weaknesses
List out the qualities that make you a valuable addition to a team: skills, experience, and traits. Be honest, and add your weaknesses as well as your strengths.
For every strength you list, decide whether it’s “common” (for example, knowing a common programming language like Java) or “exceptional” (for example, a rarer skill like NHibernate optimisation). The exceptional strengths are going to be your real selling points.
Now look at your weaknesses. These can drive you in two directions: away from roles that hit your weak spots, or towards roles that can give you the skills and experience you lack.
2. Know what you want
To get what you want, you have to know what you want. List the qualities of your ideal job: company culture, responsibilities, location, travel, technology, coworkers, benefits, vacation time, etc. Keep this in mind when jobhunting, but don’t be too attached to getting every item on your list.
Also think about where you want your career to go in the future. Do you want to go for the highest-paying companies or programming languages? Is there something you want to specialise in, or would broad experience be more useful right now? Remember that too much specialisation is dangerous, as technologies and languages can quickly become obsolete.
3. Create a CV and cover letter that sell
Treat your CV and cover letter as a sales pitch. Tailor them not only to each individual role but also to the person who’ll be reviewing them. That means finding out who your hiring manager is and what they’re looking for.
Don’t just list your roles and responsibilities, but your achievements within those roles, and use numbers to quantify them if possible (“improved x by 75%”). Say how your actions benefited the company.
4. Work on your social media presence
77% of recruiters look for information about candidates on the internet, according to ExecuNet. So yes, it’s time to delete or filter any social media posts or photos that could be seen as negative or unprofessional. Then focus on optimising your LinkedIn profile.
First, you need a summary that grabs the reader’s attention. Describe your professional experience, interests and passions. Ask for recommendations if you don’t have them. Add links to relevant projects and publications, and any certificates and awards you’ve earned.
You can also use LinkedIn to connect with people who work at your target companies in similar roles to the ones you’re looking for. Check how their experience compares with yours, and if they’ve worked at the company for a while, see how often they’re getting promoted. This will give you a better idea of the company’s actual hiring and promotion practices than their website.
Join LinkedIn groups related to software development and engineering, or anything else relevant to your career, and get actively involved in discussions. Recruiters will notice.
5. Do your research
As you’ve no doubt discovered, googling something vague like “IT jobs” in your area will overwhelm you with useless results. Here are a few pointers to remember when searching for jobs.
Many of the best jobs come from internal referrals, not job ads. Talk to your friends and acquaintances about any roles they might know of first.
Look at your favourite companies’ websites, or call their HR departments directly, to discover jobs that may not be listed anywhere else.
If a company interests you, reach out even if they don’t have any jobs listed. Some companies are always looking for good developers and might even create a role for you.
There are hundreds of job sites, including some that aggregate jobs from other sites. Look around to get a sense of which ones offer the kind of roles you’re after.
Use the advanced search features on job sites to narrow down your options. Many will let you save a search and get an email update every day, saving you a lot of time.
LinkedIn’s job section is another great place to look, as is Craigslist, especially for more niche roles. When you start looking, expect to be spending several hours a day checking out all the sites and working out which ones are useful to you.
6. Bypass HR whenever you can
Bypassing HR is easier with smaller companies, but with bigger organisations it can make the difference between getting the job and being written off by an automatic CV-processing system or an overworked HR professional who hasn’t seen a line of code since they typed “20 GOTO 10” on a school computer in 1989.
If the job ad has an irrelevant or impossible requirement, it’s even more important to talk directly to someone in the IT department. Look at the company website to find out who the role would report to, and call them or hit them up on LinkedIn.
If you’ve submitted a CV for a job, haven’t heard back in a few days, and don’t know where to send your follow-up email, look on LinkedIn to find the CIO or CEO and contact them directly.
7. Be prepared when recruiters call
Don’t be afraid to let recruiters know you’re looking for work elsewhere – it just adds to your value. Do, however, use your first conversation with a recruiter to establish a personal connection with them and get an idea of the interview process and timeline. Every company is different. Be flexible, but not too flexible – if you’re a night owl, don’t let them stick you with an early-morning technical interview.
8. Be prepared if they don't call
If you haven’t heard back about a role you applied for several days ago, it’s fine to send a polite email checking if they received your CV (and attaching another copy for their convenience). Emails do go astray, and it’s not impossible that they actually didn’t receive it – or that you didn’t receive their email inviting you to an interview!