I looked for a proper job just three times in my life so far: when I moved to Japan, 2 years later and recently, about 18 years later. Needless to say, I was not well prepared for the last one.
This is a short summary of what I learned. If you are looking for a job, try to avoid the errors I did.
- Make sure your CV looks good
- Adjust the CV
- Have a cover letters
- Update your coding skills
- Update your interview skills
- Be a CV factory
- Have good video interviews
- Write down the progress
- Keep yourself busy
Make Sure Your CV Looks Good
“Good” has several meanings here:
- Pleasant to the eye. And well structured.
My structure: My name, contact information and my current role,
a section with the list of my skills,
a section with the list of work experience: company I worked for (newest first), location, time, title/role and work experience. The experiences being things you did and the outcome it had.
Then a section for education, certifications, visa status and language skills (if relevant)
- Machine readable. Many companies use programs to read your CV and they pre-fill your work history into their own forms. Simple structure works well, but you’ll find out quickly what works and what does not: if your information is well understood (i.e. company name, position, time you worked there, experience) and the correct information appear in the correct text boxes, then it’s good. If not, tweak and simplify your document structure.
Keep in mind that the first human CV checks might take as little as 15 seconds, so make sure than in that short time your CV leaves a good impression.
Adjust the CV
Do not send out the very same CV to different companies.
Mention the keywords as per job description and the listed requirements, e.g. if the job description mentions Kafka, CI/CD and Agile, make sure they are listed if you have any experience with those. If “Agile” is asked for, don’t have “Scrum” as the only keyword related to Agile. Experienced recruiters will know that those are related, but do not depend on that. Make it easy for the reader (or machine) that you have the skills they are looking for.
To make my life easier, I had one version of my CV which contains every skill and experiences I had. For each company I removed some which were irrelevant for the specific job, and added or emphasized the skills which were wanted. Specifically I re-sorted my skills: top ones were most relevant.
Have a Cover Letter
Although I have learned that cover letters were supposed to be out of fashion, I did write some in the end. One company explicitly requested a cover letter and 4 other companies had a mandatory or optional cover letter upload in their automated CV upload process. The cover letter should contain your understanding of the role, your motivation and how you can add value. While this would be covered in the first interview, spelling it out is a nice.
Given the nature of the cover letter, make sure they are much more personalized than your CV. This is a great summary.
Update Your Coding Skills
If you are into coding, there’s plenty web paged like LeetCode or HackerRank where you can train for the typical coding exercises you might get. It’s also a nice practice and I found it actually fun as the tasks are (sometimes) interesting to solve and you get told whether your program is correct. It does not cover anything complex. Most tasks can be solved in 10min or less.
For the first programming test as part of a job search I kind’a had no idea how this works, so I solved the 5 tasks as fast as possible where there was no urgency needed. I messed that one up enough so the company rejected me at that point. 100% preventable in hindsight.
Update Your Interview Skills
The best preparation I got was for the Amazon interview from here. Especially the behavioral questions and the STAR format was useful as it avoids:
- awkward silence you create when you get surprised by a question and
- the rambling when you realize you have no good reply
The logic of behavioral questions is sound: it makes you tell a story of your past actions. I found many behavioral interview questions online and what I got in interviews was matching many of them, so take those publicly available question as a guideline and make sure you can answer them all with a relevant story from your past.
It took me days to collect good examples. Quite some of those I replaced with much better ones I remembered later which were better suited and more impactful.
Thus my recommendation: Do not try to “wing it”: write those stories down. Think about good examples which have a point or lesson learned. Memorize just key points. An interview is a stressful situation and you might not come up with a good story on the spot. In one case 6h later(!) I realized what I should have replied, where during the interview I drew a blank.
Also my performance during interviews got better and better: I knew more what to expect, the questions got repetitive so I knew the answers, I prepared better myself about the company and the interviewer. So don’t start your interview with the ideal dream-workplace you want. It’s a risky gamble though.
I am confident that if I could re-apply for the jobs I applied for at the start, I’d go much further in their interview process.
Be a CV Factory
I had several interview at various companies for various roles. Sometimes I got an early rejection, sometimes I got a first short interview and then a rejection. Neither is a problem as usually this first meeting clears up the expectations from their an my side. And sometimes I had 2nd interviews which I failed or it just did not “click”. None of those rejections were unexpected.
Then I had an interview for a role which I thought was perfect for me: it used many of my skills and the interviews (about 6 in total) went really well I thought. So after those interviews I stopped applying for other roles and I was basically expecting a “We’ll hire you!” mail. Alas, a week later I got a rejection email.
I was crushed. I felt really down for 2 days. I had no current interviews upcoming. I was starting at zero again. The future looked bleak.
Two things helped here to get me out of this low: First a friend said that his company he works for has a position open which might be suitable for me. This gave me a small light of hope. And I saw a video on YouTube (I think it was Andrew LaCivita but I cannot find the specific video anymore) about being a CV factory: send out so many CVs that you never run dry: if you get a rejection it does not matter much if it’s 1 of 10 currently running ones. And even if you expect a positive reply, keep on looking for new job offers as you might get a reject. That helped a lot. It totally changed the way I was approaching the job search.
It’s the same as the Pet vs Cattle concept: if you are personally invested in your pet and it dies, you’ll be depressed. If you have 100 cattle and one dies, you replace it. No need to shed tears.
So I widened my net: smaller companies (incl. startups, but nothing below 50 employees), work which used only some of my skills, roles which I ideally didn’t want to do but I knew I could do etc. And it worked: of course I got some quick rejections, but also quite some “let’s have a quick 30min interview” where I had a chance to make a good impression. I also attended online-events like HackerX although it was more targeted towards developers (which was not something I am qualified for). Turned out that those companies also look for roles I am qualified for, so beside having fun doing online video chat with like-minded people, I also had some more leads to potential jobs. At one time I had 5 jobs in flight with either first interviews scheduled or waiting whether they want to have a 2nd interview.
One note: I am in Japan and most companies have enough manners to tell you within a week or two at most whether they want an interview or not. The only companies which basically did not reply at all were some large international companies. Some recruiters were not well organized and it needed some reminder emails from my side to get a result too. But generally I got a response fairly quickly. Anything after 2 weeks of no response I considered “dead”. Other countries might behave differently though.
Have Good Video Interviews
I like video conferences. I got a cheap studio light (about ¥7000, hint: try to get one without cooling fan) and a good microphone (¥15000) so video and audio works well. Learn a bit about light and reverb. Plenty good YouTube videos exist for both. Look for Twitch and game streaming and listen to what they suggest to do regarding light and audio. Don’t do the color accent lights though: That’s good for streaming and not that good for interviews.
My first video conferences were a bit…technically challenged. Audio was usually ok, but video sometimes froze for some seconds. Once I completely dropped off the conference. Next day I bought a 15m Ethernet cable (about ¥2000) and that fixed the quality problems completely. WiFi works great for many things, but when it comes to low latency (online games) and constant quality (real time communication), it is not good enough when the signal has to cross several walls.
I tried, but mostly failed to look at the camera instead of the person in the video stream, but it turns out as long as the camera and the video stream is not too far away, it’s fine. Test this by recording yourself. Test audio too while you are at it. It also helps to make the video chat windows small and move it towards the camera. This is double true for the people having a camera at the bottom of their screen.
But most important is the attitude which you show in the interview. You are already (probably) technically qualified as otherwise you’d not be invited to an interview at all. A huge part of the interview is thus:
- Will this person stay because they really like this job, or will he/she be moving out as soon as something better comes up?
- What’s the general attitude? Happy vs. sad? Energetic vs. lackluster? Showing interest vs. not really caring?
- Would I (the interviewer) want to work with that person?
Make sure you leave a good impression here. Answer the simple question “Why do you want to work here and in this role?” If you cannot answer this with plenty enthusiasm, you can be as qualified as you like, but I would not hire you. Would you?
Also be prepared to answer “What is your understanding of this role?”
If you know who is interviewing you, find out a bit about them. LinkedIn/Xing mainly, but sometimes you find that they did presentations at conferences and those recordings are available on YouTube. Mention those if the natural flow of the conversation allows it. I would not go as far as looking up their Twitter/FaceBook/etc. as I would not know how to use that information in a work-related interview without appearing creepy.
And when it’s time for your questions, have a list of questions ready. Again, don’t “wing it”. While some questions are not predictable as they come out of the conversation you just had, always have sensible questions at the end which show that you are interested, but also help you decide whether this is a good job for you. Really good examples from here.
Write Down the Progress
When you submit a lot of CVs, you should track it somehow. You want to know when you should follow up, in what stage you are, and where you have applied already. I used some recruiting companies and when using those make sure to never apply via multiple channels for the same role. If that happens, your CV is immediately removed because if they hire you, which recruiter will be paid?
Keep Yourself Busy
Lastly, I once read: “If you are unemployed, your day job is to find a new job”, so expect to work 8h/day on finding a new job: Look out for open positions, write and send out CVs, and learn stuff which might help you getting a new job.
E.g. I learned Japanese, did a lot on HackerRank and LeetCode with Python, did a lot of Kubernetes, used CI/CD on GitHub and GitLab, learned about lights and sound for video conferencing, how to pass behavioral interviews etc. It kept me busy!