Every time I jump into a coaching session with a tech job seeker who applied to two hundred job postings, only hearing back from 5 companies and securing no offers, I feel my heart suffer a mild palpitation. NOOooooo!!
Then, I try to hold it together while calmly asking, “So, tell me more about your approach to the job search. What was your strategy?”
Pen to paper, I furiously scrawl down their narrative while they talk, which tends to follow a familiar storyline.
They started applying on LinkedIn and other job boards just to see what was out there. Months passed during which they repeated the same cycle. Here they are now, reaching out to a career coach and wondering where they went wrong.
For most of my clients, the time it typically takes to go from kicking off their job search process in the tech industry to signing an offer falls between 3-5 months.
What I have observed is that the majority of tech job seekers I speak to encounter the same pitfalls while pounding the pavement, leading to feeling burned-out.
To help you avoid the job search blues, I’ll share the common mistakes I’ve observed tech job seekers make. I’ll also recommend alternative paths that will redirect your job search towards success.
Mistake #1: Jumping into the job search without a strategy
By far the most frequent mistake I see job seekers make. It might sound like a good idea to “just start applying and see what happens.”
This approach wastes your precious time. Please don’t do it.
The reality is that sustaining your motivation is key to making sure you have fuel in the tank for your job search. And unfortunately, without doing the initial planning, chances are high that you’ll hear crickets after submitting your applications, which can feel deflating.
When you have a well-crafted job search strategy, the thinking you put in shows up in every part of the process. Your application approach gets more streamlined, your stories stick better with interviewers, and your questions reflect deeper research into the industry. Your hiring manager will notice that you’re on top of your game.
Not only are you more effective, but the early wins create momentum and help you stay motivated for the entire job search.
Create a high-level plan that clearly lays out the “big rocks” of your job search — your goal/target role, time constraints, criteria for evaluating opportunities, expected application & interview load, expected compensation, and a tentative stage-based roadmap.
Mistake #2: Broadly targeting many roles instead of narrowing down to a specific position
Without being specific about what you want to do in your next step, it’s difficult to tailor your personal brand and stories in a meaningful way. And resultingly, your ability to get your foot in the door or lock-up the offer gets hampered.
Let’s say that you’re interested in the wide-ranging field of “marketing.” You might have a shortlist of roles you’re excited about like product marketing, brand marketing, or even marketing analytics. These roles have a few responsibilities in common, but also a lot that is dissimilar.
It’ll be challenging to position your experiences towards all these roles without winding up with a generic pitch.
Instead, imagine that you targeted just product marketing. You can study the job description, set up coffee chats to learn from other product marketers, and craft stories that highlight your most pertinent strengths.
Knowing what you want out of your next role can help you optimize each step that you take in your job search.
Focus on one specific role. If you absolutely have to, target two roles, but no more than that. Even better, narrow your search down to a specific industry (e.g. health care) and at a certain stage (e.g. Series B/C).
Mistake #3: Applying only via the company website and/or online job boards
Out of any channel, company websites and job boards have the lowest conversion rate from application to recruiter screen. On the other hand, referred candidates have a 6X higher likelihood of getting hired than any of the other sources.
In other words, what the data is showing us is that it’s far riskier leaving your fate in the hands of an automated system than an actual person.
Apply through referrals whenever possible. People will appreciate your efforts, plus they will go a long way to getting your application noticed amongst the stack of 387 resumes in the employer’s Application Tracking System (ATS).
You might think, but I have no network!
I doubt that this is true. Your network gets bigger than you may think when you start brainstorming your connections to friends-of-friends and friends-of-colleagues. Get an introduction to them. Remember that you’re adding value to their teams by helping fill a talent need.
Mistake #4: Not running career experiments for your target position (before starting the search)
Too many job seekers pick a target role because it initially sounds attractive, then directly proceed to apply to the job without knowing what the work actually looks like. Don’t do this.
It’s a lot of like fumbling around in a massive dark room, trying to find the door. You’ll probably eventually find it, but how much faster would it take if you had a bright light to show you where the door stands?
Good information is like the light that illuminates the room.
If you don’t know anything about your target role, then talk to actual people who are already doing the job that you’re interested in.
Take documentary filmmaking. If you’re interested in creating professional documentaries, don’t blindly listen to your parents’ or friends’ advice that yes you should definitely be a filmmaker because you loved making producing short films in high school classes. Talk to actual documentary filmmakers about what it took for them to get there.
By speaking with people a few steps ahead of you on the same career track, you get much more contextual advice on if this role is a good fit and also the steps you can take to get to where they are.
Before applying to jobs, spend a few weeks building relationships with people working in your target roles at your dream companies. Learn from them with the goal of validating whether this role is right for you and what actions you need to take to get there.
Take the following steps:
- Create a list of 10 companies.
- Reach out to 10-15 people at each company on your list via email/Linkedin, and set up coffee chats. Expect a 20% response rate.
- Collect learnings and insights from these chats. Use them to update your job search approach.
You are also now connected to people who are a few steps ahead of you in their career and can help advocate for you in your job search — even with referrals.
Mistake #5: Getting stuck in a “me, me, me!” mentality during the interview process
When I practice mock interviews with my clients, I notice that many of them get stuck in the pattern of saying something (paraphrased) to the effect of “I did X, Y, Z things which got me a promotion/award/high five from the CEO… so that’s why you should hire me!”
And I’m left scratching my head. Why is what you just said relevant to what my needs are as a hiring manager?
The tech job search is akin to marketing a product where you’re the product. And just like in a product launch, you’ll benefit from starting with what the customer needs first. In the recruiting process, your customer is… the hiring manager.
Position yourself as a solution to the hiring manager’s problems.
Ask yourself questions like…
- What do you think the hiring manager needs? What gaps are they’re looking to fill?
- What superpowers do you bring to the table, that other candidates do not?
- How do you differentiate from all the other candidates vying for this particular position?
- How do you communicate your answers to the above questions succinctly and convincingly to the hiring manager?
Then incorporate your answers into the stories you tell during your interviews.
There are five common mistakes that I’ve observed job seekers make in my time as a coach:
- Starting a job search without a strategy
- Targeting many instead of specific roles
- Applying solely on online job boards
- Not running career experiments before starting a search
- And finally, getting stuck in a self-centric narrative
When the clients I work with realize these mistakes and understand the reason why these mistakes slow them down, they immediately start making improvements — even breakthroughs — in their search.
What other mistakes do you see job seekers in the tech industry make?