7 Lessons from Developers’ Job Hunt Reviews

What can a review of your most recent job interview (call it a “post-mortem” or a “retrospective”) teach you about the job-hunting process? As it turns out, quite a lot, including what went well—and what could have gone better.
We recently contacted several software engineers who conducted a post-mortem review of their last job search. After analyzing the data and results, here are their biggest takeaways.

Start with Low-Stakes Interviews
No matter how well you prepare for an interview (or practice whiteboard problems), nothing builds your self-confidence like the real thing. In fact, the more Rob Heaton and Felix Feng interviewed for software engineering positions, the greater their conversion rate of interviews-to-offers.

“Start by applying to a few companies that you’re not that interested in,” advised Feng, who went on to become the CEO of Set Protocol after graduating from coding bootcamp and working as a software engineer for a year.
“I strategically set up my process so that I had lower-level interviews earlier and higher-level interviews later on,” Feng added. “As I gained experience, I effectively ‘leveled up,’ becoming capable of acing interviews at companies with higher hiring bars—and higher starting salaries, too.”

Don’t Take Job Rejection Personally
There’s often no rhyme or reason why qualified candidates get rejected. “Even in a candidate-driven market, it’s just part of the process,” noted Kelly Sutton, software engineer for Gusto. “View the recruitment process as a two-way street and keep going.”

Don’t Pin Your Hopes on Third-Party Recruiters
Receiving unsolicited inquiries from recruiters can be flattering, but Heaton found that they often wasted his time with jobs that didn’t match his skills or career interests. He had a much higher “hit rate” when he identified suitable opportunities and applied on his own. After all, nobody knows you better than yourself.

To illustrate, Heaton applied to just 25 companies, completed seven face-to-face interviews and received five offers—a very respectable conversation rate.

Reach Out to Real People
Initially, Feng took a shotgun approach to the market, applying to 15 to 20 jobs a day and settling for a dismal response rate of less than 5 percent. However, his response rate soared to 22 percent when he took the extra step of emailing his résumé to someone on the company’s engineering or hiring team whenever he submitted an application.
It’s a good idea to cast a wide net initially; but once you identify the type of job, work environment and salary you want, setting goals will help you target your efforts and resist the urge to compromise.

Treat Peer Interviews Like Regular Interviews
An interview with a would-be peer can help you better understand what the work environment is really like, and whether you will fit in with the team. Make the most of these opportunities by preparing questions ahead of time, including what would you change about working here. Also make a point of inquiring about favorite projects—that might give you some insight into what you’ll be working on.

Stay Organized
Use a spreadsheet or tool to track your job-hunting activity. Steal a page from the hiring manager’s playbook by jotting down notes after each interview or phone screen. Keeping records of conversations can help you prepare for final interviews and evaluate multiple offers.

Always Ask for a Higher Salary
Negotiating a compensation package doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. No matter what salary the hiring manager offers, just say something like: “I would like something in the X range” and explain why.
This “lesson learned” was confirmed by a recent survey, which showed that 70 percent of senior managers expect candidates to negotiate. Knowing that the hiring manager doesn’t expect you to accept the first offer could help alleviate some of your negotiation fears (and boost your paycheck) with very little effort.

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