Nobody will forget the grueling experience that is their first job search, and we as bootcamp grads are some of the lucky ones. We’re fortunate enough to be in an industry that isn’t currently at saturation, and that has interviews that can be systematically studied for. That said, it’s still on average a multi-month endeavor of grinding every day. Let me tell you, the second job search is so much better than the first. App Academy loves talking about their hiring numbers straight out of their programs (and they should), but I want this post to excite App Academy students about looking for a job as a software engineer with experience. I promise, it’s way more fun. To start, let’s take a look at some numbers.
Here are the stats for my first job search out of App Academy
- Length: 3 months full time
- Applications: 481
- Tech Screens: 15 (3%)
- Onsites: 5 (1%)
- Offers: 2 (0.04%)
Here are the stats for my second job search after working at Hulu for 2 years
- Length: 3 months part time
- Applications: 45
- Tech Screens: 18 (40%)
- Onsites: 8 (18%)
- Offers: 5 (11%)
Just by the numbers, the difference between my first and second job search is drastic. I applied to 90% fewer jobs, and received more tech screens, more onsites, and more offers.
Here are even more things that those numbers don’t show: Of the 15 tech screens I got during my first job search out of App Academy, I was only excited about three of them. Of the onsites I got, I was excited about two of them, and of the two offers I received, only one of them was even remotely realistic (my first offer was 75k a year to be the only engineer at a two person startup in SF and work in Elixir and Phoenix, neither of which I know). For comparison, 90% of my tech screens the second time around were with companies I really wanted to work at, and I would have been happy to accept four of the five offers I eventually received. Each of those offers bumped my base salary or total compensation by at least 20k, one of them came with a 50k sign-on bonus, and two of them were for roles in Python, the language I most wanted to work in. My point is, there aren’t just more options, they’re better options, too.
How to prepare
Now, for my second job search, my plan was to approach it in the same fashion as the first. I studied for three months, and then applied to smaller companies before working my way towards my real goals. I started with those I’d be less excited about and worked up to the ones I wanted most so that, with any luck, I’d have offers in hand when I applied to my top choices. But there were two main differences that emerged quickly, and completely changed my approach.
Don’t over prepare
The other big difference was that my hit rate changed dramatically between my first and second search. Enough companies responded to my first batch of online applications that I had to stop sending them for a little while so that I could actually study for and complete the interviews that came out of them. My initial fears that my interview skills had atrophied, and that I hadn’t learned anything during my two years at Hulu were dispelled when my first tech screen resulted in an onsite and then an offer on the flight home. So, for the remainder of the process I kept my applications to places I’d actually really like to work at. One reason for the improved success rate was that the bar for interviews had been lowered substantially. When I was leaving App Academy and entering my first job search, it felt like I had to be absolutely perfect or I’d fail. Often I wouldn’t even know what went wrong. During my second job search, however, I had multiple instances where I almost finished a question and got through, and even an instance where a company gave me a do-over after not receiving an offer from an onsite. The bottom line here is that companies are much more willing to accept imperfect results because you already have some experience.
Be selective about where to apply
As far as where to apply, one of the big frustrations with the first job search is the feeling that you have to take what you can get. Especially when you’re coming out of a bootcamp and required to fill 40 applications a week, you’re going to run out of companies that you’ve heard of pretty damn quick. By the end of it, you’re putting in lots of applications on sites like AngelList to startups with 1-10 employees. The problem with applications like those is that they tend to take up a lot of time for not a lot of payoff. Many of them will have take-home coding challenges that will require you to spend a day or more to learn a new language or framework, and even if you get lucky and can use whatever language you like, the odds are the challenge will still take upwards of four hours. Instead, a standard phone screen for an established company will take an hour or less. The worst is when you actually go through that four hour take-home problem and don’t get an onsite. Ouch. During my second job search, I only filled out about five of these types of applications before getting an offer, and so it didn’t really feel necessary to pad my application numbers to hit a quota. One of the beauties of the second job search is that it’s on your own time. This is helpful because time is a more valuable resource when you already have a job, and can’t afford to be doing take-home challenges and phone screens with places you aren’t serious about.
Leverage your network
Another impactful difference between my first and second job search was the power of referrals. Don’t get me wrong, I had a few during my first job search, but most of them didn’t really do anything the first time. I applied through referrals to about ten companies during my first job search, and didn’t even get a call from nine of them. I don’t blame my friends for that either, they could have written the best referrals in the world, but at most of these companies it wouldn’t really matter; they have plenty of applicants with experience AND referrals. But now you’re one of those applicants. For my second job search I had the same referrals from before, and could add my extended network from working at Hulu for two years. People I had worked with had left and given contact info, and all the people I worked with also had networks at their old companies that they were happy to extend to me. Only two referrals during my second job search didn’t lead to at least a tech screen, and one was by choice (the position they wanted me for didn’t interest me).
Weigh your options
That last sentence segues nicely into my final point: this time, you’ve got options. I didn’t really want to work in ads when I joined the Hulu Ad Platform team. I loved the people that I’d met during the interview, and they gave me a great offer, but honestly I accepted that offer because I thought it was the best that I was going to get. By the end of my second job search I was turning down onsites from Spotify and Amazon because they didn’t want me for roles that I wanted. I’ll admit, during my second job search I had a bit of a secondary goal to avoid working in ad tech again. This made it a little scary when a lot of the replies I’d get from companies were along the lines of “to be honest, you’re a little green for what we’re looking for, but we LOVE your experience in ad tech”. The benefit of it not being your first job search is, well, you can be more selective. You’re already employed, so you can always walk away from any interview or offer that you don’t really want. This gives power in more ways than one. Beyond making it so you don’t have a sense of urgency to accept the first thing that comes along, it also improves everything that DOES come along. When receiving my offer from Hulu, frankly it was good enough that I didn’t feel the need to negotiate (a feeling confirmed by my App Academy job coach) but I also had zero leverage. I’m fairly sure my attempt at negotiation went like this:
Alec: “Can I have 5k more or a 10k sign on bonus?”
Alec: “Great, I’ll see you guys in August!”
But when you’re in your second job search, even before your first offer comes in, you’re under zero obligation to take any offer below your current rate unless you really want the job. I even experimented with different methods of navigating the “what’s your expected comp” conversation covered in detail in this famous blogpost. I tried things like telling recruiters what I was currently making, and my total comp but not my base, or telling them that I was targeting a number about 15% higher than my current base or current total comp. In the end, what seemed to work out best was giving as little information as possible. My two highest offers came from companies to which I didn’t give an expected comp number, and my two lowest offers came from companies to which I divulged my current base (which they matched). I didn’t really get to experience the benefits of having other offers on the table during my first job search. Sure, I told my recruiter at Hulu about the offer from the startup in SF, but I think it showed from our conversations that I didn’t have a particularly strong alternative. Contrast this with the second job search, where I was able to use the fact that I had offers to get tech screens at places at a much higher rate. And, beyond being able to land more interviews, some “zero negotiation” offers turned out to not be so zero negotiation once they got the message that their offer wasn’t as good as my others. Don’t let a company tell you they don’t negotiate. If they say this, either they vastly overpay every candidate to assure that they never get outbid (unlikely) or they’re just saying that hoping you’ll not try. The bottom line is, if you did well enough in your interview, there’s wiggle room in your comp. You can also wait around until you really nail an interview which will help during negotiation. While I received an offer from Twitch, there was barely any movement on their offer because I’d barely squeaked through their process (this was the one that offered me a follow up to the onsite).
So, with all that said, how can you, another App Academy student, ensure that your second job search is a much better experience than your first? Well, the good thing is that just by nature of it being your second job search, it’s going to be a lot better. And for those of you reading this going through your first job search or first job in software, i’ve included some additional points to consider as well:
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate your first job’s compensation. There’s no harm in trying, and your first comp will be an anchor for future positions. The higher your current salary, the better offers another company has to make to pull you away. And, even in the worst case scenario, no company lowered their offer during my first or second job search because I asked for more. The worst they can say is “we will not improve our current offer.” Trust me, I overstepped so hard in my counter offer with Dropbox that my recruiter thought I was joking, and the original offer still wasn’t rescinded. If you’ve got the time, I recommend the book Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher. It details how to approach negotiations in a principled fashion, and can help you avoid some of the awkward feelings you may have about negotiating. It’s a short read. The aforementioned blogpost by patio11 is also great to read before entering negotiations.
- Make lots of friends at your first job, and don’t burn any bridges on the way out. If anything, fortify bridges on your way out. It can be really easy to tune out during your last few months at a company, especially once you’ve already got an offer locked in from another company. I promise, working hard until you leave will open up a lot of paths in the future, even if not immediately. I was honestly amazed how many people I worked with at Hulu were coming from referrals from people they used to work with. It’s like they move in packs. The strength of a referral from somebody that you used to work with is also much stronger than one from a friend who you’ve never worked directly with.
- Don’t stop learning. It can be really easy when you come out of App Academy to feel like you’ve made it once you’ve landed your first job, and to some extent you have (congratulations!). But there will always be something that could be improved about your job, and it’ll be hard to justify deserving a better job if you haven’t kept improving yourself. Companies love when employees are self-motivated, and you can even use your learning to strengthen your reputation at your job. One of the things I loved doing at Hulu was researching some new tech or reading a whitepaper, and then doing a presentation on it to whoever was interested on the larger team I worked on. It got my name spread around, and showed that I was motivated to continue my education.
And leading up to and during your second job search
- Don’t waste time with companies you don’t want to work for. You can afford to be selective this time. Apply for roles you want at companies you want, working with technologies you want to work with. Especially don’t waste time with small startups unless you really want to work there, as it will really bloat the amount of time and energy per application. It’s also rude to waste the time of super small companies with applications you don’t intend to accept if they come to an offer.
- Leverage your network extensively for more than just referrals. Your referrals will be much stronger this time around now that you have experience and people that you’ve worked with professionally. Each of your coworkers with whom you have a good relationship has a network that is available to you if you ask. But beyond referrals, one of the best things I did in my last few months at Hulu was take a bunch of coworkers out to lunch and ask them for advice. For ~$15 you can get tons of insight on how the most successful people around you got where they are. What mistakes can they help you avoid, what would they do differently about their career, what’s their nugget of wisdom they can leave you with? I can’t recommend this practice highly enough. It helped turn a bunch of office acquaintances into friends.
- Treat your second job search the same way you did your first. Realistically, some of your interviewing skills are going to decay during your first job. I made a decision to work in a role that was 100% Java after coming out of App Academy, which meant that two years later my front-end skills were really rusty. And, while I’d written enterprise Java, I hadn’t done even 1% of the algorithms and data structures problems that I did during the job search curriculum at App Academy in Java, so I was woefully unprepared to interview in it. Whatever you’ve done at your current job, pick an interview language and practice just like you did when coming out of App Academy. Hammer Leetcode and Hackerrank problems. Things will come back to you faster than you think. Do practice interviews with friends or on interviewing.io, go to local tech meetups, polish your resume with all the new goodies from your work experience and get feedback on it from friends. Practice talking about your projects from your first job at length. Work on a new side project that you can put on your resume to showcase your most marketable skills.
- Enjoy yourself. Sometimes interviewing gets stressful, and even though you’ve already come so far, things can seem hopeless. Remember that no job search will ever be as hard as the first one, and that job searching can even be fun. When I flew to New York to interview at Reddit, I stayed the weekend to visit family, and I vividly remember sitting on the plane home and thinking to myself “being a software engineer is insane.” After all, I’d just had a mini vacation paid for by the company I was interviewing at. Sometimes it’s good to take a breath and remember that we, as software engineers, are beyond lucky, and that things will fall into place eventually.
I hope you enjoyed this piece, and found it inspirational, or at the very least instructional! For those who are curious, the result of my second job search was offers from TUNE, TwitchTV, Reddit, Hulu (transfer), and Dropbox, and I’ll be starting at Dropbox in Seattle in early September 2019. On a final note, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at Hulu without the connections I made through App Academy, and I love returning the favor. If you’re a recent grad in your first job search, feel free to reach out to me! If you’re currently in the program, keep pushing, you can do it! And if you’re considering applying to App Academy, don’t hesitate to reach out for preparation advice, or even general information about whether a coding bootcamp is right for you.