So it looks like my job hunt for this year comes to an end. Time to pause and reflect. Since it looks like I'm not the only one I proposed to write up what I learned.

Looking through my notes, I discovered, that I already were in a similiar situation back in 2016, so I want to close this post with an updated list of search engines just in case you are looking.

What happened? :-o

Short version? I failed my probation time at the end of January. But not for technical skills. If you want to learn details, drop me a line and I might tell you.

So at the beginning of February I was on the search for a new job.

Bureaucracy

German laws require you to get in touch with the jobcenter and declare yourself jobless. If you were employed, this means, you'll get a certain percentage of your last salary for a couple of months.

Don't lean back though! Otherwise they'll „ask” you to participate in courses to increase the likelihood to get a job. Oh, and you have to apply to job opportunities they pass along. No matter how well they fit your experience. (No, they can't tell apart Java from JavaScript. Normally. I somehow get lucky this time.)

Where to start?

Okay, so if you can't rely on the jobcenter to get you a new job, what else? Well, the normal process: Tell friends and family the bad news (if they happen to have connections), so even if they don't work themselves in the industry, they perhaps hear about opportunities.

Next, I'd suggest to inquiry different search engines. Most of them offer a way to spam your inbox with job opportunities. A large percentage will likely be crap, i.e. not fit what you're looking for. This means, you should refine the query (if possible).

What I am looking for?

Last year I blogged about my ideal employer. Basically: SME to create a family-like atmosphere, short decision paths, agile development environment, open for remote work (read: Home Office).

Additionally, having a diverse workforce (gender, ethnics, mindsets, background) is helpful. Although I learn a lot on my own, it could be helpful to have a mentorship program. I myself like to pass forward what I learn.

So if I can blog on your homepage or speak (internally or externally) that would be great. I can imagine not always be a developer.

Perks? Well, free fruits and water, a place to park my bike and some restaurants nearby would be amazing!

Technically, the position should either be Front-End (because of higher demand) or Fullstack with Python or Node.js in the Backend.

What I am not looking for?

Sadly, most Backend tech stacks in my area are either Java, PHP or C#/.NET. I'm not interested in those.

Also, what I don't want, is to work for a large enterprise or in certain industries like insurance/banking or defense.

As you can see, I have a somewhat concrete picture of what I want.

Where's your problem then?

Rumors have it, that as developer you can work everywhere. As I learned the hard way, that's not necessarily true.

Yes, there are dozens of job offers out there. But they require certain conditions. Most the time, companies have services and products they can't rewrite in the blink of an eye. So they naturally search for people who can continue maintain them.

On the other hand, they have the pressure to modernise. That means, they are looking for people with newer tech stacks. This creates a tension.

What I can see is a split between junior positions (cheap, need training) to get a sense of what a modern setup could look like and senior positions (expensive, but experience will lead to lower costs due to bug fixes).

It's kind of hard to find something as intermediate developer. Like with two to five years experience. Lucky me I'm so curious I learned a lot. Which pushes me a bit towards the senior side of things.

What should I keep in mind?

To me, I can't handle too many requests at once. That is, if I start too many applications, I'd likely forget to reply to some mails and hurt expectations.

Update your resume

So I picked a slice of about five companies I applied at about the same time. Therefore, my resume should be up-to-date and in PDF format.

As mathematician I learned to love LaTeX for generating PDFs. Therefore I went again with moderncv and filled in the last positions I worked for. A CV should be one or at most two pages. That means, I included the last five years of working experience with examples of what I did there.

What else to fill in on a resume?

Skills and projects. Skills can be matched against the written job offer. Projects (ideally with links) can be used to get an idea of what the project was about. Let me take the chance to thank my recruiting company for this lesson!

Engage with recruiters

Speaking of recruiting company, it helps to engage with some of them. But try to not overdo it, since they are fishing in the same pond. That means, there will be a certain overlap and you should try to form a relationship of trust with one (or two) recruiting companies.

In my case, they're on my side, since the salary they negotiate for you will be shared to a certain percentage for them as commission.

Turn on the alarms

Once you flag yourself as looking for a job on career networks (in my case: Xing), prepare yourself, because a lot of messages will find their way into your inbox.

I normally scan those for required skillset and distance to my residence, since I depend on public transport for commute. Then I scan for the job description and take a look at the company size.

If a certain treshold is met, I reply back positively, otherwise I politely decline.

Keep in mind, that not only Xing and LinkedIn are places where companies look for employees.

I was surprised to get contacted via StackOverflow Jobs! GitHub performed worse and Twitter not at all.

Set up notifications per mail

But as mentioned before, you shouldn't sit and wait for companies to apply to you. Instead, I found it helpful to setup filters on GlassDoor, Indeed and StackOverflow jobs to drop me a mail every day in case the filter hits something.

In case you're working for one of those companies and are still reading: Improve your filters!

I wish there were options to filter for something like

  • remote only (no, I don't want to relocate! Technology-wise that's not necessary any more. Could be, that you will need to get together for company events, though. Since I don't take a plane …)
  • exclude companies (e.g. those I received a decline already)
  • exclude industries (e.g. Defense)
  • exclude programming languages (Java ≠ JavaScript)
  • allow defining salary ranges
  • allow defining years of experience
  • allow to filter for distance to residence IN ADDITION TO remote-only
  • show size of company (ideally per location)
  • show contact person (ideally linked to a profile)
  • send a mail with the whole message (instead of a notification and a link to your side), since I likely utilise several services and manage them by mail
  • allow upload of resume (looking at you, Xing) or at least offer a way to preview what your service would generate and show a recruiter

Keep an overview

This was new to me and a bit labour-intensive, but it helped in the beginning to keep a table of companies you applied to, a link to the job offer, the company's website, your contact person, first time of contact, last time of contact, current status and what the next step is.

The reason behind this is to keep track of where you might need to write a follow up mail to increase your chances.

Prepare for an interview

Okay, let's assume, you got an invitation to a job interview. Congratulations!

What now?

If you happen to be placed by a recruiter, ask your contact about some guidance:

  • formal or informal language („Duzen” or „Siezen” in German)
  • dress code (a polo shirt almost always works)
  • kind of communication (telephone or video call - we're in times of COVID-19!)
  • in case of video call: technology (I had calls with Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business)
  • contact person and her/his position (HR, CTO, CEO, Lead Developer etc)
  • length of call (about an hour is normal. Sometimes ~30 minutes up to two hours)
  • ask for a telephone number as fallback
  • other considerations (e.g. prepare for getting asked for motivation, hobbies and so on)

Make a tech check well in advance of the interview:

  • is the web camera working? I use Cheese or WebRTC to get an idea. Also test different browsers, since I learned, that the picture was quite dark in Firefox for me :-(
  • is the microphone working? I use a Logitech G230 gaming headset but head to adjust the audio settings every time (since it tried to use the docking stations input signal). Also look for echo if possible. On GNU/Linux you can look for sox or arecord.
  • Check, whether you need to install certain software (e.g. a Zoom client) or sign up in order to participate. I was surprised to learn, that joining a room in Zoom had triggered a notification on the host's end!

Do your homework!

First, make sure they have all the documents they asked for. In my case, that often was a CV and perhaps a motivation letter.

I like to enter an interview well prepared. That's why I take a look at the job opportunity, research for others on the company website, take note on their values, look at reviews on Kununu (while considering the date), get an idea on the company's social media presence and search for press releases about the company. It can be challenging if the company is quite young and has to establish a certain reputation. In this case, your recruiter might be able to give you some more information. Oftentimes they visited the office so can describe the location and atmosphere there.

To me that includes a notebook (you know, those made of dead trees). I have one from my visit at the Mozilla office in Berlin some years back which I put to use for it.

Important: Leave space for notes! Also it helps to prepare some questions you couldn't figure out from the public web.

Directly before the interview starts

Appear dressed. No, I don't only mean, „with clothes” but with fine ones! It doesn't hurt to had a shower (I mean, you should stay at home anyway - just don't look wet). Seriously.

Place a pen, the notebook and your phone nearby. Turn on Do-not-disturb and ask room mates to either be quiet or go elsewhere for a while.

Put your resume next to the video call, so you can refer to what you passed to them. They will have yours at hand, too.

Join the interview a few minutes in advance (about five is good). If you happen to join first, check your audio settings.

During the interview

Relax. Normally those kind of interviews follow some structure. They start with an ice breaker (or quick tech check regarding audio quality). In case you discover that the setup for either party is failing, place a call. Audio only is not that preferred (since you lack body language signals), but they reserved some time just for you, so you better use it!

If you're an introvert like me, chances are you hate calls, but here you are. It's only for some time so push yourself out of your comfort zone for an hour or so.

After the icebreaker, a company normally describes their history and the position. Take notes, if you learn something new or something is unclear. Then it's your turn. Describe your last couple of employees, what you did there and why you switched. Be honest. If you are not so long in the industry or have only a few years of working experience, perhaps summarise your studies / education, too. Then it's time for a Q+A. Ask the questions you prepared or came up earlier but also be prepared to answer theirs.

For example, non-technical people like to explain the business model of the company. That is, how they earn money, who their customers are and so on.

One could be, whether you applied at other companies and what's the status there. This way, they learn, whether they need to hurry up (because you already received a contract for example) or can relax a bit.

To me, Karrierebibel was incredibly helpful to learn the ropes!

If the conversation seems to come to an end, ask for the next steps and a time frame. Oftentimes this involves additional interviews (e.g. with technical staff) within the next couple of days. They like tell you to come back to you after a couple of days after they discussed your application internally. That means, getting a positive mail implies you made it to the next round!

After the interview

Take a breath. It's over. For now.

Then, grab your notebook, write down questions and answers if you haven't already. Make sure to not forget about promises you made (e.g. sending more documents or calling back).

It might help if you write a Thank-You letter a couple of days after the interview (since it happens so rarely, that it shows your interest in the position).

Rejected - what now?

I applied at about two dozens companies during the last two months. Almost all of them ended after a rejection. Most of them where before restrictions due to COVID-19 were put in place. For those, I often had the chance for a visit in the office.

I know how hard it feels. I couldn't help but to feel worthless. I know a lot, but obviously, this wasn't enough to convince them. Getting the feedback, that they found a better fit didn't help either.

One opportunity you could take is writing a mail after about two weeks and asking for more feedback. Tell them that you want to improve your applications going forward. Offer them, that your application stays in their system (as far as I know, German data protection laws only allow for up to six months). Perhaps you can hear back at a later point in time.

What I did was to ask whether it's okay to connect on Xing. I like to stay in touch with communities I enjoy. Even if it did not end in an employment. Or even after one. Like the saying goes:

You always meet twice in life.

At one application, I learned that the Tech Lead became a CEO. I did my working studentship at his company back then! Sadly, it wasn't enough to land a job there.

What to do in the meantime?

As generalist I felt it hard to convince in deep, special knowledge of a framework. I was comfortable enough to be operational in those, though.

Since I couldn't only apply the whole day, I needed something else to stay sane. My bubble exploded with posts about Animal Crossing on a Nintendo Switch. I couldn't enjoy video games, since most of them have an age restriction and my five resp. ten years old kids were at home.

So I invested time in brushing up my framework skills. Mainly Angular, since that was in highest demand here locally.

Therefore I took courses on

and answered a whole lot of questions on StackOverflow!

I considered other platforms like edX, Skillshare and so on, but those required payment details on sign up so I let them go.

Conclusion

Today, Thursday 2nd April, I received two job offers. A final interview is yet to happen next week. So I'm confident to get into employment soon (like, 1st May) and can slow down my efforts. Instead I want to finish some projects and spend more time with my family the next weeks.

Just in case I need to employ again, I will end with a list of search engines which were helpful in the above processes:

Thanks for reading!