Now that I’m free to share the news that I’ve landed at Kentik – a visionary company filled by an amazing group of folks who believe that the value of their team goes far beyond what they might offer to the business – I wanted to take a minute to reflect on my job search, comment on the state of the job market, and share some lessons I’ve picked up along the way.
Let me be clear – I’m under no illusion that the world has breathlessly awaited the thoughts of a middle-age white dude and will now, graced with my heretofore-undiscovered wisdom, be a truly better place. People with far more knowledge, experience, and expertise have written and spoken on this topic, with data and examples that are far more eloquent and compelling than anything I could hope to share.
No, my point in sharing this is to offer what little confirmation and comfort I can to anyone currently looking for work too. Confirmation that the job market is really, REALLY challenging right now. And comfort that the rejections and (possibly worse) the ghostings you’re getting daily are both common in this current trend, and also not at all a reflection on you, your skills, your experience, your value to a business, or your worth as a person.
I’ll be blunt and honest: As a white (or at least white-passing), cis-gendered, heterosexual, middle aged man with over 35 years of industry experience, I have literally every ounce of privilege a human body can contain – with the possible exception that I’m not the son of a CEO, and will inherit the company some day.
Despite all those advantages, it took me six months of solid searching to find my next gig. Even when you take into account that the job I was seeking (Developer Relations Advocate) is less common than, say, a staff developer or sales engineer, it’s still a significant span of time to finding a job.
Now, when I say it’s a “bad” job market, I want to offer some qualifiers only time and experience can bring: It’s not the 2009 “the housing market just crashed and we’re in the Great Recession” bad. It’s not the 2002 “the dot-com bubble just burst” bad, either. If we’re really trying to find the low water mark, it’s also not as bad as the 1973-1975 US recession, let alone the Great Depression.
But playing the “back in my day” game is cold comfort to anyone looking for a new job in the here-and-now, whether by choice or due to one of the far-too-common layoffs playing havoc with the tech industry right now.
At the same time, the context offers some reassurances: Yes, it’s bad. No, it’s not the worst ever seen. And in those other cases, the economy and job market bounced back.
While financial analysts will tell you it took 15 years for the NASDAQ to recover from the 2000 dot com bubble, most folks in tech will say that the job market cleared up in about 8 to 18 months, depending on where you lived and what you did.
The market recovered from the 2009 housing market crash that triggered the Great Recession in about 4 years. Employers began adding jobs a year after that.
Beyond context and perspective, there are other lessons I’ve learned, which I plan to share in upcoming blog posts. But my message for this one is pretty simple: Being honest with yourself will carry you forward when everything else seems uncertain.
Take time every day (yes, every day) to check in with yourself and ask if the goals you are pursuing are the ones you still want, and whether the cost – in time, energy (physical, mental, emotional), and also money – are still worth it. If the equation doesn’t balance out, be equally honest about what you think would.
I have a few friends who have done this math and pivoted to entirely different careers; or to different areas of tech; or who have put their job hunt on hold.
All of these are valid choices and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
At the same time, the job market won’t be this hard forever. By all indications, it’s not even “this hard” by the time you read this post. Things appear to be easing up a bit. While that might be the results of a September surge, it could just as easily be a sign that things are looking up. Only time will tell.
From the start of my job search, I had an inkling that my experiences might be the source of a blog. Actually, who am I kidding? I *KNEW* that I’d try to turn this into a blog, no matter what happened. In any case, I resolved to keep copious notes on which companies I applied to, and how those conversations went.
What I hadn’t expected was how hard it would be to turn those notes into a meaningful visualization. As it turns out, I needed three separate graphs to really convey everything about the process.
This first animation (courtesy of Flourish) does a good job of showing the number of simultaneous job conversations over time.
But it fails to really give you a sense of how those conversations went. For that, my good friend and former colleague Thomas LaRock suggested I use a Sankey view. Honestly, I struggled to figure out exactly HOW to turn my information into Sankey data, until I saw this post from Eric Browning (an amazing Product and UX designer who happens to be looking for his next adventure. You really should check him out.).
But even those two graphs still fail to convey the sheer volume of applications, rejections, and so on. For that I’ve defaulted to a simple bar chart:
Across six months, I applied to over 40 companies, actively interviewed at 30, and gained a lot of interesting insights along the way. I plan to share some of those lessons in the coming weeks, and even the output from some of the take-home assignments I was given as part of the interview process.
But for now, my main point is: You can do this. You can handle it. It’s a lot, but it’s not more than you can bear. You may need to approach it differently, or consider an alternate path forward, but it’s never the less, something you can do.
If you’d like to share your own experiences in the comments, I’m sure other folks who are in the midst of their own job search would find it helpful too.